The Best GPS Watch for Running and Training

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OutdoorGearLab Review Editor, Amber King training in Canyonlands National Park.
Credit: Jediah Porter
In the burgeoning fitness-tracking, GPS watch market, which is the best product for you? Over the course of almost a thousand miles and in ten different sports, our team examined seven of the best devices available. We have evaluated, and summarized here, which are the best, and which is the best for you. Each GPS watch we tested is excellent. Some are very specific in their function, while others excel across a wider range. In order to help you decide, we have fully described the function of each one and scored each GPS watch on Ease of Use, Features, Accuracy, Ease of Setup, Durability, and Portability.

If you are looking for a handheld device for wilderness navigation, check out our Handheld GPS Review. If you are looking for a GPS watch to specifically monitor your cycling efforts (all of the products reviewed here can be used on a bicycle, but a dedicated unit will be at least a little more functional) feel free to examine our Bike Computer Review. Finally, some of the applications of these watches will overlap with the function of an Altimeter Watch. We've also reviewed them.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked GPS Sports Watches Displaying 1 - 5 of 7 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Suunto Ambit 2 S
Suunto Ambit 2 S
Read the Review
Suunto Ambit 2
Suunto Ambit 2
Read the Review
Garmin Fenix
Garmin Fenix
Read the Review
Strava App
Strava App
Read the Review
Nike+ Sportwatch GPS
Nike+ Sportwatch GPS
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award        Top Pick Award 
Street Price Varies $230 - $300
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Overall Score 
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Comprehensive, compact, and easy to use.Full featured with long battery life.Proven and established data software.Free. Excellent community aspect.Easy to use and encourages participation in Nike’s fitness community.
Cons A little “dumbed down” from its sibling the Ambit 2BulkySlow GPS signal acquisition.Limited data in “real time”.No button lock. Difficult to share data other than with Nike+.
Best Uses Any training that lasts 8-10 hours or less.Training and navigation for the hard core user.Training and wilderness navigation.compiling and comparing data.Dedicated runners and Nike fans.
Date Reviewed Jun 04, 2014Jun 04, 2014May 31, 2014Jun 04, 2014Jun 04, 2014
Weighted Scores Suunto Ambit 2 S Suunto Ambit 2 Garmin Fenix Strava App Nike+ Sportwatch GPS
Ease Of Use - 40%
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Features - 30%
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Accuracy - 10%
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Ease Of Set Up - 5%
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Durability - 5%
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Product Specs Suunto Ambit 2 S Suunto Ambit 2 Garmin Fenix Strava App Nike+ Sportwatch GPS
Main body size 45mm diameter, 12mm thickness 49mm diameter, 16mm thickness 50mm diameter, 17mm thickness Depends on phone 52x32mm rectangular, 14mm thickness
Weight 73g 93g 82g Depends on phone 66g
Battery Type lithium ion lithium ion lithium ion Depends on phone not specified
Battery Life up to 24 hours of GPS up to 50 hours of GPS up to 50 hours of GPS, two weeks of activity without GPS, and six weeks of "watch" mode. Depends on phone 8 hours of GPS activity.
Button Lock Yes Yes Yes Yes no
Data Management Online and on Device Online and on Device Online, PC, and on device Online and on Device Online and on Device
Temperature Sensor? no Yes yes no no
Barometric Altimeter? no yes yes no no
HR Monitor? after-market or packaged after-market, or packaged after-market after-market After-market
Other Compatible Accessories foot pod, temperature sensor, bicycle power meter, bicycle cadence sensor Foot pod, temperature sensor, bicycle power meter, bicycle cadence sensor Foot pod, temperature sensor, bicycle power meter, bicycle cadence sensor depends on your phone. Certain phone models allow many other sensors. Others none. Included foot pod

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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  • All Reviewed Products
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Suunto Ambit 2 S
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Garmin Forerunner 110
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Nike+ Sportwatch GPS
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Selecting the Right GPS Watch

Why a Training Watch?
Do you walk, run, ski, bike, or otherwise move around outside (and occasionally inside…) for training and exercise? Do you wish to monitor this activity and record your progress? If so, a dedicated GPS watch can really step up your game. Keeping track of time, distance, and speed while working out can gauge improvement, motivate further activity, and compare to others. A dedicated training device collects relevant information and displays it handily and clearly. These devices are all well thought-out, superbly designed, and there is something here for everyone. For further information on choosing the proper GPS watch for you, consult our Buying Advice article.

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Our entire 2014 selection of tested GPS training tools. From L-R: Strava, Garmin Fenix, Suunto Ambit 2, Suunto Ambit 2S, New Balance, Garmin Forerunner, Nike.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Alternatives to GPS Watches
1) An app like MotionX GPS. Unlike Strava, the MotionX app comes with a number of map download options so you can navigate terrain with USGS maps, terrain maps, street maps and satellite imagery. There are even options for downloading maps for offline use.
Pros: you probably already have your phone with you anyway, large display, great navigation through trails.
Cons: won't monitor heart rate, can't easily view on your wrist, heavy, more limited battery life.
>> See a MotionX GPS feature discussion in our Cheap Motorcycle GPS article .

2) A fitness tracker like the Garmin Vivofit or Jawbone UP24 that goes around your wrist and connects to your smartphone over bluetooth.
Pros: Light, inexpensive, also monitors your sleep activity, great apps to view data.
Cons: No readout, no heart rate monitor, no GPS, need a smartphone handy to get data.
>> See our Fitness Tracker review.

Specific Activities
Some of these devices are very multi-purpose, while others are more specific and narrow in their application.

Runners have been the first to adopt this type of device. The data they seek, especially as compared to other sports, is relatively simple. Runners wish to track speed, distance, and time. They may also be interested in exertion information as collected by a heart rate band. Special mention must be made of the ever-more popular ultra distance running events. Ultra runners require more battery life than most devices provide. The market is responding, albeit slowly, to this demand for more than eight hours or so of GPS recording.
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Your running need not be cold or snowy to demand performance from a monitoring device. Lead test editor grabs an elaborate "selfie" training in Mammoth Lakes, CA.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Dedicated cyclists are best served with a proper, purpose built, GPS equipped bicycle computer. We have conducted a full review of these products elsewhere on OutdoorGearLab. The top of the line wrist-mounted devices, however, are fast approaching the functionality of top of the line dedicated bike computers. If you bicycle and participate in any other outdoor endurance activity, you will be better served by a multi-purpose, wrist-mounted device than by a pair of more specific tools.

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While a dedicated bicycle computer may work marginally better, today's full-featured, wrist-mounted GPS devices can work really well for tracking your two-wheel efforts.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Those passionate about swimming or who compete in triathlons now have GPS equipped devices for their pursuit. We did not test these products while swimming, but we have worked with those who have. Top of the line tools like our Editors' Choice Suunto Ambit 2S are excellent swim trackers.

Hiking, backcountry skiing, mountaineering, and other sorts of wilderness travel can benefit from wrist-mounted, GPS equipped instrumentation. In addition to tracking your efforts similar to those practicing the above sports, wilderness fiends will benefit from navigation features tapping into the GPS technology.

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Anyone traveling into the wild, off trail, can benefit from the navigational features of some products on the market. Here lead test editor Jediah Porter finds his way in deep snow.
Credit: Meagan Buck

What is Inside?
This category is united by the presence of a global positioning system (GPS) receiver antenna and associated software to process the location data collected through that system. In short, GPS is a network of satellites in space and individual devices on the ground. Each satellite on the network is continuously emitting a signal for any appropriately designed device to receive and utilize. A device that receives this signal, whether it is in your watch, hand-held navigation tool, or smartphone, processes the strength and meta-data in the signal from multiple satellites to deduce the device's location at that moment. The location "fix" is a three dimensional value, but the x and y axis information is the most accurate. In other words, altitude data from a GPS triangulation is not as accurate as the latitude and longitude information from the same signals in the same device. Therefore, at any given moment, with a big and clear enough "view" of the sky (GPS location information suffers or completely fails indoors, in dense tree cover, and in narrow valley topography), a gps equipped device "knows" exactly where the device is on the earth's surface. If the device moves, it can calculate the direction and distance it has moved. Comparing this movement to time, the device can deduce rate of travel.

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Athletes of all kinds will find valuable information in a GPS equipped training watch.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Distance and rate of travel are valuable pieces of data for training athletes. All the GPS watches in our test collect, display, and record distance and rate of travel information. Additionally, all devices in our test monitor time just like any other stopwatch style device. Lap and split times can be monitored and recorded by each as well. In addition to time, distance, and speed data, some of these training watches have even more features. These additional features are enumerated below.

Types of GPS Watches

Basic Training Devices
In this category, a GPS watch will collect real-time distance and speed data, along with perhaps a few other categories of information. It will store that data, at least for immediate post-trip viewing, if not cataloged on your home computer. The instrumentation in these devices is specifically for monitoring and displaying distance and speed.

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Our tested selection of basic training tools. From left to right, Strava, New Balance GPS Trainer, Garmin Forerunner 110, and Nike+ Sportw#tch GPS.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Devices for Monitoring Training and for Navigating
These models do all the same things as the basic training models, but they also can interpret and utilize GPS data for navigation. With at least a little prior preparation and skill, these devices can, in addition to monitoring and tracking athletic activity, help the user negotiate off-trail terrain.

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Backcountry skiing has special equipment requirements and restrictions. Note our full Buying Advice article for full explanation. Here, OGL editor Mike Phillips heads for an untracked experience.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Products that Monitor Heart Rate and Other Metrics Through External Sensors
This type of device can be either a basic training watch, or one with navigation attributes. It may come with a heart rate band, or the band may be an aftermarket product. Regardless, it integrates with a separate, chest-mounted band that collects heart rate data. Heart rate is a function of exertion and can be used in multiple ways, both during and after a training event, to gauge and evaluate one's fitness, progress, and effort.

Criteria for Evaluation

Ease of Use
In the overall evaluation of this field, this is by far the most important category. It is the interface and user experience that really sets the devices apart. The user will have two distinct experiences with the data monitored, displayed, and recorded. Your GPS watch will tell you useful real-time data during a session, and then deliver further summarizing and totaled information afterwards. The consumer's experience with accessing this data, both during and after training, informs our Ease of Use scores.

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All the Suunto Ambit watches we've used have been easy to operate.
Credit: Jediah Porter

The GPS watches in our test that were easiest to use had large displays and locking buttons. Our testing team enjoyed being able to see relevant information at a glance while working hard and to do so with no worry as to the integrity of the data. A wrist is a busy place, and most sports and clothing layer combinations present opportunity to inadvertently press a button or two. We appreciated the button locks on the Garmin, Suunto and Nike devices. GPS watches strike a careful balance between portability and viewability. The wrist-mounted factor limits the size of the screen and hard-working eyes need numbers and letters of a certain minimum size. Given these limitations, a watch can display an absolute maximum of three types of information at any one time. All the models in our test show up to three categories of data at once. Some can be programmed to show customize combinations of information. The nature and difficulty of programming and customizing is discussed in our Ease of Setup category.

In terms of post-event data viewing and processing, the best scoring products in our test can upload data to a pc or web-based interface. Only the New Balance model does not offer the option to upload data for off-device viewing. Garmin, Nike, Suunto, and Strava each provide their own web/cloud-based data storage and viewing platform. Each is comprehensive and useful, once the user is roughly acquainted with the system. Garmin also provides proprietary pc-based software for storing and reviewing data. Of all the manufacturers we reviewed, Garmin has the most widely-used data management software. Also worth noting is that most of the devices in our test export activity information in a standardized format. All watches, except the New Balance and the Nike+ Sportwatch GPS, which uses the proprietary Nike+ system, can generate "gpx" files that can be stored and viewed in a variety of fashions. A gpx file contains essentially time and position data. Various applications, pc or web based, can take this data and generate distance, rate, and other information. The Strava App can interpret and store all gpx files, for instance. Regardless of what device captured the gpx file, Strava will organize it and integrate it with its website. There are a host of other applications and products that will organize and process your gpx data.

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Most of the products we tested have a computer interface for managing data. Shown here in Suunto's "Movescount" online portal.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Features
Above and beyond speed, distance, and time data, a GPS watch can process the raw information it collects to provide additional features. The Nike Sportwatch, Strava, Garmin Forerunner, and New Balance GPS Trainer all share a fairly basic suite of distance, speed, and time features. The New Balance also comes with an integrated heart-rate band for in-activity monitoring.

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Communication with external sensors (shown here is Garmin's accessory foot pod) is just one of many features that distinguish devices on the market.
Credit: Jediah Porter

The Garmin Fenix and both Ambit devices offer more sophisticated distance, speed, and time data. The user can customize each product to display and alert the user on a virtually infinite array of information. Also, this same selection of devices can be used for wilderness and off-trail navigation. Like one would do with a handheld receiver, the user can use the device to navigate along a pre-specified path or to pre-determined points.

The list of other relevant features primarily includes other types of sensors. The Garmin Fenix and Suunto Ambit 2 each include an integrated barometric pressure sensor and a thermometer. Strava, the Fenix, and both Ambit devices can be synced with external, after-market sensors to collect information on temperature, running foot-cadence, bicycle pedal cadence, bicycle power output, and heart rate.

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With a host of internal and external sensors available, your GPS watch can be a full function training tool.
Credit: Ian Nielson

Accuracy
The accuracy of a GPS receiver is a function of signal quality, antenna size, and the device's software algorithms. Additionally, the data on some devices is being calibrated with and compared to data from step-counting motion sensors. Whether that motion sensor is built into the device like in the Suunto Ambit 2 series or an iPhone equipped with the Strava app, or the sensor is in a wirelessly linked foot pod as in the Nike+ Sportwatch, this sort of complementary data serves to make overall distance and speed far more accurate.

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Begin to travel your favorite trails with a GPS device and you'll quickly see how inaccurate trail signs can be. For the most part, even very small GPS devices are quite accurate.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Accuracy is important for an athletic training device because effective comparisons of efforts requires integrity of data. Overall, signal strength and quality has by far the greatest impact on device accuracy. The best device with a limited view of the sky will be far less accurate than a cheaper tool with a tiny antenna out in the wide open plains. In our testing, we found very little variation in accuracy. This is remarkable, considering our tested devices ranged from free smartphone apps to $400 pieces of highly engineered equipment. However, even small variations in accuracy can be important. If your device is off by 1 or 2 percent, over a long run the quality of the data could suffer.

Predictably, the most accurate devices in our test were those that integrated motion sensor data. The Strava app on our tested iPhone 5s measured mileages exactly. Both Ambit models were pretty accurate, while the Nike was nothing special until tested paired with the included foot pod. The New Balance trainer was inaccurate as compared to a known distance, but the error was consistent. In other words, as long as you are only comparing your results to your own, the New Balance should be more than adequate.

Ease of Setup
In the smartphone age, when consumers are accustomed to un-boxing a small electronic device and using it right away, manufacturers face a difficult task. The ideal device is intuitive, requiring little to no formal instruction. However, with button interfaces and multiple types of data and viewing options, every watch will require at least a little initial setup and learning curve. Predictably, the smartphone interface of the Strava app was the easiest to initially setup. Next, the Suunto Ambit series of devices brings a well thought out interface for users to get going. It is required that the consumer register and connect their Ambit 2 to Suunto's MovesCount online interface in initially setting up the watch. However, doing this is crucial to maximizing the function of the Ambit over its entire life, so the initial leg work is well worth it. Similarly, the Nike requires online setup. The Nike+ system is simple and intuitive. Garmin provides both web-based and pc-based options for setting up your watch. Garmin's system is a little older and more established. It is possible that you have your Garmin interface already worked out for your cycling computer or for an older Garmin running watch. This familiarity is the primary appeal of the Fenix over the Ambit family. If you are already a Garmin user, setting up the Fenix will prove to be quite simple. Finally, the New Balance trainer is the most complicated to initially set up. You'll need the lengthy user manual in order to maximize its function.

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With a bomber and simple download procedure, the Strava app was by far the easiest to setup and use.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Durability
Tiny electronics can be finicky. Thankfully this world is full of excellent products. For all the potential issues, our selection of training devices was remarkably durable. Battery life estimates were true to advertised, none of the bands broke or degraded, and the screens and electronics all remained reliable. It is testament to our initial selection criteria that we had no major failures. As we regularly remind readers, at OutdoorGearLab we only test and report on excellent products. There are far less durable devices on the market, buyer beware. Beyond the above, traditional criteria by which durability is assessed, we also evaluated this category by the integrity of the data they collect. Essentially, even if the hardware stays intact, if you lose your data somehow, the device basically failed. The most common failure in this case was a loss or change of information as a result of inadvertent button activation. The New Balance Trainer doesn't have locking buttons and we regularly lost or changed data as a result. Neither the Nike nor the Garmin Forerunner have locking buttons, but perhaps on account of their lower profile, we had no problems with losing or changing data.

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With even a modicum of care, a wrist-mounted GPS device is a pretty rugged piece of equipment. Here Jed Porter trains with old school "weights", Leadville, CO.
Credit: Meagan Buck

Portability
In most ways, the comfort and ease of carrying a GPS watch is a function of the absolute dimensions. Which is bigger, and which weighs more? Other criteria include contouring for the wrist, and the nature of attaching the wrist band. In our test, the Ambit 2 and Fenix devices are the bulkiest and heaviest, while the Forerunner 110 is the most compact. Should you choose to carry your GPS watch occasionally in your pocket, the Fenix is unique in that the wrist straps are attached with hinges that allow the entire package to lay flat. Strava is in a class of its own because, as a smartphone app, it cannot easily be strapped to your wrist and is inherently bulkier than any of the dedicated watches we tested. Generally speaking, devices with more features were less portable. While none of the tested models differ in mass or size by more than a few percentage points, it was portability that ended up tipping the overall Editors' Choice award balance in favor of the Suunto Ambit 2S rather than the bulkier Ambit 2. In the end, the tested Ambit devices were tied. The Ambit 2 has more features, while the 2S is more portable. On the balance, the features omitted from the Ambit 2S will not be missed by the vast majority of users, but everyone will appreciate its smaller stature. Hence our ultimate choice. Make no mistake, however. If you desire or require the additional features of the Ambit 2 or Garmin Fenix, their bulk will be little more than a minor inconvenience.


Editors' Choice Award: Suunto Ambit 2S
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Suunto's Ambit 2S is an excellent piece of equipment.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Suunto's Ambit line of training watches is fast gaining a high-end reputation. In the course of this review, we actually evaluated three Ambit models. We started out by examining the original Ambit, and then upgraded to the Ambit 2 and 2S models. All of these are excellent products. Suunto has hit a home run with this line. However, the 2S seems to hit the sweet spot for the vast majority of consumers. The "S" could stand for "smaller". By omitting the arguably unnecessary barometric altimeter sensor and using a smaller battery, the 2S slims down considerably as compared to its non-lettered siblings. With plenty of battery for full days of action, and given the fact that only the most dedicated mountaineers will require the barometric pressure sensor, the slimmer profile of the 2S is well worth the compromise. The Suunto Ambit 2 S is a full-function, fully customizable training product. If you can imagine wanting to track it, the Ambit will track it. By providing rock-solid hardware and tapping into crowd-sourced creativity, Suunto provides a tool and community that can serve every athlete.

Best Buy Award: Garmin Forerunner 110
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The compact and complete Garmin Forerunner 110.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Just like with our Editors' Choice award, the pedigree of the manufacturer stands behind our Best Buy pick. Garmin is the big guy in this market and they have been doing this for a long time. Garmin offers a whole range of GPS devices, of which their wrist-mounted, athletic selection is just a small part. They have GPS instrumentation dialed. Therefore, if anyone is going to hit the ball out of the park with a compact, price-point fitness-tracking watch, Garmin will. And they do exactly that. With virtually no reservations we can recommend the Garmin Forerunner 110 to any and all consumers looking for basic run tracking. You will have access to the important data fields while on the go, and be able to sort through the data post-event with one of Garmin's proprietary services or any of a whole host of data management services. The price isn't the lowest in our review, but the value is high. This is a proven product from a proven manufacturer.

Top Pick Award for Dedicated Runners and Nike+ Users: Nike+ GPS Sportwatch
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Our Top Pick Nike+ GPS Sportw#tch
Credit: Jediah Porter

The Nike+ Sportwatch GPS, at its most basic, is little different from the Garmin Forerunner. It is a simple, clean product that tracks distance, speed, and time and the data can be viewed post-event. It is even a little less expensive than the Garmin. However, the proprietary Nike+ community is the biggest difference. Nike makes it very easy to integrate and compare your data with all other Nike users. Whether you use just the Sportwatch for your runs, or also use a Nike+ Fuel Band for monitoring day-to-day action, Nike will combine all the information and network it with the entire Nike community. The interface is slick and engaging and has a loyal following. If you fall into this niche, the Sportwatc is for you. And that is the essence of our Top Pick award. We grant this honor to those products that stand out for specific applications. For members of the Nike+ community looking for an inexpensive indoor and outdoor run tracker, the Sportwatch is the best thing going. The catch is, it is difficult if not impossible to organize data generated by the Nike product with a program other than the Nike+ website. The Garmin gets the overall nod for our Best Buy award, even though it is slightly more expensive, because its more open-sourced data generation will appeal to far more people.

Ask An Expert: Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle is best known for his rock climbing achievements, including the first ascent of Lucifer (5.14c) in the Red River Gorge. But the La Sportiva athlete is also a fitness fiend, and runs three days a week as part of his training regimen (something you have to do apparently to send hard routes). He regularly logs 15-20 miles a week on the trails around his home in Las Vegas, Nevada, and does it all with a GPS watch. And his favorite running route? Mt Charleston (11,916 ft), a grueling 17-mile return trip with a 4000 foot elevation gain, which he usually runs in just over four hours. He sat down with us to give up some professional insight into GPS watches.

How long have you been using a GPS watch for?
About five years now. I've used three different models in that time. Two Garmins and one Suunto. The Suunto was just a little big, and when the battery died I looked for one with a slimmer profile. Now I use a Garmin Forerunner 210 (similar to our Best Buy winner, the Garmin Forerunner 110).

What do use your GPS watch for?
I wear my watch for anything that I'm trying to keep track off. One of the things that I do enjoy is achieving a personal best, and also monitoring my pacing, so I track most of my runs.
I also use the watch when I go on long hike/runs exploring for new cliff lines. I can set waypoints when I find something interesting and keep track of the location, and I can also study the area back home and maybe try to determine a better way of getting there in the future.

Do you use a foot mounted sensor or chest strap as well?
I use the heart rate monitor chest strap. My watch does have an option for a foot sensor but I don't use it. The foot sensor mostly tracks cadence, and since I run on trails the cadence isn't as important as I'm constantly adjusting my pace for the terrain.

What do you do with the information you collect?
Since the current model I'm using is a Garmin, I use the corresponding Garmin Connect software. It allows me to track pacing, heart rate, distance and elevation.

Is the software user friendly?
Relatively. There are some things I'd like to add. There are a few different data screens that it shows, and it's kind of hard to go back and forth between them. If you're trying to figure out where on the run your heart rate was the highest, you can't just click on the heart rate graph and have it show you the location on the map. You actually have to go to the map and track along. It would be nice to just click on some point on the heart rate graph and have it show where on your run you were at that point. (Mike is a computer software engineer so we consider him an expert in this department as well!)

Does your watch navigate and track or just track?
I believe my model has a function for navigation but I've never actually used it.

Do you have any issues with battery life?
I did have an issue with battery life with my older Suunto model. When I was running at full GPS and heart rate tracking it would only last for about six hours. So I've definitely had it run out on some long hikes where I was out all day and trying to track where I'd been. I haven't had any battery issues with my Garmin 210 yet – I believe the battery life is little longer on this one – about eight to ten hours.

What's the longest run you've ever tracked with a GPS watch?
I was out for fourteen hours once, but since the battery died after six hours I lost more than half of the data.

What is your experience with the accuracy of the data?
It's interesting how much the runs will change from one day to the next, even with the same model GPS watch. If there is a lot elevation change the distance seems to be off even more. I have one loop that I run quite frequently, and I've had it register anywhere from 5.8 to 5.2 miles, starting and stopping in the same place each time.

Why do you think that happens?
If the satellite coverage is poor and you lose the signal, the watch has to guess where you've been. It's not so much the fault of the watch, but of the terrain and satellite availability. It would be great to have more satellites up there.

Do you use your GPS watch to track your skiing or climbing?
I've used it a few times while climbing to track my heart-rate. I did try to use it on Solar Slab once (a route in Red Rock Canyon) because I wanted to see what it would look like on the map afterwards, but I just kept losing the satellite signal in the canyons.

Is there anything you wish your watch did?
There's a lot of new stuff out there these days. Some new models have apps associated with them that can track what weather is coming your way and give you warnings, stuff like that. I think it would be interesting to tie them in with a 911 beacon. There was a woman lost on Mt. Charleston a few years ago and lots of people were out searching for her. I was up there for a run, and it occurred to me that if I found her it would be useful if there was some type of beacon on the watch that I could activate to call for help.

So who would you recommend buy a GPS watch?
I do enjoy the data tracking, so anyone who is into keeping track of their training or adventures should probably get one.

Interview by Cam McKenzie


History of GPS Watches
GPS watches have only been on the market for around a decade or so. The technology itself is a byproduct of the Cold War and Space Race eras. When Sputnik was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, American scientists hurried to find a way to tracks its movement. Researchers at John's Hopkins University discovered that they could trace the path of the satellite by using the Doppler Effect (think of the way the sound of an ambulance's siren changes as it nears you, and then passes). The signals sent from the satellite would distort and change according to its distance from a receiving station, which then allowed the path of its orbit to be measured. Later on, a researcher named Frank McClure realized that this system could work in reverse. If you had a satellite with a set orbit, the signal changes would let someone on Earth identify their location as long as they were within range of the satellite.

The United States began putting satellites into space to aid in naval navigation in the 1960's. In the 1970's the US military designed and created the current global positioning satellite (GPS) system, perfecting the types of signals used and the triangulation methods required to pinpoint exact locations. They switched from measuring Doppler signal distortion to signal timing – distance could be determined by recording how long a signal takes to reach a receiver instead. Multiple satellites allowed for even greater accuracy using triangulation methods, and the current system of 24 orbiting satellites was deployed.

In the 1980's the technology was made available to civilians, however, the commercial units were very expensive and the signals were purposefully distorted, resulting in random deviations of up to 300 feet (100 meters). That deviation wasn't entirely critical if you were trying to find a specific location, but if you were trying to track a trail it was a different matter. Because the signal would distort every time a waypoint was recorded, even when hiking in a straight line the corresponding track would look like a bunch of zigzags. Units at that time were the size of a modern day tablet, only wider, and were often used in conjunction with an external antenna. Not runner or hiker friendly!

In 2000, the signal distortion was finally removed, and the boom in portable GPS units was on. At first, the emphasis was on vehicle navigation systems and handheld units for hiking. In a few years, the first "watches" were on the market, though they looked more like a small handheld unit with straps. Garmin, one of the leading manufacturers of commercial GPS products, released its first watch in 2003, though it wasn't really until 2008 that the technology became truly "wearable," and similar in size to an altimeter watch. Advances in electronics helped miniaturize the GPS receivers, and they now easily fit into cell phones and watches, boosting their popularity.

The latest trends of personal tracking have also increased the interest in GPS watches. The positioning technology coupled with a fitness tracker allows for not only a route to be recorded, but all the accompanying biometric data as well. This has helped many athletes, particularly runners, improve their training methods and performance.

Jediah Porter
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