There are many things to consider one looking for the best sports watch. For instance if you're training for a triathlon you may require watch that does that has good running metrics, cycling metrics, and perhaps an open water swim mode. On the other hand, if you are a golfer, your needs will be totally different. You will probably require a smart watch with large amount of courses and a system for tracking your swing metrics. Even still, if you are into surfing, you may need a watch that has a wave height, swell, wind/speed direction, and water and air temperatures.
Although there are many multi sport watches on the market today, no single sport watch is best suited for keeping track of everything. The type of watch to you require will depend entirely upon this type of sport you are going to be tracking. So rather than just stick to one particular's sport or one watch that does does multiple activities, we decided to look for the best watch for 10 different sports. For this overview we chose 10 of the best sport watches in each particular category. Scroll down to see our picks or keep reading for a brief explanation on what to look for when purchasing a sport watch.
Features to Look For
While there are many different sport watches on the market today, most of them are suited to only tracking 2-3 different sports or activities. Running, cycling, and swimming are the most popular. But if you are someone who likes to surf or play golf, a standard smart watch will not be as a suitable as a more specialized variant. In the categories below we have outlined all of the different sensors and features to look for when choosing a sport watch.
Side note: Although there has recently been a large influx of sport watches for women, this article mainly focuses on the best mens sport watches. We feel that these picks can be used by either sex however. Also, while we have many sports watches listed here, we opted to include running and cycling, but there are many fitness bands and activity trackers that already do do this very well, albeit without a GPS function. Most of the watches on this list can be used to track running or cycling as it is found commonly on pretty much any activity tracker or sport watch.
Features to look for GPS
Most part watches will have an embedded GPS function. Unless you are simply running around the track or swimming in a pool you'll probably want to utilize a GPS to map out your route. Additionally, many GPS watches also allow you to sync with a smart phone so you can review your route at a later time. And depending on your sport, GPS can also help you in other ways such as finding a way out of the wilderness or improving your golf game.
Accelerometers are vital devices for tracking your steps, distance, and running metrics such as vertical oscillation and ground contact time. They are among the most basic of sensors and are included in almost all fitness tracking devices.
Heart rate monitor
Heart rate monitors come in many varieties but the most common are the chest strap variety, which sit up against your heart to monitor its beats per minute. Most recently, many smart watch manufacturers have opted to include optical heart rate sensors, which are typically attached to the bottom the device. These work by shining a light through your skin and monitoring the rate at which blood flows through your veins. Both types have their pros and cons, but one thing is for sure: having a heart rate sensor will allow you to get a much fuller picture of your exercise routine and workout profiles.
Many sport watches will contain altimeters, which are crucial for tracking your elevation. Altimeters are most commonly used in fitness bands for for tracking floor climbing.
However, these are also useful in sports such as skiing, hiking, mountain climbing, or even diving.
Barometers are devices used in measure atmospheric pressure. Why is this important? Well, barometers act as an early forecasting system - usually they will display a simple graph that will alert you to any changes in the atmosphere. This is crucial because generally what when you see a change in the atmosphere that means that there's a good chance that a storm front is on the way. A device with an embedded barometer will allow you to see bad weather before it hits - which is crucial if you are outdoors and do not have access to Internet or phone service.
This is a device that hopefully need no explanation. If you're outside on a mountain hiking/climbing or backpacking then there is no substitute for a good compass. Additionally, some sport watches also have a 3-D compass. 3-D compasses are useful because they are very easy to use. You don't have to hold them level to get an accurate reading. They tend not to be as accurate as a standalone manual compass, but they are much more convenient to use.
Best Sport Watch For Triathlons: Garmin Forerunner 920 XT
Garments 920 XT is an amazing sport watch and is perfect for a triathlon training. The 920 XT is a feature packed sport watch that contains accelerometer and GPS/GLONASS modules for tracking your running and cycling. It also has several useful sports modes, the most important of which is the open water swim mode, which we feel is a must for triathlon training. With open water swim mode you will be much better able to track the swimming portion of your triathlon. The app support is fantastic and has a dedicated triathlon training mode. The 920XT is also waterproof up to 50 meters.
Best Surf Watch: Casio G-Shock GWX8900B
The G shock by Casio is quite an impressive sport watch. It has extreme water resistance (up to about 200 meters which is suitable for diving) but it is primarily a surf watch. The watch comes stock with a full tide/moon phase graph, multi band 6 atomic timekeeping, and Casio's patented tough solar power charging system meaning the watch never has to be plugged in to be recharged. Additionally, the G-Shock has a auto illuminating back light, which auto detects when you are looking at the watch. Useful for conserving battery power on those long surfing sessions. The watch is also extremely rugged, which is ideal for rough water conditions.
Best Hiking Watch: Garmin Epix
While there are many GPS watches that will track your route/general location, very few of them actually have an on board map to see your current location. That's where the Garmin Epix excels: this is one of the few GPS Smart watches that actually displays a colored map. With its 1.5 inch high-resolution touchscreen, 8 gigabytes of internal memory, and GPS/GLONASS modules, this watch is a solid pick for anyone looking to tackle the deepest mountain trails. And if that weren't enough, the Epix actually has pretty good battery life - around 24 hours with constant GPS use. It's also waterproof up to 150 feet.
Best Dive Watch: Seiko SKX173
There's no doubt about it: a good dive watch will cost you a pretty penny. But there are some affordable diving watches that still deliver on features. And the Seiko SKX173 is one of them. The watch features a unique winding mechanism that operates by wrist motion alone which negates the need for battery replacement. And like all good dive watches the Sieko has a screw down case and crown for maximum waterproofing. The watch also has a one-way rotating bezel that ensures you won't lose track of the time when you're deep under the water. Of course the watch is also glow in the dark ad waterproof up to 600 feet.
Best Running Watch: Garmin Fenix 3
Garmin's line of GPS equipped sport watches are one of the most solid and well-known products on the market. And their Garmin Fenix 3 is no exception. It keeps track of pace, distance, vertical oscillation, ground contact time, and even cadence. This is another of Garmin's units that also has a built-in GPS, so you'll never be lost when out on the trail. The Fenix 3 also syncs with Garmin's Connect IQ, an independent app market that boasts over 20,000 different custom made programs. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more feature-rich runners watch.
Best Cycling Watch: Polar RC3
To get the most accurate cycle tracking you'll probably want something along the lines of power meter. Unfortunately, power meters are bulky, difficult to install, and above all extremely expensive. For those who are unwilling to spring for such a device, we have found the next best thing. The Polar RC3 GPS will give you all the standard features of fitness tracker along with an altitude sensor and GPS thrown in. To top it off, the RC3 also has a built-in optical heart rate monitor. It is also compatible with many of Polar's other running and cycling sensors including power meters if you ever feel you need the extra tracking.
Best Swim Watch: Garmin Swim
The Garmin swim is an affordable and simple to use swim tracker. You'll get all these standard features that are important for swimming such as: drill locking, stroke count, stroke type, interval distance/time, and of course SWOLF score. You also have access to Garmin connect, which is a solid app that lets you track many metrics through an online web portal. The only downside is that it's an accelerometer only device - but this is understandable given the fact that most heart rate monitors are very inaccurate when taken underwater.
Best Crossfit Watch: Casio G Shock GA100-1A4
CrossFit is a unique sport involving multiple time critical exercises. While you could use any fitness band or smart watch to track your Crossfit workouts with, you'd be selling yourself short, since most fitness related devices do not have a very fine tuned stopwatch function. That's where the Casio G Shock comes in - it has the unique distinction of being one of the only sport watches that comes stock with a 1/1000-second cronograph. Beginners and professional Crossfit athletes alike would be hard-pressed to find a better sport watch.
Bets Golf Watch: Garmin Approach S6
The Garmin Approach S6 is a fully featured golf smart watch.Gamin has really put the polish on this one. This watch can track swing strength, swing tempo, offers blind spot assistance, and has a touch targeting system that will show you the exact amount of distance between you and and the location your aiming for. The S6 also has one of the largest memories of any golf watch - boasting a massive 38,000 course repertoire. As if that weren't enough, the S6 also has the ability to receive emails, texts, and alerts from a paired smart phone. And in terms of batter life, it is about average, clocking in at around 10 hours of GPS use on a single charge.
Best Skiing Watch: Suunto Ambit 3 Peak
For tracking winter sports you'll probably want something along the lines of the Ambit 3 Sport. It's most distinguishing feature is its embedded pressure sensor, which allows it to display whether and altitude data. The device also has it in a built in GPS and solid app support in the form of Suunto Move Scout - which allows you to create interesting 3-D overlays of the various routes you have taken. You'll probably want to pair it with the heart rate sensor for maximum tracking and accuracy.
We hope this list was beneficial in helping you decide on a GPS sport watch that will suit your particular sport or activity. There are countless expensive, mid range, and even cheap sport watches on the market today and most of them can be configured for the sport of your choosing. But we have taken the time to go through each of these items to ensure that they the absolute best in all their individual categories, irregardless of price point.