The 6 Best GPS Watches of 2024

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Garmin Instinct 2 Solar

Weight: 1.87 oz | Battery Life: Endless in smartwatch mode w/ sun, 30 hours in GPS mode

The Garmin Instinct Solar 2 stands out as one of the best GPS watches for daily use, with solar panels integrated right into the screen. So long as it is exposed to the sun, using it in smartwatch mode will require few to no charges every month. Over three months of testing, we only had to charge it once — after we ran the battery down on purpose. As a result, it’s a great option for expeditions or longer treks where you might not be able to find an outlet. This design has simplified features but still offers nice navigational perks like sight n’ go, coordinates, and a breadcrumb trail.

While we have little negative to say about this model, some may find the design a bit tactical, and it may not fit those great with smaller wrists. One other downside is the lack of solar charging while actively recording GPS; this could be an issue if you find yourself reaching the limits of its 30-hour recording time. Luckily with Garmin’s ‘resume later’ feature, you can stop the workout and put it in the background for solar charging. Then you can pick up where you started without losing your activity.

Read more: Garmin Instinct Solar 2 review

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Why You Should Trust Us

Before selection occurs, we spend hours looking through the top options on the market, delving into the research to determine the best. Once we’ve determined our final lineup, we buy each watch at full retail and start our testing process. From days out running, skiing, climbing, and biking, we analyze the features, accuracy, and usability to give you our recommendations on what’s best. Our team is proud to provide our thoughts and aid you in searching for the best GPS watch to fit your needs.

Our GPS watch testing is divided into five rating metrics:

  • Features (20% of overall score weighting)
  • Battery Life (20% weighting)
  • Ease of Use (20% weighting)
  • Accuracy (20% weighting)
  • Design (20% weighting)

This review is brought to you by a team of expert testers headed up by Matthew Richardson. Matthew works with maps for a living and spends his free time in the outdoors surrounding Durango, Colorado. He uses a GPS watch daily and has completed some big outings, such as a solo ride on the Colorado Trail and linking up Chicago Basin 14ers in a day. Also on the testing team is Amber King. Amber is a professional outdoor educator who spends lots of time navigating the great outdoors. She is also an ultra trail runner who loves to challenge herself with big, steep, and long runs and fastpacking adventures. She also uses a GPS watch daily for trail running, open-water swimming, mountain biking, and backcountry skiing.

Analysis and Test Results

There are many GPS watches on the market these days, and finding the one that fits your needs can be a tough project. We took a sample of the market’s current best and tested them to see how they compare side-by-side. We evaluated each for features, battery life, ease of use, accuracy, and design.

Value

GPS watches are an investment, and your level of usage should determine what your price point should be. If you’re looking to get into the entry-level GPS watch market and want a watch purely for distance and heart rate tracking, we suggest the Coros Pace 2 or Garmin Forerunner 55. These are great entry-level models which will satisfy most users.

The Garmin Forerunner 955 is at the lower end of the high-priced watches, but its combination of advanced features and all-day battery life make it one of our top recommendations. There is a lot of competition in this price range, and we think Garmin has the best offering with this model.

Features

The variety of feature sets in today’s market mimics the wide range of pricing. Across all the devices, we tested roughly 1-second interval GPS recording, and a heart rate monitor is a minimum. A higher price tag generally equates to more internal software features. The most advanced watches have features like flashlights, blood oxygen readings, topographic maps, and a suite of smartwatch-enabled features. Some features lend themselves to urban usage, others expeditions into unfamiliar terrain. Keep in mind your usage scenario and try to purchase a watch based on the features you will actually use.

The Apple Watch Ultra and Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar received the highest scores in this category, with the Garmin Forerunner 955 nipping at their heels. These models feature advanced GPS tracking (MULTI GNSS), lots of activity profiles, advanced health metric stats, and premium topo maps for navigation. When you take a close look, both Garmin models are very similar in performance and quality. Both will sync to your smartphone to deliver notifications, calendar updates, and weather forecasts. The Coros Vertix 2 also scores highly in this category, but it lacks some Garmin-specific features that we end up missing.

These differences are important to us, but they could be meaningless to you. We suggest checking out the spec sheets via each brand’s website to view the most current, up-to-date features and any software updates. The user interfaces found on the brands we tested are similar to a phone ecosystem — each has its own style of operating system (OS). For example, an iPhone model behaves similarly to other iPhones and vice versa for Android. This is the current state of the GPS market when comparing brands. Because of this, we will run down some general trends and features which make us prefer the premium Garmin products over the premium Coros products:

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Top-tier Garmin products offer:

  • Resume later function enabled on all activities
  • More ANT+ integration and inReach compatibility
  • Health metrics provide a score and descriptive explanations
  • Garmin Pay wallet integration for contactless payment
  • Spotify download for music vs. manual upload
  • Easy to access Battery Modes and GPS settings via quick prompts
  • Touchscreen enabled throughout the device

This isn’t to say that Coros doesn’t have its own benefits in terms of features, but for us, the above items make us prefer the Garmin feature lineup mostly across the board. Cheaper models do not have some of the above features, so, again, make sure to check the brand’s official product spec sheets to confirm you’re getting what you want.

That was pretty much the extent of our features discussion before the Apple Watch Ultra came out. This watch has the most features out of all the watches we tested, thanks largely to its great iPhone integration. The ability to not only answer calls (standard on most watches), but also talk via the speaker is super handy. Answering texts via swipe gestures or Siri is also a benefit over other models. This large feature set costs a lot of battery life, and many of these features are disabled if you activate the low-power mode. But if you’ve been looking for a GPS watch that can both be rugged and provide industry-leading UI and phone integration, this is the model for you.

The Suunto 7 also scores highly here with Google Wear OS products built-in. You can use a host of Google Play apps, in addition to its basic GPS functionality. Unfortunately, we cannot recommend this for anything other than its feature set due to it being incredibly difficult to use, compounded with poor battery life.

Battery Life

For any distance athlete, battery life is probably one of the biggest factors affecting your decision to buy a watch. Battery life is affected by many things, including the route you’re on, GPS signal, coverage, the number of apps you have turned on/off, the battery mode you have set, and how long you run your device. As a result, we appreciate that many of the watches we tested have battery modes and profiles that make it easy to turn on/off various features at once without having to dig through the menus.

We performed many battery tests. The first was a more subjective in-field test where we charged up the battery and used the watch normally day in and day out. We noted how long the watch took to die while incorporating 2-3 activities each week, about 1-3 hours in length. We then compared manufacturers’ claims to the actual results that we got.

Then, we tested GPS by setting each watch out in the same area under the open sky and running them down until they turned off. We noted the time taken to reach this point and if any went into a battery-saver mode to enhance battery life. We realize this test won’t tell you the specific number of hours you’ll get during real GPS activity, but it gave us an idea of which watches last longer than others and the quality of the data. In addition, we also took each watch on at least 50 miles of activities, noting the amount of battery used for the time of the activity.

Make sure to consider the types of adventures and the length of time you anticipate using your device. Most of these models can charge while recording, but we would recommend choosing the one that best fits your needs to avoid having to do this. We think 24 hours of GPS tracking is a good place to start for most people and to increase only if you know you’ll need more. Realize that a battery is a trade-off in terms of features gained/lost or changes to the case size.

If your priority is a smartwatch that seemingly never dies, then consider the Garmin Instinct Solar 2, Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar, or Fenix 7 Pro Solar. You will want to have reliable solar energy available to charge the watch, and minimal percentage gains are made while GPS is running, so you will want to have a power backup if you are planning to use a lot of GPS tracking. This is another instance where the ‘resume later’ features on Garmin can be beneficial during rest periods out on the trail.

For maximum battery usage, the Coros models excel across their range. The battery life on the Vertix 2 is insane, with almost 90 hours of MULTI GNSS tracking. Some people could complete the entire Colorado Trail on their bikes without ever charging their watch! Coros products are known for their battery life, and it’s clearly a priority throughout their whole range. The Apex Pro 2 is another model that excels by having extended battery life and roughly 75 hours of GPS. The new Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar also excels at battery life, providing roughly 85 hours of GPS recording thanks to the solar screen. Its slightly larger 49mm case size gives a bump up over the competition of the flagship 47mm size models that Garmin and Coros offer.

We appreciate the battery-saver options and modes found on the Garmin products. These are easy to use and enabled in the tools after a long press of the back button. When starting an activity, the battery options are clearly labeled, and you can visually see how each mode will impact watch functionality. This may be less of a priority for Coros to implement, given their industry-leading battery life.

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The older Suunto products generally scored lower, with the Suunto 7 having the worst battery life due to the abundant smartwatch features and bright screen. Both the Suunto 9 Peak and Suunto 9 Baro have all-day battery lives at 25 hours for their ‘Best’ recording mode. Instead of Best/Better/Good/Okay, we wish there were more descriptions of what is gained and lost under these settings. The Apple Watch Ultra also scored low in the battery metric due to the super bright always-on display.

Across our entire lineup, there is a GPS watch that fits anyone’s battery needs. If your main priority is battery life, the Coros models are the clear winner. Think of the longest time you expect to be out and use our comparison chart to view the various battery lives of these models.

Ease of Use

Ease of use is important when using a watch both during activity and during your daily life. These products should enhance your life, not make it more difficult. Models which scored highest are those we felt were the easiest to use and provided the best user experience. Integration of mobile apps was also taken into consideration when determining user experience. Like any product with this many features, learning the ins and outs will take some time.

Similar to features, there are lots of similarities between brands, with the interface on the cheapest watches mimicking those found on the top-of-the-line models. You will see there isn’t as much spread in our rankings for this metric — this is due to the similarities of the interfaces. If you can use the Vertix 2, you will instantly be able to use the Apex 2 — same for the Fenix 7 Pro Solar and Forerunner 955. That said, there are a few items that give Garmin the lead in terms of usability:

GARMIN +/-

COROS +/-

All of the Garmin products feature dedicated buttons, with the Forerunner 955 and Fenix models having a touch screen. All of the Coros models feature a scroll wheel, with all new models containing a touch screen (not including the Pace 2). Unfortunately, the touch screen on the Coros models is not enabled throughout the device, only on certain screens, such as swiping data fields and using navigation.

Ultimately it’s hard to say which brand is easier to use because they are both different yet similar. Their method of interaction is the biggest difference, and we would suggest deciding on whether you like the idea of a scroll wheel or dedicated buttons. Internally, the menu systems are essentially the same, with just some minor differences listed above.

The Apple Watch Ultra impressed us with its feature set and how easy it is to use these features. It’s really no surprise that Apple was able to incorporate its beloved design into this more rugged model. Setting up and customizing notifications and the layout is a breeze with the watch app.

The Suunto products all scored poorly here as we felt their menu systems were the hardest to learn and use. Even after hours of using their products, the menus still felt unintuitive compared to the competition. The 9 Baro, 9 Peak, and Vertical Titanium Solar all have very nice touch screens that aid in ease of use, but we can’t recommend them for this feature alone. The Suunto 7 was the hardest to use, and we found the Google OS features to be overwhelming.

Apps are another consideration in this metric. Of all the manufacturers we reviewed, Garmin Connect has the most features, but the design left a bit to be desired, in our opinion. Suunto, Coros, and Polar have apps that are more stripped-down, less integrated, and overall easier to use. Suunto has a really beautiful layout that integrates photos, which we enjoyed. These apps were easier to figure out compared to Garmin, though none offer the same social ecosystem. Luckily they all cross over to different ecosystems like Strava. You can also sync your data from these apps to the Apple Health app which we think provides the best health metric visualization.

Accuracy

We know that accurate GPS recordings and metrics are important. Nobody wants wonky elevation data or elevated heart rate stats, especially with the cost of today’s devices. We’ve been impressed with the watches in our test group, each performing adequately across the price ranges. Luckily all of the watches we tested now feature multi-band GPS satellite recording, with some even working in multi-frequency. GPS signal strength, satellite location, watch fit, and internal hardware all have a large impact on device accuracy.

To evaluate the accuracy of each watch, we ran, biked, and hiked known distances to compare our watches and their track metrics. We also tested the watches deep in the canyons of Utah. Canyons are notoriously bad for GPS watches due to the limited open line of sight. All of the GPS watches we tested had good accuracy that we would trust. Most gave us smooth tracks that consistently stayed within 1-3% of the actual measured distance. Multi-band satellites produced the best results; those with dual-frequency performed even better. It’s important to keep in mind that these advanced features generally use more battery, but these devices already have sufficient battery life to perform these tasks. Thanks to their dual-frequency recording, the Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar and Coros Vertix 2 had the best GPS data.

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Heart Rate Monitor Accuracy

Testing heart rate monitors is quite a challenge. We observed heart rate data during runs and compared this to the information we received from a heart monitor chest strap. While most watches can accurately track the relative ups and downs you might experience while exercising, few are as accurate as a chest strap. This is largely due to variable fit on the wrist and a myriad of other factors. None of the heart rate monitors we tested was spot on. If you want precise heart rate readings, be sure to purchase a chest strap. That said, some did better than others, with the Garmin brand being a touch more accurate than others.

The Forerunner 955 and Fenix 7 Pro Solar were almost spot on with a good fit on our wrist and an average variation of just 0-4 beats per minute. The Polar Vantage M2 is also very accurate, with a variation of only 0-2 bpm (one of the best tested). The Suunto 9 Baro and Suunto 7 had variations of 3-5 bpm and 1-7 bpm, respectively. Both are larger watches, and we noted that both of these would lose a heartbeat during exercise more than others. The Coros watches always seemed to have higher readings, with variations of up to 20 bpm. We’re not sure if this is because of the smaller design, but we weren’t too impressed with this accuracy.

Design

When considering design, we took a close look at the way each watch fits on the wrist and any notable issues with it during use. This included looking at the size and thickness of the body, using under clothing, accidentally turning buttons on and off, and the clarity of the screen. We also considered aesthetics which will vary from person to person. Pick the design you like best that fits your budget and see how the externals stack up between each model.

We used these watches for all-day use, and our opinions will reflect that. If you have a dedicated wristwatch that will take priority over your active GPS watch, take that into consideration. We put priority on premium materials and a good design since this is something we wear 24/7 except while charging. The sleekest design and best for small wrists are the Suunto 9 Peak and Polar Vantage M2. We are impressed with the amount of technology packed into these units. The Garmin Forerunner 955 also has a super-thin design that works great for running. The new Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar is a standout in the lineup for design, and it’s easily one of our favorites, offering titanium construction and an excellent bezel.

We appreciate that Apple went against the grain, creating a unique design. The rectangular shape of the Apple Watch Ultra may not be for everyone but was a favorite of our team. The titanium bezel and ceramic back feel both rugged and premium. We tested the alpine loop strap, and we were fans of it for daily usage but we think the trail band could be better for more active users. The always-on display is vibrant and easy to read under any sun conditions. The standard watch face is awesome-looking, and the adjustable red mode is perfect for a night under the stars. We hope that other brands start to incorporate this level of detail and precision into their units.

We recommend the Fenix 7 Pro Solar or Vertix 2 for those looking for a more rugged design. Both of these watches are made with the most premium materials and are durable enough to withstand years of abuse. The 51mm case size of the Vertix 2 is great for those with a bigger wrist or who like the commanding-looking screen and bezel. If your primary activity is running, we would stick with the 47mm case size of the Garmin Forerunner 955 or Fenix models. The weight difference is noticeable for activities with a lot of arm movement.

The Fenix 7 Pro Solar has an excellent screen design, with the best contrast and brightness out of any of the screens we tested. The data fields pop and the numbers are bolder than those on the Coros models. We found glancing at the data fields while running technical terrain to be the most fluid and natural. If you aren’t doing intense activities, this may be less of a priority for you.

Similarly important, the dedicated buttons on the Fenix 7 Pro Solar make accessing the data screens easier while under intense activities. The scroll wheel found on the Coros models tends to be bumped accidentally, requiring a lockout mode to be enabled. This is easily disabled if you personally don’t have issues. This extra step of unlocking the device while on the move felt annoying and one extra unneeded step. We like the action and sureness of dedicated physical buttons. If you use the swipe touchscreen feature or auto-scroll, this may be less important to you.

Conclusion

Buying a GPS watch is a big decision and a significant investment. Take a look through our reviews for a more in-depth look at the various models we tested. You might find yourself researching for weeks or even months before finding the right one at the right price. We hope that our insights and in-depth comparative research have helped you find confidence in taking the plunge into this investment. Take our thoughts and use cases and determine what’s most important to you. There is a GPS watch here for everyone, and we hope this makes your decision process a little easier. Have fun out there!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>