Testing Smartwatches for Elevation Accuracy: My Mount Diablo Experience with Five Top Brands

During the previous weekend, I secured five fitness smartwatches, drove to Mount Diablo State Park in California, and ascended approximately 2,100 feet to the summit. The purpose? To determine which smartwatch brand — Apple, COROS, Garmin, Polar, or Samsung — was the most precise for tracking elevation.

Most high-end smartwatches feature a barometric altimeter to assess your elevation gain during outdoor workouts. Altimeters utilize air pressure fluctuations to compute elevation changes in conjunction with GPS data. However, some are more precise than others, and most brands do not allow manual calibration of your starting position. 

I’ve been eager to conduct this experiment for a while, ever since my trial last year when I wore six smartwatches for 6,000 steps to evaluate which came closest to the actual number. Since then, I have also carried out several multi-watch GPS accuracy tests for reviews, but these have all been two-dimensional assessments. I have never known how accurate my watch is when it informs me I’ve ascended X feet or climbed Y flights of stairs. 

The Polar Vantage V3 and Galaxy Watch 6 Classic worn near the summit of Mount Diablo.

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

For my evaluation, I selected three watches I’ve previously assessed — the COROS PACE 3, Garmin Forerunner 965, and Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic — along with two I am currently evaluating, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Polar Vantage V3. 

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