In addition to these new upgrades, and dive computer features that will be debuting later this year, the Ultra also has the same temperature sensing and Crash Detection perks as the Series 8. Again, I drew the line at getting into a car crash to test it. But I did try the new 86-decibel siren when I heard a suspicious scrabbling behind me on the trail. This level of noise is not startle-an-attacker loud, but it is surprisingly shrill and carries a long way. My dog also hated it.
If you want a great smartwatch that’s also a great backcountry tracker, your options are somewhat limited. The closest competitor that I can think of is the Garmin Epix, which has an equally large and beautiful screen but suffers from similar battery life issues, costs several hundred dollars more, is less fun to accessorize, and in general, is less easy to use if you have an iPhone.
If your hobbies include going backpacking for a week, I would still probably suggest getting a different Garmin, even though longer battery life still comes with trade-offs. But if you’re a weekend warrior who wants to wear an Apple Watch during the week and not get hopelessly lost on a trail system on the weekends, then the Ultra’s functionality is unmatched.
I do have a caveat, however, that being able to take your Apple Watch everywhere you go might not always be a good thing. I’ve always treasured going outside as a time to clear my head. All problems seem smaller and more manageable once you’ve spent an hour or two in the woods.
But as I ran with the Ultra, I was never really alone. A coworker pinged me something funny on Slack. A song came up on my Apple Music playlist that I had to love immediately. Going up hills made my heart work too hard. Ping, ping, ping. Then my kids’ school nurse called, and my heart sank, but she just wanted to know the date of my kids’ positive Covid test. Then a friend. The mics on the Ultra were good enough to pick up the wind rustling through the trees, because she immediately said, “Where are you?”
I stared around me. “Uh … God knows where, actually,” I said. I hung up and checked Backtrack. I was miles away from civilization yet still tethered to it. As I rounded the corner to loop back to my car, my brain was still buzzing. Wearing the Ultra, I had never gotten to the point where I could turn my brain off. I’ll have to see over the course of long-term testing, but maybe getting my missing peace back is worth getting lost or missing a phone call or two.