Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

We live in a day and age where new, incredible technology comes out every year. GPS smartwatches have made amazing progress over the past few years and there are more good watches out there than ever before. This can be a blessing and a curse. Fortunately we are here to give you our expert, unbiased opinion and help you make the best choice!

Best GPS Running Watches: an Overview

[Click on the name of a watch to read a detailed description]

  • Best GPS Watch for Road Running: Garmin forerunner 245 music
  • Released in mid-2019 this is a beautiful, lightweight GPS watch with loads of great features and exceptional build quality. Garmin is a dominant GPS watch maker for a reason. At $349.99, it does everything you could possibly need for road running.

    Runner-up: Polar Vantage M

    Budget Pick: Garmin forerunner 45

  • Best GPS Watch for Triathlon: Garmin forerunner 945
  • Also released in mid-2019, this watch truly does it all: multisport switching, advanced fitness tracking, color maps, music and much much more. All with a record battery life. If you can afford it, this is the best watch out there, period.

    Runner-up: Polar Vantage V

    Budget Pick: Coros APEX

  • Best GPS Watch for Trail: Suunto 9 baro
  • This is a premium yet rugged watch that tracks about every athletic parameter and biometric you can imagine. We love its touchscreen and clear graphs as well as its robust, durable design. We think it’s the ideal GPS watch to come along on your trail and even ultra trail runs thanks to its beefy battery life.

    Runner-up: Garmin fenix 5X

    Budget Pick: Coros APEX

  • Best Sport Smartwatch: Apple Watch 4
  • We are covering this category for people who do not want to spend hundreds of dollar on something they will only use a few times a week. So if you want a smartwatch that you can wear everyday and that can also come with you on your runs, look no further than the Apple Watch Series 4. It has a GPS sensor and Apple has packed a whole lot of smart and useful features in a small, lightweight package.

    Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy Watch

    Budget Pick: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active

    Best GPS Watch for Road Running

    Top Pick: Garmin Forerunner 245 music

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

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    This is a great all-around GPS watch at a mid-range price. At 43mm wide and weighing 38.5 g, this GPS watch is impressively lightweight and yet it packs all the features you need in a road running watch and many more.

    It has a nice five-button design which is easy to operate in all weather conditions. It comes with a beautiful color display, a wrist-based heart rate sensor, and smartphone notification compatibility (both Android and iPhone).

    It can store up to 500 songs and can sync directly with music streaming services (like Spotify).

    The 245 has advanced training features and running dynamics for a detailed feedback on your runs. That’s in part thanks to all the sensors it comes with: such as a compass and a pulse oximeter to track you blood oxygen. This allows for much more in-depth heart rate analysis. For example, it can monitor your VO2 max and adjust your training accordingly.

    It is also compatible with Garmin Coach if you like free training plans and getting advice from Garmin’s expert coaches.

    It can track many more activities than running, including swimming (water rated 5 ATM).

    Garmin added a nice safety feature that automatically detects incident during your activities and sends your geolocation to up to three chosen emergency contacts. That means that if you crash and are unconscious, the watch is able to alert someone by itself. All you need is to pair it via Bluetooth with a smartphone with a data plan. This is essential for anyone who trains in the mountains for example. Additional safety measures include Assistance, LiveTrack and Live Event Sharing (so friends and family can follow you).

    One of the feature we love most is Body Battery™. It rates you energy reserves at any time during the day using a number from 0-100. It does so by tracking things like heart-rate variability (HRV) sleep, stress or physical activity.

    The battery life is quite impressive with up to 7 days in Smartwatch Mode, up to 24 hours in GPS mode without music and up to 6 hours in GPS mode with music.

    All in all it is an impressive watch packed with a ton of useful features and the perfect companion for a run. If you’re interested to learn more, we have a more in-depth review here.

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    Runner-up: Polar Vantage M

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

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    The Polar Vantage M is only our runner-up because while it has a similar price point to the 245 (if you exclude the music option), it does not include many of its smart features. However it still offers really great value for the money and a big battery life.

    However it offers very reliable GPS and heart rate measurements and advanced sports and performance tracking. For example, it can assess your training load, measure your sleep and estimate your VO2 max.

    It comes with GPS and GLONASS sensors. The “next-level” wrist heart rate sensor is the only one on the market that combines both optical sensor and bio-impedance technology, to overcome erratic readings caused by movement.

    It is compatible with multisports and even triathlon but it will mainly appeal to runners.

    So if performance tracking is all you are after, this watch might be perfect for you.

    You can read our detailed review of the Polar Vantage M here.

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    Budget Pick: Garmin Forerunner 45

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

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    At $199.99, the little sister of the 245 is an impressively well-rounded entry-level GPS smartwatch. It is a lightweight and packs all the basic features you need to track your running.

    It shares many of the core features of the 245: a similar easy-to-operate five-button design, all the great safety features (automatic incident detection and assistance), it supports GLONASS and Galileo on top of GPS, it’s compatible with Garmin Coach and it also displays the neat Body Battery™.

    Although it does not offer on-board music, you can pair it with your phone to control the music.

    The 45 offers a battery of up to 7 days in smartwatch mode and 13 hours in GPS mode. That’s the same battery life as its Forerunner 35 predecessor but while boasting a full-color display.

    As long as you are happy with everyday wellness/heart rate/stress tracking and basic training data, this watch has everything you need. It truly offer a very competitive quality/price ratio.

    If you’re interested to learn more, we have a more in-depth review of the Garmin Forerunner 45 here.

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    Best GPS Watch for Triathlon

    Top Pick: Garmin Forerunner 945

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

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    This GPS watch simply packs all of the best Garmin has to offer.

    It comes with all the classic features found in the 2019 Forerunner series: the nice five-button design, all the latest safety features (automatic incident detection and assistance), it supports GLONASS and Galileo on top of GPS, it’s compatible with Garmin Coach and it also displays the practical Body Battery™ indicator.

    It does a lot more on top of all that. It supports Garmin Pay on-board music withh up to 1000 songs. You can even sync music from select streaming services.

    But the real difference is with the extra sensors : it contains a barometric altimeter, a gyroscope and even a thermometer! This means that it has much more in-depth activity and fitness tracking. It monitors all sorts of performance factors such as VO2 max and training status, acclimation to heat and altitude, training load focus, recovery time, and aerobic and anaerobic training effects. It even supports ski and golf in its activity profiles.

    And all of this with a record battery life with up to 2 weeks in Smartwatch Mode, up to 36 hours in GPS mode without music, and up to 10 hours in GPS mode with music.

    What makes it truly ideal for triathletes is that you can switch between sports / activities with a single button press.

    Note that there is a bundle option for $749.99 where you get 1 extra black band, a HRM-Tri™ monitor and a HRM-Swim™ monitor. In this case the watch band is blue. Otherwise it is black.

    If you’re interested to learn more, we have a more in-depth review here.

    If you can afford it this is truly a top-of-the-line watch, maybe the best GPS watch out there.

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    Runner-up: Polar Vantage V

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

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    This is a premium multisport watch that is great for triathlon. We have already talked about the Polar Vantage M, so why should you spend an extra $200 for this high-end watch?

    First of all, it comes with a color touchscreen which allows for quick and convenient “tap gestures” during training.

    Like the Vantage M, it comes with a coach and a whole suite of tools to help you set up a training / recovery plan. But it is the first watch to offer running power right from the wrist. This allows you to tack the effectiveness of your training. It also supports orthostatic tests, which are an easy way to analyze your recovery from training and optimize your training plan.

    It also comes with the “next-generation” heart rate tracking technology, like the Polar Vantage M.

    It supports 130 different sports (from mountain biking to CrossFit), including running, cycling and swimming. It also has a barometer to track the altitude.

    Most importantly, it comes with a 40 hours battery life, versus 30 for the Vantage M.

    If you don’t need any of these advanced features, the the Polar Vantage M will be a fine triathlon watch for you. Otherwise, the Polar Vantage V truly offers a high-end experience.

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    Budget Pick: Coros Apex

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

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    The Coros Apex might be our Budget Pick but it offers all of the premium features for only $349.99. This watch boasts one of the best quality/price ratio on the market and truly a watch for any and all athletes. And it packs a massive battery!

    So first off, the impressive battery life: Up to 30 days in regular use and up to 35 hours in GPS Mode. It even comes with an UltraMax GPS Mode that gives you 100 hours of battery life!

    It has all the advanced sensors such as barometer, altimeter, and compass. It supports both GPS and GLONASS satellite. And of course it has a wrist-based heart rate monitor.

    It comes pre-loaded with breadcrumb trail maps. And it offers track and navigation feature

    The Coros Apex does a great job at tracking a lot of training and performance data. It can track interval, aerobic, and anaerobic training. It has an Intelligent Stride model that learns your running form. And it comes with the COROS Trainer for advanced training and performance analysis. And any other features such as VO2 max, recovery advisor, threshold pace, last-7 days training load, personal fitness index etc.

    What we also love is that for that you get premium materials: it has a titanium alloy bezel finish and sapphire glass.

    We told you, it has everything. So it might be our budget pick but it is not a budget watch and it might just be good enough for you.

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    Best GPS Watch for Trail

    Top Pick: Suunto 9 baro

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

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    This is a full-featured premium watch which supports multisport and over 80 different sports. Find out why we think it is the ideal trail running watch.

    The first characteristic that sets it apart is its touchscreen. It really makes it easier and quicker to use. Most of the time a few finger swipes will get you where you want, otherwise it also comes with 3 buttons. The screen is made of sapphire crystal glass and is nice and readable.

    It truly excels at tracking fitness. It can track the usual distance, time, pace, cadence, and heart rate with some beautiful graphs. But it tracks much more detailed data on your speed, performance, recovery, training load and more. It keeps track of time spent in each intensity zone and the total ascent and descent. A lot of powerful training and performance tracking features with some nice and useful graphs.

    It has the three most important sensors for trail: altimeter, barometer and compass (which has tilt compensation). It also has a thermometer and a pedometer. Interestingly, the watch uses both the barometric and the GPS sensors to calculate altitude

    The battery life is excellent with 14 days in regular mode and from 25 up to 120 hours in GPS mode (with the Ultra battery mode). They also build in “intelligent charge reminders” which are quite convenient.

    If you are looking for a rugged and feature-filled fitness tracker with plenty battery life to go on your long trail runs, look no further.

    Check it on Amazon

    Runner-up: Garmin Fenix 5X

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

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    Garmin’s Fenix 5X is a rugged multisport watch which supports a variety of outdoor activities. It touts a beautiful sapphire crystal display covering a fiber-reinforced polymer body with a stainless steel back. A truly premium design.

    It comes with a long list of sensors including barometric altimeter, gyroscope and compass, the most important ones for trail running. It also comes with multi-satellite support (GLONASS and Galileo on top of GPS). All of this allows for comprehensive navigation and tracking. There are several navigation features that make it convenient for runners to get all the info they need at a glance. And the maps are full-colored. We loved the back-to-start navigation feature.

    The battery life is really good with 12 days in smartwatch mode, up to 20 hours in GPS/HR mode, and up to 35 hours in UltraTrac™ mode.

    It comes with every single training, planning and analysis feature and metric you could think of to evaluate your training, training load, performance indicators. Some of the features are really convenient for trail runners: cadence, stride length, ground contact time and balance, vertical oscillation and vertical ratio.

    If you’re interested to learn more, we have a more in-depth review here.

    If you have the money, then this is one of the best outdoor tracker out there. Otherwise you might want to check out our Budget Pick.

    Check it on Amazon

    Budget Pick: Coros Apex

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

    We already selected this one for triathlon, but it is a multisport gem. It offers everything you need in a trail watch: breadcrumbs maps, a really long battery life and a barometric altimeter.

    Check it on Amazon

    Best Sport Smartwatch

    What if you don’t feel like spending hundreds of dollar on something you will only use a few times a week? Then maybe you just want a smartwatch that you can wear everyday and that can also come with you on your runs or any other activity you have in mind. Well, we have some great options for you too!

    Top Pick: Apple Watch Series 4

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

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    There is no doubt about, the Apple Watch Series 4 is one of the best smartwatch out there. And it is a solid fitness tracker. We were impressed by how reliable it is.

    It comes with a GPS sensor and Apple has packed a whole lot of smart and useful features in a small, lightweight package.

    It tracks a nice amount of health and fitness data which is all conveniently centralized in the beautiful iPhone Health app. It monitors stress, calories burned, heart rate and more. It alerts you if it detects something of concern with your heart rate. Other safety features include fall detection and Emergency SOS. It automatically detects workouts which is nice.

    It also tracks cadence and rolling mile pace (your current mile pace) and can send you pace alerts. We like that last one a lot: the watch will vibrate to let you know when you’re behind or ahead of your set pace.

    It is water resistant to 50 meters and can track 15+ sports including swimming and yoga.

    And you can stream music or even podcasts right from Apple Music to make your runs less boring. Speaking of which, there’s a cool little feature called Activity Competitions, with which you can challenge your friends to beat your activity level over 7 days. It’s a pretty cool way to get motivated (or injured?).

    Note that there is a version called Apple Watch Nike+ targeted specifically at runners. But even the regular version is a solid, all-around sports watch.

    If you already have an iPhone or are comfortable with Apple products, there is no reason to look further, this watch will serve you well. It really is a solid option for all runners.

    Check it on Amazon

    Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy Watch

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

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    The only watch that comes close to Apple in terms of build quality, features and reliability is the Samsung Galaxy Watch. In recent years, Samsung has almost caught with Apple when it comes to features, OS and build quality.

    Samsung claim that it has military-grade durability. It has a scratch-proof Gorilla Glass display and water resistance for swimming.

    In terms of sport sensors it has an optical heart rate monitor, accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer and built-in GPS. Which means that the Samsung Galaxy Watch has many health and fitness features and has nothing to be jealous of the Apple Watch. It can track calories, steps, distance, floors climbed, how much activity you get in a day, VO2 Max and much more. The Samsung Health app is nice and uncomplicated and offers things such as z sleep tracker, stress tracker, breathing guidance, and calorie management.

    In total it can track 39 different workouts and exercises (21 are indoor specific).

    The battery life is much better than the Apple Watch, ranging from 3 to 7 days, depending on the size you get. Which is very impressive when you consider that it has an always-on display and LTE, which allows you to call, text and stream music while out for a run.

    Whether you are not an Apple boy or are looking for a great alternative, the Samsung Galaxy Watch is a solid choice both as a smartwatch and everyday fitness tracker.

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    Budget Pick: Samsung Galaxy Watch active

    Best GPS Running Watch: for Road, Trail Running, Triathlon

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    This watch is replacing the Gear Sport. It is $100 cheaper than the regular Samsung Galaxy and well worth taking a look at. A lot of the money is saved on the design, which looks less premium but sportier. Also the bezel has been replaced by two buttons.

    For $199 is has all of the same sensors and advanced fitness tracking features. The battery though is smaller and you will only get around 2 days worth.

    So the battery life is the main downside. But if you’re looking for a budget fitness tracker, then the Galaxy Watch Active is the way to go.

    Check it on Amazon

    Conclusion

    These were all the best GPS watches out there so hopefully our guide helped you find the right watch for you. Leave us a comment if you have questions, happy running!





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