Action Oriented: The 8 Best Sports Watches

The unveiling of the Apple Watch drew enormous attention to the smart watch industry, but there’s another kind of watch that is actually useful and not just a stripped down version of your phone. That’s the largely overlooked sports watch. Both casual and die-hard athletes know that the proper information is key to improving your performance in any sport. Hikers, bikers, runners, crossfit trainers, yogis, boxers, baseball, basketball and football players, dancers, swimmers, gym rats, and every other kind of sports fanatic – outside of competitive eaters – can find tricks to improve their workout with the right one.

Picking a sports watch is all about what kind of training you do. Triathletes will need different metrics to be tracked than strict mountaineers. Off-road mountain bike riders are going to require things, like a GPS, that won’t help a power lifter. Runners will want an accurate pedometer and heart-rate monitor to hit their target, while hikers will need elevation tracking so they can find altitude gained. Some will want a strong online community, while others wish to keep their workout secret and safe. However you amp yourself up, one of the 8 best sports watches will carry you to the finish line.

Armitron Sport

Armitron Sport

Pro: Military and civilian time
Con: Very limited features

Completely Casual: There isn’t much in the way of exceptional features here, so don’t expect to be monitoring your heart rate or getting it to sync up with your smartphone or bike computer. When you just need the basics – lap time, alarm, chronograph, dual time – then this shows up to play. Black resin body with a gunmetal face, it’s easy to read and blends in to most situations. Strong water resistance up to 330 feet allow for swimming and snorkeling while the frame can take plenty of impacts without cracking. [Purchase: $17]

Timex Ironman

Timex Ironman

Pro: Large, encouraging numerals
Con: Band tends to break under duress

Beginner’s Buddy: Serious triathletes who are actually gearing up to rank in the Ironman are going to find that this won’t get them really ready for action. What it will do is help the “Couch to 10k” crowd kick off the blocks more easily. A 99-lap counter along with 30 lap memory helps you learn your pace and find your running rhythm. Quartz movement combined with the digital display is deadly accurate without dropping split seconds at any point. Split times, a 100-hour chronograph, 330 feet worth of water resistance, and the glowing backlight give you a gateway to fitness without overloading you. [Purchase: $31]

Nixon Supertide

Nixon Supertide

Pro: Tide tracking for anywhere in the world
Con: Limited features for non-marine sports

Waterborne: Perhaps this isn’t the ideal all-around sports watch, but it does offer a unique draw for the surfboard rider or serious outdoor swimmer in that it helps track the rhythm of the waves, allowing you to ride the tide. Pre-programmed settings help you to check more than 270 wave lineups so you can hit the beach at the perfect moment for either serious action or peaceful paddling. A resilient silicone body and stainless steel housing are water resistant to 330 feet and completely wipeout proof. Terrestrial creatures won’t find much for them here, but the coastal aquatic set will be thrilled. [Purchase: $200]

Garmin Vivoactive

Garmin Vivoactive

Pro: Various sport setting change how the unit functions
Con: Software tends to be buggy and crash

Mashup: Garmin announced that they would be combining their mid-range sports watches with their fitness trackers for a more complete experience. The offspring of that notion is the Vivoactive. It charges via USB and can also by synced up with your PC to track data and interfaces with the Connect IQ database for a little socializing and friendly competition. It has a weight of 38g which makes it one of the lightest GPS-equipped watches on the planet but the small face is still inherently readable thanks to the unusual, cock-eyed numbers. Daily steps taken, calories burned, and even a few sleep tracker algorithms make this a good constant companion, not just a workout buddy. [Purchase: $250]

Polar V800

Polar V800

Pro: Easy wireless connection to most devices
Con: Standard wristband is awkward

Serious Sync: Alone, the V800 is wonderful. Combine it with the H7 heart rate monitor and you’ll also get zonal training data for a more effective workout. Tack on a shoe pod and you’ll learn more about your stride, cadence, and movement style than ever before. Gorilla glass covers the outside for resistance to scratches and the hermetic seal is completely waterproof up to 100 feet. It’s not only useful when you’re in full training mode, but will tell you how much recovery time is needed between workouts to optimize your regimen. Easy attachment to Bluetooth sensors of every variety makes it a wireless go-to for most activity. [Purchase: $319+]

Garmin FR910XT

Garmin FR910XT

Pro: Can be removed and mounted as a bike computer
Con: Unit will sometimes shut down inexplicably

Triathlete: We’d noticed the 910XT when we visited the wild world of bike computers, and it dazzled us then. When put up against general fitness trackers and watches, it still managed to rise to the top of the pile. It uses ANT+ sensors to track your heart rate or sync up with the bits attached to your bike, but it can just as easily start critiquing your swimming style based on the rhythmic motion of your arms. Accurate elevation monitoring will tell hikers how far they have climbed and you can pace yourself on land, at sea, or when mounted up for a road bike excursion. Swap between sports with a quick button press and you’re ready for the next leg of the race. [Purchase: $379]

Suunto Ambit3

Suunto Ambit3

Pro: 20+ parameters of tracking ability
Con: Connection to phone can be spotty

Motion Tracker: Many of these watches require satellite accessories to give you all the most targeted data. Load them up with a heart rate monitor, a bike sensor, a foot pod, and a blood pressure cuff, and they work great. The Ambit 3 isn’t quite so reliant on other tech to work. Built into the watch itself is several sensors including one to check your pulse right through your wrist, even while swimming, eliminating the need for a chest strap. GPS, altitude sensor, and even a compass keep you on track as you break in your hiking shoes. A professional steel bezel and sapphire crystal lens give this an understated attractiveness that allows you to wear it with a suit and tie as easily as your workout gear. [Purchase: $440]

Garmin Fenix 3

Garmin Fenix 3

Pro: Can use any Wi-Fi hotspot to sync and update
Con: Landscape features can interfere with GPS readings

All Action: It was hard to believe that Garmin could find a way to improve on their Fenix 2, but they have managed to trump themselves yet again. Use it swimming in open water, use it cycling, use it running, hell, use it with a pair of cross-country skis. There’s very little that this bird can’t do. You’ll always be able to see your data thanks to the Chroma display that sticks out even in direct sunlight. Runners will love the EXO antenna that gives you more apt location than standard GPS alone. Fully 20 solid hours of battery life when being used in the most intensive mode, as a watch alone it doesn’t need charging for 6 weeks. V02 max and vertical oscillation tracking go along with distance, elevation, cadence, and any number of other computations. [Purchase: $500]

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