GPS watches for the ultra running / ultra trail

today ‘ today, the number of GPS watches on the market is impressive, to the point that he st sometimes difficult to choose THE watch that meets all the criteria. But for use in ultra running, autonomy quite limited choice. Because the traditional autonomy of a GPS watch revolves around 8-10 hours, which is not enough for some events of ultra.
But rest assured, it is possible to find. And you will see that there is still a choice. To choose a GPS watch for the ultra running, the first criterion is the battery. And for some events, the navigation may be necessary (for the ultra trail for example). It is therefore the 2 criteria that I will use for this comparison.

option 1: a GPS watch with great autonomy

it’s probably the first feature that you interested to choose your ultra GPS watch. Normal, since if you can’t run faster, then the battery takes longer.

it was very hard a few years to exceed 10 hours of battery life. Today, there are more options, but the choice is still very limited if you want more than 20 hours of autonomy. And there is even only the Forerunner 920XT coming at 24 hours of battery life (the Epix is also announced for 24 hours, but as soon as you use the navigation features, real autonomy will be about 16-20 h). The Epson Runsense SF-810 stands allowing 20 hours of battery life with GPS and active optical cardio. Finally, the watches GPS Garmin running (Forerunner 230 and 630) are a little better than the previous ones, with 16 h. It’s not huge, but it is already 60% more than the 10 h of the Forerunner 220.

Garmin Forerunner 920XT


Garmin Epix 24 h

beats 3 20: 00

Garmin Forerunner 910XT 20: 00

Garmin Forerunner 310XT 20 h

Epson Runsense SF-810 20 h

Suunto Ambit3 Peak 20 h

beats 2 16 h

Garmin Forerunner 230 16 h

Garmin Forerunner 630 16 h

question: I saw GPS watches with 50 h of autonomy and even more, why they not appear?

indeed, since 2014, some watches display a range up to 50 h. It’s a big marketing argument. It gives the impression of being great, but there is another side to the coin: a serious decline in accuracy.

to get to such performances, these GPS watches Rock actually in economy mode. That is, they will not get a measure once per minute instead of once per second. It significantly impacted the accuracy. Because between 2 points spaced a minute, you will not run in a straight line. So the measure of distance (and therefore speed) of the watch GPS will be false compared to the distance you have covered in reality. On an ultra, this error will be measured in kilometers.

if the precision (distance and speed) is not a problem for you, then you can opt for these GPS watches.

Suunto Ambit3 Peak 200 h

Suunto Ambit3 Vertical 100 h

Suunto Sport Ambit3 100 h

Suunto Ambit3 Run 100 h

Suunto cross 100 h

Suunto Ambit2 50 h

Garmin Fenix 3 50 h

Garmin Fenix 2 50 h

Garmin Epix 50 h

Polar V800 50 h

Garmin Forerunner 920XT 40 h

option 2: charge the battery under activity

Recharge montre GPS avec une batterie externe

here’s Jeff Pelletier mounting in the race.

that is a fairly recent possibility that exists on some GPS watches: charge it during the race (without stop) thanks to an external battery and the charging cord. This is very useful on very long runs. And the big advantage is that it keeps the best precision (1 measure per second).

for the more ancient, the activity is not stopped but the display is no longer functional. And for the most recent recording is not interrupted, the display works normally, and recharging is done in parallel.

then, of course, we must agree to run with battery somewhere in a pocket and a wire hanging out along the arm. And finally, all chargers are not also practical to use in this way. For example, clamp (type Forerunner) chargers are not terrible, because the swing of the arm movements will create lots of false contacts. If the charger plate on the back of the watch (type Vívoactive), then put it up before you go, because it will be difficult to do during the race (and suddenly, you lose in comfort).

loader clipse

Garmin Epix

charger on the back of the watch
Garmin Vívoactive

Garmin Fenix 3 / Fenix 3 HR (more cardio optical)

Garmin Fenix 2

Garmin Forerunner 610 (no display)

charger clip

Garmin Forerunner 235 (optical cardio more)

Garmin Forerunner 230

Garmin Forerunner 630

Garmin Forerunner 910XT (no display)

Garmin Forerunner 310XT (no display)

Polar V800

Suunto Ambit2 (classic, S and R)

Suunto Ambit3 (Vertical, Peak, Sport and Run)

special case of the Suunto Ambit2 and Ambit3

we find Ambit3 for prices ranging from simple Double. Same thing for the Ambit2. Which one to choose? Actually, the Ambit2 and the Ambit3 are available in 3 models. A full outdoor, a triathlon version and a version running. He must be wary because in addition to the features, the battery life is not the same. It is the Ambit2 and the Ambit3 Peak, which have the best battery life.

6 can be recharged during the activity, which means that you can choose any model if you plan to use this mode of operation.

another characteristic that is interesting, it is that they have a 3rd setting the GPS accuracy: a 5s mode which increases the autonomy of 50% (30 h for the Peak, 20 h for others). This mode somewhat degrades the accuracy, but given the relatively slow speeds to ultra, it is a good compromise.

navigation features

navigation can be useful for some, especially for the ultra trail. The only side effect is that the use of these features will decrease the battery life (it’s like for your smartphone, more you use stuff and more it eats battery).

the Epix displays a map in color background and the route above. Basically, there is nothing better and no other GPS watch can compete with.

but there are other GPS watches which can make the navigation. The difference is that they show the route of the route on a white background screen. You see not all the roads and railways, but enough to see when we turn to the left or to the right. For some, as the Forerunner 920XT, no possibility of zoom still makes the path difficult to use.

Garmin Epix (including cartography)

Garmin Fenix 3 / Fenix 3 HR

Garmin Fenix 2

Garmin Forerunner 920XT

Garmin Forerunner 910XT

Garmin Forerunner 310XT

Suunto Ambit3 (Vertical, Peak, Sport et Run)

Suunto Ambit2 (classic (, S and R)

balance sheet: what GPS watch choose for ultra?



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