The Coros VERTIX 2 is a high-end digital watch with a touch screen and three buttons, one of which is a navigation knob. Designed to be used by mountain athletes, its features include a 1.4-inch color screen, 60-day battery life, 32 GB of onboard storage, oximeter, altimeter, GPS tracking, full-color topographic map, and a “multi pitch climbing mode.”
Impressive mapping accuracy on vertical terrain // Multi-day battery life while using GPS tracking // Fairly low profile // Digital navigation knob is easy to use // Carabiner attachment to track climbs without giving up hand jams // Free maps available for download // Heart-rate monitoring
Expensive ($700!) // No trail names in map // You can only store 10 routes (climbing or otherwise) at a time // Must use a computer to download music onto the watch (MP3 files only)
The Coros VERTIX 2 is a solid option for mountain athletes looking to track their climbs, runs, and ski tours. It has all the standard digital-watch features you’d expect, including incoming text alerts, alarm, timer, and more, but two characteristics stand out for mountain/alpine use: its (very) long battery life and its mapping performance in mountain terrain. Compared to competing watches, the VERTIX 2 talks to five major satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and Beidou) to track your climb and approach with impressive accuracy. The “multi pitch climbing mode” is equally useful; you can track the approach and descent, log the number of pitches (and their grades), and call up your heart-rate data to reflect on as you shudder thinking about that awful crux pitch looming above.
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A watch for rock climbers? was my initial reaction upon hearing of Coros’ latest offering, a watch designed in conjunction with Tommy Caldwell. Sure, many climbers are number-crunchers who thrive on data sets and stopwatch intervals, but I had a hard time envisioning Tommy slamming hand jams on El Cap with a shiny hunk of chrome dangling from his wrist.
Thankfully, Coros is more imaginative than me. Not only have they made a strong case for climbers to take a watch up long routes, they’ve done so without robbing you of your precious hand jams: a lightweight carabiner with a mounting platform allows you to clip the watch to your harness while on the move to keep from damaging it on the rock or in cracks. All told, this carabiner + watch + band combo weighs only 4.7 ounces.
Battery life will make or break a watch for me. What use are GPS tracking, topo maps, and music if your watch craps out two hours into the approach? The VERTIX 2 is advertised to last up to 60 days of regular use, 140 hours in GPS tracking mode, and 90 hours with all its many features firing. And while I haven’t had the pleasure of a three-day epic with the watch, even my longest days of testing have hardly diminished the battery.
The VERTIX 2 can be divided into two categories here: what it has and what it doesn’t. Most importantly, it has global offline mapping, with three types of maps to choose from (Landscape, Topo, and Hybrid). These regional maps are free to download from coros.com, and can be zoomed in and out using the digital navigation dial and then reoriented with its responsive touch screen.
You can upload approaches and descents to the Coros app beforehand and then pair them with the watch to aid route-finding in the field. This was particularly useful for me this autumn while attempting an obscure alpine route on Storm Mountain in the Canadian Rockies. The ice and mixed line, which had just received its second known ascent from a friend, was plump and blue: two words you love to hear as an alpinist in November. After an hour and a half of hiking, the approach diverges from the popular summer hiking trail and ascends a nondescript drainage into a hidden cirque. Fortunately, my friend had tracked the climb using Gaia GPS and sent me the .gpx file to follow. Despite six inches of new snow burying the faint approach tracks, I flashed the approach no problem, and even received a buzzing alert when I strayed from the path.
One map feature I would have liked to see is turn-by-turn navigation, which is particularly useful when trail running on a heavily developed network. And aside from elevation markers, the maps have absolutely zero place-name labels, which can be frustrating when visiting new areas where you’re unfamiliar with the local landmarks.
This is what makes the VERTIX 2 a “climber’s watch.” Plenty of high-end watches have impressively accurate tracking while travelling through fields, cities, and open forests, but all fall short once climbers start to go up into complex vertical terrain. However, by utilizing all five major satellite systems, the VERTIX 2 can accurately track ascents on big walls and remote alpine faces—while also tracking calories burned, hours until sunset, and how much you are rested—because, let’s face it, you’ve got to justify that frozen protein bar somehow.
Now, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to use the watch’s GPS tracking as a micro route-finding crutch—should I take the left splitter or right?—but this feature has a secondary benefit: the data accuracy of your overall climb is improved. Prior to the VERTIX 2, I would track my alpine climbs and mountain runs on Strava. I’d plot my course beforehand on a topographical map, calculate the mileage and elevation gain, and then record the activity on my phone as a backup. Invariably, my flat, valley-bottom runs would have accurate data—but any significant elevation gain would wreak havoc on the numbers, causing the app to think I’d zigzagged all over the mountain like a hunted rabbit. The app, and what I would later learn is a fault of most sport watches, simply could not handle travel in the vertical realm. They were built for flatlanders who’d rather rage on their local Stairmaster than feel their lungs burn with cold mountain air. Not so with the VERTIX 2.
In sum, the VERTIX 2 won’t allow you to climb like Tommy Caldwell—or even hike as quickly as him—but the watch is a useful tool for data-hungry climbers looking to track their daily output. And it has an added benefit for backcountry climbing enthusiasts: with its incredible GPS accuracy and indefatigable battery, navigating glaciers in a whiteout (or talus at night) has a greater margin of safety with this workhorse device. If you can stomach the hefty price tag, you will be impressed with the results.
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