A GPS watch is a watch that uses an integrated GPS – or Global Positioning System – receiver to determine your location via triangulation with satellites. Using this information, these watches can collect a variety of data as you move, registering and storing your new position at regular intervals (as often as several times a second, depending on the settings).
Whether it’s tracking your pace, calculating your elevation or guiding you through a workout, a GPS watch can be an essential training tool or a way of logging your outdoor experiences. The best GPS watches can typically be synced with apps like komoot or Strava (see our best navigational apps), where information about hiking, biking, running and other adventures can be stored, shared and compared. While we’d always recommend learning how to read a map and how to use a compass, having a low-profile, lightweight navigational tool on your wrist provides a huge upgrade in convenience.
And in addition to all this, many of the best GPS watches will also monitor your heart rate, allow you to check emails and even pay for things like a cup of coffee if you stop off at a café mid hike or bike. Many models can also connect to the best running headphones to let you rock your tunes while you’re on the move.
The best GPS watches have evolved with next-level functionality in the past few years, while also getting lighter, smaller and more intuitive. Compared to your phone, a GPS watch is compact, versatile, chock full of sport-specific features and easy to operate during a specific activity on the move. These improvements have have seen GPS watches rise from the status of luxury add-ons to your kit to must-have hiking and trail running essentials.
They are a serious investment, though, so the key is to find the best GPS watch that’s most appropriate for the escapades you most commonly enjoy.
The best GPS watches you can buy today
Best GPS watch overall: Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Solar
Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Solar
Solar-powered beast with top-of-the-range navigation and performance-enhancing features
RRP: $986 (US)/£730 (UK) | Display Size: 30.4mm / 1.2in | Display Type: Sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP), 240 x 240 pixels | Screen Material: Power Glass | Bezel Material: Stainless steel | Thickness: 14.2mm / 0.56in | Weight: 60g / 2.12oz | Water rating: 10 ATM (safe to a depth of 100 metres) | Accessory Connection: Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, ANT+ | Charging Time: Sub 3 hours | Battery Life: : Smartwatch: Up to 14 days/16 days with solar; Battery saver watch mode: Up to 48 days/80 days with solar; GPS: Up to 36 hours/40 hours with solar; Expedition GPS activity: Up to 28 days/36 days with solar
This category leading watch has a frightening amount of capability – we’ve been using it for 6 months and we’re still finding new features to play with – but perhaps the most impressive innovation Garmin have introduced in the Fenix 6 Pro Solar is (clue in the name) the Power Glass, which sucks energy from the sun and gives you whole days’ worth of additional power. You still need to plug it in every now and then, if you want to use the GPS functionality (and other features that use lots of juice) but this is definitely the watch face of the future.
Many people will associate these watches with trail running (and there are umpteen ways of using the Fenix family for recording runs), but there are also preloaded activity profiles for swimming, biking, hiking, rowing, skiing, SUP, surfing, bouldering, indoor climbing… and the list goes on. And the Pro Solar is a fantastic tool for walkers. On multi-day hikes, the solar charging capability is an obvious advantage, but for really epic adventures the ‘Expedition mode’ extends the battery life even longer (up to 20 days/26 days with solar) with an ultralow-powered GPS reference setting.
As well as recording your escapades, you can use the watch to navigate, with TopoActive maps right on your wrist. The watch gives you access to several global navigation satellite systems (GPS obviously, but also GLONASS and Galileo) and you can plot your route with ABC sensors – including an altimeter (for elevation data), barometer (for monitoring weather conditions) and a three-axis electronic compass. If you’re following a particular preloaded trail the watch will provide turn-by-turn directions, ‘Trendline’ routing will reveal the most popular local paths wherever you are, and ‘round-trip routing’ will take you back to your starting point if you get lost.
This watch can also monitor your heart rate and even your fluid intake, besides allowing you to buy things via Garmin Pay, and store music that you can play without having to carry your phone around. Oh, and it tells the time too. It’s expensive, there’s no getting away from that, but if you like to take top notch technical tools trekking – this is pretty much the best GPS watch for walkers.
Best GPS watch for hiking: Suunto 9 Baro
Suunto 9 Baro
A tough, top-end, long-lasting, multifunctional GPS-enabled watch for outdoor adventurers
RRP: $499 (US)/£539 (UK) | Display Size: 50mm / 1.97in | Display Type: LED, 320 x 300 pixels | Screen Material: Sapphire crystal | Bezel Material: Stainless steel | Thickness: 16.8mm / 0.66in | Weight: 81g/2.86oz | Water rating: safe to a depth of 100 metres | Accessory Connection: Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS | Charging Time: 3 hours | Battery Life: : In time mode: 14 days; With 24/7 tracking and mobile notifications 7 days; In training mode with GPS (according to settings) 25h / 50h / 120h / 170h (in Tour Mode)
One of the absolute best GPS watches for walkers and outdoorsy types on the market, the Suunto 9 Baro has more than 80 preloaded sport modes – from hiking, biking and trail running through to roller skating, ski touring and paragliding. It can record a staggering amount of data about whatever adventure you choose to take it on, employing GPS data and the barometric altimeter to monitor time, distance, pace, elevation and ascent/descent.
The Suunto family of GPS watches has been evolving rapidly for years, and this is the most advanced in the range, with myriad features that are particularly useful for walkers, including up to 170 hours of battery life when it’s in Tour Mode – ideal for long distance multi-day trail escapades. Topo maps do not display on this watch (just a line on the screen), but the Baro does have an inbuilt digital compass and, as with other Suunto watches, you can program waypoints or create a breadcrumb trail. There’s also a “Find Back’ option, which will point you back to where you started if you get lost.
New features that appear on the Baro include ‘turn-by-turn navigation’ powered by the industry-leading navigation app komoot, and very sophisticated weather tracking features, including storm alarm, weather trend data and sunset/sunrise times to help you make informed decisions when you’re out and about. It also boasts ‘Point of Interest Navigation’, allowing you to save a location (campsite / pub / view spot) before navigating you to the place.
The Baro can be paired with iPhones and Android devices, via which you can receive notifications straight to your wrist while out on the trail (if you want them). It has an inbuilt heart rate monitor, to keep a watch on your ticker. It’s extremely tough, waterproof to 100 metres, and has abrasion-resistant straps. A lighter, but also more expensive titanium version (Suunto 9 Baro Titanium) is also available.
Best GPS watch for battery life: Suunto 5
Excellent performance-tracking and analysis with basic navigation features and long battery life
RRP: $400(US)/£300(UK) | Display Size: 46mm/1.81in **Screen Material:** Mineral crystal | Bezel Material: Stainless steel | Thickness: 14.6mm/0.57in | Weight: 66g / 2.33oz | Water resistance: safe to 50m | Accessory Connection: Bluetooth, GPS | Charging Time: 3 hours | Battery Life: In time mode: 12 days; With 24/7 tracking and mobile notifications: 7 days; In training mode with GPS: 20h / 40h
For walkers and adventurers who want to stay connected to the inside world this GPS watch connects to smartphones for emails, messages and notifications. It does not, however, have music storage and playback.
Navigation-wise, the updated Suunto app is great for planning, heatmaps (finding others’ routes nearby) and downloading GPXs (What is a GPX file?)but when the route is displayed on the watch face it has a blank background rather than the useful color maps like the Garmin Fenix range. Apart from this, the Suunto 5 has all the performance-enhancing features you need for walking, hiking, running and multi-sport, including HR, pace, altimeter, interval training, recovery rate, training guidance and compatibility with Stryd power sensors. The 20-hour battery life on full power will be plenty for most, and it can be upped to 40 hours by adjusting the five intelligent battery power modes.
Best budget GPS watch: Coros Pace 2
Coros Pace 2
Extraordinarily light, great value GPS watch with an excellent battery life for those who don’t want/need navigation features
RRP: $200 (US)/£180(UK) | Display Size: 30.5mm/1.2in | Display Type: Always-On Memory LCD | Screen Material: Corning Glass | Bezel Material: Fiber Reinforced Polymer | Thickness: 11.7mm/0.46in | Weight: 29g/1oz | Water Resistance: 5ATM (safe to 50 Meters) | Accessory Connection: ANT+/Bluetooth | Charging Time: 2 hours | Battery Life: : 30 hours in Full GPS mode / 20 days of regular use
Styled more towards the sporty end of the market rather than the walkers and hikers out there, the best thing about the Coros Pace 2, apart from being half the weight of most GPS watches, is its fantastically long battery life. You can wear this for overnight walks or multiple workouts with its 30-hour battery life on full activity tracking mode. If you just want it to measure background metrics like sleep, steps, heart rate and get smartphone notifications it lasts 20 days.
Another novel feature is the turning side bezel to scroll through the settings – some runners may not like this, however, and it is harder to use while cycling. It integrates seamlessly with Stryd for measuring power, and has an automatic rep counter for strength sessions. The app boasts a unique Muscle Heatmap to see which parts of your body received the biggest beasting, plus you can share and find training sessions from friends and athletes. The only real downside, which should be expected at this price, is that there’s no navigation function for adventurers.
All things considered, the Pace 2 is one of the best GPS watches out there for buyers on a budget.
Best GPS watch with touchscreen functionality: Apple Watch Series 6
Apple Watch Series 6
Enhanced with a blood oxygen–sensor and a faster brain, the Apple Watch is a great all-around GPS-capable watch with some good running functionality and fitness features
RRP: $399 (US) / £288 (UK) | Display Size: 40mm/1.57in | Display Type: Always-On Retina OLED, 368 pixels x 488 pixels | Screen Material: Sapphire crystal glass | Bezel Material:: Stainless Steel/Aluminum | Thickness: 10.4mm/0.41in | Weight: 47.1g/1.66oz | Water Resistance: 5ATM (safe to 50 Meters) | Accessory Connection: Bluetooth/WiFi/GPS | Charging Time: 1.5 hours | Battery Life: About 18 hours
The Apple Watch Series 6 is a premium watch at a premium price. Its stylish appearance and top-end tech features, however, mean it can double as a walking and running watch, and the watch you wear the rest of the time. While it’s not necessarily an out-and-out adventure watch, it has an altimeter, a barometer and a Maps app that allows for easy navigation on trails.
Cellular service means you can call and text right from your wrist, while WiFi connectivity will give you access to your favorite songs, apps, weather and your email inbox. The Always-On Retina OLED display is now significantly brighter outdoors when your wrist is down, which allows you to see all of the data options on the face, no matter if you’re in low-light or bright-light conditions. The biggest addition to the Series 6 is the redesigned optical heart-rate sensors to measure blood-oxygen levels, which can provide an estimation of your blood oxygen (SpO2). The band is made from a continuous, stretchy silicone loop that hugs your wrist as if it was part of your forearm.
Bottom line? This is one of the best GPS watches out there if you want a premium, do-everything watch you can wear 24 hours a day – it can track your sleep patterns, too, by the way – and is sufficient for walking, basic trail running and hiking data.
Best GPS watch for added features: Coros Apex
A high-end, lightweight GPS watch with a long battery life and loads of features
RRP: $349 (US) / £250 (UK) | Display Size: 30.5mm/1.2in | Display Type: Memory-in-pixel LCD, 240 x 240 pixels | Screen Material: Sapphire Glass | Bezel Material:: Titanium Alloy | Thickness: 11.7mm/0.46in | Weight: 55.3g/1.95oz | Water Resistance: safe to 100 Meters | Accessory Connection: ANT+/Bluetooth | Charging Time: Less than 2 hours | Battery Life: 35 to 100 hours, depending on GPS mode
Coros is a relatively new player in the GPS watch market, but it made a splash when it came on the scene a few years ago and continues to do so. The Apex watch provides advanced features and top-of-the-line training tools with a premium overall design.
The extended battery life was the first notable feature of the Apex, making it one of the best GPS watches for the longer training and racing efforts common to ultra running and triathlon. The Coros Trainer functionality is a smart, built-in coaching feature that can guide you through warm-up sessions, specific workouts and cool-down segments and provide exceptional workout assessments based on your current fitness level while also providing recommended recovery times and activities.
The Apex also boasts an assortment of next-level features, including auto pause, auto lap, and auto scroll, accelerometer and gyroscope movement capture for accurate data and a barometric altimeter. It also offers significant triathlon functionality and swim workout metrics. The Apex has a premium look and feel, but the best reason to consider it is that it has an intuitive, easy-to-use functionality that receives new features and improvements through semi-frequent software updates.
Best multi-sport GPS watch: Polar Grit X
Polar Grit X
A relatively simple, intuitive watch packed with data-rich adventure options
RRP: $430 (US) / £309 (UK) | Display Size: 30.5mm/1.2 in | Display Type: Memory-in-pixel LCD touch display, 240 x 240 pixels | Screen Material: Laminated Gorilla glass lens with anti-fingerprint coating | Bezel Material:: Forged stainless steel | Thickness: 13mm/0.51in | Weight: 64g/2.26oz | Water Resistance: safe to 100 Meters | Accessory Connection: Bluetooth Smart, USB | Charging Time: Less than 2 hours | Battery Life: 40 to 100 hours, depending on GPS mode
The Polar Grit X combines a sturdy build, a streamlined design and a wide range of activity, nutrition, sleep and recovery functions. It has a long battery life and a wide range of features built specifically for hiking and trail running adventures, including ultra running, but is less optimal for traditional road running training.
The Grit X is easy to use, although the color touchscreen is less user-friendly than the responsiveness of the five-button controls along the side of the watch. The Training Load Pro feature monitors the impact of your efforts, FuelWise keeps track of your fueling and hydration needs, FitSpark suggests workouts to aid recovery and Nightly Recharge and Sleep Plus Stages provide good sleep assessments relative to your fitness and training load. While it’s possible to connect the Polar Grit X with a compatible heart rate chest strap, the built-in Precision Prime wrist-based heart monitor provides a consistent pulse reading via optical sensors.
The only downside to the Grit X, barring its lofty price tag, is that the unique Hill Splitter feature lags a bit and doesn’t track ascent and descent data as well as it could. Nonetheless, the Grit X has strong off-road navigational capabilities and great workout-tracking features.
Best GPS watch for running: Garmin Forerunner 245 Music
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music
A functional running watch in a compact design with onboard music
RRP: $349 (US) / £250 (UK) | Display Size: 30.4mm/1.2in | Display Type: Transflective memory-in-pixel LCD color, 240 x 240 pixels | Screen Material: Gorilla Glass | Bezel Material: Fiber-reinforced polymer | Thickness: 12.2mm/0.48in | Weight: 38.5g/1.36oz | Water Resistance: 5ATM (safe to 50 Meters) | Accessory Connection: Bluetooth, Wifi, ANT+ | Charging Time: : About 2 hours | Battery Life: : 6 to 24 hours, depending on GPS mode
If you’re looking for a reliable running watch that can store and play your music via Spotify, Amazon Music or from direct uploads (up to 500 songs onboard) without being tethered to your phone, the Forerunner 245 Music is a good model to consider. (It does have a phone interface that allows you to receive texts, emails and alerts when paired with your phone.)
The Forerunner 245 has built-in coaching features with adaptive workout plans, plus the ability to download more workouts and transfer data to other apps through the Garmin Connect feature. The optical wrist heart-rate monitor and a pulse oxygen meter offer added health details, while workout benchmark alerts can chime or vibrate to keep you on the proper pace. There’s also a range of safety and tracking features, including the ability for friends and family to track your real-time location.
Although it’s primarily a running watch, the Forerunner 245 also offers some functionality for swimming, cycling and general health criteria (sleep, stress, etc.). The color screen isn’t as bold as some of its contemporaries and doesn’t offer touchscreen capability, but its intuitive, five-button interface with tactile feeling and a reassuring click sound is among the best in the business.
Bottom line? If music-on-the-run is your jam, the Forerunner 245 Music is the best GPS watch out there by a sizable margin.
What to look for when buying a GPS watch
All of the best GPS watches share some common, basic features, including time, pace, distance and workout tracking. But that’s where the similarities end. Every GPS watch is slightly different based on its feature package, battery life and intended end-use, so it’s important to understand the features you want and need in order to maximize a watch and get the most out of it.
The first thing to consider when buying a GPS watch for trail running, hiking or general outdoor adventures is the price range of watches and your budget. There are generally three price ranges that watches fall into: basic ($150 and below), mid-range ($200-$350) and high-end ($350 and higher). Many mid-range and high-end watches have accessories that are sold separately, but for the purposes of understanding your own budget and what you’re willing to spend, those three categories are good guidelines. How much should you spend? Only you can decide that, but without trying to sound cliché, you get what you pay for. In other words, a basic-level watch will offer limited overall functionality, while a high-end watch will offer a lot more sports-specific features.
2. Features & Functions
While almost any GPS watch will provide you with real-time pace, distance and elapsed time data, mid-range and high-end watches will also offer features like heart rate monitors, built-in workouts, touch-screen interfaces, waterproof construction (instead of just water-resistant), mapping features, elevation data, auto-pause function, temperature, barometric pressure, calorie burning and a variety of training functions. Some watches have very good music-playing capabilities, but most have no music functions at all. Battery life is another one of the key factors to consider as it can vary greatly among watches. Other key features to be aware of include the ability to upload data and cross-analyze it with previous workouts or adventures, download and interface with other apps, and sport-specific workouts.
Do you want a GPS watch for one sport or one activity? Some watches offer functionality for one main end-use, but have limited features for other sports. For example, a GPS watch built for road and track running might not have as many specific features for trail running. Some watches that excel as hiking or adventure watches will suffice for trail running but not as well for runners who are primarily focused on marathon training. Some watches are touted as “multisport” watches with triathlon-oriented features for swimming, biking and running, including workouts and special bike-mounting accessories. While some basic functions can overlap to other activities, the more specific your needs are, the more you have to look for those features when you’re shopping for a watch.
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