For years, GPS watches have been essential items in the toolkits of athletes like runners, swimmers, and cyclists who want to train hard but not be confined to an indoor training space.
The best GPS watch lets the user run, walk, swim, and cycle wherever he or she wants to go without the worry of getting lost or going too far off the beaten path.
Beyond providing tracking and pace data, GPS watches also provide data on heart rate, terrain, and running or walking style; many also provide navigational assistance, directions, and route creation options.
All of these features make a GPS watch attractive not just to athletes training in the outdoors, but also to hikers, campers, kayakers, adventure cyclists, and survivalists who spend a lot of time in the wilderness and want their watch to do more for them than just keeping time.
The best GPS watch depends on the data that you want from your watch: simpler models may only provide a couple of the key features mentioned above, while more complex (and expensive) models have all those features and more.
What Is A GPS Watch?
Before shopping around for a GPS watch, it’s important to know what these watches are and how they function, since this information impacts the watch you decide to buy.
Starting in 2012, manufacturers began producing GPS watches that not only integrated GPS technology, but also had the same general size and shape as other watches on the market.
Knowing that GPS technology would only go so far in terms of satisfying consumers, manufacturers added features that made these watches more versatile and effective for athletes using them to improve their training and competitiveness in their sports.
These features generally focus on providing the user with biometric data, body system measurements like heart rate, stride length, and calories burned collected through sensors included with the GPS watch unit.
Many GPS watches also come with computer software that allows the user to download these data onto their computers, which is particularly useful for those wanting to track their workouts or outdoors adventures.
How to Choose A GPS Watch
The combination of both locational and biometric data technology make GPS watches attractive for a variety of purposes, although it’s their very versatility that makes selecting a GPS watch difficult.
Before deciding on a GPS watch, always read reviews and product tests to make sure the watch does what you want it to do. It’s also helpful to ask yourself these basic questions as you’re considering which watch to buy:
- Are you going to use the watch for one activity or sport, or do you want to be able to use it for multiple activities?
- Is it more important to be able to download data from your watch to your computer for tracing purposes, or to have immediate access to that data in the field?
- Do your activities keep you on well-marked and maintained trails and paths, or do they take you into areas where getting lost is a concern?
Your answers to these questions will, in part, determine the type of watch that you choose.
A backcountry hiker, for example, will likely want a watch with navigational abilities and a screen large enough for a map display, while a runner may want a smaller, more lightweight GPS watch with a touch screen that makes accessing data while on the go easy.
A mountain biker, on the other hand, will likely opt for a more rugged watch that can stand up to a beating; swimmers may want waterproof watches that allow them to download their lap times onto their computers for tracking later.
Top 10 GPS Watches
While the GPS watch that best fits your needs depends largely on your situation and intended uses for the watch, the following reviews highlight ten devices that suit a wide range of budgets, uses, and preferences.
Garmin Forerunner 610 Touchscreen GPS Watch
Weight: 6.4 ounces
Dimensions: 0.6 x 1.8 x 2.5 inches
Specific Features: 1-inch display size, 128 x 128 display resolution, 8-hour battery life, touchscreen, weather resistant, customizable data screens, advanced training plans, Virtual Partner, Virtual Racer, Training Effect, USB stick for uploading data via Garmin Connect
Best Use: Sports training, particularly running
Description: The Garmin Forerunner 610 GPS Watch offers users a variety of functions that, with its sensitive yet rugged touchscreen, put customizing and accessing data at your fingertips for an affordable price.
This watch is weather- and sweat-proof, so you don’t have to worry about a rainy run, but sensitive enough that you can wear it in cold weather and use the touchscreen while wearing running gloves.
It not only tracks your biometric data, but also provides features to help you make the most of your training. Virtual Racer allows you to race your previous times in real-time conditions, while Virtual Partner lets you see how your current run stacks up against a static pace you’ve set.
The Training Effect feature measures the effect of your training on your overall fitness, allowing you to train smarter, not harder. Finally, all data are uploaded wirelessly via ANT+ technology and the USB stick provided. No manual uploads mean no hassle so you can focus on your workout and nothing else!
Related: Garmin Forerunner 630 Bundle
SkyCaddie Golf GPS Watch
Weight: 1 pound
Specific Features: 1.05-inch diameter screen, water resistant up to 30 meters, ergonomic fit, locking buckle, up to 30,000 preloaded and updatable course maps
Best Use: Golfing
Description: For the avid golfer on a budget, few GPS watches beat the SkyCaddie Golf GPS Watch. This watch is preloaded with up to 30,000 golf course maps featuring courses from around the world.
These maps are easy to read, thanks to the large, clear display, and easy to update. Best of all, there is no fee associated with the course maps: they are free to use and enjoy for the life of your device.
The watch displays front, center, and back of green distances that update in real time as you walk or ride to help you make the most of your day on the course. The SkyCaddie also measures shot distances, allowing you to take your game to the next level by tracking your progress over time.
While this watch is primarily useful for golfers, runners, walkers, and cyclists also benefit from its odometer, which tracks location, distance, time, laps, speed, pace, and calories burned.
Related: Premium External Power Supply
Polar RC3 GPS Sports Watch
Specific Features: 12-hour continuous battery life with rechargeable battery, Polar Smart Coaching, GPS-based altitude
Best Use: Running and cycling
Description: The Polar RC3 GPS Sports Watch is the ideal choice for runners and cyclists who want a basic GPS watch for an affordable price. This watch tracks speed, distance, and route, and provides heart rate and calorie data via its built-in heart rate monitor.
Altitude information adds another layer to your workout data, while Polar Smart Coaching features like Training Benefit and Running Index help you maximize your training.
This watch is compatible with your existing running and cycling sensor and allows you to synchronize your workout data to your computer after you’re finished exercising.
You can also access a free training diary and training programs at the Polar training website to liven up and refresh old workouts.
This watch isn’t waterproof, and only displays certain data after you’ve uploaded them to your computer, so this watch isn’t for a user who wants a rugged watch that provides immediate access to complex data features.
Forerunner 405 W/HRM And USB by Garmin
Weight: 2.11 ounces
Dimensions: 1.88 x 0.6 x 2.78 in
Specific Features: 1-inch screen size, touch bezel, heart rate monitor, wireless ANT+ sport technology, 8-hour continuous battery life
Best Use: Multisport
Description: The Forerunner 405 is a multi-sport, multi-function GPS watch at a reasonable price. Designed to help you maximize your training efforts, this watch offers a number of features to improve your performance in a variety of sports.
From cycling to running to swimming, track your heart rate to make sure you’re training hard. The touch bezel makes it easy to switch between data screens, so you can go from viewing your calories burned to your GPS waypoint with the touch of a finger.
You can customize alarms to let you know when you’ve reached a pace, time, or distance goal; your watch will also alert you when you’ve deviated from your route or a set pace.
Best of all, this watch comes with an ANT+ wireless USB that uploads all of your data wirelessly so you can review your progress and track your performance later.
Related: Garmin Vivoactive Smartwatch
Garmin Forerunner 210 GPS-Enabled Sport Watch
Weight: 1.76 ounces
Dimensions: 1.8 x 0.6 x 2.7 in
Specific Features: 1-inch screen size, heart rate monitor, easy to use button operated, water-resistant up to 1 meter
Best Use: Running, track & field, triathlon
Description: Garmin Forerunner 210 GPS-Enabled Sport Watch straightforward GPS watch is perfect for those who want to accurately track their workout data without complicated displays or features.
Featuring HotFix satellite prediction technology, this watch locks onto satellites faster so that you can get on with your run and know that your distance, time, pace, and effort are all being recorded accurately and constantly.
Its highly sensitive GPS stays in touch with satellites even under tree cover or in between buildings, ensuring the accuracy of your data throughout your entire workout. It’s also compatible with the Garmin foot pod and Tanita BC-1000 body composition scale, allowing you to bridge your outdoor and indoor workouts without losing data.
Garmin Connect allows you to store and review your workouts and create customized fitness goals to keep your training on target.
Related: Garmin Foot Pod
TomTom Multi-Sport GPS Watch with Heart Rate Monitor
Weight: 1.76 ounces
Specific Features: Graphical Training Partner, full-screen graphics, 3 training modes, heart rate monitor, one-button easy to use navigation, 10-hour battery life
Best Use: Multisport
Description: The TomTom Multisport GPS watch provides detailed cycling, swimming, and running metrics in a durable, impact- and scratch-resistant, and an easy to use watch at an affordable price.
Its extra-large, high resolution, one-button display screen makes it simple to view, change, and control your workout data even during the most intense session.
Easy access to key workout statistics helps you stay motivated and reach your goals; plus, the weather-proof and waterproof (up to 50 meters) design lets you chase your goals no matter where they take you.
The Graphical Training Partner provides 3 training modes to race, challenge, or pace yourself and make the most of your training time. You can also set alerts to let you know when you’ve reached a milestone, lap, or interval, or fallen off your set pace.
Related: TomTom Cadence and Speed Sensor
Suunto Ambit3 Sport HR Running GPS Unit
Weight: 4.3 ounces
Dimensions: 5 x 4 x 4 inches
Specific Features: Heart rate monitor, 100-hour battery life, smartphone sync, Suunto Apps
Best Use: Multisport
Description: The Suunto Ambit3 Sport GPS watch is worth the higher price tag for multi-sport athletes who are serious about taking their training to the next level.
Whether you’re on the pavement, on the trail, or in the water, the Ambit3 tracks your performance and even analyzes your sleep recovery to help you plan the next day’s workout.
The Movescount App not only plans your workouts but also provides voice guidance while you train to ensure you’re meeting or exceeding your goals. Smartphone sync lets you customize your activities while sharing phone calls and notifications from your phone to your watch.
Plus, you can add photos and create a Suunto Movie that lets you share your adventure with friends and family.
Related: Suunto Ambit3 Peak Sapphire
Nike+ SportWatch GPS Powered by TomTom
Weight: 9.6 ounces
Dimensions: 2.3 x 0.6 x 1.4 inches
Specific Features: 8-hour continuous battery life, water resistant, TomTom GPS technology, NikeFuel, Nike+ sensor, Personal Coach
Best Use: Running
Description: The Nike+ SportWatch combines the GPS expertise of TomTom with Nike’s knowledge of the athlete to bring runners a GPS watch that rivals all others.
Never miss a run again with Personal Coach, a feature that not only reminds you to run, but also charts your progress on individual runs so that you can compare your performance across your workouts.
Nike+ technology ensures seamless, uninterrupted data tracking even when you don’t have a GPS signal, meaning that running in tunnels, canyons, or any other area where signal may be obstructed no longer poses a problem to your training.
Customize training programs and stay motivated with Nike+ challenges; share your progress and success with friends and family via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media as a member of Nikeplus.com.
Related: Polar Wearlink Nike+ Transmitter
Garmin Forerunner 10 GPS Watch
Weight: 5.6 ounces
Dimensions: 15 x 12 x 12.4 inches
Specific Features: Water resistant up to 50 meters, Virtual Pacer, Garmin Connect, high-sensitivity GPS
Best Use: Running
Description: The Garmin Forerunner 10 brings fast, accurate GPS technology to runners in an easy to use, comfortable, lightweight watch. Track your distance, calories, pace, and personal records; review your workouts, share them with friends, and plan future training using Garmin Connect.
Use Virtual Pacer to set a target pace and compare your current pace with the target to make sure you’re staying on goal. Alerts let you know when you complete a mile and at what speed, with additional feedback once the run is completed.
You’ll even receive an alert when you’ve reached a personal best, such as fastest mile time or longest distance. You can upload your data via cable to Garmin Connect to see your runs on a map and chart your improvements over time.
Related: Garmin Fenix 3 HR Sapphire
Garmin Forerunner 110W GPS enabled Sports Watch
Weight: 1.8 ounces
Dimensions: 0.6 x 2.7 x 1.8 in
Specific Features: 1-inch LCD screen display, 8-hour continuous battery life, Garmin Connect, heart rate monitor
Best Use: Running, track & field, triathlon
Description: This Garmin Forerunner 110W GPS enabled Sports Watch with HRM allows you to track how far and fast you’ve run, walked, or cycled along with your heart rate-based calorie expenditure thanks to its heart rate monitor technology.
Seamlessly track the time, distance, and pace of your workouts with HotFix GPS satellite technology that keeps you connected to satellites even in low-signal areas.
Download and track your data with Garmin Connect so that you can analyze your workouts later to create customized training plans and reach your goals.
Related: Garmin Edge 500 Bike Computer
Whether you’re a serious athlete looking to make gains in your training or to train for a specific event or competition, or just trying to keep track of your workouts in order to improve your health, a GPS watch is an essential tool to add to your workout belt.
Even those who are not going to use the watch for running, cycling, swimming, or triathlon sports will find it useful for knowing distances traveled and marking waypoints on a map to stay on route.
Hikers, backpackers, campers, kayakers, survivalists, and others with outdoor and wilderness hobbies should consider a GPS watch as a compact, affordable, lightweight way to keep track of data that will keep you on the trail and help you reach your wilderness destination.