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Best GPS For Running | Best Running Watches

Updated on May 8, 2011

Get Yourself A GPS Running Watch

GPS running watches are fast becoming the must have accessory for the modern runner. Find out here which four come out on top. Whether you are a serious competitor or just starting out, one of the main benefits of running over other means of exercise is that it is completely free. OK, there may be some costs involved, running shoes for example or if you are serious, maybe a subscription to a running club. The point is, if you feel like a run you can just put your shoes on and go.

So, why not treat yourself to a GPS running watch. Record your times, pace, distance and so on. Enjoy your run without the hassle of remembering figures or remembering to hit that stop button at the end of a race to record an accurate time. With a GPS running watch you can even plot your route on a map! All this without having to do the maths yourself.

There are many running watches out there right now but which is the best GPS for running? The two main players in the GPS running watch market are Garmin and Timex with Polar also in the running... excuse the pun! Below are some of the best GPS watches for running.

Garmin Forerunner 305 (with heart rate monitor)

Garmin know what they are doing when it comes to satellite navigation and GPS technology. This is also true for their GPS running watches. The Garmin Forerunner 305 is held by many runners as the best GPS watch for running. It is certainly great value for money too. It has a unique design that incorporates the GPS antenna within part of the wrist strap. This allows a better GPS signal, locking on to satellites more effectively. This ensures the device continues to work in a variety of locations, e.g. wooded or built up areas.

Add to this the wireless heart rate monitor with its soft, comfortable chest strap and you have a complete package for training and for tracking your progress. There are no added accessories required (foot pods, etc.) as the Garmin watches come in one unit. A clear advantage over others.

The Forerunner 305 comes with the Garmin Training Centre software. This allows you to connect the watch to a PC or MAC via USB to download your saved data. At your leisure you can analyse your progress using interactive graphs, charts and maps. You can easily chart your distance, times, heart rate, routes and much more.

The software allows you to superimpose your data on to maps or satellite images using the likes of Google Earth. At regular intervals this watch records your GPS position along with the relevant data. Simply click anywhere along your route and will see detailed information on your distance, time, heart rate, calories burnt, even your height above sea level. This really is a brilliant piece of kit!

This watch has a large, easy to read display with well designed buttons. Both make this easy to operate during a run. Something others with smaller displays lack. The 305 is water resistant, allowing all weather use.

Dimensions:

  • 2.1" x 2.7" x 0.7" (5.33 x 6.86 x 1.78 cm)

Display:

  • (1.3" x 0.8" or 3.3 x 2.0 cm)

Weight:

  • 2.72 oz (77 g)

Battery Life:

  • 10 hours


Garmin Forerunner 405CX (with heart rate monitor)

This is the Forerunner 405CX - a step up from the Forerunner 305. As one of the best GPS watches for running on the market, it includes all the features of the 305 but has some cool extras.

The main one being ANT+TM wireless technology. Using this wireless feature you can easily share your data, locations, favourite courses with other 405CX users. Not only this but when you are in range the 405CX automatically transfers your data to your computer, via the wireless USB stick provided.

Another added feature of this watch is the virtual partner function. This allows you to run against previously saved times and compete against a virtual running partner over a set distance or time.

You will see straight away that this watch is smaller than the 305 and it looks a lot more like a regular watch too. It weighs less than the 305. This may be your preference, especially if you are of a smaller build with a smaller wrist. The 405CX does not look out of place in every day use, although the battery life is not that of a regular wrist watch. Battery life is documented as two weeks in power save mode and eight hours with GPS enabled.

The 405CX has a smaller display with a touch sensitive bezel, providing easy operation of the watch's functions. The 405CX is also water resistant, making it suitable for all weather conditions. Many runners prefer a larger display that is easier to read during a run. The added features of the 405CX are reflected in the price. So, if you are influenced by value for money and lower prices, maybe the 305 is for you.


Dimensions:

  • 1.88" x 2.78" x 0.646" (4.8 x 7.1 x 1.6 cm)

Display:

  • 1.06" (2.7 cm) diameter

Weight:

  • 2.11 oz (60 g)

Battery Life:

  • 2 weeks in power save mode; 8 hours in training mode


Timex Ironman Global Trainer

Many running watches on the market today use GPS just like Garmin but offer the GPS signal via an additional unit or running pod strapped to the arm or attached to a shoe. This makes them less convenient. With the Garmin watches above, you put it on and go.

However, the Ironman Global Trainer incorporates GPS within the watch and still manages to be a sleeker, more attractive unit than many alternatives. Another contender for the best GPS for running. The Ironman Global Trainer also has wireless ANT+™ technology, allowing seamless connectivity to additional accessories like a heart rate monitor allowing full analysis of your performance.

If a sporty, quality look and feel is what you are after then is may be the GPS running watch for you. The screen is different to the others too. It can display up to four individual sets of data at one time, i.e. pace, time/ split, distance, heart rate. you have a greater amount of data available at one time than many other watches allow.

Again, the Timex GPW watches come with software for in-depth analysis of times, routes, elevation, distance and so on. Data transfer recharging is via a USB cable.

The Ironman Global Trainer is water resistant up to 50m so can be used under water. However, no data is recorded under the water's surface and the watch reverts to a simple LCD time display. It is completely configurable and one of the cool features is to set a heart rate target for training. You can later analyse how long you spent with a specific heart rate zone.


Dimensions:

  • 56 x 64 x 18mm

Display:

  • 33 x 20mm

Battery life:

  • from 15 hours in full GPS mode to 12 days in time only mode


Polar RS800CX

Polar have been leaders in the heart rate monitoring industry for years. Many gyms house treadmills and bikes using polar equipment so as you expect they know their stuff. It is a shame, though, that with this watch the GPS signal is provided by an optional accessory - the Polar G3 GPS sensorTM, sold seperately.

That said, the watch itself is well engineered and looks good. Another great watch if image is a consideration. Other accessories include:

  • cadence sensor
  • bike speed sensor
  • foot pod

Whilst this watch may be your choice as the best GPS for running, the Polar RS800CX is a great all rounder and can be used across a variety of sports. It has many of the usual features and records most of the data you would need - time, distance, pace, calories and with the GPS accessory it records location as well. It is water resistant to 20m so can be used in all weathers as well as under water for swimming. Its battery life out performs the majority of other GPS watches but is the extra large price tag justified?



Dimensions:

  • 5.84 x 5.84mm

Weight:

  • 99.22g

Battery life:

  • Average of 1 year (1hr/ day, 7 days/ week)


Final Thoughts On The Best GPS For Running...

Most of the best GPS watches for running incorporate common features and provide pretty much what you need as a runner. Cheaper ones provide enough for a basic watch but leave a lot to be desired and you would be disappointed with the level of data retained.

Most GPS running watches come with software which enables you to transfer the data to a home computer or other compatible device for detailed analysis. This really is a great addition to any training regime.

Before buying a running watch you really only have the following considerations to make from the top watches on offer:

  1. Price
  2. Image and appearance
  3. Size and weight
  4. Seperate GPS unit or built in GPS


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