Sports Watch Performance: Winter Hiking in the Mountains

My “I’ve got to get out”-overnighter in the mountains led me into wintry mountains – and to GPS tracks from Coros Apex, Suunto 9 Baro, Polar Vantage V, and Garmin Instinct under rather special conditions…

The watches were, of course, on earlier firmwares. After all, this tour was already at the beginning of the year. Various problems should already be gone.

Having published my experiences at the Vienna City Marathon and Prague Marathon as well as of runs in Florence, I still want to show how the watches had performed on a slow tour in the mountains…

The Trail

My route led me from Gmunden, along the slopes of the Grünberg, past the Laudachsee.

So far, easy paths.

From Gmunden onto the Grünberg's slope
From Gmunden onto the Grünberg’s slope, with everything pretty good

Then however, the trail led up to the Hohe Scharte in conditions, which almost turned that into ice climbing. At the time of my writing, that trail was closed; when I went up with deep snow covering its steep slope, it was tough to climb – and between the slope and the surrounding mountains, this is tough terrain for GPS.

On the ridge, I pushed along the exposed paths towards the Katzenstein, underneath coniferous trees and still with quite some climbing…

Next morning, I went back the same way along the ridge, then down easier slopes to the roads circling around the Traunstein.

With the tunnels on their low parts, GPS got in trouble again.

Two things were particularly noticeable…

Suunto 9 Issues

I have no idea why this watch, of all of them, should have been affected so badly on that route, but it was.

It is all the more interesting because I had used navigation only on this one watch and only lost GPS reception once. Of course, at just that point where I needed route guidance the most.

This problem cannot be seen on the GPS track (image below) at all, though.

Other points where the Suunto 9 sometimes lost signal reception – and the wrong signal in the morning, as I got ready to set out again – are very easy to spot.

GPS 'error' on the Suunto 9 as I started it in the morning
GPS ‘error’ on the Suunto 9 as I started it in the morning
GPS issues around the tunnels at the foot of the Traunstein
GPS issues around the tunnels at the foot of the Traunstein, majorly on the Suunto 9, partly on the Coros Apex, once affecting the Polar Vantage…

Like I said above, new firmware may have taken care of whatever had been the issue here. I certainly haven’t seen such issues since then. And navigation on the S9, as long as I had used it (all the time on the first day), worked quite alright.

Same Chipsets, Different Tracks

Easy to recognize, and a major reason I wanted to still share these tracks: Even if all these watches use GPS chipsets (or perhaps even the same GPS chipset) from Sony, they still record tracks differently.

The climb up to the Hohe Scharte, where I often had to turn this way and that, makes it especially obvious that very different algorithms are being used:

GPS tracks from climb up to the Hohe Scharte
GPS tracks from climb up to the Hohe Scharte

The Polar Vantage V recorded just about every twist and turn of mine as a new location (which, looking at the marathon tracks, it still does); the Garmin Instinct (like all Garmin watches, in my experience) does quite a bit of that; the Suunto 9 Baro and Coros Apex show much straighter paths.

What approach produces the better records of the paths taken, what is more accurate… once again, that’s hard to judge.

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