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Apple Watch 6 – for adventures

I decided to research and write this post after trying to turn the Apple Watch 6 into a ‘Garmin Fenix 6‘. I did find some great alternatives to SOME of the Garmin’s outdoors features but I’m not going to try to kid you that the Apple Watch beats the Garmin Fenix for pro outdoor usage, so please read on in the spirit of adventure and realising that the Apple Watch is not always something for adventurers to sniff at.

That said, the Apple Watch 6 is the best smartwatch and it’s a good running and fitness watch too. For sure, it’s not the best tool to help you scale Everest but it can be used to boost your enjoyment on adventures that involve technical challenges like following a route, avoiding a storm or making sure you’ll be back before sunset. If you already have an Apple Watch then a few free or low-cost apps might save you splashing your cash on a new outdoors watch like a Fenix 6 that you might only end up needing a couple of times.

The technical challenges you might face outdoors will be ‘many and varied’. Let’s start with your need for some tools that will help you plan and prepare for these environmental challenges:

Apple Watch 6 – Compass

If you have an Apple Watch 5 or newer (6 or SE) then you have an onboard magnetic compass and a pre-loaded compass app.

The compass app is a thing of beauty. Putting that to one side, it usually points in the right direction too! I say ‘usually’ because some metal straps can affect the accuracy of the compass on the AW.

I find that the compass app goes into screensaver mode slightly too quickly but I don’t mind that too much as, rather than the compass app, I prefer to use one of the complications that come with the compass app. ie I will add the compass display to a custom watch face. Here you can see the compass complication shown as a circle and as a bar and compared to the Garmin 945 widget glance

Compass Tips

Apple Watch 6 – Altimeter

An altimeter works out your distance above sea level, on land we refer to that as elevation. It is possible for a watch to determine elevation based on GNSS/GLONASS/GPS and many do that. However, the Apple Watch 3 saw the introduction of a barometric altimeter which determines elevation change based on changes in air pressure, the broad reasoning being that when you go up the pressure goes down. Putting your glorious adventures in the wild to one side, altimeters are often used to determine how many flights of stairs you have ascended in a day…THAT’s how sensitive they are to changes in air pressure. Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch 6 see the altimeter changed to be ‘always on’ and my take on that is that the AW6/SE are probably periodically recalibrating the altimeter, based on your location, so increasing its apparent accuracy. Thus, in my experience, AW6’s altimeter is accurate (Apple Watch 6 detailed accuracy report) for example, I always find that the AW6 has correctly calibrated elevation when I leave home; maybe in a forest and on a hillside with a storm approaching the AW6 might not be so accurate. #ItsComplicated.

Most competing outdoors watches with barometric altimeters like Suunto will have the same issues 1) what is the correct starting elevation? and 2) Am I correctly measuring elevation change if air pressure is alsochanging due to weather?

There is no dedicated ‘Altimeter’ app pre-loaded on the Apple Watch, indeed your elevation and the accuracy of the elevation are shown in the Compass app and are available as a complication. I rarely look at the elevation when running/walking, so it doesn’t deserve much screen real estate… I find it best to include elevation as a complication on my watch face or even to just scroll down to it after opening the compass app.

Recommended 3rd party app: Altimeter+

Apple Watch 6 – Barometer

During your adventure, you have another use for the barometer. If you are stationary over an extended period then changes to air pressure could indicate an approaching storm. So you have to think of your Apple Watch as able to separate changes to elevation from changes in air pressure. I guess you could have a weather app but what if your adventure takes you out of cell range? You wouldn’t get the storm alert from a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure.

I could not find any easy, free way to show a complication of barometric pressure. However several iPhone apps do have that feature and can give notifications which would pop up on the watch.

I found a few apps that give storm alerts and severe weather alerts but I don’t think any of them determined the alert solely on barometric pressure changes (for when you are off-grid)

Suggested 3rd party app: Carrot (not free and a little bit quirky/fun). It has a pressure complication, shown above.

Apple Watch 6 – Weather Forecast

With an Apple Watch LTE or connected over mobile data on your iPhone, you can continually update the weather forecast on your watch. If you know you are going to be out of cell range during your adventure you could pre-load one of you route points, like Yosemite National Park, into the Apple weather app which is only updated when there is an internet connection. That’s fine for a day-long trip but that’s about it.

Apps like MyRadar take weather to a higher level by introducing weather alert notifications as well as having a cool full-screen weather radar view which might add some value if you plan to take cover. MyRadar has no active complications that you can add on your watch face.

You’ve probably also heard people speaking very highly of the frequent, localised weather updates on Dark Sky. Expect more from that a it’s now owned by Apple.

Recommended 3rd Party App: MyRadar (free, interesting in-app purchases), Dark Sky Weather (paid for, has complications on WatchOS 7.0 albeit limited, not tested)

 

 

Apple Watch 6 – Nomad Rugged Strap

So you have your apps installed, well some of them…more to come. And you have your watch faces set up with complications-galore. Now all you need is a decent watch strap to brave all that nature will throw your way.

I’ve used the super high-quality NOMAD leather straps for a while and they are very elegant and look great with a work shirt. Perhaps not great for a storm as the one I have is made of leather. “Fear not!” Nomad said, “try this…” they said and here is their updated 2020 outdoors strap.

Nomad released an updated version of their popular Rugged Stap in 2020 with a slightly improved design made from a strong, vulcanised FKM fluoroelastomer. It feels super-strong and has the comfort to boot. In this case, I have the sleek black colour with 316-stainless steel lugs and buckle which match the aluminium case or chrome cases on the AW. There is a thin slotted pattern on the top of the band and breathable ribbed grooves on the underside. From a technical perspective, it’s been tested to resist a 5-20 kgf lateral slide-out force when in the Apple Watch and of course is super sport-friendly as well. It is water-resistant and can be used for adventures and swimming. The material is able to resist high temperatures, sunlight, and chemicals while also repelling oils so it can be wiped clean after any outing.

It’s a much higher-durability strap than you would get on a typical Garmin, thicker than on my Fenix 6 for example, plus, in comparison, the metal lugs/buckle exude quality. You can also see from the images above that there is more detail on the underside than a typical Garmin strap. Apple Watch straps vary in price from a few dollars/pounds up to a few hundred. The Nomad Rugged is priced in line with those from Apple at $49.95.

There is further protection for the screen from numerous screen protectors where you can buy packs of one use screen-films or a re-usable screen casing

  • Get the reusable screen protector for: £10/$10/Eu10
  • Get the emergency iWalk Apple Watch Portable Charger or Choetech 5000mAh Charger for: £45, Eu47
  • Get the Nomad Rugged Strap for: £57.00, Eu63
  • Try the cool-looking Nomad Sport strap for: £35, $34, Eu42

Manufacturer: Nomad Goods




Apple Watch 6 – Daylight Tracking

My road bike adventures seem to always end just after dusk, luckily I always have a rear radar-light (Varia RTL515), I seem to be less lucky with trail adventures, ending up running or cycling in mildly-dangerous moonlit situations. Even if you are more organised than me, the best-made plans still go astray and it’s wise to be aware of dusk and sunset (twilight) times.

My best and prettiest solution for this was to combine Apple’s Solar Dial watch face with complications from the Solar Watch Sunrise Sunset app. It all looks cool but I’m not entirely convinced it provides the information I want in the best way for aiding adventures. The Solar Dial watch face lets you know the next astronomical event and you can scroll between them with the crown, I think the same setting on the Garmin watchface, shown above, are more in-your-face and obvious.

You could perhaps consider other iPhone-only apps like Sundial and then set up a sunset/dusk alert which pops up on your watch as a notification. After all, you won’t be constantly looking at the sunset time all day whereas, with a compass, you might be.

 

Apple Watch 6 – Following a Route

Route planning and then following that route on the Apple Watch opens up a vast amount of complexity that’s beyond the scope of this post. There are many Watch OS apps that deliver routing features from differing perspectives. From a tech perspective, the watch can be working by itself to guide you OR your a phone app can be guiding you from your rucksack and the watch acts as an extension of your phone but conveniently on your wrist.

If you want to download and follow a standard digital route like US National Trails, UK trails and many similar routes across the world. You could use the popular Komoot app.

When following a route, many Apple Watch apps will frequently vibrate and indicate when, where and how you next need to turn. That’s fine. They tend to work well but you are trusting them to be correct.

Apple’s Map app works to direct you in the way I’ve just described. However, it also has the ‘map intelligence’ built in to re-route you and you can check your progress on the map on the watch too. The latest release of Apple Maps in Watch OS7 also has directions optimised for cycling too.

The Apple Map app has a clear and somewhat rudimentary map. It’s fine, I guess. However, you can get and more detailed maps that are better suited for your adventures with other apps. The following example shows the WorkOutDoors app which is pretty cool but costs £3.99. You download OSM map tiles to your watch and you can trace your route over the pretty map tiles and still leave your phone at home. The workoutdoors app can import routes via your iCloud account and is also highly customisable for sports usage.

 

 

Multi-Day Charging

To alleviate battery issues for multi-day adventures, there are several powerful chargers specifically designed for the Apple Watch, like iWalk (UK/EU) or Choetech (USA/CA)

 

Manufacturer: Nomad Goods


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