Best Watches for Trail & Ultra Running – Top 10 Choices for the Elites
When trail running, you want a watch that will help you monitor your performance.
It should display the time, pace, distance, location, and much more.
You also want a device that feels light on the hand, has a smooth texture and isn’t affected by sweat, dirt, moisture, light rain, movement, shaking and vibration.
The following reviews will show you how good these devices are for trail and ultra running.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Multisport GPS Smartwatch
This watch comes in a rugged design.
It will prove useful in the outdoors and should handle the terrains and environments well.
It comprises diamond-like carbon titanium or stainless steel bezel.
It will, therefore, withstand scratches, dents, bangs, falls, impact and more.
We also love the clear display which gives you easy access to the many features and modes.
The GPS navigation and colorful TOPO maps help you to ascertain your way in the location.
It has smooth and flexible rubber straps which don’t dog into or scratch the skin.
They are also less prone to sweating, sticking to the skin, or leaving discoloration or marks.
- Well built and tough
- Good size and weight
- Easy to use
- The rubber strap isn’t super strong
Suunto 9 GPS Trail Watch
This trail running watch is lightweight and also very compact.
Wearing it for a long time is therefore not a challenge.
It also handles shocks, vibrations, and impacts fairly well.
The unit maintains its effectiveness even after frequent banging, falls, or knocks.
It comprises a tough sapphire glass that doesn’t get scratched, discolored, break, or shatter easily.
It also has clear glare-free views for easy viewing.
The large memory will track performance for as many as 120 hours while the battery should last for a long time.
And with a water resistance of 100 meters, you are assured of it still working even in heavy rain, drinks spilling on it, sweat dripping on it, or accidentally falling in the water.
- High quality and easy to operate
- Good water resistance
- Good battery life and large memory
- The mapping isn’t very detailed
Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit (Garmin)
Coming in a simple black color, this watch should look okay on both men and women.
It feels solid despite its lightweight (49 grams).
Wearing it for extended periods should be convenient.
It comes with several useful features (barometer, maps, altimeter, electronic compass….) to help you monitor your environment and prevent getting lost.
Many consumers give it the nod for being accurate, easy viewing, sturdy construction, and also simple to maintain.
Moreover, battery life and memory seem to outscore most of its rivals.
The advanced dynamics plus the versatile nature make it a suitable option for running, jogging, cycling, swimming and more.
- Decent battery life
- Effective GPS navigation
- Accurate and decent backlight
- The display isn’t touch screen
Forerunner 35 (Garmin)
This Garmin model is one of the top-rated watches you can get if you’re a runner.
It comes in a sleek colorway that can easily work with casual outfits, so there would be no need to take it off after your runs.
It has a built-in GPS which helps it receive signals to track how far and how fast you go.
The running partner not only calculates speed and distance, but it also calibrates pace, calories burned and more, depending on how you set it.
It also has a wrist-based heart rate monitor to give you a better idea of your cardio abilities, which is very useful, especially for those who want to monitor aspects of their physical health.
It also connects to your phone for all kinds of notifications and other connectivity options.
The watch is also equipped with a pacer. Albeit, the pacer could have been made better.
However, aside from that, this is a great fitness partner for those long trail runs.
- Sleek design
- Built-in GPS
- Compatible with Garmin connect
- Pacer could be better
FitBit Charge 2
If you want a simpler and minimalist watch for your trail runs, the FitBit is the way to go.
It comes in a very simple rectangular case, but its simplicity only applies to the design because this watch is packed with features.
The PurePulse monitor tracks your HR all day, which allows the watch to give you an accurate estimate of the calories you’ve burned.
The watch already has a GPS system, to help you plan out your runs and view your routes.
Another cool feature is the guided breathing sessions.
If you need to take a break during a trail run the watch can guide your breathing based on your heart rate to help you recover quickly and safely.
Those who need a simple-looking feature-packed fitness tracker should definitely check this FitBit out.
- Simple design
- PurePulse monitors and displays relevant stats
- Built-in GPS
- Easy to use interface and phone app
- Weak vibration for notifications
Versa Tracker from Fitbit
If you liked the FitBit Charge but want a larger display, then the Versa would be the way to go.
First of all, it can store up to 300 songs, so anyone who likes listening to music on their run will definitely enjoy this.
Controlling music from the watch is much easier than pulling a phone out of your pocket and scrolling.
It also has a heart rate tracker to track activities throughout the day and 15 sports modes, so for those who do extra exercises aside from trail running, this watch has got you covered.
It also syncs with your phone so you can even upload stats from other fitness apps such as Strava.
A great piece for those who like a modern design.
- Modern looking design
- Large display
- Compact size
- Step counter could be better
Forerunner 235 (Garmin)
Those of you who are a bit more serious about your running stats may find this watch very enticing.
It is equipped with Elevate wrist heart rate which can track and display advanced stats so you can stay on pace on beating your personal record.
It also connects to the Connect app, an online community with other users where you can find a lot of useful tips and tricks, sometimes even challenges.
Aside from measuring pace, calories, speed, and distance, the watch can also calculate your Vo2 max, which is basically the maximum volume of oxygen one can use.
So those who really want to push their game to the next level should definitely check out this device.
- Advanced cardio stats
- Classic design
- Smart notifications
- Pace tracker could be a bit better
This is a watch designed to be a great running partner for anyone who enjoys fitness.
It has a special monitor that can track your sleep along with your heart rate throughout the whole day, making it a bit easier to manage stress levels.
This also helps you understand your physical self more, so you can plan your routes better.
It also has a 5-minute fitness test to fully understand your aerobic fitness levels.
Trail runners would really appreciate that feature as it doesn’t take too much time, but it gives a good idea of where one is at.
And if you have an event coming up, you can also make a training program and running plan that adapts to you.
- Adaptable training programs
- Integrated GPS
- The interface isn’t the best
Going on a run with a tough and rugged looking watch gives off a unique feeling.
And if you enjoy that as well, then this is the fitness tracker for you.
It comes in a tough and rugged looking case, which has military-grade durability, so accidental bumps and dings on the trail won’t faze this watch at all.
Along with the tough exterior comes a plethora of features.
These include GPS, a heart rate tracker, a compass, and even activity profiles.
It also connects right to your phone.
That means you can expect notifications and uploads to its specialized Connect application, which surprisingly has a solid and very friendly online fitness community.
- Rugged design
- Shock resistant
- Great fitness features
- The watch might be too loud for some
If you’re on the lookout for a watch that you can wear both on a run and a night out, the YoYo Fit deserves some of your attention.
It has a very modern design that would easily complement a casual outfit while looking completely natural with athletic gear.
It can track your heart rate continuously, so you can have a better picture of your health and what you need to be doing on your runs.
You can also control your phone’s camera, control music, view the weather forecast, and see notifications from your phone.
All of these can be very useful on the trail, especially since it can be a hassle to be taking out your phone to view all these things.
This is a watch that doesn’t attract a lot of complaints, and with all its functionality, it’s easy to see why.
- Modern looking design
- Built-in GPS
- Customizable dial, watch face, and fitness functions
- Not water resistant
What to watch out for when buying watches for trail running
A good watch will feel very comfortable on the wrist.
It will have a smooth surface/texture which doesn’t scratch the skin.
It also won’t make the section too sweaty, stuffy or sticky.
Moreover, it will be lightweight to prevent undue weight and stays in place without moving too much.
Imagine the watch dying out on you in the middle of nowhere?
First, you may be depending on GPS navigation.
Secondly, you may be monitoring your performance.
Such things are best avoided by picking a piece that has a long-lasting battery.
Reading reviews and going for reputable products comes in handy.
You like many other people want the exact results.
You don’t want to believe your performance is improving or declining on to discover later that your watch is giving you erratic figures.
The best type is very precise, delivers instant results, and also has a large memory for tracking performance.
The truth is that the watch will be put under severe stress over its lifespan.
You’ll bump, bang it against objects.
Scratch it, drop it, accidentally seat on it, pour liquids on it, expose it to dust, moisture, sweat and much more.
Wearing a durable and sturdily-built piece will help to combat such effects and extend its lifespan.
Weather and waterproof
When running on the trails, you’ll be exposed to the elements.
At one time it may be very sunny and dusty, in the next instant it’s humid and misty, and in other situations, you’ll be caught up in the rain.
A good product will handle the weather well and won’t be harmed by rain, strong winds, low or high temperatures.
Trail running will take you to new environments.
This may happen especially if you have relocated or have decided to run while on vacation.
In such situations, you’ll rely on the navigation to know where you are and where you are going.
Poor GPS tracking may mean you getting lost in the mountains or wilderness.
You are advised to always go for a product with many useful features.
These allow you to monitor your performance, keep time, set targets, and also review your progress over time.
A barometer helps to measure the pressure, which is critical if you like running at high altitudes.
O2 sensors keep tabs on blood oxygen saturation while Heart Rate (HR) Monitor keeps track of the pulse or heartbeat.