The Apple Watch Ultra Is Born To Be Wild—But the Safety Features Will Help You Make It Back Home

Photo: W+G Editorial/Apple
Those who've taken the (dirt) roads less traveled know that safety isn't guaranteed once you step into the wild. For years, hyper-technical GPSs and personal safety devices have sought to offer explorers a sense of security, even when those cellphone bars disappear. And with the launch of Apple Watch Ultra ($799), Apple cements its place among adventurers with a rugged wearable that wants to guide you back home—no matter how far, high, or deep you've wandered.

Available September 23, the Apple Watch Ultra is designed for trail runners, alpinists, and divers whose sports demand almost as much from their technology as they do the athletes themselves. With a titanium case, precision dual-frequency GPS, and up to 36 hours of battery life—it's easy to tell that the watch is born to be wild and not necessarily born for barre class.

But, while the Apple Watch Ultra comes jam-packed with plenty of thoughtful, new details that make it a great companion for whatever summit you have on the horizon, the watch's safety features may just be its greatest advantage. Whether you need to make an emergency call at the climbing crag, sound an alarm when you're out running alone at night, or retrace your steps when you've lost the trail—the Ultra has every intention of making sure you get to see your loved ones again.

Let's take a closer look at Ultra's safety features—shall we? The first is a blaring alarm that you can trigger by holding the left ("action") and right ("side") button simultaneously. Doing so releases a loud emergency siren that reaches about 86 decibels and can be heard from over 600 feet away. (For context, 80 decibels is approximately the volume of a loud vacuum cleaner or blow dryer.)

Obviously, this is one of those life-saving features that can be the difference between being lost and being found. And, if you're, say, tackling a few thousand feet of elevation before sunrise, it can help your cover the miles with some peace of mind that you have a blowhorn right on your wrist.

From the siren screen or by holding down the side button, you'll also have the ability to swipe right to call your emergency contacts. Or, if you can't quite maneuver your finger to swipe, you can simply hold down that right side button for 20 seconds to automatically call emergency services. (Note, this is a feature of all Apple Watches, but—for outdoors-ing at least—it feels twice as valuable to use the siren and emergency call together.)

Last—and perhaps best of all for those who tend to wander off-trail—Apple has made moves to majorly upgrade its compass. Like Hansel and Gretel dropping breadcrumbs to find their way back home, Apple's new "backtracking" features allow you to retrace your steps back to the car, trailhead, or campsite. As you hike along, Apple allows you to drop little pins, called "waypoints," that hail back to the "parked car" feature on Apple Maps. This is useful for knowing the general direction of where you started, but Apple gets even more specific with backtracking.

When you start a hike, you can head to the compass app and click the little shoe icon that will ask Apple to track your path as you're trekking along. Then, later, if you find yourself lost in a sea of seemingly identical trees, you can press the same icon to ask Ultra to help you retrace your steps. Just like that, a little map will appear on the screen. Using the flashlight directional feature (pictured below), you'll be able to determine exactly how to navigate back home.

While I haven't gotten to take my Ultra way, way out there yet (stay tuned for a more robust review on all the digital gadgets and gizmos programmed in here), I did take the Ultra out for a quick run last night to break it in. It's been getting dark earlier in my little corner of the world, and though I usually set out on twilight runs with my nerves eating away at me, I breathed a proverbial sigh of relief knowing that I had my Ultra as a backup.

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