Here is my guide to help you choose the best mountain biking GPS watch. Tracking your ride with one of these is a great thing to do. We can see how we improve as riders, keep tabs on our distance traveled or how fast we did that downhill run in the alps. But more importantly, rub our mates nose in it after beating their time.

It is possible to track all this with our smart phones, but a GPS watch is a far more accurate way of doing so. Scroll down to see my top picks for the best mountain biking GPS smart watches.

Connectivity

The best mountain biking GPS watch will connect to heart rate monitors, cadence sensors and power meters. As a result you get extra data from your ride. Consequently, most brands use Bluetooth, allowing connectivity with your phone, utilising apps to sync your data.

Garmin use a similar system to Bluetooth, called ANT+. Therefore, most of their devices are now compatible with Bluetooth accessories now. Therefore, if you have some of these accessories, it is worth finding out what method of connectivity they use before buying the watch.

There are lots of these watches that have WiFi connectivity too. Therefore you can  sync your data without needing to connect it to your phone or computer.

Navigation

These watches have GPS built in, hence you don’t need to connect your phone to it to receive the GPS. Additionally, many of them have the Russian version of GLONASS built in too. As a result of this , you get extra accuracy, as they use either system as it is needed.

Battery life

It would be pretty pointless having a watch that keeps going dead. Most of them have a battery life that will last weeks, however this all depends on what you have connected to it. You also need to check the “in activity” battery life. This is when the GPS is working during your ride, and it can deplete the battery quite quickly.

What it is made of?

The screen isn’t much use if it is scratched, so the best mountain biking GPS smartwatch will have a toughened mineral glass screen. For the most part, straps are made from silicone, making  them very comfortable. But you can change the straps for leather or metal versions, for when you are not in your biking gear.

Controls

Watches with touch screens are great, however they can be a bit awkward for those riders with larger fingers. They are not always that reliable when they are wet either. But one of the main frustrations is, that some models don’t work while you are wearing gloves.

Models with buttons on the side have their advantages, but make sure that you can ‘lock’ the buttons. This is because you can easily press them by accident, pausing your ride.

Versatility

You can use many of the watches for different activities, due to their built in sensors. The most note worthy sensors are, altimeters, barometers, accelerometers, heart rate monitors, compasses and gyroscopes. Consequently, these make the watches useful for hiking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding etc. They are also waterproof for when you want to go for that triathlon you have always wanted to complete.

Heart rate monitors built in to the strap work by shining LED lights through your skin. As a result, the watch detects the blood pulsing through your veins (how clever is that?!). Therefore, you need to make sure that the strap is in proper contact with your skin, to get accurate results.

My picks of the best mountain biking GPS smart watches

1. Garmin Forerunner 945

Ideal for

Serious athletes that want to monitor EVERYTHING.

Pros

  • Loads of features
  • Great built in maps
  • Pulse Oximeter aids in acclimation
  • 24/7 heart rate monitoring with stress mentoring
  • Music including Spotify and Deezer

Cons

  • Strap is difficult to remove
  • Limited ability to respond to notifications

The Verdict

5/5

The Forerunner 945 is a high end GPS smartwatch that has everything you need to track your workout performance. You can monitor you sleep to your speed, and allows you to analyse the data with Garmin Connect. If you are or planning on becoming a serious athlete and want to take your training to the next level the Forerunner 945 is the fitness watch for you.

Features

  • Sync music from select premium streaming services, or store up to 1,000 songs on your watch, and connect with headphones (sold separately) enabled with Bluetooth technology for phone-free listening
  • Performance monitoring features include VO2 max and training status with new training load focus, a metric that tracks your mixture of training intensities
  • Offers performance measurements adjusted for heat and altitude, including acclimation status for both; also tracks recovery time, aerobic and anaerobic training effects and more
  • Garmin Pay contactless payment solution lets you make convenient payments with your watch, so you can leave your cash and cards at home
  • Full-colour, onboard maps guide you on your run so you never get lost during a workout
  • Safety and tracking features easily share your location with chosen contacts – manually with the assistance feature or automatically with incident detection during an outdoor walk, run, hike, or bike
  • GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellite compatibility help you track how far, how fast and where you’ve run or biked – on or off the city streets
  • Create your own workouts, or download training plans from the Garmin Connect online fitness community
  • Up to 2 weeks of battery life in smartwatch mode

2. Garmin Fenix 5

Ideal for

Those who want a versatile watch for a number of activities.

Pros

  • Large easy to read face.
  • Water proof
  • Looks great
  • Comfortable
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Pricey, but you get what you pay for
  • Some people have reported that the bezel scratches easily, but protectors are available

The Verdict

5/5

This one is considered by many to be the best mountain biking GPS smartwatch. The Garmin Fenix 5 is fantastic and is perfect for mountain biking as well as many other sports. It is loaded with features and is customisable, hence the high price.

Features

  • This one has a stainless steel bezel and forged steel back
  • Built-in GPS + GLONASS EXO antenna
  • Anti-glare coated lens back to maintain the best integrity in demanding environment
  • Suitable for multiple activities with preloaded profiles for running, cycling, swimming, trail running and more. Supports Strava Live Segments
  • Performance Widget shows your training status, training load, VO2 Max, recovery adviser and more.
  • Built-in navigation sensors include: GPS and GLONASS satellite positioning, 3-axis compass with gyroscope, barometric altimeter
  • Smart Notifications, Connect IQ App support
  • Interchangeable straps (no tools required) for further customisation
  • Battery life: up to 2 weeks in smartwatch mode (depending on settings), up to 24 hours in GPS mode or up to 60 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode

3. Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical

Ideal for

Those who want an alternative to the Garmin, but still wants lots of features

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Good battery life
  • Conectivity to accessories

Cons

  • Data not too accurate when swimming
  • Needs separate chest strap for heart rate monitor (included) Not really a problem, just not as convenient as others

Verdict

4.5/5

A great alternative to the Garmin and at around half the price.

Features

  • Compatible for many sports, including mountain biking
  • Route navigation and Track Back,
  • Accurate heart rate monitoring and Calories burned
  • Bike Power Support
  • Sleep and quick recovery tracking
  • Training programme
  • Interval workout planner
  • Quick GPS/GLONASS-Tracking
  • Barometric altimeter,
  • Bluetooth (from 4.0)
  • Coordinate system
  • Route planner with topographical map
  • Altitimeter
  • Easy to upload to social media
  • Track performance against other Suunto users

4. Garmin Vivoactive 3

Pros

  • Good price
  • Looks good

Cons

  • Battery only lasts 4 to 5 days

Verdict

4/5

This watch is more than just a fitness tracker. But it is not quite the all singing all dancing Fenix 5.

Ideal for

Those who want a GPS smart watch for multiple activities, but don’t want to spend too much.

Features

  • Wrist strap heart rate monitor
  • High-resolution colour touchscreen display
  • Preloaded with multiple sports apps including yoga, cardio, strength training, running, swimming and many more
  • Download workouts
  • Create custom workouts
  • Monitors, VO2 max and fitness age estimate
  • All-day stress tracking and relaxation-based breathing timer
  • Smart notifications including the ability to send prewritten responses to text messages, LiveTrack, Connect IQ watch faces and apps and more

5. Fitbit Blaze

Ideal for

Those who want a “basic” fitness watch that looks nice.

Pros

  • Simple to use
  • Looks good
  • Customisable
  • Not bulky
  • Vibrates when your phone rings or you get a message

Cons

  • Some bugs with the GPS have been reported

Verdict

4/5

This watch is not as feature rich as the other watches reviewed, however it does look great. Above all, this is a nice bit of kit to track how fit you are (or not). You may also want to consider the Fitbit Charge. Click here for details.

Features

  • Tracks steps, distance traveled , calories burned, floors climbed and active minutes
  • Multi-sport tracking including running, cardio, cross-training and cycling
  • Wrist strap heart rate monitor
  • Record workouts to your personallised dashboard
  • Five day battery life
  • Map your routes and see stats like pace and duration on display

6. Polar Vantage M

Ideal for

People that are enthusiastic about their sports and want solid data to help them progress. This is not one for the ultra runners.

Pros

  • Comfortable design
  • Easy to use
  • Great battery life
  • Useful training insights

Cons

  • Running power requires additional sensor
  • Some syncing issues have been reported
  • Lacks smartwatch features

Verdict

4/5

The Vantage M is powerful and is a great training tool for lots of different sports. It is feature rich, making it a good value for money gps smartwatch.

Features

  • Wrist-based heart rate monitor
  • 130 different sport profiles
  • 24/7 activity tracking
  • Training Load Pro
  • Swimming compatible
  • Running index
  • Counts calories burned
  • 230mAh lithium-polymer battery
  • Up to 30 hours of battery life
  • USB rechargeable
  • 240 x 240 pixel lens resolution
  • Integrated GPS and GLONASS
  • Weighs 45g
  • Dimensions: 46mm x 46mm x 12.5mm

7. Fitbit Ionic

Ideal for

Not for the hardcore, but for riders that want their fitness data all in one place. 

Pros

  • Fitbit Pay works well
  • Great fitness features
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Little bit slow
  • Limited music offering
  • There are better watches for a similar price

Verdict

3/5

The Fitbit Ionic is quite expensive for a fitness tracker. However, it does have a lot of high end features. Therefore, out will appeal to chose looking for a more healthy lifestyle. 

The Ionic is lightweight, comfortable and looks nice. It has a lot of versatility, but I feel that the Polar Vantage offers more for a similar price.

Features

  • Colour LCD touchscreen
  • Personal coaching
  • Integrated heart rate monitor
  • Access to popular third-party apps
  • SmartTrack
  • Sleep stages and insights
  • Store and plays 300+ songs
  • Water resistant up to 50m
  • All-day activity tracking
  • Built-in GPS
  • Up to 5 days of battery life
  • Multiple sport modes
  • Receive smartphone notifications
  • Syncs wirelessly

8. Suunto 9

Ideal for

Serious outdoor enthusiasts and fitness freaks

Pros

  • Fantastic battery life
  • Rugged and hard-wearing
  • Powerful training features

Cons

  • Screen can be hard to read
  • Sometimes confusing menus
  • Both apps need improvement

Verdict

5/5

This is a big rugged looking watch. With a long list of multi-sport features that can rival most gps smartwatches on the market.  Because of this, it is quite expensive, but the battery life and the sheer range of features are worth paying for.

Features

  • Comes with heart rate monitor belt
  • GPS navigation
  • Integrated wrist based heart rate monitor
  • Integrated barometer
  • Multisport modes
  • Smart mobile connections
  • Fusedtrack technology
  • Weather functions
  • Rugged Design
  • 320 x 300 display resolution
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Water resistant up to 100m
  • 130-230mm wrist fit
  • Weighs 81g
  • Dimensions: 50 x 50 x 16.8mm

9. FitBit Versa

best mountain biking smart watch

Ideal for

Those that want to track everyday activities, but not for those that have serious goals or events to aim for.

Pros

  • Lightweight design
  • Fitbit’s most customizable wearable
  • Low price

Cons

  • Rounded design won’t suit everyone
  • Battery life not as good as Ionic
  • No GPS

Verdict

4/5

Not quite as feature rich as the Fitbit Ionic, but the Fitbit Versa feels very similar and is cheaper. It also has a nicer design and is easier to use.

Do you have the best mountain biking GPS smartwatch?

Have you used any of these products? Or similarly, do you know of a great alternative that you believe to be the best mountain biking GPS smartwatch? If so let me know what you thought of them in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to sign up for the MTB-Threads newsletter!
Tom Fortune
tom@mtb-threads.com

9 thoughts on “Finding the best mountain biking GPS Watch: And 9 recommendations”

  1. These smartwatches just get better and better over time with more and more great features. I am almost too scared to spend money on one now because next month a newer and better one will already be out.

    I especially love the fact that these watches track your heart rate, distance covered, calories burned and the GPS is a great added extra. It’s also great that you don’t need a connection anymore to enable these watches to work. The touch screens are also great so there are no complicated buttons to fathom out.

    I have been looking a getting a Garmin Watch for a while now, and I enjoyed reading the comparison of the three different models shown in this artilce.

    1. Hi Michel,

      Thanks for your comment. Technology does move quickly, but as long as the watch has the features that you will use, it is the right one for you.

  2. Wow what a great niche! GPS is a great device to track and receive certain data as you’ve mentioned here, and I appreciate your adding a little humor about running it in our mates’ nose. Honestly I did not consider that a GPS watch was more accurate than a smart phone, so a post such as this one is really helpful. This post is very well written and I like how you’ve explained connectivity, navigation, battery life and versatility. Pros, cons and verdicts are all very well done also. I will be checking out your linked products further. Thanks for a great post!

    1. Hi Pentrental,

      “If it isn’t on Strava it didn’t happen”, is a common phrase amongst mountain bikers. GPS Smart watches are great for mountain biking and fitness tracking.

  3. I’m using the Vivoactive 3 and found (as well as many other users) the accumulated climb to be very inaccurate, up to ~40% less than a phone running Strava on the same ride.
    I was wondering if you’ve checked and how the other watches in this comparison are working in this area of measurement.

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for your input. This is really good information that potential buyers should know. I haven’t compared them with a phone myself, so unfortunately I can’t comment. However, I have just found this website. It is more for fell running, but this guy has gone in to some serious detail regarding the accuracy of the GPS watches. It looks like the Suunto Ambit 3 is the most accurate.

      Thanks again for your comment and bringing my attention to this issue.

      1. BTW, my comment above is related to the watch barometer and software processing of the barometer data much more than the GPS chip itself, which is what investigated in the link you’ve attached.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.