Ready to upgrade to a full-fledged GPS watch?
We’ve gathered the best budget GPS watches on the market right now. Besides increased accuracy, a GPS watch is easier than a smartphone to take on your run. Plus they’re more durable and sweat and rain-proof than a smartphone.
But if this is your first GPS watch, you probably don’t need or want all the confusing high-tech features found on expensive watches. Most of these GPS watches are designed and best for runners. Typically, a triathlete watch requires more features, which in turn costs more money. We’ve included one on this list – but the cost might expand your definition of budget.
Most of these GPS watches fall in the $99 to $200 range – a few are under $100. We’ll cover the differences and explore why some cost more than others…
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Best Overall Budget GPS Watch
1. Garmin Forerunner 55
The Forerunner 55 is Garmin’s most recent budget GPS watch. It replaces the Forerunner 45 and 45S (which you’ll also see listed below).
So why buy the Forerunner 55 if earlier, less expensive versions of this watch are still available? More features, better battery, and longer support from Garmin if something goes wrong.
Like any good GPS watch, the Forerunner 55 tracks time, pace, and distance. A wrist heart rate monitor is built into the watch for round-the-clock heart rate tracking. It doubles as a fitness tracker to monitor steps and sleep tracking.
Separating this watch from almost everything on the list is a high-resolution, color display. You’ll get 20 hours of battery life when using it with GPS on a run. Closer to 14 days when just wearing it as a fitness tracker.
Rounding out the watch’s main features are phone alerts like texts appearing on the watch. The Forerunner 55 also comes with a nice safety feature. If you find yourself in trouble, a single button push can alert your friends and family with a text or email that you’re in trouble and your location.
Also new are pro pacing to help you run a course-specific race and race prediction times.
- Bright, clear color screen
- Works as an activity tracker and has phone notifications
- Good battery life
- It has wrist heart rate monitor
- Still fairly expensive for a budget watch
Best GPS Watch under $150
2. Garmin Forerunner 45 and 45S
Garmin’s Forerunner 45 was their budget watch prior to the Forerunner 55.
But one nice thing about this watch is that it came in two sizes: the 45, the standard size, and the 45S, which was a slightly smaller version for people with thin wrists.
And even though it’s discontinued, it still stands above most other budget GPS watches – plus you can find it for a great price online.
Like the Forerunner 55, the watch tracks essential info for runs: time, distance, pace, and heart rate. It has a nice, easy-to-read color display combined with a user-friendly interface.
Garmin also included an activity tracker on the Forerunner 45. So in addition to tracking your activities with GPS, it can be worn all day and night to monitor steps, track sleep, and set daily exercise goals.
Viewing activities is easy – the Forerunner 45 syncs to your smartphone and uploads activities wirelessly. This also lets your watch act as a notifications center – all alerts and texts appear on the Forerunner 45.
With a powerful battery (13 hours GPS mode) and lightweight form, the Forerunner 45 feels light on the wrist and doesn’t require frequent charging. The screen is easy to read in bright and low-light conditions.
The Forerunner 45 has a worse battery than the 55 and it is missing a few features. But otherwise, it’s still a great budget GPS watch.
- Thin, lightweight design
- Easy to read display
- Comes in two sizes
- Pretty long battery
Lightest Budget GPS Watch
3. Timex Ironman GPS
This watch keeps it simple: it displays your time, your pace, and your distance. That’s basically it. All in a lightweight design with a nice 12-hour battery.
Workouts can be uploaded post-run. And it has a few extra features like interval workouts, a run/walk timer, and race mode.
When turned on, race mode leaves GPS no matter what. So if you are waiting in a corral or at the start for a long period of time, GPS won’t automatically turn off. It also has some pre-loaded race distances (5k, 10k, etc.) so during a race you’ll know how much farther to the finish.
Best of all, the Timex Ironman GPS is a solid deal and the reason it makes our best budget GPS watch list.
- Very lightweight
- Basic and simple to use
- Nice, budget price
- Clunky download interface
- Doesn’t have many extra features
Best Budget Polar GPS Watch
4. Polar M200
At first glance, the Polar M200 is very comparable to the Forerunner 35 & 45. But while it’s great at tracking distance and pace and includes phone notifications, it has a smaller, lower-resolution screen and weaker battery.
There is also no 24/7 heart rate tracking. Those things aside, it’s a good GPS watch at a decent price.
- Nice color options
- Basic, simple watch with wrist heart rate
- Small, low-resolution screen
Best Budget GPS Watch for Triathletes
5. COROS APEX
Compared to some of the other GPS watches on our list, the COROS APEX may stretch the boundaries of the budget. But in the context of a multisport watch – and by battery life – the APEX is one of the best deals out there.
GPS accuracy on this watch is top-notch. Different from the other watches we’ve looked at, the APEX also tracks swim workouts and bike rides. Combined together, you can track a full triathlon using the multisport button. This changes activities and data screens as you transition from swimming to biking to running.
The most impressive part of the APEX is its incredible battery life. In GPS mode, you’ll get about 35 hours of battery life per charge! Typically, you don’t find this size battery in all but the most expensive watches.
Other nice features include activity tracking, phone notifications, and POD compatability. This little accessory helps improve form by tracking running efficiency. Uploaded runs and other activities simply with the COROS phone app.
- Tons of features
- Best budget triathlete watch
- Awesome battery life
- Budget only in the sense when compared to similar tri watches
Best Budget GPS Smartwatch
6. Apple Watch SE
What?! An Apple watch is on our budget GPS watch list? Actually, yes. If you don’t mind buying an older version of Apple’s wearable device, you can get a great deal on a GPS watch.
The SE features a stand-alone GPS design. Meaning, you don’t need to bring your phone with you to track your runs. While the original model required your phone’s GPS to track runs, this one can do it alone.
Like the other watches we looked at, the SE tracks steps and sleep, and heart rate through an optical wrist monitor.
With the Apple watch, you also enter the Apple ecosphere to sync your phone with your watch, receive alerts, and set-up independent apps.
- Lots of non-running apps
- Lightweight with a nice screen
- Built-in GPS
- Still lacks in features compared to dedicated GPS watches
Best Basic Discontinued Watch
7. Garmin Forerunner 35
The Forerunner 35 is simple, lightweight, and handles the basics with ease. It comes in a few colors to accommodate everyone’s tastes. And the Forerunner 35 packs enough extra features to really get your money’s worth.
With a simple push of a button, the Forerunner 35 is ready to track your run by time, pace, and distance. Post-run, the Forerunner 35 uploads activities wirelessly to your smartphone.
When running, the watch can be programmed with run/walk intervals (great for beginners or anyone doing a couch to 5k plan) or pace alerts which notify you when you go above or below a set pace.
Like Garmin’s other GPS watches, the Forerunner 35 also includes activity tracking to monitor steps, sleep, provide move reminders, and create daily step goals. It tracks heart rate with a wrist monitor. All the watch data can be easily synced to your smartphone.
The display is crisp and easy to read. And the battery lasts about 13 hours in GPS mode – fairly robust for GPS watches in this price range.
- Great value
- Easy to read screen
- Wrist heart rate
- Tracks steps and uploads activities wirelessly
- Square-shaped screen not for every taste
How We Picked the Best Budget GPS Watches
Even if you’re not paying top price for a GPS watch, we think the best budget GPS watches can – and should – do more than just track your time, pace, and distance.
Ease of use, battery, and extra features were all things we considered when selecting these GPS watches. With more watch brands and budget models available now than ever before, there are plenty of options for all budgets.
While the average mid-level GPS watch costs around $250-$300, we kept the max price for this list to about $200 (with a couple of exceptions). The most expensive included wrist-based heart rate while the mid-range watches had a few features more than what the bare-bones versions had.
EASE OF USE
The most expensive GPS watches are packed with features but come at the expense of a more complicated design. Maneuvering between menus and screens is harder with more features.
With a budget GPS watch – that has fewer features – we expect controls to be simple and easy to use. Operation should be as simple as pushing a button to find satellites and a second button push to start the timer. That’s it.
SCREEN SIZE AND RESOLUTION
One of the first things you lose in a budget GPS watch is a large screen with good resolution. The watches we’ve chosen all have a good resolution for easy reading. And while not all have a large-ish screen, most are decent sized so you don’t need to squint to read it.
We’re not expecting long-lasting batteries, but they should be adequate. 10 hours at a minimum.
A good GPS watch – even at a budget price – can and should be able to wirelessly upload activities to a phone with bluetooth.
Some of the watches in our list go beyond GPS basics. These include receiving text and other phone notifications on the watch, uploadable routes, and run/walk timers. Some can be programmed with interval workouts. And we especially like the small, lightweight watches that weren’t big and bulky.
Budget GPS Watch FAQs
Why Buy a GPS Watch?
A GPS watch has two advantages over a traditional chronograph running watch. First, it measures how far you ran in real-time. You’ll never be in the dark about what mile you’re at during a run. Second, it tracks pace, also in real-time. So with a GPS watch you’ll know how long you’ve been running, how far, and at what pace.
The fast majority of training plans are built around running a certain distance at a specified pace. Without a GPS watch, it’s very hard to keep track of how far you ran and the pace you are running.
Additionally, almost every GPS watch allows you to download the activity to a computer or phone. This makes it easy to record your runs. This allows you to review past runs, track mileage over a long period of time, and see how your fitness has improved.
What Does a GPS Watch Do?
Beyond tracking time, pace, and distance, a GPS watch has many extra functions. It tracks running data like cadence, calories burned, and heart rate. It can be programmed with intervals or other complicated workouts to help you with your training.
Many GPS watches auto-pause the timer when you stop. And they automatically set a lap at every mile.
More expensive GPS watches are compatible with cycling accessories. Some can track swim workouts. Other watches can track ski runs.
How Much Does a Good GPS Watch Cost?
A basic watch can cost as little as $50. The most expensive can be upwards of $1,000! There is an entire range of watches in-between.
If you want a GPS watch that can do a lot of things, but doesn’t cost a ton of money, we recommend looking into a discontinued watch. These older models are still good, but cost much less than the latest watch it replaced. These watches still have loads of useful features. But typically lack the newest features.
Another factor to consider: battery-life in GPS watch has greatly improved. Batteries in older watches won’t last as long.
GPS watches have also gotten smaller in recent years. Older models are often bigger and bulkier than the latest GPS watches.
What am I giving up by buying a budget GPS watch?
When buying a budget GPS watch, you need to decide where your budget meets your needs.
A more expensive watch will do more things – it tracks more data, can be used with more activities, helps with training and running form. The entire feature list can be pretty long.
But functionality is more complex. This is why many people prefer a budget GPS watch. They may not be able to do as much, but they are simpler to use.
Can I use a budget GPS watch for activities besides running?
Yes, absolutely. You can use even the most basic GPS watch to track anything outdoors where you want to know time, distance, and speed. This goes for cycling, canoeing, skiing, kayaking, walking, hiking, etc.
What you often lose are extra features for those specific activities. For example, the higher-end Garmin fenix series tracks ski runs. It measures vertical speed (how fast you are going down), it automatically sets a lap at the bottom of the run, and it auto-pauses on the ski lift.
You could do the same thing on a less expensive watch. But it’s going to require more manual stopping, pausing, and lapping.
That’s just one example – each watch and each activity is different.
Will My GPS Watch Work in Europe?
Yes! Sometimes it will take longer to find satellites, but yes it works!