Fenix 6 Hiking Review

Garmin Fenix 6 In-Depth Review

In This Guide
  • Which model Fenix 6 is for you?
  • GPS & Battery Performance
  • How to Navigate with the Fenix 6
  • Fenix 6 Feature How-Tos

Okay, spoiler alert, the Fenix 6 is a great, if not the greatest, outdoors watch so far. In this review and how-to guide I’m going to focus on the hiking and outdoors applications of the Fenix 6. I’ll be specifically using the Fenix 6x Pro Solar, which I’ve had on my wrist 24/7 since the day it came out. I’ve owned every Fenix model since the 3, and the 6 Pro Solar doesn’t disappoint.

This watch is incredible! I had the Fenix 3HR which set the bar, then the Fenix 5X, which even after two years with the watch never leaving my arm, I was still excited to use it every single day. That is really saying a lot. The 6X Pro Solar has yet again set a new bar with incredibly useful features. – REI Review

If you find this guide helpful, you can help support this site by buying the Fenix 6 with this link to REI. You get a discount of up to 10% with an inexpensive REI membership and free shipping. It ends up being cheaper than buying from Amazon, there are benefits to buying from REI, and you help support free hiking guides for everyone.

Which Fenix 6 Should I Buy?

Different Fenix 6 Models

Garmin offers several variations on the Fenix 6, but they don’t do a great job of making it easy to decode which model offers what. Here’s how to understand the different Fenix models:

Garmin doesn’t recommend using a screen protector on the Pro Solar model because it cuts down on the solar intensity.

Here are my recommendations on picking the right model:

Fenix 6 Review Video

New Guide Notifications
 
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Is the Fenix 6 Worth It?

Fenix 6 And Fenix 5x Plus
The Fenix 6x Pro Solar on the left, the beefier Fenix 5x Plus on the left. Should you upgrade to the Fenix 6? Keep reading…

If you have an older GPS or smartwatch it can be tough to decide on whether the Fenix 6 is worth the cost; it’s an expensive watch. Let me walk you through some of the notable features relevant to hiking and the outdoors. I’ll go through some of the other non-outdoors features later in the article; make sure you check them out. There are many other applications available on the Fenix 6 that might be useful to you.

Standard features include:

Notable new features applicable to hiking and the outdoors include:

So should you get it? How much money can you spare? 😁

If you’re reading reviews on REI, Amazon, etc., just a quick note. There are some 1-star reviews that look like they are before some important firmware updates. I find it helpful to look at the most recent reviews first.

Garmin Instinct

Don’t need all the bells and whistles? The Garmin Instinct is a great (and affordable) alternative. You can load the GPX file from this hike onto the watch and make sure that you’re on the trail at all times. You can also track your pace and calories for the hike, runs, bike rides, workouts, and almost everything. Check Out the Reviews & Prices

How The Fenix 6 Works

Here’s a quick tour of how the Fenix 6 works and how to use it for the outdoors. I could probably write a thousand words on each of these features, so I invite you to check out the manual (link a the bottom) if you want to dig deeper. I also dive deeper into navigation later so keep reading.

Buttns On Fenix 6
The buttons have the same layout and functions as older Fenix models. The basic gist is that you go up and down through menus, then forward and backward on your choices.
Back Of Fenix 6
The back has the same proprietary charger connection as the Fenix 5, as well as the new Elevate heart rate sensor which is flush with the watch case. I’m not going to do a deep dive on heart rate accuracy but I can tell it’s usually about the same as when I wear a heart rate chest strap.
Fenix 6 Widgets
Pressing up or down from the watch face brings you into the widgets screen. Now you see three widgets per screen instead of just one. You can add, remove, and change the order of widgets. You can also download third-party widgets from the Garmin IQ website.
Fenix 6 Weather Widget Detail
Clicking into a widget gives you detail for the widget.
Fenix 6 Hourly Weather
The widget detail can also have multiple pages that you scroll up and down through.
Fenix 6 Activity List
Clicking the upper right (forward) button brings up a list of activities you can track. You can add, remove, favorite, and reorder these activities. Outdoors-based activities include hiking, walking, navigation, map, mountain climb, kayaking, and many others.
Fenix 6 Activity Deatil
Once you’re in an activity, you can customize the data fields and screens that are displayed. You can have multiple screens and between 1-8 data fields on each screen. You can download data fields from the Connect IQ website or use the dozens of ones provided by Garmin. You can also look at maps as a data screen.
Fenix 6 Activity Settings
You can customize the settings for each activity, including power mode, alerts, GPS mode, auto lap, and more. You can also click into an activity and navigate a course or GPX track from it.
Fenix 6 Navigating
When you’re navigating in an activity (like hiking, shown here), you will get prompts on the screen when the trail takes a turn.
Fenix 6 Climbpro
You can also get a visualization of your entire route elevation and position.
Fenix 6 Map Page
And you can always look at the map page which shows where you are in relation to your course if you’re using it to navigate. Otherwise it just shows your position on the map with only your current track line.
Fenix 6 With Garmin Connect
When you’re done your activity (and periodically throughout the day) the Fenix 6 syncs with the Garmin Connect smartphone app. You create a free account on Garmin Conect all your data is stored online. The Fenix 6 also connects with Garmin Explore which I’ll cover in the navigation section.

When your activity is synced you can view it on the mobile app or dive deeper on the Garmin Connect website.

Hiking Activity On Garmin Connect Website

Fenix 6 Battery and Solar Performance

Fenix 6 Battery
Here’s the battery life according to Garmin, which I’ve found to be pretty accurate if not modest.

The battery and power management on the Fenix 6 is great and much better than older models. I’m not sure if it’s a bigger battery or more efficient chipset or both, but you get more time between charges on the Fenix 6. According to Garmin, you get about 21 days of watch mode and 60 hours of activity tracking without any solar or battery saving tweaks.

Fenix 6 Watchface
One of the great things on the Fenix 6 is that it gives you a battery time estimate (5 days here). You can also just show the percentage. This watch face (included with the watch) also shows me how much solar power that I’m getting.

Power Modes

Fenix 6 Power Modes
Power Modes are a great new feature that lets you squeeze the most out of the already great Fenix 6 battery. Here is the preset “Max Battery” power mode that minimizes all drain to get the most battery for your buck.

You can create custom power modes on the Fenix 6 that turn features on or off based on what you need. Custom power modes are created in the settings under “Power Manager”, and once created are applied to your hike or other activity by going into the settings for that activity and choosing the power profile. You can also select from standard Garmin modes of normal, max battery, and jacket mode (no optical heart rate if you wear it outside clothing).

Fenix 6 Power Mode Setting
You can turn all the major battery draining features on or off for a power mode.
Fenix 6 Battery Saver
Battery Saver mode is like a power mode that acts globally on your Fenix 6, all of the time. Using it can extend the battery for days.

So Power Modes get applied to activities, but there’s also a “Battery Saver Mode” that gets applied to the regular watch mode. It works similar to power modes; when you enter Battery Saver Mode you can turn features on and off. You can also set a customizable low-battery alarm so that you can enter Battery Saver Mode when you get low. You can access it from the setting menu, or toggle it on and off by holding in the power button.

I find the power profiles great. I turn off music and other features that aren’t important and it’s great. I haven’t gone on any really long backpacking trips, but have taken it on trips under a week and it’s good every day. And I have a cheap USB battery charger just in case (and use it for other devices too).

Make sure you take the automatic Pulse Oximeter readings off, they drain the battery more quickly than anything else.

Solar Power

Fenix 6 Solar Panel
There actually two solar panels on the Fenix 6. The first and main one is this band around the watch face. The other one is the watch face itself.

The solar panel offers a lot of promise, especially for those who are outside every day. First off, set your expectations accordingly. The solar panel on the Fenix 6 is small, arms move around, sleeves cover the watch face, and we are often under trees and look for shade on hot days.  The solar panels are not going to quickly charge the device back to 100%. But you are going to offset the battery drain, especially when you’re hiking in direct sunlight.

Here’s what I’ve observed about the Pro Solar functionality from hiking with it for several hundred miles:

Fenix 6 Solar Indicator
Some watch faces have this little solar icon. When it’s full (left) it’s getting a full charge. Otherwise the number of filled notches around the edge indicates the charge. So on the right I’m in the shade and we’re getting 10% (1 notch out of 10). The line graph on the bottom also indicates solar charge.

Expedition Mode

Fenix 6 Expedition Mode
Expedition mode makes the most of your battery by turning everything off and to take occasional (customizable) track points.

Expedition Mode is a multi-day tracking app that turns off all the sensors and screen, then records a track point every 60 minutes (you can adjust between 15-90 minutes). To see the watch face, you just tap the power button and it stays on for a few seconds and goes off again. You can also mark waypoints in this mode. You can get 45 days of tracking (and up to 10 more with solar) in this mode. So if you’re thru-hiking and want a basic track stored, expedition mode could come in handy.

Fenix 6 GPS Performance

GPS is always a tough one to measure because there are so many variables and a lot of folks have strong opinions about which satellite constellation is best. I use the Fenix 6 and GPSMAP 66i, often pour over my GPX tracks after a hike, and do a fair amount of tinkering with my settings. So while I’m not testing this in a lab, I am constantly observing and evaluating GPS performance.

Fenix 6 GPS Track Case Studies

Fenix 6 Gps Grand Canyon Good
Here’s an out-and-back on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon. The Fenix 6 performed well next to canyon walls (bottom) and almost perfect when on the open section (right).
Fenix 6 Gps Grand Canyon Good 3
Here I am on the same out-and-back hike. You can see where the Fenix 6 struggled when I hiked next to the canyon wall by Ooh-Ahh Point. But look how accurately I match the trail when in a more normal situation (upper left).
Fenix 6 Gpsmap 66i Gpx Open Sky
Here’s an open sky comparison of the GPSMAP 66i (red) and the Fenix 6 (purple). They are both pretty spot on when conditions are good.
Fenix 6 Gpsmap 66i Gpx Buildings
Okay, here we are going through some tall buildings. The 66i (red) has me correctly on the sidewalk and follows me nicely through the courtyard while the Fenix 6 (purple) struggles a bit more but straightens up when I come out of the shadow of the building. Still not horrible considering the circumstances.
Fenix 6 Gpsmap 66i Gpx Nestng
Here’s an example of nesting on the Fenix 6 (purple). I stopped for 3 minutes and the Fenix 6 continued to take track points with varying accuracy. The 66i (red) remarkably knew not to bother since I was stopped. You can easily avoid this situation on the Fenix 6 by pausing your activity when you stop. But I just wanted to test it out.
Fenix 6 Gps Versus Fenix 5x
Here’s the Fenix 6 (light blue) against the Fenix 5x Plus (purple). Look how the 5x lost its mind in the canyon but the 6 did okay.
Fenix 6 Gps Grand Canyon Errors
And here’s where my Fenix 6 lost its mind, climbing out of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. In fairness, this is probably as extreme as you can get with having your signal blocked, and every once in awhile it would think I was somewhere way different. I wish the watch software would be smart enough to discard distant (errant) track points when you’re doing an activity like a hike.  But you can also see that in one direction it worked fine. Again, it all depends on how many satellites that you have a line-of-sight to.
Fenix 6 Gps Grand Canyon Good 2
And in contrast to the last track, here’z another one into the Grand Canyon that fared a little better. Remember, these are what I’d call extreme cases unless you do all your hiking going up and down the Grand Canyon walls.

I have a comparison of the GPSMAP 66i and Fenix 6 GPX tracks if you want to check it out. It’s through tall and short buildings in an urban setting. I find that these types of conditions make GPS units struggle the most. There are also some Fenix 6 tracks from other conditions in there for you to dive deep on.

Fenix 6 GPS Accuracy Tips

If you look at GPX track and it’s way off the trail, don’t necessarily blame your GPS, the map could be wrong. It’s not uncommon for Google or OSM maps to be incorrect.

Navigating With the Fenix 6

As an outdoors smartwatch my Fenix 6 does a lot of heavy lifting for me; I use it to confirm my position, make navigation decisions, and to mark waypoints. And it works great. It’s not a substitute for having paper maps, but for most people, wearing a Fenix 6 and having a paper map will be enough to navigate successfully in the backcountry. Let’s walk through some of the important concepts.

Garmin Explore

Garmin Explore
Garmin Explore is a navigation-focused online software that works with the Fenix 6.

So I mentioned that the Fenix 6 syncs with Garmin Connect, which is a fitness-focused system. When you run, go for bike rides, workout, etc. with the Fenix 6 it syncs your workouts with Garmin Connect, gives you training feedback, integrates it with your physiological markers to give recommendations, etc. If you workout, run, ride, etc. it’s not perfect but it’s pretty awesome.

Garmin has decided to segment the fitness world and the outdoors world. So then there’s another software ecosystem for the outdoors called Garmin Explore. It’s more navigation focused and doesn’t have things like heart rate analysis.  Like Garmin Connect, there’s a website and mobile app. And like Connect, it’s free when you buy your Fenix 6. If you have an InReach device, it’s the same system that they use to sync and store navigation information. It also displays InReach messages that you’ve sent.

Since the Fenix 6 functionality bridges the fitness and outdoors worlds, you can use and sync with both Connect and Explore. I use Connect more because it’s easier to plan and gives me more information, but when I want to extract waypoints I use Explore.

Waypoints

Waypoints are called “Saved Locations” on the Fenix 6.

Fenix 6 Save Location
To save a waypoint, hold down the power button and select “save location.”
Fenix 6 Saved Location
You’ll see some info and can save it or discard.
Fenix 6 Custom Icon
Once it’s saved you can edit it’s name, icon (divided into sets as seen here), elevation, and position.
Fenix 6 Navigate Waypoint
Your waypoint is available in the Fenix 6 to navigate with under “Saved Locations.”
Fenix 6 Waypoint Garmin Explore
You can access your saved locations on the Garmin Explore app or website, but not in Garmin Connect. Here’s the mapping between the two systems as well.

On the Fly Navigation

The Fenix 6 has onboard routable topo maps and powerful routing engine, and you can create courses on the fly. In reality I rarely use this function; by the time I hit the trail I know where I am going and just use the GPS to cross-reference that. But it can come in handy if you just want to do a quick hike or perhaps have an emergency.

You can navigate a course while in an activity like hiking or running, or you can use the “Navigate” activity that just focuses on navigation (but doesn’t have anything special in terms of data).

Fenix 6 Navigation Step 1
When you’re in an activity like hiking (shown here), hit the up button to navigate.
Fenix 6 Navigation Step 2
You have several options including pre-created courses and saved locations.
Fenix 6 Navigation Step 3
To calculate a new navigation route, select Navigation.
Fenix 6 Navigation Step 4
You have several options when choosing a destination: points-of-interest baked into the onboard maps, back to you starting point (along the same route you took in), a course (multiple points), redo a past activity, saved locations, a sighted waypoint in the distance, coordinates, or selecting from a map.
Fenix 6 Navigation Step 5
The map feature is helpful for on the fly navigation. The Fenix 6 will route you on trails to the destination.
Fenix 6 Navigation Step 6
Once you have your destination(s) just hit go and the Fenix 6 will navigate you along routable paths to your destination. You can go into the settings for the activity and tweak the routing settings to minimize things like distance or elevation, avoid paved roads, etc.
Fenix 6 Navigation Step 7
As you navigate your route the Fenix 6 will let you know if you’re on (or off) course and when there are turns coming up.

Following a Course

The best way to plan a route for the Fenix 6 is to create a course in Garmin Connect. Garmin Connect lets you use Google, Open Street Maps, and HERE maps to route your course. You can find the Course creator under training on the menu. Once in there, you simply click along the trails and the route is created along the trails.

Create Course For Fenix 6
You can use “follow roads” to have the course snap to the trail, or “freehand” to do straight lines for overland travel. You can also mix box modes together in one course like I’ve done here.

Once you have your course saved I’ve found the best way to get it to the Fenix 6 is to bring the course up on your Garmin Connect mobile app, then hit “send to device” which will transfer it using Bluetooth and make it available when you select a course for hiking.

Fenix 6 Hiking Options
Once you have the course on the watch, bring up the activity that you want. hit the up arrow to access options, select courses, and it will be listed in there.
Fenix 6 Course Started
Once you select and “do course” on the Fenix 6, you’ll get turn-by-turn guidance as well as a fat purple line on the map that shows you where to go.
Fenix 6 Following Course
You’ll also get the turn alerts on the course.

Following a GPX File

You can import a GPX file from the web into the Garmin Connect or Garmin Explore app and then navigate with them. I prefer the Garmin Connect app because the interface is much better and the transfer is easy from the Garmin app. Once you’ve imported a GPX file it basically gets converted to a course, and you follow it the same way you would any other course.

Course From Gpx On Garmin Connect
On the Garmin Connect course create screen, look for the hidden little button where you can import a GPX file.
Screen Shot 2019 11 03 At 04.18.28
Here’s an imported GPX from one of my hike guides.

You can also import a GPX to the Garmin mobile app, but a lot depends on the operating system and version that you are using.

Img 6ce6e508083f 1
On the iPhone look for “copy to Connect.” It might be under “more options” on the sharing menu.

ClimbPro

Fenix 6 Climbpro
ClimbPro gives you a visualization of your current climb along with some key info.

ClimbPro has been around for cycling for a while, and now we have it for the hiking activity too. At first I thought it was a bit of a gimmick, but I’ve grown to enjoy the ClimbPro screen on my mountain hikes. ClimbPro only works when you create a route in Garmin Connect or on the Fenix 6 itself. It automatically segments out notable climbs on the route and displays them as a data screen on the hike. Unfortunately you can’t select your own climbs but the automatic selection is pretty good.

In ClimbPro you get the climb number, distance to go, ascent to go, average gradient, and a bottom field that you can customize (on the screen shot above its vertical speed). When you are not on a climb you get to see the next climb and how far away it is.

Fenix 6 Navigation Notes

Acclimatization Features

Heat Acclimation Icon On Fenix 6
There are icons for altitude and heat acclimation on your training status widget. You also get notifications when there is a major change. Clicking into the data screens of the training status widget will give you more info on your acclimation status.

The Fenix 6 offers altitude and heat acclimation features are mainly geared toward runners and cyclists, with the training status and VO2 Max getting updated based on your acclimation results. Here’s how it works.

From there you get an alert and info in your training status on your acclimatization status. How useful is this to me as a hiker? Not much. In an ideal world as a hiker I’d like to see some kind of indication that my blood oxygen saturation in improving while at altitude, but the Fenix 6 acclimation feature doesn’t factor in the pulse oximeter.

When I was hiking at altitude for a few days I’d get messages that I had acclimated to various altitudes but it wasn’t any information that helped me make any decisions in terms of my effort for the day. If I was training (running or cycling) at altitude for an extended time,  I’m sure this would come in handy more.

Fenix 6 Altitude Acclimatize
Here’s an altitude acclimation alert. I got this after two days at about 6000 feet.

Altimeter, Barometer and Compass

Fenix 6 Elevation Calibration
You can calibrate the altimeter, barometer and compass in a few different ways, which is a good thing.

As someone who hikes a lot, I generally use the altimeter the most. I don’t use the watch compass but it’s nice to have to glance at or cross-check with my analog compass. And the barometer is a nice to have when you’re out on multi-day backpacks (although I generally get a weather report from my InReach). Some highlights include:

Like almost every other GPS in the world, these sensors are decent but not the same as a professional instrument.

Other Notable Fenix 6 Features

There are a ton of other features in the Fenix 6 but not all of them lived up to their expectations.Here are some other notable features worth mentioning. Some of them might be handy for you outside of hiking and the outdoors.

Fenix 6 Resources

Fenix 6 Unboxing 5
A neat feature on the Fenix 6 is a little button tutorial and walk through when you first power it up.

If you want to dig deeper I recommend the following links:

Fenix 6 Unboxing

Here’s the unboxing of my Fenix 6x Pro Solar with titanium band. I also came with an orange silicone band (in the box).

Fenix 6 Unboxing 1

Fenix 6 Unboxing 2

Fenix 6 Unboxing 3

Fenix 6 Unboxing 4

Fenix 6 Watch Band Options

Quick Fit Bands

There are also different band options available. The nice thing about the new Fenix watches is that they have quick-release bands; you just slide a little latch when it’s upside down and it comes off. The notched bands are the easiest to deal with but the titanium and carbon bands are nice if you need something a little fancier. The fixed bands need to be taken to a jeweler to be sized correctly. Each model has its own band size:

Fenix Pro Solar Bands
I got a 6x Pro Solar Titanium because it was the only one available on the first day they came out. It came with an orange silicone band in addition to the titanium one. I use the orange band most of the time but have the titanium one when I have to go on a fancy date or something.

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