GPS Watch Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Multisport Watch?
Date Posted:14 May 2017
Any athlete, whether a novice or veteran, understands how important performance metrics is when it comes to training or competing in sports. If you’re a runner or a cyclist, it helps to know your speed, distance traveled, altitude, and heart rate. Tracking this data allows you to evaluate your progress. For swimmers, you want to know specific metrics such as swim distance, pace, stroke type identification, and stroke count. In short, as a dashboard is useful for a race car driver so is a multisport watch is for an athlete.
Of course, the best multisport sport watch for you isn’t going to be the same as everybody else's. Today, you can just choose a watch that has only the features you will really use. However, there are also advanced multisport watches that are GPS-enabled for outdoor navigation and include altimeter, barometer, and compass. Some of the latest multisport watches now even comes with daily activity tracking feature and can be paired with your smartphone so you can get emails, texts and alerts right on your watch. You can connect it with your social media too. Depending on your sport and personal preferences, you will have to consider several factors when selecting which multisport watch is the right one for you.
For Swimming, Biking, and Running
The following sportwatches are GPS-enabled with swim, bike, and run functions. They can measure your swim metrics and track your distance and pace for running and cycling. Among the watches listed below, only the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical features a multisport mode, which enables you to quickly switch from sport to sport, just as you would in a normal triathlon race.
|Garmin vivoactive HR||TomTom Spark|
For Swimming, Biking, Running, and Triathlon
In addition to the standard features you would expect from a GPS multisport watch, the following watches includes multisport mode and can be paired with your smartphone via Bluetooth Smart connectivity to display email, text and other alerts.
The Garmin watches below have the following extra features:
- Daily activity tracking measures your steps, sleep and calories burned all day
- Records heart rate underwater while swimming with HRM-Tri or HRM-Swim
- Accelerometer which calculates distance for indoor workouts, without need for a foot pod
- Barometric altimeter (not available in Forerunner 735XT)
|GarminForerunner 920XT||Garmin Forerunner 735XT||Garmin fenix 5||Garmin fenix 5S|
- Route navigation
- Compass, GPS altitude, GPS track recording
- Ability to record heart rate underwater while running and swimming with Suunto Smart Sensor
For Multisport, Triathlon, and Outdoor Navigation
Aside from being advanced GPS multisport watches, the watches below combine the best features of a fitness and an outdoor watch. These are ideal for running, climbing, riding, hiking, paddling, skiing or swimming. With high-sensitivity GPS positioning, 3-axis compass with altimeter and barometer, they include full route navigation and tracking functionalities. They are also designed to endure the toughest outdoor conditions.
|Garmin fenix 5X|
|Garmin Forerunner 935||Garmin epix||Suunto Ambit3 Peak|
For Swimming Metrics
These multisport watches tracks and displays swim metrics such as stroke type, stroke count and pool lengths.
|Pool and Open Water|
For 24/7 Daily Activity Tracking and Heart Rate Monitoring
The following multisport watches feature 24/7 daily activity tracking and/or wrist-based heart rate monitoring. Optical HRM removes the need for wearing an extra HRM strap. However, you can still pair a compatible HRM strap if you want to. These watches can count your daily steps, distance, calories burned, and other fitness statistics depending on the model.
|Watch||Daily Activity Tracking||Wrist-based HRM|
|TomTom Spark Cardio||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin vivoactive HR||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Forerunner 920XT||Yes||No|
|Garmin Forerunner 735XT||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Forerunner 935||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin fenix 3||Yes||No|
|Garmin fenix 3 HR||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin fenix 5||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin fenix 5S||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin fenix 5X||
|Suunto Ambit3 Vertical||
|Suunto Ambit3 Sport||Yes||No|
|Suunto Ambit3 Peak||Yes||No|
For Connecting with Fitness Accessories
The following watches can connect to ANT+ compatible devices such as heart rate monitors and speed/cadence sensors using ANT+ technology.
- Garmin product range
The following watches can connect to compatible Bluetooth Smart accessories such as heart rate monitors, speed and cadence sensors, and other similar devices using Bluetooth Smart Technology.
- Garmin Forerunner 935 (Heart Rate only)
- Garmin fenix 5 (Heart Rate only)
- Garmin fenix 5S (Heart Rate only)
- Garmin fenix 5X (Heart Rate only)
- Suunto Ambit3 Vertical
- Suunto Ambit3 Sport
- Suunto Ambit3 Peak
- TomTom Spark
The data captured on your watch needs to be uploaded to your fitness app so you can see your activity and evaluate your performances. You can do this via USB, Bluetooth Smart Connectivity, or Wi-Fi. Once data is uploaded, you can easily share your achievements via social media.
Here's a table describing the connectivity options for the following watches.
|Garmin vivoactive HR||Yes||Yes||No|
|Garmin Forerunner 920XT||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Forerunner 735XT||Yes||Yes||No|
|Garmin Forerunner 935||Yes||Yes||No|
|Garmin fenix 3||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin fenix 3 HR||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin fenix 5||Yes||Yes||Yes (Sapphire only)|
|Garmin fenix 5S||Yes||Yes||Yes (Sapphire only)|
|Garmin fenix 5X||
|Yes||Yes (Sapphire only)|
|Suunto Ambit3 Vertical||
|Suunto Ambit3 Sport||Yes||Yes||No|
|Suunto Ambit3 Peak||Yes||Yes||No|
Battery life is important when training or competing in any sport. Here’s a battery life comparison table for the following multisport watches with their GPS mode on.
|Up to 200 hours|
Up to 100 hours
|Up to 50 hours|| Garmin fenix 3 HR (HR mode off)
Garmin fenix 3
|Up to 40 hours||Garmin Forerunner 920XT|
Up to 24 hours
(Up to 50-75 hours in
|13 hours or more|
|Up to 11 hours|
When choosing a multisport watch, you would probably want to know its water resistance rating to determine if it can withstand the water sport activity you will be performing.
10 ATM (Up to 100 meters)
Bathing, swimming and snorkeling but not deep water scuba diving and high speed water sports
5 ATM (Up to 50 meters)
Surface swimming, shallow snorkeling and similar activities but not high speed watersport surface impact may exceed this rating (ex. wipeout during motorized water sports)
Which multisport GPS watch would you like to have have? Put your comments below.
Find this buying guide useful? Read the buying guides below to help you choose the right watch for your needs.
- Infographic: How To Choose The Best Multisport Watch
- Buying Guide for Runners: How To Choose The Best Running Watch?
- Bike GPS Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Cycling GPS?
- Swimmers Buying Guide: 5 Things to Consider When Buying a Swimming Watch
Great website!7 September 2017This is exactly what I was looking for. I run on trails and swim in rivers but I'm about to start doing mountaineering and climbing. The information out there is overwhelming, but you put everything I've seen in different websites in one place. Thanks so much!
Active Stride Response
No worries! Happy to help!
Help to select good GPS device5 September 2017My requirements: 1. Cycling (usually 4 hours, long cycling event 24 hours) 2. Running (usually 4 hours, long running event 24 hours) 3. Swimming 4. Music (songs typically during running) memory with bluetooth headset Heart rate, GPS, Speed, Cadence, elevation, estimated calories burnt. Prefer high battery life. Android application compatible, strava compatible, bluetooth data transfer.
Active Stride Response
No worries. The best bet is the TomTom Runner 3 Cardio and Music. We can order one in for you! Maybe the Forerunner 935 as well. Give us a call on 07 3040 5978 for more help!
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HRM24 May 2017Great Blog. You state that some of the Garmin products eg 935 ... "connect to compatible Bluetooth Smart accessories such as heart rate monitors". What brand are these transmitters as I was informed Garmin had not yet started to make Blue Tooth HR transmitters? Will these transmitters work for other Garmin HR watches (VivoActive, 235, 735 ) as I am lead to believe Blue tooth signal may better than ANT+ at coping when the wearer is getting partially wet while paddling canoes etc.....a problem for many of us.
Active Stride Response
Hi Garmin haven't made any Bluetooth HR monitors as of yet but the newer models such as the fenix 5 and 935 will actually pair with third Party Bluetooth HR monitos such as the Wahoo Tickr. Regards, Henry
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