If you’re looking into options for the best GPS running watch and are considering spending what might be a month’s rent (or more) on a device to track the simple activity of running … you might want to rethink your priorities! But, since we’re runners, we’re wildly committed to the sport, and some of us have a thirst for our personal data rivaling the overlords at Meta.
The addicting combination of running and then interpreting the run makes having the best GPS watch important for many people. When choosing a watch, you’ll need to look at many features, including battery life, screen size, features, and durability. This guide builds on years of testing, comparing the latest watches to their predecessors and identifying what stands out.
In this guide, we rounded up the best GPS running watches on the market in 2023. You can utilize our in-depth how-to-choose and frequently-asked-questions sections to get dialed on the lingo and the considerations to make when planning your purchase. You can also learn more about our research and testing methodology.
Best GPS Running Watches
- Best Overall GPS Running Watch: Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition
- Best Smartwatch for Running: Apple Watch Ultra
- Best GPS Running Watch Update: Coros Apex 2 Pro
- Best Battery Life in a GPS Running Watch: Coros Vertix 2
- Best Budget GPS Running Watch: Coros Pace 2
- Best GPS Running Watch Design: Suunto 9 Peak Pro Titanium
Best Overall GPS Running Watch: Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition ($800)
How do you improve on (near) perfection? Garmin has done it with the new Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition. This watch is an upgrade on the Garmin fēnix 6, our choice for best overall GPS running watch in 2022. The reasons for loving this watch are simple: above-average battery life, rugged durability, class-leading map capabilities, a clear display, and unique connectivity to apps.
Let’s start with battery life. The watch has a high-performing battery — up to 57 hours using GPS only and 40 hours using all satellite systems. With the solar edition of the watch, which can charge while you wear it in the sun, you can expect almost 73 hours of use in normal GPS mode. Other watches in this guide will boast long battery performance, but as one of our testers put it: battery life, at full sampling, becomes a silly stat line. It took him 31 hours to complete the Mogollon Monster 100-mile race, and he used his watch at its full GPS capabilities and maps and still had 20% battery life left at the end. In other words, this big battery, which is made even stronger with the addition of solar charging, is more than enough for the majority of us. Unfortunately, if you endeavor to push the battery capabilities of the watch and need to charge it, you won’t be able to use it while it’s charging.
The key materials of this watch include titanium, sapphire, metal button guards, and reinforced lugs. The “start” and “stop” activity button is isolated with textured metal encased in a red rectangle for visibility. The quick-release straps are easy to remove and prove handy if you’d rather “set it and forget it” by getting rid of the straps and throwing just the face of the watch in a pocket. This will give your wrist a break and help with that watch tan line you’ve been working on all summer.
We lauded the previous version of this watch for its outstanding mapping abilities and found it the best among any GPS watches designed for ultrarunners. With all of the same preloaded, offline-enabled mapping capabilities as its predecessor, the updated version is made even better with its touch-screen capabilities. This means you can jog around the screen with your fingertip rather than the laborious click-click-clicking around with the “zoom-in, zoom-out,” and “side-to-side” functions of the previous version.
This is a major upgrade because whether you are following a route in the middle of the mountains or a new way through a city and just want to get your bearings easily, a simple swipe helps you pinpoint your location and destination in a flash.
No other traditional GPS watch we’ve tested can access Wi-Fi to transfer information and files. The integration between your home Wi-Fi and the Garmin Connect app means you can synchronize music and podcasts via Spotify in minutes. When this is combined with its huge battery life, it means that this watch is as close to a phone replacement as you’ll find.
This is not just the best GPS watch for ultrarunning — it is our daily driver for any and all activities that we do.
- Has the foremost feature set among all competitors, with everything from solar charging to Spotify streaming playback
- Excellent battery performance
- Hardy build quality with premium materials
- Aesthetics are too rugged and sporty for work life
- Optical sensors are inconsistent and inaccurate
- Very expensive
Best Smartwatch for Running: Apple Watch Ultra ($800)
The Apple Watch Ultra, at its core, is a productivity smartwatch aimed at endurance athletes who also want outstanding GPS capabilities. It can message, call, play music, be used for contactless payments, and use a host of other first- and third-party apps right on your wrist. It can also collect tons of health data and daily movement tracking. Where it differs from other Apple watches is its action button — a hardware shortcut that can be programmed to start a specific activity versus scrolling through all the installed apps. I mapped my action button to “outdoor run” for easy access.
Full GPS battery life is advertised to last for an Ironman triathlon or about 17 hours. That is more than double the tracking available on other Apple watches. It also features a more durable titanium case with a sapphire crystal screen that is less prone to scratches and dings from impact. It boasts water resistance down to 100 meters as well as additional durability ratings not found anywhere else in the Apple line. It also has built-in safety features. In addition to standard crash and fall detection, there is also an 86-decibel siren onboard to draw attention in emergency situations. The screen is super bright and vivid and shows great details. It is responsive to interact with most of the time. All in all, it is a major step up for the Apple Watch platform for those wanting a single device that can do it all at work or play.
This watch does have limitations. First, it requires another Apple device to activate it. Next, the battery life for day-to-day use and GPS tracking still pales in comparison to the competition at the same and lower price points. This is a touch-first device, and it is a struggle to use when it is wet or when wearing gloves. Routing seems to be the biggest miss for a device that prides itself on safety, as there is no native way to upload a route to follow. You can’t simply scroll to a breadcrumb screen and look back at where you may have gotten off course. There is a compass app that sits outside of the workout screens that can do a bit of this, but you have to remember to start it in addition to starting your activity. It is a lot of jumping back and forth between screens and can become frustrating, even more so if you’re wearing gloves or in wet weather — again, due to the touch screen.
Overall, as an all-in-one device, it is a marvelous watch. Having the ability to leave the house on a known route with a pair of earbuds while listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks, or being able to receive a call or text with an enabled cellular connection while not carrying a phone, is pretty great. If you are coming from a non-Ultra version of the Apple Watch, this is a step up. Those coming from medium- to high-end modern sports watches will immediately notice the frequent charging required and curious lack of mapping functions.
- Work and running blend perfectly in a single watch with excellent productivity features in tandem with athletic and health performance features
- Health activity monitoring and advanced safety features
- Battery performance is weak compared to dedicated sport watches at this price point
- Must be paired with another Apple product to function; no Android compatibility
- Touch-first design is difficult to use with cold or wet fingers
Best GPS Running Watch Update: Coros Apex 2 Pro ($500)
While many watches get upgrades over time, the Coros Apex 2 Pro made the biggest jump over its predecessor, the Coros Apex, which we named our best budget GPS watch in 2022. Unfortunately, in addition to an increase in features, there’s also been an increase in price.
Preloaded offline mapping is the single update that makes this watch much better. Combined with a vivid display, the Coros navigation takes a much-needed step up. When navigating, the watch goes into touchscreen mode, making it super easy to get around the screen. The prior version of the watch didn’t have touchscreen or preloaded maps, which was a singular deal breaker for many when shopping for a watch. While you still have to resort to the relatively old-school method of emailing yourself a GPX route and then sending it to the watch to be able to navigate it, at least the landscape and topographical base maps are already there. Coros says a new route-planning tool is coming that will allow you to create a route in the app that will then synchronize with your watch directly. The release date for this feature is still unknown.
The watch keeps its digital dial from the previous version, which is less prone to accidental starting and stopping than a button on the side of the watch that can be unintentionally pushed against a wrist bone. Like all Coros devices, the battery life is exceptional and has better output than the original, offering around 30 days of regular use if you’re headed out to run for an hour or two each day. If you’ve never used a Coros watch before, you’ll be delighted at how infrequently you need to charge the watch.
While we love many features of this watch, some of them are overwrought. We’re still not convinced that Coros’ implication that its use of an All-Satellite GNSS chipset is a huge value-add. We’ve yet to see a difference in the GPS fidelity or accuracy of this five-satellite antenna compared to the more common three-satellite antenna (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo) that every other brand uses. The wireless heart-rate monitoring of this watch also struggles to work accurately. It’s reasonable in lower heart rate zones, but as soon as you start working harder, the number stays well below what a more trustworthy heart-rate strap provides.
Of all GPS watches, Coros has the fastest processing. It takes less than ten seconds for an activity to synchronize with the Coros app and then another handful of seconds to be uploaded to a third party like Strava. This sounds somewhat trivial but is really appreciated when you’ve thrown down, and you want to check your results quickly.
- Touch screen-enabled with offline mapping is a huge improvement over previous Apex models
- Exceptional battery performance
- Full-time health monitoring data doesn’t affect battery as much as competitors’ watches
- Scrolling dial is more reliable and less finicky than in the past
- Optical heart rate is incorrect at high output
- Pace function is slow to catch up to real-time performance
Best Battery Life in a GPS Running Watch: Coros Vertix 2 ($700)
When it comes to battery life, the Coros Vertix 2 still reigns supreme among all GPS watches. We’ve written before that this watch, for the money, is possibly overkill for the average ultrarunner, especially since it’s a bit weaker in many areas than other similarly priced GPS watches. But when you want a handful of awesome features, plus the best battery in the class, you’ll be happy with this watch and the Coros ecosystem, including its app, firmware updates, training plans, and aesthetics.
Meghan Hicks of iRunFar tested the limits of the watch battery and its heavily touted GNSS, All-Satellite Dual-Frequency Chipset battery, during the multi-day 126-mile Snowman Race in Bhutan. This amounted to 51 hours of “running” over five days in the high-altitude Himalayan wilderness. She used the battery at its highest setting, where the watch connects to GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and BeiDou in dual frequency. Coros claims the battery would last for 50 hours in this setting. Although Meghan wasn’t willing to risk running out of battery and ended up charging the watch on the fourth and final night of camping, after 43.5 hours of use over three and a half days out and ahead of the last stage, in hindsight, she felt there was probably enough battery power not to need a recharge.
Another standout feature is the “At a Glance” widgets. You can use the dial to scroll through data, including your day’s step count, sleep, average heart rate, recovery status, and more. This is very similar to the widgets on Garmin watches, but we find we use them more since it’s a natural and fluid method to scroll on the Coros rather than click with the Garmin. Sleep tracking is one widget that is much better and more detailed on the Coros than other GPS watches.
You’ll probably never worry about damaging the watch’s face with its titanium bezel. In over two years of using this watch regularly, it still looks new except for the dirt in the strap. And on the topic of straps, if you’ve finally had it with hard plastic ones, Coros is earnestly moving towards offering soft nylon bands in addition to the stock silicone straps.
Weaknesses in this watch remain similar to past editions: the cost is just really high for a watch that lacks the most advanced features of its competitors, like integration with music providers like Spotify, live Strava segment information, a native route-building tool, and labeled maps and turn-by-turn directions.
Read our in-depth Coros Vertix 2 review to learn more.
- Excellent battery life
- On-board mapping and detail
- Pairs with Bluetooth headphones, can store music or stream offline Spotify playlists
- Sport modes like paddling or climbing can be tracked with specific data for those activities
- Watch can be charged during an activity if the battery is low
- Heavy/bulky feel on the wrist
- Volume of technology and features can be intimidating for some
- Average/below average charging speed from zero to 100%
Best Budget GPS Running Watch: Coros Pace 2 ($200)
If battery life and GPS accuracy are the two features you care about the most but can’t stomach the price of some of the high-end watches, there is no better option in this guide than the Coros Pace 2. While this watch lacks some of the features of other watches in this guide, it outperforms many higher-priced options in several ways.
Though Coros positions this watch with its sponsored road athletes in the Eluid Kipchoge and Molly Seidel Special Editions, it remains a budget-friendly solution for ultrarunners. Unlike its more expensive siblings, this watch doesn’t offer several battery-saving modes, just a single “normal” mode that will last for about 20 days of gathering health-monitoring metrics or for 30 hours of activity on a full charge. This is way above adequate and will provide the same sense of freedom from your charging cable that you get in other Coros watches.
The “smartest” technology in the watch favors road and track athletes with a track mode that will smooth out variances in distance and pace caused by switching lanes or deviating slightly between the starting line of the workout. The watch doesn’t have a specific sport mode for trail running, which will limit the on-screen data you might find useful, like elevation gain. The watch does have a barometric pressure altimeter to best measure elevation gain during a run.
The button and scrolling dial layout are consistent with other Coros watches, but there is no touchscreen. This isn’t really a problem since the touchscreen is best utilized for maps, which the watch doesn’t have.
At just 29 grams with the now-available nylon strap, the watch is virtually unnoticeable on your wrist, something you can’t say about many of the other GPS watches on the market. That said, with such a lightweight footprint, you lose a little bit of the screen size that you might want when trying to visualize your data during the depths of an ultra. Overnight adventurers or racers will appreciate the watch’s “night mode,” an always-on mode that doesn’t knock battery performance too much and automatically shuts off an hour after sunrise. This watch isn’t made of the same bomber materials as its more expensive siblings, and it will suffer abuse much easier.
It is only slightly more simple than some of the other watches in this guide, but with exquisite GPS accuracy, despite it only using a signal-frequency GNSS chipset and outstanding battery life, this is a “budget” GPS watch by cost only.
- Battery performance outperforms much more expensive watches
- Extremely lightweight; almost a forget-it’s-there feeling on the wrist
- Simple interface that is packed with advanced features when paired with the app
- Not as durable and rugged for trail and mountain environments compared to other watches
- No battery-saving modes to extend life for “ultra” events or endeavors
Best GPS Running Watch Design: Suunto 9 Peak Pro Titanium ($699)
Many people are turned off by the appearance of many GPS watches because of their size and aesthetic, but the Suunto 9 Peak Pro Titanium is a big step forward in the watch style department. When this watch came out a couple of years ago, Suunto’s tradition of watches with massive displays came to a screeching halt. Over the last two decades, as Suunto became one of the key players in the category for ultrarunners, thanks to good battery performance and solid durability, there were always glaring issues with their watches, including processing speed, app integration, and sometimes glitchy software. But if you’re willing to compromise a little bit on performance for the sake of style, this watch could be a great option.
This watch has a super sleek and attractive design with a 1.2-inch screen. It keeps the same sized bezel in comparison to the screen as its predecessor. The bezel takes up nearly a quarter inch of the face and hogs a lot of the screen’s real estate.
At only 55 grams, this watch is incredibly lightweight, and our titanium version is still noticeably clean and scratch-free after months of use. It’s the least “sport” looking watch in this guide, making it an attractive watch for use in regular life, not just for running.
Suunto’s aesthetic sense extends to the fonts and colors this watch uses. It’s a bit like the difference between Apple and Android — the world’s best consumer product designers, Apple, nail every corner of their product from fit to finish, and Suunto fits more into this mold than, say, Coros, whose aesthetics lean more Android.
Scrolling activity modes and even the watch’s controls are clear and simple, and inviting to the eye. There is more contrast between the functions of the watch than in the past, making scrolling feel more clear and more accurate.
And though this version’s looks are virtually the same as its predecessor, it packs a ton of notable upgrades. Chief among the improvements is battery life, particularly for a watch with such a small footprint. We are regularly getting up to 40 hours of use in the best GPS mode, which is usually about a month’s worth of daily activities. A new processor makes scrolling around the watch a real joy with its flawless speed.
The updated GPS chipset can access all five major GPS satellites, like the Coros watches, but is not a dual-band or dual-frequency GPS. Despite functioning on the single-band frequency, the watch does a fantastic job with GPS accuracy, showing no real deviation compared to its dual-frequency competitors in most situations. This watch connects to GPS when starting a run faster than many of the other watches in this guide.
While some major features like offline mapping and streaming-music integration are missing, particularly for a watch in this price range, the Suunto 9 Peak Pro Titanium offers a fast charging time of about 50 minutes from dead to full and is easily the most aesthetically pleasing of all watches in this guide. Unfortunately, some of the other features of this watch are still lacking. The processing speed, while much improved, is still very slow compared to some of the other watches, and just like in the old days, the watch will flat-out freeze from time to time, requiring a hard reset. This is something we haven’t had to deal with in the other watches tested here.
- Beautiful design is appropriate for wearing in all life scenarios
- Improved processing speed when scrolling through activity modes and features
- Much improved battery life compared to previous Suunto models
- Processing performance still frustratingly lags behind competitors’ devices
- Very expensive without some key features offered by other brands
Glossary of GPS Running Watch Terms
- Barometric altimeter: This is the most accurate measurement of altitude that uses barometric pressure to determine changes in elevation as well as changes to atmospheric pressure caused by weather patterns.
- GPS: Global Positioning System is a United States military satellite system that allows a device to pinpoint its location on Earth. GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, QZSS, and BEIDOU are the five main global positioning satellite systems.
- Chipset: This is the relay between the processor and the storage devices, such as maps and music, in a GPS watch. The quality and modernity of the chipset will affect the watch’s processing speed, such as navigating between screens and selecting functions.
- Bezel: A watch bezel holds the crystal covering the face of the watch in place. In GPS watches, the materials are typically very strong and durable and made of Titanium Grade 5.
- Over the air: Firmware, the GPS watch operating system software, can be updated and installed via Bluetooth connection to the watch’s app without using chords.
- Illumination: The brightness of the GPS watch display can be manipulated manually or automatically to be seen better in low light or bright sunlight.
- Water resistance: All GPS running watches are typically waterproof and weatherproof to 100 meters deep.
How to Choose the Best GPS Running Watch
What we fundamentally want from the best GPS watch for running is to correctly measure the distance, pace, and elevation change during a run. Thanks to incredible innovation in satellite technology and specific algorithms designed for sport by watch manufacturers, we now have incredibly complex technology in a package small enough for your wrist. But when it comes to accuracy, we’re often perplexed when after trail running with a friend, we compare distance and vertical gain and see different results. This is sometimes a function of different brands’ technology, but many times it is a function of battery power-saving modes and the number of GPS readings per minute you’ve selected or is the default on your watch. Utilizing the maximum measurement frequency will sap a watch battery, but while spacing out the readings is easier on the battery, it creates a less precise track. Obstructions in the sky, like trees or even clouds, can affect GPS coverage, and the industry suggests GPS accuracy is within one to three percent. Manufacturers recommend importing your data to a run-specific app, like Garmin Connect or the Suunto App, to corroborate your data with more sophisticated elevation models. We found that the most accurate GPS watch we tested was the Suunto 9 Peak Pro Titanium.
For ultrarunning, battery life is arguably the most prized feature in finding the best GPS watch. Fortunately, we are in something of a battery life golden age. Every major GPS watch company seeks to one-up their competitor to own the title of “longest-lasting battery.” This competition benefits the customer, as we’re not only getting batteries that can last up to 140 hours of normal GPS use, as with the Coros Vertix 2, but they also charge incredibly fast. When just a few years ago, companies would boast of 15 to 20 hours of battery life, and their watches might take three to five hours to charge from dead, we’re getting roughly a 160% increase in battery life and a 200% decrease in charging time.
Companies’ claims about battery life represent use with standard GPS tracking alone, without the additional battery demands of using navigation, receiving notifications, or playing music. Rather than manually tuning your watch to the best or worst battery performance, many manufacturers have preset battery modes that allow you to select the performance level you require based on your activity or the remaining battery power on the watch.
In the current crop of GPS watches, the Coros Vertix 2 stands out among the rest when it comes to battery life.
Years ago, GPS watches had the look of tiny computers on your wrist, and even until this year, Suunto’s running watches had cases that would often dwarf the wrists of small or average-sized people. The size was in part due to improving both the durability of the watch by using burlier materials and creating a screen big enough to see multiple data fields at once and to be useful for navigation. With some exceptions, the size and wearability of GPS watches are getting more compact and breakthroughs in technical performance are shrinking the package, not adding to it.
Many brands offer different strap styles in addition to the normal silicone one, including nylon and other soft-style straps with elastic and hook-and-loop closures. These styles can add comfort and a more precise fit. General comfort on all watches here is good enough to wear all day, but the appropriateness of wearing a GPS watch to work or other life commitments varies depending on the user.
The Suunto 9 Peak Pro Titanium reviewed in this guide uses a hypoallergenic silicone that feels really soft and comfortable against the skin, and the material is easy to clean.
Ease of Use
The incredible technology that best GPS watches offer today means there can be a learning curve to taking advantage of their full functionality. Not a single watch here is simple enough to pull out of the box and learn immediately. You might be able to record a run — but what next? Do you use the watch’s corresponding app to synchronize it? Do you make adjustments in the watch itself or with the app? Is it a combination of both? These are questions you’ll need to sort out as you begin accessing features on your watch and learning its capabilities. With so many options and the amount of data that can be found, it even takes time to remember which buttons control selections and navigate forward or back. Some watches have a bold start/stop button that is distinct from the others. The watches in this guide either use buttons, scrolling dials, or a combination of the two for controls. Buttons are simple to use on the fly, but the dials, like on Coros Apex 2 Pro, can be tricky to use quickly. Buttons are generally big and responsive, with some performing much better than others. Some of the watches in this guide have touchscreen components that generally work well even when the watch face is wet or in cold conditions.
Extra Features and App Compatibility
Each of the watches in this guide has a corresponding mobile app that can do everything from downloading your runs and sharing with a third party like Strava to designing and synchronizing routes. The apps can also control the colors and display of the watch face and synchronize firmware. Many of the watches have a coaching component that allows you to customize your workout or download workouts directly from professional athletes. The Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition has a suite of features, including everything from Hydration Tracking to Menstrual Cycle Tracking as add-on features. Several of the watches in this guide can sync offline playlists from streaming services or have built-in storage for music playback. Mobile Pay has also been added to several of these watches, including the Apple Ultra Watch.
Why You Should Trust Us
This guide is a long time coming. We at iRunFar are GPS running watch aficionados with a long history of testing watches. We combined our 100-plus years of GPS running watch field testing with polls of the iRunFar community to see what everyone thought was the best GPS running watch on the market today. We selected nearly a dozen highly vetted watches for rigorous testing during summer, fall, winter, and spring.
We tested these watches in climes from the densely forested northwestern United States to the cold, dry, and variable seasons of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. They were used in the rugged Sangre de Cristo mountain range, Rocky Mountain National Park, the San Juan mountains (home of the Hardrock 100 Run), the Indian Peaks Wilderness and at home on local trails in Boulder.
We evaluated the watches based on their features, price, comfort, processing speed, accuracy, navigation capabilities, battery life, and compatibility with third-party apps.
Please note that in the running world, product models are routinely discontinued, while new ones frequently come to market. At the same time, we here at iRunFar often keep using our top picks in our daily running … they’re our top picks, after all! Sometimes that continued use results in uncovering product failures. With all this — product discontinuations, product introductions, and product failures — in mind, we routinely update our buyer’s guides based on past and ongoing testing as well as research by our authors and editorial team. While these updates can appear to be us pushing the newest product, it’s anything but that. When we update any buyer’s guide, most of the products are likely to remain the same. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear that you’ll be using for a long time.
Frequently Asked Questions About GPS Running Watches
What is a GPS watch, and why is it so useful for ultrarunning?
Besides shorts and shoes, a GPS watch is a fundamental piece of ultrarunning gear for many runners. It lets you easily and accurately record your runs and see important data like pace and elevation gain while you run. The data synchronizes with popular apps to let you compare or log your information securely. It’s a training log that doesn’t take up physical space. What’s more, the watches in this guide can be used for more than just running. They track tons of other sports, such as paddle boarding, yoga, and cycling, and they collect the unique metrics associated with each activity. A watch like the Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition can greatly improve your ability to understand your body and training.
This is not to suggest that trail or ultrarunning requires a GPS watch. For many, the invasion of more and more data in our lives is becoming burdensome and tiring. A pen-and-paper training journal combined with a simple stopwatch or using your smartphone with any number of free run-recording apps is much more inexpensive and simple. The watches in this guide are not exactly for “gear heads,” although they are quite sophisticated and, some would argue, justifiably expensive technology.
Which running watch has the best GPS?
Each watch tested in this guide does a fine job of tracking your run. Positioning in these watches is usually acquired through one or a combination of the five major satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and Beidou). Different satellite systems are more and less accurate in different areas of the world. Incremental differences appear between all of the watches, even on the same activity, yet none of the watches tested here has an outlying poor output. The Coros Vertix 2 has a feature that seeks to combat interference, whether it’s from a dense forest or a deep canyon, by utilizing all five satellite systems at once and using a new feature called Dual Frequency GNSS, which is the most accurate signal available in consumer technology products today. Choosing a reputable GPS watch could almost be more a matter of what else it has beyond good GPS accuracy since there isn’t a poor performer among the bunch in this guide.
I want to race my first ultramarathon. Which GPS running watch should I use?
For your first ultrarun, many people will simply use their phone and the app of their choice, like Strava. This is a low-cost and simple way to use a piece of hardware you already own to track your run. The drawback is that your phone has a battery that probably won’t stand up to anything beyond a 50k, as its primary job is not to continuously monitor your positioning. If you’re new to ultrarunning and simply looking for the best GPS running watch for reliability and affordability, the Coros Pace 2 could be a great option. You won’t get a touch screen or other fancy features, but you’ll get 30 hours of run time at a very light 29 grams. For ultrarunners who want to get the most technology, data, and performance out of their races and training, there are some truly exceptional options in this guide, namely the Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition and Coros Vertix 2.
What’s the difference between a fitness tracker and a running watch?
This is a question mostly regarding features. Fitness trackers have come a long way and are more affordable than any of the watches tested in this guide. But their downside is that they rely heavily on pairing with a phone to draw out similar features that are built directly into GPS watches. As GPS watches get even more advanced, another comparison might be: can a GPS watch be a suitable stand-in for a WHOOP, Oura Ring, blood glucose sensor, or power meter on a bicycle? This technology is already available or, we would expect, is forthcoming from these GPS watch manufacturers either as built-in firmware or separately sold compatible accessories. You should not need to use a fitness tracker and a GPS watch for ultrarunning. The health and sleep monitoring features of the Coros Vertix 2 and the Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition can give you much of the information of dedicated fitness trackers.
Which is the most accurate GPS watch?
When comparing all of the watches tested here on the same 25-kilometer run, not a single one had exact fidelity when the GPX track is compared to the trail marked on Mapbox, the commercial map provider for everything from Strava to the navigation system in your car. In some cases, the track showed me crossing an alpine lake, which I didn’t, or taking a very long detour around part of a forest. You might expect the same brand of watches to provide the same output, but that wasn’t the case. There was deviation between watches across the board, with the Coros Apex 2 Pro, Coros Vertix 2, and the Coros Pace 2 all providing slightly different numbers.
So what is the most accurate? The industry says that most GPS watches are accurate within one to three percent, which would explain the deviation in my test of all the watches at the same time. A special feature, however, that Suunto employs is “Snap to Route” where, for instance, you could take a race route GPX file, load it into the watch, then “navigate” that course while you run. This is a clever way to ensure that your run is as faithful to the intended route as possible, and it minimizes error due to satellite reception and other variables like clouds, buildings, or other obstructions.
When I asked Garmin the question: ”How do you explain the difference in distance or elevation that some runners find when they compare their race with a friend or competitor in the same event?” Their product manager replied, “There are numerous challenges in forming an elevation profile over a long trail run or ultramarathon, like effects of weather over longer periods and how the watch is worn (for example, if the barometer port is up against clothing). Because of these sources of error, we expect some differences in the total ascent between runners, and over long-distance runs, these can add up. On the distance side, GPS accuracy is the biggest thing. User settings, type of device, which arm the user is wearing the watch, running form, and environment (tree cover can affect line of sight to satellites) can all affect accuracy.”
These watches are so expensive! What is the best budget running watch, and is it worth it?
To get the best GPS running watch, you’ll have to spend some money. The watches reviewed in this guide are expensive, and even our budget choice, the Coros Pace 2, comes in at $200! Chiefly, it is the ever-mind-blowing strength of their batteries that is dictating the cost, plus a suite of other features that help you understand your own physiology, including heart rate and blood oxygen saturation, without additional straps or gadgets. A GPS watch can replace your phone as a podcast or music device, and they are incredibly durable with their titanium, steel, and sapphire materials. But ultimately, it’s the multi-week battery life that can last through an ultramarathon that makes a GPS watch a must for ultrarunners.
What’s the best running watch for small wrists?
Many GPS watches indeed have big displays that look massive on even average size wrists. The large size makes it easier to see a lot of data and to navigate with offline maps. We found two watches, the Coros Apex 2 Pro and the Suunto 9 Peak Pro Titanium, that won’t swallow smaller wrists. These two are at opposite ends of the price spectrum, separated by about $300 while offering quite comparable performance. In the end, the best GPS running watch for you will be one that you’re comfortable wearing, so it’s worth considering fit when choosing one.
What GPS running watch best integrates with smart technology so I can stay connected while running?
All of the watches in this guide, including the least expensive, the Coros Pace 2, allow notifications from incoming calls, text messages, and emails to be displayed on the watch’s screen. The watch has to be connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth for this to work.
I am bad with technology. What running watch is the easiest to use?
If ultrarunning is your primary or only sport, many of these GPS watches are very overbuilt for what you actually need in terms of features. The Coros Pace 2 is the most pared-down of these options, but it still has many of the features of other watches in this guide. The Apple Ultra Watch is also a great option for those who struggle with technology. Like most Apple products, it is set up to provide a great user experience, and the dedicated action button makes it easy to put it on your wrist and go. It will still interpret your daily data, including sleep, and can guide you on ways to improve without you needing to navigate a bunch of confusing features.
Call for Comments
- What is your favorite GPS watch? Do you tend to replace them as technology advances?
- What is the most important element in a GPS watch, and are there some elements you never use?