Pace Picks - Best GPS Running Watch 2018

Best GPS Running Watch

Maybe you just started running or you’re a seasoned runner looking to improve in the sport, either way we believe that one of the most valuable tools you can have as a runner is a good running watch.  Before we get into our picks let's talk about why a running watch is superior to a phone or regular watch/stopwatch.

Heart Rate Tracking & Other Metrics

Heart rate tracking is the key metric to ensuring that you are training efficiently. It is an objective measure of your effort during a run and allows you to control your pacing from easy to threshold pace and race pace. This is key to maximizing your training, and achieving faster times.

GPS Accuracy

In general running watches have a higher degree of GPS accuracy (especially for trail running) compared to a phone.   


Most running watches are waterproof which means they will work if you get caught in a rainstorm, and sweat won't affect them.  Most will also work in more extreme temperatures from freezing to hot summer days. Phones have been known to shut off or become damaged during longer runs.


Running watches are dead on reliable, we have seen phone apps crash during races because there was no cell service.  Running watches do one thing and they do it well, it's a nice piece of mind on race days when there are tons of other things to worry about.

Battery Life

Running watches have significant battery life, that for some, can last for weeks between changing.  This means that you can make it through a 4 hour race or practice run without losing track of your pace and heart rate.

Here are our top picks for running watches.

Best Overall GPS Watch - Garmin Forerunner 235

The Garmin Forerunner 235  packs in a ton of key features for runners.  It checks off all of our key points above, offering long battery life, sturdy waterproof design, accurate GPS, wrist based heart rate tracking.  It can usually be found for around $250 online, and at that price it's heard to beat.

Here is what we like the most:

  • Lightweight

  • Large Color Display

  • Exchangeable Straps

  • Accurate HR data

  • 4 activity profiles that can be individually customized

  • Customizable training tools where you can to set interval distance, duration and time

  • VO2 max estimation

  • Activity alerts during a session for heart rate zones

What we dislike:

  • Interface on the watch has a learning curve

  • No virtual pacer feature

  • User reports of Bluetooth issues

Best Budget GPS Watch  - TomTom Spark

Sometimes simpler is better…The TomTom Spark doesn’t have a heart rate monitor, but its does have accurate GPS tracking.  If you want just the basics and none of the distractions like text messages and Garmin pay this watch is perfect. It also has a nice multisport mode so you can take it swimming and the TomTom online app is easy and simple to use.  If all the sounds great but you want a heart rate monitor, the Spark 3 cardio is also an excellent choice. I personally run with a spark 3 cardio.

Here is what we like the most:

  • Long battery life

  • Waterproof with Multisport Mode

  • Simple and easy to use GPS tracking

  • Great only app that’s good for reviewing your runs

  • Interchangeable bands

  • Easy to read black and white screen

What we dislike:

  • GPS can be slow to sync

  • No Heart Rate monitoring

Best Running Watch with Music - Garmin 645

The Garmin 645 is a stylish running smart watch, with all of the essential features from the 235 with a smattering of extra nice to haves on top.  If you are looking to completely ditch your phone and still have music this is your best option. Plus you get Garmin’s advanced running dynamic tracking (when used with running dynamic pods) which provides tracking on stride length and contact time.  If you are a tri-athlete or cross train with swimming, this watch is also a great option for the pool with excellent lap tracking.

Here is what we like the most:

  • Good battery life (up to 7 days in smartwatch mode; 5 hours in GPS mode with music.)

  • Nice shape and size, and its waterproof

  • Great display that's not a touchscreen

  • Excellent swim training mode

  • Music storage up to 500 songs

  • Quick recharging

  • Garmin Pay (no more running with a credit card)

What we dislike:

  • Price, not the most expensive but getting there

  • Button navigation can be confusing

  • Music cuts out occasionally

  • Bluetooth pairing issues with headphones (Garmin has an approved headphones list)

Best Running Watch for Professional Athletes - Garmin Fenix

If you have been running for years… or are trying to reach that Olympic qualifying time and you need that extra edge to help get you there this is probably the watch for you.  It's the big kahuna, the power house, the great bambino of running watches. This watch could cook a steak for you if it could… This is the ultimate running multisport GPS heart rate monitoring watch money can buy.  It comes with more advanced features than an advanced calculus class; from full color topographical maps of your terrain, blood oxygen levels, music on your wrist, and even Garmin pay to but snacks on your run. Excessive yes, but really cool tech absolutely.  If you have the money and want to know every detail about your run this one is a real winner.

Here is what we like the most:

  • Exceptional battery life (Garmin claims up to 20 days in smartwatch mode and 13 hours in GPS mode with music)

  • Durable design that can survive anything from the toughest obstacle course races to your hardest marathons.

  • Music storage up to 500 songs

  • Garmin Pay so you don’t have to carry your credit card

  • This watch is accurate... It can track 3 separate satellite networks (GPS, GLONASS and Galileo)

  • Tons of tracking metrics (heart rate, altimeter, barometer and compass)

  • The ClimbPro page provides the climb gradient, distance and elevation gain for upcoming hills

  • No touchscreen, navigation with buttons only.

What we dislike:

  • The Price

  • Issues with open water swim tracking

  • Watch is huge

  • The navigation can take a little bit to get used to

Obviously Garmin has dominated our list of watches and for good reason, they are all high quality watches with a great feature set. We feel you can’t really go wrong with any of them, so get out there an enjoy your runs.

Don’t Forget

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