It was 2003 when Garmin first released their Forerunner line of running watches, which used a GPS receiver to constantly keep of track of your location and extrapolate your performance from that information. As advanced as that technology sounds, it was hardly smooth sailing, occasionally requiring you to spend long minutes standing on the side of the road with your arm raised, waiting for satellite signals to load.
Fortunately, GPS sports watches have come a long way since then, with contemporary models now incorporating sensors that allow them to monitor every step, every stride, and every beat of your heart, among an exhaustive amount of data. They perform all that tracking for far more than your runs, too, keeping up the same functions when you’re cycling, hiking, and engaging in a whole host of other sports on both land and water. To top things off, they can handle basic smart features, such as showing phone notifications, calendar, and weather alerts, making them all-around useful devices to have on hand.
These are our favorite multi-sport GPS watches currently in the market.
Garmin Forerunner 45
Best balance in function, style, and price.
If you want to track running, cycling, treadmill running, elliptical activity, yoga, and general cardio workouts, this GPS sports watch will do a great job of recording all the relevant stats, from distance, cadence, and speed to heart rate, intensity, and VO2 Max. It supports interval training and other advanced workouts, complete with downloadable training plans, so you can do semi-guided workouts without having to hire a full-time coach. While it’s rated for 50 meters of water resistance, there’s no swimming profile, so this is strictly for running, cycling, and related cardio activities.
What really makes it stand out, though, is the build. While many sports watches remain uncomfortably large, it has smaller 42mm and 39mm options that should be more in line with actual watches people wear these days, making it the kind of watch you can actually keep in your wrist for the remainder of the day.
Tracks your workouts and plays music without a phone connection.
It’s not the most advanced option in Garmin’s line of GPS sports watches, although it does cram in a whole load of features. For activity monitoring, it has a variety of running profiles that can differentiate between road runs, treadmill runs, track runs, trail runs, and more, along with cycling, pool swimming, cardio workouts, and strength training, recording both basic stats and advanced metrics, such as how heat and altitude affects your performance each time out. It even has outdoor recreation features, including point-to-point navigation, bread crumb trail tracking, and more.
What really sets it apart, though, is the inclusion of onboard storage, allowing it to store up to 500 songs that you can listen to during your workouts. That’s right, no need to bring your phone along, as it can store either your MP3 collection or your Spotify playlist to get you some much-needed musical distraction while you’re on the grind.
Over 80 sports profiles and 120 hours of battery life.
If you like your GPS sports watch big and bulky, you’ll want to check out the Finnish brand, Suunto. This 50mm model, in particular, is viewed by many as the outfit’s best GPS sports watch, taking all the impressive features of the Suunto 9, then throwing in a barometer (for altitude tracking, storm alarms, and weather trends) and a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal glass. We think the additions are worth the extra price, although you can opt for the non-barometer version to shave off around 20 percent off.
Designed for versatile use, it packs over 80 sports profiles, going far beyond the typical training activities (running, cycling, swimming, hiking, and cardio) to accurately keep track of your performance in team sports (basketball, ice hockey), outdoor sports (mountain climbing, horseback riding), watersports (kayaking, kiting), and a whole lot more. Suffice to say, this thing feels like it has profiles for everything you have in your bucket list, on top of having plenty of navigation features.
As you can tell, this is designed for more than just your daily runs, as it makes a strong case as your wearable of choice for those extended backcountry adventures. To make it viable for that, it comes with an “ultra mode” setting that will stretch the battery life up to 120 hours, all while still keeping tabs on your sports activity of choice (it will, however, turn the GPS on and off regularly, so you might not get the most accurate readings at all times).
Some people just want a summary of their performance to help inform their progress, as well as identify potential areas of improvement. Others obsess over numbers like a sports junkie pores over incorrigible stats. This GPS sports watch from Polar will fit nicely for that latter group.
Not only will it track standard and advanced performance stats for over 130 different sport profiles, it will also track training load, monitor recovery, and even help you plan your food intake, with regular reminders following afterwards. Even the sleep tracking is geared towards how it helps your recovery, making it one of the most complete options out there as far as training is concerned.
It has daily on-demand workouts that are tailored to your training history, fitness level, and recovery status, so you’re not only being pushed to your limits, it makes sure you don’t go overboard as well. Style-wise, it looks similar to Suunto’s releases, complete with a large 47mm case, so if you’re into that aesthetic, this should do just as well.
This one is huge at 51mm, so people with small wrists will be wise to think twice immediately. For that size, though, you get a GPS sports watch that can run on full GPS mode for a full 80 hours, a big leap from the 30 or so hours you typically get in the category.
The reason for that 80-hour battery life is the target audience: ultramarathon runners, some of whom spend days on the road, depending on what races they’re training to do. And yes, this is no gimmick, as it keeps that GPS in full function the entirety of those 80 hours.
While ultra running is, naturally, the focus here, with special metrics to account for that specific sport, it does cover a wide range of training profiles. You get six running profiles, seven profiles for gym workouts, cycling, swimming, outdoor recreation, and even golf, complete with 42,000 downloadable courses.
Basically, if you want a GPS sports watch that can do it all, while having a ridiculous battery life, this is as good as it gets. Prepare to shell out a hefty ransom, though.