Best ABC Watch: What Makes It Tick?

Your ABC watch
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

There are a lot of ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Whether it’s either or a combination of climbing, hiking, camping, hunting or fishing, there are some pieces of equipment that transcend all outdoor activities. A good knife, emergency kit, compass, and timepiece are all good examples. If you are a fan of any outdoor activities, then chances are you will want the best ABC Watch.

The ABC watch or (Altimeter, Barometer, Compass) are the multi-tools of watches. They provide a lot of value for outdoor activities as these beasts were constructed with rugged use in mind.

They are a step up from altimeter watches that simply tell you your altitude. ABC watches help you keep your bearings in the wilderness (some even have GPS!) as well as withstand a great deal of punishment.

Best ABC Watch

If you’re looking for one, however, there are very many choices available in the market today. We’ve put together a small guide for you on the features and characteristics of these dynamic timepieces to help you figure out what is the best ABC watch for you.

What to Consider When Buying An ABC Watch

There are several features you will want to keep an eye out for as you search for the ideal watch. Some characteristics of the ABC watch’s desirability may vary depending on your needs, while others are non-negotiable. Here are what you should watch out for:

The Altimeter: The A of the ABC refers to the ability of the watch to assess the altitude that you are currently on. Though it isn’t 100% accurate, this can provide the best estimate of sorts as to elevation.

The best altimeter watch should have a relatively higher accuracy rating than the competition (though you will have to rely on second-hand advice or reviews for this if you want to know before buying). Your best bet is with the better-known brands such as Casio, Suunto, Garmin and Vestal

ABC watch altimeter

The Barometer: The barometer refers to the watches’ ability to gauge barometric air pressure. When accurate, this will allow you to be a step ahead of mother nature while you are out in the wild. A sudden decrease in barometric pressure is a probable indication of incoming strong rains.

This is a sign to look for shelter. A sudden high increase in barometric pressure is a potential signal of strong winds.  These bits of information can help you make quality decisions while in the field.

The Compass: Recent technological advances have raised the accuracy of the digital compass. The ones on ABC watches are no exception. However, it is still wise to not depend 100% on the compass of your ABC watch.

In order to increase the accuracy of readings, it’s important to calibrate ABC watches from time to time.  How often this has to be done will vary depending on your activities.

How often do you camp out? It’s best to calibrate the watch for every trip or every large bit of altitude change. Google Earth is a great help in identifying estimates for recalibration.

ABC watch

Build & Weight: Generally ABCs will be more on the rugged side, given what they’re used for. Recently, however, manufacturers have been working to bridge the gap to fit ABCs to smart casual attire.

The look may be a matter of concern for you. When talking about the build, weight is also a concern. It largely depends on what you do outdoors. Activities calling for large amounts of physical exertion and endurance such as distance running and mountain climbing may call for a lighter watch.

GPS: Not everyone wants or need this feature. However, you would be surprised to want this feature if you find yourself in a pinch. Sadly, however, this will entail a pretty hefty price tag. Using this function will also drain your watch battery very quickly. It’s not for everybody, but it’s still a useful feature worth considering.

Heart rate monitor: Again, not something in all watches, and may appeal to you if your outdoor excursions involve some strenuous physical activity. Runners, climbers, and triathletes may find this an appealing feature.

Battery Life: Whatever your activities are or what you intend to use the watch for, battery life will be a big consideration in buying your timepiece. You definitely don’t want the watch dying at an ill-opportune moment.

ABC watch on the hand

It’s also a hassle to regularly change batteries. Some ABC watches have a solar charging feature, allowing you to charge while outside. Other watches can be charged via USB. Longevity and ease of use are definitely important.

Water Resistance: How much water will your watch be seeing? ABC watches are generally safe in the water, however, If you’re a diver you will want a watch with a higher water resistance rating as increasing depths will screw up a watch that’s not properly rated.

With all of that in mind, let’s go through a few great ABC watches in the market today.

Top Products of 2018

Casio Men’s PAG240-1CR Pathfinder Watch

Casio Men's PAG240-1CR Pathfinder Watch

Weight: 8oz

Case Material: Stainless Steel

Water Resistance: 330 ft

Solar Charging: yes

Special Features: Altimeter, Calendar, Stopwatch, Compass, World Clock, Sunrise & sunset time

Description: The Casio Men’s PAG240-1CR Pathfinder Watch is a great all-around ABC watch. It employs a solar based self-charging mechanism relieving you of the constant need to change your batteries.

This feature is great on an ABC watch, especially if you find yourself in an indefinite survival situation where dead batteries will not be replaceable. While being fully solar powered, the PAG240-1CR Pathfinder can last as long as 6 months without sunlight exposure.

The water resistance rating it offers allows for some light swimming but not ideal for handling deep water. The built-in barometer and altimeter measure altitude changes in increments of 20 feet.

The internal thermometer also allows you to accurately assess temperature (when it’s not on your wrist), but it only goes as low as 14F which may be a deal breaker for climbers who bring their watches in the most extreme conditions. The watch backlight is great for night work, even setting it alongside other ABC watches.

Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Watch

Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Watch


Battery: Lithium Ion (Rechargeable)

Water Rating: 10ATM

Colors: Grey(Black band),Silver(red Band),Sapphire(Metal Band), Sapphire Rose( White Band), Sapphire, Silver Band, Titanium

Special Features: Standard ABC, Wireless Connectivity, ConnectIQ, Smart Notifications, Works with heart Monitor (Sold separately)

Description: The Garmin Fenix 3 GPS watch is an incredibly versatile and feature-rich ABC watch. It’s an amalgam of the features that make ABC watches the favorite of outdoorsmen as well as numerous fitness and connectivity features that make it an ideal choice for the modern outdoor backpacker and athlete.

The watch has solid ABC capabilities and standard water resistance rating makes it an ideal choice while taking on the outdoors.  The GPS provides tracking capability in addition to the navigation features. This allows you to see a trail connecting where you’ve been to where you currently are.

The wireless connectivity option allows it to connect to the internet via portable wifi of iPhones or other newer smartphones. This provides users with access to ConnectIQ, a software platform allowing for the display of various data fields, customizable at your fingertips.

It allows for several additional features if used with a heart rate monitor such as the Recovery Advisor. The watch also allows you to effectively track running, swimming and skiing data such as speed, the number of strokes and pace. The internet connectivity also allows you to check on notifications such as emails and texts from your watch.

The USB charging option replaces the need to replace batteries often. In training/GPS mode, the battery lasts 20 hours in UltraTrac mode and 6 weeks while in watch mode. The variety of styles and colors allows you to find a Garmin Fenix 2 that suits your style.

Casio Men’s PRW-3000-1ACR Protrek Black Sport Watch

Casio Men's PRW-3000-1ACR Protrek Black Sport Watch

Weight: 6.4oz

Battery: Non-standard (Solar charging)

Case Material: Stainless Steel

Color: Black

Bezel: Stationary

Special Features: multi-band atomic timekeeping, thermometer, ABC, LED Backlight, World-Time,

Description:  The PRW-3000-1ACR Protrek is another fine example of Casio’s watch-making expertise. This line of watches is a successor to the Casio Pathfinder series. This ABC timepiece packs Casio’s Triple Sensor Version 3 engine.

This bit of innovation has allowed them to improve the efficiency of the watch in terms of employing a much smaller direction sensor  as well as a large decrease in power consumption. The PRW 3000 Protek boasts a 7-month battery life, all without recharging. This is pretty impressive as it is a solar-powered watch.

The PRW-3000 also doesn’t feel like a hockey puck on your wrist. It’s noticeably smaller than its other siblings in the Protrek line as well as other ABC watches. That may or not be a put-off depending on preference. The light weight is definitely a plus for anyone who takes it on a climb or long bike ride.

Garmin Tactix GPS Navigator

Garmin Tactix GPS Navigator

Weight: 1.8oz

Battery: Lithium Ion

Battery Life: 50 hours (in GPS mode)

Waterproof: 50 meters

Special features: LED Backlit, Curved mineral glass lens, Scratch resistant

Description:  The Garmin Tactix is among the spiritual successors to their  Fenix line. Software that Tactix runs is 95% identical to that of Fenix. The Tactix (as the name suggests) was built for those more inclined with the tactical and military fields.

The inverted display highlighted white text and numbers over a black background (is interestingly night-vision friendly) as well as  the non-reflective surfaces and curved glass surfaces are intended to lessen chances of the watch reflecting light at an ill-opportune time.

The watch also has a Jumpmaster feature going beyond assistance for regular jumps to include high altitude low opening (HALO) and high altitude high opening (HAHO) jumps. Both of which are done almost exclusively by military units.

The watch also features the standard ABC offerings and executes quite well. It includes a magnetic compass which differentiates itself from GPS-based compasses because it can get a decent reading even if you’re standing still.

While the Garmin Tactix is a solid buy definitely worth looking at, it isn’t as waterproof as most would like it. In fact, the waterproof rating doesn’t even recommend it for snorkeling or deep diving. The 50m rating would even make it risky to take into a pool for light diving and lapping. This is a potential deal breaker right here, especially noting that Garmin has had waterproofing concerns in past watches.

Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR Running GPS Unit

Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR Running GPS Unit

Weight: 3.14oz

Bezel Material: Stainless Steel

Glass Material: Mineral Crystal

Water Resistance: 100m

Description: There is a good reason why Suunto remains among the benchmarks in the field of outdoor timepieces. The focus on precision, style and functionality are hallmarks that have kept it as a favorite timepiece for outdoorsy folks and endurance athletes alike. The Ambit 3 Peak certainly bears that legacy well.

The Ambit 3 provides altimeter, compass, and barometer readings with a high-degree of accuracy. The 100m water resistance will help you stay at ease while taking it to the pool.  In fact, this model is among the most recommended for fitness enthusiasts who want to gauge themselves while in water.

The Ambit 3 Peak, when used with its heart rate monitor can handle measurements under water.  It also packs a sync feature allowing you to send your data to your phone for easy review and sharing later on.

The sleek and almost tactical look go well whether you’re sweating it out in the gym, going for an outdoor run or spending a day wearing smart casual at the office.

Suunto X-Lander Wrist-Top Computer Watch
Suunto X-Lander Wrist-Top Computer Watch

Weight: 2.2oz

Battery: CR2 (user replaceable)

Casing: Aluminum and mineral glass

Special Features: ABC Functionality

Description:  While this is among the older models in this list, the Suunto X-Lander is still a strong option despite the newer market offerings. The X-Lander was and is marketed as a military watch. Hence, it’s great for rugged use.

You can bang it up while camping, trekking or fishing and it’ll work just fine. The altimeter, barometer, and compass function with a high level of accuracy.

You can take the watch on deeper dives. The watch can take up to 100 feet without concern. This is essential if you want a timepiece for your snorkeling and scuba excursions.

In terms of features, it doesn’t pack the bells and whistles newer timepieces have. But it’s capable of going toe to toe with recent offerings if you’re simply talking about the outdoor functions.

Vestal Men’s GDEDP01 The Guide Stainless Steel Digital Watch

Vestal Men's GDEDP01 The Guide Stainless Steel Digital Watch

Weight: 4.64 oz

Case Material: Stainless Steel

Water Resistant: up to 330FT

Special Features: Adjustable LCD Contrast, K1 Mineral Crystal, Electroluminescent Backlight

Description: The Vestal Men’s GDEDP01 the Guide is one of the lesser known entrants to the ABC watch market. Despite being lesser known doesn’t make it a lesser performer.

The timepiece offers ABC functionality with a weather forecast. The bi-directional  bezel and the compass will aid you in quickly regaining your bearings while out in the field.

It’s a bit heftier than its competitors which may be fine with those who want a more rugged feeling watch. The metal is relatively thicker on the timepiece as well. It also comes with a titanium emergency whistle which is of itself a great survival tool.

On a side note, it’s also made in the USA, if in case that piece of information matters to you.

Lad Weather Men’s Digital Quartz Black German Sensor Sport Watch

Lad Weather Men's Digital Quartz Black German Sensor Sport Watch

Weight: 2.01oz

Case Diameter: 45mm

Casing Material: Stainless Steel

Water resistance: 30m

Special Features: Electro Luminescence Backlight

Description: This is the single German watch that we will be featuring on this list and one of the reasons why it stands out is the price. The Lad Weather Men’s Digital Quartz Black German Sensor Sport is very, very, cheap relative to the others in its market.

It provides altimeter, barometric and compass readings just like the other watches on this list. Though the accuracy of this watch might not be as high as the rest. However, it is still reliable on an estimated basis and should get you through the generic outdoor use.

In terms of water resistance, it leaves a bit to be desired. The Digital Quartz black German Sensor Sport isn’t a watch you’re going to want to take with you when on a snorkeling or light scuba trip. The timepiece is also devoid of the numerous features you would find on a new Casio or Suunto watch, but I guess that is to be expected. It is a cheap watch for the value that it provides.

Garmin Tactix Bravo, Black with Silicone Band

Garmin Tactix Bravo, Black with Silicone Band

Weight: 3.2oz

Water Resistance: 100m

Special Features: LED Backlit, Scratch resistant, Wireless Connectivity, ABC Functionality

Description:  The Garmin Tactix Bravo is definitely a contender. If you’re looking for an ABC timepiece with enhanced functionality and added features then you will probably want a look at this. The Tactix Bravo is well built with a construction fit for an outdoor and fitness watch. It will take a beating.

As an ABC watch, it does its job.  Sensors provide up-to-date information on air pressure, altitude, and bearing. The watch can display trends in air pressure to aid in weather prediction. The electronic compass does a good job in helping you keep your bearings.

The Bravo, like the rest of the Tactix series, has a number of tactical features that set it apart from the general ABC market.

The watch has Jumpmaster Activity and smart features for physical activity.  It also provides smart notifications provided that you have a compatible device. You will see if you have an urgent email or text, even if your focus is not on your phone.

The great durability and functionality and style come at a price, a pretty steep one at that. But if your budget isn’t too tight, then the Tactix Bravo is certainly worth considering.

In Conclusion

These are just some of the ABC watches you can find in the market. When choosing the one for your next purchase, remember to consider the functionality that is critical to you vis-à-vis cost considerations. Spending a great deal for a watch packing features you don’t need is foolish.

Choose your ABC watch

Underspending and not getting the value you want will only lead to regret. Be sure to check your options before buying your next watch.


Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.