Whether you’re a trail runner & cyclist, plus an occasional triathlete, an outdoor enthusiast and avid swimmer, or an indoor runner wanting to more accurately track pace and calories burned, there’s something for you when it comes to GPS Watches.
Below you’ll find quick descriptions of the top watches on the market, along with some of the many features, and some at-a-glance comparison points to make your decision easier.
Check out the infographics below for a quick glance at our categories and selection! (click for a larger version).
With increased interest in wearable devices, 2016 sees more Running GPS watches than ever. We decided to split the recommendations between recommended usage: for running, outdoor/hiking, fitness tracking, multisport and triathlon. For each category we tried to find the best options at different price points: from the budget to the high-end.
Top GPS watches for 2017
(click on the name of a watch for a more detailed overview)
Top GPS watches for running
This is our selection of the best watches if your main goal is to track your running. All the other watches in this overview track running among other things. These 3 focus on doing one thing and doing it to excellence.
- Budget: TomTom Spark 3
The Spark 3 is a remarkable GPS running watch that packs A LOT of features for $130. At the same entry price than many other competitors you get great GPS tracking capabilities and a swim-resistant watch that tracks swimming and running as well. A very hard to beat contender at this price.
- Mid-Range: Garmin Forerunner 230
The Forerunner 230 is the “Goldilocks” of running watches. Priced at a reasonable $249 – but easily found online for less – features lightning fast satellite-locking and useful information such as VO2 max estimation and smartphone notification. It does not have a wrist-based heart rate monitor so you’ll have to add a chest strap for that information. Or you can upgrade to the Garmin Forerunner 235, which adds the wrist sensor but comes in at $329.
- High-End: Garmin Forerunner 630
In our opinion, the absolute best running GPS watch you can buy in 2017 if running is your main use for it. Accurate and reliable, measures an incredible amount of data including cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time.
Best Activity Trackers for Running
An activity tracker is meant to be worn 24/7 (yes, even during sleep) to quantify all the aspects of your life. Including running.
- Garmin VivoActive HR
Priced as a mid-range GPS watch comes the VivoActive HR from Garmin. At this price you get a very solid GPS watch for running which includes wrist heart rate sensor. It’s swim-proof and can track cycling, swimming (indoors), skiing, golfing and of course your 24/7 activity, sleep included.
If you want a fitness tracker that you can also use to track your running in an accurate way, this is a great purchase.
Best GPS watches for Triathlon and multi-sport
These watches can be used to measure other activities such cycling and swimming, making them ideal for multisport athletes.
- Budget: TomTom Spark 3 Cardio
For less than $200 you can get the Spark 3 Cardio, which can easily be mounted on a bike, measures HR from the wrist and is swim-proof up to 50 meters. Similarly to it’s non-cardio counterpart, this value is extremely hard to beat.
- High-end: Garmin Forerunner 920XT
The FR 920 XT is our choice for serious tri-athletes. It combines the best running/cycling/swimming measurements with a competition oriented way of tracking. Long battery life means it will last you a full Ironman, even if it takes you a very long time!
Best GPS Watches for Hiking and Outdoors
A hiking watch should have features beyond those of an ordinary running watch. Features that every hiking watch should have are barometer, altimeter and compass.
- Suunto Ambit 3 Peak
Suunto has been doing Hiking watches since before it was cool. They absolutely know what they are doing and the Ambit 3 is a great watch. It tracks an incredible amount of activities and has extremely precise sensors. Long battery life, uploadable routes through waypoints…
Here is a more detailed overview of each model:
TomTom Spark 3
TomTom Spark 3 at a Glance
The Spark 3 is also known as Runner 3. They are the same watch but TomTom calls it differently depending on where they sell it (running specialty vs large distribution). It is our choice for budget running gps watch of 2017.
Favorite TomTom Spark 3 Features
Compared to the previous version, the Spark 3 has added many functions: there’s music playback via bluetooth (you can store 3GB of music on the watch itself so you can just run without your phone), there’s a route upload and finder option that will never get you lost and it does track cycling and swimming as well. It’s 50 meters waterproof.
How does the TomTom Spark 3 compare
Garmin Forerunner 230
Garmin Forerunner 230 at a Glance
The ForeRunner 230 is the update to the incredibly popular FR220. Changes to this version include the addition of Smart Notifications and more “activity tracking” abilities.
New addition aside, the 230 is a very good running GPS watch at a very competitive price.
Favorite Garmin Forerunner 230 Features
The display on the FR230 is big, bright and very readable. It is more than 40% larger than the 220, but still maintaining the same overall size. The watch looks nice for everyday wear too.
Improved battery life takes the GPS tracking watch on for more than 16 hours or up to 5 weeks in watch mode.
How does the Garmin Forerunner 230 compare
Its main competitors are its own “big sister” Forerunner 235 which adds wrist-based heart rate monitor and the Polar M600 – they are both extremely good watches but both significantly more expensive than the 230.
Garmin Forerunner 630
Garmin Forerunner 630 at a Glance
The Garmin 630 adds a series of “pro” measurements to your performance. On one side there are advanced dynamics metrics such as cadence, stride length, vertical obscillation etc. On the other side physiological metrics such as stress score and lactate threshold.
Favorite Garmin Forerunner 630 Features
We obviously like all the advanced metrics mentioned above. Knowing things like your stride length and cadence is invaluable for improving your efficiency.
We like the extended connectivity that allows this watch to communicate with a wide range of devices and apps.
How does the Garmin Forerunner 630 compare
Again, the main competition is the Polar V800. It has a similar set of functions and it includes wrist heart rate at the same price. It lacks many of the advanced metrics tracked by the Garmin, but it’s a very solid choice anyway.
Garmin VivoActive HR
Garmin VivoActive HR at a Glance
The VivoActive HR is a fitness tracker: meant to be worn all day it will track all your activities and thanks to the HR sensor will measure things like calorie expenditure quite accurately. Coming from Garmin, it has very reliable GPS tracking and even the GLONASS option.
Favorite Garmin VivoActive HR Features
We like that a $250 price point it provides many of the features of a mid-range running watch together with top of the line activity tracking for all your other activities. It’s waterproof and has a very long battery life.
How does the Garmin VivoActive HR compares
Main competitor for the VivoActive HR is the Fitbit Surge, our pick from last year. While the Surge keeps being a great choice – and it is cheaper – the Garmin has a few more functions and a more streamlined form.
TomTom Spark 3 Cardio
TomTom Spark 3 Cardio at a Glance
The Spark 3 Cardio is basically the same watch as the Spark 3 but with added wrist heart rate sensor. For less than $200 it will track your running, cycling and swimming. It’s (obviously) waterproof and can be easily mounted on a bike by swapping the band.
TomTom Spark 3 Cardio Features
What we like about this watch is the amount of features it includes in such a little price tag. There is route upload and tracking (never get lost again), there is music that you can stream to your bluetooth headsets, heart rate monitor…
How does the TomTom Spark 3 Cardio compares
None of the competitors at this price point will give you as many functions for tracking your multi-sport activities. The Garmin Forerunner 35 comes close – but will not track your indoor swimming (even though it’s waterproof, so you can take it with you in the water).
Garmin Forerunner 920XT
Garmin Forerunner 920XT at a Glance
The Forerunner 920XT is a seriously impressive running/multisport watch. It includes all of Garmin’s most advanced metrics measurement such as cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time. The list of features is extremely long.
Garmin Forerunner 920XT favorite features
First of all, we like the extremely long battery life. With up to 24 hours with GPS active, you can stay sure it won’t miss the last few miles of your Ironman race. We love that it measures both indoor and outdoor swimming (recognizing the stroke!). You can connect it to cadence, power, heart rate meters to get even more info. It also track racing itself, not as three different activities, but as one multi-sport race.
How does the Garmin Forerunner 920XT compares
There was one watch that we were seriously considering for this position, and it is the Forerunner 735XT. It has a more sleek look and it’s smaller and lighter. It has wrist base heart rate sensor and barometer for altitude. Why is the 920XT the winner then? For us it came down to the battery life. The 735XT has a claimed battery life (with GPS) of 14 hours and we can’t imagine somebody running out of juice at the end of an Ironman.
Suunto Ambit 3 Peak
Suunto Ambit 3 Peak at a Glance
The Ambit 3 Peak is the outdoors version of the Ambit 3 line at Suunto. It has been a staple choice of hikers for more than a year now.
Suunto Ambit 3 Peak favorite features
We like the completeness of measurements thanks to the included barometer, compass, thermometer and altimeter. The huge battery life together with Bluetooth integration to connect with your phone is also a very welcome update vs the previous version.
How does the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak compares
The Ambit 3 Peak’s main competitors are the Garmin Fenix3 and the recent Fenix5 (yes, there was not a Fenix4). While we think the Fenix5 is possibly a better watch than the Ambit, the Ambit can now be found online for significantly cheaper than the original recommended retail price making it a great choice.