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I Tested All Three Apple Watch Ultra Band Types

Since first trying on the new Apple Watch Ultra, I’ve been inundated with questions about which band to choose. While it may seem like there are many models of the Apple Watch Ultra, in reality, there’s only one hardware model, with three types of bands. Each band has a different target market, though they overlap quite a bit. And honestly, any of the three bands can be worn for any activity equally well.

Note that while there are three core band variants, they do come in a handful of colors each. I don’t have all the colors, but that doesn’t impact the wearability. So in my case, I wore each band through a variety of workouts and daily usage, enough to get a good feel for things. In some cases – such as the Alpine Loop, I also wore it during a 70KM/14hour hike. You know, just to put it through its alpine paces. Meanwhile, for the Ocean band, I wore that for both day usage, as well as an openwater swim. And for the Trail Loop, for both workouts and daily usage. I also slept at least one night with all three types. Which, sounds wrong when you write it out that way.

Note one super important detail – aside from also coming in different colors, they also come in different sizes. I promise you, this will *ABSOLUTELY* make a difference between you liking the band and hating it. Size matters. Oh, and to preempt sizing questions. My wrist size is 17cm (or about 6.5 inches), and I’m 6’2”/188cm tall. My wife seen in some shots here has a wrist size of 14cm (or 5.5 inches) and is 5’2”/158cm tall.

Got all that? Good, let’s get rolling.

(Finally, semi-related, note that these new Ultra bands do work with existing Apple Watch 44mm & 45mm watches. And inversely, other bands from Apple Watch 42mm, 44mm, and 45mm watches all work with the Apple Watch Ultra units.)

The Alpine Loop:

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Based on all the feedback I’ve seen thus far, this is by far the fan favorite – at least visually. And if my opinion counts for anything, it’s absolutely my favorite design-wise as well. It just looks so sharp, both in person and in photos. It’s no wonder that Apple almost always defaults to this version in most of their Apple Watch Ultra marketing bits. It pops, is clearly recognizable, and says ‘Yo, I’m orange traffic cone meets $800 watch!”

The way the Alpine Loop band works is that it doubles back on itself, and you latch the metal clasp into one of the little sewn loops. This actually has two somewhat interesting effects. Each adjustment (different hook level) that you pick impacts how loose the watch is. Which in turn, impacts optical HR (heart rate) sensor accuracy. So you might wear it on one specific hook for workout usage (where snug/tighter is better to prevent bounce, as bounce introduces accuracy issues), and then a different hook for daily usage.

However, what you quickly realize is that you can simply count-off how many hooks you are from the top of the band. In my case, I’ll generally wear it on the 2nd to last hook for workouts, and 3rd to last hook for daily usage (using the large size model).

There is no Velcro at all here. This is purely all about hooks and loops. The only adjustability is which loop you put the hook in, as that in turn ‘normalizes’ the rest of the strap, including how it fits when it wraps through the other side of the watch.

Those of you that watched my initial Apple Watch Ultra hands-on video shot at the Apple Keynote remember me saying that I loved the Apple Watch Alpine Loop visually, but found it a solid pain in the ass to get on/off. Given I was putting it on/off repeatedly in a short timeframe, my assessment at the time was valid. However, I think two things might have impacted it in terms of longer usage.

The first is that I don’t actually know which size bands I was using at the time. I just don’t have photos of it. Whereas the strap I’ve been using is specifically a Large strap. The Large works well, though I suspect a Medium would give me a touch bit more leeway.

The second piece that impacted my thinking is that I was frequently taking the strap on/off. Which, is somewhat annoying. As I type this, I just finished going through an airport security checkpoint, and in the heat of the last-second rush through the machines, I realized I didn’t have my watch off, so I struggled to quickly remove it, since the little curled hook portion kept catching. Of course, it’s designed to do that, so it doesn’t fall off.

However, in the real world of the Apple Watch Ultra, you’re only charging every other day (based on my testing), so removing it to charge is only happening every other day, and likely in less frenzied conditions than either an airport security checkpoint or the media-frenzy of the hands-on testing tables following the annual Apple keynote session.

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And here’s my wife with it. Obviously, this ‘Large’ strap is far too big for her. She’d need a small, but I figured I’d include it nonetheless:

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There are three color options for this band, all available in small (130mm-160mm wrists), medium (145-190mm wrists), or large (165mm-210mm wrists). They are: Orange, White (Starlight), and Green.

The Trail Loop:

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This strap is probably my favorite to wear, though not my favorite in terms of looks (that’s the orange Alpine Loop). The Trail Loop is very similar to other trail-style watch bands we’ve seen from Garmin (on their Enduro watches), COROS (on their Pace 2 watches), and other companies. By no means did any of these endurance sport watches pioneer this concept – it’s been around a while.

The appeal of the Trail Loop style band is that it’s infinitely adjustable, and quickly adjustable. Given there are no pre-set holes/hooks/loops, you can get it exactly as tight (or loose) as you want it, ideal for optimum heart rate sensor accuracy. It’s also ideal when you want to tighten up the strap for a workout, but then quickly loosen it post-workout for a more casual feel. In my case, I’m wearing a medium/large strap.

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The strap snaps in both ends of the watch, and then loops onto itself. It has four Velcro pads, so it’s pretty darn secure. Companies often only have one or two Velcro sections, but this has four separate sections that act as a fault tolerance failover cluster.

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One tiny little nice touch on the Apple Trail Loop band, is if you look above at the 2nd to the last Velcro chunk, it actually has a small rectangular stopper sewn into it. Meaning, it can’t go all the way out of the metal clasp system (whereas both Garmin & COROS fabric straps lack that). Now, that doesn’t mean it can’t fall off your wrist – because at that point it’s crazy loose. But, it does keep the strap from unraveling entirely.

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Like the Alpine Loop, it retains water after a shower. So, keep that in mind.

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As noted earlier, this is probably my favorite strap in terms of wearability/usage and ease of adjustment, though I don’t find it as pleasing visually/style-wise as the Alpine Loop one.  Also note that while I wouldn’t be that concerned about wearing this strap swimming, I would be super concerned with wearing it surfing – or any other potentially high-impact situation. With normal swimming, you’d feel it getting looser and flopping around if somehow the Velcro came loose. But with surfing, a wave could basically pull it off in an instant and you’d never have a chance.

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Here it is on my wife’s wrist. Initially, this is the medium/large, which technically fits, but is a touch too big and the tab kinda sticks up all weird.

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So she switched to the Small band, and that fit perfectly. Well, band-wise anyways.

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Color options: Note, there are three color options for this band, all available in small (fitting 130-180mm wrists) or medium/large (145mm-200mm wrists), they are: Yellow/Beige, Black/Grey (with orange accent bit), and Blue/Grey.

The Ocean Band:

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First up, and most importantly – this band is not a loop. I mean, sure, it has a gazillion little noodle-like loops and even a magical metal loop inside of it, but this is technically a normal watch band that doesn’t do a loop-de-loop. However, despite its lack-of-loop (LOL) status, it makes up for it with its slightly unique metal clasp system. This strap is also specifically designed to be a bit larger and more viable for fitting over wetsuits – and even has a secondary extension strap you can buy for $50. Of course, keep in mind if you put it over a wetsuit, you’ll lose any heart rate sensor-related data.

If you check out the parts, you’ve got basically three pieces: The top strap, the lower strap, and then a small metal thingy. The small metal thingy is actually an adjustable strap keeper, that ensures your strap doesn’t flop around.

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You’ll insert the top and lower portions like normal, and then you get to play trial & error with the carbineer-like metal thingy to find the right holes to stick it in:

DSC_3636

Essentially you’ve gotta find a hole that allows a snug fit when you want it for workouts, perhaps a slightly loose fit (one or two notches) for daily use, all while not having the extra strap piece flopping around like a kite in the wind.

DSC_3634

Anyways, once all that’s done, off ya go – wearing the strap. Obviously, with its silicon-like feeling, it feels the most rigid of the straps (technically it’s fluoroelastomer, which is a more expensive silicon variant). And because of that find-the-right-hole balance, it might feel too snug or too loose unless you get it just right. The benefit though, is that it doesn’t retain water. Take for example my openwater swim yesterday:

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Water rolls right off after I get out of the water, and then again the same for the shower a short time later. Though, some water does stay inside the little noodle-like channels. So you end up getting random droplets later on. Giving it a shake or too helps get most of it out – still, at one point during a conference call 30 minutes later I was like “Wait, where’d these water drops on my desk come from?”.

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But don’t overthink it. Either of the other two straps retain water as well – and in that case, it lasts a fair bit longer. I like this strap, but it’s probably my least favorite out of the three. Obviously, if I have to rank them, someone has to come last. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means it’s not first or second.

DSC_3639 DSC_3640 DSC_3641

Here it is on my wife. It’s her favorite, merely because it doesn’t retain water. As she saw me switching out my older Apple Watch straps onto the Ultra for the video, she was like “Oh, I’d rather just have those straps”.

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Color options: Note, there are three color options for this band, all available in a single length (fitting 130mm-200mm wrists), they are: White, Yellow, or Blue. However, there’s *ALSO* a 50mm extension strap that can be bought, for thicker wetsuits/dry suits or just gigantic lumberjack wrists. That extension is $49.

Wrap-Up:

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I never thought I could write so much about some silly straps, but…here I am. Welcome to Apple Watch Ultra mania.

Nonetheless, I’d be happy with any of these options. I suspect long term I’ll probably settle on the Alpine Loop (orange), simply because it’s most aesthetically pleasing to me. For most sports, any of the three options would work. However, I would be slightly hesitant with using the Trail Loop in either surfing or a mass-start triathlon (specifically due to contact with others during the swim, not because of the swimming aspect itself). Mass-start triathlons have a long history of drowning people’s watches due to the often abrasive wrestle-mania nature of the first few hundred meters.

Of course, there’s an entire world of straps beyond just Apple’s own offerings. These range from cheap knock-offs to expensive luxury variants. Undoubtedly that’ll continue with new straps aimed at the Apple Watch Ultra crowd. And remember, you can still use existing 44/45mm straps with the Apple Watch Ultra as well.

With that – thanks for reading!

Found This Post Useful? Support The Site!

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

If you're shopping for the Apple Watch Ultra (Alpine Loop Orange) or any other accessory items, please consider using the affiliate links below! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. Even more, if you use Backcountry.com or Competitive Cyclist with coupon code DCRAINMAKER, first time users save 15% on applicable products!

Here's a few other variants or sibling products that are worth considering:

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter! That gets you an ad-free DCR, access to the DCR Quarantine Corner video series packed with behind the scenes tidbits...and it also makes you awesome. And being awesome is what it’s all about!

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!

Found This Post Useful? Support The Site!

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

If you're shopping for the Apple Watch Ultra (Alpine Loop Orange) or any other accessory items, please consider using the affiliate links below! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. Even more, if you use Backcountry.com or Competitive Cyclist with coupon code DCRAINMAKER, first time users save 15% on applicable products!

Here's a few other variants or sibling products that are worth considering:

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter! That gets you an ad-free DCR, access to the DCR Quarantine Corner video series packed with behind the scenes tidbits...and it also makes you awesome. And being awesome is what it’s all about!

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!

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22 Comments

  1. Adam

    Looking at the photo in wrap-up I just think that top two straps are not the best choices to spend the time on the beach (“constructing sand castles” activity ;). All these holes probably will be filled by sand, which you find later for example in your laptop keyboard – hopefully I’m wrong…

  2. Andrew

    I wonder how long the holes on the alpine loop will last before getting too stretched out. It seems the metal hook getting will eventually wear them out especially if you adjust the strap or remove the watch often

    • JM

      I have a Mammut backpack with the same system.
      Can’t guarantee that it’s the same level of built quality, but it holds up nicely after 4 years of daily usage (at higher weights).

  3. Tim

    “There is no Velcro at all here. This is purely all about hooks and loops.” I’m solely here for the jokes. Made my day, thanks Ray!

  4. M Koski

    On your comment: One tiny little nice touch on the Apple Trail Loop band, is if you look above at the 2nd to the last Velcro chunk, it actually has a small rectangular stopper sewn into it. Meaning, it can’t go all the way out of the metal clasp system (whereas both Garmin & COROS fabric straps lack that).

    You are correct about the Garmin fabric strap – which can inadvertently get pulled out when taking off the wrist – but Im currently wearing the COROS fabric strap and it has a hard plastic, end of strap stopper to prevent it from doing just that. You can completely undo the velcro and it stays looped. 🙂 They are also only $35.

  5. Steve

    Do you have a picture of these bands on a regular Apple Watch?

    • Yup, towards the end of the video (around the 10:30ish marker) there’s some video where i swap it to a regular Apple Watch SE. I don’t have any photos handy at the moment (and not at the office), but you can see it there.

  6. Mark

    I really like the look of the Ocean band, but the Trail Loop on the aforementioned Coros Pace 2 is a great band to actually wear.

  7. Luis

    Thanks for your review! Amazing as always.

    I have one question related to something that you said: the third strap is bigger to fit over the wetsuit for surfing etc. does that mean this AW does not auto pause when stopped detecting your skin? That’s something that bothers me with AW for CrossFit-like workouts (the fear of a kettlebell smashing the AW). And it could also affect outdoor sports such cycling (strap paired this you can wear the watch over the sleeves, for example).

    Right now I use the OH1 stand-alone and update the workout via polar but this approach lacks some of the insights of the new Workout app.

  8. biobiker

    That’s a good callout about the trail loop being less secure in high surf (I’m guessing the same goes for the alpine one). If the surf is strong enough to rip fins off, the ocean band seems the only viable option, would you agree?

    • I actually think either Alpine Loop or Ocean is probably fine surfing to be honest. The mechanics of removing the metal clasp (which has a little hook at the end of it) is actually pretty specific, and I think would be tougher than the mechanics of the sea unhooking the end of the Ocean Band secondary clasp.

    • biobiker

      That’s interesting. I might have to go to a store and try both the alpine and ocean. I was recently in 10ft surf bodyboarding and had my fenix 6s on. Massive waves/undercurrent ripped one of my fins off, but my watch stayed secure with the standard garmin band.

      If the end of the Ocean band unhooks, does the rest easily come loose or is it still pretty secure?

      Aesthetically I think I prefer the alpine but I don’t want to have to worry about losing it in rough conditions and I also don’t want to spend another 1/7th the cost of the watch on a separate strap.

    • Stephen Thomas

      The Ocean band is incredibly secure. If fastened per Apple’s instructions, I can’t imagine any way that the tail could come loose. But if it did, the buckle is also very secure. I think Apple made a serious attempt at a legitimate dive band.

  9. Tim Cullis

    Your description of how to secure the Alpine Loop doesn’t match the way the guy in the London Apple store showed me.

    Firstly he pulled the strap through the upper lug where the irregularity of the smooth/loop material enables it to be secured. Only then did he place the hook through one of the loops to keep the strap from flapping around.

    If it’s secured the way you describe, with the hook taking all the strain, you can imagine what might happen down the line.

    • I’m not sure I understand – I think we’re saying the same thing? You have to pull it tight against your skin first, and then you put the hook through. I don’t see any other possible way to use the strap?

  10. David Ceremuga

    I purchased the ocean strap since I spend about 1 to 2 hours in the pool, about 5 times a week. I find it has become comfortable to wear. I found some knockoff Alpine loops already available on our favorite knockoff site, Amazon.

    Ray, your unbiased reviews did it for me, became a supporter. This is the go to site for what I feel is the most realistic information I can find about sports products.

    Will you be reviewing the Engo 2 sunglasses with the Activewear display? link to us.engoeyewear.com

  11. zipuni

    What is the “wet” weight of the Alpine and Trail given they retain water? Yes they are lighter at 10gm compared to 30gm for the Ocean, but if they retain 10gr or more of water, then Ocean might be better weight wise during a sweaty run? Then again all these “holes” on Ocean might also trap water?

  12. Craig

    How are the new trail loop bands different from the sport loop bands that have been around for awhile? They look quite similar in materials and functionality. And, interesting that the Ultra with trail loop bands seem to be the least available. They didnt even have any to try out at the Apple store when I picked up my Ultra (with Alpine band).

  13. Ronald Teitelbaum

    That watch looks entirely too large on your wife.