Once, I ran home from the bar at 11 pm to fix an Apple Watch problem. My friend wears an Apple Watch and was leaving for a backpacking trip in Wyoming’s Wind River Range the next morning. She couldn’t handle the idea of going without a watch for a week, so I wobble-sprinted two blocks back to my house and dug an old Timex out of a drawer for her.

I love the Apple Watch. It’s by far one of the most useful smartwatches and fitness trackers out there, but its utility is severely limited when it comes to outdoor activities. It’s fragile; you need a screen protector and an AppleCare plan. The battery dies in a day. For some of us, the Apple Watch just isn’t worth it if you have to swap it out every weekend for a Garmin.

So it was hard not to feel like the Apple Watch Ultra, the company’s new rugged outdoor smartwatch, was made specifically for me. FedEx dropped it off at 11 am, and by 11:40 I was out the door and headed to the climbing gym. After a week, I can say that the Ultra comes closer to meeting my needs than any other Apple Watch that has come before. It’s not quite there, but it’s very, very close.

Bigger and Better

First, let’s address the elephant in the room—the Ultra is enormous. It has a 49-mm case made from aerospace-grade titanium (as opposed to the 41- and 45-mm aluminum cases on the Series 8). The Ultra’s case rises up to protect the edges of the flat sapphire crystal display. There’s a guard around the digital crown and side button on the right side and an orange Action button on the left. It’s designed to be easily manipulable with gloves, and it was.

I was worried about the size. I find some classic watches, like the G-Shock, to be unwearably big. But I did not find this 49-mm case to be a problem. I merrily swung my arms around and bashed it while climbing—I didn’t damage it, and I had no issues sliding it in and out of jacket sleeves. A contributing factor is probably how well the new bands fit. I tried the new Alpine loop, which has a titanium G-hook fastener on a double-layered textile band, and the Ocean loop, which is made from a tubular elastomer. The Ocean loop looks cooler, is stretchy if your arms tend to swell and shrink with your activities, and shows less dirt, but it’s harder to take on and off.

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