Best GPS Sports Watches: Which One You Should Buy and 9 Models for $180 to $805

A rundown of the best smartwatches you can buy to track your workouts with GPS and advanced metrics built in.

Best Sports Watches
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Eva Rodríguez de Luis

If you practice sports regularly and want to track your progress, you may want to consider buying a GPS sports watch to analyze your workouts. While there are smartwatches, fitness trackers, and GPS sports watches available on the market that can record your activities, those who seek advanced metrics and precision often prefer GPS sports watches.

However, deciding what GPS watch to buy depends on various factors, including what sport you practice and how often you work out.

What to Consider Before Buying a GPS Sports Watch

While fitness trackers are simple and lightweight, GPS watches offer more comprehensive metrics because of the complete sensor system they integrate to monitor physical activity. However, GPS watches tend to be bulkier and more technical. They aren't for everyone.

Man wearing a sports watch

Once you understand these differences, the next step is to consider what you want to use it for. In other words, what sports you want to monitor with your watch, how comprehensive you want the metrics to be, and how often you'll be using the device. There are specialized watches on the market for different sports, with varying parameters and price ranges.

Typically, the simplest watches are designed for disciplines such as running. More advanced models can be used for multiple sports and can even be customized to monitor different types of training. For people who practice combined disciplines, such as the triathlon, some watches can seamlessly transition from one activity to another within the same training session.

We're going to focus on multi-sport models that cover the most common activities. However, if you practice a more specific sport, such as golfing or diving, there are GPS sports watches designed specifically for those purposes.

How Accurate Is a GPS Sports Watch at Detecting Your Location?

While an accelerometer may suffice for indoor use, for outdoor activities, you’ll need a device with satellite positioning systems that can accurately track your movements and location.

The most commonly used system is GPS, which uses a network of satellites and trilateration to calculate your latitude, longitude, and altitude. GPS provides location accuracy of approximately 97 to 99%, but obstacles like trees, buildings, and clouds may affect its accuracy.

To monitor our movement more precisely, we can use pedometers to track steps and cadence sensors. For mountain sports like hiking, cycling, or trail running, we can complement GPS with a barometric altimeter that uses atmospheric pressure to determine altitude and altitude history.

Apart from GPS, manufacturers also use other satellite radio navigation and positioning systems to provide alternative location information. One of these systems is Galileo, which was developed by the European Union and the European Space Agency. Others include GLONASS, created by the former Soviet Union, and the Japanese system Quasi-Zenith.

All About Maps and Tracks

GPS integration in sports watches is not only useful for determining your exact location. It can also help you visualize and track your trajectory. It even provides additional information, such as geographical features, roads, and thermals, to help us choose the best route.

If you’re considering a GPS watch for outdoor activities, it’s best to choose a model that allows you to view maps from the device and follow your tracks. This way, you can enter your planned route before leaving home and use it to navigate during your activity, ensuring you don’t get lost and stay on track.

Sports watch on a table

Battery: the GPS determines the battery life… and your budget

If you already know which instruments and tracking systems you need to monitor your training, the next step is to determine the duration of your training. Preparing for an ultra trail, for instance, requires more training than occasionally going for a walk in the mountains.

Satellite positioning systems suck up a lot of battery power. Therefore, before choosing a model, make sure that the manufacturer’s claim, which is often optimistic, provides more than enough coverage for your training. Actual use may differ from estimates.

The battery life of a GPS watch matters when it comes to performance and price. Simple models are available for occasional athletes, while more demanding athletes require more complete ones for their training.

Measurements: heart rate, cadence, VO2 max…

If we take sport and training seriously, we will certainly be interested in knowing how our body has responded to physical activity so that we can learn and optimize our work in future training sessions. This opens up a world of possibilities.

Without delving too much into the response of our body to exercise or the functioning of the sensorium, the most common parameters are:

  • Heart rate, to set healthy limits for our hearts that allow us to keep improving. In sports watches (and many fitness trackers), heart rate monitors integrated into the wrist are used, although if we’re looking for extra precision, it’s advisable to choose those that allow us to connect (Bluetooth or ANT+) a chest strap to monitor it. These models often have “HR” on their names.
  • Training zones and maximum values to be reached are based on the pulse measurement to maximize our effort without getting too critical.
  • Aerobic capacity is the maximum amount of oxygen that the body can provide to the muscles, also known as VO2 max. The higher the VO2 max, the higher the cardiovascular capacity.
Hand holding a sports watch
  • Lactate threshold, or anaerobic threshold, refers to the zone of exercise intensity where there is a sudden demand for energy, resulting in fatigue and loss of performance.
  • Recovery time after a workout that you need to return to normal.
  • Related to the previous one, the extra oxygen consumption of our muscles as a result of training, also known as EPOC.

If we practice a running-related discipline (it’s the most common practice among smartwatch users after all, especially in the low and medium ranges), you will also find data that will tell you if you run well: cadence (number of steps/minute), step length, vertical oscillation when running, or ground contact time.

Design, materials and resistance

Sports Watches

Although current models allow us to comfortably view our activity from our phones, the benefit of sports watches is that we can monitor our training progress on the go just by looking at the screen.

In the lower range, especially with older models, we find monochrome displays that suffer in bright scenarios like sunny days. The more expensive the watches are, the bigger the screens are. They also gain in quality and become color, improving the user experience by being more intuitive with graphic and chromatic resources.

Fitness trackers are lightweight and small, but sports watches, in general, are not suitable for small wrists. The downside to a big screen is that the starting point is usually 40 mm watch faces, although some models are available in different sizes.

However, manufacturers, especially in the middle and high ranges, go for the lightest and most compact materials and designs. Since these devices are for outdoor and sports use, they must also be resistant, hypoallergenic, and comfortable.

Aesthetically, sporty designs dominate, although manufacturers also prioritize design and materials in the premium range. After all, a watch is a fashion accessory that we wear in our daily lives.

For extreme sports like climbing or snowboarding, there are suitable models for these scenarios. Special mention to the water resistance: all of them can resist it, but it’s not the same to use it in the shower than to take a dip or swim in open water for deep diving.

In this sense, while some specify the maximum depth, others refer to water resistance by atmospheres. At 5 ATM, you can swim and snorkel; at 50 ATM, you can also wear it doing water sports at high speed; and at the EN13319 standard, you can take it while diving.

From the watch to the cloud: platforms

Smartwatch and smartphone

GPS sports watches come with data and activity visualization services that allow us to analyze our workout history and evolution. This feature also enables us to share and analyze our statistics on various devices such as phones, tablets, and computers.

It’s essential to have a clear and intuitive interface that is compatible with multiple platforms so that data can be viewed on different devices. Moreover, these watches should be synchronized with third-party applications like browsers or streaming music services.

  • Polar has Polar Flow, which is a cross-platform tool for planning and tracking workouts, activity, and sleep.
  • Suunto’s app lets you view training, activity, and sleep summaries, customize notifications, and connect with services like Strava, Endomondo, TrainingPeaks, and Relive, among others.
  • Garmin offers Garmin Connect, an app available for Windows, iOS, and Android. This app features colorful cards, a training service through Garmin Coach, an information panel, statistics, connections with other users, and competitions.

Best GPS sports watches

Polar Ignite 3

Polar Ignite 3

Polar Ignite 3 is a moderately compact watch with an intuitive interface. Available in several colors, it’s a multisport watch available that covers disciplines such as gym, swimming, running, cycling, and walking. You can design your own workouts and see your recovery plan.

Polar Ignite 3 Series Fitness Tracking Smartwatch with AMOLED Display, GPS, Heart Rate Monitoring, Sleep Analysis, and Real-Time Voice Guidance; S-L, for Men or Women, Brown Copper

Suunto 5

Suunto 5

Suunto 5 is one of the best-looking mid-range watches available. It offers a balance between a lightweight and compact design, advanced metrics for multisport with 80 sports disciplines, and solid battery life figures with up to 40 hours when GPS is activated. It displays real-time activity graphs and is easy to use.

Suunto 5 Lightweight and Compact GPS Sports Watch with 24/7 Activity Tracking and Wrist-Based Heart Rate, All Black, One Size, Strap

Garmin Vivoactive 4s

Garmin Vivoactive 4s

Garmin Vivoactive 4s is a GPS watch that you can also use to make payments or listen to music. It focuses on indoor sports, where you can record up to 20 disciplines. It offers 5 hours of battery life with GPS activated and can store about a thousand songs.

Garmin vivoactive 4S, Smaller-Sized GPS Smartwatch, Features Music, Body Energy Monitoring, Animated Workouts, Pulse Ox Sensors and More, Silver with Gray Band

Garmin Forerunner 245

Garmin Forerunner 245

Among Garmin’s mid-range watches, the Forerunner 245 stands out as it excels in the running department but also performs well in cycling, swimming, and strength activities. However, it doesn’t have a multisport mode for triathlon or record distances in open water.

It’s an excellent option for amateur users due to its price and features, as well as its careful design, the possibility of connecting heart rate monitors with ANT+ or Bluetooth, and its battery life of up to 24 hours with GPS active.

It’s also available in a Music version, which allows you to store your favorite songs and listen to them independently.

Garmin Forerunner 245, GPS Running Smartwatch with Advanced Dynamics, Slate Gray

Polar Vantage M2

Polar Vantage M2

The Polar Vantage M2 is one of the most versatile and popular models in the mid-range with a long battery life. It can track up to 130 sports and offer up to 30 hours of use with GPS activated, something that will satisfy the average athlete. Also, if you want to analyze your workouts, the Vantage M2 allows you to do so.

If you are looking for a more affordable option, consider the previous generation, the Vantage M.

Polar Vantage M2 - Advanced Multisport Smart Watch - Integrated GPS, Wrist-Based Heart Monitor Daily Workouts - Sleep and Recovery Tracking - Music Controls, Weather, Phone Notifications

Garmin Forerunner 945

Garmin Forerunner 945

Like the Garmin Vivoactive 4s, the Garmin Forerunner 945 allows you to pay with Garmin Pay and store music. It can also synchronize with streaming services like Spotify.

The Forerunner 945 has a longer battery life than the Forerunner 245, reaching 10 hours with GPS activated. It also has color maps and allows you to accurately design your workouts by defining the exercise load and studying its effects later.

Garmin Forerunner 945, Premium GPS Running/Triathlon Smartwatch with Music, Black - 010-02063-00

Suunto 9 Baro

Suunto 9 Baro

The Suunto 9 Baro has been on the market for a few years now, and its price has dropped considerably since its release. It boasts an impressive battery life of up to 120 hours with GPS on, making it a viable option for those who engage in demanding sports activities over an extended period.

This watch is particularly suitable for mountain sports enthusiasts, given its detailed maps with points of interest, shockproof design, and weather-resistant features. Its combination of altimeters and barometers also ensures accuracy. With 80 different disciplines to record, it’s a great choice for the more athletic users.

SUUNTO 9 Baro: Rugged GPS Running, Cycling, Adventure Watch with Route Navigation

Polar Vantage V2

Polar Vantage V2

The Vantage V2 is the latest version of the Polar Vantage series. It retains features of its predecessor and the Grit X and adds new ones, such as performance tests. As the original model, it offers 40 hours of battery life when GPS is enabled and 130 sports disciplines (including triathlon).

Built with aluminum and a Gorilla Glass touch display with an anti-fingerprint treatment, the Vantage V2 weighs only 52 g (20% lighter than the Vantage) and integrates the Polar Precision Prime sensor for added accuracy.

Polar Vantage V2 - Premium Multisport Smartwatch with GPS, Wrist-Based HR Measurement for All Sports - Music Control, Weather, Phone Notifications

Garmin Fenix 7

Garmin Fenix 7

This Garmin flagship model is a comprehensive multisport watch that comes with Topoactive Europe maps. It’s ideal for sports such as skiing or hiking and for navigation in urban environments.

The battery life is impressive, even for the most demanding athletes, with up to 18 days in smartwatch mode, 57 hours in GPS mode, and 40 days in GPS Expedition mode.

The Fenix 7 includes a wrist heart rate sensor, pulse oximeter, GLONASS, Galileo, barometric altimeter, thermometer, and pulse oximetry acclimatization system. It’s lightweight and available in different sizes and materials.

Garmin Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar Edition, Rugged GPS Adventure Touchscreen Smartwatch with Health/Wellness Features, Black DLC Titanium with Black Band and Signature Series Charging Stand Bundle

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