The Best GPS Running Watches

GPS is infiltrating all sorts of markets that it wouldn’t normally be thought of as penetrating. Over the past several years we have seen several fitness GPS tracking solutions come to the forefront – ranging from GPS running watches, to bike GPS, to kayak GPS, to hiking GPS. All these have improving fitness as their goal and creating a unique training experience that generates great results for those using these devices.

While GPS tracking watches are only one expression of this phenomena, it is by far the most popular. As such, let us examine what are some of the best watches that feature GPS for fitness are:

The Garmin Forerunners: Best GPS Running Watches On The Market

Probably the best GPS running watch out on the market right now is the Garmin Forerunner 405. It is just a beast when it comes to giving runners of all skill levels exactly what they want in a watch.

Probably the first thing that you are going to notice about this watch is that it doesn’t even look like a GPS watch. Instead of being bulky and ugly, you find that the Forerunner 405 has a sleek and stylish design. Heck, you could even wear this watch like it was a regular wrist watch. While the battery might not work like a regular watch (it has a printed battery life of 8 hours with GPS enabled and 2 weeks in power save mode), it certainly looks like it could be one.

Once you get past the design of this running watch you are going to notice what a powerful training aid this watch is. With such features as Virtual Partner, which lets you race against a saved run that you or a friend recorded on a Garmin Forerunner 405, you get superior training aides that will help you push yourself to the next level of fitness.

Some models, like the one featured above, also have a heart rate monitor which will allow you to get a perfect picture of the areas of your workout that really push you the hardest. While there are some good techniques that you can use to approximate your heart rate without a monitor, there is just no substitute for getting the cold, hard data yourself with a monitor strapped to your chest. Some people find these devices cumbersome, especially women, but you quickly get used to them – especially when you realize how useful the information they provide is.

After you have trained, the Forerunner 405 also excels at letting you download your information to your computer. You no longer have to fumble for certain wires to hook up your GPS running watch to your computer because the 405 transmits the information from your watch to your computer wirelessly. All you have to do is bring the watch into proximity of your personal computer and you will automatically being downloading your latest workout onto your computer for Garmin’s GPS tracking software to begin its work on analyzing your data.

If you are someone that balks at the price of the Garmin Forerunner 405 you might want to consider the Garmin Forerunner 305. This is one generation behind the 405 and suffers from some of the drawbacks that the 405 was made to avoid. These include a bulky design and having to plug your watch into a computer in order to download a training session to Garmin’s awesome fitness tracking software.

However, it does beat the 405 out in some respects. One is that if you ever want to use the 305 for geocaching you can because it has a mode where your current GPS coordinates are displayed. The Forerunner 405 has no such display feature and therefore cannot be used in this function. Another benefit that some people will see with the 305 is that it makes use of the traditional button system. The Forerunner 405 uses a bezel system that allows you to quickly and simply access information from your watch on the go, but this system can be annoying to some individuals who find the touch bezel too sensitive. They gladly downgrade to the cheaper Garmin Forerunner 305 just for the buttons alone.

Timex GPS Running Watches

After Garmin, the next big player in the running watch market it definitely Timex. These watches differ from those produced by Garmin in that they usually do not feature GPS built in to the watch itself. Instead, they utilize a foot pod or some other type of GPS receiver that communicates GPS coordinates to the watch. While this generally means that the Timex watches have been much sleeker than the Garmin Forerunners in general, it also makes them a little less usable in my opinion.

Probably the best Timex GPS running watch out there right now is the Timex Ironman. It has a lot of feature that are pretty comparable to those provide by the Garmin Forerunners. Like the 305, the Timex Ironman can display your GPS coordinates for use in geocaching and other GPS related hobbies.

As far as being a great running watch with GPS, the Timex Ironman lets runners know a lot about their fitness activities. One feature that is particularly helpful is that you can set target heart rate zones that you want to train in. Once you has set this up, you can find out how long you spent in that target heart rate zone, how quickly your heart rate recovered after training, and what your average heart rate was during your run.

This Timex GPS running watch also has a 100 hour chronograph, 100 lap memory, 100 hour countdown timer, and a few different alarms to keep you abreast of your goals. It even sports an impressive battery life of 2 years, which is about 2000 times longer than the Forerunner 405! (But these numbers are just for the watch itself and not the GPS pod that comes with the watch).

The Bottom Line About The Best GPS Running Watches

The best running watch GPS is going to be the one that fits your needs and best matches what your personal fitness and training goals are. There are even more GPS running watches to consider, but we have chosen to just include these two for brevity’s sake. I hope that you find the GPS running watch that will fit your the best.

GPS Tracking Watches

GPS tracking watches combine the power of GPS tracking technology with the usefulness of personal time pieces. They are small, highly portable, and extremely useful in several different applications. In many cases, these watches can be a bit bulky – but they are still usually lightweight and agile. Some of the latest devices produced by Garmin are the same size as a “normal” sport or fitness watch, even with the GPS device built in.

When you step back and get the big picture about GPS tracking watches you will find the most GPS watches fall within one of two main categories: kids watches and fitness watches.


GPS Tracking Watches for Kids

GPS tracking watches for kids are all about one thing: safety. These devices are meant to connect parents to their children in such a way that parents are continually aware of their child’s location and in the unlikely event of an abduction or kidnapping the parent will have enough information to locate their child quickly with the help of the police or other law enforcement agency.

These devices are extremely difficult to find, but there are some available at online retailers. Brickhouse Security, as an example, does have a GPS tracking watch designed for kids that is featured in the picture to the left. This little device is extremely powerful – not only does it provide very precise location information, but it also has a distress Alarm and a built-in cellular speakerphone that will allow your child to contact you, the police, or emergency personnel if the need ever arose.

Not many companies have created such fine watches. One reason why these devices are so difficult to come by is that for them to work effectively at making the GPS information available to parents is that they must find a way to transmit the signal out to a data processing center. The watch must be a data pusher rather than just a data logger (like fitness GPS tracking watches).

Turning a watch into a data pusher is no small feat. The best devices for this are GPS tracking cell phones – mainly because they already have cell phone technology built in and can leverage it to transmit position information to a central processing station (the does use cell phone technology in their wrist watch to push location data out). What would a cell phone look like if it was attached to your wrist? Pretty bulky, my friend. Pretty bulky.

So the technological problem of turning a watch into a cellphone-like device is one major hurdle that GPS manufacturers have had to overcome; and they have done so with very limited success.

Another main reason why GPS tracking watches for kids have not taken off and become extremely popular is that they suffer from some serious detection flaws. What I am talking about here is not GPS signal detection, but bad man detection.

Will someone taking your child really ignore the bulky device on their wrist? Will the locking mechanism really keep the watch from being removed? Won’t someone evil enough to steal a child also be evil enough to remove a hand to remove the watch that will get them caught?

It is nearly impossible for a child to hide the watch, especially if it is locked on to their wrist. This creates some serious safety issues and can essentially negate any benefit that GPS tracking might provide in this terrible situation.

These are the two main issues with kids GPS watches. These issues can be solved by creating smaller, “normal” looking devices that still have all the power of GPS tracking and a cell phone.

GPS Tracking Watches for Fitness

Fitness is a huge industry in the United States where billions of dollars are spent annually on fitness equipment, clothing, gym memberships, and fitness accessories. One small portion of this very big pie are GPS tracking watches.

In order to get a piece of this pie, several major players have arisen in the GPS watch market. There is one GPS manufacturer that has taken their product and converted it into GPS tracking watches as well as a few watch companies that have incorporated GPS in their design. The major players are Garmin, Suunto, Timex, and Polar.

There are two major methods of translating GPS tracking into fitness watched: integrating the GPS directly into the watch or using a GPS pod to collect that location data.

Garmin and Suunto have watch models that integrate the GPS receiver directly into the watch. The most recent Garmin model is the GARMIN Forerunner 405 Black GPS Enabled Sports Watch/ HRM. This is a fully integrated GPS watch that also sports a heart rate monitor (HRM). Many reviews of this device have been particularly favorable as it has a sleek, “normal” design that actually looks like a wrist watch might (unlike some of the previous Garmin Forerunner models). It is relatively lightweight at 2.1 ounces, making it easy to use during a long run or other outdoor activity.

The heart rate monitor is another great benefit to using a fitness GPS tracking watch like the Garmin Forerunner 405. This small add on will give you immediate feedback on how hard your body is working and if you are getting a good workout while you are on your run. But the benefit doesn’t end there. Once you are home you will be able to sit down in front of your computer and get a bird’s eye view of your workout, giving you a better understanding of what you need to work on to continue to improve your fitness level.

The other way that companies have made GPS available or fitness watches is via a GPS pod that you attach to your shoe or waist. These devices then capture the GPS signal and transmit it up to the watch which then takes the information and stores and displays it to you, the user. Many of these watches also come with a heart rate monitor.

Here is a robust list of fitness GPS tracking watches found at divided up by their brand:

Buy A GPS Tracking Watch

Buying a GPS tracking watch is certainly not a necessary purchase – not for child safety nor for physical fitness. However, these devices can be extremely fun and enjoyable if you want to know more precise information about your fitness routine or you feel a need to know your child’s location on demand. Make sure you consider all your options carefully before buying a GPS tracking watch.

Garmin GPS Tracking Watches For Fitness

Any fitness regimen can be enhanced through the use of a GPS tracking watch. They can provide precise travel information ranging from the extremely common to the outrageously awesome. A GPS watch is still a watch, so it can tell you what time it is as well as give you a precise start and end time for your exercise activity. But that it is also a GPS so it can leave electronic breadcrumbs like a digital version of Hansel a Gretel (but without the creepy witch who wants to stick you in an oven and eat you). When paired with a heart rate monitor that invisibly transmits data to your watch it can become one of the most powerful tools in the training athlete’s arsenal. They do this by assisting athletes in analyzing the relationships between heart rate, speed and the changing elevation of the course that is being run, biked, or even swam (swimming only available on selected watches).

Many of these watches also let you download this information onto your computer to interact with different types of mapping software. This allows you to interact with your workouts in a way that would be nearly impossible without it happening automatically in the watch’s computer. The mapping features will let you know which parts of your routine caused you to work the hardest. Some models and services even suggest workouts for you to help you improve your fitness level.

Garmin currently offers 7 models of GPS tracking watches specifically designed for fitness applications. Of these seven models, four also come with a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors are devices that strap around your sternum, with the pickup resting on your chest while an elastic band wraps around your back. As mentioned above, these monitors offer much more information to the user and are highly recommended for those seeking to maximize the potential use of their device.

Prices for these models can range anywhere from $99.99 to around $450.00 for the seven models. While you definitely do not need to spend that type of money, these devices can add significant value to activities you already enjoy or need to do for health reasons. Sacrificing twenty nights out at the movies or bringing a sack lunch to work on forty different days might be a trade off you are willing to make to buy one of these devices.

Below is a list of links(affiliate) to each of the specific Garmin products along with a brief description about them:

Forerunner 50

This is actually not technically a GPS device. Instead it is more like a fancy pedometer that has some of the same functionality that you will find with the other Garmin GPS tracking watches. It is the cheapest of the watches for this reason. There are versions of it available that have a heart rate monitor so this might be a good option for those just starting out using a watch to assist their fitness regimen.

The watch uses a foot pod to measure the distance that a user has traveled. This technology counts each step that a runner, walker, or hiker makes and then tries and determine the distance traveled by using an average of their step distance multiplied by the number of steps taken. This provides a decent approximation of the distance traveled, but it really falls apart when hilly terrain is being traversed. Running up hill shortens the gait while running downhill elongates the gait. Most step counters do not compensate for this discrepancy like a GPS device would because it does not actually measure the distance traveled.

This device should probably only be purchased by those looking to keep costs down or who do not train seriously enough to warrant a full fledged GPS tracking watch.

Forerunner 101

This is Garmin’s entry level GPS device for runners, athletes, and walkers. It can seem a little difficult to set up if you don’t have any GPS knowledge, but other than that this device delivers exactly what it promises – a reliable watch that tracks what you want it to. It is supposed to store up to 2 years of training information and has all the features that you would want on a GPS watch. There is no heart monitor with this device.

The price on this product is decent, but there are much newer models that really have eclipsed this watch. The greatest shortcoming for those who are really looking to improve their overall fitness level is that no heart rate monitor can accompany this watch. As a result you are left without all the important information that will help you push yourself into the next training level.

Runners of all levels should look elsewhere for a fitness watch to meet their needs unless you can find one at a ridiculous price.

Forerunner 201

The next tier up on the *01 series of watches is the 201. This device offers the increased ease of rechargeable lithium ion battery over against the Forerunner 101. This device is also Garmin Connect (Garmin Connect is an online training tool) and Garmin Training Center compatible. These two programs let you seamlessly record your information of your PC and provide powerful tools to help you analyze your workout, giving it some more training edge over its older counterpart.

It, however, lacks support for a heart rate monitor in addition to being a relatively overpriced piece of equipment. I would again steer clear of this watch as its blend of features and price tag do not make it worth the money to buy – at least not new anyway. If you can get this used for a price well below $100 you have probably found a good price, otherwise pass on this watch and get the Forerunner 305 or 405. They are much better watches.

Forerunner 301

The 301 is the first in the *01 series of watches that comes with a heart rate monitor. It also has several improvements in the interface allowing you to scroll through past workouts, change sports in the middle of workouts (read triathletes), and the ability to create custom, goal oriented workouts. It too has access to Garmin Connect and the Garmin Training Center. This watch is by far the most advanced of the *01 watches.

Forerunner 205

Summary coming soon!

Forerunner 305

Summary coming soon!

Forerunner 405

Summary coming soon!