Looking to pick out a new GPS watch to track your running? Here’s my run-down of some of the best running GPS options as of early 2018.
Having a GPS watch is an awesome way of tracking your run. As you’re running, you can instantly see information about your run – such as pace and distance covered. Then, later on, you can track and compare all your runs via your smartphone or computer, using a service like Strava.
Nowadays, running GPS watches often come with a bunch of other features. These include: estimating your VO2 max, measuring your heart rate and also tracking your daily activity. Some GPS watches are suited for all kinds of workouts, including swimming. Others – like the Apple Watch 3 – can even make and receive phone calls – if that’s what you’re looking for.
I’ve written at length about why pacing is important, especially when training for and running distance events like marathons. Its why I always wear my GPS watch when running these days – it’s a simple, simple way of recording every run I make.
Different GPS watches are suited to different situations – for example, I’ve got a simple Garmin which is great for regular training runs, but it’s battery only lasts around four or five hours. So when I go and run ultras, I take the spruced-up version.
So, here are my top GPS watch picks for 2018:
THE GARMIN FORERUNNER 25 ($105)
THE NO-FRILLS TRAINING WATCH
This watch was my go-to training watch for over five years. To me, it’s uncomplicated-ness is its charm – the Forerunner 25’s simple screen shows you time, distance and pace on one screen – the holy trinity. It also calculates calories burned and can be used with an optional heart rate monitor chest strap. Its battery life is good – at 10hrs (when new) of active GPS tracking, its suitable for use with marathons. Garmin have also built-in some activity-tracking functionality – it automatically counts your steps. It also automatically syncs with the Garmin app on your smartphone – no more need to plug in the watch to upload your data.
The watch body is a bit bulkier than modern fitness trackers, but I don’t mind that. Its stripped-down functionality is exactly what I want in my day-to-day runs.
GPS Battery while running – 7-10 hours (my experience)
TOMTOM SPARK 3 – $130
FUNCTIONALITY AND MUSIC ON A BUDGET
TomTom’s brand hasn’t always been associated with running tech, but in recent years they’ve rolled out solid GPS devices that continue to be well received. Their go-to entry-level runner’s watch is the Spark 3. It’s pleasing aesthetic and design is a bit more stylish than most of the watches in this price range, and its functionality goes beyond running. The watch is designed as an all-in-one fitness tracker and exercise device so records your daily movements and can be used for swimming too.
For around an extra $20, you can get the Cardio+Music model, which comes with an inbuilt heart rate monitor and a set of Bluetooth headphones, allowing you to preload tracks onto your watch and listen to them during your run.
GPS Battery while running – 4-5 hours
GARMIN FORERUNNER 235 – $270
THE ALL-AROUND RUNNING WATCH
If you’re looking for a high-performance running watch, I can recommend the Garmin Forerunner 235. It comes with a built-in heart-rate monitor, a long battery life and a bunch of extra bells and whistles. It automatically connects to wi-fi to upload your workouts to the cloud and has optional functions like checking your e-mail and messages. I’m a fan of the Forerunner 235’s large, easy-to-read and bright display. If you want a great running-focussed all-rounder with the latest tech, this is it.
GPS Battery while running – 11 hours
APPLE WATCH SERIES 3: NIKE+ EDITION (+/- $335)
THE KILLER APP WATCH
The Apple Watch, as you are surely well aware, is much more than a sports tracker. It pairs with your iPhone and can be used for taking calls and messaging, playing games and just about anything else you can think of.
But it’s multi-functionality shouldn’t make you rule it out as a running watch. If you are considering one, go straight for the Nike+ model It’s built for sports – with a built-in heart rate monitor, GPS and waterproofing, it’s a great all-rounder. Plus the Apple Watch’s automatic health tracking systems can be insightful, monitoring your sleep patterns, how long you are sedentary for throughout the day, etc.
For runners, the biggest disadvantages of this watch are that you need an iPhone 6 or above to pair it with. You can stick with the proprietary Nike run tracking software, or install another service – I use
Check out my in-depth review here.
GPS Battery while running – up to 5 hours, according to Apple’s website. I used it for a marathon (I took 4hrs 14min) and the battery had only gone from full charge to 68% (note I don’t have the cellular version of the phone).
GARMIN FORERUNNER 935 – $499
THE PREMIUM OPTION
If you’re looking for the most comprehensive running GPS watch, this is it. Garmin has really poured everything into this one. It includes a barometer, altimeter, and compass to accurately track your movements and elevation changes. It has a built-in wrist-based heart rate monitor. The battery life is great – at 24hrs of GPS mode (and a 50hr UltraTrac mode), it is specifically designed for ultra-marathons and triathlons. Where this watch really exceeds is the data analysis. All your data is uploaded to the cloud, where Garmin monitors and advises you on your performance, training, and recovery. The watch even detects cadence, stride length and balance to advise you on your running style. A slick operator for those serious about their sports.