What do you need a GPS watch for? If you’re reading this, you likely already have a specific purpose in mind. People don’t buy GPS watches for navigating their daily lives: they buy them for their genuinely useful functionality in specialized activities like running, hiking, biking or knowing where their kid is at all times. So what are the best GPS watches you can get for those things? Let’s get into it.
What is a GPS watch, and how does it work?
A GPS device receives signals from multiple satellites at once and uses multilateration to determine the receiver’s position. It’s then up to the device and software to make use of that info with map navigation, tracking speed and distance, and more. So, a GPS watch incorporates that into a wrist-worn, timepiece-like device. It’s pretty damn cool that all that can happen right from your wrist, if you think about it.
One of the niftiest things about GPS: it can continue to offer you location and navigation information without a cell phone or internet connection, and can go where cell service often can’t — especially helpful for the likes of hikers. Much of what makes a GPS watch good for a specific activity is how it combines GPS tracking with other functions and technologies: many GPS watches are also full-featured smartwatches.
What about privacy? Does a GPS watch log my location?
Best Overall GPS Watch: Apple Watch
The Apple Watch kind of wants to be everything to everyone — and it does a pretty good job. And while it might not make the top pick for some specific categories (see below), it’ll probably be the best option for something that can transition between different activities — that’s why we picked it as the best all-’rounder. Of course, GPS is only a small fraction of the functionality it offers, but it’s overall solid and probably the most easy-wearing choice for whatever activity you might need GPS. (See our review of the Apple Watch Series 7 here.)
Best Budget GPS Watch: Timex Ironman R300 GPS
Best Upgrade GPS Watch: Garmin Fenix
Before getting into wearables, Garmin made GPS devices for cars and even military. It’s a leader in GPS watches (so don’t be surprised if there are a couple Garmin watches on this list), and the Fenix is its top tier product. The current generation, Fēnix 7, has a lightweight titanium case and offers different sizes and and options, but we prefer it in the wearable 42mm, with solar charging and scratch-resistant sapphire crystal as found in luxury watches (those features adding $200 to its price).
Best Golf GPS Watch: TAG Heuer Connected Calibre E4 Golf Edition
This is a full-featured smartwatch, and full-priced luxury watch, yes, but it’s made specifically for golf. That’s reflected in its design, but it also comes with a range of features specifically for golfers — and designed specifically for this watch. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised how intuitive and pleasant they are to use. It makes use of GPS and combines it with other features that make it quite possibly the ultimate GPS watch for golfing.
Best GPS Watch for Kids: Apple Watch SE
One of the handiest features of the Apple Watch for parents is its Family Setup, and Apple’s location sharing is some of the smoothest out there. Of course, this’ll be more useful for those who use Apple devices in general, and it’s pricy for a kid’s watch but still within a reasonable range considering all that it offers beyond GPS. It also offers a more sophisticated look that kids might want as they get older. If you’re worried about durability, you can always get something like a protective case for it, too.
Best GPS Running Watch: Garmin Forerunner
While many Garmin watches are good for running, the Forerunner is made specifically for it with lightweight plastic construction and all the features you need for whatever type of running you’re into or level you’re at. The 255 is the a relatively affordable Forerunner model, but don’t think that means that it skimps out on features. You can get all the bells and whistles with the Forerunner 955, while the $200 Forerunner 55 is the absolute basic that’s best for beginners. We like the models with the Music option which stores up to 500 songs without your smartphone, and the smaller “S” versions for versatility and wearability.
Best GPS Watch for Hiking: Suunto 9
Going hiking? If you’re off the grid and beyond reach of a cellular connection, a GPS watch can potentially save you from getting lost — and the Sunnto 9 is especially intuitive to use. It’s also notable for its “Intelligent Battery Modes” for saving power, and we especially like the thin Suunto 9 Peak that’s only 10.6mm thick. Compared to the Suunto 9 Baro, it offers nearly all the same specs save for the Baro’s whopping 50mm-wide x 16.8mm-thick case and bigger screen.
Best GPS Solar Watch: Seiko Astron
While a lot of the watches on this list are made for specific purposes and are GPS devices or mini computers first, the Seiko Astron is a watch first. It doesn’t give you map data or track your steps, but it uses a GPS to determine your time zone and receive regular signals to automatically adjust your watch’s time to keep it hyper-accurate and precise no matter where you are. Supremely practical, it’s in lightweight titanium and solar-charging, to boot. If you’re after a GPS smartwatch with solar charging, there are great options from Garmin, too.
Best GPS Watch for Cycling: Wahoo Elemnt Rival
Wahoo is a company with a focus on cycling, and it’s no surprise that their GPS-equipped, fitness tracker watch is popular with the biking crowd. Not only is it relatively affordable within the world of GPS watches with a lot of the features you’d expect, but it’s also made to accompany the brand’s bike computers. Another appreciated feature is an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the screen between positive and negative displays for optimal legibility.
Best GPS Watch for Hunting: Garmin Instinct 2
A hunting watch should have a lot of the same features something like a hiking watch does, but it’ll probably have its durability tested even more. As hunters, by nature, literally go off the beaten trails, a particularly useful feature for them will be Garmin’s Tracback Routing which helps you navigate the same rout back to a starting point. Probably a lot of Garmin watches would do the trick for this particular activity, but the Instinct 2 is relatively affordable — and it comes in a couple of appropriate camo-pattern versions.