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Best GPS Watches for Ultrarunning & Trail Running in 2019

Ultrarunners have very specific requirements when it comes to choosing which GPS running watch to buy. Because of these requirements, and the fact that the 3 best brands for this niche are Garmin, Suunto, and Coros, my list of the best GPS watches for ultrarunning is small. Who ever needed too much choice anyway? Listed below are the features that ultrarunning watches should ideally have, to make them worthy of being a long term investment:

  1. a very long battery life to be able to track vast distances over many hours, sometimes even days. There’s nothing worse than having your watch die on you in the middle of an ultra race.
  2. actionable features that help us know when to adjust our effort levels, like a heart rate monitor, for example. Being able to know exactly how much climbing/elevation gain you have accumulated, with an estimate of how much still remains is invaluable data to an ultra runner.
  3. navigation features in case you get lost in the mountains and need to find your way back on course or back to safety. Also very important if you want to explore new trail routes, without having to carry a map.
  4. good durability to withstand hours in the mountains during varying weather conditions, from rainstorms to the extreme cold but also environmental changes like river crossings, for example.
  5. a comfortable fit for usage over many hours, especially important if you have small wrists and don’t want to be carrying a heavy weight around with you for hours on end.
  6. a barometer to help us know our current elevation and when a potential lightning storm may be on its way so that we can take cover if necessary.
  7. a good software platform for analysing activity data and tracking our training performance over time.
  8. the ability to play music, ready for when you need that pain-cave pick-me-up!

1. Coros Apex – [EDITOR’S CHOICE & Most Affordable]

COROS APEX Premium GPS Multisport Watch healthy fathers day gifts Trail and Kale

amazon.com Amazon $299.99
6 new from $299.99
See Deal
Last Amazon price update was: 18th October 2019 2:50 am

Coros is a lesser-known brand that is making serious waves in the trail running and Ultrarunning scene with the Coros Apex GPS Watch in particular [FULL REVIEW HERE]. The list of Coros pro athletes is impressive to say the least, including runners such as: Dom Grossman, Sally McRae, Timothy Olson, Cody Reed, Hayden Hawks, Camille Herron, Tim Tollefson, Adam Campbell, Paula Findlay, Magda Boulet, Jordi Gamito and Hillary Allen.

Weight: 50.8g/55.3gFull GPS: 25/35hoursPrice: $300/$350

The APEX is the only Coros watch to offer two different watch sizes, 42mm and 46mm. This is great news for those who want plenty of features but don’t want to wear a bulky watch due to small wrists.

coros Apex 3 which coros watch is best for running trail and kaleThe APEX tracks course, speed, time, pace – all the usuals, as well as elevation gain / loss, weather (via the built-in barometer) cadence, calories and heart rate. From this data the watch also calculates estimated fitness levels including VO2Max and lactate threshold, and the efficiency of your aerobic and anaerobic training activity.

I really like the simple clean look of the APEX because it means you can wear it to work without it standing out too much. It’s also great knowing that you have the power on your wrist to do those impromptu long runs when you need to though. There’s also a sapphire glass screen for everyday and extreme protection.

Watch Size: 42mm/46mmWaterproof: 100m

The APEX is able to accurately determine your overall effort, broken down into stamina level (0-100) and training effect (0-6). This means COROS Trainer can notify you it’s time to rest up or to pick up your training. Based on the effort level and training history, you can then see an advised recovery window before you begin your next activity. This is available for Interval, Aerobic, and Anaerobic Training modes. Once you’ve finished your workout, the COROS App will give you a complete graphical analysis of your training including VO2 max, recovery advisor, threshold pace, last-7 days training load, personal fitness index and plenty more. Additionally, you can connect to your favorite 3rd party applications such as STRAVA and TrainingPeaks and automatically upload your workouts.

Battery Life for the 42mm size

Reg. use: 24daysFull GPS: 25hoursUltraMax: 80hours

Battery Life for the 46mm size

Reg. use: 30daysFull GPS: 35hoursUltraMax: 100hours

Coros APEX navigation features which Coros GPS watch trail and kale

Routes can be uploaded and displayed on a grid as a bread crumb trail with real-time information on heading and elevation. It also gives you alerts to help you get back on course, should you go off track.

In UltraMax mode, the battery will last up to 100 hours using GPS. While using normal mode will yield up to 35 hours. This is easily enough for most ultramarathons.

Having an extremely competitive price-point, the choice of two lightweight watch sizes, a very impressive battery life, on-wrist HR, and many other features makes the Coros APEX our top pick for trail and ultrarunning.

amazon.com Amazon $299.99
6 new from $299.99
See Deal
Last Amazon price update was: 18th October 2019 2:50 am


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2. Garmin Forerunner 945

Garmin Forerunner 945

Weight: 50gFull GPS: 36 hoursPrice: $600

Garmin Forerunner 945 features:

Battery Life

Up to 2 weeks in smartwatch mode, 10 hours in GPS mode with music or up to 60 hours in UltraTrac™ mode (intermittent GPS tracking). Impressive.

Safety and tracking features

Including incident detection (during select activities) and assistance; both send your real-time location to emergency contacts.

Watch Size: 47mmWaterproof: 50m

HR Monitor

On-wrist heartrate monitor.

Other Performance Monitoring

Performance monitoring features include VO2 max and training status with adjustments for heat, altitude acclimation status, training load focus, recovery time, and aerobic and anaerobic training effects

Navigation

This is what sets Garmin aside! The navigation features are excellent. High resolution, color TOPO maps featuring trend line popularity routing to help you find and follow the best paths. Garmin clearly dominate when it comes to navigation features. I love how easy it is to set up a course/route and then send it to the watch, ready for following during your run. Then when the route is displayed back to you on the watch, the detail is incredible. I love to explore new routes/trails, so being able to see the trails lines on the watch map that you shouldn’t take, makes it so much easier to see the ones you should, hence reducing the chances of getting lost.

Barometer

For accurate altitude/elevation tracking and weather tracking.

Swim, Bike, Triathlon Features

You can change things up with ease, thanks to built-in activity profiles for running (indoor/outdoor), cycling (indoor/outdoor), swimming (pool/open water), cross-country skiing, paddle sports, trail running and many more. Forerunner 945 even has an auto multisport feature that lets you switch sports with a single button press for brick workouts and duathlon/triathlon races.

Music

With the Garmin Forerunner 945 you can also sync music from select premium streaming services, or store up to 1,000 songs on the watch, and connect with headphones (sold separately) enabled with BLUETOOTH® technology for phone-free listening.


RELATED: 5 Best Wireless Headphones for Running in 2019


Software

Garmin Connect is a fun platform to store your runs on. There’s a wealth of data stored there so you can stick to built-in training plans and compete against friends. It can be used to track daily steps, heart rate and sleep data too, provided you wear the watch all day. I like to automatically send my runs to Strava though as I have used the platform for a long time and have many friends on there.


3. Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Series (5S, 5 & 5X)

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Series best gps watches for ultrarunning
Fenix 5S Plus, Fenix 5X Plus, Fenix 5 Plus

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series Key Features

Battery Life

Theres a difference in battery life to look out for when choosing a watch from the Fenix 5 Plus series.

Garmin Fenix 5S Plus (the smaller of the watches): Smartwatch: Up to 7 days, GPS: Up to 11 hours, GPS and Music: Up to 4.5 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 25 hours – Because of its smaller case size (42mm) this the Fenix 5S Plus is perfect for women or men with smaller wrists as long as you don’t plan on running for more than 11 hours in one go. See below to find the best price for the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus Sapphire.

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (the mid sized watch, and most popular): Smartwatch: Up to 12 days, GPS: Up to 18 hours, GPS and Music: Up to 8 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 42 hours. See below to find the best price for the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Sapphire.

Garmin Fenix 5X Plus (the larger watch but best battery life and Wrist-based Pulse Ox sensor that monitors blood oxygen saturation levels to support advanced sleep monitoring and altitude acclimation): Smartwatch: Up to 20 days, GPS: Up to 32 hours, GPS and Music: Up to 13 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 70 hours. The watch for the most serious of athletes that want the best training insights available. See below to find the best price for the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Sapphire with Pulse Ox.

HR Monitor

The on-wrist heartrate monitor is accurate and more comfortable than a chest strap.

Navigation

The navigation features are excellent and in my opinion, the best in class. High resolution, color TOPO maps featuring trend line popularity routing to help you find and follow the best paths. This, in my opinion, is a fantastic feature that blows the competition away in terms of navigation. I love how easy it is to set up a course/route and then send it to the watch, ready for following during your run. Then when the route is displayed back to you on the watch, the detail is so incredible. I love to explore new routes/trails, so being able to see the trails lines on the watch map that you shouldn’t take, makes it so much easier to see the ones you should, hence reducing the chances of getting lost.

Durability

Rugged design with a sapphire watch face, which is more resistant to scratches than other materials.

RELATED POST:  Biolite HeadLamp 330 Review: The Best Value Headlamp of 2019

Barometer + Actionable Features

For accurate altitude/elevation tracking and weather tracking. When following a programmed course, you can set a real-time ‘ghost’ competitor which shows a marker on the watch to motivate you to keep up with it, this can even be your fastest time running that route, very cool. When navigating a course you can also see the route profile with elevation gained and elevation remaining. I love this for being able to quickly visualise how much climbing I have left to crank out.

Water resistance

10 ATM (100m)

Music

You can store and play up to 500 songs on your watch, and connect with Bluetooth headphones.


RELATED: 5 Best Wireless Headphones for Running in 2019


Software

Garmin Connect is a fun platform to store your runs on. There’s a wealth of data stored there so you can stick to built-in training plans and compete against friends. It can be used to track daily steps, heart rate and sleep data too, provided you wear the watch all day. I like to automatically send my runs to Strava though as I have used the platform for a long time and have many friends on there.

Best deals for Garmin Fenix 5S Plus Running Watch

Best deals for Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Running Watch

Best deals for Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Running Watch



4. Suunto 9 Baro

Suunto 9 Baro HR best gps watches for ultrarunning

Suunto 9 Baro Key Features

Battery Life

25 hours of battery life with Performance mode, 40 with Endurance, and up to 120 hours with Ultra mode. The Suunto 9 Baro has the best battery life out of the competition and should be considered if you intend to run middle of the pack ultra races of 100 miles or more.

HR Monitor

The Suunto 9 Baro also has an on-wrist heartrate monitor.

Navigation

Navigation is available but not as feature rich as the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series. I find myself often taking the wrong turn when running new routes because of the lack of detailed maps on the watch.

Durability

Rugged design with a sapphire watch face. Suunto really know how to make watches that last!

Barometer

For accurate altitude/elevation tracking and weather tracking.

Water resistance

100m

Music

Software

Movescount is a pretty feature-rich although the options for visualizing data are not as comprehensive as Garmin Connect. I have noticed that transferring moves from the watch to the platform on a mobile device is slower than the Garmin equivalent. I notice more downtime with their servers too which means you cannot view your activity until the system comes online again. frustrating when you want to analyse that hard training run. Having said this, the platform is sufficient but I’d love to see more stability improvements.

Best deals for Suunto 9 Baro Running Watch


Suunto vs. Garmin vs. Coros watches for Ultrarunning Summary

So if it’s a rock solid watch that has an impressive battery life then the Suunto 9 Baro or the Coros Apex is your best choice. They’re both also less expensive than their competition. If on the other hand, you’re looking for an all-round performer that has feature-rich navigation, a long battery life of up to 32 hours with GPS, and a very comprehensive online platform to store and analyze your activities then the Garmin Forerunner 945 or Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series watches have the edge, but those extra features come at an extra cost.

If you asked me which one I would recommend, I’d say the Garmin Forerunner 945 for the impressive features and I prefer the Garmin user experience & navigation features more. At the end of the day though, you can’t go wrong with either of these GPS watches for running.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hey there! But don’t you want to include Coros in the comparisson? To be honest I used to be a garmin freak but then I meet this brand, they are doing quite good.

    • Hi Roby,
      I haven’t had any experience with a Coros device yet. If I get to try one and it to be great, I’ll add it to the list.
      Thanks for letting me know about them!

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Alastair Dixon
Alastair Dixonhttps://www.trailandkale.com
Hey, I'm Alastair. 5 years ago I started Trail & Kale as a way to share the mental & physical benefits that trail running and nature had given me. Since then Trail & Kale has grown to become a thriving blog and community that inspires people to trail run, hike, adventure more, and live a healthy plant-based lifestyle.
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