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. Whoever 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- a good software platform for analyzing activity data and tracking our training performance over time.
- the ability to play music, ready for when you need that pain-cave pick-me-up!
1. Garmin Fenix 6 Series (6S, 6 & 6X – Pro & Sapphire Editions) [BEST OVERALL]
Before getting into the features of each individual variation of the Garmin Fenix 6 series (there are A LOT), I’d like to point out that the Garmin Fenix 6S Pro variant is the watch we rate as the best GPS watch for runners, due to its small size, impressive feature set, and good price point. The difference between the Fenix 6S and 6S Pro is that the Pro has additional features including Music, Maps, and WiFi.
Some may like to upgrade this setup further by opting to add the sapphire scratch-resistant lens to the 6S Pro Sapphire. The sapphire lens will undoubtedly increase the durability and lifespan of your Fenix watch because once a screen is overly scratched, it can be difficult to distinguish data that is displayed on the screen.
Garmin has made so many options available that it can be a bit daunting knowing which Fenix GPS watch to choose for running with, so I thought I’d quickly share my choice of setup which in my opinion makes this the best GPS watch for ultrarunning.
The Best GPS Watch For Trail Running – Garmin Fenix 6 series Key Features
There are differences in battery life which you should be aware of when choosing a watch from the Garmin Fenix 6 series. See below for each watch and its corresponding battery life in each of the available modes.
FENIX 6S – Smartwatch: Up to 9 days / GPS: Up to 25 hours / Max Battery GPS Mode: 50 hours / Expedition GPS Activity: 20 days / Battery Saver Watch Mode: 34 days
FENIX 6S PRO – Smartwatch: Up to 9 days / GPS: Up to 25 hours / GPS and Music: Up to 6 hours / Max Battery GPS Mode: 50 hours / Expedition GPS Activity: 20 days / Battery Saver Watch Mode: 34 days. – Because of its smaller case size (42mm), the Fenix 6S Pro is perfect for women or men with small-to-medium wrists who don’t plan on running for more than 25 hours in one go. A smaller/lighter GPS watch also means it will remain comfortable for much longer than a heavier alternative. See below to find the best price for the Garmin Fenix 6S Pro.
FENIX 6 PRO– Smartwatch: Up to 14 days / GPS: Up to 36 hours / GPS and Music: Up to 10 hours / Max Battery GPS Mode: 72 hours / Expedition GPS Activity: 28 days / Battery Saver Watch Mode: 48 days. – This is the mid-sized watch and arguably the most popular because of it. See below to find the best price for the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro.
FENIX 6X PRO – Smartwatch: Up to 21 days / GPS: Up to 60 hours / GPS and Music: Up to 15 hours / Max Battery GPS Mode: 120 hours / Expedition GPS Activity: 46 days / Battery Saver Watch Mode: 80 days.This is the watch for the most serious of athletes that want the best realtime training insights available. This is the larger watch but it has the best battery life. See below to find the best price for the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro.
The on-wrist heart rate monitor is accurate and more comfortable than a chest strap. This even works underwater, so you can track your heart rate while swimming, now thats impressive.
Pulse OX Sensor
For altitude acclimation or sleep monitoring, a Pulse Ox2 sensor uses light beams at your wrist to gauge how well your body is absorbing oxygen. Super useful when running at altitude or when used as an extra indicator for current fitness levels. ALL Fenix GPS watches now include this as standard, awesome!
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.
Rugged design especially if you opt to upgrade to a sapphire watch face. It will cost you an extra $100 but your watch face will be more resistant to scratches than other materials.
Altimeter, Barometer, Compass, and 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 visualize how much climbing I have left to crank out.
10 ATM (100m)
You can store up to 2000 songs on the watch which means you won’t need your phone with you to play music.
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.
Those features are just some of the reasons why I rate the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro to be the best GPS watch for trail running.
Best deals for Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Running Watch
18 new from $549.99
2 used from $599.99
Best deals for Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Running Watch
20 new from $549.95
2 used from $649.99
Best deals for Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Running Watch
20 new from $599.99
2 used from $579.00
2. Coros Apex – [EDITOR’S CHOICE & Most Affordable]
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/55.3g||Full GPS: 25/35hours||Price: $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.
The 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/46mm||Waterproof: 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: 24days||Full GPS: 25hours||UltraMax: 80hours|
Battery Life for the 46mm size
|Reg. use: 30days||Full GPS: 35hours||UltraMax: 100hours|
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.
- Coros Apex Review 2020: The Ultimate GPS Watch For Trail Runners?
- Coros GPS Watches Compared in 2020: Which one should you buy?
3. Garmin Forerunner 945
|Weight: 50g||Full GPS: 36 hours||Price: $600|
Garmin Forerunner 945 features:
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: 47mm||Waterproof: 50m|
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
21 new from $549.93
1 used from $538.99
4. Suunto 9 Baro
Suunto 9 Baro Key Features
25 hours of battery life with Performance mode, 40 with Endurance, and up to 120 hours with Ultra mode. The Suunto 9 Baro has great battery life and should be considered if you intend to run the middle of the pack ultra races of 100 miles or more.
The Suunto 9 Baro also has an on-wrist heartrate monitor.
Navigation is available but not as feature-rich as the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro series. I find myself often taking the wrong turn when running new routes because of the lack of detailed maps on the watch.
Rugged design with a sapphire watch face. Suunto really know how to make watches that last!
For accurate altitude/elevation tracking and weather tracking.
No music available so you’ll have to rely on your mobile phone or music device. I prefer to save phone battery life for emergencies so will end up not listening to music during an ultramarathon unless my watch has the capability.
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
6 new from $549.90
4 used from $324.18
Suunto vs. Garmin vs. Coros watches for Ultrarunning Summary
In summary then, If you’re looking for an all-round performer that has feature-rich navigation, On-wrist HR + Pulse OX, a long battery life of up to 50 hours with GPS, and a very comprehensive online platform to store and analyze your activities then the Garmin 6S/6 Pro is my recommended choice. If on the other hand, you don’t think you need all those features, and would prefer a less expensive, rock-solid watch that has an impressive battery life and a simple interface, then the Suunto 9 Baro or the Coros Apex are both great choices.
I really hope you enjoyed reading this Best GPS Watches for Ultrarunning and Trail Running Buyer’s Guide. If you did, please give it a share, and if you have any questions at all, please leave it in the comments below, I love talking about running gadgets! 🙂
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