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Jeff Wright
(ABHiker)

Locale: ...
Wrist watch GPS on 06/07/2012 22:29:18 MDT Print View

I am looking for a wrist watch style GPS unit that does the following:

1) Shows UTM coordinates (eastings and northings)
2) Marks way points
3) Shows altitude.

Anybody know if such a beast exists? Thanks.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - M

Locale: Cascadia
Watch GPS on 06/07/2012 23:24:03 MDT Print View

This isn't really the response you're after, but I'll share a few thoughts on my general philosophy in this area.

Basically, I'm not sold on the idea of combining a GPS and a wrist watch - although I've never used one and thus might be a bit ignorant in this area. I'd love to hear a good argument for them.

GPS watches tend to suffer from really short battery life if you're using the GPS (ie. 15 hours) so they aren't practical for long hikes if you're planning on using the GPS a lot. For simple acquisition of UTM co-ordinates (which all I really do) it seems a watch GPS would suffice, but the thought of accidentally leaving it on once and killing the battery resulting in me losing my GPS, watch, alarm and altimeter makes me a bit nervous. I use my altimeter a lot. Maybe these watches have some sort of safe guard that preserves the rest of the functionality when the batt gets low? 95% of the time I'd rather have an altimeter than a GPS.

While a lot of GPS watches have USB rechargable batteries, I'm sure there are some that use replaceable batteries (ie. CR2302's) and thus carrying a spare would offer some safe-gaurd in this area. This sounds good, but the ones I've seen are quite expensive (ie. $300-$400) and you could buy a really nice altimeter watch for under $150 (ie. Casio PAW1300 on eBay) and then pair that with a tiny handheld GPS for $50-$75 (ie. Garmin Geko on eBay) if you actually need it for some trips - most trips you won't. Also, with a Geko (2 x AA) you can not carry dedicated batteries for it and just steal the ones from your headlamp if you happen to get lost. This drops the weight to about 2oz.

Ideally though, I'd like to see Spot come out with a personal tracker device that gives the hiker UTM co-ordinates, thus eliminating the dilemma of carrying two GPS units on some adventurous trips. Most trips that I really need a GPS for, I also probably want a Spot for, so hopefully Spot does this soon.

Edited by dandydan on 06/07/2012 23:27:55 MDT.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F - M

Locale: British Columbia
Wrist watch GPS on 06/07/2012 23:36:26 MDT Print View

GPS watches tend to be ill suited to backpacking. Most of the ones I've looked at have rechargeable batteries with a short battery life and many won't show you location coordinates.

The new Suunto AMBIT GPS watch would meet your requirements and to me looks really good with up to 50 hours on a charge. I doubt you'd get 50 hours if you used the GPS very much but it's still really good when compared to the rest of the watches I've looked at. The only downside that I can see is the price (over $500). The Suunto Ambit can display UTM coordinates which is a real plus and probably impossible to find in other watches.

I have the Garmin Foretrex 301 which is wrist wearable in theory but I only tried it like that once and then replaced the strap with a small velcro loop so that I could wear it on my pack. IMO it's too big to wear on your wrist.

The Foretrex 401 would do all that you have asked (it has a electronic compass and barometric altimeter). The 301 and 401 use replaceable batteries so extended trips aren't an issue.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Wrist watch GPS+ on 06/07/2012 23:47:44 MDT Print View

Yesterday I talked to a kayaking and winter survival guide that has been using this model for a month. He couldn't stop raving about it. See http://www.suunto.com/us/product-families/suunto-ambit

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
401 on 06/08/2012 07:36:48 MDT Print View

agreed the 401 would do everything you have listed, nice little unit- also agreed that while it can be worn on the wrist- it's a little big for that imo

Darren M.
(dmacdaddy)

Locale: West
Ambit on 06/08/2012 08:34:28 MDT Print View

I have the Ambit and love it! First off, it is expensive...actually downright crazy, expensive at $500 without the heart rate monitor. I won't even try to justify it's price. The fact is, if price is of concern, don't bother with the AMBIT. Truth is the ambit is the first watch GPS that is even worth considering for the backpacking/hiking crowd. Battery life is the standout feature of this watch. At 50 hours in GPS mode, it is outstanding. For hiking/backpacking, I don't use the watch in GPS tracking mode. I simply load waypoints of my planned trip (lakes, etc.) in the Suunto software through Google maps, and save those waypoints onto the watch. I also love being able to save campsites, trialheads and any other locations while on the trail. GPS location fixes are appox. 1 min. initially in a new area, then are ultra quick at a few seconds after that.

Once on the trail, I just use map/compass to orient until I want or need to see how close I am to a particular waypoint. I'll turn on the GPS function and see how far I am or what direction I need to be headed. Again, most of the time I don't need it but it's nice to have a backup if the trail or area is unkown. The GPS function is only used intermittent and sporadically. Hit the back button and your back into watch mode- not using battery in GPS mode. Being able to quickly check your current location coordinates and verify that on my printed TOPO maps (with UTM grids already printed on them) is fast and accurate. It has limitations like all technology, but it is far improved in tracking/reception and lock-on time, over my older Garmin Etrex Vista. Time will tell. Also, having the altimeter is great for backing up your location on a map without having to go into GPS mode. Overall, I am very impressed. Being able to have all the practical GPS functions in a small, light, watch is incredible. Having the ability to have longer battery life vs. other GPS watches is the differentiating selling point of the Suunto.

Some will complain is doesn't have routes or doesn't have enough battery life for longer tracking but, I never used a GPS like that anyway. I use it to verify and assist in traditional orienteering. With this in mind, it works great for me and would others as well. Sorry for the long post. I'll have a detailed review on my website soon.

Jeff Wright
(ABHiker)

Locale: ...
Re: Ambit on 06/08/2012 10:35:02 MDT Print View

Hi Darren,

Thanks for the info. The Amit looks like what I want... except for the price (I have $300 to spend in B-Day money). My experience with GPS is that I use it just as you are describing. I want to be able to check coordinates occasionally to help with finding my location on a map in featureless terrain and I want to be able to mark waypoints and use it to tell me the distance/direction from my current location to these points. I wish there was a simple watch device with good battery time that did this. When I look at the Ambit features I suspect I would not use most of them.

I might use it like a bike computer for mountain biking as I would be interested to know elevation profiles for some of my common routes. It is tempting.

Jeff

Jeff Wright
(ABHiker)

Locale: ...
Re: 401 on 06/08/2012 10:37:00 MDT Print View

Mike

The 401 is a possibility. I suspect I might not be content with it's size as a watch. I am not sure if it does UTM coordinates. I know it will show longitude/latitude but I would rather have easting/northing values.

Jeff

Edited by ABHiker on 06/08/2012 10:38:54 MDT.

Jeff Wright
(ABHiker)

Locale: ...
Re: Watch GPS on 06/08/2012 10:38:23 MDT Print View

Dan,

I with you on the Spot idea. Maybe one day.

Jeff

Mike W
(skopeo) - F - M

Locale: British Columbia
Wrist watch GPS on 06/08/2012 10:57:43 MDT Print View

@Darren - Thanks for the mini-review. I look forward to seeing a detailed review.
What is the real world battery life like? (specs say 50 hrs but what have you been getting?).

>> but it is far improved in tracking/reception and lock-on time, over my older Garmin Etrex Vista <<

That's because AMBIT has the SiRFstar IV chipset. This chipset is the one the competition tries to match. The SiRFstar chip is also the reason for the longer battery life (it conserves battery life when not actively used). It's also one of the reasons this watch is so blasted expensive.

@Jeff -
The Garmin 301 and 401 series are standard Garmin GPS's so they allow you to set more coordinate systems than you will ever need (and UTM is definitely included). These aren't stripped down versions of a GPS the way the sports watches are, these are full featured GPS's. They have the same basic feature set as the Garmin Etrex non-mapping series (ie Garmin's Etrex H). They are just scaled down in size. They get a better signal lock than Garmin's old Etrex series, so they are a really great performers and hold a lock well and have good battery life.

EDIT to Add:

The Spot Connect + Smart phone will provide GPS via phone and messaging via Spot but the dual device requirement for these features adds a significant weight penalty if you don't already carry a smart phone.

Edited by skopeo on 06/08/2012 11:01:11 MDT.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
UTM's on 06/08/2012 12:48:56 MDT Print View

yup- the 401 can use UTM's (as do I :)) the elevation feature is very accurate as well

and as mentioned above the signal, even under less than ideal conditions, is very good w/ the 401

Darren M.
(dmacdaddy)

Locale: West
Battery on 06/08/2012 14:32:28 MDT Print View

@Mike W.
Yes, the chipset is the reason for the sheer improvements in efficiency. As far as battery life, that is yet for me to be determined. I have yet to even get close to the 50 hours in continuous GPS mode. To be frank, I'm not sure you would ever have a problem with battery life when used off and on during a backpacking trip. I turn it on to check my position (10 sec. Max) then it's back to watch mode (30 day battery life advertised) or I turn to on to get current UTM or Lat/Long position (10 sec. max) and write it on my map for reference. Other uses are to get the heading for a waypoint and then use the 360 degree electronic compass on the watch to monitor my bearing. Even then, its not in GPS mode.

That said, reviews I read online stated that when left into full GPS mode, while biking/running battery life was appox 45 hours. I've just never got close to that with the way I use it. I've only been on shorter 3 day trips this year.

Lastly, the watch can be put into sleep mode by holding the top two buttons for 7 sec. or so. I do this at night and then if you want the watch to wake, you simply hit one of the buttons. For battery life, the Ambit may not be ideal for a long thru-hike but, for all other trips it seems great. I don't have any extended trips planned this year beyond 4-5 days, so we will have to see what other say about longer trips.

Edited by dmacdaddy on 06/08/2012 14:34:07 MDT.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Wrist watch GPS on 06/08/2012 16:25:49 MDT Print View

Garmin Foretrex 301 is what I would chose.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
ambit on 06/08/2012 17:06:19 MDT Print View

just went to Suunto's site and looked at the Ambit- that would be mighty handy for my trail running!)

pricey, but still cheaper than a Rolex :)

Brad Abrahams
(frigger)
Re: Re: Wrist watch GPS on 06/08/2012 17:13:52 MDT Print View

I took the Foretrex 301 on a 3-week backpacking trip all over southern Utah. Highly recommended. Especially useful when bushwhacking in the wilderness areas. I usually used it paired with a map or to make sure i was on track when taking unplanned side trips.

Mark Fowler
(KramRelwof) - MLife

Locale: Namadgi
Re on 06/08/2012 18:16:26 MDT Print View

The Suunto web site gives the weight of the Ambit as 78g. My Foretrex 401 weighs 75g with batteries but stripped of the wrist strap. I use a lanyard of thin cord and keep it in a pocket for easy access.

While I really like the idea of the Ambit and would consider one once I sorted out how to charge it in the field, it isn't going save any weight.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
fenix on 09/13/2012 12:45:42 MDT Print View

there is also the Garmin Fenix that might be worth peeking at, $100 less than the Ambit (but still pricey at $400)- it does display in UTM (if you so choose)