Best GPS Watches for Running in 2021

Gone are the days of the simple running watch. While some runners may still use the $40 Timex Ironman Classic, odds are you’ve got some version of a GPS running watch to track your training miles, vertical gain, pace, and ever-so-important Strava crowns. It’s fun to track run data, but a good watch can also keep you safe, with pre-mapped routes and accurate location data thanks to increasingly advanced GPS technology. We runners want a watch that has a long battery life, pings quickly to satellites, is easy to use, connects to third-party apps, and has accurate mapping. Having a nice design doesn’t hurt either.

In this guide, we round up the best GPS running watches for your road, trail, mountain, and ultramarathon ventures. You can click on any of the links below to jump straight to a certain watch. To learn more about how to choose your GPS running watch, jump down to our recommendations for how to choose as well as our frequently asked questions. You can also learn more about our research and testing methodology. Finally, if you want a primer on GPS running watch lingo, we’ve got that too. Let’s dive in.

Best GPS Watches - Testing in the mountains - Christin Douglas

The author Craig Randall testing GPS running watches on a cold summit day. Photo: Christin Douglas

Best Overall: Garmin fēnix 6 Pro (begins at $550)

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Watch

The Garmin fēnix 6 Pro. Photo: Garmin

This watch does it all. The Garmin fēnix 6 Pro has the most impressive combination of battery life, connectivity to apps and special features, incredible pre-loaded maps, and the best navigation system we’ve ever used. It is one of Garmin’s most expensive devices, but if you want a watch that functions as the one and only running watch you’ll ever need, then this is our most highly recommended piece.

Let’s look at the feature set, specifically for ultrarunners and trail runners. When heading out for a long run or race, you need to make sure the battery is going to last. This watch doesn’t have the longest battery life in this guide, but when combined with its other features, and nominally shorter battery life, that detriment is easy to overlook.

This watch has about two weeks of performance with GPS tracking and notifications enabled, but Garmin claims the watch will last for 48 days when in its lowest battery-use mode. In real-world testing, the Garmin fēnix 6 Pro is fairly consistent with the company’s claims, as we tested the watch on average runs of one to nine hours several times per week. On an overnight trip in the backcountry, I began with a battery of 99% (19 days claimed), used the navigation full time, and when I finished and saved my run, the watch claimed it still had five days of battery life remaining. This was a test where GPS with navigation ran for over 14 hours.

I find it a real joy to run without a big bulky phone, especially on trails where I’m not concerned with having a camera or worrying about safety. The downside is not having music or podcast access. The Garmin fēnix 6 Pro has a huge amount of internal storage (32 gigabytes) for thousands of songs right on the device to pair with wireless headphones. Listening to music drains the battery however, with about 10 hours of continuous play. This is nice for a race situation where you can listen to tunes without worrying about pairing or carrying a phone.

GPS accuracy is a standout in the Garmin fēnix 6 Pro. Satellite navigation and tracking functions are combined with a three-axis compass, gyroscope, and barometric altimeter. The watch supports three multiple global navigation satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo) that help track in more challenging environments than GPS alone.

The processing speed is fantastic. This is the amount of time it takes to switch between screens, save your run, and export to the Garmin Connect app. Where many watches in this guide take a frustratingly long time to react and transition, the Garmin fēnix 6 Pro is above average in its processing. The only area where it’s a bit lethargic is in maps mode, to zoom in or out and pan around the screen.

Connecting this watch to Garmin Connect is very simple. And should you have multiple Garmin watches, the app, unlike many others in this test, can sync more than one Garmin at a time, which keeps your data straight between watches. The app itself is centered largely around fitness monitoring, but it’s also the catalyst for designing routes or importing GPX routes. Sending the file to the device happens in a single click.

The most standout feature for ultrarunners and trail runners who really like to get into the backcountry, is the built-in mapping and navigation capabilities. The watch comes preloaded with topographic maps — even ski maps for over 2,000 resorts.

The watch does have a rugged look and feel. It’s not the lightest or most streamlined in this guide. The display is 1.3 inches and is sunlight readable, and the bezel is made of stainless steel.

Pros:

  • On-board mapping and detail
  • Excellent battery life
  • 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 battery is low

Cons:

  • 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%
Shop the Garmin fēnix 6 Pro

Best Battery Life: Coros Vertix 2 ($700)

Coros Vertix 2 Watch

The Coros Vertix 2. Photo: Coros

For a few years now, Coros has disrupted the GPS running watch world with a selection that generally matches or even exceeds the performance of Garmin and Suunto. The primary factor is battery life. When the original Coros Vertix came out, it signaled competition for the traditionally mountain-oriented Suunto as it utilized excellent barometric altitude data and GPS accuracy without draining the battery as dramatically as the competition’s devices. Now, with the Coros Vertix 2, they offer a similar feature set and an even more expensive price tag.

On your wrist, the Coros Vertix 2 is even bigger than the original Vertix, most likely because this version includes onboard mapping (landscape, topographic, and hybrid maps) for routing your runs. Unlike the Garmin fēnix 6 Pro which has built-in maps that are excellently labeled, the Coros Vertix 2’s maps are all unlabeled; you just identify trail lines, peaks, and lakes.

The watch has a limited touchscreen, meaning it only controls a few features but mapping is one and it’s fantastic at zooming and moving around – faster than the Garmin fēnix 6 Pro. The Coros only has three buttons, and one is a digital dial which is a very nifty way to zoom in and out of the maps.

Navigating a specific route requires that you upload a course to the watch and like the other watches here, you have to source a GPX or Fit file, send it to your phone, add it to the app, and then sync the watch to the app. It’s a lot of steps!

This is the first Coros GPS watch to have music, and you can connect your bluetooth headphones to play files that you sync via your desktop. Controls include play/pause, skip, and volume, and the connection has never failed me. The Coros Vertix 2 has no syncing capabilities with offline playlists on Amazon, Spotify, or Apple Music.

One of the most exciting — at least on paper — features of the Coros Vertix 2 is its Dual Frequency GNSS, which accesses the best GPS frequency available. At present, this technology is used mainly in aviation applications, not consumer electronics. In addition, the watch can access all five global satellite systems at the same time in order to avoid disruptions in signal. However, the Coros Vertix 2’s accuracy compared to other models in this guide hasn’t proven to be all that better. Sometimes the watch outperforms the others, but is generally about the same as every other watch here.

Other notable features include optical oxygen saturation and heart rate sensors as well as an electrocardiogram feature (ECG, similar to what is available on the Apple Watch). The ECG takes a 60-second reading, then tells you a heart rate variability value between zero and 100. The test has been variable for me so far; one reading during an especially grueling week showed that I was very recovered and vice versa on an easy week. It should be noted that this feature is not a certified medical device.

The ECG, the Insta360 camera control feature, and playing music should have a huge impediment on battery, but true to form, Coros has managed to maintain an exceptional battery life despite these demands. You can expect 140 hours in regular GPS mode, 240 hours in reduced tracking mode, and up to 50 hours in Dual Frequency GNSS mode.

Pros:

  • Fantastic durability
  • Bright and easy-to-read screen
  • Innovative digital dial zoom for maps
  • New mapping tools
  • Unmatched battery performance

Cons:

  • Doesn’t compete as well with similarly priced Garmin fēnix 6 Pro
  • Very big display
  • Heavy at 91 grams
Shop the Coros Vertix 2

Best Budget: Coros Apex 42mm ($300)

Coros Apex Watch

The Coros Apex 42mm. Photo: Coros

As the smallest watch in this guide, the Coros Apex 42mm is also super affordable. But it has an outsized reputation due to its excellent battery life and innovative features.

For trail runners and ultrarunners, this GPS watch feels almost minimalistic while wearing it, particularly if you’re accustomed to beefy displays from Garmin and Suunto, or even Coros’s other watches like the Vertix or Vertix 2. I would be less confident if I bashed the watch against a rock or a tree compared to the competitors, but it’s made with a stainless steel bezel finish and sapphire glass, so its durability has been fine.

One aspect of this watch that feels different from other watches commonly targeted to outdoors people is its look and feel. It looks more like a watch for road or track runners but it contains much of the same tech you’d find in those more mountain-oriented styles.

Speaking of the track, if you find yourself going in circles either for speed workouts or for an ultramarathon on that surface, the Coros Apex 42mm has a Track Run mode using their own algorithm to help record these loops as precisely as possible. When I tested this feature, I found it to be far more accurate compared to the other watches in this guide. The technology reminds me of the new Snap to rRoute feature in the Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium. The data really comes out smooth and actually hugs the turns on the track. The watch uses a combination of one button and a scrolling knob. The dial has a learning curve and it’s easy to blow past the function you’re looking for when scrolling.

The battery performance averages 25 hours in normal GPS mode and a staggering 24 days in regular use. With Coros you almost never need to worry about charging the watch, however when you do, the Apex charges from zero to 100% in about 70 minutes. By contrast the Garmin fēnix 6 Pro takes two hours and 36 minutes.

Pros:

  • Great design for slim wrists
  • Excellent battery life
  • Access to a suite of training plans and programs available through the Coros app

Cons:

  • No mapping or music
Shop the Coros Apex 42mm

Easiest to Use: Wahoo Elemnt Rival ($380)

Wahoo Elemnt Rival Watch

The Wahoo Elemnt Rival. Photo: Wahoo

The Wahoo Elemnt Rival is the watch Jim Walmsley wore during his 2021 Western States 100 win. His sub-15-hour time is a testament to the Wahoo Elemnt Rival’s continuous battery life and an endorsement from a modern legend of ultrarunning.

If you pay attention to Walmsley’s Strava account, you’ve noticed he trains a lot on the bike now in addition to running. I think Wahoo would be a little out of its depth supporting a runner solely, as their products really help bridge the gap between cycling and running. The watch is very cool in that, say, you’re transitioning from swimming to a bike ride or running to a bike ride, the watch has a handover feature that lets the watch talk to the bike computer and display the metrics on your bars. Your workout is still is being recorded on the watch, but the data is sent to your bike computer for a bigger display.

Wahoo is a signature company in cycling with its Kickr Smart Trainer, one of the best and most innovative indoor training tools on the market. This is the brand’s first GPS watch but Wahoo has been quoted as saying it is going to eventually be part of a standalone product category with multiple options. This is the only brand in this buyer’s guide which sells only a single watch. Besides bike trainers, Wahoo also has bike computers — I own and use the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt — and these are also really well loved by cyclists for their simplicity and accuracy.

Until now, Wahoo has only made products for cycling and triathlon. As a standalone GPS running watch, it is simple to use without a lot of extra features or distractions. There are some key standouts (again, not just from a running perspective) that elevate the watch beyond some competitors. For one, the Touchless Transition feature allows triathletes the ability to record each sport plus transitions without touching anything. I experimented with the feature and noted its performance and sensitivity. From swimming to biking (following the transition), there was a tiny bit of lag in the watch recognizing my new sport. From biking to running, the Touchless Transition was a lot more quick to engage. This feature will likely get better through firmware updates.

The second standout is called Live Tracking. This is a nice feature for people who want to follow you during a race or fastest known time attempt or as a safety function, and is a feature that surprisingly isn’t found on a lot of GPS watches right now. When it’s selected in the smartphone app, you’re prompted to share your link via text message, email, or another app. It does have a bearing on battery life, so starting each activity with enough battery power is something you’ll want to keep in mind.

Speaking of battery life, the charging dock is uniquely different from the other watches in this guide.

There is no mapping, no touchscreen, recovery time, training plans, navigation, music, or sport modes that actually interpret the different aspects of sports uniquely — such as paddling strokes or rock climbing pitches. The watch is not the most inexpensive in this guide and you can find a handful of watches from other brands like Polar, Coros, and Garmin that offer a much more competitive set of features at a lower cost. It’s a very nice looking watch that sits comfortably on the wrist and is very lightweight at about 53 grams.

It has a barometric altimeter and optical heart rate sensor on the back. It serves the trail runner and ultrarunner well with a good set of features and is the easiest to watch to use simply for running right out of the box. The Wahoo Elemnt Rival has a runtime of 14 days in watch mode and 24 hours in GPS mode.

Pros:

  • Very easy to use
  • Great looking watching that is also comfortable to wear; transitions well outside of running
  • Fast chip processing speed
  • Live Tracking feature

Cons:

  • No mapping
  • No music
  • Slowest watch tested to acquire GPS signal
Shop the Wahoo Elemnt Rival

Best Design: Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium ($700)

Suunto 9 Peak in Granite Blue Titanium Watch

The Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium. Photo: Suunto

There are two aspects to the Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium that make it a welcome addition to the GPS running watch market. Suunto has been a brand known for its almost comical-sized displays which are nice for navigation and to visualize data on your wrist but almost impractical for people with normal or small sized wrists. This watch is the first of its small size for the brand.

The Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium was developed with Suunto’s Nordic design values, and it’s the thinnest and smallest watch they have ever made. It looks more like an Apple Watch than a traditional Suunto. The stretchy silicone strap closes with a metal pin. It removes the common plastic holders that typically keep a watch band tight.

It’s the best looking watch of any reviewed in this guide and is one that really makes sense to wear while not running. This isn’t something you can say about any of these other watches, except for maybe the Coros Apex 42mm, though that watch is about the same size, it’s not as attractively designed. The other standout attribute is Snap to Route. This is a feature that looks to provide better route fidelity when GPS coverage isn’t good or when you want as predictable an experience as possible, like in a race. I used it on a Strava segment I’ve been projecting for a new PR, and it’s very nice to get notifications along the route telling you how much distance remains and how your run is progressing. The data comes out as clean as possible since it relies on the specific course file, instead of GPS or satellites, to record data.

The watch has a pulse oximeter used to measure oxygen saturation in your blood, a feature than can be useful for trail runners and ultrarunners at high altitudes. .

I asked Suunto, “What level of GPS accuracy can Suunto users expect to receive during ultrarunning events between 50 to 100 miles?” ​​Markus Kemtter, Suunto Product Manager, told me this: “Cheap GPS watches and phones usually don’t come up to the same accuracy level. Deep forests, narrow mountain paths, or urban environments with houses, essentially the more you block the sky the worse accuracy you will have. Weather has a smaller impact but humidity, rain, and snow are also obstacles for the GPS signal. Now with this as background, assuming you are running in a somewhat normal half open environment wearing the watch like normal on your wrist, the error you likely will see is between 0.5 and one percent. In other words on a 100 miler, you might see half-mile to one-mile error in the overall distance. In a totally open field, you will see even better accuracy. In worse conditions, the opposite.”

The display is 1.2 inches and is always on, but the bezel takes up a lot of real estate on the screen and the watch only weighs 53 grams. This comes at a slight cost, in that along with the three buttons to navigate, there is also a touchscreen, the downside being that the screen collects tons of fingerprints.

Pros:

  • Snap to Route feature
  • Very nice design for slim wrists
  • Very durable titanium
  • Hypoallergenic strap
  • Extremely fast charging: zero to 100% in 50 minutes

Cons:

  • Chip performance is on the slow side
  • No music
  • No mapping
  • Not really different from Suunto 9 Baro (apart from its size and material)
Shop the Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium

Honorable Mention: Suunto 5 ($270)

Suunto 5 Watch

The Suunto 5. Photo: Suunto

Suunto has a legacy in trail running and ultrarunning like few other brands — namely because of their strategic partnership with Salomon athletes over the years — and has made many competitive products. The brand is known for having exceptional hardware (design, materials, and durability) but not necessarily matching with excellent software to complete the package. The Suunto 5 is now at least two years old yet it remains competitive for the price point.

It has features like an incredibly durable stainless steel bezel with a mineral glass display and, what was at the time (and still is), intelligent battery modes. This means you can customize the level of GPS accuracy to conserve battery life. What’s more, you don’t have to decide which battery performance to use prior to preparing to run; as you make the selection to run on the watch and the device looks for a GPS signal, you can toggle through battery modes directly from this screen depending on how long you plan to go. The battery life in regular GPS mode is around 20 hours.

Showing its age, the Suunto 5 does not have a barometric altimeter which is the new standard. It uses a GPS-based altimeter. There is no touchscreen and the optical heart rate accuracy was among the worst performing of all watches here, but the watch does include sleep tracking and smartphone notifications when enabled.

It’s a solid performer and worthy of a look when shopping for a budget-friendly GPS watch for trail running and ultrarunning.

Shop the Suunto 5

GPS Running Watch Glossary

Barometric altimeter: This is the most accurate measurement of altitude that uses barometric pressure to determine changes in elevation as well as changes to the pressure caused by weather patterns.

Bezel: A watch bezel holds the crystal covering the face of the watch in place. In GPS running watches, the materials are typically very strong, durable, and made of titanium Grade 5.

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.

GPS: Global Positioning System (GPS) is a U.S. military satellite system which tells you where you are on Earth. GPS along with GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and BeiDou are the five main global positioning satellite systems. The term “GPS running watch” refers to any watch that uses these satellite systems to collect data, even if the device is using other systems than strictly GPS.

Illumination: The GPS watch display can be manipulated manually or automatically to be used in low light or bright sunlight.

Over the air: This means that the firmware, the software responsible for the GPS watch operating system, can be updated and installed via bluetooth connection to the watch’s app (no cords required).

Water resistance: GPS running watches are waterproof and weatherproof typically to 100 meters in depth.

How to Choose a GPS Watch for Running

Accuracy

The most important element of a GPS running watch is accuracy in distance, pace, and elevation change. Thanks to incredible innovation in satellite technology and algorithms, we have complex technology in a tiny package. But it is perplexing to see varied results from different watches. This is sometimes a function of different brand technologies, but many times it is a function of battery-saving modes and the number of GPS readings you’ve selected or is default on your watch. Utilizing the maximum amount of readings your watch can take will sap battery while spacing out the readings is easier on the battery but less precise. 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 of actual. Manufacturers recommend importing your data to a run-specific app (such as their own, like the Garmin Connect app, the Suunto app, and the Wahoo Fitness app) to corroborate your data with more sophisticated elevation models.

The two most accurate watches during our testing were the Garmin fēnix 6 Pro and Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium.

Battery Life

If you’re looking for a GPS watch with the most battery life, check out the review of the Coros Vertix 2 in this guide.

For trail running and ultrarunning, battery life is arguably the most prized feature. Fortunately, we are in something of a battery life golden age. Every major 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 — such as in the Coros Vertix 2 — but that also charge incredibly fast. Just a few years ago, 15 to 20 hours of battery life and a three- to five-hour charging time was the norm. We now have a 160% increase in battery life and a 200% increase in charging time. Company claims represent standard GPS tracking alone without the additional battery demands caused by using navigation, receiving notifications, or playing music along with GPS tracking. Rather than having to manually tune your watch to best battery performance, many manufacturers have preset battery modes that allow you to simply select the level of performance you require based on your activity or the remaining battery on the watch.

Best GPS Watches - Suunto 9 Peak - testing in the mountains - Christin Douglas

The Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium. Photo: Christin Douglas

Comfort

Years ago, GPS watches had the look of tiny computers on your wrist. Does anyone remember the Garmin Forerunner 305!? And even up until this year, Suunto’s running watches would often dwarf the wrists of small- to average-sized people. The size was in part due to the construction of GPS watches — bigger, burlier materials for durability in the outdoors and displays big enough to capture multiple data fields, or for displaying maps. With some exceptions, the size and wearability of GPS watches are getting more compact even with the breakthroughs in technical performance.

Many brands offer different styles of straps — generally silicone, but also soft-style straps with elastic and hook-and-loop closure. These styles 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 varies depending on the user.

The Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium reviewed in this guide uses a hypoallergenic silicone which feels soft and comfortable against the skin and the material is easy to clean. Our extensive testing showed the Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium and the Coros Apex 42mm to be the most comfortable because of their lower profile on the wrist and thoughtful material choices.

Ease of Use

The incredible tech that GPS watches offer today means there can be a learning curve when taking full advantage of 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? With so many options and the amount of data that can be found, it even takes time to remember which buttons do what. Some watches in this guide have a bold start/stop button that is distinct from the others but some do not. The watches in this guide rely on two common styles to select options, buttons and/or a scrolling dial. Buttons are simple to use on the fly but the dials can be tricky to use quickly. Buttons are generally big and responsive. Some of the watches in this guide have touchscreen components which generally work well even when the watch face is wet or in cold conditions.

The easiest watch to use in this guide is also the watch with the most unique feature set: the Wahoo Elemnt Rival.

Best GPS Watches - Wahoo Elemnt Rival - testing in the mountains - Christin Douglas

The Wahoo Elemnt Rival showcasing its multiple activities. Photo: Christin Douglas

Extra Features/App Compatibility

Each of the watches in this guide has a corresponding mobile app to do everything: downloading your runs and sharing with a third party like Strava, designing and syncing routes, controlling the colors and display of the watch face, and syncing firmware. Many have a coaching component that allows you to customize your workout or download workouts directly from professional athletes. Garmin 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 been added to several of these watches as well.

Looking to get the most out of your watch and its matching apps? We think you’ll enjoy the Garmin fēnix 6 Pro since its Garmin Connect and Garmin Connect IQ Store and its additional free widgets are comprehensive.

Why You Should Trust Us

This guide is a long time coming. We at iRunFar are GPS running watch afficionados 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 were the best GPS running watches on the market today. We selected about 10 of the most highly vetted watches for a rigorous quarter year of testing.

We tested these watches during the Colorado summer. This long mountain running season is the time to log all the miles in the high country, and fittingly, to test the barometric pressure alert that many of these watches contain. Multiple weather variables have an effect on GPS performance. The watches were tested in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Rocky Mountain National Park, the San Juan Mountains (home of the Hardrock 100), the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and on local trails in Boulder.

We evaluated the watches based on their feature set, price, comfort, processing speed, accuracy, navigation capabilities, battery life, and compatibility with third party apps.

Best GPS Watches - Testing in the mountains - Christin Douglas

The author Craig Randall makes his way across the ridgeline with his GPS watch. Photo: Christin Douglas

Frequently Asked Questions about GPS Running Watches

What is a GPS running watch and why is it so useful for running?

Alongside shorts and shoes, a GPS running watch is a fundamental piece of running gear. It lets you easily and accurately record your runs and see important data like pace and elevation gain while you run, and the data syncs with popular social media apps to let you compare or log your information securely. It is also a training log that doesn’t take up physical space. What’s more, the watches in this guide are much more versatile than simply for running; they track tons of other sports — like stand up paddle boarding, yoga, cycling, and much more — and the unique metrics associated with them.

This is not to suggest that running 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 inexpensive and simple, if that’s what you seek! 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 acquired through usually one or a combination of the five major satellite systems — GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and BeiDou – and accuracy depends on your location. Incremental differences appear between all of the watches, even on the same activity, yet none of the watches tested here has a poor output. All typically will vary between 20 to 50 one hundredths of a mile in distance and between 200 and 400 feet in elevation.

The Coros Vertix 2 has a feature that seeks to combat interference, whether it’s from a dense forest or a deep canyon, whereby the user can utilize all five satellite systems at once and a new feature called Dual Frequency GNSS which is the most accurate signal available in consumer tech products. It’s only common in aviation at the moment. This is the only watch tested here with this capability.

I want to race my first ultramarathon, so which GPS running watch should I use?

For your first ultra, many people will simply use their phone and the app of their choice, like Strava. This is a low cost and a simple way to incorporate a piece of hardware you already own while getting good performance. The drawback of course is that your phone has a battery that probably won’t stand up to anything beyond 50 kilometers, as its primary job is not to continuously monitor positioning.

If you’re new to ultrarunning and simply looking for a GPS watch that is reliable with 15 to 20 hours of battery life, go for something like the Suunto 5 or the Coros Apex 42mm. These watches are durable, moderately priced, and offer multi-sport modes. They lack touchscreen capabilities, music integration, and truly world-class battery life, but they will record your run with high accuracy, optically track your heart rate, provide route navigation on manually added routes, and track your steps and sleep.

For ultrarunners who want to get the most tech, data, and performance out of their races and training, there are some truly exceptional options in this guide, namely the Garmin fēnix 6 Pro and Coros Vertix 2.

Best GPS Watches - Suunto 5 - testing in the mountains - Christin Douglas

The very affordable — and still very advanced — Suunto 5. Photo: Christin Douglas

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 they are more affordable than any of the watches tested in this guide. The 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 advance, another comparison might be: can a GPS watch be a suitable stand-in for a Whoop, Oura Ring, a blood-glucose sensor, or power meter? These standalone products are meant to give a score for your body’s stress level and to monitor glucose levels. This is technology that is already available, and we would expect forthcoming GPS watch manufacturers to offer these as built-in firmware or as separately sold compatible accessories. In no scenario should you need to use both a fitness tracker and a GPS watch for running.

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. In some cases, the track showed me crossing an alpine lake, or taking a very long detour around part of the forest. You might expect the same brand to provide the same output but that wasn’t the case. There was deviation between the same brand across the board: the Coros Apex 42mm and Coros Vertix 2, and the Suunto 5 and Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium, for example.

So what is the most accurate? The industry says that most GPS watches are accurate within one to three percent of actual, which would explain the deviation in my test of all the watches at the same time. The most accurate is the Coros Apex 42mm. A special feature 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 eliminates error due to satellite reception and other variables like clouds, buildings, or other obstructions.

These watches are so expensive! What is the best budget running watch and is it worth it?

The watches reviewed in this guide are expensive! Chiefly it is due to the ever mind-blowing strength of their batteries, plus a suite of other features that help you understand your own physiology without additional straps or gadgets. Some of these watches can replace your phone as a podcast or music-streaming option, and they are incredibly durable as they are made with titanium, steel, sapphire, and other super strong materials. But ultimately it’s the multi-week battery life that makes a GPS watch a must for runners.

What’s the best running watch for small wrists?

In this guide there are two watches that are best for small wrists: the Coros Apex 42mm and the Suunto 9 Peak Granite Blue Titanium. These two are at opposite ends of the price spectrum though, separated by about $300 while offering quite comparable performance.

Best GPS Watches - Coros Vertix 2 - testing in the mountains - Christin Douglas

The Coros Vertix 2 showcasing its size while being tested in the mountains. Photo: Christin Douglas

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 two least expensive, the Suunto 5 and Coros Apex 42mm, allow notifications, incoming calls, text messages, and email to be displayed on the watch’s screen, so long as it’s connected via bluetooth to your smartphone.

I am bad with technology, so what running watch is the easiest to use?

If running is your primary or only sport, then many of these GPS watches are very overbuilt. The Wahoo Elemnt Rival is a great option that pares the feature set way down while providing the basics at a mid-level price. It’s the easiest watch in this guide to pull out of the box and begin tracking a run. However, if you are bad with technology but want a highly technical device to simply wake up in the morning and help you understand what to do — Take a rest day? Do a workout? Do a base-pace recovery activity? — many of these watches will interpret your daily data and can guide you on ways to improve without needing to navigate a bunch of confusing features.

Call for Comments

  • What is your favorite GPS watch? Do you tend do replace them as technology advances?
  • What is the most important element in a GPS watch, and are there some elements you never use?