Is the Apple Watch useful for hiking? Short answer: kind of.
Long answer: I’ve been able to put the Apple Watch through its paces over the past two months, both at home with regular use as well as 16 days of road tripping, some backcountry hiking, and a few weekend camping trips. Read on for my experience and a couple recommended apps.
Initial Apple Watch review:
I was surprised to find that the Apple Watch exceeds my daily battery needs. With regular use at home and work I often have about 40% left over at the end of the day (moderate usage from 8am-11pm). Unfortunately it decreases my iPhone 6 Plus battery life by roughly 20% per day since all of the watch apps currently use the iPhone to operate over Bluetooth (an unfortunate restriction in Watch OS1).
You may immediately realize that this makes the Apple Watch nearly useless for extended backpacking trips, at least in it’s current state. By placing your iPhone in airplane mode, turning wifi off and turning Bluetooth back on, you can expect about 1.5 days of watch life, and maybe 2+ days off phone life, depending on limited usage and whether you shut everything off overnight. Without the Apple watch, I can usually get 3-5 days of use out my iPhone 6 Plus with limited GPS and camera use when I’m trekking in the backcountry.
While the watch may not be ideal for multi-day trekking, it can definitely be useful for day hiking or trail running. Currently an iPhone is still required to be in Bluetooth range for most watch apps to work, but with the right setup the Apple Watch can offer some convenient data at a glance, even without an internet connection via cellular service.
Apple Watch Apps for Hiking Offline
Currently my favorite app for raw altitude, speed and location data, directly on my wrist. Essentially a slimmed down version of the iPhone app, Motion X GPS displays GPS coordinates along with other useful data such as total ascent and distance traveled during a trip. Waypoints can quickly be added as well. Using the glance screen provides fast coordinates and altitude info. Unfortunately the app currently does not allow offline maps to be loaded, and seems to rely on Apple Maps for visual location information. With no data connection this screen just displays a load screen. You can get it on the app store for your iPhone here.
For visual offline maps on your wrist, you can view your location on preloaded topographical maps using Topo Maps. The experience is very minimal, but effective: zoom in, zoom out, pan, and locate current position. You can find it on the app store fro your iPhone and Apple Watch here.
Apps that don’t work:
A couple apps that offer good home screen “complications” become ineffective without a data connection. The two that might seem useful but fail quickly without Internet access are Sunrise/Sunset and Weather.
1. Sunrise/Sunset displays nothing after a short period of time. It would be nice if this continued to display last known information.
2. Weather only displays last location temp, for some time before displaying nothing. This is largely unavoidable.
Complications that do work:
Some complications that maintain usefulness without data:
1. Moon image remains accurate.
2. Moon status retains information for moonrise time and fullness.
3. Time and date still work, hopefully an obvious one!
4. Activity monitor continues to track daily calories burnt, standing time, excersise time, steps and distance traveled.
These are just a few of the things I’ve noticed so far. The Apple Watch has a long way to go if it’s going to become an effective gadget in the camping and backpacking world. It’s not so bad for road tripping and general traveling though. As long as you can keep both your watch and phone charged while maintaining an internet connection there are plenty of ways to make use of it. I’ll try to elaborate in another article in the coming weeks. In the meantime, feel free to offer your 2 cents in the comment area below!