The best sports watches are worthwhile if you're getting serious about outdoor activities like running, hiking and rock climbing.
While many of the best fitness trackers and best smartwatches incorporate location-tracking on the device itself to accurately log outdoor workouts, dedicated sports, also known as GPS watches, have features that can provide you much more data about what you're doing, and last much longer on a charge.
Even the most basic sports watches track and map your routes, measure your heart rate, and use the data to calculate your pace and speed. Extra features, such as altimeters, preloaded maps, advanced metrics, and music storage can come at a premium.
While the majority of the best sports watches are aimed at runners, there are specialized models for triathletes, golfers, endurance athletes, and those who go hiking and skiing.
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.
What are the best sports watches?
After testing dozens of models, the best sports watch is the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music. Aimed at runners — but able to track other outdoor activities — the Forerunner 245 offers advanced run-tracking metrics, solid battery life, and on-board music storage. Yep, you can finally leave your smartphone at home and still run with music. And, the Forerunner 245 also supports Spotify, so if you subscribe to that music service, you can download playlists to the watch, too.
The Forerunner 245 has a svelte 42mm case, a great size for wrists of all sizes, yet its bright, colorful display, which has a resolution of 240 x 240 pixels, uses transflective technology so that it actually gets brighter when the sun is shining on it. (It also has a backlight for dimmer situations.)
For those on a budget, the best sports watch is the Garmin Forerunner 25. This no-frills watch costs less than $100 and lacks a heart rate monitor, but it has a bright monochrome display, accurately tracks your runs, and lasts up to 10 hours when actively using GPS.
Sports watches can be general purpose, but they can be dedicated to specific activities, too. The best sports watch for golfers is the Garmin Approach S62. It has a bright, colorful display, is preloaded with more than 41,000 golf courses, has shot tracking, and lasts up to 20 hours when using GPS. It has a clever Virtual Caddie feature, too.
Polar is launching a challenger to the heavy-duty Garmin fenix 6: The Polar Grit X is a multisport outdoor watch with a battery that will last up to 40 hours with all of its features — including GPS — activated. The watch also has features such Hill Splitter, which detects when you're going up or downhill, and then analyzes your performance on those segments. The Polar Grit X is available $429 — much less than the starting price of the $599 fenix 6.
The best sports watches you can buy today
Garmin hit a home run with the Forerunner 245 Music, which offers advanced run-tracking features, solid battery life and offline Spotify support in a stylish package. You have to subscribe to Spotify Premium to be able to use this feature, but non-subscribers can also sideload music onto the Forerunner 245.
The Forerunner 245's big, bright, full-color transflective display makes it easy to read, even in sunlight, and its sharp 240 x 240 pixels 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 — up to six hours when using GPS — 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.
If you don't need extra bells and whistles, the Garmin Forerunner 25 is the best sports watch for those on a budget. 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 (and about 10 when actively using GPS), the Forerunner 25 can also be your everyday timepiece, and will still work when you need it for those impromptu jogs. However, it lacks a heart rate monitor, which may be a deal-killer for many.
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.
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.
The Garmin Approach S62 offers a sharper appearance, larger screen and lengthier battery life than its Garmin Approach S60 predecessor. Plus it supports a Virtual Caddie feature, which offers club suggestions and other shot tips based on your past rounds. Though it’s not guaranteed to improve your golf game, the insight provided by Virtual Caddie doesn’t feel gimmicky and might benefit you if you tend to experiment with your club choices.
The Garmin Approach S62 lasts about 14 days without a charge, although you’ll get just 20 hours in continuous GPS mode. We made it through week with 3 rounds before needing to recharge the S62, so it’s safe to say you can leave Garmin’s proprietary charger at home for a weekend golf trip.
Read our full Garmin Approach S62 review.
The ultimate in outdoor sports watches, the Garmin fenix 6 is designed to track you anywhere you go, and survive everything you do. But, you'll pay for it. The fenix 6 series starts at $599 and goes all the way up to $1,149 for the fenix 6X Solar, which has a solar panel built into the display, which helps to extend its battery life. The fenix 6 series is available in three case sizes: 42mm, 47mm, and a big, honkin' 51mm. This is one heavy watch, though, weighing in at 58 grams.
The fenix 6 is water-resistant to 10 ATM, and comes packed with sensors: GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, a heart rate monitor, altimeter, barometer, compass, gyroscope, and thermometer. So, it can measure just about everything about you. It also has sport-specific features for running, biking, swimming, hiking, climbing, skiing/snowboarding, XC Skiing, Stand Up Paddleboarding, rowing, kayaking, and more.
Most impressively, the fenix 6's battery life is an epic 25 hours using GPS at its most active setting; in Expedition mode, where it doesn't update as frequently, you can get up to 20 days of battery life. Now that's endurance.
Garmin's sports watch for triathletes improves upon the older 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.
With a large display, on-board GPS, built-in compass and enough durability certifications to survive Jurassic Park, the Amazfit T-Rex one of the best sports watches you can get without breaking the bank. At $140, it’s less than half the price of the Garmin Instinct and other popular GPS smartwatches, making it an affordable alternative.
The T-Rex offers an impressive battery life, variety of sports modes and sleep tracking – all wrapped in its impenetrable shell. With all the sensors you could want, the T-Rex is a beast to be reckoned with, plus who doesn't want a device named after a dinosaur?
Read our full Amazfit T-Rex review.
The Garmin Approach S20 is one of the best sports watches on the market. Its modest design is balanced by seamless functionality and a neat Garmin Golf app. And priced below $200, it's one of the most affordable golf wearables available.
It's the golf watch to get if you don't care about the bells and whistles of more modern-looking wearables. Someone who golfs often will appreciate the hardware's long battery life and AutoShot data. Those who play less frequently aren't overspending for a gadget they'll be happy to have on the occasions they hit the links.
Read our full Garmin Approach S20 review.
How to choose the best sports watch for you
Because sports watches span a wide range of outdoor activities, you want to pick a sports watch based on what it is you plan to do. Runners will want a sports watch that's light and easy to read while your arms are pumping back and forth.
If you're into other activities, such as cycling or triathlons, you'll want a sports watch that can track swimming, and be paired with the ANT or Bluetooth sensors on your bike. It goes without saying that it should be waterproof.
Those who do more extreme sports, like endurance runs and alpine skiing will want to look for a sports watch that's not only durable, but has extremely long battery life. Some of the best sports watches for outdoors, like Garmin's fenix series, let you adjust the frequency at which their GPS pings a satellite, which can extend their battery life to days, and not just hours.
How we test sports watches
Similar to fitness trackers, the line that separates great sports 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.
For each sports 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.