There’s a lot of choice out there when it comes to regular GPS running watches, however there are some specific features that only the best GPS watches have that make them suitable for endurance running and training, which narrows down your options.
Whether you’re into running long trail runs, ultra marathons or multi-day efforts such as fastpacking or hiking long weekends, a good running watch needs to stand up to the task of accurately and reliably tracking your location, but also be suitably robust, have great battery life and help you track other indicators such as heart rate, effort levels, recovery time and – for some – provide excellent navigation features, too. Click here to jump down to read more about the key features used in our selection criteria when picking out the best GPS running watch for your specific style of running and workout training.
The 4 leading brands for this ultra-endurance niche are Garmin, Suunto, Coros, and Polar, so our list of the best GPS watches for running is short, because when we say the best, we mean it – these aren’t just good running watches, they are all great options! With that said, we’ve included reviews for each GPS watch in this list and explained the key features each watch has to offer so you can choose which suits your needs the best. We’ve also explained when it makes sense to wear a smartwatch for running, such as an Apple Watch, and the pros and cons of training with a smartwatch instead of a specific GPS running watch.
Side note: If you enjoy running in off the grid locations I would also recommend looking into getting yourself a Satellite Messenger and Personal Locator beacon combo incase you get lost, or find yourself injured with no means to make it back to civilization without help.
Best GPS Running Watches – Top Picks
While we’ve included reviews of each of these running watches below, here’s a brief summary of each watch’s key features to help you choose which is best for you, based on budget, battery life, navigation, and more.
It’s worth noting that ALL of the Garmin, Suunto, COROS and Polar GPS watches on this list are waterproof down to at least 100m, have on-wrist heart rate monitoring and can track elevation gain and loss as standard, and all the watches we tested have proven quick to pick up GPS signal and accurate when it comes to GPS tracking.
If you’d like to read more about each watch, click the review links to jump down and read more details and our thoughts on each watch’s pros and cons.
1. Overall Best GPS Running Watch – Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
Review summary and stand-out features: This is a best-in-class reliable Garmin running watch, with excellent battery life and outstanding navigation features. The Garmin Fenix 6S Pro has every feature you could want in a GPS watch for trail and ultra running, including music, and also has a great range of features for other sports and workout tracking.
2. Best GPS Watch for Ultra Running – COROS APEX
Review summary and stand-out features: The COROS APEX is an excellent value, easy to use GPS running watch with outstanding battery life suitable for ultra marathon training and racing, yet it’s small enough to wear every day. Offered in two sizes, with the smaller option a great choice for people with small wrists.
3. Best GPS Watch for Thru-Hiking / Backpacking – Garmin Enduro
Review summary and stand-out features: The Enduro is a super rugged Garmin GPS watch with excellent battery life that will stand up to multi-day ultra-endurance efforts, including not just ultra marathons but also multi-sport racing, thru-hiking and backpacking adventures. It also features an ultra-run checkpoint timer which is a great differentiating feature.
4. Best for Mountain Running – Suunto Baro
Review summary and stand-out features: Another excellent GPS running and multi-sport watch with great battery life and a rugged build designed to withstand big days in the mountains and on trails. The Suunto Baro comes with a sapphire face for increased scratch-resistance as standard, making it a super durable choice if you’re taking it to challenging environments on your runs and adventures.
5. Best Smartwatch for Running – Apple Watch Series 6
Review summary and stand-out features: Seamlessly integrate tracking your runs with GPS using your smartwatch for running, with a lightweight, comfortable watch you can wear every day. Apple Watch Series 6 is a sleek option for runners who don’t need the durability and barometric features of the more expensive GPS running watches, plus you have added features such as being able to play music when running, and direct integration with running apps such as Strava.
6. Best for Heart Rate Training – Polar GRIT X
Review summary and stand-out features: A great value running watch with excellent heart rate and recovery monitoring and activity tracking features, including a sleep tracker, making it the best GPS watch for heart rate training. The Polar Grit X is designed to be comfortable even for people with smaller wrists to wear everyday and overnight (for sleep tracking) as well as when running.
Overall Best GPS Running Watch
1. Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
Before getting into the features of each individual variation of the Garmin Fenix 6 series, the Garmin watch we rate as the overall best running watch is the Garmin Fenix 6S Pro variant due to its small size and impressive feature set.
Garmin Fenix GPS Watches Compared
In this Garmin running watch comparison we’re mainly comparing the ‘Pro’ watches – which all have music, maps and Wifi (the Fenix 6S does not).
There are differences in battery life between the different Fenix 6 models, 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:
|GPS MODES||6S Pro Battery||6 Pro Battery||6X Pro Battery|
|Smartwatch||9 days||14 days||21 days|
|GPS||25 hours||36 hours||60 days|
|GPS with music||6 hours||10 hours||15 hours|
|Max Battery GPS||50 hours||72 hours||120 hours|
|Expedition GPS||20 days||28 days||46 days|
|Battery Saver||34 days||48 days||80 days|
Garmin Fenix 6S Pro – Other Key Features
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 is a fantastic feature that blows the competition away in terms of navigation. It’s simple 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 excellent. When navigating a course you can also see the route profile with elevation gained and elevation remaining. Being able to see the trail 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 especially if you opt to upgrade to a sapphire watch face. It will cost you an extra $100, though.
ALTIMETER, BAROMETER 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. It also features a Pulse Ox2 sensor. For altitude acclimation or sleep monitoring, this 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.
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.
MUSIC – You can store up to 2000 songs on the 6S Pro Garmin watch which means you won’t need your phone with you to play music.
OUR VERDICT – For the reasons outlined above, this is why we’ve rated Garmin Fenix 6S Pro as the overall best GPS running watch.
7 new from $499.99
1 used from $549.95
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Best GPS Watch For Ultra Running
2. COROS APEX
COROS is a lesser-known GPS watch brand that is making serious waves.
The APEX watch is offered in two 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. It’s pretty lightweight (50.8g/55.3g depending on which size) and the battery life is so great that as well as being a great value running watch, it has our vote for the best GPS watch for everyday wear as well as running.
|Size||Regular Use||Full GPS||‘UltraMax’ GPS|
|42mm||24 days||25 hours||80 hours|
|46mm||30 days||35 hours||100 hours|
Yes, with the UltraMax mode, the battery will last up to 100 hours using GPS.
NAVIGATION – 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. The navigation features are less sophisticated and detailed than the Garmin Fenix, for example, but if all you need is a pointer telling you if you’re on or going off-course, then the navigation features should tell you what you need to know.
DURABILITY – The COROS APEX features a sapphire glass screen as standard for extreme protection (this is a $100 upgrade for the Garmin Fenix). We ike the simple clean look of the APEX because it means you can also wear it to work without it standing out too much or feeling bulky.
ALTIMETER, BAROMETER AND ACTIONABLE FEATURES – 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, and it can estimate your recovery time based on past training history.
SOFTWARE – 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.
OUR VERDICT – The COROS APEX excellent value, easy to use GPS running watch with outstanding battery life suitable for ultra marathon training and racing, yet it’s small enough to wear every day.
5 new from $299.00
For more a more detailed look at this running watch, read our full review here. Also consider the other, more expensive COROS watches with additional features and longer battery life – to read more about those, click here to head to our COROS GPS watches comparison guide.
Best GPS Watch for Thru-Hiking and Backpacking
3. Garmin Enduro
The Garmin Enduro, released in 2021, is built for extreme endurance athletes – and in particular, it is well suited to ultra running as well as being rated the best GPS watch for thru-hiking and backpacking on account of its exceptional battery life and robust range of features meaning it can last several days in GPS mode.
BATTERY LIFE – Up to 80 hours in GPS mode, and 300 hours in ‘max battery mode’. This is truly market-leading, if you want to be able to accurately track your location with GPS continuously for as long as possible. This Garmin GPS watch also features a new solar charging lens that extends battery life. If you are using it in smartwatch mode, it can last for 65 days with the assistance of solar charging (the exact life varies depending on use and the amount of solar). You can also easily change which sensors are active, while on-the-go, to help conserve battery as needed.
NAVIGATION – While the GPS is accurate and quick to pick up (as you would expect from a premium Garmin GPS watch for endurance athletes), the navigation features are the only area where we would have liked to see more. It seems that compared to the Fenix 6S Pro, the other Garmin watch on this list, perhaps the Enduro’s ‘breadcrumb’-style navigation features have been used rather than the Fenix’s map-based tracking in order to contribute towards the exceptional battery life that the Enduro offers.
DURABILITY – This Garmin GPS watch has either a stainless steel or lightweight, scratch-resistant DLC-coated titanium bezel. I also really like the webbing strap that comes as standard with the Garmin Enduro. It seems like a minor thing, however having a comfortable webbing strap can make a big difference over the silicone/plastic straps that can start to get annoying with longer wear durations, especially if you want to wear your watch overnight to track your sleep. This strap also contributes to its light weight, at 71g for the steel version and 61g for the titanium edition.
ALTIMETER, BAROMETER AND ACTIONABLE FEATURES – I think you get the picture by now. This watch has a ton of high-end features, and some of the altitude/barometer driven features include:
- Climbpro – Use this ascent planner to see real-time information on your current and upcoming climbs, including gradient, distance and elevation gain
- Navigate your next trail with ABC sensors, including an altimeter for elevation data, barometer to monitor weather and 3-axis electronic compass
- A pre-loaded ‘backcountry ski’ profile, which can distinguish between skiing and climbing. It automatically shows metrics specific to either ascent or descent.
I also really like the concept of the ‘ultrarun’ rest timer, which you can use to track your time in and out of checkpoints and rest stops during ultramarathon races, very much like a triathete would track their transition time. So you can see how much of your race you spent sat down eating fruit, cheese and noodles!
PULSE OX SENSOR – The Enduro has a Pulse Ox sensor, which is used for altitude acclimation or sleep monitoring – the Pulse Ox sensor uses light beams at your wrist to gauge how well your body is absorbing oxygen. This is used together with the heart rate and breathing rates to support some of the following features, among others:
- Trail Run VO2 Max
- Recovery advisor (how long to recover between workouts/runs)
- Advanced sleep monitoring
- ‘Body battery’ energy monitoring
SOFTWARE – As mentioned above, I highly rate the Garmin Connect platform, and the software on the Garmin Enduro watch itself is easy to use and navigate on the go.
OUR VERDICT – The Enduro is a super rugged Garmin GPS watch with excellent battery life that will stand up to multi-day ultra-endurance efforts, including not just ultra marathons but also multi-sport racing, thru-hiking and backpacking adventures. All this comes at a price but it’s worth it if you’re going to put it to good use and want the best in those environments.
11 new from $870.97
Best Suunto Watch for Mountain Running
4. Suunto 9 Baro
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 great battery life and should be considered if you intend to run the middle of the pack ultra races of 100 miles or more.
NAVIGATION – is available but not as feature-rich as the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro watches. I find myself often taking the wrong turn when running new routes because of the lack of detailed maps on the watch but this is not a big issue if you don’t require detailed navigation features and would rather not pay for those features.
DURABILITY – Rugged design with a sapphire watch face as standard. Suunto really know how to make watches that last!
ALTIMETER, BAROMETER AND ACTIONABLE FEATURES – As the name suggests, this watch offers accurate altitude/elevation tracking and weather tracking.
SOFTWARE – Suunto’s Movescount is pretty feature-rich although the options for visualizing data are not as comprehensive as Garmin Connect. we have noticed that transferring moves from the watch to the platform on a mobile device is slower than the Garmin equivalent.
OUR VERDICT – Another excellent GPS running and multi-sport watch with great battery life and a rugged build designed to withstand big days in the mountains and on trails. The Suunto Baro comes with a sapphire face for increased scratch-resistance as standard, making it a super durable choice if you’re taking it to challenging environments, and a more affordable price point than the Garmin watches on this list.
6 new from $393.99
6 used from $299.63
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Best Smartwatch for Running
5. Apple Watch Series 6
Most smartwatches, and particularly the popular Apple Watch, are much smaller and more lightweight than other GPS running watches. They’re also very comfortable to wear all day, including while running.
Advantages of wearing the Apple Watch for running
The great thing about wearing an Apple watch for running include:
- Accurate GPS tracking and on-wrist heart rate monitoring
- Integration with your workout / training app of choice, for example, Strava or Runkeeper – or, if you buy the Apple Watch Nike edition, your watch comes with a sports band and the Nike+ Run Club app already installed
- Location sharing via Google or Apple maps
- Listen to music while you run – store music and play from your watch
- If you have an Apple watch with cellular then you don’t need to take your phone with you running.
An Apple watch also has some advantages over some of the dedicated GPS running watches reviewed above, including the hundreds of other apps you can use with it in your day-to-day life when you’re not running, and seamless integration with your iPhone, assuming you own one.
Limitations of using Apple Watch for running
There are, however, three main limitations to wearing an Apple smartwatch running:
- If you regularly run and track GPS on those runs for over an hour this will run the battery down so it may not last until the end of the day whereas some watches in this running watches guide will work as watches for up to around 30 days without needing to be charged.
- While it’s waterproof, it can get dirt trapped around the crown and Apple Watches are less robust than dedicated GPS multi-sport watches.
- If tracking elevation gain and loss then is important to you, you will be better off with a dedicated running watch that can track your altitude and provide you with that information when running.
It’s worth noting that Apple Watch’s integration with apps such as Strava will later estimate the gain and loss using topographical map data, which is great for reviewing after your run, but not available to you while are running.
OUR VERDICT – For casual runners who already own an Apple Watch, or are attracted by the other, broader features of owning a smartwatch, an Apple Watch is a sleek and feature-packed option when it comes to tracking your runs with GPS – especially if you go for the Nike Series Edition with the sports strap and Nike+ Run Club app.
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Best For Heart-Rate Training
6. Polar Grit X
The Polar Grit X is a running watch that has almost all the features you could possibly want, and for such a great value price-point, you can see why it’s getting so much attention within the trail running community.
If you’re not familiar with Polar, they’re a company who like to put a strong focus on heart rate training, which is important as your heart is the only real constant in knowing how fit you are at any given point in time.
As well as being a running and multi-sport watch, the Polar Grit X is designed to be used for actively tracking your sleep, provided you wear it to bed at night. This watch looks good enough to be worn for everyday life too (not just running), and is comfortable, too – hence why the Polar Grit X is rated as the best running watch for heart rate training.
BATTERY LIFE – The Polar Grit X has 40 hours of battery life in training mode (full GPS and wrist-based heart rate) or up to 7 days in watch mode with continuous heart rate tracking. I like that there are multiple power save options available too. 40 hours is the sweet spot for many mid range ultra races, and this is a great battery life for such a competitive price point.
Some other great features include FuelWise which aims to help you know when the best time is to refuel during a run, because the Polar Grit X is smart enough to know what fuel you’re burning the most; whether it’s carbs, protein or fats. The other feature we really like is ‘Hill Splitter’ which gives detailed data about your performance on the uphill and downhill sections of your session – for anyone who enjoys getting climbing steep hills or mountains, this watch will make those efforts even more enjoyable to sweat for. Learn more about all the smart Polar Grit X features here.
NAVIGATION – The only downside to this Polar Grit X in my opinion is the limited navigation software/features. It is available but not as feature-rich as the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro series. You don’t really get a map on screen when following a route, instead, similarly to the Coros APEX, you get a line to follow with turn notifications which leaves margin for error in choosing the wrong route when navigating trails that may be close together.
To create routes you’ll have to step outside of the Polar environment and use another service called KOMOOT. This unfortunately leads to a bit of a clunky experience when you want to create and follow new trails. If you’re not interested in running/exploring new routes in areas you’re unfamiliar with, then this won’t be an issue for you.
DURABILITY – The Polar Grit X has passed several MIL-STD-810G tests (military-level durability tests), including extreme temperatures, drop and humidity which makes it a very reliable tool to have with you when you’re in the mountains. It’s also a very lightweight running watch, at 64g.
ALTIMETER, BAROMETER AND ACTIONABLE FEATURES – The Grit X tracks accurate incline, ascent, and altitude tracking during your runs.
SOFTWARE – The Polar Flow online software and smartphone app is really well constructed and easy to use. It’s a pleasure to use to track your training in a nice visual manner.
OUR VERDICT – A great value running watch with excellent heart rate and recovery monitoring and activity tracking features, making it the best GPS watch for heart rate training, especially for people with smaller wrists who want a watch they can wear everyday and overnight (for sleep tracking) as well as when running.
9 new from $338.00
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GPS Running Watch Comparison
Suunto vs. Garmin vs. Coros vs. Polar
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, durable running watch that has an impressive battery life and a simple interface, then the Suunto 9 Baro or the Coros Apex are both great choices. Also consider the Polar Grit X for its heart-rate focused features, price point good looks for everyday wear.
For the extreme endurance athletes seeking best-in-class ultra-specific training and recovery features, plus exceptional battery life, the Garmin Enduro is built with you in mind.
And last but not least, if you want a comfortable, smaller watch you can wear everyday and listen to music while tracking your run with GPS, the Apple Watch Series 6 is a great choice and the option we recommend as the best smartwatch for running.
The 10 Key Features of Great GPS Running Watches
These are the key features that running watches must have to make them worthy of being a long term investment as your go-to watch, whether it’s for trail running, ultra marathon training or hiking. These features form our base selection criteria when selecting the best GPS watches for this list.
- 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 marathon.
- 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.
- an on-wrist heart rate monitor – which is infinitely more comfortable than wearing a chest strap monitor while running, especially with a hydration pack wrapped around you!
- good durability to withstand hours in the mountains during varying weather conditions, from being waterproof to outlast rainstorms and submersion in river crossings, to still working despite being used the extreme cold (or heat).
- 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! Not all watches on this list have music capabilities, but it’s a nice added feature for those who want it.
- multi-sport tracking features – most of these watches are great waterproof multisport watches that will track a wide range of activities, including swimming, cycling, watersports and other workouts.
It’s also worth noting that for most people, these may primarily be used as running watches, however all of these GPS watches have the capability to track and record data for other multi-sport activities, which is great if you’re looking to get a broader picture of your fitness and training, over and above simply logging your runs.
Wearing a Smartwatch Running
If you’re reading this running watches buyer’s guide you may be wondering about the pros and cons of using a smartwatch for your running training. Using a smartwatch for running can be a great option especially if you already have a smartwatch such as an Apple Watch, which is undoubtedly the best smartwatch for running in terms of ease of use and integration with other apps such as Strava.
There are some limitations to using an Apple Watch for running, which are explained in our review above, mainly around the impact that training with your smartwatch has on its battery life for the day, but it can be a sleek option if you are a more casual runner or run shorter distances and like to listen to music when running without having your phone with you.
Now you’ve read about the key features used in our selection criteria, click here to jump back up and read the GPS running watch reviews for each of our top recommended watches.
I really hope you enjoyed reading this overview of the best GPS running watches. 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 watches and other gadgets! 🙂