Choosing a new sports watch is always tricky, even when you have the advantage of testing all the latest models for at least a couple of weeks each. I've written a guide to the best GPS watches that contains all the models I'd recommend to friends and family, but which one to pick from that shortlist depends very much on the individual – and this week I found out I made the wrong choice.
Last year, I had the opportunity to test the Garmin Fenix 7 for Advnture's sister site TechRadar, where I was fitness editor. It was the latest flagship, shiny and new, with great GPS, battery life and fitness tracking features. I was in the market for a new watch, and although it was at the very top of my budget, after returning Garmin's review sample (which I never keep), I bought my own.
I opted for the smaller Fenix 7S, and although I really wanted the solar version, I couldn't justify the extra cash. It was a mistake.
Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic watch, and most of the time it's perfect for my needs. It's ideal for running and cycling, especially when connected to the HRM Pro-Plus heart rate monitor. It monitors sleep, stress, heart rate variability and much more, which even gave me an early warning last time I got sick.
Although its screen is a bit too small for maps, I typically plan my routes beforehand so it's rarely a problem (with one notable exception when a club run turned into an adventure in a scrapyard).
Know your priorities
The problem is, while up to 26 hours of use in all-systems GPS mode is fine for running, it's not nearly enough for a week of camping and walking. I've not been camping for more than a weekend recently, and I'd forgotten just how much power you can burn through if you're hiking for five or six hours a day. Throw in sleep tracking to see how well your new sleeping pad is working out, and you'll be lucky to get three days in total before you have to switch to battery saver mode.
It frustrated me so much, I'm about to advertise it for a discount price to my running club, and switch to a Garmin Instinct 2.
Looking at specs alone, that's objectively a downgrade. The Instinct 2 has a lower resolution screen that's monochrome rather than color, and has no touch controls. It also lacks Wi-Fi connectivity, and can't connect to all the same cycling accessories (thought it will work with the trainers at my local gym). It's less glam, with a bezel made from resin rather than stainless steel, but it's also lighter, which is a plus.
However, for me battery life and GPS accuracy are the factors that really matter, and there the Instinct 2 is the outright winner. I rarely use the Fenix's touch controls, and when I want to dive into stats, the Garmin Connect app is better than viewing them on my wrist. The Fenix 7 has a newer GPS chipset, but during my tests for TechRadar I found the Instinct 2's results well within acceptable limits. Most importantly of all, it can go weeks between charges, even for long walking vacations where you'll be off-grid for extended periods.
In terms of activity tracking modes and other software features, recent updates have brought the two watches very close to parity. The Instinct 2 will still give me a training readiness score, daily suggested workouts, and running power from the wrist. Other running dynamics will come from the HRM Pro-Plus. For me, it works.
The moral of the story? The best GPS watch in absolute terms isn't necessarily the best GPS watch for you. Think carefully about what you personally need, and where your priorities lie rather than getting distracted by the latest and greatest new devices. If a friend has one of the watches on your shortlist, ask kindly if you can borrow it for a while (making sure to connect it to your own account, of course, so you don't mess up their stats).
- Best cheap GPS watches: track your workouts on a budget
All the latest inspiration, tips and guides to help you plan your next Advnture!
Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.