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Long-term review: Suunto Ambit3 Peak || Unmatched performance for the price

For ultras and backpacking, the Suunto Ambit3 offers unmatched performance at its price point.

Last August I upgraded to the Suunto Ambit3 Peak, after using for four years the previous iteration, the Suunto Ambit2 (read my long-term review). Since I train regularly based on heart rate, I bought the HR package, which includes the Smart Sensor Belt.

To date I have worn the Suunto Ambit3 Peak for more than 150 runs or hikes, totaling over 1,500 miles and 300 hours. Most significantly, I used it for racing Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), guiding backpacking trips in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, hunting big game in Colorado, and training for the Houston Marathon.

How I use the Ambit3 Peak

To put this review in context, I’ll explain how I use a GPS sport watch. I’m a two-sport athlete, and use the Ambit3 Peak exclusively for both:

Running (roads, trails, ultras)

The Ambit3 Peak records my current and average pace, lap and cumulative times, lap and cumulative distance, current and average heart rate, and net vertical ascent and descent, plus some other data.

Its screens can be customized, to display the data of greatest interest to me. For example, during an ultra marathon I rotate between four screens, each dedicated to a specific data group: pace, heart rate, vertical, and cumulative.

The information available may sound overwhelming, but I think it’s allowed me to train and race smarter. For example, I was able to accurately compare my Houston Marathon training against my Boston Marathon training (from 9-12 months earlier), despite my workouts not being on the track or on standardized routes. And at UTMB, my watch provided accurate pace and heart rate data, which helped me to run evenly from start to finish.

Worse for wear, at the UTMB finish line in 24:44. My Ambit3 had less than a 10 percent charge. I had the HRM and Bluetooth turned on the entire time.

Backpacking

The Ambit3 Peak makes mostly obsolete the traditional outdoor ABC watch, like the Suunto Core, which has only an altimeter, barometer, and compass. The Ambit3 Peak matches this functionality, and is capable of much more. For example, it can:

  • Calculate the distance I’ve hiked from a trailhead or camp, or some intermediary point like a trail junction;
  • Measure cumulative vertical gain and loss, which in extremely mountainous environments is more limiting than horizontal distance traveled;
  • Perform basic GPS functions, like showing its coordinates, storing waypoints, and navigating to a pre-programmed landmark; and,
  • Create a GPX track of a route that can be shared or published later.

Among other things, the Ambit will display my altitude, net vertical gain, and net vertical loss. In extremely mountainous terrain, vertical change is a better indication of my effort (and limits) than horizontal distance.

Long-term review: Suunto Ambit3 Peak

For ultra runners and backpackers, the Ambit3 Peak bests the competition in three ways:

1. Long-lasting battery

The Ambit3 Peak will run for 20, 30, or 200 hours when the GPS ping interval is set to 1, 5, or 60 seconds, respectively. It will remain operable (and reliably accurate) throughout most ultras (including 100-milers like Western States and Leadville, even for cutoff-chasers) and for backpacking trips up to about 20 days long (10 hours of run time per day * 20 = 200 hours). On longer trips, it can be quickly recharged in town or with a portable battery like the Anker Powercore 5000.

2. Barometer

This instrument accurately measures altitude, vertical gain, and vertical loss, regardless of the GPS ping interval setting. It also forecasts potential weather changes, which normally coincide with changes in barometer pressure. During long intervals between GPS pings, watches without altimeters can miss out on vertical movement, like in rolling terrain. And barometer-less Suunto devices won’t even display cumulative vertical change, due to accuracy concerns.

3. Price

When the Ambit3 Peak was released in mid-2014, it retailed for $500. Now, it’s available from authorized dealers in the low-$300’s, with an up-charge of about $30 for the HR belt.

Ambit3 Peak vs other GPS sport watches

Most other GPS sport watches — even newer, glossier, and more expensive models — fail to match the functionality of the Ambit3 Peak for ultra running and backpacking. The Suunto Ambit3 Vertical has half the battery life. The Ambit3 Sport and Ambit3 Run have less battery life, and no barometer. Ditto for the Suunto Spartan Sport and Spartan Sport Wrist HR.

The Garmin Fenix 5 and Garmin Forerunner 935 have barometers but short-lived batteries, from 24 hours to 60 hours (when using the fickle UltraTrac mode). Plus, they retail for $500 and up, and Garmin is very good at enforcing MAP (minimum advertised price).

For my purposes, the only watch that rivals the Ambit3 Peak is the Suunto Spartan Ultra HR. Its battery life is estimated at 18, 35, and 140 hours depending on the GPS ping interval. And it has the same outdoor functionality as the Ambit3 Peak. However, at the time I wasn’t willing to pay $600-ish for it, or about 75 percent more, just for a sleek color touchscreen, vibration alerts, and some activity tracking. The price difference is less now — about $110 on Amazon.


Other considerations

A long-lasting battery and a barometer may not be as crucial to other prospective buyers. Here are some other important observations about the Suunto Ambit3 Peak performance:

  • GPS accuracy is very good. Look at my runs on Strava using the satellite layer.
  • It quickly connects with GPS satellites and my HRM.
  • It’s comfortable to wear, thanks to a soft and pliable wrist strap, and rounded edges on its base.
  • The stock screen (non-Sapphire) is amply scratch-resistant. I abused my Ambit2 for four years, and it had very few scratches when I replaced it.
  • Recorded data is reliably and quickly transferred with the USB cable. It can be transferred via Bluetooth, too (using the Movescount app), but it’s slower and less reliable.
  • The Movescount website and app are functional and generally user-friendly.

I have found just one area for improvement: the buttons, which are a touch slow.

The track of a recent run (in red), recorded by the Ambit3 Peak, overlaid onto Landsat imagery. The accuracy is not commercial-grade, but it’s very good for a 2.5-oz watch.

Why not wait for the Ambit4 Peak?

The Ambit3 Peak was released in mid-2014, and I wondered last August when I purchased it if an Ambit4 Peak would soon replace it.

My concern was partly irrelevant, since I wanted a new watch in August, not sometime this year. My Ambit2 was suffering from a sticky Start/Stop button and, more importantly, I thought its battery might die before I crossed the finish line at UTMB.

But I also checked in with Suunto. In January 2017 at Outdoor Retailer, they told me development of the Ambit4 was uncertain. That seems to still be the case — in a November 2017 email, its PR firm told me that, “We will be keeping the Ambit3 Peak in the line for the foreseeable future.” And they also reported that, “There isn’t another watch in the pipeline that closely rivals the Ambit3 Peak in terms of battery life and price point.”

These comments leave open the possibility of an Ambit4 Peak. But it will almost certainly be more expensive and its battery life may decrease, perhaps due to a color screen, touch screen, or wrist-based optical heart rate monitor.

Ambit3 Peak vs. Ambit2

The Ambit3 Peak is an evolutionary improvement over its direct predecessor, the Ambit2. My long-term experience with the Ambit2 was excellent, so I was accepting of simple yet beneficial refinements.

The Ambit2 and Ambit3 Peak share nearly identical bodies. They’re about the same size, have the same buttons, and use the same GPS antenna.

The menu system is the same, but has a few new options related to new Ambit3 Peak features such as Bluetooth pairing. The font is slightly different.

Few physical changes were made between the Ambit2 (left) and Ambit3 Peak (right): same size, same buttons, same screen (but a different font).

The same USB charger is carried over. It works, but it’s a bit finicky compared to chargers for the Garmin Fenix 5 or the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro.

The most noticeable physical difference between the Ambit2 and Ambit3 Peak is the wrist strap. The Ambit3 Peak strap is softer and more pliable, which makes it more comfortable and more accommodating of various wrist sizes.

The wrist strap on the Ambit3 Peak is softer and more pliable. I did not mind the Ambit2 strap, but it was relatively rigid and plastic-y hard.

Under the hood, the Ambit3 Peak battery has been upgraded. The Ambit2 rates at 16, 24, and 100 hours at 1-, 5-, and 60-second GPS pings (described as “Best,” “Good”, and “Okay” in Movescount settings). During multiple ultra marathons up to 23 hours, I found these estimates to be accurate. Suunto estimates battery life for the Ambit3 Peak at 20, 30, and 200 hours.

Unlike the Ambit2, the Ambit3 Peak has a Bluetooth chip. By pairing it with my phone, I can now transfer activity data wirelessly (rather than needing to connect it with my computer using the USB cord), change sport mode settings using the Movescount app, and get notifications on my watch about incoming text messages, emails, and phone calls. I have found this latter functionality to be useful in deciding whether I need to reply/answer immediately or if it can wait.

Finally, when connected with the USB cord, data download speeds are noticeably faster on the Ambit3 Peak.

Smart Sensor Belt

The Ambit3 Peak cannot communicate with ANT accessories, including the Dual Comfort Belt (my long-term review). Instead, it communicates only with Bluetooth-enabled heart rate straps, power meters, and foot pods.

The Smart Sensor Belt can be packaged with the Ambit3 Peak or purchased as an accessory. I recommend the former, to save on long-term costs.

It shares the same black 30-mm wide elasticized belt with the Dual Comfort, but it has a different attachment mechanism and receiver. The two loose ends connect with a metal hook, rather clipping the ends into the receiver. The girth adjuster had been moved towards the side, rather than on the spine (as it was for me), so it can no longer be pressed into your back by a running pack or vest.

The receiver is smaller and not easily removed from the belt. Since it’s waterproof to 30m, I’m not concerned about hand-washing it daily during my post-run shower.

The Dual Comfort Belt (top) versus the new Smart Sensor Belt (bottom). Notice that the Smart Sensor has a smaller receiver, relocated girth adjuster (back right), and different closure system (front right).

Room for improvement

There is only one feature that I wish the Ambit3 Peak had: vibration alerts. When running in loud environments (imagine running down Broadway with CU buses pulling out of campus) or when wearing layers of clothing over the watch, it can be difficult to hear the beeps. A vibration alert would confirm operations, like Start/Stop or Lap.

A Wi-Fi chip would be a nice-to-have, but it’s not a must. I appreciated this feature with the Fenix 5X — my activity data uploaded as soon as I walked into the house, instead of only when I connected the watch to my computer (via USB) or phone (via Bluetooth).

Otherwise, I haven’t found missing must-have features or functionality:

  • Activity tracking and smart watch features: I don’t care.
  • Wrist-based HR: The technology is not there yet. For serious HR training, this feature is worthless; a chest belt is still required.
  • Color- and/or touch-screen: An additional expense with no meaningful value.
  • Topographic maps, such as with the Garmin Fenix 5X: I much prefer paper maps or the larger screen on my smartphone (which has a great mapping app, GaiaGPS).

I suppose the Ambit3 Peak could be prettier and less utilitarian, but I have yet to see a GPS sport watch (including the Garmin Fenix 5 series) that looks good enough to replace a dress watch or an everyday watch in professional work environment.

The Bluetooth-enabled Smart Sensor, which can be purchased with the Ambit3 Peak for a small charge. It’s a must for serious HR training. And, yes, that’s nipple tape — when you’re running 15 hours a week, it also is a must.

 

Questions about the Ambit3 Peak, or how it compares to other GPS watches? Leave a comment.

Own the Ambit3 Peak? What’s been your experience.


Disclosure. This website is supported mostly through affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

I purchased my Ambit3 Peak with personal funds at a discounted priced that Suunto offers to members of the outdoor industry.


19 Responses to Long-term review: Suunto Ambit3 Peak || Unmatched performance for the price

  1. Chris February 13, 2018 at 12:21 pm #

    How many data fields can be display on the screen at one time? Different reviews seem to have different answers. I know the newer Suuntos and Garmins can do 4 or more and I’ve grown accustomed to having 4.

    • Andrew Skurka February 13, 2018 at 2:17 pm #

      Three fields, like in the first photo. But the lower field can be rotated (with up to four data screens) by depressing the lower-left button.

      Recently I’ve used the Fenix 5X and Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro (what a mouthful), which can both show four fields. I’m not sure what I think about it yet — when I look down, I just see a lot of numbers. Maybe I’d get more used to it with more time.

  2. Will Thomas February 13, 2018 at 12:48 pm #

    It’s too bad the Garmin 910XT is still not in production. I purchased mine 18 months ago for $139 (you can still find them used or refurbished for $200). It has all the same features of the Suunto Ambit3 Peak minus bluetooth. The battery will only last for about 20 hours as you can’t switch to 1 hour gps pings, but as you mentioned for $10 you can get a portable battery pack to extend life. I’ve taken mine on backpacking trips up to a week long and you actually get a really nice accurate read out during the outing and GPX file post outing without short changed mileage and vert, but then again only Killian and the likes could get through UTMB without charging it. I had to do a full charge on the run at UTMB (takes about an hour).

  3. Ethan February 13, 2018 at 1:10 pm #

    Largely due to your earlier reviews, I picked up the Ambit3 Peak to track my training hikes for an upcoming thru and then primarily function as an ABC during that thru.

    The 200-hour battery life was the biggest draw for me. I set one one “Activity” for dayhikes and another for backpacking (more battery conservation). I’ve also toyed with the “auto-pause” feature.

    In the end, the “OK” GPS setting is too inaccurate for me ESPECIALLY when auto-pause is on. OK alone tends to shorten my distance traveled by about 20%; OK with auto-pause shortens the distance by 75% (guess I’m too slow for this combination!). On a recent weekend hike I used the backpacking activity on the first day and the Ambit under-reported by 2 miles (compared to trail maps, markers, and my partner’s phone); on the second day I used the hiking activity and it was spot-on.

    I bought the watch mostly for the 200-hour battery, but will likely never use it in that configuration do to under-reporting.

    • Andrew Skurka February 13, 2018 at 2:15 pm #

      I’m surprised that you’re getting a 20 percent error with 60-sec pings. What kind of terrain were you in? If if it’s a really windy trail, I suppose it could cut off a lot of corners. In my experience it’s always been more accurate than that — not spot on, but reliable enough. But I’m usually hiking in big mountain terrain (i.e. climbing towards a pass for hours in mostly the same direction) with a fairly open view of the sky.

      The more common problem I have with 60-sec pings is during electrical storms or when I’m stopped — the track can get pretty jumpy. For example, look at the craziness at Gourd Lake, where we waited out a storm, https://www.strava.com/activities/723176500.

      • Will Harmon February 13, 2018 at 3:03 pm #

        I had a similar issue with accuracy on the PCT near Wildwood last summer. With the OK GPS accuracy, 200 hours, and the 10 second intervals, to save on memory, I recorded 0.8 miles for each official mile of the trail. That section of the trail is windier than in somewhere like the Sierras and you aren’t often climbing most of the day towards a single pass. I suspect the 10 second recording interval, vs the 1 second interval, is the largest contributor to the lack of accuracy.

        • Andrew Skurka February 13, 2018 at 3:21 pm #

          At 3mph, you could in theory walk in a circle that is 84 feet in diameter (circumference of 264 feet) while fooling the watch into thinking that you have not gone anywhere. However, it has some other instruments (barometer, accelerometer) that might pick up part of what you’re doing.

          My point is that it will cut the corners of a seriously twisty trail, leading to the accuracy error.

      • Ethan February 13, 2018 at 6:03 pm #

        Here’s a segment from that first day on OK GPS mode:
        https://imgur.com/a/oNU6X

        The switchback sections are predictably awful, but even some of the “straights” are quite off.

  4. Bob S. February 13, 2018 at 4:29 pm #

    I’m not sure “Suunto Ambit3 Peak || Unmatched performance for the price” is accurate when you can buy a Garmin fenix 3 HR Sapphire in the same low $300 price range.

    I suppose if you are an ultramarathon runner you might need 200 hours of battery life. For the other 99.95% of us humans who wear a watch on a daily basis and have access to electricity portable chargers, and flush toilets having smart notifications, music controls, access to Garmin IQ apps, and a fashionable, everyday wearable design is more important.

  5. Joe February 13, 2018 at 5:55 pm #

    Dang. I just walk and run. And bike, and snowshoe.

    Today I ran for 67 minutes. My old Timex told me so.

    It was cold, with an ice fog and a north wind, so I just wanted to get my minimum daily hour in.

    Not much fun, truth told, but I hate seeing a 0 in the log, and I avoided that.

    ‘Bout 6-7 miles, I reckon. I’m kinda old and slow. 66 last Friday.

    My elevation gain and loss were identical though, I’m pretty sure, ’cause I ended up where I started out.

    I monitor my heart rate carefully. By listening to my body. Been at it awhile now.

    Computer watches??!!!

    I don’t need no steenking computer watches!!!

    Just playin’. 🙂

  6. Joe February 13, 2018 at 8:41 pm #

    But seriously…

    Don’t y’all ever get the urge to just leave all that techno-shit behind, and just gleefully go for a run?

    Skipping and jumping, even 360 spinning, just amazed to be fit and free and having fun, in God’s amazing creation?

    You must have once. You didn’t fall in love with running or the backcountry because it allowed you to use your “devices”, did you?

    It’s still there. Go back. Run for fun.

    Put your Superwatch in a drawer next to your iPhone, and go for a run!

    Andrew knows exactly how many miles he has on every pair of his running shoes!

    That goes beyond anal. That is bordering on insane.

    Running is fun! Running is easy! Have easy fun running!

    • Jay February 13, 2018 at 11:10 pm #

      Joe, sometimes I agree with you: it’s nice to leave the tech at home and just enjoy being outside. On the other hand though, having all that data can be fun. I’m a terrible athlete, but I run almost every day for about an hour. I’m not training for anything in particular—I’m not all that conpetitive, I have no race in the future, no particular performance goals—I just like it. So I go, and I wear my gps watch. I like data and numbers: not just with my running and hiking, it’s what I do for a living. So it’s fun to just have all that data to poke around with afterward to see what’s going on with my body.

    • Andrew Skurka February 13, 2018 at 11:32 pm #

      It’s very difficult for runners (or any athlete) to reach their potential if everyday they “just leave all that techno-shit behind, and just gleefully go for a run.” That might get you 90 percent of the way there, but if you’re trying to, say, squeeze an extra few minutes out of a marathon — which was the sole purpose of my training from October through January — then the data provided by a GPS watch is extremely valuable.

      Moreover, I think you’re assuming that the watch acts as an inhibitor to feeling present, as if I run down the road or the trail looking at my watch the entire time. It’s just not like that.

  7. NathanT February 14, 2018 at 10:29 am #

    I was very much considering a Suunto watch for my birthday but to be honest, there was a lot of sub-par reviews on Amazon regarding not only the build quality but also the customer service with that manufacturer. Ultimately, I decided to go with another watch maker that had better reviews because I wanted to minimize possible frustrations with a somewhat expensive and discretionary purchase.

  8. Joe February 14, 2018 at 2:25 pm #

    Thanks for the thoughtful replies, Jay and Andrew.

    Good points made by both of you.

    I’d kinda like to say I’m sorry for stirring the pot, but I’d be lying if I did say that. I’m a pot-stirrer.

    Y’all take care, and keep on running in the manner that makes you happy.

    I certainly shall.

  9. TimC February 15, 2018 at 7:47 pm #

    Andrew- thanks for the review. Do you have much cold weather experience with this watch? My Garmin 735 goes dead when less than 20 degrees. Probably a class effect with the batteries but just wanted to see your experience.

    • Andrew Skurka February 15, 2018 at 10:05 pm #

      Not in super cold temps. Lowest without any protection (ie no outer layer to trap some heat and keep it insulated) has been the mid-10’s. It remains functional but the numbers get slow. Don’t know if the battery drains faster, probably so since that is common with lithium batteries.

  10. Adrian February 20, 2018 at 1:37 am #

    After ripping my Suunto Observation off my wrist the 2nd time while hiking, I switched to a clip-on style ABC on my shoulder strap (similar model to https://www.amazon.com/highgear-altitech-computer-altimeter-thermometer/dp/b000fz4rp4).

    It had the extra bonus of the thermometer actually being useable, which turned out to be really useful getting my clothing setup tuned in (“is it actually cold or do I just not have enough clothes”). And actually it revealed just how much more clothing you need when you’re wet to the skin, tired, not moving etc, all while the ambient temperature doesn’t move too much.

    I wonder what good options there are to getting an Ambit mounted well on a pack (while easily removable in camp)? Mountaineers/rock climbers must struggle with wrist mounted watches too? Just using the wrist strap on my shoulder strap causes a bouncy hard-to-reach annoyance, but maybe I need to experiment more.

    http://larsonweb.com/blog/?p=939 mentions a lanyard for the Vector, which doesn’t seem to exist for newer watches.

    • Andrew Skurka February 20, 2018 at 10:42 am #

      I don’t know much about the Ambit3 strap because I find the stock strap to be satisfactory. It may be a custom mount, or it might be compatible with other straps or hardware, not sure. It looks like Suunto has three straps available for it, but none are obviously compatible with some type of lanyard system.

      If you find something, please report back.

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