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Choosing the Best GPS Watch: Getting Out in the Wilderness Safely

Choosing the Best GPS Watch
Russell McCarty
Written by Russell McCarty

A GPS watch is a useful way to keep track of not only your route, but also your pace, distance and speed when running or doing other activities outdoors. Since GPS watches utilize satellites to track coordinates, the most basic models will be suitable for outdoor use only, although more advanced models may be suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.

Like most products, all GPS watches are not created equal, and you may be surprised at the wide array of options which currently exist for this product. Regardless of the price tag, the best GPS watch for you will be the one that suits the level of activity for which you are striving, integrates easily into your lifestyle, and meets your style and comfort preferences.

Those in the market for a GPS watch should carefully consider the purpose for which they plan to use the watch.  Are you someone who could benefit from online training tools, coaching, and advanced fitness features? Or, are you simply looking for a convenient way to track your route and perhaps some other basic stats?

Skycaddie-GPS-Watch

It will be important to sort these details out before you begin shopping, as it can be easy to get pulled into buying more watch than you need and ending up with impressive features you will never use.  Naturally, the more advanced the features, the more you can expect to pay.

The GPS watches available today span from basic to sophisticated, with a wide array of price points as well.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed by such vast options, but we are making it easy for you.

Follow along to learn which important features to consider and read our reviews for some of our top choices.  We will have you well on your way to finding the best one for you and your active lifestyle.

Important Features

It is important to familiarize yourself with some of the most important features available in order to find the best GPS watch to meet your needs. It is worth learning what is available and carefully considering which features mean the most to you so that you can narrow down your options and find the one that makes the most sense for you.

Leikr GPS Watch

The most important features common to all GPS watches include hardware, statistic tracking, training tools, and additional accessories.

Hardware

This refers to the specifics of the watch: how it connects to satellite, what the screen is like, and what type of battery the watch uses. Pay attention to whether or not the battery is rechargeable, how long it lasts, and what other technology it utilizes.

You will also want to carefully evaluate the screen and make sure it is big enough for you to easily see and read while active, while small and light enough to also be comfortable.

Statistic tracking 

Most all GPS watches give the basic information including route, distance, and speed. More advanced features include elevation, calories burned and heart rate (normally an additional chest strap is required for a heart rate reading).

Garmin Fenix Watch

More advanced models may also be able to track a whole host of other things, such as temperature, quality of running stride and cadence, swimming statistics, depth and much more.

Training Tools

Some GPS watches have built in training tools, such as lap indicators, vibrations and other progress notifications. More sophisticated GPS watches also have the ability to sync the data they have tracked with your computer, and then be used in conjunction with online programs and software to help you chart, track and share your progress. These can be really important factors in helping you stay motivated and aware of your progress.

Additional Accessories 

Other than GPS functionality, some of the other optional accessories include heart rate monitor chest straps (may or may not be included with the watch), foot pods to track more information about run quality and enable the watch to work better indoors, and more.

GPS watch and chest strap Aldi

If you are simply looking for a watch to help you stay on course and keep track of your training statistics, then you most likely will not be too concerned with these additional accessories, and you certainly will not want to pay extra for them.

Top Product Reviews

Now that you know some of the most important features to consider, continue on to read our reviews of some of the best GPS watch brands available today.

New Balance GPS Trainer 

Best Use: For outdoor runnersNew Balance GPS Runner
of all athletic levels to track their runs and progress.

Specific Features: GPS technology, 49 display presets with 3 line multi-view, digitally coded chest strap, 100 hour chronograph with 30 run memory, rechargeable battery and USB charging cable.

 Designed by New Balance, a name synonymous with serious running, the New Balance GPS Trainer uses GPS technology to track speed, distance and pace for those who run outdoors. All in all, this is an excellent GPS watch, especially for the price. With the plethora of options on the market for GPS watches, it is easy to end up purchasing one that offers much more capability than is needed.

For those simply in the market to track distance, time, and pace, this is the perfect option for you. If you seek more “bells and whistles” than you should consider other options, but you should also be prepared to pay more as well.

One common complaint about this watch, however, it is not quite as intuitive as some might expect it to be. Many users of this watch had a difficult time when they simply tried to figure it out on their own without really paying attention to the instruction manual. The instructions are actually critical to getting acquainted with this particular watch.

It is worth taking the time from the very beginning to read the instructions in their entirety. It may seem a hassle, but it is a small price to pay for a much less frustrating experience, and a good first encounter with what will most likely prove to be a very dependable and useful watch for tracking GPS, distance and pace during your outdoor runs.

Other great details about the watch are the fact that it is waterproof (although it will likely lose GPS signal under water) and it has a long battery life. You can expect it to last for about seven hours while using the GPS function.

As stated above, if you do not require more than basic functions (GPS, distance, and pace tracking) then you will be pleased with this watch, especially for the price. If you need more advanced features, or would like to sync results with your computer, then this is not the watch for you.

 Check the price on Amazon

TomTom Runner GPS Watch

Weight: 12.64 ouncesTomTom Runner GPS Running Watch

Best Use: Serious outdoor runners who seek detailed progress and results tracking.

Dimensions: 4.13 inches, 3.66 inches, 3.66 inches

Specific Features: GPS-enabled watch, also tracks time, distance, pace, calories burned, and live stats. Slim, lightweight, waterproof, with and extra-large display and one button functionality. Able to be paired with heart rate monitor strap, can be used in sync with TomTom app to upload data and track fitness. Re-chargeable via USB cable (included).

This TomTom Runner GPS Watch is another great choice at a very affordable price for those seeking basic GPS tracking capabilities as well as basic run data (time and pace/speed). It also offers the added ability to be used in conjunction with TomTom’s app in order to upload and save data to a computer in order to track progress and help you achieve your health and fitness goals.

People rave about how quickly it is able to pick up a GPS signal, no need to wait on slow technology in order to get out and get right into your run without frustration. This watch is also rather sleek and attractive, making it an ideal watch to be worn as part of your day to day wardrobe, and not just for running.

Unfortunately there are somewhat limited options available as far as color and style choice, so you may not be able to choose one that best represents your personal style but there are some nice options.

Other things people love about this watch is the fact that it is intuitive, easy to figure out from the get-go and easy to incorporate into your daily routine. It can also be easily integrated for use with other health and fitness apps.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 110W GPS enabled Sports Watch

Weight: 1.8 ouncesGarmin Forerunner

Best Use: Outdoor runners of all athletic levels to track their runs and progress.

Dimensions: 0.6 x 2.7 x 1.8 in

Specific Features: GPS-enabled watch, also records distance, time and pace, highly sensitive so as not to lose signal, rechargeable battery, data can be uploaded to Garmin Connect site for fitness tracking and goal management, included heart rate monitor.

This Garmin Forerunner 110W GPS Watch is another excellent option for those who only need basic running watch functionality (time and pace) along with GPS tracking ability.

It is available for a great price, and some of the features which set it apart from other, similarly priced devices include the ability to upload data to Garmin Connect for tracking and goal-setting and sharing, as well as the fact that it cannot only be used with a heart rate monitor chest strap, but it actually has one included!

Users also love how simple it is to setup and get running right from the very first use.  Garmin has managed to fit all of the necessary GPS and run tracking stats all on the main display, without the watch looking cluttered or big and bulky.

A few minor things users have complained about with this watch include the fact that it can take a minute or more to find satellites, even in very populated areas.  Also, some have found that the charger for uploading data can be a bit tricky to get situated.  These, however, are very minor complaints and do not take much away from the overall quality of this watch.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 15 Large

Weight: 1.6 ouncesGarmin Forerunner 15 Large

Best Use: Serious outdoor runners who seek detailed progress and results tracking.

Dimensions: 0.62 inches, 1.79 inches, 2.25 inches

Specific Features: GPS Watch, tracks distance, pace, and calories, rechargeable lithium-ion battery, reminds you when it is time to move, can be used with foot pod for indoor distance recording, 8 hour battery life with GPS, activities can be saved and used with Garmin Connect.

In addition to basic running stats and GPS tracking, the Garmin Forerunner 15 Large also provides information about the number of calories burned. Another nice feature which sets it apart from other, comparable watches is the fact that it can also be used in conjunction with the Garmin foot pod in order to track indoor distances, since many GPS running watches are only suited for outdoor running. This watch keeps it simple and provides the information you need in a compact package.

Some have complained that it can take a little time to connect to GPS Satellites, but once it does connect is stays locked in very well, and doesn’t lose signal, even during bad weather and rain. This watch also includes a heart rate monitor strap, although it comes in a standard size which many women and smaller individuals have found to be too large.

Check the price on Amazon

Forerunner 405 W/HRM and USB by Garmin

Weight: 2.11 ouncesForerunner 405 W HRM And USB by Garmin

Best Use: Serious outdoor runners who seek detailed progress and results tracking.

Dimensions: 1.88 x 0.6 x 2.78 in

Specific Features: GPS watch includes touch bezel, training features, heart monitor strap, ANT + sport wireless platform, recorded courses and virtual partners to train against, rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

The Forerunner 405 W/HRM and USB by Garmin offers a highly accurate GPS watch that also includes all of the necessary training features (time, pace, distance) as well as a variety of extra features to help you train and track progress. It also comes with a heart rate monitor strap for even greater accuracy and ability to track calories burned.

All features are intuitive and easy to access through the touch bezel that lets you easily review the stats you need without slowing down your run. It is also easy to upload data to Garmin Connect in order to view details of your run, track progress, set goals, and so much more.

Although the bezel is designed for ease of use and access, many owners of this watch have found it to be frustrating because it can act up a bit when it becomes slightly damp from use or in humid weather. A simple solution to this problem is to just lock the bezel in place before beginning your run.

Although this takes care of the problem of it acting up, it also defeats the purpose of some of the convenience and functionality of the bezel. However, it is possible to pre-program the watch to automatically rotate through the various training screens.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 920XT

Weight: 2.08 ouncesGarmin Forerunner 920XT

Best Use: Serious outdoor runners who seek detailed progress and results tracking.

Dimensions: 1.9 x 0.5 x 2.2 in

Specific Features: VO2 Max, recovery time, and race predictor (when used with heart rate) suitable for running and cycling too, Running Dynamics1 provides feedback on running, records speed, distance, pace and so much more, receives smart notifications to see incoming texts, emails and calendar reminders, able to post live updates to share training activities with family and friends.

Another GPS watch option by Garmin, the Garmin Forerunner 920XT comes jam-packed with all of the training, tracking, and connecting features you could ever dream of, plus so much more. Although it bears a higher price tag, if you are a runner who is doing serious training or just need extra motivation to keep working toward your goals, then this is the watch for you.

Aside from staying connected to your goals and feedback about your training, this model also lets you stay connected to friends and family. It can give you notifications of texts, calls, emails and calendar events, and also allows you to share your workout results in real-time.

People who own this watch praise it for performing flawlessly during running, cycling and swimming activities. With so many unique features and functions, one might expect this watch to be large and bulky, but that is not the case. It is slim, lightweight, and attractive. Although the watch comes with a higher price tag than a more basic GPS model, when you see all that it can do you will quickly realize it’s a small price to pay for all that it can do.

Check the price on Amazon

Polar RC3 Training Computer

Weight: 6.4 ouncesPolar RC3 GPS Sports Watch

Best Use: Serious outdoor runners who seek detailed progress and results tracking.

Dimensions: 5 x 3 x 4 inches

Specific Features: All in one GPS watch capable of monitoring speed, distance, and route. Rechargeable battery, Polar Smart Coaching Features, compatible with running and cycling sensors as well as polarpersonaltrainer.com, a free training diary by Polar.

The Polar RC3 Training Computer offers everything you would expect in a good GPS/ running watch, including the ability to monitor pace, speed and route, with the added benefit of some really great online training tools to help you track and monitor your progress.

People who own this watch appreciate how easy it is to sync to their computers. All you have to do is make an online account, and then you will be able to view and store all of your results online and get helpful training and tracking information.

All in all, this is a great watch but there are a few complaints regarding how long it takes to connect to GPS satellites, as some users have found it to take at least two minutes or even longer to connect. Some have also complained that the watch band can be difficult to put on, but once it is on it does stay in place well.

Check the price on Amazon

What we learned

We have explained some of the most important features to consider, and reviewed some of our top choices for GPS watches. As you can see, there are quite a range of options for GPS watches that span from the basic to those which can give you more information about your activity than you likely ever thought possible.

Just like other fitness equipment, a GPS watch will only benefit you if you take the time to learn it and actually utilize the features if offers.

Running with GPS watch

Hopefully this article has made you feel less overwhelmed by the options that exist, and has prepared you to get out and evaluate them for yourself. Keep in mind that regardless of clever marketing, or which brands you hear other people rave about, a GPS watch will not be the right one for you unless it is capable of meeting your needs in terms of budget, style and functionality.

We would love to know your thoughts about GPS watches. Have you used one before? If so, which features are most important to you, and has it made a difference in your activity level and motivation?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Russell McCarty
Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.

  • William Golgosky

    I bought the Polar RC3 Training Computer earlier this year and so far have found it to be a really solid watch. The GPS is pretty accurate as is the heart rate monitor (make sure you wait to start your run to ensure more accurate GPS positioning!) If there’s one thing I could change about the watch it would be to have a screen you could customize more, but that’s a minor complaint.

  • Russell McCarty

    Hi William! I want to know your take on this watch’s interface. Is it user friendly to you? I think a gadget may be top of the line but if users have a hard time using or navigating with it, it has lost it’s purpose, don’t you think?

    • William Golgosky

      Hi Russell! Yes, I totally agree with you. Honestly, I have not had any trouble navigating the watch at all. I think it’s really intuitive and easy to use. And like you say, at the end of the day it’s all about usability!

  • Russell McCarty

    Thanks for dropping by William and do enjoy your GPS watch!

  • Kyle Short

    I’m wearing the TomTom Runner GPS Watch right now. I think it’s a great runner’s watch! It has a good variety of modes, but I love the race mode the most because it makes it so easy to see how you compare against your goal. I could easily see this being an everyday watch.

  • Russell McCarty

    Glad you like it Kyle and thanks for sharing your thoughts! It’s readers like you who validate the many reviews we make here on the site.
    Thanks for sharing and yes, the Tom Tom Runner GPS Watch is also tops in my books! 🙂

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