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Field Tested: The Coros APEX 2 Watch, an Excellent Training Partner

I can’t deny that I’ve laughed (silently, of course) at climbers wearing watches on the wall before. But this new release, on both the hardware and software side of things, speaks straight to climbers.

Basics

The COROS Apex 2 is a GPS sports watch that gives mountain athletes of all kinds the ability to accurately track their training and performances. It features a touch screen, three low-profile buttons, a 1.2-inch display, sapphire glass screen, and titanium alloy cover with PVD coating. Functionally, the Apex 2 offers 45 hours of GPS-supported activity tracking, 17 days of everyday use, geo-location data from five different satellite systems, topographic map, heart rate data, barometric altimeter, accelerometer, gyroscope, 3D compass, thermometer, oximeter, electrocardiogram sensor, and music storage on top of specific activity tracking—including the new “Indoor Climbing” mode. 


Pros

Impressive battery life // Lightweight and low-profile for comfort while climbing // Durable for use during climbing // Heart rate monitoring // GPS tracking // Climbing-specific data // Free maps available for download

 

Cons

No “Outdoor Climbing” mode // Effort and Training Load metrics based more on cardio activity than climbing // Must download maps beforehand to access them on the go


Our Thoughts

While other smart watches have either ignored climbing altogether or only given it surface-level consideration, COROS has taken a deep-dive into the sport so that climbers have more data at their fingertips. Thanks to the new “Indoor Climbing” mode, the slim and sleek Apex 2 is well suited for training scenarios. It provides climbers with valuable information on their efforts for the sake of functional training, better performance, progressive development, and effective recovery. Climbers who struggle with either over- or under-doing it in the gym will benefit from the insight and accountability this watch can offer. 


Weight

42 grams

Price

$399

Brand

Coros


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I have a love-hate relationship with data. On one hand, numbers, such as grades, are motivating. Seeing a steady progression over time makes it easier to show up both on high-energy and high-gravity days armed with the knowledge that every session, imperfections and all, adds another brick to the wall. 

Counting pitches demonstrates the range of our endurance; tracking grades shows what we’re capable of from day to day; timing rests offers insight on what we need in order to recover from different levels of exertion. There’s a lot climbers can consider in order to keep track of where they’re at. And, used correctly, data may be used to not to measure progress, but also to better understand when to back off, which is arguably one of the most important skills any athlete can possess.

On the other hand, data can be deceiving. Progress is much more nuanced than what is often reflected by the routes or boulders you sent. Other essential factors can’t be measured quite so definitively: intention, nutrition, stress, recovery, gumption, etc. 

In my own eight years of climbing experience, I’ve found that keeping track of a certain amount of training data to be useful: not too much, not too little, but juuuust right. You don’t need some fancy 3D motion sensor, but pen and paper might not cut it. Every time I tell myself I’m going to make a note of everything that happens in a session, I make it about halfway through the warmup before leaving my notebook behind on a random bench. And there’s no way I’d be writing down the length of every attempt and rest. That’s just inefficient. 

To help us find the happy medium of effective data tracking, Coros has rolled out the APEX 2 sports watch. Most gadgets in this category have been geared almost exclusively toward endurance athletes like runners and cyclists. But Coros has made a concerted effort to reach mountain athletes of all disciplines. This new release, on both the hardware and software side of things, speaks straight to climbers.

Minimalist Style

I can’t deny that I’ve laughed (silently, of course) at climbers wearing watches on the wall before. Doesn’t it get in the way? Or are they going for some creative version of blood flow restriction training? But now I’m a begrudging believer. There’s no better way to keep track of what you’re doing minute to minute than by pushing a button on your wrist. 

At just 42 grams, it helps that the APEX 2 is ridiculously lightweight. That’s less than a slice of sandwich bread. The whole package takes up so little real estate on your arm that you’ll forget it’s there. That’s coming from someone with smaller wrists than your average 10-year-old, too. And the nylon velcro band is easy to adjust before your pumped forearms double in size. Sapphire glass and the titanium alloy resist scratches from both plastic and real rock, so you won’t have to worry about destroying the face in the middle of a desperate shake-out. 

Battery Life

There’s beauty beneath the surface, too. We’re talking a 45-hour battery life when in full GPS mode, and 17 straight days of regular use. After receiving the watch at 30% battery, it took over a week packed full of climbing sessions, long runs, interval workouts, strength training, and daily walks to run it into the ground. 

Indoor Climb Mode

In terms of climbing-specific features, the APEX 2 isn’t the first product from Coros to serve climbers. The VERTIX 2 that hit the market in 2021 was designed with input from Tommy Caldwell himself and includes multipitch tracking for big wall adventures. The APEX 2, designed with the training-focused climbers in mind, doesn’t have multi pitch tracking—but instead offers an Indoor Climb mode. Plus, it lacks the heft of the VERTIX 2.  

Indoor Climb mode covers the trifecta of gym climbing styles: bouldering, sport, and top roping. Depending on what style you’re getting after, you can choose between the YDS and French grading systems for ropes and the V and Font scales for bouldering. There’s also a “Do Not Record” setting, which I like to use for warmups and cooldowns on the spray wall that don’t align with a specific grade. It’s easy to switch between grading systems as well, if you plan on hopping between ropes and boulders. 

Once you hit start, the watch will ask you to input the grade you’re about to climb. The clock will then start ticking away as it tracks duration, heart rate, and height of the climb. For lead climbing, it’ll also track the number of falls and even the vertical distance of your biggest fall of the day—so take that victory whip! At the end of each climb, you’ll be able to mark it down as a redpoint, onsight, flash, or attempt. In between climbs the watch monitors your time at rest. Honestly, this might be my favorite feature. I tend to either get excited and forget to rest—thus blowing any chance of trimming down my Kilter Board project list—or get so distracted that fifteen minutes go by between attempts without me noticing. Now I have no excuse not to rest right. 

After wrapping things up, you can review the details of your session and break it down climb by climb. The Coros app lists duration, grade, style, distance, average heart rate, and maximum heart rate for each climb you worked on. There’s also room to include specific notes from your training session, as well as your perceived exertion. 

Accountability

And the session’s not over when your climbing shoes come off! I used to always head towards the weight room with the best of intentions… and then would keep walking right past it more often than not. It’s harder to skimp on a strength workout when I see it on my training plan and right there on my watch face. Strength Mode tracks your sets and reps for different muscle groups to keep you accountable. That elbow tendinitis that I’d accepted as an eternal part of me has pretty much disappeared since I started staying consistent with just a few antagonist exercises. I must admit that I have this watch to thank for that.

And as a runner as well, I appreciate having data for all my activities—climbing, running, and strength training—in one place. That way, I can keep a close eye on my total energy expenditure and balance out the components before I crash. Coros provides a weekly measurement of “load impact” compared to a personalized recommended range based on your training history and progression. These measurements are mainly based on cardio and endurance sport activity, but do still factor in climbing workouts (even if the training load metric seems low compared to my perceived exertion while climbing). When that line spikes up above the recommended range, I know it’s probably time for a down week so I can stay healthy and productive in the long-run. 

Train Smarter

I do hope to see outdoor climbing capabilities in the future for the APEX 2. But I think that it’s almost more important to have this kind of data from indoor training than outdoor endeavors. Improvement on the rock stems in large part from hard work in the gym. We hone in on our weaknesses here so that we can see the results out there. Information from these sessions can tell us how wisely we’re actually using our time, and help us make the most of it. 

Beyond Climbing

I’d be remiss not to mention some of the other features packed inside the Apex 2. Track 26 other sports, program custom workouts, download maps for topographical navigation, keep tabs on your sleep, measure your daily heart rate variability for insights on recovery, stay safe in the alpine with altitude evaluations, keep up to date with notifications from your phone, and put your old mp3 files to good use with 8GB of music storage. EvoLab, Coros’ sports science platform, then consolidates all that information from your training and daily life into a snapshot of your overall fitness with metrics like fatigue level, recovery rate, training load, V02 max, heart rate zones, and more. And if you run regularly, you can tap into a handy new feature called “Effort Pace” that measures how hard you’re actually working on different kinds of terrain (because no two miles are ever the same).

The COROS Apex 2 comes to $399 and is available in three colors: black, grey, and coral. While that’s cheaper than the equivalent from other brands, it’s still a hefty investment for climbers that have plenty of other equipment to worry about. Still, once the basics are taken care of, there’s a place for the Apex 2 in your gear quiver right behind your shoes, rope, and harness. If you need help maximizing your precious time and energy (who doesn’t?), this watch makes a great training partner. Even more so if you’re a multisport athlete at risk of stretching yourself too thin. 

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