The Best GPS/Baro Smartwatches for Paragliding in 2024

18 September 2023   |  Updated on January 03, 2024

Paragliding is an exhilarating sport that gives one the feeling of soaring through the air, a sense of freedom that is unparalleled. However, for enthusiasts, it’s not just about the feeling, but also about the precision of equipment that can enhance the overall experience. A common inquiry among new and seasoned pilots is whether watches can be beneficial during a flight. While traditional watches may not be the go-to tool for paragliders due to certain limitations, the advent of smartwatches has changed the game. This article aims to explore the best smartwatches for paragliding, keeping in mind the feedback from actual pilots and considering both their pros and cons.

Navigating the world of watches for paragliding can be a bit complex, especially with opinions ranging from complete dismissal to strong advocacy for specific brands and features. We’ve dug deep into the discussions, testimonials, and reviews to bring you a comprehensive guide that balances the myriad of perspectives and helps you make an informed choice.

The Best Smartwatches for Paragliding in 2023 - With GPS and Baro

Top Smartwatches for Paragliding: Our Picks

With the influx of smartwatches in the market, choosing the perfect companion for your paragliding endeavors can seem daunting. However, based on user testimonials and technical specifications, certain models rise above the rest in terms of functionality and relevance to paragliders. Let’s delve into the specifics of these top picks.



1. SUUNTO 9 Baro GPS Smartwatch

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For the Hike and Fly Enthusiast.

The SUUNTO 9 Baro stands out for its durability and specialized features tailored for outdoor activities, including paragliding. Users commend it for its built-in mini variometer, which beeps to indicate ascend or descend—eliminating the need for additional software or settings. While it’s highly lauded for its accuracy in data collection, especially during hike and fly sessions, some pilots have mentioned its limitations during intense thermal flights where continuous attention to the brakes is necessary.

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2. Garmin fenix 7X Sapphire Solar Smartwatch

$699.99 $899.99   

The All-Rounder with Extended Battery Life.

The Garmin fenix 7X Sapphire Solar merges style with functionality. With solar charging capabilities, it ensures longer use without frequently needing a power source. It’s not just the battery life that makes this watch noteworthy; it’s the range of advanced features, including precise GPS tracking and integrated sensors, which make it invaluable for paragliders. The ability to integrate with apps like “My Vario” adds to its appeal, allowing for enhanced variometer functions and thermal tracking.

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3. Garmin epix Gen 2 Smartwatch

$549.99 $799.99   

High-Resolution Display Meets Advanced Metrics.

The epix Gen 2 stands out for its crystal-clear display, ensuring that all the essential metrics are easily readable during flight. Alongside this, its compatibility with the open-source “My Vario” app ensures variometer functionality, thermal detection, and even live tracking features. The watch also boasts an impressive suite of sensors, providing real-time data that can be invaluable for both newbies and seasoned paragliders.

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4. Garmin Instinct Smartwatch

$194.99 $249.99   

The Minimalist’s Choice with Essential Features.

Designed for those who prefer a less-is-more approach, the Garmin Instinct strikes a balance between simplicity and functionality. Pilots can set up custom activities that showcase parameters like altitude, ground speed, and flight duration. While it may not be a full-fledged variometer, its capabilities in displaying altitude variations and ground speed provide pilots with quick insights, making decision-making in flight more informed. The post-flight data synchronization to mobile apps ensures that flight statistics are easily accessible for immediate debriefing.

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The Debate: Do You Really Need a Watch for Paragliding?

Paragliding, a sport that combines thrill with skill, has always been about more than just the adventure. It’s about precision, preparation, and the right equipment. Among the many pieces of gear that pilots consider, the debate about the usefulness of watches is ever-present.

Traditional watches and their limitations

In the past, traditional watches were often dismissed as unnecessary additions to a paraglider’s toolkit. The primary reasons stem from their design and functionality constraints. Firstly, most of these watches lack the necessary sensors to provide real-time data. While outdoor watches might come equipped with pressure sensors, they are often not accurate or swift enough for paragliding requirements. Additionally, the challenges of wearing gloves and long sleeves make it almost impossible to glance at the watch in-flight, rendering them impractical. Lastly, their diminutive displays can be hard to read during a flight, and they often can’t deliver all the essential data a pilot might need.

The role of smartwatches in paragliding

Enter the age of smartwatches, and the narrative began to shift. These modern gadgets are not only stylish but also pack a plethora of features that can be advantageous for paragliders. Unlike their traditional counterparts, smartwatches can be equipped with high-precision sensors that can indicate lift, sink, and other vital metrics. Moreover, several of these watches come with customizable displays, allowing pilots to choose and view data that’s most relevant to them. Brands like Suunto and Garmin, as mentioned by paragliders in various forums, have particularly made strides in integrating features useful for the sport. However, while these smartwatches offer multiple benefits, they aren’t replacements for specialized paragliding instruments, especially when it comes to tasks like tracking thermals.

In conclusion, while you might not absolutely *need* a watch for paragliding, the evolution of smartwatches has certainly made them an enticing accessory. The key is to understand their capabilities and limitations and use them in tandem with other essential instruments.

The Best Smartwatches for Paragliding - With GPS and Baro

Factors to Consider When Buying a Smartwatch for Paragliding

Whether you’re a seasoned paraglider looking to integrate modern technology into your flights or a newbie eager to get started with the best gear, choosing the right smartwatch can be a pivotal decision. With numerous options in the market, it’s essential to discern what truly matters for paragliding. Here are some vital factors to consider when shopping for the perfect airborne companion:

1. Sensitivity and Accuracy of Built-in Sensors

A watch’s primary utility for paragliding comes from its sensors. Ensure that the smartwatch has a sensitive and fast pressure sensor capable of providing near-instant readings. While no smartwatch can replace a dedicated variometer, some of the modern watches come quite close in terms of accuracy.

2. Battery Life

Paragliding can be an extended activity, especially when you’re catching thermals and gliding for hours. You’d want a watch that can last the duration of your flight without the constant worry of battery drainage. Consider watches with solar charging capabilities or those known for extended battery life.

The Best Smartwatches for Paragliding in 2023 - With GPS and Baro

3. Display Readability

It’s essential that the data you need is easily readable, even under bright sunlight. Opt for smartwatches that offer clear, high-resolution displays. Additionally, the size of the display and customizable layouts can further enhance readability.

4. Durability and Build

Given that paragliding exposes you to various elements, it’s crucial to choose a watch that can withstand potential bumps, drops, and weather changes. Look for watches with rugged construction, water resistance, and durable materials.

5. Integration with Third-party Apps

Some smartwatches allow integration with third-party applications designed explicitly for paragliding. These apps can enhance the basic functionalities of the watch, turning them into makeshift variometers or providing additional flight data.

6. Comfort and Fit

Remember, you’ll be wearing this watch for extended periods. It should be comfortable on the wrist, with straps that don’t chafe or become bothersome during flight.

7. Post-flight Data Analysis

Several smartwatches offer synchronization with mobile or desktop apps for post-flight analysis. This feature can be incredibly beneficial, allowing you to study your flight paths, understand your thermal choices, and improve over time.

8. Price Point and Warranty

Lastly, set a budget and try to find a watch that offers the best value within that range. While it might be tempting to opt for the most expensive model, it’s essential to weigh the features against the price. Additionally, a good warranty can provide peace of mind, ensuring that your investment is protected.

In essence, the best smartwatch for paragliding seamlessly blends functionality with comfort. While no single model might tick all the boxes, by prioritizing the factors that matter most to you, you can find a watch that enhances your flying experience without breaking the bank.

The Best Smartwatches for Paragliding - With GPS and Baro

Can a Smartwatch Truly Replace a Dedicated Vario for Paragliding?

The rapid advancement in wearable technology has brought forth the question: Can a modern smartwatch replace the tried and tested variometer (vario) in the paragliding world? While smartwatches offer a plethora of functionalities and conveniences, understanding their role and limitations in paragliding is crucial.

Understanding the Traditional Vario

A variometer measures the rate of ascent or descent, providing real-time feedback to paragliders about their altitude changes. It’s a pilot’s primary tool to detect and harness thermals (rising columns of warm air) efficiently. The auditory signals, characterized by rising and falling beeps corresponding to lift and sink, are immediate and direct, enabling pilots to make quick decisions in-flight.

Smartwatches and Their Capabilities

Modern smartwatches come with an array of sensors, including pressure sensors that can hint at altitude changes. Some even offer mini variometer functionalities, beeping during ascent or descent. Integrated GPS, long battery life, and other tracking features make them enticing for outdoor enthusiasts. Moreover, third-party applications can further enhance their basic functionalities tailored for paragliding.

The Best Smartwatches for Paragliding in 2023 - With GPS and Baro

The Limitations

While smartwatches offer many features, they may fall short in the precision and responsiveness that a dedicated variometer provides. Their sensors, though advanced, might not offer the accuracy and speed crucial for detecting minute changes in altitude. Additionally, the smaller display of smartwatches might not provide the comprehensive data visualization that many dedicated variometers offer, especially in real-time scenarios.

Safety and Practicality Considerations

In intense thermal flights, a pilot’s attention needs to be unwavering. Relying on a smartwatch might not be practical, especially when one needs to glance away from their controls to check readings. A dedicated vario, on the other hand, primarily uses auditory cues, allowing pilots to stay focused on their controls.

Conclusion

While smartwatches are a technological marvel, offering a range of functionalities in a compact form, they currently cannot fully replace a dedicated variometer in paragliding. They can, however, serve as supplementary tools, especially for casual flights, post-flight data analysis, or in instances where minimal gear is preferable (such as hike & fly trips). As technology continues to evolve, the gap might narrow, but for now, the importance of a specialized vario remains paramount for serious paragliders. That said, if one were to opt for a smartwatch that closely bridges this gap with its features and capabilities, our top pick would be the Garmin fenix 7X smartwatch. Its blend of sensor accuracy, durability, and paragliding-focused features makes it a standout choice for those looking to integrate modern tech into their flying adventures.