Despite their diminutive size, GPS sports watches can really pack a punch. These modern timepieces put the power of a GPS device onto your wrist, allowing you to track your movements, follow a preloaded route, or even navigate complex terrain—hands-free. Important for many users, they’re also capable of compiling a seemingly endless amount of data for a variety of activities, including your distance, elevation, pace, cadence, heart rate, recovery time, and sleep quality (to name a few). Below we break down the best designs of the year, including rugged and navigation-rich offerings for backcountry explorers, affordable entry-level models for runners, and sleek options purpose-built for endurance athletes. For more background information, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
 


Our Team's GPS Sports Watch Picks



Best Overall GPS Sports Watch

1. COROS Apex 46mm ($350)

COROS Apex 46mm GPS watchWeight: 2.0 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (35 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameters: 42, 46mm
What we like: All the essential features, plus great battery life, at an affordable price point.
What we don’t: Middling mapping and navigation; no music capability.

COROS is a rising star in the GPS watch world, with a string of noteworthy releases over the past few years. The Apex is their leading mid-range model and packs in a surprising amount of features for the price, including a barometric altimeter, optical HR sensor, excellent battery life, and even a sapphire glass screen. The interface has a clear prioritization of sport-specific tracking (there are 20 modes ranging from ski touring to running) that pairs seamlessly with a smartphone app, and the color display is easy to navigate with just two buttons, one of which serves as a dial too. Finally, the Apex is a standout in terms of size and appearance, with a sleeker design than most and the choice between 42- and 46-millimeter models (the 42mm Apex has a shorter battery life and costs slightly less at $300).

While the Apex is all most endurance athletes need and nothing they don't (it’s a popular choice in our Northwest trail running community), it's true that its feature set falls well short of the high-end designs here. First off, navigation is rudimentary (a far cry from the Fenix’s detailed topographic maps), and we’ve been fairly unimpressed with the watch’s HR accuracy and limited training metrics. Second, the Apex offers no music controls, and you don’t get frills like LiveTrack or contactless payment. Finally, COROS’ firmware and app don’t quite measure up to Garmin’s, although we’ve been pleased with the regular updates. But if—like most of us—you simply need a watch that tracks your activities and doesn't die in the process, it’s hard to find a better value than the Apex. And COROS also offers the Apex Pro, which retails for $500 and boasts an even longer battery life, more tracking profiles, better map navigation (including a touchscreen), and a pulse oximeter.
See the COROS Apex 46mm

 

Best Backcountry-Ready GPS Sports Watch

2. Garmin Fenix 6 Pro ($650)

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro GPS watchWeight: 2.9 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (36 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameters: 42, 47, 51mm
What we like: Feature-rich, preloaded maps, and three sizes to choose from.
What we don’t: Expensive, heavy, and overkill for casual users.

Garmin’s Fenix 6 undoubtedly is expensive, but it’s hands-down the best backcountry-ready GPS watch collection on the market. Totaling more than 10 variations, the powerhouse line boasts top-notch build quality and durability, a crisp and easy-to-read screen, accurate tracking for a wide array of activities, and enough advanced metrics to satisfy even the most discerning athletes. Importantly, the Fenix 6 Pro listed here also has far and away the best available watch-based mapping, which we’ve found really helpful for finding our way in complicated terrain: you get preloaded maps—including detailed contour lines, trails, and geographic place names—and extensive navigation tools for activities ranging from hiking and mountaineering to trail running and skiing. Finally, the latest version of the Fenix got a serious bump in battery life, which is helpful for extended trips.

The biggest downsides of the Fenix 6 Pro are cost, complexity, and weight. Prices have been increasing in general, but the $650 MSRP for the mid-range 6 Pro puts it out of reach for many people (the larger 6X is $700, while the smaller 6S also is $650). Moreover, the tech is overkill for someone just looking for the basics like distance covered, elevation gain, and barometric pressure. In that case, the COROS Apex above or Garmin’s Instinct below are better options. On the other hand, those planning to get a lot of use out of the watch’s maps and navigation might wish for touchscreen capability (helpful for zooming in and out). Finally, even in the smallest “S” form, the Fenix is on the bulky and heavy side, and you will feel the extra heft during activities like running, mountain biking, and XC skiing. But for backcountry adventurers looking for a rugged and highly capable GPS watch, it’s our top choice.
See the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro

 

Feature-Rich GPS Watch for Endurance Athletes

3. Garmin Forerunner 945 ($600)

Garmin Forerunner 945 GPS watchWeight: 1.8 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (36 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 47mm
What we like: High-end sensors and features in a lightweight, sport-specific build.
What we don’t: Only comes in one size and less durable than the Fenix.

Garmin’s Fenix 6 Pro is hard to beat for backcountry exploration, but the Forerunner 945 is a top-notch GPS watch for endurance athletes who like to stick a little closer to home. You get a very similar feature set, including multi-GNSS support (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo), a barometric altimeter and compass, optical heart rate monitor and pulse oximeter, music storage, and great navigation with preloaded topographic, road, and trail maps. Further, battery life is on par with the Fenix 6 Pro (up to 36 hours in GPS mode). But what stands out about the Forerunner is its size: while the 2.9-ounce Fenix can feel overly bulky for activities like running and swimming, the sleek 945 clocks in at only 1.8 ounces. It all adds up to a premium watch that’s purpose-built for triathletes, runners, cyclists, and others focused on traveling fast and light.

The Forerunner 945 gets our glowing recommendation for frontcountry use, but it’s certainly not as versatile as the Fenix. Durability falls short with less rugged materials (Garmin uses a lightweight polymer bezel rather than the Fenix’s steel or titanium options) and a lower water rating (5 ATM vs. 10). And considering that Garmin prioritized a more streamlined build with the Forerunner, we wish it came in a smaller size option. But it’s nevertheless one of the most featured GPS watches for sport-specific tracking, and you get considerably more capabilities than with the value-oriented Apex, including music, various smart features and WiFi, and better health monitoring. You can also opt for the 945 in an LTE version for $50 more, or go with the 745 for $100 less, which shares a similar design but with slightly less storage and no preloaded maps.
See the Garmin Forerunner 945

 

Best Budget GPS Sports Watch

4. COROS Pace 2 ($200)

COROS Pace 2 GPS watchWeight: 1.2 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (30 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 42mm
What we like: A superlight multisport watch with great battery life for just $200.
What we don’t: No-frills feature set and not intended for backcountry use.

Despite its diminutive size, it's hard to overlook COROS' budget-friendly Pace 2. This watch has a lot going for it for the price: it clocks in at just 1.1 ounce on our scale (with the nylon strap) and has such a low profile that we often forget we’re wearing it, which is a nice change of pace from a bulky and heavy model like the Fenix above. Battery life also is impressive (30 hrs in GPS mode and 20 days with regular use), and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more affordable watch with a built-in barometric altimeter and multi-GNSS support. Finally, you get a color display, Corning glass screen, 12 sport modes at the time of publishing, and easy connectivity to a smartphone via bluetooth. For those new to activity tracking or athletes who don’t dig too deeply into their stats, simple is often better—and here, the Pace 2 delivers in spades.

All that said, it’s important to recognize the Pace 2’s limitations. Most significantly, COROS very intentionally designed this model for frontcountry activities like road running, biking, and pool swimming—it doesn’t even feature modes like hiking, skiing, and climbing. And its construction follows suit: the plasticky build won’t hold up to major impacts (nor is it a very stylish option for everyday wear), and the small digital dial is difficult to use with gloves on. Water resistance is also average at just 5 ATM, and unlike many offerings, you don’t get music capability. But we’ve found the Pace 2’s GPS tracking, mileage, and elevation to be consistent with high-end Garmin watches, which is flat-out impressive given the price. If you don’t mind the no-frills design, the Pace 2 is a reliable and affordable companion for daily workouts and even the odd hike or climb.
See the COROS Pace 2

 

Best GPS Sports Watch with Everyday Appeal

5. Garmin vívoactive 4 ($300)

Garmin vivoactive 4 GPS watchWeight: 1.8 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (18 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameters: 40 (4S), 45mm
What we like: Great styling and feature set for everyday use.
What we don’t: Not as accurate as more performance-oriented models and average battery life.

GPS watches are designed to look good during a workout, but they don’t always make the cut for wearing to work. Most users will find that models like the Garmin Fenix above and Instinct below are simply too heavy and bulky for everyday use, and sleek options from COROS are fairly limited when it comes to convenient extras like contactless pay, music, and health monitoring. The Garmin vívoactive 4 listed here strikes an excellent middle ground, with an elegant exterior and six classy colorways to choose from in addition to a very capable set of features, including multi-GNSS support, a compass and barometric altimeter, 15 sport modes (but no triathlon setting), and Garmin’s most sought-after smart features.

However, despite being similar under the hood to some of the best performance watches here, the vívoactive’s software falls short. During our testing, its accuracy faltered while tracking steeper trail runs, and we’ve found the distance and elevation data to be less consistent even than the cheaper Pace 2 above. Further, we simply don’t love a touchscreen for outdoor use (it can be tedious to use in rain and snow), and the vívoactive’s battery life isn’t a standout. But the Garmin is stylish and comfortable enough for daily wear (even in professional settings) and, true to its casual intentions, includes a host of on-screen workouts including yoga, pilates, and mindful breathing sessions. In the same category, it’s also worth checking out Garmin’s Venu 2 ($400), which features a bright AMOLED display (similar to that of the Apple Watch), additional music storage and activity profiles, and a more modern interface.
See the Garmin vívoactive 4

 

Best of the Rest

6. Suunto 9 Peak ($569)

Suunto 9 Peak GPS watchWeight: 2.2 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (25/50 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 43mm
What we like: Accurate tracking, sleek profile, and cheaper than the Garmin Forerunner 945.
What we don’t: No music support and Suunto’s app needs improvement.

Suunto has a reputation for reliable products and accurate tracking, but their watches have consistently fallen short in terms of modern touches like smart features and convenient app support. But the 9 Peak is on track to bring the Finnish company up to speed, with a number of improvements worth calling out. Building off the 9 Baro, the 9 Peak tacks on bluetooth connectivity (finally), a blood oxygen sensor, the option for fast charging, and a significantly slimmer profile (10.6mm in height vs. 15.4mm). But the biggest news here is the 9 Peak’s innovative Snap to Route setting, which keeps your track aligned to the preloaded route (tracks can really jump around with a bad signal) and is especially helpful when you need highly accurate speed and distance data for activities like races. For runners and cyclists looking to hold a pace, this feature could really change the game.

While the 9 Baro had an outdoorsy feel similar to the top-rated Garmin Fenix, the 9 Peak goes head-to-head with Garmin’s training-focused Forerunner 945 above. It gets the edge in terms of accuracy thanks to the aforementioned Snap to Route feature, plus the Suunto is compatible with a couple more satellite systems (QZSS and Beidou). Compared to the 945, the 9 Peak also has a slimmer profile (10.6mm vs. 13.7) and a similar battery life while clocking in around $30 less. However, Suunto still can’t match Garmin’s polished user interface, streamlined app support, and stellar maps and navigation, which is why we rank the 9 Peak here. Additionally, you don’t get music storage or controls (Garmin is unmatched in this respect), and the 9 Peak’s 43-millimeter size might be too small for some. Comparisons aside, data-hungry users and serious racers might not be able to ignore the precision of Suunto’s newest offering.
See the Suunto 9 Peak

 

7. Garmin Instinct Solar ($400)

Garmin Instinct Solar GPS watchWeight: 1.9 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion and solar (38 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 45mm
What we like: Rugged build and long life thanks to large integrated solar panels.
What we don’t: Small monochrome screen and limited multisport and smart features.

Sporting throwback looks but modern tech is Garmin’s Instinct Solar. This timepiece targets the general outdoors crowd with ABC sensors, multi-GNSS support, and a very durable construction. But the real talking point here is the inclusion of solar charging: in sunny conditions, this gives the Instinct a significant boost in battery life (up to 38 hours in GPS mode, a whopping 54 days as a smartwatch, and unlimited power in battery-saver mode). Garmin has incorporated solar technology into a few of their designs, but the Instinct is their best effort, with a significantly larger solar panel than offerings like the Fenix 6 Pro Solar.

The Instinct Solar is purpose-built for hikers, hunters, and backcountry enthusiasts and gives up a lot of multisport and everyday features as a result. With a basic monochrome screen, you lose the detailed mapping and impressive on-screen navigation of a watch like the Fenix 6 Pro, in addition to stats like VO2 max (important for many athletes), Garmin’s Body Battery, and other health and training analysis features. Notably, the Instinct Solar also lacks the customization of Garmin’s Connect IQ and does not include music storage or contactless pay. Further, the multisport options are greatly simplified—committed triathletes will be better off with the Fenix or Suunto 9 Peak above. These gripes aside, the Instinct Solar is undeniably well-built for its intended use and fills an important gap in Garmin’s lineup as a tough, mid-range backcountry piece.
See the Garmin Instinct Solar

 

8. Polar Grit X ($430)

Polar Grit X Multisport GPS watchWeight: 2.3 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (40 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 47mm
What we like: Durable build, large assortment of multisport settings, and super accurate HR monitor.
What we don’t: Firmware needs fine-tuning and battery life is middling for daily use.

Polar might not be a household name like Garmin or Suunto, but their GPS watches hold their own in a competitive market. The Grit X here is their most premium multisport offering, designed as a mountain-focused alternative to the Vantage V2 below and landing in between the Fenix 6 Pro and Apex above in terms of features, accuracy, and price. With a stainless steel bezel, Gorilla Glass touchscreen, and fairly streamlined build, the Grit X is durable yet sleek, and you get great tracking with multi-GNSS support and a plethora of multisport settings. Heart rate accuracy is top-notch and on par with most chest straps, sleep tracking and training stats are reliable, and Polar offers a running power metric that is best-in-class. Finally, the Polar Flow app is intuitive and can be viewed both on a phone and via a desktop computer (unlike the COROS app, for example).

Despite all of its strengths, however, the Polar Grit X simply isn’t as fine-tuned as other models here. While battery life in GPS mode is fairly standard (note: you’ll have to pause your tracking to view it), the Grit X lacks power-saving features and must be charged every few days even when used without GPS (by contrast, our COROS Apex can last weeks). Further, the Grit X disconnects from your phone during an activity (read: no text alerts) and makes it impossible to access the compass function unless you’re actively tracking. Finally, the navigation tools are extremely basic, and you don’t get added smart features like music support or contactless pay. But for triathletes, runners, or cyclists looking for the best wrist-based HR monitor, the Polar is hard to beat, and the price is right at a reasonable $430 (for reference, COROS’ comparable Apex Pro is $500).
See the Polar Grit X

 

9. Garmin Forerunner 55 ($200)

Garmin Forerunner 55 GPS watchWeight: 1.3 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (20 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 42mm
What we like: A simple and affordable watch with all the benefits of the Garmin ecosystem.
What we don’t: No barometric altimeter or compass and low-resolution display.

We could wax poetic about anaerobic thresholds, wrist-based fitness coaches, and unlimited battery life, but let’s face it: most of us use our watches to track daily workouts and not much else. If you’re new to fitness tracking or aren’t necessarily tech-savvy, you can save a lot of money by opting for a simplified design, and the good news is that these models are easier to use too. Along with the COROS Pace 2 above, Garmin’s new Forerunner 55 is one of our favorite basic GPS watches, with an eye-catching aesthetic, bluetooth connectivity that makes it easy to upload your workouts and get firmware updates, and access to Garmin’s top-notch ecosystem. And the 55 tacks a variety of features onto the older 45, including running track mode, women’s health tracking, Live Track PacePro, increased battery life, compatibility with Connect IQ, and more.

The Forerunner 55 is a close competitor to the aforementioned Pace 2 (including an identical price) but falls short in a few key areas. Most notably, the COROS features a barometric altimeter and compass (giving you real-time access to data like elevation gain/loss during an activity and better tracking in the mountains), longer battery life, a higher-resolution display, and the ability to upload .gpx tracks to follow during your activity. Despite these shortcomings, however, the Forerunner still has a lot going for it, and particularly for those that value a sleek user interface and top-notch app support, health monitoring (the Garmin has a better HR monitor and offers more accurate sleep tracking), and plan to stick to the lowlands. And if you want a few more extras like navigation, a more durable Gorilla Glass screen, and compatibility with external sensors like footpods and heart rate monitors, you can bump up to the Forerunner 245 for $50 more.
See the Garmin Forerunner 55

 

10. COROS Vertix 2 ($700)

COROS Vertix 2 GPS sports watchWeight: 3.1 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (140 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 50.3mm
What we like: Incredibly durable; great at altitude and in extreme temperatures.
What we don’t: Falls well short of the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro.

With a steep price tag and rugged, mountain-ready build, it doesn’t take more than a quick glance to see that the COROS Vertix goes head-to-head with our top-ranked Garmin Fenix 6 Pro. This is COROS’ premium offering, equipped with all the sensors we look for in a high-end watch (including a barometric altimeter and pulse oximeter), a battery life of 140 hours in GPS mode (the Garmin’s is 36), and great performance in extreme temperatures and at altitude—including SpO2 alerts that help you monitor your blood oxygen levels. To add to its already-impressive durability, the Vertix comes in a Pelican-style hard case, and the rest of the design follows suit with a sapphire glass screen and a titanium bezel and cover. COROS even added a touchscreen in some modes, which is especially helpful when using mapping and navigation features. Plus, the large dials are a breeze to operate with gloves on.

COROS updated the Vertix this year, which came with a $99 price increase and a number of noteworthy additions. You now get music and preloaded maps (two key features the first iteration lacked), but these improvements have their caveats. To start, COROS does not include location names on their maps, and you can’t navigate from point to point. Second, they do not offer Spotify, Apple, or Pandora support, making the music feature a bit clunky. Finally, for those that use ANT+ sensors, it’s important to note that the “2” is no longer compatible. The Vertix certainly is a nice choice for COROS devotees looking for a rugged design to take into extreme environments, but the Fenix 6 Pro is still the clear category winner (not to mention, it’s also offered in more than 10 variations and three sizes, while the COROS comes in just one model and size). 
See the COROS Vertix

 

11. Polar Vantage V2 ($500)

Polar Vantage V2 GPS watchWeight: 1.8 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (40 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 47mm
What we like: Top-notch sensors, features, and training metrics—particularly for runners.
What we don’t: No pulse oximeter and disappointing battery life for daily use.

If you’re serious about training, it’s a good bet that watches like the Garmin Forerunner 945 and Suunto 9 Peak above have your attention. Polar’s Vantage V2 is another solid addition to the high-end multisport watch scene, with many similar features at a slightly lower price point. You get a fairly standard sensor set—multi-GNSS support, an accurate heart rate monitor, and ABC sensors—and the V2 is right on par with the 945 in terms of weight and size. But the Polar stands apart with an aluminum case (vs. the Suunto’s titanium and the Forerunner’s polymer) and advanced training metrics, including its Running Power statistic. By synthesizing your terrain, form, and fatigue data, this number helps you know how hard to train and is a feature that serious runners will love (the Forerunner only provides this data if you use an external sensor like Stryd).

As expected, however, you do give up some functionality with the more affordable Vantage V2. Most significantly, it does not include a pulse oximeter, and—similar to the outdoor-focused Grit X above—battery life isn’t that impressive in smartwatch mode (in GPS mode, it holds steady with the Garmin and Suunto). Further, although the Vantage V2 does pair with the Komoot app to offer wrist-based navigation, you don’t get the same level of mapping detail as with the Forerunner. And finally, while the Polar can control your phone’s music, it has no storage of its own, and the Flow app is still no match for Garmin’s ecosystem. We’ll stick with the Suunto for the most accurate tracking and the Garmin for everything else—if you’re willing to sacrifice a bit on storage, battery life, and mapping, the Forerunner 745 is an even closer comparison at $500—but the Polar nevertheless is a viable alternative at a decent savings.
See the Polar Vantage V2

 

12. Suunto 5 ($270)

Suunto 5 GPS watchWeight: 2.3 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (20/40 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 46mm
What we like: A well-rounded and reliable watch at an affordable price point.
What we don’t: More expensive than entry-level designs like the COROS Pace 2 and Garmin Forerunner 55.

Suunto’s 5 is their entry-level GPS watch, featuring multi-GNSS support, breadcrumb navigation, heart rate monitoring and training metrics, and over 80 pre-installed sport modes. More than most watches here, the 5 toes the line between our outdoor and training categories, with a rugged stainless steel bevel, long battery life, and decent navigation features for backcountry exploration, along with solid data collection capabilities for activities like running, cycling, and swimming. At $270, it clocks in slightly cheaper than similar options like the COROS Apex and Garmin Forerunner 245 (both $300), although those two models do have the benefit of a few extra sensors (ABC support for the COROS and a pulse oximeter in the Garmin). 

If you’re considering a Suunto GPS watch for fitness tracking, your decision will likely come down to the 5 here and the slightly higher-end 9. Priced at $329, the 9 features a longer battery life, higher-resolution display with touchscreen, and digital compass. But the 5 is a better fitness tracker in many ways, with features like stress tracking, energy and sleep quality metrics, VO2 max, and more. If you’re choosing between models, the 5 is likely the better watch for data-hungry athletes—and it doesn’t hurt that it’s $60 cheaper too. But in the end, watches from Garmin and COROS still have a bit more to offer at this price point, and you can even save a little money with capable offerings like the COROS Pace 2 and Garmin Forerunner 55 ($200).
See the Suunto 5

 

13. Garmin Enduro ($800)

Garmin Enduro GPS watchWeight: 2.5 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion and solar (80 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 51mm
What we like: Ridiculously long battery life and high-end feature set.
What we don’t: Expensive and lacks the navigational features of the Fenix 6 Pro.

If we could distill our review of the Garmin Enduro into one bullet point, it’d be this: feature-wise, this watch is almost identical to the base Fenix 6, but with a much longer battery life. Similar to the Instinct Solar above, the Enduro uses both a lithium-ion battery and Garmin’s Power Glass technology—two separate solar panels on the watch’s face—to offer 80 hours of life in GPS mode and up to 95 days in expedition mode. Tack on an illustrious group of features and sensors, and you get a watch that excels in just about every department. For backcountry explorers and off-the-grid junkies, it's a very competitive recipe.

The most obvious drawback to the Enduro is its steep $800 price tag (the 0.35-oz.-lighter titanium version is $900), which will be out of reach for many. For half the price, the Instinct Solar offers a similarly impressive battery life, although it drops the Enduro’s high-end performance metrics (including training load, VO2 max, and respiration rate), smart features (music control, contactless pay, etc.), and many activity profiles (including the highly sought-after multisport mode). On the other hand, the Enduro’s navigation support pales in comparison to that of the Fenix 6 Pro (remember, it replicates the standard Fenix 6, which comes without preloaded maps). But for explorers looking for the best combination of solar power and features—the Fenix 6 Pro comes in a solar version, but its battery isn’t nearly impressive—the Enduro is hard to beat.
See the Garmin Enduro

 

14. Casio G-Shock Move HR GPS ($399)

Casio G-Shock Move HR GPS watchWeight: 3.6 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion and solar (14 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 63mm
What we like: Hard to kill and uses proven Firstbeat analytics.
What we don’t: Outdated, heavy, and more expensive than modern options with similar tech.

This list simply wouldn't be complete without a Casio watch. Known for touting function over fashion, solar-powered batteries, and bulky-yet-tough constructions, Casio is a standard bearer in outdoor watches and has been slowly making the transition into the modern GPS market. Most of their designs still look and feel pretty dated, but the G-Shock Move here is fairly competitive with the options above. The watch has great bones with GPS support and five additional sensors, including an HR monitor, barometric altimeter and compass, thermometer, and accelerometer. And importantly, it uses Garmin’s Firstbeat technology to synthesize the collected data (providing specs like VO2 max) and sends it to your phone via bluetooth.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to opt for the Casio over other watches here is the rugged and shock-resistant case, which you’ll either love or hate. The G-Shock Move also features the most impressive water rating on our list (it can handle pressure up to a depth of 200m), which gives even more credence to its bombproof construction. And finally, with a built-in solar panel (a hallmark of Casio watches), it can last for weeks of non-GPS use without needing a charge. But in 2021, most of these features are fairly standard in outdoor watches, and we’re partial to more modern and sleek designs from brands like Garmin, COROS, Polar, and Suunto.
See the Casio G-Shock Move HR GPS

 

15. Suunto 7 ($399)

Suunto 7 GPS watchWeight: 2.5 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (12 hrs in training mode)
Diameter: 50mm
What we like: Google’s Wear OS paired with many sport-specific features.
What we don’t: Disappointing battery life, navigation, and training metrics.

Suunto’s 7 slides in between the 5 and the 9 in their naming scheme, but in practice, it’s an entirely different beast. The headliner here is Wear OS, an adaptation of Google’s Android operating system built specifically for smartwatches. You get a brilliant AMOLED display with touchscreen functionality, including preloaded apps, detailed color maps and navigation, health monitoring through Google Fit, music controls, and more. Further, Suunto tacked on a bunch of training-specific features, including more than 70 sport modes, an energy metric (similar to Garmin’s Body Battery), and connection to third-party apps like Strava and TrainingPeaks. In theory, it’s the ideal combination of a versatile smartwatch (unlike the Apple Watch, the Suunto 7 pairs equally well with Android and iOS) and a GPS-powered sports watch.

Despite the aforementioned benefits, the Suunto 7 is rather disappointing in terms of sport-specific features. The battery life is just 12 hours in GPS mode (8 hours with music), and the optical heart rate sensor is among the least accurate here. Further, without a pulse oximeter, the 7 provides very limited training data, there’s no triathlon mode, and it’s not compatible with external sensors. Finally, navigation is pretty middling with no back-to-start mode or turn-by-turn guidance. In short, despite its lower number, the Suunto 5 above is a much more capable and well-rounded sports watch. But the 7 is an intriguing choice for smartwatch users who only need some sport features, and the good news is that Suunto continues to improve the design with each update.
See the Suunto 7

 

16. Wahoo Elemnt Rival ($380)

Wahoo Elemnt Rival GPS watchWeight: 1.9 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (24 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameter: 46.5mm
What we like: Cool touchless transition feature for triathletes.
What we don’t: Bulky, limited activity profiles, and UI needs refinement. 

Wahoo has made a name for themselves in the bike computer market, but the Elemnt Rival—released in late 2020—is their first foray into watches. Purpose-built for triathletes, the Elemnt Rival’s standout feature is its touchless transition, which senses your activity and moves between swim, bike, and run modes on its own. It’s an ambitious ask for a watch, but Wahoo pulls it off quite well—and in the event of an error, it’s easy to manually edit your transitions within the app. And with the same Sony GPS chipset standard in watches from Garmin, Suunto, Polar, and COROS, you’re also assured relatively accurate tracking along the way. Finally, as we’d expect with a triathlon watch, the Elemnt Rival pairs well with accessories like an HR strap, power meter, bike computer, bike trainer, and more. 

The Elemnt Rival is an undeniably intriguing addition to the market, but it's unfortunately fairly unpolished. First off, you only get triathlon-based profiles like lap swimming and track running (Wahoo tacks on strength and yoga too), meaning it's not a great option for outdoor athletes looking to record activities like skiing, hiking, or climbing. Second, the watch’s user interface is sorely in need of refinement, and while it collects data like heart rate, steps, and calories burned, its synthesis is very basic compared to health-monitoring experts like Garmin (you don’t get stats like training load, sleep tracking, or recovery). Finally, given the Rival’s multisport intentions, we’d love to see a sleeker build—it’s almost as bulky as outdoor-specific builds like the Fenix 6 Pro and Vertix (46.5 x 46.5 x 15.3mm) despite lacking most backcountry capabilities, including maps and navigation. But the Rival is a solid first effort, and it should only get better over time with Wahoo’s promised firmware updates.
See the Wahoo Elemnt Rival

 

17. Apple Watch Series 7 41mm ($399)

Apple Watch Series 6 40mm GPS watchWeight: 1.1 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (7 hrs in GPS mode)
Diameters: 41, 45mm
What we like: Apple’s seamless UI and app support and a collection of top-notch sensors.
What we don’t: Battery life is a deal-breaker and on-screen activity tracking information is limited.

If you’re wondering if the Apple Watch fits on this list of GPS-equipped watches, our answer is yes—sort of. Like the Suunto 7 above, the Apple Watch is a smartwatch first and sports watch second, but you do get accurate multi-GNSS support, more than a dozen activity profiles (plus the ability to add your own), compatibility with additional sensors like a footpod or a HR monitor, and access to apps like Gaia, Strava, and more. Further, Apple’s wearable is actually a class leader in terms of health tracking, featuring a reliable HR monitor (it only collects data when it’s assured a good reading), SpO2 sensor (pulse oximeter) and FDA-certified ECG (electrocardiogram). You also get access to Apple Health, Apple Fitness+ workouts that display your real-time metrics, and integration with various other health-related apps, making your data easier to synthesize than with most watches here.

But as a dedicated sports watch, the Apple Watch isn't much of a standout. Most significantly, battery life is the worst here—the watch might not even last the length of a marathon, depending on how many apps you’re operating and if you’re connected to LTE. Functionality also suffers while tracking an activity: you get access to just a few stats (for running: elapsed time, rolling mile, average mile, and elevation), which simply doesn’t measure up to the data-heavy displays of most watches on our list. But while previous versions have suffered in terms of GPS accuracy, the Series 6 is on par with dedicated GPS watches, which is a huge vote in its favor. Tack on Apple’s intuitive user interface, smart features, and well-regarded ecosystem, and their watch is a strong choice for everyday use and the odd fitness tracking. And you can save even more with the SE version, which forgoes the pulse oximeter, ECG, and always-on display.
See the Apple Watch Series 7 41mm

 

18. Timex Ironman R300 GPS ($129)

Timex Ironman R300 GPS watchWeight: 1.5 oz.
Battery: Lithium-ion (20 hours in GPS mode)
Diameter: 41mm
What we like: Affordable yet still very accurate.
What we don’t: Limited activity modes and not compatible with external sensors.

No, you’re not seeing things: Timex does indeed make a GPS watch, and yes, it’s good enough to make the cut as one of the best of 2021. Not only is the Ironman R300 GPS impressive in terms of price ($70 less than the COROS Pace 2 and Garmin Forerunner 55), but it actually holds its own in terms of accuracy and features. You get reliable GPS tracking and heart rate monitoring, an intuitive app with good data analysis, and even extras like a touchscreen, music control, and a mineral glass screen (we’d expect plastic at this price point). And with 20 hours of battery life (25 days with regular use), it’ll stay alive for far longer than an Apple Watch.

The Ironman doesn’t have many activity modes—you get outdoor run, treadmill, cycling, indoor bike, walking, and “any sport”—so those with specific sport needs might want to step up to a model like the Garmin Forerunner 55 or COROS Apex, both of which include more backcountry-specific activities. Unsurprisingly, the Timex also offers nothing in the way of maps or navigation. And while it does track health-related data via your phone such as sleep, steps, and calories burned, the metrics are fairly limited (no VO2 max or recovery data, for example), and the Ironman is not compatible with external sensors. But the price is undeniably hard to beat, and for a simple activity tracker with solid GPS and heart rate data, the Timex gets the job done.
See the Timex Ironman R300 GPS

 

GPS Sports Watch Comparison Table

Watch Price Weight Battery Diameter(s) ABC Music Touchscreen
COROS Apex 46mm $350 2.0 oz. 35 hours 42, 46mm Yes No No
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro $650 2.9 oz. 36 hours 42, 47, 51mm Yes Yes (storage) No
Garmin Forerunner 945 $600 1.8 oz. 36 hours 47mm Yes Yes (storage) No
COROS Pace 2 $200 1.2 oz. 30 hours 42mm Yes No No
Garmin vívoactive 4 $300 1.8 oz. 18 hours 40 (4S), 45mm Yes Yes (storage) Yes
Suunto 9 Peak $569 2.2 oz. 25/50 hours 43mm Yes No Yes
Garmin Instinct Solar $400 1.9 oz. 38 hours 45mm Yes Yes (control) No
Polar Grit X $430 2.3 oz. 40 hours 47mm Yes No Yes
Garmin Forerunner 55 $200 1.3 oz. 20 hours 42mm No Yes (control) No
COROS Vertix 2 $700 3.1 oz. 140 hours 50.3mm Yes Yes Yes
Polar Vantage V2 $500 1.8 oz. 40 hours 47mm Yes Yes (control) Yes
Suunto 5 $270 2.3 oz. 20/40 hours 46mm No No No
Garmin Enduro $800 2.5 oz. 80 hours 51mm Yes Yes (control) No
Casio G-Shock Move HR $399 3.6 oz. 14 hours 63mm Yes No No
Suunto 7 $399 2.5 oz. 12 hours 50mm Yes Yes (storage) Yes
Wahoo Elemnt Rival $380 1.9 oz. 24 hours 46.5mm Yes Yes (iOS only) No
Apple Watch Series 7 $399 1.1 oz. 7 hours 41, 45mm Yes Yes (storage) Yes
Timex Ironman R300 $129 1.5 oz. 20 hours 41mm No Yes (control) Yes

 

GPS Sports Watch Buying Advice


GPS Watch Features

Activity Tracking and Analysis
One of the primary and most sought-after features of a GPS watch is the ability to track and analyze your activities, whether you’re hiking, running, biking, swimming, skiing, and more. Within each mode, a watch will record your GPS track by collecting waypoints at a set interval (usually every second, or less in battery-saving modes), which translates into information such as distance, elevation, pace (current and elapsed), and cadence—and the list goes on. In most cases, you can view this information both during your activity (on your watch) or via an app on your phone once you’re finished.

As a general rule, entry-level watches like the COROS Pace 2 stick to the basics with fairly limited data points meant for sports like road running and cycling. Spending more gets you greater access to information for a wider range of activities (high-end designs like the Suunto 9 Peak have over 80 sport modes, including paddleboarding, golfing, and indoor climbing). And interestingly, accuracy is pretty similar across the board. For example, the budget Timex Ironman R300 is known to provide equally reliable GPS tracking data (like distance and pace) as a watch like the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, which costs more than five times as much.

GPS watch (Coros Pace 2 heart rate listing)
Checking heart rate during a bike ride with the COROS Pace 2

Along with tracking activities, many athletes use their GPS watch to collect body-related data to aid in training. A watch is a rather impressive tool in this regard—it’s able to synthesize data gathered by the optical heart rate monitor and pulse oximeter (usually only available in premium designs) and combine it with activity tracking stats to provide information such as training load, training effect, altitude acclimation, sleep quality, and more. These measurements will help you know how hard you worked, how much recovery time you need, and what to aim for during your next workout. Further, a good number of watches now feature training plans for a variety of sports, providing alerts and audio prompts based on your pace, heart rate, functional threshold power (biking), and more. The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro even provides animated pilates, yoga, cardio, and strength workouts on its high-resolution screen. If you want to use your GPS watch as a personal trainer, look for a high-end model that includes a pulse oximeter and prioritizes multisport features (Garmin watches excel here).

Maps and Navigation
Many (but not all) of the watches here include some navigational features. Like a standard GPS device, these watches allow you to upload and follow .gpx tracks (also known as breadcrumb navigation), pinpoint your location on a preloaded map or track, record your route in order to retrace your steps, and even view your surroundings. With the most basic navigation (such as on the COROS Apex), you’ll see a simple line with waypoint marker on an otherwise blank screen, while the most premium outdoor watches feature preloaded color topographic maps with detailed contour lines, geographic place names, and more. Models like the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro even include maps for over 2,000 ski resorts and 41,000 golf courses.

GPS watch (map detail on screen)
Garmin's Fenix 6 Pro offers an impressive array of mapping options

Most users will find their watches’ navigational features helpful for following a preset route or retracing their steps on a breadcrumb trail. Many watches use alerts to tell you when you’ve gotten off track (this is super helpful and limits how often you need to look at your watch), and you can also use the “back to start” feature to navigate back to your original starting point. More advanced users will appreciate the detailed topographic mapping of premium watches, which provides helpful insights into the terrain, including expected elevation change if you’re off-trail or considering a different route. If you plan to use your watch for complex backcountry navigation (i.e., in lieu of a GPS device or smartphone with mapping app), we recommend looking for premium mapping tech like that on the Fenix 6 Pro or Garmin Forerunner 945. If you commonly travel with another device or don’t intend to venture too far into the backcountry, you can get away with more basic navigational tools.

Navigating a route with the Garmin Forerunner 945 (ClimbPro)
Using the ClimbPro feature on the Garmin Forerunner 945

Weather Forecasting
In the past, one of the primary features of an outdoor watch (often referred to as an altimeter watch) was its ability to predict weather through changes in air pressure. This capability is still present in most modern smartwatches and uses the same age-old technology of a barometric altimeter. The COROS Vertix 2, for example, provides a weather forecast based on the most recent six hours of air pressure and includes a storm alert feature when it senses a drastic change. In addition to air pressure, many watches are able to measure ambient air temperature (we find this feature works best when you remove the watch from your wrist) and can determine sunrise and sunset based on your GPS location. If you’re headed to the mountains and want a watch with weather forecasting capabilities, make sure you select one with a barometric altimeter (most models here—but not all—have this feature).

Health Monitoring
With built-in heart rate monitors and pulse oximeters, modern GPS watches are able to provide users with a wealth of health data. By combining data from your workouts with stats like heart rate (active and resting) and blood oxygen saturation, you can have access to some very in-depth information, including respiration rate, sleep quality, energy and stress levels, recovery time, and more. The most premium watches can even track your hydration and offer insights for women regarding their menstrual cycles. Your watch’s app is integral to its health monitoring ecosystem, with helpful alerts, extra data points, and detailed graphs that allow you to track your stats over a given time frame. Garmin and Apple are clear leaders in this department (the newest Apple Watch even includes an electrocardiogram), while COROS’ offerings fall notably short—their interface lacks the synthesis we see from more premium brands, sticking to the basics like exercise time, steps, heart rate, and VO2 max.

GPS watch (trail running with the Coro Apex)
GPS watches are great tools for tracking health data and patterns over time

Smart Features
GPS watches are essentially miniature computers, and most can connect to your smartphone via bluetooth. This capability allows you to treat your watch like a mini phone, receiving texts, rejecting and responding to phone calls with an automatic text, purchasing goods via contactless pay, accessing your calendar, and more. One of the most sought-after smart features on a GPS watch is the ability to play or control music: some watches can store songs (the Garmin Forerunner 945 fits up to 1,000) so you can work out without your phone, while others allow you to control music playing from your phone. Many of today’s watches also have the option for virtual coaching or preloaded workouts (including yoga, pilates, and more). Watches from Garmin (and of course Apple) tend to excel in smart features, while COROS designs feature only the bare minimum (no music or contactless pay, for example).

GPS Watch (Garmin Vivoactive weather data)
Checking the weather forecast after syncing with a smartphone 

Clock Features
Lest we forget, a GPS watch does offer a host of clock features as well. In terms of telling time, GPS watches are fairly advanced as they’re able to connect with satellites in real time: you get GPS time sync (helpful when you’re out of service), automatic adjustment for daylight saving time, and the ability to determine sunrise and sunset. You’ll also find common features such as a timer (many have interval timers), stopwatch, alarm clock, and more.


GPS Watch Sensors

GPS and Multi-GNSS Support
Outdoor watches have undergone a massive evolution in the last decade or so, and the vast majority (and every model on our list) are now equipped with GPS. Built-in GPS allows a watch to determine your location at any moment in time, which has virtually endless applications in terms of activity tracking, navigation and mapping, data collection, and more. Whether you use your watch to log mileage and elevation gain, want to pinpoint your location on a map, or get from point A to point B, you’re putting GPS to work.

While every watch here connects to the United States’ 31 GPS satellites, many premium designs use additional networks as well, including Russia’s GLONASS, the European Union’s Galileo, and China’s BeiDou. The ability to connect to more satellites is often referred to as multi-GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) support and translates to better accuracy and availability. Most users can get away with standard GPS, but those traveling in remote areas or under heavy cover will appreciate the better connectivity of watches equipped with multi-GNSS.

GPS Watch (hiking with Garmin Fenix 6)
Increased satellite compatibility has improved accuracy even in dense forests

Barometric Altimeter and Compass
The majority of GPS watches also come with a built-in barometric altimeter and compass, commonly referred to as ABC (altimeter, barometer, and compass). The altimeter and barometer (working together, these are often referred to as the barometric altimeter) provide a measurement of air pressure, which is helpful both for predicting weather changes and providing accurate altitude information and ascent/descent data. A compass further aids in location accuracy and navigation and is especially helpful when you’re at rest or moving slowly (GPS struggles in these cases). Combined with GPS, a watch’s barometric altimeter and compass can piece together the most accurate data, and it’s something most performance-oriented users won’t want to go without—just make sure to calibrate these sensors every so often.

Pulse Oximeter and Heart Rate Monitor
Most watches have an optical heart rate monitor, and a number of premium designs also include a pulse oximeter (also known as a blood oxygen sensor). Optical heart rate monitors measure the speed of your blood flow (i.e., your pulse) by shining a light through your skin and provide a wealth of data regarding resting heart rate, fatigue and recovery, aerobic versus anaerobic state, and more. A pulse oximeter sensor, on the other hand, looks at the color of your blood to measure its oxygen saturation (SpO2) as a percentage—a healthy number is between 95 and 100 percent—which can be helpful for those with health issues or athletes pushing their limits in terms of cardio or altitude.

You can expect high-end watches to have the most accurate sensors, but the truth is that no watch-based pulse oximeter or heart rate monitor is entirely reliable. In fact, companies like Garmin and Apple clearly state that their sensors are not intended for medical use, as they can easily be thrown off by minor details like how tightly you wear your watch, where you place it along your wrist, or inconsistencies like hair or freckles (Suunto has a helpful guide on how to get the most accurate reading). If you have a particular need for accurate blood oxygen saturation or heart rate numbers, it’s a good idea to opt for a dedicated pulse oximeter (these generally attach to your finger) or chest strap instead.

GPS Watch (optical heart rate sensor)
The optical heart rate sensor on Garmin's vívoactive 4

Other Sensors
In addition to those mentioned above, there are a few other sensors to have on your radar. Most GPS watches will include an accelerometer and gyroscope, which help to measure speed, whether you’re moving forward or backward, your body’s orientation (upright, seated, lying down), step count, and more. Thermometers are also common and can measure both skin temperature (helpful for health data and menstrual cycle tracking) and ambient air temperature. And the list goes on, including skin conductance sensors, bioimpedance sensors, proximity sensors, brightness sensors, and more. In general, the more sensors on the watch, the more accurate your data will be. You can also purchase additional sensors separately, like the running-specific Stryd power meter or a bike cadence sensor, and pair them with your watch for even more data collection.
 

Power Source and Battery Life

Like a smartphone, most GPS-enabled watches rely on rechargeable lithium batteries. These batteries charge quickly (the Suunto 9 Peak refuels in just 1 hour), and their lifespan seems to improve with just about every new release. Using the Garmin Fenix as an example, the old 5X maxed out at 20 hours in GPS mode, while the latest 6 Pro has jumped to 36 hours. In addition, most watches offer various battery-saving modes: you can shut down sensors (such as GPS or the pulse oximeter) for a longer lifespan (up to 40-50 days for some watches) or use “expedition mode” to cut down on how often the watch tracks your location (keep in mind, this will affect recording accuracy). While not every user will prioritize battery life in their purchase, this is an important consideration for those logging long days (e.g. ultramarathoners) or tracking extended backcountry trips (the COROS Apex is one of the best performers).

Some GPS watches also come with built-in solar panels, which can go a long way towards keeping your watch running. Garmin’s Instinct Solar is one of our favorite models in this category, featuring a lifespan of up to 145 hours in GPS mode and 68 days in expedition mode. Of course, a watch’s ability to charge via the sun does depend on the intensity and duration of the rays, which makes a solar watch a great pick for sunny desert environments but not the best choice for socked-in mountain landscapes. But the good news is that you can always fall back on the lithium ion battery, which can be quickly and easily charged via a power bank in the field.

GPS Watch (charging Garmin with battery pack)
Charging on the go with a Goal Zero power bank

Materials and Durability 

We see a lot of variation in terms of the type of materials used to build a watch, including the lens, bezel, case, and strap. A watch’s materials have a number of implications, including fit and finish (how “premium” the watch feels), durability and water resistance, weight and size, price and more. In general, the most durable and high-end watches here will feature sapphire crystal or Gorilla Glass lenses, stainless steel, carbon, or titanium bezels (rugged watches like the Garmin Instinct might also feature a polymer bezel), and silicone straps. These watches are incredibly scratch- and shatter-resistant and can take a true beating, but you’ll pay for it with heavier and bulkier builds and big price tags.

On the other hand, mid-range and entry-level watches like the COROS Pace 2 feature standard mineral glass (or even polyamide) lenses and more plastic throughout. A watch’s materials are also a great way to determine what it’s made for: durable materials indicate a watch that will withstand the rigors of hiking, mountaineering, and climbing, while less durable (but potentially lighter) materials are best for activities like road running, cycling, and strength training.

GPS Watch (collecting water on trail run)
Spending more often gets you greater durability and water resistance

It’s also worth understanding your watch’s level of water resistance, which is directly tied to its standard of materials and construction. Most manufactures list an ATM rating for their products, which, in the case of the picks above, ranges from 5 to 10 and specifies how much water pressure a watch can withstand. A watch with a 5 ATM rating, for example, can handle pressure up to a depth of 50 meters, while a watch with a 10 ATM rating can handle pressure up to 100 meters in depth. Keep in mind that this number indicates pressure, not depth—for example, showering or certain swimming motions can replicate the amount of pressure you might experience 50 meters beneath the surface. If you plan to swim with your watch, we recommend a model with a rating of 10 ATM or above, and divers should opt for dive-specific models like the Garmin Descent. That said, for the standard user (including swimmers), any watch above is sufficiently water-resistant.


GPS Watch Size and Weight

Since you’ll be wearing it for extended periods, the physical size and heft of a GPS watch is an important consideration. Above, we provide details on each watch’s diameter and weight (including the strap), and manufacturers will often list the height of the watch as well. Many of the more rugged models here tend towards the bulky end of the spectrum, and designs like the Casio G-Shock Move HR GPS look and feel overly large on small- to average-sized wrists. Even sleeker designs like the Suunto 9 Peak and standard Garmin Fenix 6 Pro take up quite a bit of real estate and can be uncomfortable for active pursuits such as running, XC skiing, or swimming. The good news is that there are a number of trimmed-down models, including the 1-ounce COROS Pace (42mm) and the smaller Garmin Fenix 6S Pro (also 42mm). You do sacrifice a little screen size, durability, and often some battery life in going with the smaller and lighter variations, but the tradeoff in comfort will be well worth it for some.

GPS Watch (side by side size comparison)
Garmin's large Fenix 6 Pro (47mm) alongside the compact vívoactive 4S (40mm)

GPS Watch Displays

A GPS watch’s display is another important consideration. These range in terms of size and resolution, and you’ll find both monochrome and color versions in the list of picks above. For example, the premium Garmin Fenix 6 Pro has a 1.3-inch-diameter, 260 x 260-pixel-resolution color display, while the highly practical and rugged Instinct Solar has a 0.9-inch-diameter and 128-square-pixel monochrome display. On the far end of the spectrum are brilliant AMOLED displays, most common in the smartwatch world and epitomized by the clear and colorful Apple Watch. For the most part, you can expect the most high-end watches to include large, high-resolution, and colorful displays, which can be especially helpful if you’re doing a lot of wrist-based navigation and tracking or plan to look at your watch a lot throughout the day. If you use your watch simply to collect data to then assimilate on your phone or computer, you can get away with a smaller or lower-quality display.

GPS Watch (Suunto 9 screen)
Suunto's 9 series features a large, high-quality display

Buttons, Dials, and Touchscreens

Depending on the make and model, there are a variety of ways to toggle settings and switch between modes on a GPS watch, including side buttons and dials and even touchscreen functionality. Feature-rich designs like the Fenix 6 Pro have five buttons, while watches from COROS feature just two dials/buttons. In the end, the choice will come down to personal preference. For example, we love the simplicity of our COROS Apex, but Garmin devotees will likely want to stick with the Garmin userface, and there’s bound to be a learning curve no matter what you choose. For outdoor use, we tend to stay away from touchscreens, as water can interfere with this technology and make it hard to swipe precisely while in motion (buttons are much better for that). Plus, we like the versatility of being able to operate our watch with gloves on. That said, if you’re planning to use your watch for a lot of navigation or simply like the tech for daily use, the touchscreen capability can be nice.

GPS watch (Coros Apex elevation)
We appreciate the COROS Apex's simple, two-button layout

Smartphone Apps

One of the most used features of a GPS watch is not actually the watch itself, but its corresponding smartphone app. Here’s how it works: a user records their activity with their watch, uploads the data and track to their phone via bluetooth, and is then able to access easy-to-digest charts, maps, tracks, comparison tables, health details, and more on the phone’s screen. Apps can also be helpful during the activity, whether you’re wanting to share live tracks from the field or follow a prescribed workout. And the list goes on: you can export your data to your favorite training app (think Strava and TrainingPeaks), transfer music (via Spotify and Apple Music, for example), and even get motivated by suggestions and training plans smartly engineered based on your stats. 

Garmin has long been an industry leader in terms of app functionality and performed head and shoulders above the rest throughout our testing. First off, they have an entire app (Connect IQ) dedicated to customizing the watch, including downloading watch faces, tweaking settings, and syncing apps like Spotify and Trailforks. Their interface is also accessible both on your smartphone and via an internet browser on your desktop (COROS’ is limited to the app), which gives you even more versatility. And to add to their dominance, Garmin has successfully created an active online community, where you can follow friends, select challenges, and share your results. And a last note: before you buy, make sure your phone and watch are compatible. For example, Garmin watches can only be paired with phones that use an Apple or Android operating system.

GPS Watch (customizing watch face using phone app)
Customizing watch data fields using COROS' app

Memory and Storage

While not everyone will need to pay attention to storage and memory, these are important numbers if you’re looking to get a lot out of your watch. With more capacity, you can record multiple tracks between syncs, upload maps and tracks, and store hours of songs and podcasts. The Garmin Fenix 6, for example, comes with 32 gigabytes of memory that can handle up to 2,000 songs and thousands of maps and GPS routes. On the other hand, our COROS Apex has no music storage and can only store running data for a limited time before it must be transferred over to the app. But if you’re syncing your watch with your phone after each activity, it’s likely you don’t need to worry about storage.


Firmware Updates

As we see with smartphones, manufacturers will periodically roll out firmware updates for their watches. These updates can range from simple bug fixes to full revamps—for example, one of COROS' latest updates available for all of their models included features like a track run setting, more precise time metrics (up to 0.01 seconds), and new map layer options. We really love this part of GPS watch design, as it means that you can essentially stay up-to-date on the latest features without having to buy a new watch. To update your firmware, simply connect your watch to your phone’s app, and the download will start via bluetooth.


GPS Watch Accessories

GPS watches are incredibly capable devices, but if you’re serious about activity tracking, you’ll probably want to tack on an accessory or two during your workout. Chest heart rate monitors are one of the most popular external sensors—these provide more accurate data than even the highest-end optical heart rate monitor. Runners will also want to consider a footpod or power meter, which collect standard metrics like pace and distance, along with running dynamics like stride length, vertical oscillation, and ground contact time (and even fatigue and wind). If you plan to use additional sensors, it’s a good idea to confirm that a watch is compatible before purchasing (most are, with the exceptions of the Suunto 7 and Timex Ironman). Further, most watches can be used with accessories from other brands—for instance, Garmin designs pair easily with the Stryd footpod.
Back to Our Top GPS Watch Picks  Back to Our GPS Watch Comparison Table

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