One of the most significant recent advancements in the world of high tech sports watches is the GPS Watch. With GPS technology becoming far more common in the consumer market, companies have been quick to add the technology to their repertoire. The result. A wide range of exciting new GPS Watches for the athlete to choose from.

A modern sports watch distance tracker that utilizes the power of GPS, is a tool that can be utilized in a variety of different sports and outdoor activities, especially those where tracking motion is of some benefit to the wearer. Knowing one’s instantaneous speed, pace can be extremely advantageous to know in a sport like running or cycling where speed is of the essence as can knowing the overall distance you have covered in the course of a workout and GPS running watches tell you just that.

But the benefits of GPS are not only useful as a GPS watch running tool with a view to better performance. GPS can be extremely beneficial as a navigation tool, or for the tracking of one’s exercise and fitness level.

Keeping fit is a modern day dilema. More and more people are seeking ways to improve the quality of their health and physical condition. Thanks to modern luxuries, it has become much easier live a comfortable lifestyle. But the downside of this is that we tend to exercise less and consume more food. Running can be a fun and cheap way to improve and maintain ones level of fitness or to lose weight. Many gps sport watches offer features to accurately track your total exercise. More importantly perhaps is the number of calories burned in a training session which is also something a top rated gps sport watch has to offer.

On the other hand you may be an outdoors type who is fit already. You regularly go hiking across the countryside and need a navigation tool to ensure you do not get lost while out in the wilderness in unknown countryside. The GPS wrist watch routes concept that can be as handy for hiking as it is running. Essentially a GPS watch can hold an entire route in memory, letting you know if you are on a known course or have deviated. There is a big market for adventure watch GPS systems, not just running watch GPS for endurance and fitness enthusiast.

No matter what your purposes. If you are undertaking a sport or activity that involves moving from point A to point B, then the gps sports watch best suited to your chosen activity can assist you in your pursuit.

The GPS or Global Positioning System network is a constellation of between 24 and 32 satellites that transmit precise microwave signals, allowing GPS receivers to measure their current location, the exact time and velocity. The GPS network became fully operational in 1993 and can be used freely by civilians for navigation purposes.

The availability of GPS has sparked a flood of mobile consumer GPS devices including hand held devices, mobile phones and in recently GPS wristwatch systems that have primarily been seen in some innovative new sports watches for runners that are now “GPS aware”.

The benefits of sport watches with GPS is that one does not have to carry bulky unit around, the disadvantage is a small screen size allows limited mapping and navigation information, however a sport watches GPS can present speed, pace, distance and elevation making it ideal for sports like running, cycling, skiing and rowing.

Sport watches GPS systems tend to fall into two distinct categories in functionality (with some crossover in between). GPS running watch and GPS navigation watches, however there is a strong bias towards running sportswatch gps systems in the market with runners and triathletes the two largest target markets.

How Accurate Is GPS Running? GPS Watches and Accuracy

If you were to ask the Government or manufacturers of sport watch GPS receivers, you would be told to expect accuracy to with 15 meters (49 feet). In practice with corrected location data, actual GPS readings has been measured to within 1 meter laterally and 1.5 meters vertically.

When considering the accuracy of a gps sport watch for running (or whatever sport it is you do), the chipset is important. Most modern watches now use the SirFStarIII chipset or an equivalent, but older watches like the Forerunners 101, 201 and 301 and the Suunto X9/i and X9M/i use older receivers. Needless to say Garmin GPS watch accuracy in these older models is inferior. These older units take much longer to pick up a signal and will lose it more easily than newer models (like the Suunto x10 gps watch + running features) and Forerunner 405CX .

The following article talks in greater depth about GPS watch accuracy.

Running Watches With GPS

Running GPS watches provide you with precise measurements of speed and distance in addition to the watch’s general running features. In a sense, GPS technology and running are perfectly suited to each other, as even prior to the invention of the GPS runners watch, many runners would track their runs and record them in their running diaries in an attempt to figure ouut how many kilomters they had run in a given week, or month, etc. Now with a running GPS stop watch fitted watch, this is all taken care of automatically.

A good Runners Watches + GPS system now offers a serious running a wide host of features such as:
Interval Timers and Session History Logging.

Examples of what a running gps watch can offer include:

  • Real time speed measurement in kilometers per hour or miles per hour
  • Real time pace measurement in minutes per kilometer or minutes per mile
  • Elevation gains or losses
  • Overall distance travelled
  • Distance based alerts
  • Distance based lap splits
  • Auto-correcting time based on split-second, precise GPS time readings
  • Altitude ascent rate
  • Altitude descent rate
  • Altitude/Elevation alarm
Leading Watch Manufacturer: Garmin are the world’s leading manufactuer of GPS watches for runners.Watches For All Levels: Garmin have created watches for sophisticated runners as well as the average participant who wants something simple.Best All-In-One GPS Watch: The diverse range of features offered in Garmin’s watches, make them the number one choice if you are looking for the absolute best features in an all-in-one GPS watch.

Garmin GPS Watches

Garmin have aggresively pushed their GPS technology used in their mainstream GPS devices into running fitness watches and have arguably come up with the best GPS watch for running on the market… The Garmin Forerunner. The Forerunner is heralded by runners worldwide as the best GPS running watch and we of think for good reason. While other sports watch makers added GPS to their existing sports watches, almost as an after-thought, the Garmin Forerunner watch has been purposely designed as specialist GPS Watch first and foremost. While each GPS timepiece has something unique to offer, we think that if you’re looking for the absolute best GPS sports running watch, with just about every major feature runners commonly need, you could do worse than to use the Garmin Forerunner watch line is a starting point. Is it the best GPS watch running timepiece around? You can decide this for yourself, however we highly recommend looking into a Garmin GPS watch for runners if you are shopping for a good quality GPS running watch.

Merges Classic Features With Modern GPS Technology: Timex do not simply offer you great sports watch features, when you invest in Timex Ironman you are investing in a proven sporting icon.Simple, Easy-To-Use, Great Sports Features: Timex is noted for delivering the features that runners need. With millions spent on R&D, Timex have consistenly answered the call made by athletes and sports participants all over the world.Why Buy A Timex GPS Watch?: Buy a Timex Ironman GPS watch, if you enjoy the classic sports watch features offered by Timex and a watch with an intuitive interface and lower learning curve than a Garmin.

Timex GPS Watches

and Timex Speed + Distance Watches

While Timex do not make the absolute best runner watch with GPS, they have added some very competitive additions to their GPS sports watch line with the recent additions of the Timex Ironman Global Trainer watch and more recently the Timex Ironman Run Trainer. These watches blend the classic sports watch features of the Timex Ironman with the modern-day power of GPS technology.

Advanced Sports Science Technology: Suunto offer you some advanced sports features such as Training Effect and EPOC (Suunto t6c and t6d watches only). Choose Suunto for features that are found in no other sports watches.
External GPS Device or Foot Pod Option: In Suunto watches you can measure speed and distance with an external GPS device that clips onto your body, or a foot pod device that you mount in your laces. On the other hand, the lack of a GPS aerial in the wristwatch makes for a smaller, lighter and more comfortable wear.
Why Buy A Suunto GPS Watch?: Suunto have a unique array of features. All training series watches (except the t1c and t1d) offer Training Effect and the t4c and t4d watches provide you with personalized coaching to keep you on track to meet your goals. The Suunto t6c and t6d combines the best of all the training series watches along with a few extras.

Suunto GPS Watches

Suunto sports watches offer outdoor GPS watch systems as well as GPS tracking as part of their Suunto Watch Pace and Speed capable fitness line, the Suunto Training Series Watches. These watches have fitness features that are exclusive to Suunto such as measurement of EPOC and training effect. The GPS of these watches requires an external GPS pod, rather than an all-in-one watch like the Forerunner. 

Premium Heart Rate Monitor Technology: Polar are noted as the maker of the first heart rate monitor chest strap. Polar watches offer a wide range of sophisticated sporting instruments for serious runners and general participants alike.Sophisticated Features With Multiple GPS Options: Polar’s GPS products are broken into two broad categories, running watches that are exclusively dedicated to competitive runners (Polar has good cycling watches too) and a sophisticated fitness line that can coach you to your goals, both on a daily basis and also weekly and monthly.Why Buy a Polar GPS Watch?: Polar provide speed and distance technology in their G1, G3 and G5 GPS sensors (all external devices), each with varying abilities. Polar is a good choice if you like the other features that the company offers and can live without an all-in-one GPS watch.

Polar GPS Watches

Garmin v Polar GPS running watch Systems: Most Polar GPS watch systems are from Polar’s “Running Watch” RS series. These take the best running features Polar has developed over the years and enhance them with a GPS unit. In other words a Polar GPS Running Watch is less a conventional “GPS watch for runners”, than a running watch with GPS added. Still, Polar’s watches are great time and distance watches, but do not handle navigation and courses/routes as well as a Garmin Forerunner watch which is probably the best GPS watch for runners available.

Versatile Fitness and Navigation Watch: The Tech40 Discover watch, is a versatile blend of navigation and fitness features. It comes with a 2.4 GHz chest strap for measuring heart rate and USB connector for data transfer to PC. Unlike most other sports GPS watches, the Discover watch can store 10 paths and 99 waypoints, with 3 navigation modes: “Waypoint”, “Forward” and “Backwards”. The watch also has a digital compass making it great for hiking in the outdoors as well as for general fitness or performance training.Why Choose the Tech4O Discover?: The Tech4O Discover watch is similarly priced to the Garmin 110 and 210 and the Timex Run Trainer watch, but has better navigation features, making it a smart choice if you frequently travel to unfamiliar territory as well as measure speed and distance for improving fitness and performance.

Tech4O GPS Watches

Tech4O are noted for their accelerometer step counters that are more accurate than traditional pendulum pedometers, but the company has made a recent contribution with their Tech4O Discover GPS watch, a mid-range GPS watch that is on par with the Garmin Forerunner 110 and 210 and the Timex Run Trainer GPS watch. The Discover GPS watch offers basic speed, distance and navigation features, heart rate monitoring, route mapping as well as PC uplink and analysis software. The Discover GPS watch is currently offered for $199 making it competitively priced with the Forerunner 110/210 and Timex Run Trainer watches.

The Legacy of The Casio GPS Outdoors Sports Watch

The Casio watch maker introduced the world’s first sports wrist watch with in-built GPS back in 1999. The Casio GPS watch has now been discontinued, but may still be obtainable on the second-hand market. The early watch was bulky, like many older style GPS watches, but was a one-piece system, and so offered the wearer the advantage of not having to attach an external device to their body like.

Benefits Of GPS Watch For Runner

Runners Watches with GPS are the most commmon type of sports watches that use GPS technology and the Garmin company have captured this market with their Forerunner line, arguably the best GPS watch for running you can get.

Time and distance watches provide a number of benefits to athletes in terms of the data that can be viewed while working out, the saving of statistics for future analysis and as well as recording and tracking of route information and other data. Running watches for speed and distance tracking have numerous benefits as you will see below, so by using a GPS while running, there are countless advantages to be gained.

Speed and PaceA GPS watch has the ability to measure instantaneous speed or pace. More
DistanceBy linking to GPS satellites, a GPS watch can calculate your distance run. More
AltitudeA GPS watch can even calculate your height above sea-level and ascent/descent rate. More
Auto Pause/ResumeMany GPS watches have the ability to stop and start the stopwatch when you do. More
Auto LapA great feature for athletes is the ability to record laps based on the distance you run. More
Lap Speed/Lap Pace/Lap DistanceOnce a lap is recorded, a GPS watch can display your average lap speed and pace and distance if a time-based lap. More
Virtual CompetitorGarmin Forerunners have two unique tools, Virtual Partner® and Virtual Racer™ that allow you to compete against a pre-set time or recorded performance. More
CoursesAnother Forerunner feature that can assist your training is the ability to create a course based on a previously recorded activity. This is superceded by Virtual Racer™ in the Forerunner 610. More
Customized WorkoutsGPS watches like the Garmin Forerunner allow you to create flexible, customized, structured workouts. More
Speed/Pace/Distance AlarmsMost advanced GPS watches can be programmed to sound an alarm when you fall outside a speed or pace zone or when you have covered a pre-set distance. More
Navigate Back-To-StartSome GPS watches can guide you back to your starting location. More
RoutesSome GPS watches allow you to store, record and follow routes, a collection of ordered waypoints in memory. More

Speed and Pace

One of the most powerful and most used features of a GPS watch for running is its ability to measure instantaneous speed or pace.

This information is very useful to runners who are striving to achieve a personal best time in a competitive event, or pushing for a fast time in a time trial, or just trying not to push too fast on their sunday long run. A brief glance at their running pace GPS watch and they know in a flash if they are on target or not.

When looking for a running pace GPS watch, it is important to realize that some of the cheaper running pace watch GPS systems only measure your flat-line speed and pace, but not elevation above sea level. These systems are often called 2D GPS systems. The best sport watches track distance pace, horizontal speed and distance, but also elevation and may even be capable of measuring ascention and descention rate.

A running watch pace GPS system typically displays your speed in in kilometers per hour, or miles per hour, (with an option to switch between metric and imperial units). Such a watch can be a minutes per kilometer or minutes per mile watch. Sports watch GPS systems are capable of measuring your speed over a session as well as average speed and pace and maximum and minimum speed and pace not just over a session, but over individual laps within a session.

Top running watch pace GPS watches are available from all leading watch manufacturers. GPS is a very accurate pace running watch method, but can suffer near large objects or enclosed areas where satellite signals can be disrupted. Accelerometers foot pods are an alternative to running GPS pace watches. They are not disrupted indoors or around objects, but like 2D GPS systems, do not measure altitude.

Distance Measurement

Using satellite triangulation to calculate the precise position of the runner, by periodically checking your position, the watches distance tally can be calculated, updated, stored in memory and displayed in real-time to the wearer. A GPS wtach that measures distance run can tell you precisely how far you have fun as well as how fast you are running.

Most sports watches with GPS can tally up the event or session distance. That is the accumulated distance you have traveled over a run or event. Some runners distance watch systems like Polars also feature a longer-term “odometer” that can log your distance over a much longer time-frame, the running distance watch storing your cumulative distance over course of weeks or months.

The benefits of a running watch calculate distance are numerous. With a GPS mile watch you can now pinpoint just how far you are really running on your long runs. A running watch with miles recording and a built-in odometer system can make it much easier to fill in your training diary and often running watch time and distance systems come packaged with sophisticated software that includes an electronic journal, so you can download your sessions directly onto your PC.

Another very handy use for a “track miles GPS watch” is measuring a course, or more commonly verifying the precise course distance after the race to find out just how close that “5K” fun run was to the true 5000m distance. Tech-savvy officials can use a mile measurement watch when marking out their fun runs or cross country courses.

Altitude Measurement

Running watches GPS systems work in three dimensions, so altitude can be calculated, not just speed and distance. The altitude component of GPS is less accurate than horizontal measurements. Usually a barometric altimeter is required to determine your height accurately, however a modern sports watch with GPS is able to provide a relatively accurate account of your ascent or descent rate, your current altitude above sea level and elevation gain or loss since you started the running chronograph.

Generally, cheaper GPS sysems only track your motion in two dimensions (2D GPS systems), however higher-end GPS systems such as the Garmin Forerunner watches, Timex Bodylink, Polar RS800 and RCX5 watches and Suunto t6c and t6d are capable of measuring elevation and even ascention/descention information.

Auto Pause/Resume

Some GPS watches for running feature a Hands Free mode that pauses the running Chrono when your speed drops close to zero. When you commence running again, the watch automatically starts the Chrono again. This is useful when running in urban areas where you occasionally need to stop for traffic, people or other interruptions.

Auto Lap

This feature automatic records a lap in memory when you have traveled a specified distance. This is useful when you are training for speed, but do not have the benefit of a 400m Olympic running track.

Lap Speed/Lap Pace/Lap Distance

We have mentioned that modern GPSwatches can log speed and distance data over an individual lap and usually heart rate data too. The following data fields can be logged over a lap in most modern day sports wrist watch GPS systems.

  • Lap Average Speed: Average velocity for the period that chronograph has been running
  • Lap Average Pace: Average per-minute speed for the period that chronograph has been running
  • Lap Distance: Distance traveled for the lap
  • Lap Altitude: Altitude displays the height above sea level at the end of your lap
  • Lap Elevation Change: Elevation is the net change in altitude during the lap

Virtual Competitor

The Garmin Forerunner has a unique tool called Virtual PartnerTM that is designed to compete with you automatically during quick workouts and courses. When switched on, the Forerunner will display whether you are ahead or behind your virtual competitor and by how much.


Another Forerunner feature that can assist your training is the ability to create a course based on a previously recorded activity. When activated you can run over the same course and attempt to match or pass your previous best effort for the course. Courses ties into the Virtual Partner feature, the “stick man” runs at the pace you are attempting to beat.

In Garmin’s latest Forerunner watch, the 610, courses has been replaced by the Virtual Racer™ feature which compares your pace with a varying pace from a previous event. Unlike older Forerunner watches, the map component is not part of Virtual Racer™, meaning you cannot follow a course with the compass/breadcrumb. You can still download courses from Garmin Connect and other sources, but not follow them.

Customized Workouts

Garmin Forerunner watches also allow you to create flexible, customized workouts in three or four structured formats.

  • Simple Workouts allow you to  get up and running as quickly as possible.
  • Interval Workouts are efforts run over a specified time or distance with a recovery in between hard runs.
  • Heart Rate Workouts are Simple Workouts, but with the addition of heart rate limits
  • Advanced Workouts are complex workouts with workout “steps”. For each progression in a workout, goals can be set in advanced workouts as well as varied distances, times and calories. Advanced workouts can also be scheduled ahead of time.

Target Speed/Pace/Distance Alarms
Most runners GPS watch systems feature the ability to set alarms based on distance, speed, pace and sometimes elevation. This features lets you specify an upper or lower limit for either speed or pace. When you run outside this limit an alarm will alert you to keep you on track. You can configure the watch to alert you with an alarm when you have traveled a specific distance or each time you cover a set distance (such as each kilometer).

Navigate Back-To-Start

A helpful feature found in some GPS watches is a navigate-back-to-start feature, that guides you with the use of pointers back to the starting location of your run. If you stick to regular routes, you may never need to use this feature, but if you are in a new area, or away on travel this function can be a god-send!


Many GPS watches have the ability to record routes, which are simply a collection of waypoints that can be traced one-to-the-other to make up a “route” that you can follow during your run or on a hiking trip. Routes were present in the early Garmin Forerunner watches up until the Forerunner 305, but have been phased out in the more recent Forerunner watches. Routes are also found in the Suunto X10, the GlobalSat GH-625, the Tech4O Discover watch and others.

GPS For Cyclists

Runners must be content with a GPS sport watch for running, Cyclists on the other hand, have the option of purchasing hand-held sized GPS devices like the Garmin Edge 705, which can be mounted on a bike’s handlebars. With a much larger screen size, the Edge, unlike most GPS sports watches used for running the Garmin Edge can display street maps and when used with a bicycle cadence device, can present data that is specific to cycling such as bike wheel cadence.

If you are a triathlete or duathlete and like to mix up running and riding or even swimming, cyling and running GPS systems like the the Garmin Forerunner 305 and the new 310XT sportwatch GPS systems features multi sport profiles. When you use multi-sport workouts, you can switch between sport modes at any time and view your time and distance for each sporting discipline. So if you are riding, you could switch to “Biking Mode”, then if you finished your ride and decided to run for a while, you’d switch from “Biking Mode” to “Running Mode”.

GPS Watches For Swimmers

Activity GPS watches aren’t exactly your best choice when it comes to water sports, with one recent exception. Garmin have recently released the Forerunner 310XT, an upgrade of the 305. It features a much improved battery lifetime (20 hours, compared about 8 hours in the 305), GPS Hotfix for quicker tracking, improved calories burned measurement, ANT+ transmission (same as Forerunner 405) and water resistance to 50 meters (the 305 could only survive submersed to about 1 meter).

Before swimmers and triathletes get too excited, while this watch is waterproof, GPS cannot detect signals accurately in water, so this watch won’t measure speed and distance while you’re swimming or heart rate data for that matter, but if you are looking for a gps watch for swimming that can safely be used in the water than the 310XT may be it.

GPS For Navigation

Some GPS navigation watch running systems contain similar features to their larger hand-held counterparts that have navigation features can guide you to landmarks, or backtrack to your starting location if you get lost or to a marked waypoint along your route.

The Forerunners 205, 305, 310XT as well as the GlobalSat GH-625 are examples of a running watch with GPS and map and feature large screens that can accomodate a map view mode which allowes you to view your present location on a map. GPS can also determine your current facing when you are moving and can direct you to a waypoint on a route.

When you arrive home, a GPS navigation watch will allow you to download your data onto PC for viewing in a mapping software application.

GPS wrist watch routes can be created by using a “breadcrumb” feature, that logs your position at periodic intervals. Watches like the Suunot X10 accomodate this feature. The other method of creating routes is to manually create a collections of marked waypoint coordinates. This can often be done using software and transfered into the watch.

Many GPS watches like the Suunto X10 also include a compass feature and various “outdoors” features like thermometer and barometer. The Suunto X10 also has a barometric altimeter which is a more accurate measure of elevation data than GPS.

You can consider the following GPS watches can to have at least a basic level of navigation features:

  • Garmin Forerunner 405 and 405CX
  • Garmin Forerunner 205, 305 and 310XT
  • Garmin Forerunner 301
  • Garmin Forerunner 201
  • Timex IRONMAN Bodylink Trail Runner
  • Suunto X9/i and X9M/i
  • Suunto X10
  • Globalsat GH-615
  • Globalsat GH-625

If you are looking for the ultimate adventure watch, the Suunto X9/i and it’s successor the X10 answer the call. These watches are capable of displaying your ETA to the next waypoint based on current speed and position, the altitude difference between waypoints and the X9M/i also has 6400 MILS bearing display and 360 degree compass.

The Forerunner 205, 305 and the newer 310XT models, while primarily sports watches also offer a very good navigation system with a map view mode. The lesser known GlobalSat watches offer excellent value as well, with the capacity to store 6,000 unique routes, a compass feature and 6,000 track capacity.

If you are planning that weekend expedition to the Andes, then you might want to add one of these great watches to your gadget list and survival gear.

GPS Alternatives

If you don’t care about maps, routes and navigation and just want a way of accurately measuring your speed, pace and distance, there are alternatives to a GPS system. We will consider each in turn.

Pedometer Watches

A pedometer is a watch that is capable of sensing your body’s motion and counting your footsteps. Distance can then by calculated based on the number of steps and length of your stride. Pedometers vary in terms of accuracy as there are many varied methods of counting steps including: accelerometers, coiled springs and a hair spring mechanism.

The current generation of pedometers are more accurate than traditional pedometers as most use piezoelectric accelerometer technology to measure steps. These pedometer types can be accurate, provided they are used correctly and while do not offer nearly as many advanced features as a fully fledged GPS watch, they are a cheaper alternative.

A Note About GPS Pedometers

Some people inquire about GPS pedometers, but a GPS pedometer is a slight misnomer. Pedometers are small hand-held or clip-on devices that amongst other things, cound the step you take during the day. Advanced pedometers can then calculate your speed and pace based on your predicted stride length.

But there are currently no GPS pedometers on the market.

A GPS watch like the Garmin Forerunner can calculate speed, pace, distance traveled and approximate calories burned, but does not measure steps.

A pedomter like the Omron HJ-720ITC can accurately measure your steps, approximate calorie consumption, approximate distance travelled, aerobic steps and minutes (when walking faster than 60 steps a minute), but has no GPS.

Both feature sizeable data storage history, come with software that lets you analyze your workout data and feature the ability to transfer data to personal computer. Each has their distinct strenghts and weaknesses, but despite what you may have read, there is no hybrid model yet.

Accelerometer Foot Pods

Most top line sports watches made by leading brands such as Garmin, Polar and Sunnto support both accelerometer foot pod and GPS.

A foot pod attaches to the top of your running shoe and by measuring your leg turnover and cadence can measure speed and distance about as accurately as GPS. The foot pod uses advanced algorithms to determine foot angles, gait and velocity based on data measured by internal inertial sensors that are sensitive enough to pick up the acceleration of the foot pod more than 1000 times per second. On average, the typical runner gets 97% accuracy from a foot pod sensor “out of the box”. With further calibration an even more accurate measurement can be achieved.

A foot pod device is typically lighter and less bulky than a GPS system as well as less power hungry. Unlike a GPS watch it can be used effectively indoors and around buildings and other large objects, but as it has no concept of position, cannot help you navigate, measure altitude, or record routes in 3D.

We have compiled a list of foot pod watches here. Foot Pod Watches.

There are many GPS wacthes on the market. You should consider the features you need and how much you are prepared to spend.

If you are seeking a basic GPS that can measure your horizontal speed and distance, but not elevation or the ability to plot your courses on a map, then an entry-level GPS watch such as the Forerunner 110 and 210, the Timex Run Trainer, the Tech 4 O Discover, Suunto t3c or t3d or the Polar RS300X, FT80 or FT60.

For a more fully-featured package, you will have to spend a little more money, watches like the Forerunner 410, 610, the Suunto X10 and t6c or t6d or the Polar RS800CX and RCX5, although if you do not need “leading edge” features, then older and lesser known watch models like the Forerunners 305, 405, 405CX, the Globalsat GH-625M all represent great value.

In terms of choosing the right watch for your purposes, you should consider the specific attributes you need, and then find the best watch within your price range. Here are some attributes to check when buying a GPS watch.

What Are Your Primary Activities

If you are looking for a great piece of equipment to take on your next African expedition, then clearly a gps watch for runners will not be up to scratch for your needs. Running a marathon? Then a sport watch that calculates distance and automatically records your laps based on distance might be a more useful tool to your needs.

Many digital GPS sports watches cater to the GPS runner watches market. Others cater more to outdoor adventures and place more emphasis on navigation, while others support both groups of features. The Garmin Forerunner 305 for example has both sport and navigation functionality, although Garmin has clearly moved in the direction of offering fewer navigation features in their latest watches.

Tips For Purchasing A GPS Watch

Will You Use Your GPS Watch With a Bike?

Many GPS watches are designed to be used with a bike. If you are buying a device to aid you primarily with your riding, then the best option is a GPS device built solely for cyclists like the Garmin Edge or the Polar CS600X. If you seek to mix your riding with your running, or even swimming in the case of the Garmin 310XT, then you might want to ensure that the watch that you get has features that compliment your activities. Some specific questions you should address are:

Do You Need A Speed/Cadence Sensor?

Many GPS watches support an optional sensor that attaches to the wheel of your bike and is capable of measuring your speed and cadence. Most high-end Garmin Forerunners, Polar and Suunto watches have this ability

Do You Require A Cycling Power Meter?

A cycling power meter is a third party device that, like a bike speed/cadence sensor can attach to a bike and measure the power output of a rider. If you are a serious cyclist you might wish to ensure that your GPS watch has the ability to support a power meter sensor. Watch that support a power meter include the Garmin Forerunner 310XT and Garmin Edge devices, and the Polar CS500 and CS600X devices for cyclists.

Is There A Compatible Bike Mount For The Watch?

Is the ability to mount your GPS watch on your bike something you will need? Is it a feature that you would use if it were available, but is not absolutely necessary? Many GPS watches have compatible bike mount kits that make life on the bike much easier. If you will be spending a prolongued time on your bike, then consider whether the advantage of a bike mount will be an improvement.

Do You Require Navigation Features?

Will you need your watch purely to read your speed and distance in order to improve your fitness and performances in races, or is your watch needed for setting waypoints, helping you trace routes and plotting the courses of your training or walking activities? Or both? You should decide what features are most important to you. Some watches like the Suunto X10 have strong navigation features. It also has running and fitness features, but it is not as strong as the Garmin Forerunner watch lines. Likewise the Forerunner watches do not have extensive navigation features, especially the latest models.

Earlier models like the Forerunner 101, 201, 301, 205 and 305 watches have more exensive navigation, but are bulkier and have an inferior GPS chipset meaning that they will not perform as well when locking onto and maintaining satellite signals. The Globalsat GH-625M, while a couple of years old also has good navigation features and a reasonable set of fitness features too.

Do You Need An All-In-One GPS Or Is A Two-Piece Acceptable?

All other issues aside, you need to address if are you comfortable wearing a two-piece GPS watch system whereby you must attach an external GPS device to your body. Manufacturers like Polar and Suunto do not make all-in-one GPS watches where the GPS aerial is mounted in your wrist. Garmin, Timex, Tech4O and Globalsat do. The disadvantage with an all-in-one unit is that the wrist watch must be larger due to the fact that it houses the chipset within the wristwatch. The advantage is that there is no complicated setup, just wear the watch, wait for a satellite uplink and go.

Do You Need Real-Time Signal Reliability?

Some sports GPS watch units can hold a signal better than others. If you are using a GPS more of navigation than for measuring speed and distance this will not be a problem, but if you require real-time signal reception then it’s worth looking for a GPS watch that supports the SirFStar III chipset or higher.

What About Fashion and Style

Do you wish to wear your GPS watch throughout the day? Or will you only be unleashing it to the world during your track workouts or trail runs? GPS watches that house the GPS chip, tend to be chunky in nature and some are definitely lacking in the fashion department. For more information check out our guide to choosing a GPS sports watch.

Check For Size and Fit

Single-piece GPS watches are larger and more bulky and although sizes are coming down, the size restrictions of GPS watches means that there are a lot more GPS watches for men runners than ladies GPS watches. If you are not comfortable with a large and bulky sports watch and are in the market for a women GPS watch, then we advise you stay clear of the larger GPS watches like the Garmin Forerunner 305 and 310XT and consider the more modern watches like the Forerunner 110, 210, 410 and 610 that are considerably less bulky then earlier watches. If you are happy to use an accelerometer foot pod rather than GPS, then also check out the Garmin FR60, that offers you speed and distance, but without the bulkiness.

Battery Life

GPS watches consume a lot of battery life, which is why most GPS watches feature a recharable battery and in most cases will run with GPS tracking switched on for about 8 hours, with the exception of special cases like the Garmin Forerunner 310XT which has an extended 20 hour battery life! Due to the fact that GPS watch batteries are rechargable, the endurance of your GPS watch should only be of interest to ultra-endurance athletes who are active for over 8 hours.

While it is nice to not have to recharge the battery every night, unless you are an ultra runner you should be able to get by with almost all GPS watches and if you are, then the Garmin Forerunner 310XT is probably your best bet if you are intersted in running GPS mode for the duration of your events.

Third Party Device Compatibility

Many modern GPS watches are compatible with ANT+ technology, meaning that the watch has the ability to “pair” with third party devices that support ANT+. These are typically bike speed and cadence devices, but also include accelerometer foot pods that allow you to train indoors or in an outdoor area where there are obstructions in the form of trees and large buildings.


Virtually all GPS watches now have the ability to link up to a personal computer and transfer data which can be imported into software. Most also have an online portal where your information can be imported, analyzed and shared with a community of likeminded users. While you might consider a watch’s software a major factor in your buying decision, you would be surprised how useful a good software package can be in analyzing your training and performances. Therefore it does not hurt to evaluate the features and benefits as well as reading some reviews of the sotware packages that are offered with the sports watch you are interested in.

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