A GPS Running Watch is a valuable tool for any runner, so make sure you select the best one.

Purchasing your first GPS running watch can be a big decision, so it is a decision you want to get right. If you’re like me, you may not have every paid more than $30-40 for a running watch before. Prior to my first (and current) GPS watch, the most advanced features my running watches had were a countdown timer and a 30-lap memory. I also don’t like to spend money, but I knew a GPS watch was going to be an investment in my running future. There are times when it pays to be cheap, get the lower cost item, or even the used item. But I knew that with a GPS running watch if I was going to spend any money at all on it I might as well spend enough to get a quality item. Thankfully, buy the time I bought mine, the market had matured enough that the best GPS running watch available was already marked down considerably.

When choosing a GPS running watch there are a number of things to consider. You want the watch to be comfortable enough to wear on long runs. The display needs to be readable even when it is covered with rain drops or sweat and you are bouncing up and down. It needs to be able to connect to satellites relatively quickly and maintain connection without a lot of interruptions. It needs to measure accurately, be easy to recharge and easy to connect and download information for the running log.

There are a few different brands of such watches. One thing to consider is – does it make more sense to buy from a GPS company who is making a watch, or from a watch company who is making a GPS device? I reasoned that since digital watches have been around for decades the technology is probably pretty easy for companies to manage. However, GPS is still an emerging technology. What’s more, the whole purpose of a GPS watch is for the GPS part to work reliably. Therefore, it seemed best to go with a trusted leader in GPS technology that was branching out into the digital watch arena. That pretty much narrowed me down to Garmin. However, this didn’t really narrow me down very far as most of the GPS watches on the market are from Garmin.

After consulting friends and family who already had GPS watches, I looked at the watches available on Amazon.com, read a lot of the reviews of the different watches and looked at the ratings, as well as the most common available features. The following are the features you want to make sure your watch includes:

Key Features:

  • GPS Accuracy – this includes pace, speed, distance, elevation, etc.
  • Software and internet usability – how well does the software work and how easy is it to upload a workout to an internet app?
  • Waterproof – at least in rain
  • Nigh light feature
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Lap tracking
  • Customizable data screens
  • Course mapping – this tends to be very rudimentary in GPS running watches

Garmin Forerunner 305(69314)The Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS Receiver with Heart Rate Monitor is, in my opinion, the best GPS running watch available today – by far, hands down! This is not the newest Garmin watch, but it is the best. When it came out it was the most accurate, most reliable such device available, and newer models have not improved in this area. The watch face was much smaller and less bulky than previous versions. It is still quite large, compared to an ordinary watch. However, it fits surprisingly well. The first couple times I wore it I noticed that it was rubbing or bumping against my wrist bone. I decided I would have to notice whether I got used to it or not. I forgot to notice, because after a few days I wasn’t noticing this anymore. It really is not a problem at all. I had been wearing a jacket with a very tight cuff that was pushing against the watch, so the problem was not with the watch at all. You will easily adapt to this watch in a couple days, as I did.

The 305 also comes with a wireless heart rate monitor and strap. The strap is simple plastic, yet is regarded by most online reviewers as being very comfortable – even more comfortable than fancier straps that come with Polar heart rate monitors! The HR monitoring is very accurate and the results are compiled with all other running data by the watch for easy analysis afterwards.

Another great feature of the 305 is the customizable data screens. These are the display screens you see when you look at your watch while working out. There are a number of different fields you can choose from such as lap, pace, speed, distance, elevation, date/time, accuracy, heart rate, heading, run time, etc. You have three different display screens you can cycle through during the workout, and on each screen you can select up to four fields to display. For example, on my main workout display screen I am showing my total workout time, current lap time, current lap distance and current lap pace. However, I can switch to another screen with one button that shows me my average pace for the run, total distance of the run, last lap pace and my current elevation. This is a great and powerful feature. You will have a lot of fun trying out different fields until you find exactly what you want.

The software that comes with the 305 is fine. It is useful for storing and analyzing your workouts, but the mapping feature is pretty minimal. However, it is very easy to export your workout into Google Earth!

Although Garmin’s newer 405 model is much less bulky (it looks almost like a normal watch), most reviewers have a number of problems with it. It is hyper sensitive, so that laps are marked or the watch is stopped unintentionally. This is particularly bad when running in the rain, where the watch is consider almost useless by many people. Also, the display screens are much smaller and therefore harder to read.

There is really not much negative to be said about the Garmin 305. The only repeated complaint by online reviewers is that the customer service is poor. I can’t personally comment on this, however, because I’ve never had a problem with my watch that I needed customer service.

The Garmin Forerunner 305 is by far the most popular and highly rated GPS watch on Amazon.com. Of the over 2,100 reviews it has received, more than 90% gave the 305 a positive rating (4 or 5 stars). Only about 3% gave the watch a 1 star rating, and these were due mostly to the customer service, not the watch itself.

Compare this to the newer 405 (still one of the next most popular watches) which has 335 reviews, only 62.4% of which are positive, and 26.5% are negative. There really is no other GPS Watch that comes close in customer satisfaction to the 305.

My advice is that you purchase the Garmin Forerunner 305 today. The sooner you order it the sooner you can begin running with it. Although you can probably find the watch in a department store or running specialty store, I think your best bet is to get it online. You will most likely be able to find it for less money, and the shipping is free. Right now it is marked down 60% off from its original price at Amazon! Besides, you’re online now, and it will get to you in just a couple days. So order it today and you will be glad you did!