This handy tool will become one of your favourite companions when out in the backcountry or training for your next trip
Garmin laid down the gauntlet when they unveiled their all new Fenix 6 series of watches at the UTMB trail race in Chamonix this autumn. A bold move by the American brand, as it showed that they planned on going toe-to-toe with the heavyweight champion in the running smartwatch market – Suunto.
Why’s it so great that Garmin have looked to make a better trail running watch? This is a backcountry skiing focused gear review, after all. Well, running feature additions (namely improved battery life) make this watch an ideal companion to join you on your backcountry adventures.
“Garmin have gone and made a watch that gives ski tourers some fantastic new updates”
In looking to target more of the running community, Garmin have gone and made a watch that gives ski tourers some fantastic new updates that’ll help you plan, train and, more importantly, be safer in the mountains.
Rightly or wrongly, technology is fast becoming a staple in our backcountry skiing kit; mobile phones, satellite communicators, power banks and now GPS watches. Whilst you don’t want to be relying on this kit (incase you’re ever left without it), it’s important to be as prepared as possibleif / when the unplanned happens.
These nifty watches allows for instantaneous GPS readings and map displays (more on these later) whilst out in the mountains, no matter your mobile service.
Bear with us with this review – there’s a load of technology packed into this watch that we want to cover. We’ll start with the new additions to the Fenix 6X, followed by the features that it carries over from its predecessor – the Fenix 5 Plus.
If you do find yourself without a power bank, or need to use your power bank on more important electronic devices, then Garmin have now given you the option to put the Fenix 6X into Expedition Mode which gives up to 56 days of GPS track points. It does this by going into an ultra low power mode, and waking itself up every hour to take a new GPS fix.
This mode looks ideal for ski tourers heading out into the backcountry for extended periods of time (we’re talking week long or more missions here). This all basically means that you can get some astonishingly long battery performance out of your Fenix, if you do find yourself without a power source.
Garmin have packed their watch with a feature previously only available to the top spec Fenix 5 Plus – the Pulse Ox Acclimation feature. This feature keeps track of blood oxygen saturation (SATs) levels – particularly useful if you’re frequently spending a lot of time training and skiing at altitude.
In short, knowing the oxygen levels in your blood can help determine how well your body is acclimatising to higher altitudes. Normal oxygen levels vary from 95 to 100 percent.
Ski Resort Mapping
We’re not always out in the back of beyond on our ski missions – it’s got to be said that the majority of our trips start from a ski resort. With that in mind, it’s great to see that Garmin have pre-loaded the Fenix 6X with ski maps of over 2000 ski resorts around the world.
These maps are optimised for skiing, showing piste names and difficulty – perfect for finding the fastest way to begin your off-piste missions.
The Fenix 6X comes with an impressive range of mapping already built into its 32gb internal storage. This mapping is certainly a strongpoint of the Garmin Fenix range as it delivers full-colour Topo Maps that cover the whole of Europe (with more maps available to buy for other continents).
Whilst we can’t stress enough the importance of map reading and navigational skills whilst out in the backcountry, there’s nothing more reassuring than being able to have a wrist-top computer on you that can give you fast location information on a zoomable map.
“The Fenix 6X comes with an impressive range of mapping already built into its 32 gb internal storage”
On top of the all-new Expedition Mode, Garmin have also created a Battery Saver mode that gives up to 80 days of battery life, with only extremely basic functions enabled. Battery life within Garmin’s UltraTrac mode has also been increased, giving up to 72 hours of GPS tracking – solid performance for hut-to-hut ski touring missions.
Heart Rate Monitor
No modern-day smartwatch is worth their salt these days if they don’t have a wrist based heart rate monitor on them, so of course the Fenix 6X is packing an optical heart rate monitor – the refined Garmin Elevate optical heart rate technology has been used here.
Whilst this form of heart rate monitoring isn’t as accurate as that of a chest-based monitor, we always find it useful to gather heart rate information on the fly whilst ski touring (without the need for any further equipment).
Something that Garmin have been able to do, is the ability to link your Fenix 6X up with other Garmin products, more specifically, their satellite communicators – the InReach series.
For example, you could link up your inReach Mini with your Fenix to make use of the superior navigational capabilities of the InReach whilst also taking advantage of the screen on your wrist for quick access to the InReach data.
Not only can you utilise the navigational capabilities of the InReach, but you can also program messages to be sent from the satellite communicator for SOS messages or for simply letting your loved one know you’re safe and on track to reach your objective.
The 32gb of internal storage is a step up from the Fenix 5 Plus series. It’s impressive that Garmin have managed to cram this much storage into such a small unit. This will allow you to load it up with up to 2,000 songs, or lots and lots of podcasts / audiobooks if that’s more your thing.
What with it being 2019, and a time of streaming, you’ll be glad to know that you’re able to pre-load your Fenix 6X with your favourite Spotify playlists (as long as you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber, that is).
Continuing on the music front, Garmin offers full connection to Bluetooth headphones with the Fenix 6X. Just be aware that music playback will eat into the battery life of the watch.
Something else that the Fenix 6X is able to show off is its GarminPay contactless payments technology. Whilst this offering hasn’t been fully rolled out in the UK, it’s still an impressive addition to this watch. You’ll be able to check whether or not your bank supports GarminPay here.
“The watch is constantly logging resting and recovery statistics”
Garmin has long been known for their app usability and we’re happy to report back that this is still the case with the Garmin Connect app, which is available for both smartphone and desktop use.
With the watch sometimes feeling like it’s bombarding you with training and recovery statistics, it’s great to be able to get home and study all of these metrics in a much more user-friendly way than a watch face will ever be able to offer.
There’s a wealth of information found within the Garmin Connect app, once you have connected the watch to your smartphone. This information is not just limited to performance analysis and training metrics.
The watch is constantly logging resting and recovery statistics such as stress levels, resting heart rate and sleep patterns. The latter is most interesting as it allows you to look back on your sleep diary over the past weeks or months and see how well you’ve been resting.
“Heart rate, GPS, mapping, InReach compatibility, music and contactless payments – this watch does the lot”
Yeah, this one might seem eye-wateringly pricey, but hopefully you’ve just got an idea of what a multi-sport champion this watch is. Heart rate, GPS, mapping, InReach compatibility, music and contactless payments – this watch does the lot.
If you’re keen to just get a watch that is going to track heat rate and GPS for your ski touring days in the mountains and road running training around town, then the cheaper Forerunner may just be the watch for you.
Only you’ll know if you require the extra navigation and map offerings provided by this watch. Offerings that, in our opinion, are well suited to people who like nothing more than spending their free time well away from civilisation – whether that’s through hiking, climbing, wild camping, mountaineering, ski touring or long-distance fell running.
Not only will you get the additional map capabilities, but you can also make use of the music services, Garmin pay and VO2 max readings that this watch is able to offer.
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