So you’re thinking of buying an Apple Watch Ultra, but you’re not sure which band to choose. Apple has divided its premium watch bands into three categories — adventurer, diver, and runner, but when it comes to which is the best for you, or indeed, which is the most comfortable on your wrist, things can get a little more complicated.
While it might seem like there are three different versions of the Apple Watch Ultra, the watch itself, it’s just the straps that differ. While it looks like there are three different watches on the Apple website, all you’re really choosing is the band. Of course, you can buy a replacement at a later date — like all of the best Apple Watches, the bands are interchangeable, but at $99, replacement Apple bands don’t come cheap.
As a fitness editor, I’ve been lucky enough to run, swim, shower, and, sleep, wearing all three of the Apple Watch Ultra bands for the past few weeks. Below, I take a look at the pros and cons of each of the three bands to help you choose which is right for you. After trying all of them out, one emerged as a clear winner for me.
Interested in finding out more about the Apple Watch Ultra? Check out our Apple Watch Ultra review here, a guide to how the Action Button works, and our Apple Watch Ultra vs Apple Watch Series 8 face-off.
Apple Watch Ultra bands: The Alpine Loop
The Alpine Loop definitely seems to be the fan favorite — available in orange, green alpine, and starlight. Designed for “explorers," the band is made from two integrated layers of high-strength yarn, and fastened with a titanium G-hook fastener. During my first few days of testing, I really struggled to get to grips with the strap — the G-hook makes it a little fiddly to get on and off, especially when I was testing the watch, and taking it off for photos. It felt stiff and would pinch my skin if I didn’t align the hook properly.
That said, after a few weeks, the band grew on me. Sure, it’s not as easy as either of the other straps to get on and off, but (thanks to the better battery life on the Apple Watch Ultra), if you’re only taking it off every other evening to charge it, this isn’t so much of an issue. It’s designed to stay put when you’re scaling the side of a mountain, and the strap doesn’t loosen or give once it’s on.
With the Alpine Loop, it’s worth measuring your wrist beforehand, as there are only a certain number of loops to play with. The loops are handy — I wore mine on the second loop from the top when exercising, as I needed the watch as flat against my wrist as possible to get an accurate heart rate measurement; all other times, I kept it on the third loop, so I didn’t notice the watch as much.
At 5 foot 1, I have pretty small wrists; I tested the Alpine Loop in the medium size, but could definitely have benefited from sizing down to the small. The size guide is as follows: small (130mm-160mm wrists), medium (145-190mm wrists), and large (165mm-210mm wrists).
After two weeks of wear, my Alpine Loop was looking a little grubby — something I didn’t love, but perhaps the inevitable drawback of a material band. Luckily my colleague wrote a guide on how to clean an Apple Watch band, but doing so meant I had to leave the watch to dry for a couple of hours.
Apple Watch Ultra bands: The Trail Loop
The Trail Loop is designed for “endurance athletes and runners” and Apple says it’s the thinnest Apple Watch band to date. The woven textile is designed to be soft and flexible, with a Velcro-like tab allowing you to customize the fit.
The Trail Loop is definitely the most comfortable of the three bands to wear and to get on and off, although arguably it's not the most stylish. The band comes in two different sizes — S/M, designed for 130-180mm wrists, and M/L, designed for 145-220cm wrists. It also comes in three different colorways, yellow/beige, blue/gray, and black/gray. I tested the S/M band in the yellow/beige colorway.
The band is extremely lightweight and super easy to adjust. I appreciated how I could tighten it when going on a run, then loosen it slightly when I got back to my desk to prevent the watch from pressing uncomfortably into my wrist bone (one of the drawbacks of such a huge watch).
My only issue with the Trail Loop was that, like the Alpine Loop, it didn’t take all that long for it to look a little grubby, and it stayed wet for a good hour or so after a shower or session in the pool. This isn’t the end of the world, but I didn’t love the feel of the soggy wristband around my wrist or appreciate the wet mark around my shirt. Either way, this was the band that fit me the best, so the one I reached for the most.
Apple Watch Ultra bands: The Ocean Loop
Last up, the Ocean Band, which has been designed for “extreme water sports and recreational diving." Made from flexible rubber, it has an extra long tail for a comfortable fit over a wetsuit.
With the Ocean Loop, there is the option to take the strap off like a traditional watch strap, but this isn’t your everyday silicone watch strap. It’s made up of lots of little tubes, with an adjustable strap holder to prevent the band from flapping around on your wrist.
This takes some getting used to — you effectively have to slot the bottom of the metal strap holder into your tube of choice, then slot the top in and wiggle the band through. The benefit of the strap being rubber is after a swimming workout, it’s not going to get the sleeve of your sweater wet as you walk to the office.
The Ocean Loop only comes in one length, but there are three different colors to choose from — yellow, white, and midnight. You can also buy an extension band for fitting the Ocean Loop over thicker wetsuits. While I didn’t get the opportunity to try the Ocean Loop with my wetsuit, I found I had quite a lot of “band” to tuck away when wearing it everyday, so imagine on my wrists, it would fit fine.
Apple Watch Ultra bands: Can you use 45mm bands?
In a word, yes, although Apple has made the following claim: “The Ocean Band, Alpine Loop, and Trail Loop are all 49mm bands that are specifically designed for use with Apple Watch Ultra when engaged in rugged activities like hiking, running, climbing, kiteboarding, diving, and more. Apple Watch Ultra is also compatible with 45mm bands, but 45mm bands should only be worn for casual, everyday wear."
That said, I used the 45mm sport band from my Apple Watch Series 7 and had no issue with the Ultra being too heavy. In fact, it was one of the most comfortable runs with the watch — if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?
Apple Watch Ultra bands: Which should you buy?
Which band you buy completely depends on what you plan on doing with the watch, and, at the end of the day, which you find most aesthetically pleasing. While I loved the look of the orange Alpine Loop, on my smaller wrists, the most comfortable option was, without a doubt, the Trail Loop.
From a sports perspective, I’d probably wear the Ocean Loop, purely because I don’t love how grubby, wet, and inevitably smelly the material bands get. That said, I’ve read a few Reddit posts where users recommend sticking the band in the washing machine with your running kit once they start to smell (although don’t blame me if this shrinks the band).
Plus, as I mentioned in my review, this is only the start when it comes to the Apple Watch Ultra. It’s very likely Apple will release more bands to fit the 49mm watch in the future. For now, I hope this article has helped you pick which strap to wear on your wrist.