Adventure racers, ultra-runners and Ironman competitors all have one thing in common: the quest for a rugged GPS sport watch that’ll match the endurance of their own crazy feats of durability.
It’s tough to find a sports watch that has a battery life that can contend with the demands of a 100-mile ultra, while still letting you use all of its rich features.
Yet while there are inevitable trade offs, some wearables are clearly more capable of going the distance. We’ve lined up the most fully-featured trackers with the best staying power…
Built for the outdoors, the Sunto Traverse is a rugged watch that’s good for 100 metre water resistance, offers GPS and GLONASS (for added accuracy) plus there’s built-in topographic maps to help navigate those tough trails.
There’s also a host of useful cycling and running metrics on board and it even has a flashlight mode. It’s the battery life that really impresses here though. You can expect up to 100 hours in navigation mode and 14 days when used in standard watch mode.
Garmin Fenix 3
With GPS and GLONASS support for fast fix and good tracking accuracy, as well as outdoor navigation features like 3-axis compass, altimeter and barometer, TracBack and Sight’n Go and waterproofing to 100m, Garmin’s flagship adventure tracker is a seriously capable piece of kit.
But all that’d be nothing without the staying power to back it up. Fortunately the Fenix 3 rocks a battery life of up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode, 16 hours in GPS mode and up to 3 months in watch mode, although this all depends very much on getting the settings right to maximise the lifespan.
If you want something with a smarter look or a heart rate monitor on board, Garmin has also recently revealed a trio of new Fenix 3 models.
Suunto Ambit3 Peak Sapphire
Wareable top tips for more staying power
Pair a footpod
If the course is well marked and GPS isn’t quite so important, you can extend the battery life of some watches by using a foot pod to track distance rather than relying on power-sapping satellite link up. Ok, the accuracy might not be spot on but you’ll get a rough indication of how far you’ve travelled.
Cut the frequency of your fixes
The good endurance GPS watches like the Garmin Fenix and Suunto Ambits will let you adjust the frequency of the GPS fix. Setting this to pulse less often will help extend the battery life.
Admittedly a bit of an indulgent approach but until the tech innovators find the holy grail of a never-ending battery life, taking a second back up watch is an option worth thinking about for races that are going to last longer than 24 hours. Borrow one from a friend and fire it up when the first gives up the ghost.
Until, we get our hands on the new Spartan range, this is Suunto’s answer to the Fenix 3 and it’s every bit as much the endurance and adventure racing beast. It boasts route navigation, compass, altitude and even heart rate in the water when paired with the compatible chest strap.
It also offers multiple sport tracking in a single session and links up with the Suunto Moves app to give you more detailed stats, a bundle of community features and complete on-the-move customisation of the watch on the fly. In GPS mode, with the settings optimised, you’ll get 30 hours of tracking.
Garmin Forerunner 920XT
One of the most fully-featured multi-sport watches you can get your hands on, the Forerunner 920XT takes many of the best bits from Garmin’s other devices and crams them into one multi-talented swim-bike-run tracker. There’s Live Tracking from the Edge series, swim functionality you find in the Garmin Swim and Fenix 2, Running Dynamics that first aired in the Forerunner 620, and finally activity and sleep tracking from the Vivo activity monitors.
The 920 works with ANT+ speed and cadence sensors for cycling, has a full suite of running skills like a form-improving cadence metronome and even lets you create courses to follow. Importantly the general battery will last for up to 24 hours while switching to UltraTrac mode gives you a healthy bump up to 40 hours of GPS tracking, albeit less accurate.
A new Forerunner watch, the 735XT offers in-depth run analytics, advanced swimming stats and is compatible with the company’s Vector cycling sensors for added data. It also adds the company’s Elevate optical heart rate sensor which makes it debut on the XT range, and of course, you can add a chest strap via ANT+ if you wish.
Polar‘s top end multi-sport timepiece, the V800 is at its best as a running watch but also pairs with cycling accessories to deliver good on-the-bike stats and pleasingly, when paired with the right heart rate chest strap, also offers heart rate tracking in the water, a big bonus for endurance swimmers out there.
There’s a multisport mode, which allows you to easily change sports and record complete sessions. For the adventurers and hikers, there’s also a barometric altimeter, a magnetic compass, and the ability to get upwards of 50 hours of battery life in a low-power GPS mode.
Magellan Switch Up
The Magellan Switch Up has a standard battery life that won’t go much beyond a stingy eight hours, but this multi-sport tracker comes with a clever trick that makes it a solid option for endurance events – a hot swappable battery extender packs that add 16 hours at a shot.
It’s by no means as fully featured as something like the Garmin Forerunner 920XT but it with nine fully customisable sport profiles and the ability to track multiple disciplines as one single event – including transition time – and pairing with ANT+ add-ons to deliver additional tracking data, it’s definitely one to consider.