Best GPS Running Watches Reviewed
Basic to mid-level GPS watches track a combination of metrics like: speed, pace, distance, heart rate, calories, sleep cycles, and may come with music, app and bluetooth features. Higher priced watches feature more advanced options with topographical maps, barometers, altimeters and electronic compasses. This can be particularly useful for rugged outdoor sports, or if you’re looking for accurate measurements in ‘floors climbed.’
As you choose the right features for you, don’t forget to consider battery life, overall comfort, and compatibility to your existing devices, running apps or programs. With a variety of price points and styles, there really is a GPS watch for every type of athlete.
Have a look at our top picks for the best GPS running watches.
- Suunto Spartan Ultra
- Built-in altimeter & barometer
- Garmin 920XT
- Race predictor and recovery advisor
- Garmin Fenix 3
- Exceptional GPS reception
10 Best GPS Running Watches
1. Suunto Spartan Ultra
- Advanced Metrics
- 26h battery life
- Access to numerous training programs and data analysis on the Movescount App and Movescount.com
- Very expensive watch
2. Garmin ForeRunner 920XT
- Record speed, distance, grade, and many other important metrics
- VO2 Max, recovery time and race predictor estimations
- Smart notifications including email, text, and call alerts
- Activity tracker during, before, and after workouts
- Automatic uploads to Garmin Connect for workout reviewing and social sharing
- Lightweight and comfortable
- Not the most efficient for indoor training
3. Suunto Ambit3 Sport
4. Garmin Forerunner 735XT
- Great for triathletes, with multisport tracking
- Insight on multiple important metrics
- 24/7 heart rate monitoring without any extra attachments
- Water resistant casing
- A bit expensive
5. Polar V800
6. Garmin Forerunner 935 GPS Watch
7. Apple Watch Series 3
- Many useful apps
- Long battery life
- Water resistant
- Exercise program limited to 30 minutes
8. Nike+ SportWatch by TomTom
- Personal coach reminds you to run and tracks run history and PRs
- 8 hours of run time
- Nike+ integrated
- Nike+ Shoe Sensor for more accurate tracking
- Some runners had issues with battery life.
- Some runners had issues downloading the Nike+ software onto their computer.
9. Apple Watch Nike+ Series 2
- Perforations on band allow for good ventilation
- Built-in GPS
- Water resistant up to 50 meters
- Nike+ Run Club app
- Includes standard Apple Watch features such as Siri, texting and Apple Pay
- Some runners had issues with battery life.
10. Samsung Gear Sport
The weak point of this device has to be the variety of apps available in the Gear App Store. Samsung has partnerships with a few fitness applications including MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal and Speedo On. While Samsung’s OS, Tizen, has improved over time and is quite user-friendly, make sure your favorite fitness apps are compatible before purchasing so you won’t be disappointed.
Built for function with its comfortable fit and changeable wristband, the Samsung Gear Sport is a well-designed GPS watch for working out or hanging out.
Well, there you have it. Whether you’re a serious athlete training for a triathlon or Ironman competition, a long distance runner looking to perfect your time, pace, and distance, or you’re just a newbie looking to take better care of your body and increase your daily activity, these are the best picks out there.
The Appeal of GPS Running Watches
Running watches come in different designs, sizes and serving many different functions. Deciding the best watch for your workout and running practices, one has to know what exactly he or she is looking for in features, functionality and purpose. This makes it easier in narrowing down to the type of watch one can use efficiently. Before you buy one, you need to know what functions and features are going to work best for you.
Whether you’re just starting out as part of a new year’s resolution or you’re well on your way to becoming a member of the 100 Marathon Club, tracking your runs is a brilliant motivator and can improve performance as well. But choosing the best running watch for you can be just as tricky as picking out the perfect pair of running shoes.
Benefits of High-End GPS Watches For Runners
The best running watch or GPS sports watch is a personal choice and increasingly depends on the amount of detail you want from your workouts. Beyond just simple pace and distance information, the latest watches will feed back everything from heart rate data to detailed observations of your running style. In short, GPS watches have become an essential tool in the runner’s arsenal.
GPS capabilities now assist runners and trainers with developing beneficial routes, showing where the athlete may be struggling so he/she can strategize and improve their weaknesses. Some watches may contain only a few of these features, while others will have nearly all of them. As you might expect, the more programs a watch has the more likely it is to come with a higher price tag.
They might as well be personal trainers, and with the ability to track your progress online and share routes and success with friends, they’ll give you that boost of motivation so many of us need as goals become harder and harder to reach. It’s exciting to see such advanced technologies, that somehow manage to stay charged for longer and are even fashionable for when you’re off the track or trails.
What Do You Need From Your Watch?
It might seem like an odd question to ask in a running watch buying guide but this is actually really important. It’s a decision that’s not getting any easier, either. In the market, there are now countless brands and hundreds of products to choose from which makes it even harder to decide which one is the best brand for your work out and running.
The Criteria We Used For Our Evaluation Of GPS Watches
What Features Do They Offer?
The features that a GPS “watch” offer are one of our key considerations. In a market where running and athletic technology are constantly advancing and innovating, some features can quickly move from cutting edge to a necessity or even expected. Other options might become available that are tacked on but can be completely unnecessary for the average runner. We work to discern what we know watches need, and what is needless fluff that doesn’t have a place on this list.
Outdoor And Indoor Performance.
Many GPS watches can have difficulty differentiating between distances ran indoors and outdoors since some watches track how far you travel via the GPS and others use accelerometers and track how much you move. Knowing how well a watch deals with this change in setting is essential information when it comes to making an informed decision. We want our runners that do treadmill workouts just as often as they challenge Mother Nature to be informed about any issues they may have when using certain GPS watches.
Ability To Integrate Into Your Training Regimen.
Many runners who seek out GPS watches are often using them for training purposes. Whether you will need the watch to help you track your running stats while training for 5k or you are planning on tackling something more rigorous marathons and need the GPS to keep you on course. Many GPS watches even have programs that will improve your pre-race training, tracking and compiling of data. So if your more of a novice still learning how to improve yourself or a veteran race runner; we want you to know which watches will serve your training needs best.
The Right Tech, At The Right Price.
It is extremely important to us that our readers are never priced out of the running accessories that can take their passion and joy running to the next level. Everyone, regardless of budget, should have the ability to access advanced gear that keeps track of valuable metrics. We made sure to include a choice that would fit every reader’s budget. We also made sure that all the watches were dependable and runner approved so that you can count on their utility for your runs.
Intuitive User Interface
Having tons of information about your run distances and heart rate is great, to an extent, but matters very little if you are unable to access it. A GPS watch is a useful tool, but it is also a modern piece of technology, and the ease of its user interface is an important consideration for this reason. A runner needs to know how easily they can sync the watch with their phone, how easily the data can be used with an app, and even how easy the watch’s physical interface is to use.
Both style and durability
Having a watch that looks good may seem something superficial compared to the other factors on this list but it can be pretty important. If your watch is large, heavy, or cumbersome it may impact your performance more than you think. So remember, nice looking can also mean functional.
Durability is also extremely important. Most runners subject themselves to intense environments and circumstances and they expect their equipment to endure everything they can. We don’t think that is an unfair expectation.
Other Important Factors To Consider When Choosing The Best GPS Watch
While we have researched through a wide range of feedback and data when compiling our list, we understand that in order to truly get the most out of your purchase, you must make a selection that makes sense for your purposes and how you plan to utilize their many features. A great option should have all the features you need in order to best suit you. Below you will find some personal factors to take into consideration when making your choice.
How Much Do You Plan On Incorporating It Into Your Run?
The first thing to consider is your preference when it comes to the level of incorporation that you are comfortable with. If you are the type of runner that does not like to keep track of advanced metrics such as elevation and “stress levels”, then chances are you don’t need a model with a barometric altimeter. Research shows that runners benefit the most from equipment that they are comfortable using, so focus on the tracking metrics that you need. Likewise, if you’re an ”information junky” then you’re going to appreciate a model with advanced data recording like ground contact time, cadence (number of steps per minute you take while running), and vertical oscillation.
How Connected Do You Want To Be During Your Runs?
Keep this preference in mind when making your decision to save yourself the hassle of checking your smartphone while you’re out on your run or in the middle of a workout. Today’s runners can receive notifications when they receive an email, text, or call. There are even models in our buying guide that connect to social media accounts and live streams your runs. If this is a little too much sharing for you, and you enjoy leaving the phone at home and disconnecting when you run, make sure to select an option that matches your level of need when it comes to peace and quiet.
How Important Is Music To Your Run?
Most runners reported that they are able to keep better focus and maintain a steady pace when they are running to their favorite playlist. Others prefer to leave the music behind when they hit the road. If you are the former, be sure to pick an option that allows you to download your favorite mp3’s. This can even help you leave your audio player at home when you run, giving you one less piece of equipment when you are out the door, thereby streamlining your training. Many watches have wireless headphones so You can enjoy the music without limits.
Think About How Much Battery Life You Really Need.
It’s a good idea to keep in mind how often you run and how long you run for. This is crucial when selecting the right amount of battery life for you. Important things to keep in mind according to runners just like you include taking into consideration in-active time. Batteries will still lose some charge when the device is not in use, so just because the manufacturer claims an 18 hour battery life, doesn’t mean that it’s exact, these are approximations. Runners also report that all models require regular recharging, so if you’re like most people and constantly forget to charge your phone, remember to keep that charger handy.
Size And Weight
All wrists are different, so it’s important to take size and weight into consideration. Comfort is key when you are adding new pieces of equipment to your running or workout gear, so choose an option that is not too large or bulky for your wrist. Runners found that weight is the “tie breaker” when making their decision. So after you take everything else into consideration (features, battery life, music) then go for the lightest option when you find two brands or types that have identical options.
Water resistance: Most outdoor watches are at least somewhat water resistant. Some are capable of diving much deeper than the human body. Many watches are rated to a depth of 100 meters, or about 300 feet. This is sufficient for pretty much anything short commercial diving or competitive free diving. Even recreational scuba divers will never go deeper than 130 feet.
Handling: Quick and easy access to programs without complicated directions eliminates frustration and wasted time. Expect some learning to be involved with new equipment, but simpler is usually better. Even powerful GPS watches can usually be navigated with just a few buttons if the interface is well engineered.
Running GPS Watch Timing Features
Watches have a variety of functionality apart from the well known, showing of the time. some of the functions of a GPS running watch, either analog or digital, are to display the current date of the running exercise, the calendar, giving the runner options to set alarm and to time their running by checking and setting the stopwatch.
When choosing a GPS running watch, a runner should consider these features as they are the most useful to a runner.
Display of the GPS Running Watch
The display of the GPS watch is another important feature to consider as a runner. It is the display that attracts the runner and makes the runner feel happy and always want to use the GPS watch. Different watches have different displays, colors, designs, and materials. Likewise, different runners are attracted to different kind of watch displays. It is advisable that a runner to choose a GPS running watch that is appealing to his or her eyes. The watch should also display vital information like the current date, calender’s, alarm and stopwatch set. The running watch should also display information like the heart rate of the runner and the altitude and map of the runners’ exercise.
Keeping Your pace- it’s crucial
A lot of GPS watches have special alarms in order to make sure that You run with the most suitable pace for You. GPS watch can easily analyze Your heart rate and it sends a notification to slow down. It can be really helpful as you can still make progress but you do it with a smaller risk of overexerting yourself. Keeping your pace on good level is excellent when You want to lose weight and if You do, make sure it counts calories.
As running becomes a passion, more and more people are deciding to run in more inconvenient weather conditions. It is worth to make sure that the watch You choose has a sunlight-readable touchscreen but You may also run during the night so it would be perfect if the watch had backlighting. When it comes to the font, make sure that it is easily visible high-resolution display is very important. It is also an advantage if it has a colorful display. Having their information on a screen for example heart rate, the distance You’ve done and timing is the best option. Too much information on the screen can make it harder to use a watch.
Here are some frequently asked questions that most runners encounter when making their decision. Hopefully, they will help you along your way when you are making your decision.
Q. I’m looking to train for my first 5k; what should I be looking for in an ideal model?
A: The number one thing to consider in your circumstance is interval training. Look for a watch that has the capacity to set an interval training program to help you gradually improve your speed and fitness levels to meet specific goals. This will give you the highest chances for success and make sure you don’t suffer from unnecessary injury.
Q. I’ve heard that they often tend to “lag”, what’s this about?
A: There is a moment that all watches take when locking into your location on the map. While the first generations of GPS watches took longer to fix in on your location, there have been great strides in GPS technology and you will not experience significant lag time with newer models found in our buying guide.
Q. I’m an old-school runner; what are the benefits of using one of these?
A: New equipment is ideally best for the accuracy of information, tracking and measuring your vitals and distances. Access to this high detail info will help you figure out where your excelling and where you need improvement. You’d be surprised what you can learn with some careful and detailed monitoring, which is much easier with the right equipment.
Q: Can’t I just use my smartphone to track my runs?
A: We found that runners that use their smartphone to track their runs, do so for less than a year before they buy a GPS watch or quit tracking altogether. They report a number of reasons for this including accuracy, ease of use, and types of trackable metrics. Make no mistake, these are specialized pieces of equipment and a smartphone will never match their ability to keep very accurate data that you can conveniently access when you run.
If you want to continue keeping track of your runs, but are tired of dragging your smartphone along, then you’ve already made the decision to get one of these. Next time you observe runners at the starting line of a marathon, notice how many have them on and how many are fumbling around on their smartphones.
Q. what weather features should running Watches have?
A. A GPS watch may be built with several weather measuring devices that can be useful to runners wherever they happen to be. Thermometers are, of course, essential for keeping yourself warm or cool and planning properly. Altimeters and barometers are also tools commonly found in GPS watches, and knowing how to best utilize them is important.
To put it basically, barometers measure air pressure. Air pressure is used to understand not only wind and its movement but the movement of air fronts. Air fronts are heavily tied to the weather in an area, so when the measurements on your electronic barometer suddenly rise or fall, it means the current weather is about to change. You can use this to know when precipitation, rain or snow, is about to stop or start. You can plan your runs around this information without having to seek out another source, or just know when its best to take a break and avoid the rain.
Altimeters measure your current altitude or current height of where you are, a useful tool, when combined with a barometer, in predicting changes in weather. Essential to the runner who is inclined to trail running in mountains or hills because a changes in altitude go hand in hand with changes in air pressure. Temperature and precipitation are two factors heavily affected by altitude, which are the two things that runners should be most concerned about in terms of weather. A GPS watch with an altimeter can help you best know the nature of your route and plan ahead.
Q. Are GPS Training and running Watches compatible with external devices?
A. The most recent generation of running and exercising GPS watches has revolutionized the watch technology such that a platform to online transactions on running watches applications has been created. Modern running watches can now be interfaced with a computer by just simply plugging a running watch to computer. These GPS running watches plugged into the computer can later be used to trace the runner while he is on the trail. They can also show information that are useful to the runner such as altitude, atmospheric barometric pressure, the GPS current location of the runner. total distance covered by the athlete and minutes taken by the runner to complete each mile.
These are a feature in a modern running watch designed to give directions and map to the runner as he doing his trails. Unlike the Digital compass feature that only shows the runner whether he or she is on the east, west, south or north side of the location, Route maps show the exact places and paths to be followed by the runner as navigated by the computer.
Heart Rate Monitors:
The two basic kinds of monitoring watches are chest strap models and finger sensor models. The Chest strap model just like the name suggests, it is an adjustable strap tied on the chest of the runner. The transmitter measures the impulses of the heart and the heart rate can be analyzed after the runner plug the device to the computer. The finger sensor model on the other side, measures the heart rate by gathering the runner’s impulse whenever the runner places his or her finger on the watch’s sensor. The chest strap model is more accurate in measuring the heart rate while the finger sensor model is affordable as compared to the chest strap model.
Calorie Burn Monitor:
Some fitness watches will have efficient capabilities of monitoring the heart rate, but also have features that are designed to monitor the calorie being burned by the body. This works effectively for those athletes who are also involved in watching their diets. The calorie burning feature helps in keeping tabs on all the above and relates this to the data collected from monitoring your heart and other physical determinants like height and weight. After collecting all these data and other important information, it will then begin calculating it, it will then give a clear detailed guide specifically customized for the user. This feature is usually won around the chest.
Q. How should I take care of my GPS running watch, to make sure it’s durable and functions well at all times?
A. In order to make sure that your GPS watch is maintained well and kept from early wear and tear its important that you follow the below special care tips:
Protecting your watch from any shock should be your first priority. In order to make sure that your running watch lasts for long it’s important that you keep away from any external shocks that may arise from impacts on concrete areas like dropping it on the floor, accidentally banging it on a wall. Even if the watch happens to be resistant to water, putting it in places where water is under high pressure will definitely damage it. The pressure might end up causing some moisture to penetrate into the running watch, also its important to always note that it’s not of certain that the water resistant feature of your watch will be permanent. If you are swimming or having your exercise in the ocean or sea, it’s important to note that the water in the sea is different from the water in the swimming pool. Keep the watch off in any temperatures extremes, i.e very low temperatures and very high temperatures.
Q. I have an allergic reaction each time I put on my GPS running watch, what should I do?
A. Any accessories that ones wear can have an allergic reaction to ones skin. Especially if the accessory has any metal parts which when exposed to sweat during an exercise causes a reaction on the skin that is allergic and known as skin dermatitis. The metals that have such a reaction with sweat include chrome, nickel and cobalt, which are mostly used in making parts of running watches. These types of metals are also in watches that have leather straps since chrome is normally used in leather straps of watches for tanning.
Should you experience any case of skin dermatitis then its highly recommended that you stop wearing the running watch immediately then seek medical attention from a dermatologist. After consultation the doctor will be able to effectively guide you on what to do with regards to medication to take, what type of metals to keep off if you happen to be sensitive to metals. the best option for people who are likely to suffer from skin dermatitis is to buy titanium running GPS watches.
A. The advantages of syncing to your smart phone, and in turn social media, are pretty extensive. Counting calories, adding your total distances, or figuring out if you met long term goals are all things than can be tracked for you automatically. Not to mention using popular apps like MyFitnessPal or Runtastic to share with and build your local running community. It never hurts to know that you have friends cheering you on or running along side you, even it is only in spirit.
Q. I can’t stand wearing a chest strap. Is there any other option for me?
A. If wearing a chest strap is a problem for You as You don’t feel comfortable, You must look for a watch with wrist-based heart rate sensors ( for example it’s Garmin Forerunner 630 in our review).However, wearing this has some disadvantages. You must really tighten wrist sensor because if You wear it loosely, Your readings may be inaccurate. The good news is that most people usually get used to it. When it comes to sprinting, chest strap is much better. Remember also that sometimes when You buy a watch, You get a chest strap with it but usually they are sold seperately.
Q. I’m preparing for a marathon. What should be the most important factor when I choosing what to buy?
A. A marathon runner is going to want to keep several factors in mind when looking into a watch. You want a watch with an extensive battery life, looking for a 10 hour minimum. You’ll want a handle on your route, so compatibility with either your computer or smart phone is something you want to look into. Their are also watches with electronic training aids, looking into one with a long-distance training program available is what we advise.
Here are some sources we used while conducting our research
It’s important to use a plethora of sources to ensure quality information. We like to utilize trusted clinical partners and manufactures when providing our readers with the most up-to-date statistics found in all our buying guides. We are also very interested in taking what everyday users have to say about specific products, and we perform our due diligence to make sure that quality research goes into every guide. Here are some sources which helped us with this guide: