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 black regular Suunto Ambit3 Vertical TomTom Spark Cardio
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)

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

GarminForerunner 920XT Garmin Forerunner 735XT Garmin fenix 5 Garmin fenix 5S







Suunto Ambit3 Sport and Suunto Ambit3 Vertical

  • Route navigation
  • Compass, GPS altitude, GPS track recording
  • Ability to record heart rate underwater while running and swimming with Suunto Smart Sensor

Suunto Ambit3 Sport Suunto Ambit3 Vertical


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.

fēnix® 5X 1
Garmin fenix 5X
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
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.

Type Model
 Pool and Open Water 
 Pool Only 

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 Yes No
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 epix Yes No
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.

Bluetooth Smart

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.


Data Transfer

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.

Watch USB Bluetooth Smart Wi-Fi
TomTom Spark Yes Yes No
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 epix Yes Yes No
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
Yes No
Suunto Ambit3 Sport Yes Yes No
Suunto Ambit3 Peak Yes Yes No


Battery Life

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.

Hours Model
 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 
 UltraTrac GPS)
 13 hours or more
 Up to 11 hours


Water Resistance

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.

Water Rating
 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.


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Comments (16)

Not a question but a message of thanks

14 November 2017
I asked on Nov 1 about the right device for cycling and swimming as my 910XT had died. The advice provided by Henry was great and whilst it didn't result in a sale for ActiveStride, i now know where i will come when i do need another tracker. Thanks


13 November 2017
Hi im looking for my first ever smartwatch any advise more than welcome Needed for running indoor/outdoor and swimming. Additionally I would like to wear it throughout the day to track fitness so looking for a little design as well. Thx

Active Stride Response
Hi, There's a few good options. We have emailed you some more information but I would lean towards the TomTom Runner 3 Cardio + Music for starters but also the Fenix 5 and the Vivoactive 3 are great options if you are willing to spend the few extra dollars. Regards, Henry


3 November 2017
Hi, i'm wondering... i'm climbing/bouldring, biking, and play som indoor sports for fun. what to choose. dosen't run that much. i have an old polar rc3 gps, and i badly need a new watch! tips?

Active Stride Response
Hi Patrick. We have emailed some more information but basically the Fenix 5 would be a great options but also the Vivoactive 3 if ou don't need all the extra features for outdoor ect. Regards, Henry

Best option for swimming and cycling

1 November 2017
Been using a Garmin 910XT for about 6 years now, principally for cycling with some swimming across the years. Original intent was tri-athlons but just couldn't find the enjoyment in running! Have just gone back to swimming after a hiatus of 4 years, only to find "time" has been called on the waterproof seals and the watch didn't appreciate a dunking and condensation appeared during my next cycle and now the battery wont charge. So I am looking at a replacement for my cycling and swimming (I may run again one day), and want something that will connect to my HRM and cadence devices (garmins). What's my best option?

Active Stride Response
Hi, In our opinion it is between the Forerunner 935 if you are a series Triathlon, swimminmg, cyclist or runner or the Vivoactive HR if you think it will be for mainly swimming and cycling. We have emailed you some more information as well! Regards, The Active Stride Team

Need advice on a solid all round trainign watch

31 October 2017
Hi team, I'm looking for a solid, dependable watch that can track swimming (indoor & outdoor), running (indoor and outdoor) and cycling that also has inbuilt music capability as I hate carrying my phone around when training. What would you recommend?

Active Stride Response
Hi Matt, we have emailed you some information. Basically the TomTom Runner 3 Cardio Music will be the best choice although it doesn't offer open water swimming. If you are ok with losing the music feature the 735xt or 935 from Garmin would be our pick. Regards, The Active Stride Team.

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