Having a GPS watch for trail running can be a real lifesaver, seriously.
From VO2 Max tracking (oxygen measurement) to battery life, compasses and barometers (measuring altitude), the best GPS watch for trail running often has featured that set it apart from the rest.
We’ve compared some of the best trail watches which can be used for running and tried to throw in some decent budget options that would get the job done right. Check out our complete comparison below.
1. Suunto 9 Baro Titanium
Reasons to buy
- Excellent battery life
- Durable due to titanium make
- Accurate GPS tracking
Reasons to avoid
- Doesn’t have NFC
- Screen too dim and unresponsive during sunny days
- Some screen lag
For trail runners who are looking for a watch that could provide them a combination of helpful app features with a streamlined design, Suunto’s 9 Baro Titanium would be one of the best bargains. Best trail running watches should be able to provide runners with excellent battery life and durability due to the sturdy materials which the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium model possesses.
With features such as a 76g weight, a Titanium Grade 5 bezel material, a Sapphire Crystal glass material, FusedSpeed, Stryd sensor compatibility, FusedTrack, foot POD calibration and the SuuntoPlus Ghost runner. Runners can avail this watch with different color variations with a 50mm sizing and 24mm straps with quick release pins that let runners use 3rd party straps when they choose to do so.
With over 80 different sports modes, the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium has an impressive battery life that claims to last for almost 7 days on smartwatch mode. This would decrease depending on the user settings that might range from 25 to 170 hours in training mode with GPS on.
Along with the battery life, this watch is built for long periods of trail running due to the 810h military standard materials that make it rugged and sturdy. The touchscreen of the watch still functions appropriately in cold and wet conditions and is responsive enough even on gloved hands.
However, the screen brightness is not enough on very sunny days and you might find the touchscreen unresponsive. Some users have also noted the screen lag from time to time. The tree-style menu of the watch helps runners navigate the apps and features easily. This product has a weather tracker that provides runners with accurate weather reading while on their runs, although this does not feature an NFC that supports virtual payments.
Reviewers have lauded the solid and accurate GPS tracking for the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium along with its navigation options such as pre-saved routes, a compass and POI that can be uploaded from a desktop. This product also has a FusedTrack algorithm that has a combination of GPS and motion sensors to enable tracking of outdoor activities.
A FusedSpeed technology is also added that has a fusion of power from GPS and wrist acceleration sensor readings for an accurate calculation of running speed. The Suunto 9 Baro Titanium has also been raved about by trail runners due to its usage of internal sensors (magnetic compass, accelerometer and gyroscope) that gives runners accurate reading and tracking of GPS, distance and pace.
2. Garmin Enduro
Reasons to buy
- Sturdy military grade materials
- Built-in satellite support
Reasons to avoid
- Maps are non-topographical
The Garmin Enduro is also a great choice if you are looking for a watch that offers top-performing features and combined durability and lightweight. Released earlier this year, the Enduro has been awarded as the best outdoor smartwatch by the 2021 Tom’s Guide Award for Health and Fitness.
Runners have lauded the ability of this watch to track 80 hours of just about any activity thanks to the solar-powered battery. With features such as race predictor, foot pod capability, PacePro strategies, stride length, performance condition and lactate threshold.
Runners can avail of this watch with a weight of 71g for the steel version and 61g for the titanium version with just one color variation.
The Garmin Enduro has a rugged and sturdy design due to the 810h military standard rating materials that can hold out against different outdoor elements and climates. Runners who use android phones would also appreciate the notification display on the watch from android phones. It also provides virtual payment via the Garmin Pay feature.
This watch has a Pulse Oximeter blood oxygen saturation monitor that helps with sleep tracking and assesses acclimation to altitude for runners who take on high altitude places.
Aside from accurate tracking of steps, floors climbed, heart rate, sleep quality and respiration rate, trail runners will be in awe of the Trail Run VO2 Max feature that provides a reading of off-road terrain and weather that detects trails and adjusts VO2 Max scores.
The ClimbPro feature identifies ascending and descending movement of the runners which tracks stats and pace and also alerts runners when coming up a hill but only on preloaded routes. Instead of a topographic map, the Enduro has a breadcrumb style of route tracking on its screen.
The fundamental metric sensors are installed within the watch like GPS, Glonass and Galileo satellite support. The Enduro has a heart rate monitor that can be paired up with an external one. It also has a barometric altimeter that monitors elevation data as well as an ultra run mode.
Another great specification of the Enduro is the battery life built to last for long periods of trail running. The battery life has been claimed by Garmin to last for 70 hours on average user settings and can go up to 200 hours in low power mode. These can all be boosted with the impressive solar-charging ability of the watch.
3. Coros Apex
Reasons to buy
- Best value
- Long battery life
- Button navigation instead of touchscreen
- Easy and quick GPS signal locking
Reasons to avoid
- Small screen and small text sizes
- Difficult screen viewing under sunlight
- Non-topographical maps
If you’re looking for a multisport watch that is also efficient on trail running, you should consider the Coros Apex. Crowned by many reviewers as the best value watch, this product will not fail to provide runners with great performance features.
This product comes with two different watch sizes; a 46mm and a 42mm. This product features a memory LCD, a Sapphire Glass screen, GPS/QZSS, GLONASS, BeiDou, 328ft water resistance, a titanium alloy bezel for the 46mm and a stainless steel one for the 42mm. Runners can avail of this product with a couple of color combinations.
The Coros Apex has been marketed to have a 35hr battery life for the 46mm and a 30hr battery life for the 42mm with GPS mode on. Runners can boost up the battery life with the UltraMax setting which decreases the GPS data consumption. The watch is navigated using a dial and a button on the side of the watch instead of a touchscreen.
However, some runners have noted that the small screen offers small text sizes that might be hard to read for some. The screen is also hard to view under direct sunlight.
The Apex syncs easily with a phone and displays text, calls and reminders notifications. This product has a built-in barometer for precise tracking and elevation and a built-in compass as well for basic navigation.
The Apex can assist trail runners with tracking distance, pace, cadence, calories and wrist heart rate. Some runners have lauded its easy and quick GPS signal locking for runners on the go. The GPS and heart rate monitor have been tested by some reviewers to have above-average accuracy.
The Coros Apex has a simple and minimalist breadcrumb map style instead of a topographical design. Runners can build and upload courses or routes and navigate them using the Coros App.
However, this watch does not have preloaded maps and for the uploaded ones, runners can not pan around or zoom in/out of the maps. It also calculates fitness levels such as VO2 Max and lactate threshold. Runners might also appreciate the TrackBack functionality that enables them to run back to their starting point with ease.
4. Garmin Forerunner 55
Reasons to buy
- Lightweight and comfortable
- 20hr battery life
- Affordable pricing
- Post-run features
Reasons to avoid
- No mapping or elevation features
Beginners and entry-level runners are advised to look for a running watch that offers core and basic running performance features for a start. Garmin has an array of great watches that have features best for trail running and what we have for this part is the Forerunner 55.
A lightweight and comfortable running watch, the FR55 weighs only 35 but is packed with features and specifications such as a MIP display type with 1.08” display size, a 20hr battery life with the GPS on, heart rate monitor, built-in GPS (Glonass and Galileo) and three color variations to choose from.
Described by many reviewers as simple and easy-to-use, the FR55 smoothly tracks pace, distance and cadence with its high-resolution screen. In place of a touchscreen, this watch can be navigated with 5 large buttons around it. The built-in GPS may take some time adjusting to areas but it will easily track distance, pace and intervals.
This product has a unique Garmin Coach feature that provides runners with training plan guides from various professional coaches and gives daily suggested workouts based on personal recovery time, fitness level and training history.
The wrist-based heart rate monitor keeps track of runners’ heart rates during their runs and cautions them whenever the heart rate goes too high. PacePro technology is integrated within the FR55 that provides GPS-based pace guidance for runners’ chosen routes. The Finish Time feature gives runners the estimated finish time of their selected distances.
For laps, the Track Run feature records lap distance accuracy in meters. To help runners improve their running form, Cadence Alerts can be used to alert them when they exceed their selected cadence range. The FR55 also helps in monitoring runners’ breathing in their runs with the Respiration Tracking app.
Aside from features useful during runs, the FR55 also offers post-run helpful features. The Recovery Time will remind runners with how many hours of resting they need before they go off running again. Runners can also upload their runs on their phones via the Garmin Connect app wherein they can study their data on routes, elevation, pace, distance and heart rate. However, some reviewers noted that the Forerunner 55 does not have mapping or elevation features.
5. Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar
Reasons to buy
- Solar charging
- Long battery life
- Many stylish colors
- Various activity profiles including many types of running
Reasons to avoid
- Unable to respond to text messages or calls
Are you the type of runner seeking a watch that can extend its battery life especially outdoors? You might want to consider Fenix 6. With solar cells that enable battery boosting through solar charging, this premium running watch will be great for long periods of trail running.
With features including a PowerGlass lens material, a bezel material with titanium or Diamond-Like Carbon coated titanium, 32g memory for music, heart rate monitor, pulse ox blood oxygen saturation monitor, sleep tracker, GPS, Glonass, Galileo and a lot more which we will discuss later on.
Runners can snatch this product with 42mm, 47mm and 51mm sizes and a lot of different color variations to choose from.
The Fenix 6 Pro Solar has been marketed to have an outstanding 9-day battery life with full power mode on and thanks to its solar charging abilities, this increases with a day and a half. Should you seek more battery boosting, the battery-saving mode of this watch could make it last up to 34 days and up to 59 days with solar charging.
This product has tons of preloaded activity profiles including Trail Running which shows distance, pace, heart rate and session time.
The GPS signal locking is quick and the feature itself has been raved about by many runners to be reliable even in areas with no cellular cover. Some reviewers have also noted that it has accurate outdoor activities reading and tracking which makes it perfect for trail runners.
The VO2 Max tracker helps measure blood oxygen max and indicate fitness of runners. You can also sift through map mode and preloaded routes via the Garmin app and navigate in it using the built-in maps within the watch.
Garmin Coach is also featured in the Fenix 6 Pro Solar so runners can follow a goal or weekly schedules for better running sessions through the help of professional coaches. This product also encourages post-runs care using the Recovery Time that allows runners to see how much resting they need after their runs.
Aside from these helpful running features, this product allows smart notifications display of text messages and other phone notifications as well. However, you cannot respond to these notifications. Music is also supported by the Fenix 6 Pro Solar via different music streaming services like Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music.
6. Polar Vantage V
Reasons to buy
- Many preloaded sport profiles
- Always-On screen display
- 40hrs battery life
- Barometric altimeter
- Compatible with Android and iOS
Reasons to avoid
- Does not support music streaming
- Some might find it too heavy
With over 100 accessible sport profiles and cutting-edge sports technology, this product can aid runners with its smart and sport watch features. The Polar Vantage V has a 66g weight, Always-On touch display with laminated Gorilla Glass lens, built-in GPS (Glonass, Galileo and QZSS), barometer and sports technology features great for running that are best utilised with the Polar Flow application. Runners can get this product with a white or orange color variation.
The battery life of the Polar Vantage V has been promoted to last up to 40hrs which can be increased or decreased depending on the user settings. A basic breadcrumb map is featured within the watch for a much simpler navigation of uploaded routes.
The Polar Vantage V has an accelerometer, heart rate sensor, gyroscope and a barometric altimeter that accurately tracks the fitness of the runner such as the steps, pace, routes, calories, distance, floors climbed and even stress. The watch also displays phone notifications from both Android and iOS devices, however, it does not support music streaming or storing.
Along with the barometric altimeter that detects changes to elevation and the pressure caused by the weather, the Polar Vantage V has sports features for trail running which are as follows.
The Running Index provides an estimate of the VO2 max or the maximal oxygen uptake of the runners that will determine the efficiency of their runs. The Running Power offers insight on the intensity of the running sessions by calculating the external load of the run on the muscles.
The Training Load Pro shows the strains acquired by different parts of the body from the run. On the other hand, this product also offers post-run recovery features such as the Recovery Pro that displays how well the runners have recovered from their sessions and the Sleep Plus that tracks the amount and quality of sleep.
7. Amazfit T-Rex Pro
Reasons to buy
- Military grade durability
- Rugged design
- Screen display has two options
- Flashlight mode
Reasons to avoid
- Lesser navigational features vs other running watches
- Doesn’t have its own app
This watch has been boasted to pass 15 military grade tests which make this perfect for trail runners.
The tough and rugged Amazfit T-Rex Pro watch has features including a 59g weight, a touchscreen with tempered glass and anti-fingerprint coating, built-in GPS (GLONASS, BeiDou and Galileo), RTOS operating system and a 100+ sports modes such as running, walking, cycling and swimming. Runners can avail this product with different colorways.
The Amazfit T-Rex Pro watch has no external-app integration, however, the features are very useful once paired with the Amazfit Zepp app and is also compatible with Strava.
The battery life stays up to 18 days depending on the app and features usage of the wearer. The screen of the watch can be personalized by the wearer with either an Always-On mode or raise-to-wake option.
The watch has a Flashlight Mode that enables a bright light on the screen to help anyone who runs at night. The BioTracker presents two optical sensors for tracking of the heart rate and blood oxygen.
Aside from this, it also has a compass for navigation and barometer to measure elevation which are very helpful for trail running. The built-in GPS with GLONASS, BeiDou and Galileo gives a mapped route at the end of the run, however, some reviewers have noted that there are no other navigational features for the watch.
A feature called Personal Activity Intelligence assesses the overall fitness of the runner using an algorithm that changes complicated fitness data into a simpler numerical format. It also provides assessment scores that would help runners improve their running sessions.
Firstbeat Analytics teamed up with the Amazfit T-Rex Pro to offer runners insight on their training load, recovery time, VO2 Max and other fitness data from their heart-rate based algorithm. You can also upload some of your running data in Google Fit and Strava. Lastly, this watch has a Sleep Tracker for aid in your post-run recovery that monitors sleep stages, duration and even REM cycle.
How To Choose the Best Trail Running GPS Watch
The best trail running watch should be able to offer great performing features that would aid them in their running and get their money’s worth.
A combination of smartwatch and multisport features should be considered and studied upon by runners before purchasing. Let us lay down some key considerations to help runners choose the best trail running watch in the market:
Your Trail Running Goals and Preferences
Ultimately, what you want to accomplish will dictate what kind of features you need in your trail running watch. Are you looking to track your oxygen levels while trail running? Then consider getting something like the Garmin Enduro. Need something that is solar-powered? You’d be happy with the Fenix 6.
As a trail runner, one of the worse things that can happen to you during your run is to have your watch die on you— especially if you’re in the midst of a competitive marathon. The Suunto Baro Titanium claims to last for 7 days on full-feature mode— which is the longest battery life from all of the list above.
Different running watches also have different compatibility with other gadgets. For example, Apple Watches are not allowed to connect to Android devices.
Some Garmin watches can easily connect with an iPhone, however, runners might not be able to use all the features of the Garmin watch if they do so. To maximize the usage of features, it is best advised for runners to look out for the gadget compatibility of their running watches options.
If you’ll be running on trails that are unfamiliar to you, it can be helpful to have a watch with navigation features, such as a built-in GPS or the ability to connect to a map app. These features can help you find your way back to your starting point or explore new routes. Look for a watch with a high-quality GPS and map display to make it easy to follow your progress and stay on track.
If you’ll be running in wet conditions or through streams, it’s important to choose a watch that is water-resistant or waterproof. Look for a watch with an IPX rating, which indicates the level of protection against water and other substances. A higher rating, such as IPX7 or IPX8, indicates a greater level of water resistance.
Consider how much data you’ll want to store on your watch, such as routes, workouts, or personal records. Some watches have limited storage capacity, while others offer more room for data. If you’re planning on storing a lot of data, look for a watch with a large storage capacity or the ability to transfer data to a computer or other device.
Look for a watch that allows you to customize the display and settings to fit your preferences and needs. This can include things like the layout of the watch face, the type of data displayed, and alerts for certain events or activities.
Some watches offer alerts for things like incoming calls or messages, which can be helpful if you want to stay connected while on the trails. Consider whether you want this feature and how you’ll use it during your runs.
Compatibility with other devices
f you use other fitness devices, such as a heart rate monitor or power meter, make sure the watch you choose is compatible with them. This can help you track a wider range of data and get a more comprehensive view of your performance.
Determine your budget and look for a watch that fits within your price range. Keep in mind that more expensive watches may offer additional features or better performance, but it’s also possible to find a high-quality watch at a lower price point. Consider what features are most important to you and how much you’re willing to spend
Tracking runners’ performance depending on their trails would aid greatly in choosing a running watch. For beginners in trail running, they can opt to buy a running watch that offers core and basic functionalities such as accurate GPS and heart rate monitor such as the Garmin Forerunner 55.
On the other hand, experts or experienced trail runners might look for premium features such as water resistance and stride length measures like the Garmin Enduro.
Trail runners looking to monitor and track their performance and recovery should consider purchasing a running watch that offers accurate tracking of heart recovery rate, VO2 levels and oxygen consumption.
The VO2 level tracking would give runners insight into the amount of oxygen they use during their runs. On the other hand, the heart recovery rate will show runners how much their heart rate decreases after their runs.
While this would be the last consideration, it is also an important factor to consider. After all, when you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you’ll be motivated to run faster, longer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some trail runners consider tracking elevation as a vital part in their running routines since they mostly run on either hills or uneven terrains. A barometric altimeter can alert runners when there are changes in elevation, pressure and altitude.
When a trail running watch has this feature, it can track elevation steadily and more accurately compared to a GPS. If your trail running watch cautions you regarding a change in the pressure of the atmosphere, this might mean there will be an incoming storm in your running area.
Blood oxygen monitors or Pulse Oximetry are features that help runners know the level of oxygen their blood receives. Many running watches companies have claimed that their watches with these features are not intended for medical use, however, this could be helpful for the overall fitness of a runner or an athlete.
As stated before, trail running sometimes requires you to run slower or yield more physical effort to surpass hills or uneven terrains. Areas with higher elevations have a lower concentration of oxygen. When there is a decrease in the oxygen level, your heart rate will increase, resulting in a running out of breath feeling.
Pulse Oximeters in trail running watches can alert runners when they are getting lower values and guide them into going back to the normal values.
Running cadence refers to the number of steps you take every minute. It has been said that the ideal running cadence should be between 150-200 steps per minute or SPM, which varies from runner to runner.
One great advantage of tracking your cadence is that it improves your running form. A fast step rate means you run lighter and faster which reduces your energy loss on the run. Aside from this, your running position is more efficient due to the fast cycling of your legs when running.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is through constantly challenging yourself.