Mountaineering & Expeditions

Suunto Traverse Amber GPS Watch Review

Finnish GPS pioneers Suunto are one of the leading players in the hiking and mountaineering watch market. In 2012, they launched the Ambit, a fully-featured GPS watch now on the third generation. It was an effective piece of equipment with a frankly bewildering range of features designed for all adventure sports enthusiasts from mountaineers to cyclists.

A later, key addition to the Ambit that moved it ahead of its rival Garmin Fenix, was the access to the wireless access Movescount smartphone app that opened up a range of third party applications that added even more functionality. So where does the Suunto Traverse fit in the range?

It’s been billed as a slimmed down watch both in physical size and features. Yet, it shouldn’t really be viewed as an ‘Ambit Lite’, but rather a watch that is designed specifically for hikers. While it is compatible with, for example, the heart rate monitor, there are fewer of the superfluous extras for hikers (although it should be said that running pace can be tracked, and cycling speed tracked through the GPS).

“The operating temperature can also be as low as -30C. It is all made and tested in Finland after all.”

So what does it have? It is, at its core, an ABC GPS watch; ABC standing for Altimeter, Barometer and Compass. GPS (and the Russian GLONASS system) allows accurate geolocation (and also supports the altimeter). Key features are the Trackback function that drops virtual ‘breadcrumbs’, meaning you can return along the same route should the weather turn or you become “navigationally challenged”.

Points of interest pins can be dropped, and the speed, distance and vertical ascent/descent are logged. Another key feature is the barometer that, as well as helping with a more accurate elevation reading, also provides basic weather information. If there’s a sudden drop in atmospheric pressure for example, it could mean a storm is coming. The watch can be set to to provide a vibration warning.

But before looking at other features and usability, it’s important to know that it will stand up to what you’ve got planned for it. The watch weighs 80g, which is heavy enough to require a bit of getting used to. The bezel that will take most of the knocks is a durable stainless steel with mineral crystal glass and a silicone strap proved comfortable and durable too. It is water resistant to 100m (ISO 6425).

One of the problems with ABC GPS watches has been the battery life. The Traverse’s rechargeable lithium-ion is much improved with up to 100 hours life in basic GPS mode and 14 days in time mode, there’s also a series of settings that allow battery saving. The operating temperature can also be as low as -30C. It is all made and tested in Finland after all.

“Movescount is described as a ‘personal diary and online sports community’ and it allows Suunto apps to integrate with third party platforms such as Strava and TrainingPeaks.”

There are five buttons around the outside, each easily useable with gloves on. Start, Next, Light, Back Lap and View. Start begins the show. There is some basic setup information to enter when you first turn it on. Most of the settings can be changed either through the watch or the Movescount app, which we’ll come on to later. Settings include personal information (height, weight, sex), units, language etc.

In basic mode, the watch displays the time and daily count step or calories burned as a default. These can then be collated into weekly and yearly trends. For most hikers however, it’s the Alti-Baro feature – seen by tapping Next – that is one of the most used. The Suunto Traverse continuously measures absolute air pressure to calculate altitude and sea-level air pressure. This is useful for weather and storm warnings (identified by a sudden drop in pressure) as well as adding a level of accuracy to the altimeter.

The Alti-Baro information screens can include temperature, sunrise/sunset, reference points and a 12-hour graph. A Barometric ‘homescreen’ can also be selected if there’s not going to be a big change in altitude in your activity (e.g. canoeing). A significant component to the Traverse is the use of FusedAlti which, in short, means that it can automatically judge altitude based on press and GPS information, however, it’s worth calibrating the watch at a known altitude before setting off.

The digital compass is another key feature, and magnetic declination – the difference between true north and magnetic north – can be set depending where you are (this information will be on an up-to-date map). A compass bearing lock is a very useful addition here, as is the countdown timer for setting pace.

The ‘Find back’ option leads you back to your starting point if you need to get out quickly. The real time Breadcrumb trail is, if nothing else, reassuring. There’s a wide range of coordinate systems too, including Swedish, Swiss, New Zealand as well as the usually British (BNG), UTM and WGS84, meaning you can use it in many places across the world. Another feature is the use of GLONASS, the Russian GPS system, that kick starts when needed.

As the watch tracks your movements, a wide range of Points Of Interest (POI) pins marked by an array of icons can also be dropped – these can be then plotted on a topographic map through Movescount later by accessing the logbook… and it’s through the Movescount interface where the features really open up.

It is described as a “personal diary and online sports community” and it is here where Suunto apps can integrate with third party platforms such as Strava and TrainingPeaks. The Movescount app can also be used to plan routes which can then be synchronised with the watch. With the Bluetooth access, it can also integrate with the Movescount phone app by displaying incoming calls and messages.

“Now may be the perfect time to buy one.”

So with all the features and functions (believe it or not, we’ve not listed them all here!) what the Suunto Traverse provides is an exceptional GPS watch that overcomes the user interface issues of the more complex Ambit and, after a couple of walks for familiarisation, becomes second nature. Then it’s a question as to how deep you want to get into the Movescount platform and mobile phone app.

It should also be said that the price of ABC GPS watches has come down considerably in the last couple of years. Now may be the perfect time to buy one.

Suunto Traverse Amber GPS Watch Stats:

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