The 10 Best GPS Running Watches
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Running is an exercise that everyone should partake in it. It improves your physical and mental well-being. And while many people have been adopting the running lifestyle, a lot of times, they are not properly equipped.
You might be wondering: what more do I need besides some music? For serious runners that want to improve their performance, the basics of proper running sport are having a good watch. This is particularly true if you want to see how far you’ve run that day and/or how fast your pace of running is.
Quick Look at Our Top Picks for Best Rated GPS Running Watches
- Best Overall: Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR Running GPS Unit
- Best Gps Running Watch Under $200: Garmin Forerunner 010-03717-54
- Best Ladies Gps Running Watch: Garmin Forerunner 235 – Frost Blue
- Best Beginner Gps Running Watch: Garmin vívoactive 3 GPS Smart watch
- Best Gps Watch For Ultra Running: Polar M400 GPS Smart Sports Watch
- Best Gps Running Watch With Music: Garmin Forerunner 35 Watch
- Best For Marathon Training: TomTom Runner GPS Watch
- Best Waterproof Gps Running Watch: Garmin Forerunner 15 Large
- Best Cheap Gps Running Watch: LAD WEATHER German Sensor Digital Compass Sport Watch
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To find a reliable and functioning GPS running watch is not easy especially when there are so many flooding the market. To have a smooth and uninterrupted run you need a watch that can keep track of your workouts. You also need something that can help you improve your training. Therefore, to help, we provide a list of the best GPS running watches down below.
Key Considerations When Buying GPS Running Watch
When it comes to going out for a run and equipping yourself with a GPS running watch, you should always that your device has all the necessary qualities that make it a good watch. Look at the following factors to when buying a GPS running watch
- Reliable GPS – Considering a GPS running watch’s main purpose is to track your running distance and speed, ensure that the watch does exactly that well. Settling for a cheap GPS watch that does not track properly or gives you a lack of in-depth information is not worth having. The point of wearing this kind of watch is to track your performance and see how you can improve. Without the right data, it ruins the entire purpose of getting a watch like that.
- Built-In GPS – Do not be mistaken by just any watch labeled ‘GPS running watch.’ This could refer to running watches that are linked with your smartphone. While it may seem convenient, it means you have to rely on bringing your phone with you, and that in itself might weigh you down. Instead, make sure to find a GPS running watch that has built-in GPS.
- Accelerometer – If you are somebody who runs a lot indoors on treadmills and wants to make sure the GPS tracking data is smoothened out, consider an accelerometer. This helps to measure how much you accelerate. Any watch that has this built in will help even out any gaps in the data. The whole purpose of this is to monitor the movement of the feet and see how many steps you take while running.
- Time Display – This feature might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised just how many people forget about the original function of all these smart devices. A GPS running watch is a watch after all, which means that it should have a clear, time display. Time is, in the end, the most important factor to consider when running.
- Durability – The material your watch is made with should be durable. You will be active for most of the time you wear this watch, running up and down, possibly even hiking. Therefore, this watch should be able to endure even the harshest conditions, since a GPS running watch is supposed to be for fitness purposes.
- Battery life – Who wants a watch that will die out quickly? Even if the watch was analog, the last thing you want is a non-working watch. Thus, make sure to clarify that the item you are buying has a long battery life. Some watches claim to go on for hours, but that is only at idle use. If you are regularly using the GPS and other additional functions, consider whether or not this may drain your battery life.
- Comfort – Since you will be running from place to place with this watch strapped on your wrist, it is important for it to be comfortable. Do not get a watch that causes rashes or rubs against your skin in the wrong way. Some people do not respond to rubber easily, and there are a lot of great jogging watches that are made of this material. So, make sure you aren’t one of those people. Also, make sure that the watch is comfortable to wear during hot sunny days, since the heat may make wearing some watches extremely uncomfortable.
- Lightweight – Wearing something that is lightweight is a given. The heavier the watch, regardless of how heavy duty its functionality is, make it a bad GPS running watch to wear. The lighter it is, the more comfortable, and the less burden it will be when running those long distances.
- Heart Rate Monitor – Although it is possible that some watches don’t have this, most running watches, in general, have heart rate monitors. This helps to enhance your training session by giving you deeper insight into controlling how fast or slow you run. While some may argue it is not the most important feature to have for a GPS running watch, we do recommend considering this as a factor to a great watch.
- Foot Pod – Some watches come together with an inertial foot pod. This small device is something you place on your shoes and helps to measure the speed, distance traveled, pace, and other important factors of running. Pairing these together help to give a greater scope of your running performance.
- Price – As always, with any product you purchase, you need to consider at what cost you are willing to buy it for. Depending on your spending budget, the price will always be an important factor to consider. Obviously, higher-end products with a brand name will be more expensive, but the question is whether they have all the necessary capabilities you need. However, on the other hand, purchasing something too cheap may result in a lack of durability and quality.
Additional Features to Consider
If money is not your main concern and you can shell out an extra few hundred bucks on getting the top GPS running watches, there are plenty of additional features to consider. While they aren’t necessary for your run, they do provide an extra layer of convenience.
- Running Dynamics – A few watches that are a bit on the higher end offer information on different aspects of running dynamics. What this means is you can get real-time feedback on the cadence of your run, vertical oscillation, and just how frequently your feet hit the floor in a single minute. All of this might seem a bit unnecessary but knowing how to gain insight from such data can definitely help to improve your running form, thereby making you a better runner.
- Music – A very convenient option that a lot of top GPS running watches offer is the ability to play music. Often times, you can connect to Spotify or possibly upload songs through USB. From there, it will link up with your headphones through Bluetooth and offer the ability to listen to music as well. This is extremely convenient since many people love to listen while running. Also, you don’t need to carry your phone.
- Post-Run Advice – There are watches these days that offer advice on what to do after your run on the screen. It will recommend how long you should rest before choosing to depart for another long run. This is more for serious runners since it helps you to get the optimum amount of rest from a single break.
- Third Party Apps – While a lot of companies in this industry offer their own applications and software, some high-end watches allow the runner the ability to connect to these apps. There are some brands that allow you to sync with apps from Strava, Garmin, and TomTom.
- Interval Sessions – Some running watches allow you to create your own customized interval sessions. This helps to build your fitness according to your own plan, which combines elements of pacing, distance, heart-rate, and duration all into one.
- Virtual Runner – This is an interesting feature that includes a competitive or virtual runner inside the watch. It helps you to push yourself more since you are technically up against another ‘competitor.’
- Online Interactivity – This option provides runner’s the ability to upload and share their running data onto the web. By doing so, you can compare and contrast how your performance matches up with people of similar age, weight, height, etc. It is a great way to be part of the community.
- Compass – Just in case you might get lost, this function will be quite useful. Most smartphones have this application, which a lot of people are unaware of.
Things to Consider When Running
No matter how much you want to buy the top watch out there, you need to first reflect on a few things before buying anything. The answers will determine what kind of watch you should buy, how expensive it should be, and what features you really need. Before starting, consider the following things:
- Type of Runner – What type of runner are you? This is very important since this will determine what apps you need. If you are an occasional runner that does not go extreme, you do not need anything too flashy or with crazy functionality. Something simple below the $100 USD range will suffice. However, if you are running for fitness, and aim to improve your performance, something in the mid-range price that includes heart-rate monitoring and cadence feedback may be more useful.
- Purpose – What are your goals for running? This question is important in understanding just exactly what type of runner you aim to become. If you are trying to lose a lot of weight versus competing in a marathon are two different purposes. Sure, they involve the same exercise, but in the end, the type of motivation you need is different. Marathon runners require more functions in their watch because they need to go in-depth with their tracking.
- Location – Where are you running most frequently? If you are running inside or on the sidewalk, that will affect your tracking differently than if you are running in the mountains, hiking trails, etc. As we mentioned above from the studies performed, GPS tracking is greatly affected by the conditions of the terrain.
Are GPS Running Watches Really Worth It?
In the end, there are some people that argue that GPS running watches are not that effective and have a lot of limitations. A few people in this group claim that GPS technology is only good for long distances, but for short interval exercises are actually worthless. One of the main people in this study is a man named Jonathan Rawstorn of University of Aukland.
The Rawstorn Study
In the study, Rawstorn tested a group of soccer players. He told them to perform a loop of jogging, walking and sprinting, all in an interval style. The players were told to cover 8 miles and the tracking would cover the intervals within this distance. The whole point of the study was to see how well the watches would detect the distance and pace for each interval of the jog.
Throughout the test, the loops repeated over a 200m distance. Consequently, the watches ended up overestimating the result of the distance that was covered by almost 3%. They discovered this was not very relevant if you were on a run, but important to consider when performing a race or competitive workout.
The Garmin & Polar Watch Study
Furthermore, there was another study testing out the most famous GPS running watch brands of Garmin and Polar. The study focused on covering 6000 miles distance while tracking roughly 2,500 data points. While the study was mainly centered on comparing which watch was the best for tracking GPS, it also helped to give a better idea on whether or not GPS running watches are actually reliable.
In addition, the study found that the watches were effective when covering smooth trails in good conditions. Yet, when running on rocky or uneven terrain, the accuracy of the GPS had decreased. They discovered the only time the GPS was close to being accurate in tracking pace and distance were the ones that were paired with a foot pod.
From these two studies, people conclude that GPS running watches or foot pods may not be the most accurate as a lot of the companies claim. However, this does not mean that you should not use them. As far as what is currently out there, although they do fall in accuracy depending on the conditions and terrain, they are the best method of tracking your running performance, pace, etc.
Overall, whether you are running, hiking, swimming, cycling, jogging etc. you need a good GPS watch to help you train and stay healthy and fit. Getting the right watch can be stressful. However, with the right information, your workouts can be enjoyable and hustle free.