But what exactly are GPS watches and what functions do they provide? We clarify these and other questions in this article. First we present the best GPS watches that are currently on the market and then introduce two alternatives.
In the following section of the guide, we explain exactly what to look out for when buying a GPS watch. In addition, we have added a FAQ section in which we answer the most common questions about GPS watches.
The best GPS watches
The Garmin Forerunner 735XT GPS watch is a simple but highly efficient model that appeals to athletes in particular. The watch has extensive triathlon functions (swimming, cycling and running), as well as many other multisport functions such as for cross-country skiing or other cardio activities. What is particularly great about the Garmin Forerunner 735XT GPS watch is the high level of comfort, which is guaranteed by a very low weight of just 40 grams and a well-fitting bracelet.
Further advantages are the water resistance down to a depth of 50m and the long battery life in UltraTrac mode of up to 24 hours. Forerunner 735-XT features include step tracking, distance traveled, calories burned and heart rate measurement. Another practical feature is the option of receiving smart notifications directly on the watch and thus leaving the smartphone in your pocket.
Customers especially praise the long life of the watch and the heart rate measurement on the wrist. They give good to very good grades in the categories robustness, waterproofness and “for training”. Furthermore, many buyers are enthusiastic about the good price-performance ratio. Some criticism, however, went to the connectivity with the smartphone via Bluetooth, which sometimes takes some time to work well.
- Many functions.
- Very comfortable to wear (light weight and comfortable bracelet).
- Good value for money.
- Smart notifications.
- The Bluetooth function sometimes takes some time to establish a connection.
While the Suunto 9 multisport GPS watch isn’t the cheapest watch on our list, it does offer many features that other models don’t. The manufacturer Suunto praises the watch as a training and competition companion for over 80 sports. Suunto 9 could be just the thing for particularly active people. With a battery life of up to 120 hours, even multi-day hikes can be completed without any problems.
The design of the Suunto 9 multisport GPS watch is also very appealing. There is a color display with three buttons, a graphic real display of the heart rate on the wrist and the possibility of route navigation with the help of waypoints (breadcrumb navigation). The steps and calories burned can also be displayed at any time.
Most of the customers rate the Suunto 9 multisport GPS watch as very good. Their Pro list includes, for example, the beautiful display, the high level of comfort, the ease of use and the long battery life. In addition, the calculation of the distance covered is extremely precise.
The sleep tracker and the option of customizing the display did not do so well in the ratings. Both are ok, but not as sophisticated as other competitors.
- Suitable for over 80 sports.
- Very long battery life (up to 120 hours).
- Great design.
- Very comfortable to wear.
- Precise calculation of the route length.
- Sleep tracker could be more accurate.
- No special individual design of the display possible.
The unisex GPS fitness watch from Polar is aimed primarily at athletes. They are available in sizes S / M or M / L and in 6 different colors. The colors offered are black, pink rose, white, yellow, orange and black copper. Overall, the Polar GPS watch has a very slim design and is very comfortable to wear.
The functions include the recording of speed, calorie counter, distance and route with GPS. There is also a sleep tracker (Nightly Recharge and Sleep Plus Stages) that shows how well the body recovers from stress and exercise at night. With this tracker, detailed sleep graphics are also created, with which the sleep quality and sleep phases can be precisely analyzed
Many Amazon customers are excited about the Polar GPS watch. Both the many functions and the good price-performance ratio are praised. However, the display caused some criticism. This cannot be read well in the sun and the touchscreen does not always work properly.
- Many functions.
- Great design and wide range of colors.
- Good value for money.
- The display is difficult to read in the sun.
- Touchscreen could be better.
The Polar M430 GPS running watch is a rather affordable model and a solid complete package. The range of functions of the watch is specially designed to support runners. For example, you can read your pulse around the clock and track your own activities. There are also many comprehensive training functions especially for runners. Furthermore, the Polar M430 GPS running watch offers a sleep tracker with which the sleep quality can be analyzed.
Customers on Amazon award many very good grades for the M430. The timer function, the mobile app for the watch and the water resistance are particularly popular. According to the statements, the functions of the watch are extremely well suited for exercising and for measuring sleep quality and improving it in the long term. Some rather critical buyers, on the other hand, judge the sleep tracker rather negatively, but give no specific reasons. The heart rate monitor is also a little too imprecise for these customers.
- Very good for runners.
- Sleep tracker and heart rate monitor could be more accurate.
The Suunto Core GPS watch is a great companion for many outdoor activities. The barometric altimeter, the compass and the light function are particularly useful in the mountains. Other functions include severe weather warnings, temperature measurement as well as time and date display and alarm function. The battery life is 12 months in time mode.
We particularly like the high durability thanks to the robust aluminum housing and the water resistance up to 30m. In addition, the GPS watch is comfortable and has a very low weight.
Customers are thrilled with the overall package of the Suunto Core. They award top grades in the categories waterproof, timer function and price-performance ratio. According to the reviews, many buyers find the design and the material used very appealing. The technical functions can also convince. The Core was criticized for its somewhat dark display, which makes reading the display in the sun not exactly easy.
- Many functions.
- Good value for money.
- Long battery life in time mode.
- Robust and durable.
- Ad is difficult to read in sunshine.
Advice: Buy the right GPS watch
Many modern GPS watches have a number of advanced features that most people cannot start with immediately. The more advanced the functions are, the more expensive the GPS watch is generally. Below we have listed the most important purchase criteria for GPS watches and explain exactly what there is to consider when buying.
Purchase criteria GPS watch: What should be considered?
Simple GPS watches usually have an altimeter, a barometer and a compass. Any additional function beyond that will make itself felt in the price.
Altimeters measure air pressure and use it to track your altitude. While not 100% accurate, they can be useful, especially if you use a topographic map or are in mountainous areas.
Altimeters can be more accurate than GPS devices because they don’t need a signal. While the GPS signal can be lost in the mountains, altimeters are simply dependent on air pressure.
A barometer is a nifty function that provides more than just a weather forecast on your wrist. With the help of a barometer, you can measure the air pressure and get information about whether and when a storm is coming.
If you’re on a long hike, knowing whether rain or a storm is expected can be extremely useful. A built-in barometer can make a big contribution and increase your security.
Ah, the faithful compass. Almost all GPS watches will have a built-in compass, some are more advanced than others. 2D compasses only work if the watch is kept completely horizontal. Meanwhile, 3D models work no matter how the compass is held.
While many hikers consider a compass to be unimportant if they carry a GPS device with them, a GPS that is constantly switched on can exhaust the battery capacity and then no longer be used. If you cannot receive a GPS signal, a compass and a map are a good alternative.
Not all GPS watches have a thermometer, although it is sometimes a practical feature. However, since they are worn on the wrist, keeping them accurate can be difficult because they can adapt to body temperature.
Thermometers are well suited to measure temperature and adjust clothing accordingly. For best accuracy, you can remove the watch from your wrist while measuring the temperature.
Of course, every GPS watch has GPS. However, the level of accuracy depends on the price you are willing to pay for your watch.
If you are hiking alone, a GPS is useful, which determines your location quickly and accurately. Most watches today support GPS and GLONASS satellites, a few also support BDS. All three satellites mean greater accuracy and speed when determining your location.
Other information that the GPS can display is speed, duration, distance and total ascent. All of this data is very interesting and useful if you want to track your progress.
Many GPS devices come with pre-installed topographic maps. While these are not a replacement for a GPS, they can keep you up to date if you lose the signal or if you don’t want to waste the battery unnecessarily.
Additional cards can be downloaded for a fee (cards can also be found free of charge on the Internet). The handling of the map and compass should definitely be practiced in advance.
Modern GPS watches usually have wifi connectivity, a feature that is preferred by many, but is completely irrelevant to others.
Connecting your watch to your smartphone has its advantages. You can download hiking data to your smartphone, have your heart rate displayed in a graphic using an app and connect with other like-minded people.
For other people, the wifi connection is an unnecessary extra. If you want to escape everyday life and do not want to deal with your smartphone, you should choose a watch without WiFi connectivity to save money and battery.
Most watches are water-repellent, but not all of them are waterproof. A water-repellent watch can withstand a rain shower, but you shouldn’t submerge it.
If you want to go swimming with your GPS watch, you should definitely buy a waterproof watch. Even then, you should be careful not to dive too deep. Not all clocks can manage the same water depths.
Enthusiastic swimmers will want to take advantage of waterproof fitness watches. These can track time, speed and heart rate underwater and are invaluable when it comes to monitoring progress.
Heart rate monitor
Many GPS watches can record and display the heart rate. This function is very useful if you are working on your fitness, want to lose weight or want to follow your activities. The measurement can also help to keep a steady pace when hiking or doing similar activities.
While some GPS watches track the heart rate via the wrist, others require a mostly uncomfortable chest strap. Chest straps have the advantage of being far more accurate than wrist-based heart rate monitors.
The Bluetooth connection is no longer used much, but it enables the watch to be connected to the smartphone or computer without the need for an integrated wifi. This is a great alternative to WiFi connectivity, as watches with Bluetooth functionality are often cheaper, but offer the same features as WiFi-connected devices.
With the Bluetooth connection you can, for example, synchronize the watch with your smartphone so that you can download data from training sessions and analyze them with the help of an app. Notifications can also be displayed directly on the wrist.
The design of a watch is more important for one person than for another. If you want to buy a watch that looks good not only on hikes, but also in everyday life, then the right design is worth considering.
GPS watches that you can wear on the go (and still look good) usually have an unobtrusive design and are not bulky. Specific survival watches, on the other hand, mostly have a style that takes some getting used to, and which is not very popular with many people.
A hiking GPS watch should generally be sturdy and comfortable, preferably with a slightly thicker strap. Many GPS watches have a sapphire crystal lens that is harder to scratch, but that makes them more expensive. The disadvantage of very robust and resistant watches is that they can feel bulky on rather thin wrists.
Lighter, more minimalist watches designed for everyday use could be less durable and scratch-resistant. However, they are more comfortable on the wrists.
The price difference for GPS watches can be huge. Cheap devices may have fewer features, but they are, possibly, more durable and have a longer battery life.
Quality watches will be more intuitive, with bigger, brighter screens, and they’ll most likely have a touchscreen. You’ll be packed with features that may shorten battery life.
Mid-range devices are more stylish than the low-end options and mostly have a minimalist design. They don’t have as many sophisticated features as the expensive devices, but the battery lasts longer and the device is easy to use. The design is usually practical for everyday use.
The quality of the bracelet does not come to mind for many hikers, but it should not be underestimated. Above all, your watch should be comfortable. A rough or itchy bracelet cannot be used on a long tour, especially when it is warm and you sweat. The bracelet should also be sturdy and resistant. When you spend a certain amount on a watch, you also want the watch to remain firm and comfortable on your wrist!
If you have no experience with watches, you may think that adding a few grams doesn’t make much difference. However, if you hike or run a marathon for a week, you will quickly learn better. Cheaper GPS watches with less advanced features are often bigger and heavier. These models are not ideal for long runs.
The lifespan of the battery
Another important aspect is the lifespan of the battery. Basically, GPS watches with fewer functions have a longer battery life than the more modern counterparts with many advanced functions.
Watches with bluetooth, wifi connection and backlight will have more problems when it comes to the battery. However, these still last longer than the smartphone, so they are definitely a good investment.
It’s best to make sure the GPS, Wifi, backlight, and Bluetooth functions are turned off when you’re not using them. Notifications and warnings can also be switched off if necessary. If all functions are performed at the same time, the battery will discharge faster than you might think.
FAQs: Frequently asked questions about GPS watches answered
What is a GPS watch?
GPS watches are electronic devices that are equipped with various functions for navigation or route recording. The most modern devices are now able to replace large and bulky GPS devices. Depending on the functions of the watch, various sensors can provide information about the environment, the weather, the position of the sun and moon, or body-relevant data.
GPS watch or smartwatch – what are the differences?
Smartwatches are designed to communicate with the smartphone and are therefore permanently coupled to the smartphone. GPS watches, on the other hand, should be able to work independently of the smartphone and are not dependent on the coupling.
GPS watches also usually have a much longer battery life. Furthermore, real buttons are used to navigate through the menus. The resolution of the displays is also very low. Nevertheless, a pairing with the smartphone is also possible with many models. A function of GPS watches also allows smart notifications to be displayed directly on the watch.
Smartwatches place more emphasis on simple handling. So you can wear the smartwatch and stow the smartphone in your backpack, and still get all relevant information displayed on the smartwatch. You can even view messages and answer calls. Smartwatches are also equipped with beautiful displays, but this usually comes at the expense of the battery life.
It is best to consider in advance how you want to use the GPS watch. For example, do you want to always be informed about everything that is going on on the smartphone without having it on hand? Or how important is access to incoming calls and emails to you? In both cases, a smartwatch may be more suitable.
If, on the other hand, you attach particular importance to data about the surroundings, the weather, the altitude or the route, then a GPS watch is ideal. Another big advantage is the long battery life.
Can you navigate with a GPS watch?
Many of the GPS watches are limited to recording an expired route via GPS. This function is particularly popular with athletes who want to analyze the distance they have walked or driven. Modern GPS watches can do even more. With these models, routes can be planned on the computer and then transferred to the watch.
An important navigation function is the so-called breadcrumb navigation. The GPS watch remembers a starting point that you enter into the device. If you now hike in an unknown area, the GPS watch records the path you have walked and can navigate the hiker back the same distance that he took on the way there if he lost his orientation.
However, most GPS watches do not have enough storage space to back up databases and extensive map material. For this reason, it is not yet possible for many devices to enter any destination in the watch to which the watch will then navigate.
To be able to navigate at all, the GPS must be activated. The battery of the GPS watch then lasts up to 24 hours in most cases. If you go on a longer tour and want to use the GPS module of the multisport watch, you should definitely take a power bank with you to recharge the watch in the meantime.
Which sensors are used in GPS watches?
Many of the sensors used in GPS watches measure data that can be used for training analysis. GPS watches that are equipped with these sensors are also called multisport watches or heart rate monitors. Other sensors are altimeter, pedometer, calorie counter, thermometer, barometer and compass. Expensive and very modern models are also equipped with heart rate sensors.
What connectivity do GPS watches have?
Most GPS watches can be paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth. With the help of an app, you can read out training data or load navigation files onto your watch. In contrast to smartwatches, GPS watches do not have to be permanently connected to a smartphone so that the functions can be used to their full extent.
GPS clocks can also be read on the computer. As a rule, the manufacturers of the watches provide corresponding programs that can be used to evaluate and compare the training or hiking data.
If you attach particular importance to the connectivity with the smartphone, you should inform yourself about the offered and supported apps before buying a GPS watch. There are still serious quality differences in terms of stability, but also the range of functions of the apps. In relevant forums you will find reviews and suggested solutions for fitness and hiking apps and their possible weaknesses.
Where can you buy a GPS watch?
GPS watches can either be bought in a specialty shop or conveniently online. In the specialty shop you usually pay more because there is the possibility of personal advice. Shopping online means very little effort for the customer. If there is a detailed guide like ours, going to a specialty store is usually not worth it.
How long does the battery of a GPS watch last?
The battery life of a GPS watch depends heavily on usage. For example, if the GPS function is permanently switched on, the watch’s battery only lasts for a few hours. In standby mode, with clock display, pedometer and other basic functions, the GPS watch only needs to be connected to the charging cable again after a few days. Some models even last up to two weeks. The displays are one of the biggest power guzzlers. Black and white screens and simple buttons are always more economical than colorful displays with a touch function.
With many GPS watches, the energy options can be set. One should pay attention to which options the desired model has exactly before deciding. For example, access to the GLONASS or Beidou satellite networks can be turned off. There is also often the option of turning off the heart rate sensor.
The battery capacity should also not be underestimated. This is given in milliampere hours (mAh). On average, GPS watches have batteries with a capacity between 300 and 400 mAh.
How much does a GPS watch cost?
The best GPS watches can cost up to 900 euros. Inexpensive models start at around 100 euros. The more features a GPS watch has, the more expensive it is. A heart rate sensor in particular drives the price up. Even more unusual features such as an integrated music player can cause differences in the price.
Another decisive factor in the price is the material used. Silicone bracelets are sometimes the cheapest bracelets. For example, expensive models have a titanium bracelet. A final point is individual design. Various manufacturers offer special customizations, such as special colors or individual parts.
Are there any GPS watch alternatives?
GPS watches offer a wide variety of functions. There are different alternatives depending on which of these functions are required.
A variant that is very popular is the smartwatch. This watch is coupled with the smartphone and thus provides the functions of the phone. The smartphone itself can then be stowed away in a place like a backpack.
The big advantage of a smartwatch is the very convenient handling directly on the wrist. The increased power consumption can be seen as a disadvantage. If the smartwatch is to be taken on a long tour or even a hike lasting several days, an extra power bank is ideal.
In addition to the smartwatches, you can also fall back on a classic GPS device. A much better detailed display is possible on these devices and a much larger map section can be displayed, which makes it easier to deviate from the route sometimes in the field. Some GPS devices are also equipped with an altimeter and compass.
In addition, maps from GPS devices can be used to a large extent. Some devices offer modes for geotagging, geocaching and routing and can display vector maps and topographic hiking maps.
A disadvantage can be seen in the comparatively cumbersome handling, which turns out to be a lot more difficult than with a GPS watch. Furthermore, GPS devices are heavier and require more energy.
Anyone who primarily values the fitness functions of GPS watches can also use fitness wristbands or pure training computers. These are also available with GPS functions (tracking), although these are often significantly cheaper than fully equipped GPS watches. Manufacturers such as Polar, Fitbit, Jawbone, Xiaomi, Samsung, Garmin and TomTom offer sophisticated fitness trackers.
GPS watches are a fantastic investment for anyone with a particular interest in outdoor activities. Regardless of whether you want to use it to track the distance traveled on a hike or just need a little extra support when navigating outdoors, GPS watches can fulfill a wide range of needs with their many functions.