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, 2018 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 2018
(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: Garmin Forerunner 35
There are cheaper GPS watches out there, but for slightly more than $150 the Forerunner 35 has all you need to track your runs, have useful information during the run itself and includes wrist-based heart rate monitor.
- Mid-Range: Polar M600
The Polar M600 is an Android-Wear based smartwatch with GPS, wrist heart rate monitor and a full range of functionality for more advanced runners. We like the Polar Flow software ecosystem and especially the capability to upload to your watch training programs, either your own or the ones created by Polar.
- High-End: Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
The FR 645 (music) replaces the previous FR630 and it’s currently our choice for best running GPS watch. The music is a nice addition requested by many – but music aside, the FR645 provides runners with some of the most complete information about their runs. Still priced less than $500 it’s still not excessively expensive for all it has to offer.
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 3 Music
Priced as a mid-range GPS watch comes the VivoActive 3 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 935
The FR 935 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.
- Garmin Fenix 5
The Fenix 5 is an impressive outdoor watch that looks classy but packs a lot of features. Everything you get from a 935 with the addition of compass, altimeter, barometer… You can preload maps and routes on it as well.
Here is a more detailed overview of each model:
Garmin Forerunner FR35
Garmin Forerunner FR35 at a Glance
The FR35 wins our prize for no-nonsense, accurate and reliable GPS running watch for a little price.
Favorite Garmin Forerunner FR35 Features
We like how versatile this watch is and how much it offers for the price. There are no particular bells and whistles but that’s not what you are looking for at this price point.
It doesn’t have advanced capabilities such as cadence, or VO2 max and so on, but if you want a watch to reliably track your runs, together with the associated heart rate measurings – this is a great choice.
How does the Garmin Forerunner FR35 compare
The Garmin Forerunner FR35 main competitors are the TomTom Spark 3 Cardio and the Polar M430. Both watches are a good alternatives but cost just a tad more.
Polar M600 at a Glance
The Polar M600 is an Android-Wear smartwatch with a complete running/sport ecosystem built in by Polar. For a very interesting price you get a smartwatch where running is a primary function and not an afterthought.
Favorite Polar M600 Features
I have been running with the Polar M600 for a little over a year and it’s a very trusty companion. It works as an everyday watch even though it’s on the ugly-bulky side and it integrates with the Polar Flow ecosystem which is one of my favorite softwares.
In terms of favorite features, it has to be the ability to upload my own training programs. You just schedule (even weeks in advance) what training you want to do, be it based on time, heart rate or speed and the watch guides you through them. Telling you when to slow down when to speed up etc.
How does the Polar M600 compare
Its main competitors is the Garmin VivoActive 3 Music which is possibly better as a smartwatch, but with less running functions.
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music at a Glance
The FR645 Music comes as a replacement for the very successful 630 and with a price that makes it extremely interesting for runners interested in detailed feedback about their workouts.
Favorite Garmin Forerunner 645 Music Features
The obvious new feature is the addition of music, so that you can run listening to music without having to take your phone with you.
It has all the advanced features that more experience runners want to see such as cadence, running dynamics, predicted race time… Without entering the “ridicolously expensive” category, it’s possibly the best GPS running watch you can buy this year.
How does the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music compare
It competes with the VivoActive 3 Music from the same brand. This last one is much cheaper – it has similar basic functions but the running data is not as complete.
Garmin VivoActive 3 Music
Garmin VivoActive 3 Music at a Glance
The VivoActive 3 Music 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 3 Music 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. It basically replaces the Forerunner 235 of last year, adding music storage to it. It lacks the more advanced tracking features of the 645 and 935, but it’s also almost half the price.
How does the Garmin VivoActive 3 Music compares
Main competitor for the Garmin VivoActive 3 Music is the Fitbit Ionic. The Ionic is a great alternative, just a few dollars more expensive than the Vivoactive 3.
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 935
Garmin Forerunner 935 at a Glance
The Forerunner 935 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 935 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 935 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.
Garmin Fenix 5
Garmin Fenix 5 at a Glance
The Fenix 5 is everything the Garmin FR935 is, plus adventure specific sensors.
Garmin Fenix 5 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 Garmin Fenix 5 compares
Suunto Ambit Peak range is this watch’s main competitor.
Don’t forget to check out our selection of the best running shoes, constantly updated.