I’ve worn the Apple Watch Ultra for a week — and this is the one thing I don’t like

A photo of the Apple Watch Ultra with the Alpine and Ocean loops
(Image credit: Future)

So far, I’ve been impressed with the Apple Watch Ultra — I’ve grown to love the bright 49mm screen, and I’ve found the Action Button super useful when tracking my workouts (here’s how to use the Action Button on the Apple Watch Ultra), but there’s one thing I think the Apple Watch 8 does better, and it’s pretty simple: it’s missing a simple silicone band.

Apple gives you three different strap options for the Ultra and it can be hard to pick between them when buying the watch (you can buy additional bands, but they’ll set you back $99/£99). Apple says all of the bands are designed for the great outdoors, but let’s take a look at each of them in turn. 

The Alpine Loop is designed for “explorers," made from two integrated layers of high-strength yarn. The loop is fastened with a titanium G-hook fastener. 

A photo of the Apple Watch Ultra with the Alpine Loop

(Image credit: Future)

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 tab allowing you to customize the fit. 

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. 

When it comes to choosing which band is suited to you, it largely depends on personal preference, and the type of activity you plan on doing most. One thing to note, however, is that size makes a big difference here — the Alpine band comes in small, medium, and large sizes, and the Trail Loop comes in S/M, M/L. If the band is too small and tight, or you have too much strap to try and tuck in, this is likely to affect your comfort, so grab a measuring tape before you invest. 

A photo of the Apple Watch Ultra Ocean Loop

(Image credit: Future)

For complete clarity, I’m yet to get my hands on the Trail Loop to test (this would probably have been my go-to as a marathon runner), but have been alternating between the Alpine Loop and the Ocean Loop during testing. 

The Alpine Loop definitely seems to be the fan favorite — available in orange, green alpine (recently spotted on John Mayer’s wrist), and starlight. 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 if you’re removing it every day to shower. 

This brings me to my next gripe — like all material bands, the Alpine band retains water for a while after showering, swimming, or just washing the dishes. While this won’t be a big deal for some, I can’t stand the soggy fabric around my wrist (it’s one of the reasons my Whoop 4.0 now lives in a drawer) and feel like it wouldn’t take long for the band to get a little gross and smelly. 

A photo of the Apple Watch Ultra Alpine Loop

(Image credit: Future)

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. 

A photo of the Apple Watch Ultra Ocean Loop

(Image credit: Future)

After a week of wearing the watch 24/7, I find the Alpine Loop more comfortable to wear 24/7, especially at night, but the Ocean Loop is handier in the day. I prefer to wear my watch tighter against my skin for an accurate HR reading during a workout, then looser when I’m working or sleeping, and I found the Ocean Loop easier to adjust on the move. 

Whether the Trail Loop will be the answer to my prayers remains to be seen. But for now, I prefer to wear the watch on my old Apple Watch 7’s sports band which doesn’t retain water, is easy to adjust, and is comfortable to sleep in — if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right? 

A photo of the Apple Watch Ultra with the Ocean Loop band

(Image credit: Future)

Are older Apple Watch bands compatible with the Apple Watch Ultra? 

Good news for anyone who’s already invested in one of the best Apple Watches — the older 45mm bands are compatible with the larger watch. 

That said, Apple have 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."

A photo of the Apple Watch Ultra on the Apple Watch 8 sports band

(Image credit: Future)

“If you like the Braided Solo Loop or Solo Loop and want to use one with Apple Watch Ultra, you might need to use a smaller size than you're used to due to the larger case size of Apple Watch Ultra. Before purchasing a Solo Loop or Braided Solo Loop to use with your Apple Watch Ultra, try the bands with your Apple Watch Ultra.”

I went for a run with the sport loop from my 45mm Apple Watch Series 7 and had no issue, but the Apple Watch Ultra is undoubtedly heavier, hence Apple’s caution. 

Looking for more Apple Watch news? You can read about how some Apple Watch Ultras are experience a display issue. Here are the main differences between the Apple Watch Ultra vs the Apple Watch 8. Plus, here’s the feature that makes the Apple Watch Ultra a gamechanger for runners.

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.