How to Pick the Right GPS Running Watch for You
One of the most valuable tools for runners is a decent GPS running watch. For a small investment, you can accurately track your workouts, monitor vital stats, and help you stay motivated to achieve your fitness goals. With so many feature combination and prices, choosing the right GPS running watch for your needs can be a confusing. Let’s dive in and make this easy.
Know your needs
Before delving into the array of features offered by GPS running watches, it’s essential to identify your running and fitness needs and goals. The right GPS running watch can significantly enhance your training experience, so understanding your objectives will guide you towards selecting the watch that best aligns with your aspirations. Here’s how to tailor your watch choice to your goals.
Are you new to the world of running, an intermediate runner aiming to improve your performance, or an experienced athlete seeking to push your limits? Your fitness level will determine the complexity of features you might need in a GPS running watch.
Consider the types of activities you’ll be using the watch for. Is it solely for running, or do you also crosstrain or just enjoy other activities like cycling, swimming, or hiking? Some watches offer multisport tracking capabilities that could cater to your diverse activities.
Are you training for a specific race, aiming to complete a certain distance, working on improving your personal best, or just trying to get fit in general? Different watches provide varying levels of training metrics and performance tracking, so selecting one that aligns with your specific goals will be beneficial.
Metrics and insights
Do you prefer to track basic metrics like distance, time, and pace, or are you interested in advanced metrics like heart rate variability, cadence, and VO2 max estimation? Some watches also record the weather conditions during your run or have a more accurate barometric altimeter. Do you really need those features? Understanding the metrics that matter to you will guide your watch selection.
Some GPS running watches offer built-in coaching features, virtual competitions, and goal-setting options that can provide an extra layer of motivation. Consider whether these features align with your motivational preferences.
Stick to a budget
It’s important to establish a budget range before you start exploring options. With a wide variety of watches available at different price points, having a clear budget in mind will help you narrow down your choices and ensure you’re not tempted by options that exceed what you’re comfortable spending. Let’s look into how to determine a budget.
Research price ranges
Start by getting an idea of the general price ranges of GPS running watches. Basic models start at attractively low prices, but have a lot of drawbacks. More advanced watches with better features are, naturally more expensive but they can range from twice the price of a basic model to ten times more. Understand what features and specifications are typically offered within different price brackets.
While it’s tempting to go for the latest and most feature-rich watch, don’t buy more than you need. Stick to what you know you need and might want to do over the coming year or two.
Think about the long-term value the watch offers. A slightly higher upfront investment might be justified if the watch supports your evolving fitness journey for years to come.
Determine if you’re willing to make trade-offs in certain features to stay within your budget. For example, you might prioritize accurate GPS tracking over built-in music playback or full-on smartwatch capability.
Keep in mind that technology advances quickly. Factor in the possibility of future upgrades and improvements when assessing the long-term value of the watch. A few years ago, a GPS watch was just something to track your runs. Now many have complex smartwatch features. Some of those features can be upgraded simply by updating the firmware of the watch. See if the manufacturer offers this.
By clearly defining your running and fitness goals and establishing a realistic budget, you’ll be better equipped to choose a GPS running watch that’s tailored to your needs and provides the features that will enhance your training experience. This combination of goal-oriented selection and budget consciousness will guide you towards a watch that supports your fitness journey effectively. Let’s look at some basic features. We’ll leave it to you to consider the extra features that have little to do with running.
Important features to consider
The primary function of a GPS running watch is accurate tracking of your running routes and distances. Look for a watch that features high-quality GPS technology and network options to ensure precise location tracking. Read reviews and user experiences to gauge the watch’s accuracy in different environments, such as urban areas with tall buildings or forested trails.
If you only go on thirty-minute runs and plug your watch in overnight when you get home, them long battery life is something you can trade off. However, if you plan on using your watch as a daily watch, smart watch, or you want to track long hikes that might last a full day, then battery life is super important. Consider how often you’ll need to charge the watch. Some models offer a few days of usage, while others can extend to multiple weeks. A watch with customizable power-saving options can be beneficial for conserving battery during longer activities.
Heart rate monitoring
Many GPS running watches come with built-in heart rate monitors. These monitors provide insights into your cardiovascular health and allow you to optimize your training intensity. Some watches use optical sensors on the back of the watch to measure heart rate from your wrist, while others require a separate chest strap for more accurate readings. Choose the option that aligns with your comfort and accuracy preferences.
Pace tracking and cadence measurement
These features are pretty standard, even on the cheapest watches. However, some very inexpensive watches may still not have them. These are features that most people want, so just check they exist on the model you are considering.
VO2 max estimation
VO2 max stands for maximal oxygen consumption. It’s a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during intense exercise and is considered an excellent indicator of your cardiovascular fitness and endurance level. A higher VO2 max typically indicates better aerobic fitness and the ability to sustain higher levels of physical activity. It is a feature found in advanced GPS running watches that uses various data points, such as heart rate, running speed, elevation, and personal information like age, gender, and weight, to provide an estimate of your VO2 max without requiring a laboratory test. While it may not be as accurate as a clinical test, it offers a valuable approximation of your aerobic fitness level. If you can get along fine without it, you might be able to save a lot.
Training plans, motivations, and gamification
Some watches offer preloaded training plans or the ability to create and download custom plans tailored to your goals. They sometimes include preset and customizable goals and motivation options. These can include badges, points, and rewards. Often this is extra app or website-based functionality that you receive with your watch purchase. If this is something that might help you stay on course, then consider budgeting for it.
Compatibility and connectivity
Ensure that the GPS running watch you choose is compatible with your smartphone’s operating system (iOS or Android). This compatibility will allow you to sync your data effortlessly and receive notifications on your watch. Some watches also offer music storage and playback, which can be a motivating factor during your runs.
Design and comfort
Since you’ll be wearing your GPS running watch during workouts and potentially throughout the day, it’s important that it’s comfortable and visually appealing. Consider factors such as the size of the watch face, strap material, and overall durability. Some watches offer customizable watch faces, allowing you to personalize the look to your preference.
Picking the right GPS running watch involves a balance between your fitness goals, budget, and desired features. By considering factors such as GPS accuracy, battery life, heart rate monitoring, training metrics, compatibility, and design, you can narrow down your options and find a watch that seamlessly integrates into your running routine. Remember that the best GPS running watch for you, in spite of all the bells and whistles, is one that keeps you running and improving.