The best smartwatches and sports watches reviewed (2023)

If you want to improve your fitness outdoors, a sports smartwatch is a very useful ally. We've been testing a range to find the best smartwatches.

Chris Williams wearing a smartwatch on each wrist

by Chris Williams |

A smartwatch acts as your personal data logger, smart device, and fitness tracking device all in one. It's an increasingly popular accessory for sportspeople. There are an awful lot on the market today, but for those after one to take into the wilderness on their expeditions, there are certain features that you'll need to keep an eye out for. We cover those just below, and recommend our favourite smartwatches for hiking and outdoor pursuits.

Something we'll point out immediately is that smartwatches with a focus on sport and outdoor activities aren't just about tracking your outings. They also take on the role of data analyst and training coach.

Smart watches assume you want to get better and better, forever pushing yourself. You might find that irritating, but it's a fair enough assumption. These devices are for training and improving. If you're truly committed to an outdoors or athletic lifestyle, you might as well invest in a high-end companion device.

Our Shortlist

Suunto 9 Peak Pro

Garmin Instinct 2

They're certainly overkill for a casual wander along the Norfolk coast. But if you're a more serious hiker, trail runner, or athlete, sports smartwatches are very handy companions.

The best smartwatches in detail

1. Suunto 9 Peak Pro

Best in Test


Thinking that the [9 Peak


  • Excellent touchscreen
  • Looks great
  • Brilliant app
  • Very accurate 


  • App syncing is slower than Garmin
Suunto 9 Peak Pro best smartwatch

2. Garmin Instinct 2

Best Value


Garmin’s Fenix range is fantastic but predictably expensive. Garmin also produces the [Instinct


  • Excellent value
  • Shares key features with more expensive Garmins 


  • App is a bit fiddly
Garmin Instinct 2 best value smartwatch

3. Coros Apex 2 Pro

Best watch for long hikes


One of the first things that struck us about the Coros Apex 2 Pro is how little you have to charge


  • Long battery life
  • Genuine alternative to Garmin


  • Others have better waterproof ratings 
Coros Apex 2 Pro

4. Amazfit T-Rex Pro

Best budget smartwatch


For most walkers, this review could begin and end here. The T-Rex Pro is tough, chunky, reliable,


  • Fantastic price
  • Simple to use


  • Fewer technical features than rivals
Amazfit T-Rex Pro Smart Watch Meteorite Black

5. Casio G-Shock Mudmaster GG-B100

Best rugged watch for hiking


This Casio G-Shock watch is a slightly different breed to the other models here but we stand by


  • Very tough
  • Very comfortable
  • Buttons easy to use with gloves


  • No solar option
  • No sports apps 
G shock mudmaster GG B100 best rugged watch

What to look for in a smartwatch

Size: Some smartwatches and sports watches are particularly chunky, while others are more slimline, and some others are available in a range of sizes. Consider how the watch will sit on your wrist, particularly if you intend to use it as an everyday watch too.

Mapping: Some watches can show detailed mapping on their screens. Although not great for route-planning (even the largest watches have relatively small screens), it can be a helpful extra navigational tool.

Battery life: Battery performance has increased dramatically over the past few years. Check the watch’s spec for battery life, paying attention to the times stated with GPS turned on and any battery-saver modes that might reduce features.

Sensors: In addition to GPS, these little watches can contain a range of sensors, including an altimeter, barometer, accelerometer, compass, heart rate monitor, blood oxygen and more. Make sure your choice has the sensors that are important to you.

Fitness and sport features: Do you just want a watch that gives a grid reference, or one that can also track your walks, runs, swims, or even your golf? Most smartwatches now offer multi-sport functions, but the specifics vary.

Satellite compatibility: GPS is just one global satellite network (American). The four others are GLONASS (Russia), Galileo (Europe), QZSS (Japan), and BeiDou (China). The more your watch is compatible with, the more accurate it will be.

How to choose from the best smartwatches

Smartwatch vs fitness tracker: what's the difference?

You could be forgiven for thinking the two are the same. But when you see the average price difference you'll wonder why on earth does a smartwatch cost more? Fitness trackers are focused on what their name suggests. They track your fitness activities, count your footsteps, and other such things. Smartwatches do this too but with more detail and have the addition of extra smart features.

Smartwatches can display more detail because they have bigger screen. You can also use their navigation features (such as GPS and compass) to map and track your routes. The sports and sleep metrics you see on some smart watches listed above and in their accompanying apps are quite impressive. The line between smartwatch and fitness tracker isn't solid. There's certainly a grey area between top-end fitness trackers and smartwatches.

How do smartwatches track sleep?

As a wrist wearable, a smartwatch tracks your movement to make educated estimations about your sleep. The Suunto 9 Peak Pro for example uses an accelerometer and a motion sensor to do this.

When you log your bedtime and sleep target into the watch, it monitors your movement. Periods of no movement are considered deep sleep, and periods of significant movement suggest you're awake.

Where should you wear a smartwatch?

On your non-dominant wrist, yes that's right. But because a smartwatch carries sensors, it needs to be positioned properly for accurate heart rate readings.

Try and position the smartwatch one or two finger widths above the wrist bone. And make sure it's tight enough so that it doesn't slide down during exercise and you can't see the sensor flashing on the underside.

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