Being plugged into technology doesn’t have the stigma it once had. In fact, gadgets and gizmos can be of the greatest assistance to us while doing the most mechanical and routine things in life. In a world of wearables, there seems to be increased recognition of how important these devices are to our overall health. From keeping track of our heart rate to helping us get to our desired weight to logging the distance we’ve traveled in a given day or week, smartwatches are becoming necessary tools to ensure our wellbeing.
However, not all smartwatches are made equally. And not all of them are meant to do the same things. This is why several of the biggest brands in this space have several, if not dozens of options that, on the surface, might look similar. Well, we’re here to help you whittle down the sea of options so that your daily exercise routine can give you your best chances of reaching your goals. Here are the best GPS running smartwatches you can buy right now.
What To Look For
A Wide Range Of Features
Nearly every GPS watch should and will be decently water-resistant and useful for tracking your running stats, monitoring your heart rate and energy, and providing mapped-out routes. However, you’ll want to know what else to look for when spending several hundred dollars on your new workout buddy. Here are the biggest
Price GPS watches can be expensive, so paying extra for a tool that you’re only going to use a couple of times a week just to jog around the block is a little overkill. Distance runners and those who run competitively will want something with a few more capabilities on their wrists. Likewise, if pounding the pavement is only one of many passions in your active lifestyle, you might want a watch with some cross-training versatility and extra bells and whistles, and will be willing to pay for them.
Maps GPS has erroneously become the generic term for GNSS satellite positioning because it’s the oldest and the primary one used in the United States. Some smartwatches cover all five global GNSS systems, while others only track GPS. Regardless, how your wearable utilizes that GPS information is crucial as well. While most running watches can accurately track your routes during your workout and log them afterward, some will provide topo maps for trail runners or a breadcrumb feature so that you can’t get lost. Moreover, the actual map layouts on certain watches are easier to interpret than others, and ease of use may vary based on personal preference.
Solar Charging This is a big one in today’s ever-changing world. More and more tech devices made for the outdoors are converting to solar power — watches included. While some options may strictly power up via an AC outlet, others are capable of utilizing the sun’s rays so that they can theoretically last as long as you need them to.
Cell Connectivity While many people want to compartmentalize their Apple Watch separately from their running watch, others like the idea of staying connected when working out and want the ability to respond to calls and texts. Likewise, if your watch has WiFi capability, you’ll have even more versatility on your wrist, including the ability to download music before you leave the house prior to a run off-the-grid or using mobile payment.
Other Features Again, this has to do with what kind of runner you are. If you like to listen to music while training, then you should look for a watch that either lets you upload songs or has compatibility with streaming apps. If you prefer trail running over urban landscapes, you’ll want to take a look at options with barometers and altimeters to measure air pressure and altitude. Similarly, the health-conscious will want a wearable that provides them with biometrics.
Timex Ironman R300 GPS
Budget pick or not, Timex’s Ironman R300 is an excellent GPS watch for runners. The top-of-the-line evolution of the storied Ironman line that’s been around since 1986, the R300 might be bare-bones, but that’s not a bad thing. The straightforward touchscreen display gives you a lot of the standard readouts (step tracking, optical heart rate, and fitness plans), but also has some added bonuses such as a race mode that lets you compete against yourself and can sync with your phone for a full readout and downloadable stats.
Coros Pace 2
Coros has some really nice high-end smartwatches, but for a runner who wants the pure benefits of a running watch, the affordable Pace 2 is a solid pick. Billed as the lightest smartwatch on the market at just over an ounce, this wearable can last you 30 hours in GPS mode and up to 20 days otherwise. An upgrade over its predecessor, the Pace 2 also has four times more storage than before and is optimized for effortless usability, allowing you to function it entirely with a single finger. Other features include a barometer, compass, heart rate monitoring, several different sports modes, and one of the best nighttime backlights we’ve seen.
Fitbit Versa 4
Since launching over a decade ago, Fitbit has become an eponym for fitness bands across the board. And yet, there continues to be a misunderstanding as to what a Fitbit can offer. Part Apple watch, part workout buddy, the Versa 4 is the latest in its line of wearables and the one that’s tailored the most towards goal-oriented gym rats and fitness nuts. Lasting up to 6 days on a single charge and only taking 12 minutes to get you 24 hours’ worth of usage, the watch provides you with real-time fitness stats, built-in GPS, in-depth analysis of your health and heart rate, and over 40 exercise modes, and is compatible with most smartphones.
Suunto 5 Peak
Suunto is a brand with a wide range of options, but its Peak series is the best for runners and also happens to be on the lower end of the spectrum, price-wise. As one of the more beautiful smartwatches on the market, the 5 Peak also features a breadcrumb capability and has comprehensive navigation when plugged into the Suunto app, where you can plan your route ahead of time to easily sync with the watch itself. While this is a great pick-up for beginners, the 5 Peak is not a bad choice for seasoned veterans either, with over 80 sports modes and 3D heatmaps
Polar Pacer Pro
When picking a running watch from Polar, you’ll notice the Pacer Pro gets the job done, even for experienced runners, compared to the brand’s Vantage or Grit X Pro, which are fantastic picks, but also less streamlined and cost about $200 more. The Pacer Pro, however, is impressive in its own right, with some of the most extensive data readouts available. It doesn’t just look at heart rate, but power output, which can provide more accuracy and insight if your route involves a variety of terrains and inclines. Also, this wearable doesn’t just monitor and track your sleep but will give you recommended exercises based on your sleep score.
Wahoo ELEMNT Rival Multisport
Since its launch back in 2009, the Atlanta-based Wahoo has mostly been synonymous with cycling but made its first foray into the running world with the ELEMNT Rival Multisport, an incredibly rugged, yet aesthetically stylish running watch. It’s compared a lot to Garmin’s higher-end running and triathlon watches, yet sits at around half the price, albeit with fewer features as well. However, for triathletes, a notable feature is the “seamless transition function,” which knows when you’re going from biking to running to swimming, and tracks your data without you needing to press a button.
Apple Watch Series 8
There’s no doubt that Apple Watch’s ubiquity in the smartwatch world renders it a great running companion as well. Other than the fact that most Apple Watch users won’t want to switch to a separate device just for working out, the latest iteration of its flagship wearable still can’t be overlooked, simply for all that it can do, whether you’re looking for lifestyle or fitness capabilities. With an array of cutting-edge technology and features, the latest 8 Series has some upgrades on top of the already-included navigation tools, heart and blood oxygen sensors, and Fitness+ app, such as new advanced metrics, custom workout routines, and multisport modes.
Garmin Forerunner 255S Music
Garmin has become well-known for its incredible smartwatches when it comes to both capability and range. Its Forerunner 255S Music (which is different from the non-Music version) is the medium-level running watch for those who don’t want to shell out for high-end models. Allowing you to download up to 500 songs from Spotify, Deezer, or Amazon Music, the 255S Music is jam-packed with training features such as over 30 sports apps, race prep tips, adaptive training plans, triathlon profiles, recovery optimization, wrist-based heart rate monitoring, and GPS-based pace guidance with PacePro.
Garmin fēnix 7 Solar
The latest in its high-end, all-in-one smartwatch line, Garmin’s fēnix 7 Solar has nearly every app and feature that the company provides, no matter which activity you partake in. As such, this is the most premium running watch on the market, which will appeal to cross-trainers and multihyphenates alike. The watch’s solar charging can extend its battery life from 18 days to 22 days. Features include stamina optimization to help you track your exertion, GPS-enabled topo-maps, and a points-of-interest feature to aid you in locating the nearest bathroom or first aid. Aside from GPS, the fēnix also utilizes multiple GNSS navigations, including GLONASS and Galileo.
The 9 Best GPS Hiking Watches
If you’re more comfortable out on the trails, you should take a look at our guide to the best GPS hiking watches for outdoor excursions.