All the Best with GPS: The Best GPS Running Watches
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The one thing that separates great running watches from more common fitness trackers is an onboard GPS sensor chip. This is what allows the GPS Running Watches wrapped around your wrist to know where you are at all times, give you accurate distance and elevation tracking, and measure times, splits, and calories burned with precision.
The Best GPS Running Watches
If you’re serious about your training, a GPS running watch is a must-have piece of gear. However, if you’re a serious runner on a budget, you might be put off by their prices: they’re definitely more expensive than ordinary, GPS-less fitness trackers.
Fortunately, GPS running watches come at different price points, depending on their extra features. Here are the ones we like, in order from most affordable to money is no object; in a few cases, we’ve tried to suggest a similar model by the same manufacturer.
1. Nike+ SportWatch GPS
For £119.19, down from its original price of £149, the Nike+ SportWatch GPS is quite an impressive device for its cost. It keeps tabs on distance, elevation, time, pace, calories burned, and more, providing readouts on a simple, clean display that’s easy to read.
The watch’s built in memory can store up to 15 hours of run data before you offload it all onto your computer, and it can all be fed into several free Nike+ apps to give you all of your information.
It’s also compatible with the Polar Wearlink+ heart rate transmitter, allowing you to do zone training.
One disadvantage of the Nike+ SportWatch GPS is that it connects to your computer via USB, rather than syncing wirelessly with BlueTooth.
It’s an inconvenience, for sure, but then again, at £119, you’re not going to get all of the bells and whistles, and this is one thing on which you’ll need to compromise.
Nike’s GPS Running Watches offering is super lightweight, coming in at around 65g. It definitely looks like a sports watch, but it’s pretty comfortable to wear — an important factor for a device that’s going to be strapped to your wrist during high intensity workouts.
2. Fitbit Surge
At the high end of Fitbit’s popular tracker spectrum is the Fitbit Surge. It’s their only model with GPS, so while the others are good for general fitness monitoring, the Surge is what you want if you’re looking to log routes, elevation, distance, pace, and time. These GPS Running Watches list for £199 and include heart rate monitoring.
The Surge wirelessly syncs with the Fitbit app, giving you all sorts of metrics and graphical readouts of your performance. You can also use it to control your running playlist with just a few wrist taps — a very helpful feature for those of us who want — no, need — music for inspiration and motivation.
It looks great, too: a very slim, unassuming wristlet without a strong athletic aesthetic. It’s not at all bulky or sporty looking, which is helpful, as it’s designed to be worn all day for continuous activity monitoring, much like other Fitbit devices.
3. Garmin Vivoactive
The high resolution colour touch screen on the Garmin Vivoactive is reason enough to be drawn to it.
True, it’s more of a smartwatch than some dedicated GPS Running Watches, but it does have GPS — Garmin is primarily a manufacturer of navigation products, after all — and it can do everything the other running watches can do and then some.
It tracks distance, time, pace, speed, and more while you’re running, but it also has other sports monitoring capabilities. You can use the Vivoactive for cycling, swimming, walking, and even golf. (Really: golf!)
It also pairs effortlessly with your smartphone, so you’ll get notifications about calls, texts, emails, social media updates, and more.
You can turn off the watch’s GPS to conserve battery life, which is extremely helpful for when you’re using it for activities that don’t necessarily need the navigation features.
Plus, the Vivoactive looks more board room than locker room, so you can wear it long after your workout’s done.
Two models are available: the standard Vivoactive for £199, or the Vivoactive with heart rate monitor for £229.
You can use the Vivoactive for cycling, swimming, walking, and even golf.
4. TomTom Runner Cardio
Also known mainly as a navigation company, it’s no surprise that TomTom got into the GPS Running Watches and wearables game. Their TomTom Runner Cardio is an impressive sports watch that uses the company’s proprietary QuickGPSFix technology to pinpoint your location as you run and provide highly accurate distance information.
Moving through the watch’s menus is simple — it can be done with just one button — and the large display (22mm by 25mm) is crisp and easy to read. These are extremely convenient features, especially when you’re breathlessly running down the road. It’s also got built in heart rate monitoring for zone and interval training, and it syncs automatically via BlueTooth with the TomTom MySports app.
Aesthetically, the TomTom Runner Cardio looks like a sports watch, albeit a slim and low profile one. Its red colour probably means that you won’t be wearing it as an everyday watch.
However, that’s probably for the best, as the GPS drains the battery rapidly: it lasts for ten hours max before it needs a re-up.
The TomTom Runner Cardio retails for £219. However, if you want a TomTom GPS running watch without the benefits of heart rate monitoring, you can save yourself a bit of money by going for the TomTom Runner for just £99.
Want the runner with a heart rate strap? That’s £159.
5. Polar RC3 GPS
A well appointed running watch that can also be used for cycling, the tracking on the Polar RC3 GPS is quite good, but the inclusion of Polar’s Smart Coaching features is better.
You get details like instant feedback and performance scores for every run — things that many other running watches simply can’t give you. Plus, it can track your cycling workouts.
The RC3 GPS is probably the sleekest looking dedicated sports watch of the bunch: it’s still athletic, to be sure, but it’s got a slim profile and clean aesthetic. It syncs with the Polar Flow app, and it can also be used with Polar’s running and cycling add-ons for more detailed information about your performance.
As for price, the RC3 GPS costs £249.50 for the watch plus the Polar H7 heart rate sensor, a highly accurate chest strap (rather than the more common but less accurate wrist monitors). Or, you can pick up the watch for £199.50. If you want to also track swimming and have a bit of extra money to spend, you can go for the more robust Polar V800.
However, for just running — and serious running at that — the RC3 GPS Running Watches do a great job.
6. Garmin Forerunner 620
This extremely well appointed running watch tracks everything: distance speed, pace, heart rate, and more. But you’d expect that. In addition, it also has a recovery adviser and provides all sorts of advanced running dynamics, both of which are helpful for serious runners.
Of course, the Garmin Forerunner 620 is also up there in price, retailing for £269.99. For £79, you can add on a cadence monitor to get details about your form, ground contact time, and other particulars.
The 620 has a full colour touch screen display, and it auto syncs with the Garmin Connect app.
You can switch off the GPS to save battery life, though you may not ever do this, as the 620, like a lot of other running watches on this list, looks a bit too athletic to wear all day long. (Unless, of course, that’s the aesthetic you’re going for.)
If you’re a triathlete, you may want to bump up to the Garmin Forerunner 920XT, though it’s rather expensive at £389.99. Or, if you want a Garmin running watch for less than the cost of the 620, check out the Garmin Forerunner 22. It lacks the 620’s recovery tracking abilities, but it will run you just £159.
The 620 has a full colour touch screen display, and it auto syncs with the Garmin Connect app.
7. Suunto Ambit3 Sport
A lesser known manufacturer of lesser known running watches, Suunto and its Ambit3 Sport is a truly fine piece of gear. It tracks everything you’d expect a GPS running watch to track — distance, speed, pace, and so on — and its heart rate monitoring capabilities allows for even more details on your fitness. Plus, it’s got recovery tracking.
The Ambit3 Sport works with the Suunto Movescount app; it syncs via BlueTooth to chart your run data, let you plan your workouts, and provide voice coaching while you’re running.
Suunto has had iOS support for a while, and the new Android app makes the Ambit3 Sport’s appeal that much more widespread. You can also get the important details on the large, crisp, and simple display, which is totally customisable.
The strap is made of soft silicone, so the watch is really comfortable to wear. There are no vibration alerts, but then again, this is a running watch, not a smart band.
The Suunto Ambit3 Sport retails for £275. Yes, that’s a lot of money, but it’s a great watch for runners — or swimmers, or cyclists, or triathletes. It tracks everything!
Plus, it’s incredibly well made and durable, and if having a device that’s not exactly the same as everyone else’s is important to you, you’ll definitely stand apart from the crowd with this one.
get the important details on the large, crisp, and simple display.
The Right Tool for the Job
If you’re going to run outdoors, a fitness tracker is OK, but a true running watch with onboard GPS is the best tool for the job. GPS Running Watches will help you out with distance and route details, give you elevation information, and really let you know how your training is coming along.
Yes, the onboard GPS sensor chip bumps the price up and the battery life down, but we feel these are minor inconveniences that serious runners will be able to work around. There are lots of choices out there, but if you carefully consider your feature preferences and budget, you’ll pick the right GPS running watch for your needs.