While many fitness trackers and smartwatches incorporate location-tracking on the device itself to accurately log outdoor workouts, serious athletes are investing in dedicated GPS watches. Even the most basic devices track and map your routes, and use the data to calculate your pace and speed. Extra features, such as heart rate monitors, altimeters, preloaded maps and Bluetooth capabilities can come at a premium.
Our favorite GPS watch is Garmin's Forerunner 245 Music, which offers advanced run-tracking metrics, solid battery life, on-board music storage with Spotify support and a bright, colorful display in a sleek, stylish package.
For those on a budget, we recommend the Garmin Forerunner 25, a no-frills watch that accurately tracks your runs.
Similar to fitness trackers, the line that separates great GPS watches from the best smartwatches is blurring with the arrival of devices that incorporate smartphone notifications with GPS, step, distance and calories counts, plus heart rate measurements.
GPS watches can be general purpose, or they can be dedicated to specific activities. Golfers will want to opt for a device with preloaded course maps, while triathletes will want to get a multi-sport watch that can not only withstand more than a dip in the pool, but can also measure your strokes and your biking distance.
To help you choose which device is best for you, we've selected the top GPS watches in various categories, judging them based on performance, ease of use and design.
1. Garmin Forerunner 245 Music
Best overall GPS watch
Battery Life in GPS Mode: 6 hours (with music) | Water Resistance: 165 Feet | Bluetooth: Yes | Smartphone Notifications: Yes | Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Garmin hit a home run with this Forerunner model, which offers advanced run-tracking features, solid battery life and offline Spotify support in a stylish package. Its big, bright, full-color display makes it a perfect outdoor running companion.
While the Forerunner 245 Music costs nearly as much as a new Apple Watch, its in-depth tracking features and better battery life make it the choice for serious runners. And the onboard music storage can be a welcome companion on those long runs.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 245 Music review.
2. Garmin Forerunner 25
Battery Life in GPS Mode: 8-10 hours | Water Resistance: 165 feet | Bluetooth: Yes | Smartphone Notifications: No | Heart Rate Monitor: No
If you don't need extra bells and whistles and you're on a budget, consider the Garmin Forerunner 25. It's an inexpensive, yet accurate, GPS watch that tracks distance, speed and pace, and it notifies you at every mile you run.
With nearly 10 weeks of battery life in watch mode, the Forerunner 25 can also be your everyday timepiece, and will still work when you need it for those impromptu jogs. You'll want to look elsewhere if you demand a lot of features from your GPS watch, but this is the best choice for someone who just wants an easy-to-use device from a trusted brad.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 25 review.
3. Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS)
Best GPS Smartwatch
Battery Life in GPS Mode: 18 hours | Water Resistance: 165 feet | Bluetooth: Yes | Smartphone Notifications: Yes | Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
If you own an iPhone, the best smartwatch with GPS is the Apple Watch Series 3. Even though it's not as advanced as the $399 Apple Watch Series 5, you don't need to pay up to get the excellent health- and fitness-tracking features available on Apple's smartwatches — especially since last fall's release of watchOS 6.
Even though the Series 3 is a couple years old, it still features a built-in heart rate sensor, swim-tracking capability, smartphone notifications (including the ability to reply to text messages), on-board music storage, Apple Pay functionality and more. This is the GPS smartwatch to get when you've bought into Apple's ecosystem.
Read our full Apple Watch Series 3 review.
4. Garmin Approach S20
Best Golf GPS Watch
Battery Life in GPS Mode: 15 hours | Water Resistance: 50 meters | Bluetooth: Yes | Smartphone Notifications: Yes | Heart Rate Monitor: No
For a no-frills, affordable golf watch, Garmin's Approach S20 gets the job done. The watch offers lengthy battery life — up to 15 hours of course-tracking — and is preloaded with more than 40,000 courses around the world for tracking every round accurately. The built-in GPS picks up your location for selecting the right course.
You'll find more features in pricier golf watches, like Garmin's Approach S60, but you can't beat the cost of the S20.
Read our full Garmin Approach S20 review.
5. Garmin fenix 5
Best For Outdoors
Battery Life in GPS Mode: 24 hours | Water Resistance: 330 feet | Bluetooth: Yes | Smartphone Notifications: Yes | Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Not only did the Garmin fenix 5 watch accurately track us whether we were in the Canadian Rockies or New Jersey, but we loved its durable yet not-too-bulky design and bright outdoor-readable display. We also liked that we could change its watchface using Garmin's ConnectIQ system, and receive smartphone notifications on our wrist.
Most impressively, the fenix 5's battery life is an epic 24 hours using GPS at its highest setting. Starting at $599, it's not cheap, but worth the coin for those who spend a lot of time in the outdoors.
Read our full Garmin fenix 5 review.
6. Garmin Forerunner 945
Best for Triathletes
Battery Life in GPS Mode: 36 hours | Water Resistance: 165 feet | Bluetooth: Yes | Smartphone Notifications: Yes | Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
Garmin's latest GPS watch for triathletes improves upon the Forerunner 935, which we loved. In addition to all the usual sophisticated Garmin Forerunner 900-series features, including advanced metrics for running, cycling and swimming, the Forerunner 945 adds on-board music storage and mobile payments. The watch also now uses heat and altitude to gauge the difficulty of your run, and uses that information to calculate your training-load status.
Garmin improved the battery life of theForerunner 945 by 50% over its predecessor, so now you can squeeze out 36 hours of GPS usage on a charge. The 945 is worth splurging on if you're a serious athlete. At $599, it's expensive, but best in class.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 945 review.
How we test GPS watches
For each GPS watch, we evaluate its hardware design and comfort. The device needs to be comfortable enough to wear during even the most rigorous and lengthy runs. We test for GPS speed and accuracy by grabbing location signals in different areas — in between tall buildings and skyscrapers, as well as in open spaces. We use each watch for an extended period of time to test the manufacturer's battery-life claims. Lastly, we evaluate the device's companion app and the experience of using the watch and app together.
If the GPS watch also happens to be a smartwatch, we evaluate the included software, app ecosystem and special features like mobile wallet capabilities.