Best Trail Running Watches

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If you love to run, you’ll know how important it is to have a useful watch that you can rely on! With a specially designed watch for running strapped to your wrist, you’ll be able to keep track of your running data to help you smash your running goals and improve your stamina.

What about trail running watches, though?

Well, it just so happens that a good trail running watch isn’t too different from a watch used for everyday running. All of the features that offer insight into your speed and general running stamina statistics are just as important trail running as they are on the road.

However, trail running watches do tend to focus on certain features that are especially useful on the trail (which we’ll go into detail about!). Most trail running watches weigh in heavily on navigation and elevation features due to the nature of trail running.

The problem is, with so many options out there, we know how tricky it can be to narrow your selection process down to just one, especially as so many come in a range of shapes and sizes!

That’s why we’ve done the hard work for you and selected a variety of trail running watches including functions to help you navigate, will be  rugged enough to handle the occasional tumble, and have strong battery power. 

With a little help from this article, we’re sure you won’t run into any problems while searching for the perfect trail running watch!

In a hurry?
This is our Winner!

Our Pick

Why is it our top pick?

Our top choice is the Garmin Forerunner 45S, a reasonably priced running watch that features ton of features including a long battery life that makes it great for trail running, as well as looking stylish enough to wear for just about anything else - including at the office.

In addition to tracking running metrics like pace, distance and time, Garmin Forerunner provides the option to take incoming texts and calls, while being able to control what music you are listening by connecting it to your smartphone to let you push yourself to the max. Routes can be uploaded ahead of time. 

Great for trail running, this watch even lets you share your location with chosen contacts in case you ever find yourself in an emergency or too far off the beaten track. 

Here’s why it needs to be your new trail running watch:

  • It’s easy to use and set up
  • Works with free Garmin Coach training plans to give you a personalised running coach
  • Safety and tracking features including incident detection in real time
  • Connects to your smartphone to control music options

Best Trail Running Watches - Comparison Table

Best Trail Running Watches - Reviews

Garmin Forerunner 45S, 39mm Easy-to-use GPS Running Watch with Coach Free Training Plan Support, White

For added navigation help, you can even add in waypoints (these are specific locations that you can pick depending on your running location such as summits, campsites and other spots to help you keep a track of where you are.

This clever watch even has the ability to track elevation with a barometer, which allows for a super accurate altitude reading, while also measuring your speed. Its added auto-climb feature allows for the watch face to change screen to show more elevation-related data when it detects you’re running up a hill, as well as having a great battery life.

It’s really durable and sturdy, while the watch bands can easily swap out so you can change from a synthetic rubber band for trail running to a more casual metal band for everyday use - it looks really stylish.

A true all rounder, this watch even works with other sports such as skiing, swimming, and paddle sports making this Fenix watch a great all-rounder. Not only that, you can make payments directly from your watch, too! You can even play music without carrying your phone (keep an eye out for this specification as some colors don’t offer it).

Pros

  • Great battery life
  • Safety and tracking
  • Looks great as an everyday watch

Cons

  • Moderate price point

Next up is the Coros APEX Premium Multisport GPS Watch! This affordable watch is a great running choice for those into trail running, and the best part? It is really lightweight while packing a huge punch.  It has a GPS tracking that lasts 11 hours and even an activity tracking feature that will last nine days on just one single charge!

Due to its great battery life, you’ll continuously get updates on your heart rate (as well as other running data). You can even enjoy smartphone notifications, live tracking and the Garmin Connect app for an in-depth analysis of your running performance.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • High quality features ideal for trail running
  • Sleek and aesthetically pleasing design

Cons

  • Some have experienced connectivity issues

A leader in this category, the SUUNTO 9 running watch has the seal of approval of runners across the world. If you plan on trail running, you’re going to need a good battery life and the Suunto tops almost every GPS watch on the market with its long lasting running time (it has a battery life at 25 to 125 hours!) It’s ideal for long distance endurance events or if you just feel like pushing yourself a little longer.

Clever and innovative, the Suunto 9 uses your past activity history to estimate how much power you’ll need for your next run. If it thinks you won’t have enough, it gives you a charge reminder to make sure you plug your watch in before your next run.

Not just that, the Suunto 9 has multiple tracking modes to save battery power. The more conservative battery modes lose a bit of tracking accuracy. But what’s neat is that you can change modes in the middle of your run. The watch provides an estimate of how much charge is left – if you think that won’t be enough to get you through your run, you can switch to a more conservative power mode mid-run.

It doesn’t stop there, either! Another standout feature of this watch is its ability to combine GPS data with motion sensing data to provide more accurate data and, as for its durability, the Suunto 9 is designed to last. It’s tough and can withstand the pounding it’s going to take out on the trail.

Like many other GPS watches, the Suunto 9 tracks traditional GPS information along with elevation, wrist heart rate, and with its built-in barometer can track weather changes. Also expect great navigation features like breadcrumb maps and an electronic compass. Impressive, right?

Pros

  • GPS tracking
  • Durable
  • Easy to set up

Cons

  • Higher price point

Last up: the Polar Vantage 5! Known for their heart rate monitoring technology, no exceptions have been made in the creation of this clever watch. A great choice for trail runners, this watch by Polar offers a really accurate wrist heart rate monitor to help you track your stamina, as well as loads of other neat features that we know every trail runner will appreciate.

So, how is Polar able to offer such a precise heart track rate? Well, unlike other heart rate monitors in other models, Polar have innovatively designed the Vantage 5 to measure skin contact, factoring in movements that might otherwise provide a less accurate heart rate reading, which results in less misreads and a much better offering into your running insights.

As far as battery life goes, we’re really impressed with the battery life of the Vantage 5. Safe for trail running, the Vantage 5 will last around 40 hours in GPS and heart rate mode (after being fully charged). It also includes a barometer for accurate elevation readings. What can’t this watch do?

A standout feature that sets this watch apart from the rest is its simple route navigation feature. This feature allows you to upload routes and waypoints on an easy to use map via your watch screen and, thanks to its high resolution, you’ll be able to see this clearly.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to use
  • Sleek design

Cons

  • Higher price point

Best Trail Running Watches - Buyers Guide

Whether you’re a running newbie or expert, it’s always a good idea to brush up your knowledge in the world of trail running watches, especially with new models being released all the time. 

In general, statistics like pace, time, and distance are just as important for trail running as they are for other types of running (such as on the road). However, when it comes to trail running, you’ll usually find yourself descending and ascending more so than if you were to be running along roads

For that reason, when pickling a trail running watch its important to pick a watch that will be able to track elevation as well as how fast you are running. For safety reasons, it’s always important to consider a watch with navigation features to help you find your way and it should go without saying that they also need to be rugged and durable due to the nature of being in the great outdoors. As well as that, you want a good battery life not just in case of emergency, but so that you can push yourself to go for longer!

Here are some features to keep in mind:

Navigation

When you’re out running, you definitely don’t want to have to stop and try to navigate your route with a paper map (what would be the point of pushing yourself through those long distances, otherwise?). Trail running manufacturers know this, which is why they almost always offer some type of integrated navigation feature to help you always be aware of where you are.

Navigation tracking

An important feature you should keep an eye out for are any watch that offers a colored map (or even simple breadcrumb map) to help you always remain aware of your surroundings. These simple maps show you where you are along a route and if you happen to run in the wrong way or to the wrong location, it can help to reroute you. This is really useful if you find yourself off-course or in an emergency situation where you get lost as you will easily be able to navigate back on the correct path.

Battery life

It should go without saying that you need to pick a watch that has a great battery life! There’s no point spending a lot of money on a watch that isn’t going to last the duration of your run. In our opinion, you should only pick a watch that offers a battery life of at least 10-15 hours per charge. However, even though this is a fair amount, if you want extra security, there are trail running watches out there on the market that can last for up to 20 hours, it all depends on what you are looking for, your budget and how long you spend on running at any one time.

Barometric elevation

If you’re into trail running, you’ll be interested in elevation! For this reason, we recommend checking your altitude stats with a barometer rather than just GPS as watches that offer this feature are much more accurate and steady as opposed to GPS elevation which can be unstable and jumpy.

An added note to consider is that though a barometer has great benefits, it will require recalibration to account for changes in air pressure due to a storm, rain or other types of unexpected weather condition changes.

Barometric alerts

This is one of our favorite features to keep an eye out for! Watches with barometric altitude are able to provide alerts when there are sudden changes in atmospheric pressure which basically means that you’ll know in good time if there is a rainstorm headed your way.

Vertical speed tracking

Another feature to consider is vertical speed tracking. Watches with this feature will track your vertical speed during ascents and descents which is great for trail runners wanting to track how fast they are running up and downhill.

Is it waterproof?

Last up is one of the most important features you should consider. As you are going to be outdoors, you are going to need a watch that can withstand some type of water exposure (such as occasional rain showers).

Frequently Asked Questions

Is trail running dangerous?

It’s no secret, trail running has its risks but it will only be dangerous if you do not organize yourself! While trail running, there may be times that you get lost, encounter unexpected obstacles or even find yourself tripping.  However, most incidents are avoidable and can be prepared ahead of time to minimize chances of anything happening. For example, we suggest you can bring a small first-aid kit with you before heading out.

Will trail running cause my overall running time to be longer?

You might find yourself finishing at a much slower time than if you were flat road running, but that does not mean your stamina and endurance are diminishing. Rather, your body has to adjust itself to being put under more challenges than it would experience running on the road (such as hill climbing). After time, you’ll find your time improves as you become stronger and more flexible. Speaking of speed, it is important to always remember that speed is not the only aspect that dictates whether someone is a good runner or not.

I'm a beginner runner, how do I start trail running?

Well, trail running is a lot easier than you think and you can do it on your own or even with friends! We do recommend doing a little research beforehand to make sure you know exactly what you need to prepare (such as your clothing, the route and of course the right trail running watch!). When the time comes to putting everything into practice, we recommend starting out slowly and taking your time to adjust to the feel of trail running, as well as keeping an eye out for any obstacles or potential dangers. After every trail running session, take a little time reflecting to help improve your next experience (your brand new trail running watch will help you with the data it can provide). Don’t forget your water!

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