Today’s powerful GPS running watches have all the sport-specific features to track every stride on the roads, but they’re also packed with other sensors and technology to keep you connected the rest of the day, too. A GPS running watch is a pretty sizable investment that you’ll want to last for years and miles to come, so it’s important to choose the right one for you. Whether this is your first time buying an advanced watch, or you’re poking around for an updated model, we have some tips and suggestions for making sure the right one lands on your wrist. Check out quick facts below on five of the top GPS running watches on our list, then read on for longer reviews plus buying advice.
Made for Running... and So Much More
In most cases, more features mean more dollars when you’re shopping for a new GPS watch. While there are ways to cut down on price—like buying a refurbished version or opting for an older model of a recently released watch—narrowing down the features you need is key. And that doesn’t just include fitness features. These high-tech timepieces come with a slew of lifestyle functions and perks that you may—or might not—use long after you kick off your running shoes. Here are a few of the hottest features, for both working out and just hanging out, that you’ll want to consider.
Altimeters, barometers, and gyroscopes show up in GPS watches geared to hikers and trail runners who want to keep tabs on altitude and air pressure, and navigate new routes in the wilderness. But they do come at a bit of a price bump, so decide where you’ll be doing most of your training. If the answer is on the roads, check out watches with built-in visual maps to guide you through new neighborhoods, or ones that track your in-depth running metrics and design personalized workouts for you. Think you’ll be spending a lot of time cross-training? Some high-end picks offer up to 80 different sport modes ranging from surfing to snowboarding and biking to badminton. Some watches will even let your friends live track your runs.
GPS watches with cellular service mean you can call and text right from your wrist, and give you access to your favorite smartphone apps. For example, you might order your Starbucks latte on the go, stream music wirelessly through Spotify, track your Uber ride, switch off your house lights—and then brag all about it on Facebook. Wi-Fi compatibility can also make it easier to sync a full music library, check the weather, or scroll through your e-mail. And no worries if you leave you wallet at home. NFC payment features mean you can pay right from your wrist.
Watch makers are running out of features to pack into our tracking devices, but one that nearly every update is receiving is pulse oximetry. “It’s a non-invasive way to measure the amount of oxygen carried in your red blood cells,” says Jonathan Parsons, M.D., a pulmonologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Now, smartwatches, including the Fitbit Sense and Apple Watch, have redesigned their optical heart-rate sensors to measure blood-oxygen levels. They can provide only an estimation of your blood oxygen (SpO2), but for data-driven runners, “they’re accurate enough to give you a ballpark number and frame of reference as to how your numbers are trending,” says Parsons. When the number is lower, your blood is carrying less oxygen and workouts will feel harder—this is especially true if you’re at altitude. A lower number may also suggest that you should focus on recovery.
How We Tested
Our staff of experienced test editors has used each of these GPS running watches for several months. We evaluate the devices based on features, accuracy, battery life, connectivity, and what they’re like to use on our daily runs. Our most-recommended watches satisfied our data tracking needs and delighted us with intuitive user experiences and additional apps and features.
Here are some of the top-of-the-line watches and how they stack up. Looking for something simpler or more affordable? Check out Basic Watches for Runners.
[Related: The Best Smart Watches for Men]
Apple Watch Series 7
Quick Take: The popular smartwatch gets one millimeter bigger with an easier to read face
Connectivity: Bluetooth, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi | Battery Life: Up to 18 hours
Why We Like It: The omnipresent smartwatch looks familiar but is noticeably easier to read, thanks to a new one-millimeter size increase. That, combined with thinner borders and a rounded edge, makes it easier to read data when on the move—for example, the tiny time of day in the top-right corner when the Workouts app is running. The new glass is Apple's most crack-resistant front crystal, the company reports.
The watch still comes in two sizes, both a millimeter larger than AW6—41mm and 45mm. And it still includes fall detection and EKG, features that have been around a couple of years now. Runners in particular will like the always-on display, so you don’t have to exaggeratedly lift your arm to peek at your pace. That was introduced on Series 5, though indoor performance was made even brighter in this update.
Morning runners will like that the watch charges even faster now—from zero to 80 percent in just 45 minutes. That’s 33 percent faster than Series 6. In the past, you'd have to place the Apple Watch on its charger on a bedside table overnight. But with the pulse ox sensor and sleep-tracking tools packed into watchOS, the watch is designed to be worn overnight. So this is a useful update. Toss it on a charger while you shower and get ready after your morning run, and you have a fresh battery to get through the rest of the day.
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
Quick Take: Detailed maps and exceptional battery life
Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, Wi-Fi | Battery Life: Up to 120 hours
Why We Like It: The Fenix has always been a rugged, indestructible timepiece for the backcountry that we’ve used for trail running and, well, everyday running as well. The biggest reason is because of the watch’s never-ending battery—it’ll last 15 hours with GPS and music, or you can adjust settings to stretch it to 120 hours of run tracking. We find that we have to charge it only about once a week with regular use. It also has one of the biggest screens you’ll find on a GPS running watch, one that’s capable of showing you up to seven different metrics on a single display. A cool new feature of the 6 is PacePro, which replaces your old printed pace bands for race day. As a digital tool, the watch factors hills into each split, so you can better manage your energy on a rolling course—and you can customize the strategy; we like shooting for a negative split and running the uphill sections a little harder. But the feature that we use the most is the watch’s navigation. It includes a map complete with street names. Zooming and panning is doable, if clunky, but it helps keep me from getting lost when navigating unfamiliar cities. I also use it to plot out courses in advance, and the watch gives me turn-by-turn directions on the run so I get where I’m going without any unnecessary detours.
Coros Vertix 2
Quick Take: Detailed maps and an enormous battery
Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi | Battery Life: 140 hours
Why We Like It: Coros distinguishes itself from other watch makers by its nearly endless battery life. Every model seems to last longer than its rivals. The Vertix 2 is no exception, with a battery that will go an astonishing 140 hours (up from 60 hours in the first version of this watch). You can further stretch its life by sampling your geolocation less frequently, and get up to 240 hours of use—realistic only for hikers and multi-day ultrarunners.
But the biggest feature of the Vertix 2 is the use of “dual-frequency” and ability to ping five satellite systems. Modern GPS running watches have gotten remarkably accurate, with very few truly errant track points. But Coros’s use of dual-frequency is a first for running watches. It works by looking at two different radio signals that a satellite sends and then filters out any that may have bounced off a tree or tall building (which leads to an error in where it thinks you are on the globe). The expected result is a track that follows your actual route much more closely than watches without this functionality. In testing, we found our path still wobbled slightly and cut corners, and the final distance was never more than a few hundredths of a mile different from a Garmin Fenix 6X Pro or Enduro. But, in truly tricky situations, like heavy tree cover and cities with skyscrapers, it can help ensure your data is more accurate.
Polar Grit X
Quick Take: Brilliantly simple maps in a small package
Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart, USB | Battery Life: Up to 40 hours
Why We Like It: Polar finally gets into the rugged, outdoors scene with the Grit X, designed to compete with the Garmin Fenix and Suunto 9. Like those other watches, it has a long-lasting battery, navigation capabilities, and advanced workout tracking features. But, on your wrist, the Grit X is smaller than those other models. The battery will last 40 hours in standard GPS mode (taking a position reading every second), but like the Fenix and 9, you can boost that lifespan by reducing the frequency of its tracking—up to 100 hours if it pings your location every two minutes and all other sensors are disabled. That’s not terribly useful for runners in most cases, but for extreme ultras and multiday hikes, it’ll get you to the end without an external battery pack.
When navigating, the watch is really designed for trails and off-road. There’s no map with street names, which we miss, but if the goal is to keep you from getting lost, the breadcrumb does that. On courses where we looped back over a trail or road we’d already run, the watch displayed our correct path with a thick green line (white lines indicate where you’ve been, or trails that you’ll cover later). It’s easier to follow than on some other watches that use a single color.
Another handy feature for runners covering extreme terrain is Hill Splitter. This feature automatically detects when you start climbing or descending, and will display how long you’ve been running the hill and how steep it is. If you’re doing a hill workout, it’ll also keep track of how many reps you’ve done.
Garmin Forerunner 945
Quick Take: Every training tool a runner or triathlete could want
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, ANT+, Wi-Fi | Battery life: Up to 36 hours (10 hours with music)
Why We Like It: The Garmin Forerunner 945 is the most feature-packed Forerunner yet. It tracks your every step on the run and your heartbeat as you sleep to give you a complete profile of your life as an athlete. And the newest model supports music playback—it stores up to 1,000 songs, whether they’re your own MP3s or synced from a music service like Spotify. The color maps, previously exclusive to the Fenix watch series, are another handy feature. Displayed on the watch, they help you find your way around new cities without getting lost. You can even generate round-trip courses on the fly, no computer required.
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music
Quick Take: An update to a tried-and-true GPS running watch, the 245 has enough new features to make you consider upgrading from the classic Garmin 235
Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi | Battery Life: 7 days in smartwatch mode; 6 hours in GPS with music
Why We Like It: If you’ve been a devoted fan of the Garmin Forerunner 230/235 models for years, this is an upgrade that will surely entice if you’re also a music or podcast lover. As long as you have Bluetooth headphones, the 245 let’s you leave one piece of technology at home when you run—your phone—and let’s you sync your favorite music from services like Spotify as you run. (If you don’t use Spotify, you’ll be able to manually add music and podcasts via Garmin Express.) Other advancements include performance monitoring and adaptive training plans, new safety features, and other upgraded health features—like menstrual cycle tracking and sleep monitoring. The few downfalls include a lack of battery life when you’re using GPS along with music streaming (only six hours, according to Garmin) and the multiple screens to dial through when scrolling through your playlists and advancing/rewinding a song or podcast.
Coros Apex Multisport Watch
Quick Take: An elite GPS watch for running and triathlons that has a long battery life and an intermediate price
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, ANT+| Battery Life: Up to 100 hours
Why We Like It: Packing precise GPS tracking and insane battery life into a compact package, the Coros Apex is a top-tier multisport watch for beginners and elites alike. The Apex keeps the countless metric combinations found in the Pace, the brand’s previous sports watch, while integrating some exciting new features that runners will embrace. Notably, battery life is up to 35 hours in regular GPS tracking mode, but can be extended to last up to 100 hours if you require. It also gives you a slew of metrics you can view over five screens during your workout, including a new metric called stamina—an estimate of how much energy you have left in your own tank.
Quick Take: Long battery life and navigation
Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart, ANT+ | Battery Life: 72 hours
Why We Like It: The biggest downside to this watch is that the battery lasts so long you might forget where you put the charging cord. The Enduro strips out unnecessary features, like touchscreens and music control, to focus on accurate tracking for a really, really long time. The battery lasts over 72 hours in GPS mode with the optical heart-rate sensor running, and recharges from almost zero to 100 percent in about three hours. The watch acquires a signal very quickly, and syncing activities to Garmin Connect is seamless. Plus, we love that Garmin still allows you to sync and customize the watch through a computer, where many competitors have switched to mobile-only ecosystems. It’s super easy to load GPS courses onto the watch, and on-the-run directions help you stay on course and aware of what’s ahead. Note: the Enduro only offers a breadcrumb trail to follow and does not have any basemap functionality. But that's enough to stay on course, as the watch vibrates if you take a wrong turn. It also gives you specs on elevation along your route.
Polar Vantage V 2
Quick Take: Lightweight, powerful watch with advanced training tools built in
Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery Life: Up to 100 hours
Why We Like It: The Vantage has been revamped, and is no longer part of the confusing two-watch (V and M) series. Instead, it’s a pricey, powerful watch that takes all of the advanced functions we love in the Grit X, but packs on extra performance testing features geared for serious run training. Now you can get a gauge on your VO2 Max from the watch itself, or get mid-workout fueling reminders so you don’t bonk late in a long run. We like the new FitSpark feature, which suggests workouts—strength, cardio, or supportive—to complement your running. After a four-miler in a snowstorm, the Vantage suggested I do a 23-minute mobility routine to improve my range of motion. A five-minute warmup was followed by one-minute exercises like inchworm, scorpion, hip roll, and cal stretch. An animated icon on the overview screen shows how to do each move, but is replaced by a countdown timer when you’re performing the exercises.
One knock on the watch is its music functionality. Yes, you can control music from the watch, but that just makes it a remote control for your phone. There is no onboard storage for audio tracks. So you have to tote your phone if you want tunes.
Update: Polar has announced a “Shift Edition” of the Vantage V2, which gives you the ability to swap bands with any 22mm strap. The Shift comes with a perforated leather strap that looks great at the office and a rubberized strap that works better for sweaty runs. We’ve been testing the watch since its announcement and find it effortless to switch between the two looks.
Coros Pace 2
Quick Take: Stripped down to only the features you need to run on roads.
Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery Life: 30 hours
Why We Like It: There’s a lot to like about an affordable, long-lasting alternative to the major players in the GPS watch game. Coros has consistently delivered and its new Pace 2 is refined to focus only on being the lightest, fastest run-tracking experience for road runners. It’s not bogged down by any extra features you’re unlikely to ever use. At just 29 grams, the Pace 2 is the lightest GPS watch we’ve tested—the Apple Watch Series 5 weighs 31 grams and the original Pace was 48 grams—but doesn’t skimp on battery. In fact, it’ll go up to 30 hours of GPS tracking between charges, long enough that you can leave the power cord at home when you go away for a weekend run vacation. Some of that weight savings comes from a new lightweight nylon strap that’s comfortably snug and more easily adjustable than silicone options.
While it dials in on the basics, it does have a few extras typically found on more expensive models. One function we like is “running power,” which is measured at your wrist, so you can use that metric to determine just how efficiently you’re running.
Quick Take: A multisport GPS watch that ultrarunners will love because the battery lasts for days at a time
Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart, USB | Battery Life: GPS battery life up to 120 hours
Why We Like It: Everything about this watch is big—even the face. But that allows it to pack in a massive battery that will outlast any run you can do. Suunto claims a mind-blowing 120 hours with GPS active using the “Ultra” setting, which records your geolocation only every two minutes. Bonus: If the watch senses that your battery is running low, it will give you a reminder to switch to a different power mode so it will last longer.
Quick Take: The closest competitor to the Apple Watch, but with a better battery
Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery Life: Up to 5 days
Why We Like It: This new smartwatch is the closest competitor to an Apple Watch. It’s like Fitbit’s Versa sports watch with extra sensors, including an ECG, blood-oxygen monitor, and a stress scanner (all features found on the Apple Watch Series 6). Like that other smart watch, the Versa allows you to use your voice to control it—via Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. That may not sound very exciting, but it’s a lot easier to just tell your watch what to do (like play music) than to hunt through menus while you’re running.
The sleek square-oval design affords plenty of real estate to read splits on the run, though we found the display doesn’t always light up when we raised our wrist, and the touchscreen is somewhat unresponsive to exceptionally sweaty fingers. What makes it stand out from other smartwatches: It offers all those sensors and around-the-clock health monitoring, yet the battery will go five days between charges.