GPS Running Watch

How To Make The Best Buy

GArmin 305 GPS running watch

A GPS running watch is a great addition to your training gear. These have evolved over the years and can now be used whilst cycling and swimming as well as running.

They have also come down in price a lot over the years and as such a GPS watch is really a valuable tool you should consider having.

However before checking out our recommendations and spending your money, there are a few things to consider.

Why Use A GPS Running Watch?

The top benefits of using a GPS watch are:

  • It helps you train at the intensity you intend to train at
  • It allows you to quantify your training
  • It allows you to control intensity in a race – and know exactly how far you have left to go.

This means:

  • You don’t over or undertrain
  • You execute your intended race strategy.

GPS watches allow you to monitor and control individual training sessions, as well as track your progress.

Many GPS devices come with a heart rate monitor, and this allows you to check progress over time. For example as you become fitter your heart rate should be lower for a given speed, or you should be able to run faster for the same heart rate.

GPS running watches are also useful for ensuring that over the course of a run, your pacing is appropriate. People often run too hard/fast on easy runs.

If your watch measures altitude this allows you to assess how much vertical ascent or descent was included in your run. This means you can assess the impact of your run more effectively. On a hilly run you will run faster going down hill but slower going up hill. Just having heart rate data won’t tell you as much as seeing this in combination with the profile of your run.

Most GPS watches will allow you to map your route on the computer after your session.

Some GPS running watches have bike modes, and some have ANT+ technology so you can connect them to power meters, with all the data being collected on the GPS device.

You don’t need a separate bike computer if you have a GPS running watch – it measures everything you need on the bike. You can usually buy an attachment for your bike so you can put your GPS watch on the handlebars for easy viewing.

Don’t worry about a GPS running watch being complicated to use, most of them are very simple, and a lot of them don’t even need to be attached to a computer to download.

Choosing A GPS Running Watch

There are many different types of GPS watch, and the one you get will depend on what you want it to do and your budget.
The main brands are Garmin, Polar, Timex and Suunto. Each manufacturer has many different models, so there is a lot of choice out there!

The main things to consider when choosing GPS running watch is:

What do you want to be able to do with it?

Obviously if you don’t want to use it when cycling or swimming that means you don’t need to look for a powermeter compatible or waterproof watch.

Other things to consider are:

  • Is the screen easily readable?
  • Are the buttons easy to use?
  • Can I upload the data to my training log to store, manage and analyse my training? (Polar watches only work with Polar software, whilst Garmin has it’s own training log software – Garmin Connect – but still allows you to upload your data to other training log programs)?
  • Do I want to be able to measure changes in altitude?
  • Do I want to be able to use it as a normal watch?
  • Do I want it to link with my power meter/heart rate monitor?

Our Recommendations

There is a big choice of GPS running watches, and lots of often overwhelmingly detailed information about them.

To save you ploughing through many reviews, reading forums and struggling to make a decision, here, to help make your choice easier, are our top GPS running watches.

Look for all sorts of different GPS watches on

The Ultimate GPS Watch

Garmin 910X

This is the GPS watch for you if you love collecting and analyzing data, and cost is no issue.

The Garmin Forerunner 910XT is the newest Garmin GPS watch (available from November 2011), and the ideal training partner for any triathlete. Being new and also the only GPS device that provides detailed swim metrics and also monitors distance, pace, elevation and heart rate for both running and cycling, it is relatively pricey, but if collecting and analyzing your training data is your thing, this is the GPS watch for you.

It is slightly smaller than the Forerunner 310XT, making it more suitable for those with smaller wrists.

    Main features

    • Water-resistant to 50m.
    • Swim distance, stroke identification, stroke count and pool lengths and swimming efficiency (through calculating swolf score). Can see stroke information in open water – in real-time get total time, total distance pace (100/yd).
    • Auto multisport feature so one button press to move between swim, bike and run modes.
    • Optional quick release mount for wrist to bike.
    • Includes barometric altimeter (much more accurate than GPS altimeter) for elevation data including ascent, descent and grade.
    • Can set up alerts so it vibrates when you hit a split, time to take on nutrition etc.
  • 20 hours battery life
  • Compatible with ANT+ for linking with power meters, optional speed/cadence sensor and heart rate monitor.
  • Wireless linking with computer (Mac and PC) for download.
  • From 2012 Garmin Vector power pedals will link with the 910XT to provide power output (watts) data. It will also link either other pedal/cleat based power meters such as Brim Brothers Zone.
  • Can customise up to 5 different bikes – can store ANT+ sensor details, wheel size, bike weight.
  • Training peaks metrics of training stress score, intensity factor and normalised power.
  • Virtual partner – pace against a set speed or pace.
What we like:
  • Measures barometric altitude
  • Smaller than previous Garmin watches
  • Provides swim metrics
  • It is slightly smaller than the Forerunner 310XT, making it more suitable for those with smaller wrists.

What we don't like:

  • No heart rate data recorded or displayed whilst underwater
  • Good in open water but not super accurate
  • Quite bulky for the smaller wrist
  • Battery only 20 hours so really just a training watch, not to be used day-to-day.

Top 3 Buys At Good Value

These are three fairly similar watches in terms of their functionality, your decision between them will come down to your budget and personal preference. If budget is not an issue, we recommend the Garmin Forerunner 310XT.

Garmin Forerunner 310XT

Introduced in spring 2009, the Garmin Forerunner 310XT is Garmin’s step-up from the Garmin 305, with some new features ideal for triathletes.

Main features:

  • 4 screen display
  • Water-resistant
  • Tracks data in multiple sport modes
  • Wireless computer connection
  • 20 hours battery life
  • Tracks distance, pace, heart rate
  • ANT+ enabled to link with power meter
  • Connects with optional HR monitor, foot pod and cadence sensor
  • Has optional quick release strap and bike mount for moving from wrist to bike
  • Categorises swim, bike and run in one workout and can also log transition time
  • Smaller and lighter than previous Forerunners
  • Virtual partner – set pace to follow
  • Can set alerts – audio, visual, vibration
  • Can set for 3 bikes.

What we like:

  • Links to power meter
  • Can be used for swim, bike, run

What we don't like:

  • GPS doesn’t track distance in the water, however it does accurately estimate open water swim distance and average speed.

Garmin Forerunner 305

Introduced in 2007, the Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS running watch is a few years old now, but as the price has come down is now excellent value, and still a great watch.

Main features:

  • High sensitivity GPS receiver – good tracking even under trees or near tall buildings
  • ANT+ wireless HR monitor
  • Measures speed, distance, and allows you to compare this and HR to previous workouts
  • Multisport feature so can move easily between run and bike
  • Optional footpod to allow you to train on a treadmill and still track distance, pace etc.
  • 4 quadrants for displaying data on the screen – customisable, easy to read.
  • 10 hours battery

What we like:

  • Good signal reception

What we don't like:

  • Not water resistant – only for 30 minutes, and up to 1m deep
  • Doesn’t link to power meter
  • Quite chunky - slightly bigger than other Garmins mentioned here.

Timex Ironman Global Trainer

Released in early 2010, the Timex Global Trainer GPS Watch is more of a ‘normal’ looking watch than many GPS watches. In terms of thickness and size it is pretty much the same as the Garmin Forerunner 310XT, but it is slightly cheaper.

Main features:

  • Five customizable displays - each with up to four data windows
  • Multisport mode to easily move between modes
  • Workout data can be downloaded to Training Peaks for storage and analysis
  • Rated water-resistant to 50M — swim-friendly
  • ANT+ compatible
  • 15 hours battery
  • USB cable connection to computer for download
  • Can set alerts (audio and visual – no vibrations, hence slightly cheaper than similar watches from other manufacturers)
  • Buttons very easy to handle
  • Performance pacer – set pace to follow.

What we like:

  • Easy to read 4 part screen

What we don't like:

  • Shuts off after 30 minutes in-activity
  • Doesn’t support foot pods for indoor running
  • Doesn’t remember last position, can be a bit slow at finding GPS signal.

Best For Small Wrists

Many people with smaller wrists don’t like the size of many of the most popular GPS watches and the resultant feeling of running with a computer strapped to their arm.

It is worth bearing in mind that you will probably get used to this feeling fairly quickly. However for those of you who would prefer something a little more streamlined, the option we would recommend is the Garmin Forerunner 405.

Garmin Forerunner 405

Appearing on the market in spring 2008, the Garmin Forerunner 405 GPS running watch has most of the features of the Forerunner 305/310XT and Timex Global Trainer.

However it is much smaller, looking almost like a normal watch.

Main features:

  • Measures speed, distance, and allows you to compare this and HR to previous workouts
  • Virtual partner – set pace to follow
  • Customisable display screen – 3
  • comes in 2 colors — black or green
  • ANT+™ wireless for data transfer to your computer
  • Optional heart rate monitor, speed/cadence bike sensor andfoot pod for indoor use
  • High-sensitivity GPS receiver for improved tracking under trees and near tall buildings.

What we like:

  • Water resistant
  • Fits small wrists well

What we don't like:

  • Relatively short battery life (8 hours in training mode)
  • Touch-bezel system doesn’t work well when wet, and is not to everyone’s liking
  • Is not detachable from wristband so separate bike mount is required
  • Doesn’t link to power meter.

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