When you think of heart rate monitors, what brand comes to mind? If Polar isn’t at the top of that list, you must have been locked up in a hole somewhere for the past 10 years because Polar is the recognized leader in heart rate technology and is always pumping out innovative functionality into their watch lines. Their extensive line of cycling and running watches offer more features per square inch than any other brand on the market today–and at competitive prices.

Polar’s AXN watch line is aimed at casual to hard-core outdoor enthusiasts. The AXN line consists of three models, each with more features as the number increases: The AXN300, AXN500 and AXN700. More importantly, these watches offer excellent functions specifically for mountain bikers, climbers and skiers.

Polar AXN300 Details

Polar AXN300 Review

The entry-level Polar AXN300 model is anything but entry-level when it comes to features. The $229 MSRP of the AXN300 puts it inline with similar models from Suunto, but in a smaller package with more features than the popular Suunto Vector.

The AXN300 is packed with many features not found on other watches in this price-point. One of the best features of the AXN300 is something that’s very simple for Polar–the heart rate functionality. Because the AXN300 includes heart rate functionality, it eliminates the need to have multiple watches to track your outdoor activity. With one watch, you can track your fitness level, get an understanding of your training improvement, and understand your surroundings (altitude, barometric pressure, temperature) with the utmost precision.

The altimeter is accurate to one foot increments (can switch between english and metric settings) and the Action Log Files allow you to view your activity and performance after a day skiing, mountain biking or hiking. The Action Logs track the following: duration, average heart rate, maximum heart rate, time in, above and below heart rate zone, calories burned, slope count (number of ski runs), total ascent, average and max ascent/descent rate and maximum/minimum altitude during the action.

Polar’s first foray into the outdoor-specific watch category appears to be well-planned and completely in tune with the needs of outdoor enthusiasts.

The Review of the Polar AXN300 Watch

I’m a pretty tech-savvy guy and out of the box, the AXN300 didn’t seem difficult to me–especially compared to the initial learning curve needed for other altimeter watches. The AXN300’s interface is very straightforward and intuitive. Honestly, I was expecting the face of the watch to be just a tad smaller–more along the lines of the Suunto X6hr–but, it’s still considerably smaller than the hockey puck-sized Suunto Vector.

The initial configuration of the AXN300 was a cinch. I input my personal data (height, weight and activity level), then configured the watch display units, time and date. Setting the altitude was also very easy. Thanks to Google Earth, I’m able to pinpoint the altitude of my house and calibrate the altitude on a daily basis.

Polar’s fitness test, OwnIndex™, allows you to do a sitting fitness test which takes a couple of minutes. This test is based on your resting heart rate and uses your height, age and weight as the basis for your fitness level. Once the fitness test is over, it spits out your VO2 max, or your maximum oxygen uptake. This effectively measures your body’s own ability to carry and utilize oxygen. Lance Armstrong’s VO2 max is at least 85 ml/kg/min, while mine is currently a measly 49 ml/kg/min… Thanks to Polar, my hopes of the Tour de France are now shattered. The bottom line is that I’ve got room for improvement and the AXN300 is a great tool to help me track and maintain a high level of fitness.

A great feature of the altimeter is that it measures in one-foot increments. Most other altimeters measure in three-foot or greater increments, so that’s a great feature for this particular watch. Both the barometer and altimeter screens include small graphs to show your progress. What’s great about the graph in the altimeter mode is that you can change the scale from 1 feet to 10 feet to 100 feet for a clearer view of ascent/descent profiles.

One note on the thermometer. I have yet to find a thermometer that is unaffected by body temperature. That’s just the nature of wrist thermometers. Please understand that you must take the watch off your wrist for several minutes to achieve an accurate temperature reading. This applies to EVERY watch with a thermometer on it–not just the Polar AXN300.

I’m really impressed with this watch overall. I’ve tested several Suunto, Timex and HighGear altimeter watches over the years, and I’d have to say that the Polar is near the top of the list with the Suunto X6hr and Suunto t6 in overall usability. It does offer some features that Suunto does not, like the OwnIndex™ fitness test feature, but it also lacks some great features that those Suunto models offer. In the end, you’ll have to decide which features are most important and what price you’re willing to pay.

I found the smallish buttons surprisingly easy to use–even with gloves on. And, the log files feature is awesome! When you start the timer for an “Action”, a detailed summary of your data during that activity is stored for later retrieval. Data such as total ascent, average rate of ascent, maximum heart rate and maximum altitude are all stored for later viewing. Heck, you can even view your data during an activity. This function works great for skiing and even includes a run counter to finally know how tram laps you really made at Snowbird.

For all the good things about the AXN300, it does have some relatively minor hiccups. The first one I see is the inability to display anything other than time and date on the main screen. Every other altimeter watch I’ve used has the ability to pull relevant data such as altitude, heart rate, speed, etc. onto the main time screen, or select what you want displayed on the other screens. You can see the data, you just have to scroll through the menus. It does seem useless that you can pull in a POLAR logo onto the main screen in place of the current date, but nothing else. I’m also not too keen on the convex shape of the glass face because it greatly reduces the viewable angle of the watch. Also, for some people, the AXN300 may be a bit large, but I found it completely acceptable and inline with similar watches.

The Bottom Line on the Polar AXN300 Watch

Polar’s initial foray into the outdoor watch market is clearly a winner in overall functionality and price. Out of the box, the AXN300 is user-friendly and extremely versatile. I found the watch to be comfortable enough to wear all day and not cumbersome during outdoor activity. Polar is the most trusted name in heart rate monitors and there is no doubt in my mind that this watch will accurately track my performance and help me increase my level of fitness in the outdoors. With only a few minor gripes, the AXN300 is truly an excellent value in the market as compared to similar models from other manufacturers. At a typical market price of $199, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a comparable watch without spending hundreds more.

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About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.

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