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How We Tested Altimeter Watches

Wednesday March 23, 2022
altimeter watch - while backpacking to a refugio at 15,500 feet in the peruvian andes...
While backpacking to a refugio at 15,500 feet in the Peruvian Andes, we gained almost two thousand feet of elevation along the switchbacks you see in this picture. Just one of the few climbs we undertook during this review.
Credit: Highline Running Adventures

Testing Locations

We tested each watch while running in the High Sierra and Peruvian mountains and exploring the remote canyons of Utah. We summited peaks ranging from 9,000 to 16,5000 feet. We wore them through all conditions while comparing each side-by-side. We wore them while working, walking the dog, hiking, and running in the mountains. Each watch has seen it all! Not only did we wear them, but we came up with many objective tests to determine which performed the best. Here are a few tests that we performed to guarantee an objective and accurate review.

altimeter watch - here we tested the gps accuracy while hiking. first we started with...
Here we tested the GPS accuracy while hiking. First we started with wide open terrain, then moved into a canyon. We finally emerged from the canyon to discover the Garmin Fenix 3 (bottom left) seriously overestimated our actual distance travelled, while the Suunto Ambit3 Peak was the most accurate (actual distance = 5.2 miles one way).
Credit: Amber King

Altimeter Accuracy

We calibrated each watch at a common location, hiked uphill, noted the altitude at the summit, then hiked back down again. By doing this, we were able to determine which provided the most accurate readings. We did this several times in a wide range of weather.


We placed each watch on a non-conductive surface to see how their readings compared to that of a classic mercury thermometer. We also performed the same test while wearing the watches on our wrists for 10 minutes.

Battery Life

We tested battery life via field tests, online surveys, and at-home tests to determine which watches lasted the longest (with and without GPS function). We couldn't test some watches as their estimated battery life is three months, a bit longer than our testing period. We also compared GPS function between each GPS watch and determined which had the most accurate GPS over many days of running the same route and comparing tracks.

We even took the GPS watches into the depths of the Earth (where GPS reception is poor) and determined which watches were best able to keep a GPS lock and provide accurate distance, pace, and altimeter information. To determine the best watch display, we compared reflectiveness in the sun (with and without sunglasses) and also considered the length and brightness of each watch's night light. Finally, for ease of use we simply looked at how easy the watch is to figure out without consulting the user's manual.

altimeter watch - we took the ambit3 peak to the high mountain range of the peruvian...
We took the Ambit3 Peak to the high mountain range of the Peruvian Andes. We ran, hiked, and backpacked over 150 miles with over 19,000 feet of vertical gain. Pictured here is Jared running out a downhill after summiting a 16,000 ft pass.
Credit: Amber King

After performing all these tests, we rated each watch using six different metrics: features, ease-of-use, battery life, altimeter accuracy, display quality, and comfort and fit. After all these in-field and at-home tests, we have produced (what we think) is the best altimeter watch review out there.

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