GPS Watch Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Multisport Watch? [Updated 29 December 2017]

Date Posted:30 December 2017 

GPS Watch Buying Guide: How to choose the best multisport watch
 
A multisport watch is a watch that is designed to be used for more than one sport. Usually, it will feature a specific app or data fields for running, biking, swimming, and more. Most multisport watches nowadays have GPS technology to accurately track your location, distance, speed, and pace.
 
Knowing your fitness data not only lets you know how you’re doing as far as performance is concerned, it also is a great motivator. Simply knowing whether you’re hitting your goals or not will let you know if you’re on the right track, or perhaps you need to try a different approach on the way you train.
 
You can choose a multisport watch that can also be your daily activity tracker. Like fitness bands, there are multisport watches that can count your steps, monitor your sleep, and alert you if you’ve been idle for a certain period of time.
 
Moreover, since a lot of fitness enthusiast and athletes like to stay connected, many multisport watches have now become ‘smart watches’ too. You can be pair them with your smartphone via Bluetooth Connectivity to receive calls, texts, emails, and social media notifications.
 

What GPS technology is for?

What GPS technology is for?

GPS technology will give you the most accurate look at how far you’ve gone and how fast you’re going during your workouts. It will track your position anywhere on the planet and lets you overlay your travel movements on a real-time map so that you can create running routes. These metrics give you real-time insight into your performance.
 
Some high-end GPS watches even include built-in barometric altimeter that will tell you changes in elevation. These is really useful if you’re doing a lot of off-road running or cycling, or hiking since it lets you measure just how high you’re able to climb during each and every training session.
 

How to choose the best multisport watch?

How to choose the best multisport watch?

With the huge number of multisport watch to choose from, this buying guide will help you break down the process so it wouldn’t be too overwhelming. Depending on your personal fitness goals and feature requirements, we can point to which watch would be best fit your need.
 
Here are a few important things to consider before you purchase a multisport watch.
 
 

What sport activities will you use it for?

What sport activities will you use it for?

It's important to think about the activities where you will use your watch and ensure it has compatible features.
 

Swim, bike, run, and other activities

For basic running, biking, swimming and other sports, you can use the following multisport watches. All of these include a GPS and accelerometer to accurately measure your movements.

TomTom Runner 3, TomTom Adventurer, Garmin Vivoactive HR, Garmin Vivoactive 3

 

For multiple sports, triathlon and outdoor navigation

For triathletes and multisport competition, every second counts. Speed is the name of the game and so even the amount of time and effort in switching the mode on your watch is critical.
 
The watches below feature a ‘multisport mode’ that will let you easily and quickly switch from one sport mode to another. Switching to the specific sport mode you’re in will let you measure and display data fields and information that is relevant to a certain sporting activity.
 
These multisport watches also include navigation features to you check where you are, or how you can get back to where you started. These are mostly available on watches marketed to trail runners, such as the watches below.
 

Suunto Ambit3 Vertical, Garmin Forerunner 920XT, FR 735XT, FR 935, Fenix 3, Fenix 3 HR, Fenix 5, Fenix 5S, Fenix 5X

 

For pool or open water swimming

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.
 
Watch
Water Rating
Pool Swimming
Open Water
50m
Yes
No
50m
Yes
Yes
100m
Yes
Yes

 

Would you like to have a heart rate monitoring?

Would you like to have a heart rate monitoring?

Heart rate monitor (HRM) allows you to measure how hard your heart works in beats per minute (BPM). Traditionally, heart rate monitor come in straps that you have to wear on your chest.
 
However, a lot of multisport watches already feature wrist-based optical HRM which does the same job. In most cases, these watches also give you the option to pair it with a separate HRM chest-strap via Bluetooth Connectivity or ANT+ Connectivity if you wish to.
 
Below are the multisport watches that feature a wrist-based optical HRM:
 
 

Would you use it as your daily activity tracker?

Would you use it as your daily activity tracker?
 
Many people would love to have a versatile multisport watch that they can use as a day-to-day watch and have it as their daily activity tracker as well. Most models of multisport watches are now designed to include this feature and do it more accurately thanks to their built-in GPS.
 
You no longer have to wear a separate fitness band for tracking your daily steps, stairs climbed, calories burned, and monitoring sleep. It lets you just have one device for your workouts, training sessions, and 24/7 daily fitness tracking.
 
You can upload your data wirelessly with the device’s auto-sync feature so viewing your personal stats on a compatible sport app is a breeze.

 

What advanced metrics do you like to track?

What advanced metrics do you like to track?
 
A few GPS watches offer more advanced measurements. These include:
 
HR Max: Maximum heart rate (HR Max) is the highest number of times your heart will beat in a minute when you're going all out at your most intense work out level. Your HR Max is unique and depends on your genes and how old you are.
 
Why is it important? Your maximum heart rate dictates the ranges for all the other zones in heart rate training. The more accurately you know your HR Max, the more accurate your sport zones, and accurate sport zones equal more effective workouts.
 
Heart Rate Zones: Different devices give them different labels but they break down like this:
 
  • Recovery training (60% of MHR)
  • Endurance base training (65-70% of MHR)
  • Aerobic capacity training (75-82% MHR)
  • Anaerobic threshold training (82-89% MHR)
  • Maximum aerobic training (89-94% of MHR).
Having your heart rate zones estimated gives you a far better shot at getting the workout effect you really want to achieve.
 
Cadence: This is the number of steps you take per minute, counting both feet. This helps determine if you have the proper running form. Quicker cadence and shorter stride length result in less impact at the ankles, knees and hips. The reduced degree of impact may help reduce injury risk. Experts believe that a running cadence of 180 steps per minute is the sweet spot for optimum running efficiency.
 
Stride Length: This is how far you travel with each left and right step. The higher your cadence, the shorter your stride length. A shorter stride can help avoid overstriding, which can lead to injury.
 
Vertical Oscillation: One measure of this optimum running efficiency is called vertical oscillation and shows the degree of 'bounce' in your running motion. Measured at the torso, it tells you how much distance you are travelling up and down with each step in centimeters.
 
In the case of GPS running watches, this tends to be a sensor built into the heart rate chest-strap. The idea is that the less bounce, the less energy is wasted going up and down, and the more efficient the runner is being. Another advantage of lower vertical oscillation is that it typically means less stress on the lower body at impact.
 
VO2 Max: This describes the maximum rate (in milliliters per minute) at which you can bring oxygen into your body, transport it to your muscles and use it for efficient aerobic energy production. The more oxygen you’re able to consume, the more power you can generate and the faster you can run during a race.
 
The higher your VO2 max is, the better the body can deliver oxygen to your muscles helping you to run longer and harder. Low VO2 max scores represent poor fitness levels, and higher VO2 max scores indicate greater performance capacity.
 
Ground Contact Time: Ground Contact time is the amount of time (milliseconds) your foot maintains contact with the ground rather than flying through the air. It’s connected to a running style that includes faster cadence and shorter stride length.
 
Generally, runners have ground contact times of 160-300 milliseconds while professional runners have shorter ground contact times—200 milliseconds or less.
 
Lactate Threshold: Your lactate threshold is that specific level of effort or pace when fatigue accelerates. It’s the single best determinant of your endurance performance capacity.
 
According to Garmin, the threshold for experienced runners should be 90% of their maximum heart rate. For average runners, it's below 90%. This data is important because it can indicate how much you have left in the tank, whether that's in a race or during an intensive training session.
 
Recovery Time: The length of recovery period that your body takes to in response to training and the replenishment of vital resources. After each workout, your device reveals the number of hours before you will be back near 100% and capable of performing a hard workout or running a race.
 
The calculation is produced and personalized using a unique digital model of your physiology. Recovery time ranges up to 4 days. Keeping track of your recovery levels will reveal when training hard will be beneficial and ensure your work is rewarded with the results you expect.
 
Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC):  It’s the period of time after your workout session when your body will continue to use oxygen at a higher rate than it would otherwise at rest.  Other calls it as the ‘afterburn’.
 
During a physical activity, we burn calories to fuel our muscles, but when we're done, we keep on burning, firing and flaying more fat than we would normally at rest. It's depends to what our bodies need to recover from the hard work they've just done.
 
Watch
HR Max
HR Zones
Cadence
V02 Max
Vertical Oscillation
Ground Contact Time
Stride Length
Lactate Threshold
Recovery Time
EPOC
TomTom Runner 3
No
Yes
Yes - External
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
TomTom Adventurer
No
Yes
Yes - External
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
Garmin Vivoactive HR
No
Yes
Yes - External
No
No
No
No
No
No
No
Garmin Vivoactive 3
Yes
Yes
Yes - External
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
Suunto Ambit3 Vertical
No
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Garmin Forerunner 920XT
Yes – with HRM-Run
Yes – with HRM-Run
Yes – with HRM-Run
Yes – with HRM-Run
Yes – with HRM-Run
Yes – with HRM-Run
Yes – with HRM-Run
No
Yes – with HRM-Run
No
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes
No
Garmin Forerunner 935
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes
Yes
Garmin Fenix 3
No
No
Yes
Yes
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes – External
No
Garmin Fenix 3 HR
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes
No
Garmin fenix 5/5s/5X
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes – External
Yes
Yes

 

How much battery life would you need?

How much battery life would you need?
 
Battery life is important when training or competing in any sport. Here’s a battery life comparison table for the following multisport watches.
 
Watch
Battery Life (Watch Mode)
With GPS Mode On
With Garmin UltraTrac™
TomTom Runner 3
25 days
11 hours (GPS) 9 hours (GPS + HR)
N/A
TomTom Adventurer
25 days
24 hours (Hiking mode), 11 hours (GPS) 9 hours (GPS + HR), 5 hours (GPS + HR + Music)
N/A
Garmin Vivoactive HR
Smartwatch mode: Up to 8 days
GPS mode: Up to 13 hours
N/A
Garmin Vivoactive 3
Smartwatch mode: Up to 7 days
GPS mode: Up to 13 hours
N/A
Suunto Ambit3 Vertical
14 days in time mode
10h battery with 1 sec-GPS accuracy
15h battery with 5 sec-GPS accuracy
100h battery with 1 min-GPS accuracy
N/A
Garmin Forerunner 920XT
 
Up to 24 hours
 
Up to 40 hours
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
Smartwatch Mode: Up to 11 days
 
Up to 14 hours
 
Up to 24 hours without wrist heart rate
Garmin Forerunner 935
Smartwatch Mode: Up to 2 weeks
 
Up to 24 hours
 
Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate
Garmin Fenix 3
Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks
 
Up to 20 hours
 
Up to 50 hours
Garmin Fenix 3 HR
Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks
 
Up to 16 hours
 
Up to 40 hours
Garmin fenix 5
Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks
 
Up to 24 hours
 
Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate
Garmin fenix 5S
Smartwatch mode: Up to 9 days
 
Up to 14 hours
 
Up to 35 hours without wrist heart rate
Garmin fenix 5X
Smartwatch mode: Up to 12 days
 
Up to 20 hours
Up to 35 hours without wrist heart rate
 

Comments (62)

Which one?

By: on 12 September 2018
Which watch would you recommend for running, every day wear and gym session tracking??

Active Stride Response
Hi, The Forerunner 645 is probably the best choice out of all the watches. It also has music storage and Garmin pay. It is great for wearing all day with activity tracking and works well on a run or in the gym :)

Paddling Watch

By: on 4 September 2018
Hi there. I am a white water paddler and would like to record time and distance etc. What would be the best recommendation for this type of paddling?

Active Stride Response
Hey, The best watch for what you are doing would most likely be the Fenix 5 plus range as they offer a range of sports in a durable case. The watch has great battery life and 100m water resistance (anything less isn't really suitable for water sports) Shoot us an email if you need anymore help!

New watch

15 August 2018
Hi, I'm currently undecided what to buy, I want a budget watch that will do me until I can afford either a fenix 5 plus or a suunto 9. I'm lookin for something that looks good, can do outdoor hiking navigation, and will act as a daily tracker with HR capability. I have a personal preference for suunto given my old watch is a suunto traverse, but i know Garmin have taken over them in many aspects. Basically I want something that looks as good as my old traverse but with a few more bells and whistles until a can afford one of the big boys. Any recommendations?

Active Stride Response
If you have liked the Suunto I would suggest staying with them. Although in our opinion everyone here is loving the music on the Fenix 5 plus series an the mapping is great as well!

Horse riding

By: on 31 July 2018
Hi I am looking for a horse riding watch with a good battery That has time and distance travelled and gps so I can down load my map that I have ridden and has a return trail with directions if possible.

Active Stride Response
Hi, I think to the Fenix 5 plus series would be the best one to go with as it has full mapping and great track back features so you can return to the routes you like or even use it to get back the way you came. :) Send us an email to shop@activestride.com.au if you have any more questions! Happy to help :)

Horse riding

By: on 21 June 2018
Which GPS watch would you recommend for trail riding, tracking map, speed, distance etc Would like to be able to store tracks and use to prevent getting lost in forests

Active Stride Response
I would suggest the Fenix 5 plus series as they offer the best track back features and mapping. They also have great battery life so no need to worry about that! They do get expensive though! Maybe the older fenix 5 series could be good as well. (You just lose the mapping and the music storage)

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