Runners need to have as much data available to them as possible to help them build their stamina and speed. Using the best GPS running watch helps runners understand their patterns so they can improve for their next race.
Ever since the first GPS watch was released to the public, there have been plenty of brands and models that have made it difficult for runners to know what watch is best for them. We have analyzed the options and decided what watches are the best for runners of all types from the fastest marathon runners to those who enjoy a casual 5K as well as runners who prefer trails to the pavement. Fortunately, there is something for everyone.
There are several reasons to buy a GPS running watch, so it is important to understand exactly what you want to know about your running experiences. Are you interested in knowing your heart rate? Do you want to keep track of your mileage and the terrain you cross? Do you want to know your speed? What is your budget? All of these considerations and more can help determine exactly what you should look for in a watch.
Here is a quick preview of our top 10:
#1, Garmin Forerunner 230 GPS Watch – Best for Running
#2, Garmin Forerunner 235 GPS Watch – Best for General Fitness
#3, Garmin Forerunner 920XT GPS Watch – Best for Triathletes
#4, Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Watch – Best for Multisport Athletes
#5, Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR GPS Watch – Best for Trail Runners and Hikers
#6, Garmin Forerunner 630 GPS Watch – Best for Tracking Recovery
#7, Polar V800 Sports GPS Watch – Best for High-End Data
#8, Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Watch – Best for Adventurers
#9, Fitbit Surge Fitness Super watch – Best for Companion App
#10, Polar M400 GPS Sports Watch – Best for a Budget
Table of Contents
Why should you use a running watch?
This question is not as ridiculous as it sounds. In today’s world, smartphones are perfectly good options for learning about your running trends. However, carrying a smartphone can be rather uncomfortable to carry or to wear. Yes, you can get the apps you want on your smartphone, but they are limited in the information they provide. You will not get information about anything other than splits, time, and distance.
But, if you invest in the best GPS running watch, you can get real-time information about your vital signs and so much more. Wearing a lightweight watch is much more comfortable, especially on long, hot runs. It is also easy to cover a watch on a rainy day, too. You do not have to grab the watch to learn your statistics while running and you’ll never have to take your watch out of a pouch or armband to change settings. A great GPS watch offers more convenience than any smartphone when it comes to managing your runs.
What to spend on a GPS running watch?
When you begin to shop for a GPS running watch, it is a good idea to understand how to find one that fits into your budget. Fortunately, some watches fit nearly every budget. At the low end, there are running watches that sell for around $50. At the high end, you can spend over $300. A good entry-level running watch usually can be found for about $100 and at this price you usually get the basic features that you need. If you are in the market for a watch that tracks more than running, you can find phenomenal technological tools for well over $600.
If you are trying to stay under $150, then you should expect to find a comfortable and compact watch. They usually come with a few features, but they tend not to have a GPS. You usually have to wear your smartphone and the watch at the same time.
If you are trying to stay between $200 and $300, you will find watches that have a GPS and several other apps that track vital signs like heart rate. You should be able to run without your smartphone attached to you.
If you are willing to spend more than $300, then you will get a fantastic piece of fitness technology. They will have coaching apps that offer assistance during the run and after the run to help you maximize your recovery time, your oxygen use, and your muscle fatigue.
What features do you need?
Those will vary from person to person. But, these are a few of the ones that you can consider.
Most people want to track their distances, so choosing a GPS running watch with a GPS is a must-have feature. Otherwise, you will have to be tethered to your phone to see how far you run.
Some people appreciate being able to see their heart rate and some running watches have an optical heart rate feature. Other watches require users to use a chest strap to feed data into the watch. Some watches have built-in training plans and interval sessions, so all you need to do is decide if you want to do this on your own or have your phone do it for you. The best GPS running watches will help improve runners’ forms, by looking at cadence and vertical oscillation.
Lastly, some watches will also give information about recovery and rest – this is a welcome feature for runners who spend very little time taking care of themselves post-run.
Unfortunately, the one feature that many runners like – music – is rarely an option on running watches. This means that many runners still carry their smartphones with them. But, watch manufacturers are taking notice of this need, so they are providing storage for runners to include their favorite beats. Pairing this with Bluetooth headphones makes for a very comfortable and motivational run.
Another important feature to consider is the life of the running watch’s battery. If you are an ultramarathon runner, there are very few watches that have battery lives that will last for that many hours. However, most of them have a battery that will last up to five hours – which is usually enough for runners in a traditional marathon. Just remember to charge your watch regularly.
Reviews of 10 Best GPS Running Watch on the Market
There are several good GPS running watches to meet the needs of different types of runners. When it comes to regular old running, the Garmin Forerunner 230 is a great choice. This mid-range GPS watch has a large face that makes it easy to read while running.
This watch keeps track of distance, heart rate, pace, time, and vertical oscillation (VO2). As a Garmin device, it works with the Garmin Connect app so you can track your run live and control your music, too. If you are a casual runner, the watch also tracks your daily steps as well as how many calories you burn, and how you sleep.
This watch has a long battery life that provides 5 weeks when used as a watch or 16 hours while running and training. The watch also has audio prompting that you can use with your smartphone. You can also use smart notifications while you are not running. It will keep track of your activity as you move through your day.
- The wide face is easy to read.
- Long battery life.
- Can access music.
- Works in the water.
- Requires smartphone pairing.
- Buttons can shut off watches while sleeping.
- The screen is not backlit, so it can be difficult to read in low light.
- No heart-rate monitor.
If you are simply looking for a watch to help you with your overall fitness, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is a great choice. This watch does include a heart-rate sensor that works as long as you are wearing the watch. The screen is 31mm in diameter, making it one of the larger ones on the market, today.
If you use the watch as a watch, the battery will last for 12 weeks, but it will only last for 12 hours in training mode. This watch also includes audio prompts through a smartphone and you can also get notifications through your smartphone.
The only thing this watch doesn’t do is pace you virtually. Otherwise, it does have features like sleep monitoring, recovery advice, advanced workouts, and more. You will be able to see your improvement in all aspects of your life, from your workouts, your daily steps, and your sleep cycle.
- A plethora of features.
- Large color screen.
- Lightweight: 1.6 ounces.
- Smart notifications.
- Heart rate monitor.
- Needs a smartphone for audio prompts.
- No virtual pacing.
As an early leader in the market for personal GPS devices, Garmin continues to develop high-quality products for people who compete in triathlons. The Garmin Forerunner 920XT is designed for triathletes who spend their time running, swimming, and bicycling. This GPS watch provides information about running form along with information about the trails, including speed, distance, grade, and ascents and descents.
If you pair it with a heart rate monitor, you can learn about that important vital, too. One of the most appreciated aspects of this watch is the race prediction feature. It does this for both running and cycling. For the swimming part of the competition, this watch is compatible with wet suits. It is sleek, so it does not add a draft to your strokes. The watch will not only gather stats about running and cycling, but it also gathers metrics about swimming, including stroke counts, rates, and distance as well as SWOLF scores. You can keep track of your drills, even the kicking drills.
- Features for all aspects of triathlons.
- Comfortable enough to wear every day.
- Easy-to-read screen.
- Sleek enough to use in competitive swimming.
- Do not monitor heart rate.
- Expensive – at the high end of the price range.
- Calibrating elevation can be complicated.
This phenomenal little watch has features that help you not only improve your running and fitness but your golf game, too. It includes a heart rate monitor so you do not need to wear a chest strap.
The colorful touchscreen makes it easy to change settings and you can even add customized faces and apps with the Connect IQ store. If you use the watch as a watch, the battery will last for 8 days and it will work for 13 hours if you use the built-in GPS. For added benefit, it is also water-resistant.
Along with tracking your golf game, you can also track your running, cycling, and intensity training. If you are an avid golfer, you will be happy to know that 40,000 different golf course maps can be added to this watch. It also will keep track of your intensity while skiing, rowing, SUP-ing, or any other sports that benefit from using a GPS.
- Great watch for golfers.
- A heart-rate monitor is included in the watch.
- Long battery life.
- GPS included.
- Fair price.
- Watch scratches easily.
- The numbers on the screen are small.
- Bluetooth can be inconsistent.
The Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR is a good choice for people who enjoy getting their exercise on the trails. This watch is designed to provide information about the environment, with highly accurate altitude measurements as well as weather information for safety purposes.
It also has a robust navigation system. Along with the GPS, the watch includes a compass, altimeter, and barometer. The battery will work for 200 hours. The Suunto Ambit3 will connect to your smartphone so you can see what you are doing on the trails and you can even create a movie of your hike. Suunto has several different accessories that can be used to mount the watch on your bike or to monitor heart rate.
- Excellent for use on trails.
- Included features allow you to analyze your time on the trails.
- Accurate measurements.
- Plenty of battery life.
- Included GPS.
- Difficulty connecting to all computers.
- No heart-rate monitor.
- Requires Internet access to use all features.
If you are a runner or other type of athlete who does not spend much time worrying about your recovery, this is a good watch for you. Recovery is an important part of physical activity because your muscles and vital organs require time to return to homeostasis.
The Garmin Forerunner 630 is designed to let you see what your body is doing post-workout. Unfortunately, this watch does not come with a heart-rate monitor, but one can be added via a chest strap. The watch does monitor your running dynamics, by analyzing stride length, vertical ratio, and oscillation, as well as contact time and balance.
It also looks at your physiological measurements like lactate threshold, VO2 max, performance conditions, and it predicts race time. The battery life is long-lasting and it does have the option to place a new battery in it while exercising. It accepts notifications from smartphones, too. It will also update your statistics wirelessly to your Garmin apps on your smartphone or computer.
- Colorful screen with easy-to-read numbers.
- Apps at the Connect IQ store.
- Provides a stress score.
- Provides detailed stats about fitness.
- No heart-rate monitor.
- Dim backlight.
This watch has all the bells and whistles. No, it won’t whistle for you, but it does practically everything else. The Polar V800 includes a built-in GPS and a heart rate sensor that you can use even while swimming. It can also be paired with Bluetooth running and cycling sensors to increase the amount of information you want during your training.
You can create customized profiles to use with your various activities and sports so you can better your performance in all of them. It also tracks your activities throughout the day, including your sleeping so you can see how everything you do affects your body. The watch is waterproof to 30 meters, so you can use it to keep track of your time and speed in the pool, too. You can use the smart coaching feature to stay motivated during your outings.
- Monitors several aspects of training.
- Tracks daily activities.
- Integrated GPS and barometer.
- Several accessories can be added.
- Long battery life.
- Doesn’t connect to Android phones.
- The silicone watch band is complicated.
Adventurers who are off the grid regularly need something stronger than the typical GPS. The Garmin Fenix 3 (pronounced like Phoenix) will get you where you need to go and bring you back, too.
It has an EXO antenna that allows you to pair it with GLONASS and EPO to get your GPS position quickly and accurately. It has a large 1.2” diameter display that is easy to read in bright sunlight. If you use the watch as a watch, the battery lasts for 6 weeks. When used as a trainer, it will last 20 hours and in its special “UltraTrac” mode, it will last for 50 hours.
It offers several metrics that allow users to keep track of fitness and form, including a heart monitor, VO2 estimator, running speed, cadence, swimming strokes, skiing speed, and so much more. It will work as a remote for VIRB cameras. It is rated for swimming at 100 meters.
- Features for running, swimming, and skiing.
- Advanced metrics.
- Better-than-average GPS.
- Durable watch.
- Long battery life.
- Easy-to-read display.
- It is expensive.
- Watchband can easily break.
- Can be heavy on the wrist
- Fonts are narrow
This watch comes from the brand that is most recognizable in this industry: Fitbit. The Fitbit Surge Fitness Super watch is designed to help users monitor their daily activities and their sleep.
It pairs with over 100 smartphones to deliver information and to receive notifications. You can track your workouts and learn about your activities, like steps taken, floors climbed, and so much more. The Fitbit Surge will even wake you up each day with a gentle and silent alarm. It also records heart rate and your GPS position. The watch has a long battery life with a 7-day battery as a watch and 10-hours with GPS running.
- Easily pairs with most smartphones.
- Records activities and sleep.
- Quiet alarm.
- Big watch and top model from Fitbit.
- Big watch.
- Must pair with a smartphone.
- The band can be irritating to the skin.
You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to learn about your fitness statistics. The Polar M400 GPS Sports Watch is an extremely affordable fitness tracker with a GPS. This watch will track the necessities, like steps, calories, sleep, and distance covered.
It will track all of this information all day and all night. On top of all of those benefits, it is also waterproof so you can use it in the sun and the rain. The Polar M400 syncs with the Polar Flow app so you can track and record your data. It lets you know when you haven’t been very active and it will build a customized running program for you.
- Includes a GPS.
- Tracks and records your daily metrics.
- Can use with a variety of sports.
- Takes a long time to sync with a computer or phone.
- Only syncs with iPhones.
- No vibration alerts.
In Conclusion: The Clear Winner
Many outstanding watches help athletes learn more about their training and races. Most of the watches will work on their own during training activities or actual races, but they all will work well with smartphones and computers so users can add apps and store information. Some of the watches are designed to be used for only one activity, while others can be used for things as varied as golfing and kayaking. Of these watches, the best GPS running watch is the Garmin Vivoactive HR.
This watching includes a heart-rate monitor, which is an important piece of technology that helps keep athletes safe. It also includes a variety of features that can be used with several activities, not just running. The watch also has a fair price, especially for the features that it includes. Its 13-hour battery life while the GPS is on is one of the longest in the industry. You can’t go wrong using the Garmin Vivoactive HR throughout your day.