Counting Steps – The Best Wearable Fitness
Most people never walk as much in their daily lives as they do when making the Camino. It’s a fascinating exercise to use wearable fitness to track your daily step count before, during and after your journey. Does your pilgrimage inspire you to become a more active person on your return? Just how far do you walk around town after reaching the albergue? How does the quality of your sleep compare when you are physically exhausted to your day-to-day life?
Image above: Actual fitbit data from my Camino. See more…
We can answer all of these questions with good planning, and using one of the top wearable fitness devices on the market. These have come a long way from simple pedometers. Some now feature ‘silent alarms’, heart beat monitors, sleep trackers and remote syncing to your phone. The real difficulty comes in choosing which one is right for you; there are now so many competing brands to satisfy a wide range of price points. This is our impartial roundup of the best of the best!
Fitbit Flex (£65, $98)
The Fitbit Flex features a step/distance counter, tracks your sleep, and has a silent alarm. The silent alarm works by vibrating at the preset time, and you can set the alarm via the phone application on android and iPhone. It is assumed that you are wearing the device overnight to track your sleep, so it will be well placed to wake you in the morning. You set the device to start tracking sleep by tapping hard on it three times. It has 5 lights which tell you how much of your step target you have met that day – one light being just 20%, two lights 40%, up to all 5 lights when you walk 100% of your target. Like the sleep alarm, you adjust the target on the phone application. All walking data is synced to your phone via Bluetooth, and you can view detailed charts of your steps over the hours of a day, and by days over weeks.
I personally used a Fitbit flex on a previous Camino and at home, wearing it for about a year in total both before and after. It’s lightweight, easy to clean, and the battery lasts a long time between charges. The phone application is really nice to use, even if it is slow to sync sometimes. I had a problem with the strap breaking, I contacted Fitbit and they sent another one out free of charge – so I was happy with their customer service. On the downside, after some experimentation I never trusted the sleep data: sometimes I remembered waking up to go to the toilet, but this would not be recorded in the Fitbit data itself. Maybe I am just a deep sleeper, but the silent alarm never woke me either! Also, sometimes I would put it into sleep mode by mistake, for example when clapping at an event.
You charge the wristband by removing the small device as pictured in the image above. You are given a charger which plugs into a usb slot. On the Camino this means taking the small and light charger along with you, and perhaps a usb charger adapter. If you are already bringing a smartphone you will more than likely already have the usb charger adapter in your bag.
When you meet your daily step target for the day, the Fitbit Flex gives you a celebratory buzz and a little ‘light show’. This was always a pleasant surprise and did achieve its aim to motivate me to walk more! All in all, I wore this for just over a year before getting bored of the same data from my day to day life and as I to forget to charge it regularly. Overall it was well worth the £65 I spent on it.
Other Fitbit Products
The Fitbit Charge HR at $128/£100 . Similar to the Fitbit Flex, but more expensive and with a heart rate monitor built in. With the additional data it can give a more accurate account of how quickly you are buring calories during the day. It looks more stylish too, with a textured rubber finish rather than just plain. You can find it on Amazon here (for US customers) or here (for UK customers). When buying be careful to chose either the small or large size depending on your wrist size.
The Fitbit Surge at $249/£200 is the most advanced in the Fitbit range, and is more of a smart watch. Like the Charge HR, it measures heart rate, but also has a large display with the time, and other data. It links with your phone to show calls, texts and notifications. If you are buying for the Camino, this is a bit of an overkill – it’s twice the price of the Charge HR. Also, even if you are able to get 3g on your phone, you probably want to get away from the constant notifications of home! If you still want to have a look, you can find the Amazon US link here, and the UK link here.
Jawbone Up 2 ($99)
A competitor to the Fitbit Flex in both pricing and features. Instead of an obvious five light interface, it has a simplistic and stylish design. Instead of having a small device that you have to remove like the Fitbit Flex, it uses a magnetic charger. At the time of writing it is still pretty new, and not easily available in the UK: British buyers will have to look at the older and larger Jawbone Up 24. There are mixed reviews about the comfortableness of the clasp – some feel it feels like you are wearing nothing, others complain at the hassle of taking it on/off.
If you are struggling to chose between the Jawbone Up and the Fitbit Flex, a really important thing to look at is the mobile software. If you love the phone app you are more likely to be inspired to use it more often. Before you buy, look at some screenshots and download each to your phone and see what you like the most – you don’t need to purchase before you download the app. US buyers can find it here on Amazon.
Microsoft Band ($200, £170)
Microsoft’s offering has heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking and maps activity using GPS. Being a microsoft product, it is compatible with windows phone as well as android and iPhone. As for smart watch functionality, it gives you alerts for emails and calendar notifications. Unlike the Fitbit and Jawbone it is also waterproof, which is useful for those dismal rainy days! Unfortunately you can only get it in the black colour of the image above, though it does look stylish. You can find it here for US customers, or here for Brits.
Nike Sports Watch ($170, £124)
Of all the devices, Nike’s looks the most like a standard watch. It uses GPS from TomTom, which is particularly useful for runners going at higher speeds. You can view the route mapped from the GPS data on an interesting map on your computer. To sync the data, you actually have to plug it into a USB slot on a PC or laptop, rather than remotely sync it to your phone. Overall, this product is targeted more at joggers, and ill suited to pilgrims on the Camino.