The Best Hunting Watches, and Tips for How to Use Them on Your Hunt
Hunting watches have taken a quantum leap forward in the last decade or two, and they feature tools we could have only dreamed about a few years ago. Time may be our most valuable commodity, but surprisingly, a modern hunting watch’s time-keeping ability may be the last feature on your mind!
In this post, we’ll “decode” hunting watches. First we’ll discuss our picks for the best hunting watch and what makes each model unique; then we’ll discuss the different features you’ll see, and why they’re worthwhile (or not); and finally we’ll provide some tips on how to get the most of the model you select. Let’s do it:
Hunting Watches: Quick Picks
Here’s a quick summary of our reviews below:
- The Digital Outdoor Sports Watch by SKMEI: a solid "just-the-basics" option with an altimeter, barometer, and compass, and many alarms;
- The Casio Men's Pro Trek PRG-270-1 Multifunction Watch: basic features plus a few more, good for single-day hunting trips;
- The SUUNTO Core All Black Military Men's Outdoor Sports Watch: extensive hunting features, good for multi-day hunting trips and hiking/camping;
- The Garmin Instinct Outdoor Watch with GPS: a sleek, versatile watch with sophisticated hunting features and GPS, and great for off-season fitness; and
- The SUUNTO Traverse Alpha: Our pick for best watch for hunting overall—it has GPS, Shot Technology, storm alerts, sunrise/sunset features, extensive battery life, a rugged scratch-resistant face, a related app to record your trips, and plenty else. Our pick for top watch.
The Best Hunting Watch: Our Picks
Here are our picks for the best-functioning hunting watches. We've chosen a range of watches, from "no-frills" to "many, many frills," and we believe that each of the selections is a good option. The "best watch for you" depends on how many features you need, the extent of those features, how much you're willing to invest in a watch.
Before we get to the reviews, there are two notes we'd like to share:
1) In our notes below, you may note that we mention the same features again and again. That's because there while all these watches are different, a lot of them have the same features, and the difference between each watch is the difference in range those features. For instance, most hunting watches are water resistant, but a basic watch may be water resistant to 50 meters, whereas a mid-range watch will be water resistant to 100 meters, and a high-end watch will be water resistant to more than 100 meters. It's the same feature on each watch, but the capability of that feature is different.
2) We refer to “ABC” a lot in the reviews below—that stands for "altimeter, barometer, and compass." Those are the three basic tools that most hunting watches have, and those tools can provide you with a great deal of information (and in some cases, safety). If you want to learn what those tools are and why they're important, jump down to our "Hunting Watch Features Describes" section.
3) We've gotten some feedback because we omitted the Casio G-Shock Men's GD-120CM Camo Sport Watch. That's a great watch (and we love the camo), but we don't consider it a hunting watch, because it doesn't have ABC features. It's a great watch, but not one that we consider a great bet for hunting.
OK, onto those reviews.
The Digital Outdoor Sports Watch by SKMEI
Summary: A solid "just-the-basics" option
- Excellent suite of basic features for hunting; and
- Can double as a simple workout watch when you're not hunting
- Using features can take a little practice
The Digital Outdoor Sports Watch is our "just-the-basics" pick, but it's got a surprising number of options for a just-the-basics pick. You've got the primary ABC functions—an altimeter that provides an altitude graph, a barometer that shows the air pressure in your environment, and a compass—but it also has some helpful add-ons: an alarm, a stopwatch, a countdown/timer, and a pedometer.
It’s also got a temperature display that reveals the temperature from about 14 degrees F (-10 C) to 140 degrees F (60 C). That's a little high on the low side and high on the high side, if you understand our meaning, but it's the range that many of us seem to hunt in. And you can switch from Fahrenheit to Celsius, should you find yourself hunting outside the U.S.
You can also switch between two time zones, and that can be very useful if you live/hunt near a time zone line—or, if you're a lucky duck and you have hunting property in another time zone—that can be a great function. And, should you find yourself 50 meters below water, well, you're sitting pretty, because the Digital Outdoors Sports Watch is water resistant to 50 meters.
While it has a lot of features, it may not be the easiest thing to use—and that's where high-end watches stand out, is their ease-of-use—but a little bit of practice can really open up the features (and we suggest practicing these features before your hunt anyway). If you're the type who gets frustrated by endless, complicated features, and you're looking for a just-the-basics option, this is the one we like.
The Casio Men's Pro Trek PRG-270-1 Multifunction Watch
Summary: An option between "just-the-basics" and "gettin' fancy" that can be a good choice for single-day hunting trips
- Has all the basics you'd want—ABC, altimeter, barometer, compass, and...
- Some nice "extras," like 31 time zones, five alarms, etc.
- Manual can be hard to read
Hunting watches get fancy right quick, and The Casio Men's Pro Trek PRG-270-1 Tough Solar Triple Sensor Multifunction Digital Sport Watch is a good example. It's got five daily alarms, it's water resistant to 100 meters, and it's got a built-in solar battery, that can run for nine months without solar recharge. It can also display 31 time zones, and if you actually need the time from 31 time zones, we should be coming to you for guidance, and not the other way around. More important is the sunrise/sunset feature—a great option to make sure you're hunting legally within designated times.
Higher-end watches not only tend to be easier to use, but they tend to be designed more intuitively, and we absolutely love the layout of this watch. It's got your regular watch face—backlit with afterglow, very nice—but it's got three buttons on the right side of the watch, with clear text that indicate the digital compass (the top button), the barometer/thermometer (the middle button), and the altimeter with alarm (the bottom button). Simple.
The features on hunting watches can be kind of humorous, in a way, because some of them wildly outpace our ability for adventure. Take, for instance, the altimeter range on this watch. It can measure your altitude up to 10,000 meters. Do you know the height of the world's tallest mountain? It's Mt. Everest, and it's 8,848 meters tall. That actually means that if we discover a mountain even taller than Mt. Everest—even a mountain 1,000 meters taller than Mt. Everest—users of the Casio Men's Pro Tek should be good to go. It's probably safe to say that most of our readers will not be hunting at Everest-height, so the altimeter range on this watch is a little bit overkill. Still, nice to have.
But, seriously—we consider this a great option between "just-the-basics" and "gettin' fancy." It's got a generous suite of features, and plenty enough for the type of single-day hunting trips that so many of us go on, but it's not so feature-heavy that it's difficult to use.
The SUUNTO Core All Black Military Men's Outdoor Sports Watch
Summary: A military watch with great hunting features, also great for hiking/camping
- ABC, storm alerts, ascent/descent recording ability—great for hunting;
- SUUNTO has decades of experience making adventure gear
- The band may degrade over time
The SUUNTO Core All Black Military Men's Outdoor Sports Watch is technically a military / tactical watch, but has all the features we'd look for in a hunting watch: it's got the ABCs (altimeter, barometer, and compass); it's got a storm alert, to let you know when you may get some weather; it can operate in temperatures that are a little more dramatic (-5 F to 140 F / -20 c to 60 C, which is a step-up from more basic watches); and it's got large numbers and a very visible face display. SUUNTO specializes in equipment for various outdoors adventures, from diving to sailing to hiking/camping to training, and it really seems like they design their gear to be rugged and long-lasting
There are two stand-out features in the SUUNTO Core that differentiate it from lower-tier watches:
1) The ability to record ascent and descent: That's a nice feature—there are a lot of hunting watches that will tell you your current elevation, but not as many that will track your ascent and descent. Ascent and descent is one of those things that's very difficult to keep track of when you're out in nature, and especially when you're tracking game, and your mind is paying attention to a dozen other things; and
2) The ability to display sunrise/sunset in more than 400 locations. That 400 locations may be overkill, but it can actually be very useful to have a couple dozen spots recorded—if you hunt year after year (and don't return to the same tree stand!), you'd be amazed at how many spots you can collect. It's nice to have a record of them, and the sunrise/sunset times associated with them.
Finally, the color—an all-black matte color—is, in our minds, one of two acceptable colors on a hunting watch: it's either black, or its camo. Brightly colored hunting watches—and they're out there—are kind of mind-boggling. The band may degrade over time, and that's a bummer, but we like that there's no fabric on it—we're obsessed with scent, we're always surprised when we find hunting watches that have non-treated fabric straps that capture sweat and grime (and therefore, odor).
This is another one that's great for hunting, but doubles as a great hiking/camping watch.
The Garmin Instinct Outdoor Watch with GPS
Summary: A great option if you're looking for a hunting watch AND a fitness watch
- Has GPS! That's a step-up in terms of capability;
- Built to military specs—always a plus; and
- It's a GREAT watch for off-season fitness and exercise
- Calorie counter may not always be 100% accurate;
- No automatic shot detection
The Garmin Instinct Outdoor Watch with GPS is a sophisticated option, and we've heard this watch get compared to the Apple watch—that may be a fair comparison; it's got some incredible features, a sleek design, and the ABCs a hunting watch needs—plus a bunch of other options for a variety of activities. It *does not* have a touch screen, though, which is a good thing—a touch screen would be a terrible thing for a hunting / bowhunting watch.
It's got all the basic hunting features we'd want to see—ABC capability, weather notifications, that sort of thing—but there are a lot of characteristics that make the Garmin Instinct a "leap forward" in terms of features, and the biggest one is the GPS with the TracBack feature. The GPS tracks your route, and when you're ready to hoof it back to camp, you can re-trace your steps backwards. That can be a great option for our spot-and-stalk hunters, who never know quite where their hunt is going to take them—and who may travel complicated routes without realizing it.
But that said, it's also got other capabilities that many hunting watches lack, and one we like particularly, and that is FITNESS FEATURES. The Garmin Instinct is designed to monitor your heart rate, the stress you experience during the day, and your activity levels, and has "activity profiles" for running, swimming, and biking. We think this is another excellent feature, because—and we have to be honest, and look inward here—a lot of hunters we know go full Commando during hunting season, and... how shall we say this? They maybe... let themselves go during the off-season. An activity watch that's designed for trekking during the hunting season, and exercise during the off-season, can be a great option. The calorie counter may not be 100% accurate, but honestly, we've yet to find one that is.
The good thing about many "all-purpose outdoor" watches is that many of them are sleeker than hunting watches. It seems like the hunting market will put up with bulky, slightly heavy gear if it's effective and gets the job done. It seems like the broader outdoor market—and particularly the fitness market—is more discerning, and they want something sleek, lightweight, and modern-looking. And that's why it's so fantastic when we see a piece like this that fulfills all the functions of a hunting watch, but is streamlined and polished.
That sleekness doesn't nullify any of its bona fides, though—it's built to military specifications, and while a good hunting watch does not need to be built to military specs in order to be a capable hunting watch, it doesn't hurt, and it has an easy-to-read face, with five easy-to-see, easy-to-use buttons: three on the left, two of the right. Some watches have a bunch of unwieldy buttons all around the watch face, and it just looks overburdened. It's manufactured in a range of colors, and we'd obviously advise that you go with black. It would be great if they have a camo option—and Garmin, if you're listening, do us a solid and make a camo option! We'd love that.
We think this is a great option if you're looking for a multi-purpose hunting—something that's built for the hunt, but also capable of assisting you with your health and fitness off that hunt, as well.
The SUUNTO Traverse Alpha
Summary: Our pick for best hunting watch overall; a very wide range of features specific to hunting
- Capable GPS and Shot Technology Function; compatible with Suunto Movescount App;
- All the hunting features we'd hope to see, from ABC to storm alerts to sunrise/sunset feature; and
- Has excellent battery life of 14 days
- We'd prefer a silicon strap, which might be more comfortable
Earlier, we had mentioned that hunting watches should feature ABC—altimeter, barometer, and compass. The Suunto Traverse Alpha has that functionality, but there are two other features that the Alpha (and other high-end hunting watches) have, and those two features can provide a fantastic advantage when used properly: automatic shot detection and GPS.
The concept of shot detection is pretty simple: the watch experiences the recoil from your rifle, and marks the time and location you took the spot. Many of hunters who read our site are bowhunters, so if you hunt with a bow or crossbow, that tech may not be useful to you, but if you DO hunt with a firearm, that can be a really powerful tool. Very often, after hours of stalking, you may have a general idea of where you are, but you may not be 100% certain. You've been trailing your quarry with laser-focus, and the thrill of the hunt has led you to a spot on the map that you'll have to figure out later. With shot detection, you have GPS coordinates of where you shot (and the Traverse Alpha records the time you shoot, as well), so that you can punch that location into your online map of choice and review the surroundings. That can be a great tool for planning future trips, and it can help you ascertain the reasons you shot at that particular location. Was there a pinch point that you didn't know about? Maybe a buck trail/doe trail in the area? A small body of water you hadn't seen?
The GPS is the other stand-out option, and it can help you track your route in, and help you re-track your path out. That's a big plus of the Transverse Alpha, but we give them extra points for the Suunto Movescount App, which is compatible with Android or iOS. Having an app connected with the watch is a pretty clever way of expanding the watch's capability.
As far as it's other features go, it's designed with the full range of hunting and fishing tools in mind: it features storm alerts; it's water resistant up to 100 meters; has a red backlight display to mask your location; it's actually got a flashlight to help you scope your surroundings; the sapphire crystal glass is scratch-resistant; you can mark trails and locations of interest; it's got a moon calendar with moonrise/moonset times; and, of course, it has ABC functions. And it's got an operating temperature range of -5 F to 140 F / -20 C to 60 C, so it's capable of going most places you want to go. The only thing we're not crazy about is the strap—it's water repellant, which is great, but it's not as versatile as a some of the silicone straps you seen on other hunting watches. If it works for you, great; if not, you may want to swap it out for another strap.
And, while this isn't the most important thing in the world, it just looks kind of rugged—the bezel is knurled, which is that cross-hatch pattern you often see on heavy machinery—and it's manufactured in a range of muted colors, good for the trail, the forest, and the mountains. None of those neon tones to try and capture the non-outdoors crowd.
This gets our vote as the best hunting watch. It's got all the functionality we'd hope to see on a hunting watch, along with a clear display and good battery life. Recommended.
Hunting Watch Features Described
Alright! Let’s talk about features. Different hunting watches tend to have many of the same features, but to varying degrees. Here are the ones you may want to look for:
ABC / Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass. We consider these to be the fundamental features of a hunting watch (other than time), and each is valuable in its own way:
- Altimeter. The altimeter is a great tool to help you orient yourself on a topographical map, and if you're near a ridge or incline or mountainside trail, an altimeter can help you locate where you are. It can also help you if you need to transverse a hillside/mountainside, and let you know if you are staying on track, and not straying from the right elevation. Some watches have an "altimeter record" feature, that notes how far you've ascended/descended on you hunt;
- Barometer. A barometer is a tool that measures the pressure of the air around you, and it can give a "heads-up" when weather conditions may change. The barometer is a great function when you start your day—it can help you decide whether to bring rain gear or not—but it can also be a safety feature: when you see the barometer start to plunge, you may soon be getting some inclement weather, and it may be wise to head back to camp (when moisture gathers and rises in the air to form clouds, there’s less moisture near the ground, and the pressure at ground level lightens—and that’s why a plunging barometric pressure may mean weather). Some hunting watches has a "storm warning" in addition to the barometer, and when the barometric pressure changes, an alarm on your watch will go off, so you don't have to be constantly checking the barometric pressure; and finally
- Compass. Another very important tool, a compass can help you tell which direction you’re heading. Compasses are obviously a pretty important part of reading maps and getting from Point A to Point B, and any good hunting watch should have one. It’s “best practices” to carry a compass with you, even if you’ve got one on your watch.
GPS. These aren’t too common on “just-the-basics” watches, but it seems more and more high-end watches have them. They’re a great feature, and can help you navigate where you’re going, and with a recording feature, can let you know after your hunt is over where you’ve been and what routes you took. The display on a hunting watch isn’t usually as robust or detailed as the display on a regular GPS, but that’s to be expected—the display on a watch tends to be a lot smaller than a regular GPS.
Sunrise/Sunset Times. Very often, states disallow you from hunting before sunrise or after sunset. As you may remember from your hunting classes, your state's game wardens/conservation officers tend to enforce the black-and-white letter of the law (as they should), so it’s important to know the exact time of sun-up/sun-down. Some watches actually have sunrise/sunrise times for a number of different locations, which can be a great feature if you travel to hunt.
Weather Alerts. As any veteran hunter will tell you, Mother Nature may seem like a nice lady, but she doesn’t care a lick about you, and getting caught in rough weather can be extremely dangerous. Many watches feature weather alerts, and different watches have different ways of getting information about weather: many display weather alerts from information gathered by the digital altimeter, whereas as some high-end “connected” watches gather data from official online weather sources and can display it on your watch.
Waterproof / Water Resistant. Many watches are water resistant or waterproof, and many can be fully submerged in water. The depth to which a watch can be submerged is a big factor, and basic models can be submerged from 10 to 50 meters, with high-end watches capable of submersion from 50 to 200 meters or more. Those watches tend to be dual-use watches that are also good for diving.
Battery Life. An important feature, especially if you’ll be taking multi-day trips. Battery-operated watches aren’t like compasses—they require energy to function! Battery life can be an important characteristic, regardless of the time duration of your adventure.
Temperature. Believe it or not, not all models can operate in any temperature, and if you’ll be hunting in some very cold/very hot temperatures, it’s a feature to consider. Generally—generally—basic watches are not good for below-freezing temperatures, whereas fancier versions can be. If you’re a cool-weather hunter, it may not be important, but if the climes you hunt get very low or very high, be certain you watch can handle it.
Automatic Shot Detection. Some watches are able to tell by your rifle’s recoil where—and at what time—you took a shot. Not really necessary for bowhunters, but a great option for rifle hunters.
Other Features. Here are a few other features that may seem secondary, but may actually be noteworthy:
- The band / strap. A bad strap will be on your mind all the time, whereas good strap is something you’ll never notice! Some watches have reinforced / chemically-treated fabric bands, while others feature silicone or some other designer material. If you love the watch but hate the band, you can very often get a new one.
- Design. In the era of “UX” (user experience), our personal gadgets have come a long way in terms of easy-of-use. Some watches are sleek and streamlined and intuitive; others… are not.
- Display. Bulky watches tend to be easier to read, but, well, bulky; smaller watches are easier to find under the wrist of your hunting clothes, but are tougher to read. It’s one of those features that remind us we can’t have it all. As a general rule of thumb, though, higher-end hunting watches tend to have a large display, because they need to display a lot of information.
- Display Light. Hunters usually want to remain incognito, especially during low-light hunting hours, and some watches are designed to conceal light as much as possible with backlighting. Basic models tend to light from the side, which isn’t great, but that effect tends to be minimal.
Tips on How to Use Your Hunting Watch
Here are some things we've learned in the field about how to get the most out of your watch.
Be Aware of Your Alarms. Many modern hunting watches have an array of alarms—both that you can set, and that can go off when you’re unaware. The “storm feature” alarm is one such example—you can be stalking game all day long, only to have your watch start beeping when the barometric pressure changes. Be cognizant of all the alarm features of your watch, what alarms you set, and what alarms may off when you’re not expecting them to, because after all—you don’t want to scare away game! The same goes for lights—some watches light up in certain situations, so look for that, too. A good way to do all that is to…
Wear Your Watch When Not Hunting. The best way to get an idea of what your watch is capable of is to wear it all the time. Set the features, pay attention to what happens in certain situations, and develop an “ease-of-use” with the functions. Really get to know it, because if you don't, it's really just going to bog you down—you’ll be out on a hunt, trying to figure out how a feature works, instead of focusing on your quarry.
One great place to wear your watch is on a scouting session. If you hunt on public lands and visit them before the hunting season begins, bring your watch along, and use the functions when you’re looking for prime spots. Figure out “best practices” before the hunt ever begins.
Learn the Features! We must have seen this a dozen times—a capable hunter gets a great watch with two dozen features, and… learns two of them. It may take some effort, but take the time to learn all the features and functions on your watch. Who knows? One of them could mean the difference between a successful hunt and an empty freezer.
Never Rely Solely on Your Watch. Or any piece of gear, for that matter. Yes, a digital compass is fun and easy to use, and always at your wrist, but that doesn’t mean it should replace the real compass you have in your pack. Equipment—no matter how high-tech, and no matter how cared-for—can break down, get lost, or suffer from user error. Always have a back-up, and always rely on “tried-and-true” hunting methods.
Don’t Be Afraid to Diversify. For some folks, it can make sense to get something great for hunting—and whatever else it is you're interested in. We're old enough to remember when a multi-purpose watch stood out because it 1) told the time and 2) had a timer. Watches today represent an incredible leap forward in technology, and has features we could have only dreamed about years ago.
This is all to say—a good hunting watch can also be a great fishing watch, a great running watch, a great camping watch, and so on. Take a moment and consider all the different activities you do, and find one that will satisfy all your needs. No need buying to watches for two activities when one watch for two activities will do. With that in mind…
Some Features Can Be a Battery Drain. In particular, the GPS—the battery may drain more quickly when you've got the GPS turned on. Other features may also drain the battery, and that’s another reason why it’s a good idea to truly test your watch in the off-season. This seems to be the case with hunting watches of all varieties, so it's something to look out for.
Make Sure Your Battery is Charged! A good hunter is a prepared hunter. Know exactly how long your watch can last, and know how much juice it’s got. Wearing a dead watch mid-hunt is… goodness, that’s got to be an awfully panicky experience. Don’t let it happen to you!
Believe that Barometer… Even though it may not be right 100% of the time. A barometer may not be a sure thing, but if you’re far from camp and you get a weather alert, the wise thing to do is assume you’re getting some weather, and head back to camp. As every hunter knows, nature does not care about you, and if you’re not smart (and sometimes even if you are), nature will mess you up.
We’ll Close Out with a Joke
Hopefully you know a bit about hunting watches, so to close out, we’ll leave you with a joke:
How do you know when a clock is hungry?
It’ll go back four seconds.
Oof! Pretty bad. Sorry, everyone!
Be safe, and happy hunting!