How to Choose a GPS Watch

A GPS watch (or speed & distance monitor) is a tool that measures your running data, such as how far you have run, how fast you have run, and thus at what pace.

There used to be two ways of capturing this data while running: either with a GPS receiver or with a footpod. You might still see runners using the footpod, but its production is pretty much discontinued. The monitor itself comes in the form of a watch that displays the data.

For a bit of history, a footpod used a technology called an accelerometer to estimate how far the foot has travelled by measuring the time it took the foot to touch the ground.

Monitors using this system were up to 97% accurate if calibrated. These monitors were not affected by weather conditions, but became slightly less accurate in the hills.

GPS Speed & Distance Monitor

GPS Speed & Distance MonitorThere are a number of satellites orbiting around the Earth. The GPS receiver picks up signals from the satellites, relaying information about where the satellite is in space relative to the Earth and the time at which the signal was sent. Then the GPS receiver works out how far it is from each satellite and calculates its position on the Earth.

GPS is 99% accurate. The reception can be affected by bad weather conditions like rain and clouds, tall buildings and areas densely covered by tall trees. However, the latest technology offers very sensitive receivers and the discrepancies should be minimal. Garmin, for example uses the GLONASS Russian satellite-based navigation system in addition of GPS. These extra satellites mean faster and more accurate position capturing.

The beauty of a GPS monitor is that everything is built in to the watch, you just press start and run. It operates almost like a mobile phone, so you have to remember to charge it. The standard battery life is about 8 hours in training mode, longer with more advanced models. More advanced GPS watches will not only tell you about distance covered, but speed and pace, elevation and descent, Ordnance Survey and barometric reading, and more. They can be your training partner or virtual racer.

Different Types of Speed & Distance Monitor

GPS WatchIt's worth taking the time to think through all the features you might want to use, and then picking a model accordingly. Too many buttons and options might make you feel overwhelmed, too little and you might wish you'd spent slightly more to have that extra feature.

The basic models will give you the speed, distance and time spent running. They're ideal for the runners who just started out or those who don't need any extra features. The benefits of the more advanced speed and distance monitors are the features such as:

  • Orthostatic and fitness test
  • Memory files to store your previous sessions
  • Interval training (with recovery by distance or heart rate)
  • Training and recovery effect
  • Tracking system
  • Multiple sports– swimmers and kayakers can use it in the water
  • Virtual training partner to race against on your watch
  • Heart rate monitoring
  • Online training analysis and downloadable running programs and routes and much more.

These are ideal for runners who are training to achieve specific goals, want to be challenged, need guidance, or for triathletes, or geeks. Some models have built-in optical heart rate monitor, some more suitable for ultra or adventure runs. Apart from the technical capacity, they all fit differently. I would strongly recommend investigating and trying on before buying.

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  • maureenJuly 25, 2016 at 10:37pm
    Information on battery life of the different GPS watches would be really useful to have. Reply
    • Helena LaczkoJuly 26, 2016 at 11:55am

      Thank you for your comment Maureen. In the blog I mentioned the standard battery life of GPS watches. If you are interested in a particular model, you can go to our GPS watches department where you'll find detailed info, including the battery life.

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