Hunting

The hunter’s review: 2017’s best hunting watches

A hunting watch can be a serious investment and with so many features it can be hard to work out which model can offer the most to the modern hunter. English hunter Freddy Weller took to the field to put four models from Garmin, Casio and Suunto to the test. Here are his findings:

Now it’s 2017 I was thinking, ‘Has hunting actually changed over the years?’ Rifles and ammunition are more accurate – that’s true, but I was also promised hoverboards and flying cars by now, so is there a place for similar high tech in the field?

Of course, lots of people enjoy hunting and shooting to get away from modern life, but I wanted to test out some GPS watches to see if tech can enhance the shooting experience while not intruding into that sacred escape from Facebook and TV.

Oer the summer, I tested out four watches; the Garmin Fenix 5x, Casio WSD-F20, Suunto Transverse Alpha and the Garmin Tactix Bravo. I was looking for functionality, practicality and usability though, as always, good aesthetics help too.

For those of you who can’t spare five minutes to read my full reviews because those rabbits need seeing to, here are the watches in order of my preference:

1. Garmin Fenix 5X
2. Suunto Transverse Alpha Foliage
3. Garmin Tactix Bravo
4. Casio WSD-F20

 

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Garmin Fenix 5X, Approx £750

This is currently Garmin’s top spec watch and at around the £750 mark is the most expensive watch I’m testing. The Fenix 5X definitely has triathletes in mind with its functionality, but there’s plenty that can be useful for hunters too. This is the only Garmin watch with preloaded maps and it is larger than some others in the range. It also has a sapphire display to resist scratches and all round feels like a quality item.

It didn’t take long to get used to this watch, I never found myself wanting to look anything up in the instructions – pretty amazing given the number of features and menus this thing has. It’s pretty customizable, with a few standard faces to choose from and even the possibility to choose a background picture of your own if you so wish.

The screen is on at all times and clear in broad daylight, then backlit when scrolling through the menus and at the touch of a button. It differs to a phone screen and is much better watch for it. The resolution isn’t quite that of a retina display but it’s still good.

The map functions of the The Fenix 5X are excellent and in much better detail than Google Maps. It shows woodland areas, ponds, roads, rivers, railway lines etc., and is similar to having an Ordnance Survey map on your wrist (this is quite useful for pub crawls too as it shows points of interest).

In the countryside, it can be difficult to know whether you’re on a footpath or a farmer’s track but this watch has managed to gather most of that data up and display it well. If you’re unsure of your surroundings this would certainly be a huge help.

While a heart rate monitor is certainly not essential when shooting, it can be interesting to see how high your heart rate goes when you see that big buck.

For a big watch, the Fenix 5X is is surprisingly comfortable, but it’s not subtle and sits proud on the wrist. I’m also not usually a fan of rubber straps, but this feels like a high quality, durable watch. The straps are also easily replaceable, so unlike other watches if something happens it’s not a big deal, just pop the old straps off and on with a new one.

While, the watch does requires patience to load up the GPS, this is the same across the board for all these watches. It’s also important to note the battery life. With 2 weeks on normal use and around 100 hours on GPS mode this is pretty epic; plenty in the tank!

 

Garmin Fenix 5X: The breakdown:

Buy Here
Buy Here

Hunting specific features:

  • Compass
  • Detailed maps
  • Sun ups and sun down
  • Storm warning and weather forecast
  • Downloadable app for moonphase

Pros:

  • Comfortable
  • Excellent maps
  • Heart rate monitor as just one of many features
  • Good battery life
  • Alerts from your phone are useful most of the time

Cons:

  • Perhaps too big
  • Slow GPS

Suunto Traverse Alpha Foliage, Approx £350

Suunto are a Finnish company that make high quality multi-function watches. In my opinion, the Traverse Alpha was the easiest watch to use and allows you to easily customise the information you want to access, whether it’s the compass, altimeter, steps or barometer.

The data is well expressed and although the screen is the most basic, just a simple digital low resolution job, it seems to work just fine – simplicity saves time. Perhaps this is the reason for this watch’s epic battery life – about three weeks(!) on standby and an impressive 100 hours on GPS mode. Personally, I’ve never been on a stalk that’s lasted so long, so it should be ample for all but the most extreme of you!

The GPS function on this watch is averagely exciting. You can plot your route and record where you’ve taken shots and seen tracks etc which you can’t do on the other watches (they have a save location feature but you can’t specify what that is). These plot points are mapped so you can see them again when you head out. It’s useful if you want to know how far a shot was taken or to count how many rabbits you’ve shot, but there aren’t any preloaded maps like on the Garmin, so don’t expect the Suunto to help you find your way back to a footpath if you get lost. Though, if things got really bad you could follow the ‘breadcrumb’ trail back to where you started at least.

If you were doing a hunt with lots of hiking you’ll also have the data for altitude and distance covered which may interest some people, but for most hunting in the UK I would say this would be a side note rather than essential information.

I like the design of this watch; it’s rugged but not too heavy and feels like it’s going to handle being bashed about better than the others. Scratches around the bezel won’t show up a great deal and the strap will take some punishment too.

At £350ish it’s a reasonably affordable addition to your hunting equipment and a very wearable watch for every day, so I think it’s competitively priced. This model is over a year old and I’m already excited to see what these guys can come up with for their next generation of outdoor watches. I hope they continue to focus on the hunting and outdoor market as they are predominantly known for sports and dive watches where they enjoy a good reputation and are a popular choice for scuba divers. So keep up the good work Suunto!

 

Suunto Traverse Alpha Foliage: The breakdown:

Buy Here
Buy Here

Hunting specific features:

  • Sun ups and Sun down times
  • Moon phases
  • Storm warning
  • Basic ‘breadcrumb’ map and can save locations of shots or footprints etc
  • Compass

Pros:

  • Design, rugged feel and durability
  • Epic battery life
  • Easy to use

Cons:

  • No preloaded maps
  • Screen resolution low and not colour

Garmin Tactix Bravo, Approx £450

I like the look of this watch and in my opinion, it has the edge on the Fenix 5X on looks alone. It’s also slightly thinner, which is a bonus. The Tactix Bravo comes with one black and one green fabric strap making it look like a military watch. However, that’s pretty much where the comparisons to the Fenix 5X stop; it doesn’t have a heart rate monitor or the preloaded maps which are some of the best features of the Fenix. The Tactix does have some skydiving features but it’s clear this has really been designed for a war more than a hunting trip. Perhaps airsoft enthusiasts will love this, but it’s not really going to enhance a deer stalking trip.

You can get info on your hiking distances, altitude, air pressure or temperature (which all these watches have) and Garmin does have a reasonably large App Store which might get you excited about increasing the features for the watch. However, I didn’t find any of them to be very smooth, quick or useful, especially the maps app which was developed by a third party which is very slow and not really useable.

The screen is a decent colour screen and can be easily seen in direct sunlight and at night with the backlight. Again, the resolution is good, but not great. The Casio has a higher resolution, although you’d take the lower resolution of the Garmin watches over the Casio, just for the versatility of Garmin’s lighting conditions.

Given the Tactix Bravo has the same layout as the Fenix, I found it pretty easy to find my way around it. Again, the menus are quite intuitive and I never found myself needing the instructions or tutorials.

The battery life of this watch is slightly better than the Fenix and it would probably last more than 2 weeks if the GPS isn’t running. The phone alerts are a bit temperamental but quite useful. Being able to see on your wrist if you’ve received a spam email or a message from the wife can greatly reduce the need to use your phone whilst stalking. which can be the difference of a successful stalk or not.

In my opinion, this watch is quite expensive for what it offers to the hunter. I’d be annoyed that I didn’t either go for the Suunto at a marginally cheaper price, or spend more and get the Fenix 5X.

 

Garmin Tactix Bravo: The breakdown:

Buy Here
Buy Here

Hunting specific features:

  • Downloadable app for moon phase cycle
  • Sun ups and downs
  • Ultra low backlight for keeping you from being dazzled at night
  • Storm warning and weather updates
  • Compass

Pros:

  • Feels a little slimmer and lighter than the Fenix but still sturdy
  • A nice looking watch with better faces than the others, in my opinion
  • Nice to have a couple of straps included
  • Great battery life (2 weeks+ on normal use)

Cons:

  • No maps
  • The watch will mark badly is if you graze the bezel, always an issue with a black watch I’ve found
  • No heart rate monitor

Casio WSD-F20, Approx £450

The first problem I came up against with the Casio WSD-F20 was that despite charging it the day I received it, it had already ran out of battery by the next day when I was hoping to use it. Like most most android and Apple watches, this is a one day kind of watch.

Once we got past the battery issues and I took it out into the field it did strike me that I pretty much had a phone strapped to my wrist, with the same Google Maps detail, colour screen and touch screen. Operationally, it’s not too slow but it’s certainly not instant so I wasn’t overly impressed. It wasn’t easy to see the screen in the sunshine, which is a shame given the watch’s good resolution.

The Casio also was not as intuitive as the Garmin or Suunto watches and took some getting used to. There are a ton of apps to download (for example moon cycles) which I’m sure like phone apps are getting more useful and numerous by the day.

The watch looks rugged and feels like other G-Shock watches (not so crisp but you’re not worried about dropping it).  However, while I didn’t like the colours or white text around the bezel, when I posted photos on Instagram some people thought it looked the best, so I know it’s subjective.

For me it was the least comfortable watch; the strap doesn’t flex like the others and feels bulkier. However, it’s probably not as heavy as you might think so it could be something you get used to.

Overall, I was disappointed in the watch and feel it would offer no more than a phone whilst out stalking deer or shooting rabbits.

 

Casio WSD-F20: The breakdown:

Buy Here

Hunting specific features:

  • Google Maps
  • Compass
  • Storm warning

Pros:

  • Good resolution screen and touch screen
  • Lots of features and apps although not necessarily hunting related

Cons:

  • Battery life poor on full functionality
  • Uncomfortable
  • Difficult to use
  • Poor visibility in full sunlight
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