6 Best GPS Running Watches for Women in 2021


One of the athletes that I coach uses that popular rectangular-faced watch (that shall be unnamed) for her runs and last week she texted me saying she couldn’t stand using it for that purpose any longer. I was not surprised at all to hear this! She asked for a GPS running watch recommendation and of course I went into full-on, let me give you all the juicy details mode. I love GPS watches and all of the functionality and accuracy they provide to runners.

Finding the right watch for your needs can be tricky. It takes a lot of digging to find out which watches do what and if they’re worth the price for what you require. Some of these watches are mighty fancy, but you may not need to pay extra to get those features you’ll never use. So read on, my women running friends, and I’ll give you all the details to look for in a GPS running watch as a female runner and which ones are the very best!

Top 6 GPS Running Watches for Women in 2021

Best for Runners Who Cross Train and *TOP PICK*: Garmin Fenix 6s
Best for Women Trail Runners: Suunto 9 Baro
Best for Endurance Athletes: Coros APEX 42mm
Best for Heartrate Training: Polar Vantage V2

Best Budget: Garmin Forerunner 45s
Best Touchscreen: Garmin Venu Sq

What to Look For in a Women’s GPS Running Watch

There’s literally no way that I could go over every single feature that each running watch has…I would never stop talking…er, writing. What I can do is give you the stuff that matters as well as some additional features that may be important to you, your lifestyle and the type of running and other sports that you do. So, let’s get to it!

Accuracy

For me personally, this is hands-down the most important factor in a GPS running watch. It’s what the product is intended to do – know and track your location to provide you with precise mileage and pace – so if it does a poor job with that than it’s not worth the money no matter how cheap it is.

In addition to the two Garmin watches that I have, I also have an Apple watch. Which I’m guessing a lot of you have one as well and may even use it for your runs. I have run with my Apple watch and my Garmin to compare and the Apple watch is not at all accurate. I also run often with a couple of friends, one who uses an Apple watch and one who uses Strava to track, and it’s crazy how far off the distances are even though we run together.

Though no watch is absolutely perfect, a Garmin watch is about as accurate as you can get. As an avid runner, my distances and paces matter to me a lot and I want them to be correct. If you’re going to put forth the $$ for a GPS running watch, make sure the one you choose is accurate, too.

Battery Life

If you’re either

a) the organized person who plugs in their watch religiously each night before bed OR

b) the runner who isn’t going out on long runs 2-3 hours or more,

then battery life isn’t something you’ll need to pay attention to as much. Most digital watches you can buy have a pretty good minimum battery life at this point, so if that’s you, most watches will fit the bill.

But if you’re like me, the person who forgets to plug in their watch for days only to see it at 10% before a long run, then battery life matters. Same goes for anyone who is training for a marathon or is an ultra trail runner. There is nothing worse than your watch crapping out on you in the middle of a run.

Keep in mind that the battery life will be different depending on what mode the watch is in or how it’s being used. For example, this chart on the Garmin Fenix 6s shows it will last up to 34 days in battery saver mode, but only up to 6 hours when both GPS and the music function are being used.

Maps and Navigation Tools

If you are a trail runner, having a visual map on your watch as well as other navigation tools is a must. These can come in handy for road runners as well, but aren’t usually as necessary. An onscreen map that’s clear to read allows you to have a quick reference of your location to allow you to ensure you’re on course or how to get back to your start location.

Additionally, ABC sensors (altimeter, barometer and compass) provide even more. Here’s what each letter stands for and does:

  • altimeter – gives elevation data with accurate ascent and descent tracking
  • barometer – measures the air pressure and can predict weather changes such as storms moving in
  • compass – provides direction of travel which can help you stay on course

Size

There were a few reasons I thought it was important to make a post specific to women’s running watches and this was one of them. As more and more GPS watch options become available from different companies, the more they are focusing on adding features that make them more female-friendly. Since women typically have smaller wrists, it only makes sense that they offer a watch that has a smaller band as well as a smaller watch face.

Now of course there are going to be women who prefer a larger watch face or may need the larger wristband, but that’s why it’s great to have MORE options. Then there is plenty to choose from. Many of the watches on this list are made for both males and females, but there is usually more than one size to choose from.

Color Options

Does color really matter in a GPS running watch? Well no, but since it’s something we’re going to be wearing, it might as well fit our personal style, amiright? The very first thing that drew me to the Garmin Fenix 6s was how pretty it was (in the white/gold and grey/rose gold colors specifically). Luckily, I found out it was a really amazing watch that was perfect for running, too.

It can be a bit of a bummer when you find a watch you like in functionality only to be letdown by the color options or wristband style, so when putting together this list I looked for watches that were as beautiful as they were functional. Pretty sure there is something on this list for everyone!

Button Type (Touchscreen vs. Push Button)

This. Matters.

Yet another reason I will never run with my Apple watch is that it’s a touchscreen. This is NOT typically good for runners. Now if you are someone who doesn’t really care about your pace, seeing different things on the screen, or using the lap function…in other words, someone who just presses start at the beginning and presses stop at the end, then a touchscreen would be fine (which is why I’ve included one on this list…plus that is just what people are used to in a world of smartphones.) Otherwise, it is pretty hard to touch that screen easily when you’re running, especially if your hands are freezing or sweaty…or if you’re tired, going fast, or wearing gloves.

I’m telling you, once you have a button-function running watch, it’s likely you’ll never go back. I like to move through screens as I run as they give me different information I need at different times during my run. Plus it makes it easy to stop and restart my watch (like at a stoplight, etc.), read a text, or lap a particular distance (like if I’m doing 1k repeats).

Safety Features

Safety features on watches are important for anyone doing distance running or who is out on the trails, but it’s especially important for women to utilize these functions. I wish that wasn’t the case, but as a woman who runs alone, I know it’s necessary.

Some safety features you’ll see on these GPS running watches include: live tracking (so someone knows where you are at all times, incident detection (alerts your emergency contact with unusual movement or impact) and an emergency button. Once you get your watch, make sure you know how to use these and get them set up.

In researching each of these watches, none of them seem to come close to the safety and tracking offerings that Garmin has.

Extra Functionality

There are quite a few additional features you’ll find on GPS watches that make them even more alluring for runners, with a few even specific to what women might like to have. Here are a few you might be interested in:

  • Menstrual tracking – I personally would’ve loved this feature when I was trying to get pregnant (many moons ago). But in addition to fertility predictions, menstrual tracking can also provide guidance around training and nutrition depending on where you’re at in your cycle. Pretty cool!
  • Music – having music capability on your watch allows you to go out on a run and still listen to tunes without your phone in tow. Since it can be annoying to carry your phone (though I have some great solutions here) this is a nice option.
  • Phone call capability – if someone calls you during a run and you don’t want to get out your phone, watches with this feature allow you to take the call straight from your wrist.
  • Heartrate tracking – though at the moment, wristwatches are not as accurate at tracking heartrate as a chest strap, certain ones are getting close. And for the most part, they can at least get close enough to give you an idea of if you’re which aerobic/anaerobic zone you’re working in and track your overall health over time (as well as give VO2 max predictions which is really nice to have when you’re trying to build fitness).
  • Sleep tracking – Looking for a way to keep yourself accountable for getting enough sleep at night? This is a great way to do it. Just keep in mind that they don’t typically know when you’re just laying awake in your bed at night…because this keeps your heartrate very low, your watch will think you’re still sleeping.
  • Pulse ox monitoring – the watches that have this functionality have sensors on the underside of the watch that flash red and green at certain times. It measures the amount of oxygen in your blood at any given time and gives a picture of changes in health – which can even be a detection indicator of an illness like Covid-19.
  • Multi-sport – running may be your number one, but that doesn’t mean you don’t do other activities. It’s nice to have a watch that can track all your activities, no matter what you might be doing. Many are even waterproof and can track swimming – which was absolutely necessary for me last summer when I was injured and couldn’t run for a month and was doing a lot of lap swimming instead.
  • Customizability – I love being able to change the watch face of my Garmin watch (it’s especially fun to line it up with the season or upcoming holiday). Some GPS watches have this capability and some don’t. Additionally, if you’re someone who likes to change the watch band to go from work to working out, or just like to have color options, some are more customizable than others.

And more! It’s pretty amazing what these little gadgets can do, so before you buy, make sure to look carefully at what they watch you’re eyeing can do and if it lines up with what you’re hoping to have the capability to use it for.

Do runners really need a GPS watch?

Of course you don’t NEED a GPS watch to run. In fact, the first GPS watch wasn’t released until 1999 (this Casio beauty), and runners did just fine getting in their miles until that point. They wouldn’t be widely used for many years, and my husband and I did just fine with the stopwatch function for many years (even training for a couple of marathons). However, we would usually like to run on our local paved trail that had mile markers so that we could watch our pace and mileage. And that got annoying.

I got my first GPS watch around 2011 and have never looked back. As a distance runner, I cannot imagine not having a GPS watch. The accurate measurements of distance alone make it worth the extra cost. And as much as I loved my Garmin Forerunner 225, I was excited for a major upgrade when I received the Garmin Fenix 6s Sapphire in 2020 as a birthday present from the hubs. If you asked me which piece of must-have running gear I couldn’t give up, this would be it.

Of course, we’re at the point with technology that you can do a lot with your phone. And though your phone’s GPS isn’t nearly as accurate as these running watches, it works fine for many runners who just want a general idea of pace and distance.

If you are a runner who doesn’t want just so-so accuracy and are looking to take your training to the next level, then it’s time to invest in a GPS watch made specifically for runners. And you can’t ignore all the other amazing features and information these watches provide.

Top 6 GPS Running Watches for Women

GPS running watches come in a range of price points, with those at the low-end offering more simple functionality and at the high-end likely more than you could ever see yourself using. My caution would be to avoid going the cheapest of the cheap, and stick with a reputable company that’s job is to make these kinds of watches and do the proper research to perfect them in order to give athletes the best device possible.

Here I’ve listed 6 amazing watches I would love to both wear and run in as a female distance runner – with differing options on each to meet your unique needs as an athlete.

Best for Runners Who Cross Train & *Top Pick*: Garmin Fenix 6s

So I’m a bit partial to this watch because it’s the one I use for every single run and it never lets me down. But with that said, my husband and I did A LOT of research before he made this purchase and gave it to me for my birthday, and this watch is truly top-notch. It pretty much does what I could ever want it to (making it the perfect long-term solution for no matter what sport comes my way) and has the Garmin name that I’ve trusted for years. Plus, its beautiful design means that I want to wear it all day, every day. And trust me when I say, I am a little crazy when it comes to the accuracy of my runs, so when I give this watch my number one stamp of approval…that means something!

“What to look for” specifics:

  • Accuracy: Choose between multiple global navigation satellite systems (GPS, Glonass and Galileo) for the most accurate tracking possible
  • Battery Life: 9 days in smartwatch mode; up to 6 hours in GPS and music mode
  • Navigation Tools: Beyond satellite navigation, this watch has a 3-axis compass, gyroscope and barometric altimeter (making it great for trail runners)
  • Colors: The beauty of this watch is what drew me to it in the first place – I also love the white and gold. And though I have no business getting another GPS watch, I can’t help but drool over this one! You can also change out the band.
  • Safety: This watch has live-tracking (contacts can know where you’re at on a run at all times) as well as incident detection and an emergency button that will alert contacts that you’re in danger.
  • Size: 6S Pro and Sapphire both offer a smaller size than the Garmin Fenix 6 which I appreciate as a woman.

Additional features to love:

  • Music – I just pair this with Spotify and connect to my absolute fave bluetooth headphones that won’t fall out and can go on my way without my phone
  • Waterproof – Unlike my Apple Watch that I would have to turn the dial to spit water out and never felt truly comfortable having it in the water, I have swum with this watch many times and it is amazing in the water. I love how it accurately tracks my swimming laps as well.
  • Cross-Training capability – Outdoor running, trail running, treadmill, track running, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, surfing, yoga, lap swimming, open swimming, weightlifting…and the list goes on. If you love to do all the things, this watch is for you.
  • Training features – I have had this watch for a year and am still learning all of the cool features it has to help me with training. If you are a serious runner, you will not be disappointed with all the information it can provide you. I especially love how it tracks my VO2 max as well as the PacePro features that allows you to more accurately pace an upcoming race based on its elevation changes.

Improvements to be had:

As much as I love this watch, there is one thing I wish it was better at – heart-rate tracking. This is really something that most athletic watch companies are still trying to perfect. The one on the Fenix is a good ballpark, but it will have weird spikes sometimes that I know aren’t correct. If you are someone who is into heartrate training or using the Maffetone Method for marathon training, I’d recommend checking out the Polar Vantage V2 (below) or using an additional chest strap heartrate monitor.

Best for Women Trail Runners: Suunto 9 Baro

Trail runners have unique needs. As someone who runs on trails at least once per week, I know how easy it is to think you know exactly where you’re going when suddenly you don’t. I was so lucky to have my map navigation tool recently on my Garmin Fenix to get me back on track even when my cell phone wasn’t working. Additionally, if you are an ultra trail runner, then you need a watch that won’t die on you even when you’re out on the trails for hours. The tough Suunto 9 Baro is ready for the job.

“What to look for” specifics:

  • Accuracy: Utilizes Suunto’s unique FusedTrack algorithm which combines GPS and motion sensor data to improve track and distance accuracy
  • Battery Life: Up to 7 days of continuous GPS tracking in “tour” mode
  • Navigation Tools: Turn-by-turn navigation alerts make sure you stay on course; the Baro model is equipped with a barometer that accurately tracks all the climbs on the trail and can provide weather insights including a storm alarm
  • Colors: Black or White and you can find other compatible watch bands
  • Safety: SuuntoPlus utilizes SAFE to display your exact location, direct distance from starting location, and altitude difference from starting location (however it does not allow you to alert anyone of your whereabouts from the watch or have live tracking capability)
  • Size: All those features make for a chunky watch, so keep that in mind

Additional features to love:

  • Offers over 80 preconfigured multisport modes with post-analysis
  • Waterproof and can be used for swimming
  • Multiple training functions such as heart rate monitoring, VO2 max, interval setup, recovery recommendations, peak training effect and more

Improvements to be had:

This is a rugged watch ready for your outdoor adventures, but it doesn’t play music. Sadly, all that music playing eats up the battery, so it’s hard to have both. So if music on your watch is something you can’t live without and you don’t need battery life for days, I’d recommend the Garmin Fenix 6s or Forerunner 945.

Best for Women Endurance Athletes: Coros APEX 42mm

The Coros APEX is another great option for the trails, or even an endurance athlete who prefers the roads. With great battery life, yet a smaller size and less rugged profile, it’s perfect to use at the office and out on your runs. This watch also has the potential to do much better at tracking indoor and treadmill runs due to a unique algorithm it utilizes.

“What to look for” specifics:

  • Accuracy: Accurately tracks outdoor and trail runs using GPS; uses the Intelligent Stride Algorithm to build your unique stride model that can more accurately measure indoor running or areas with a weak GPS signal (like between buildings)
  • Battery Life: Ultramax setting allows the battery to extend to 100 hours using GPS
  • Navigation Tools: The Coros Apex monitors elevation changes and tracks weather via the barometric altimeter and preloaded routes allow you to stay on course
  • Colors: I personally love the unique burgundy and gold, but it also comes in white and black
  • Safety: There are no additional safety features on the Coros APEX beyond the navigation tools
  • Size: The smaller and lighter 42mm is ideal for most women’s wrists, but the watch is also available in a larger 46mm size

Additional features to love:

  • Track Run mode uses a proprietary algorithm to accurately measure track workouts (something many GPS watches struggle to get right!)
  • Pairs with the COROS POD (clips to your waistband on your lower back) to give you even more data such as stride ratio, left/right balance, stride length, ground time, and more

Improvements to be had:

This watch utilizes a dial as opposed to the several buttons you’re able to use on many of the other watches. This can make it more difficult to use when wearing gloves in cold weather or when you’re extra tired and sweaty. It also lacks the emergency and live-track features found on Garmin.

Best for Heartrate Training: Polar Vantage V2

GPS watches aren’t quite up to snuff just yet in properly tracking heartrate (it’s just difficult to get accuracy from the wrist), but the Polar Vantage V2 is likely the best there is. It also wins in this category because you can purchase it in a bundle and pair it with the Polar H10 heart rate chest strap which is supposed to be incredibly precise. So if you’re someone who does a lot of heart-rate based training, this is the watch for you. Plus, it has laundry list of other top features that make it an all-around great running watch for women.

“What to look for” specifics:

  • Accuracy: Utilizes GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS with assisted GPS for accurate pace and distance measurements
  • Battery Life: Up to 40 hours of continuous training time
  • Navigation Tools: In addition to GPS, the Polar Vantage V2 has an integrated compass and measure barometric altitude
  • Colors: Choose between black, gray or army green – and can be customized with other watch bands (loving the rose-plum option!)
  • Safety: This is where this watch is lacking. There is no live-tracking capability or emergency contact alert capability
  • Size: comes in a small size as well as M/L; aluminum body makes it lighter in weight than other GPS watches with similar functionality

Additional features to love:

  • Multi-sport functionality supports over 130 sports
  • Waterproof
  • Running tools such as route planning, Hill Splitter tool provides detailed data about uphill and downhill performance, Strava segments, performance measurements and more.

Improvements to be had:

The biggest improvement Polar Vantage V2 can make is including safety features that make it a better watch for trail runners or us female runners who may be out running alone. It really seems like they thought of everything else, so hopefully on the next model, they’ll have this nailed down. Additionally, I’d love to see a wider array of colors (or at least one feminine one in the line-up).

Best Budget: Garmin Forerunner 45s

The Garmin Forerunner 45s may not have ALL the bells and whistles, but it is an incredibly comprehensive GPS running watch nonetheless. Accurate tracking is usually what most runners need and want the most, and this watch absolutely does that and then some. I used a similar watch for many years, the now discontinued Forerunner 225, and it provided the capability I really needed as a runner. It lacked a bit of the fun stuff, like music connection and phone calling, but those are more wants than needs. This is an amazing watch for the price!

“What to look for” specifics:

  • Accuracy: Utilizes GPS, GPS + GLONASS or GPS + GALILEO to most accurately track distance, pace and intervals – Garmin is known for this on ALL of its watches!
  • Battery Life: up to 7 days in smartwatch mode; 14 hours in GPS mode
  • Navigation Tools: This watch does not have ABC Navigation tools, so isn’t as well-suited for trail runners
  • Colors: Enough colors to suit your taste whether that’s feminine or not (plus you can customize the colors with compatible watchbands)
  • Safety: Real-time tracking and incident detection alert with the press of a button
  • Size: Comes in a smaller 39mm size perfect for a female with a slighter wrist

Additional features to love:

  • Health monitoring tools such as heart-rate monitoring, energy monitoring, sleep analysis, etc.
  • Can customize the watch face within Garmin Connect IQ
  • Provides a few enhanced training features such as tracking of your VO2 max which is nice to see that number increase as you build fitness

Improvements to be had:

This watch lacks what several others have on this list in terms of functionality. But, that’s why the cost is quite a bit lower, and for many runners, those other features just aren’t necessary. Otherwise, this watch is about as good as you can get for the basic features a runner would need.

Best Touchscreen: Garmin Venu/Venu Sq

I wanted to included a touchscreen on this list even though I think the button watches are much better suited to run training. However, I realize that there will always be others who do just fine with a touchscreen as we don’t all train the same or have the same preferences, so I wanted to be sure to include one. In a world full of smartphones, it’s certainly something we’re accustomed to. Plus it’s another great budget option.

Additionally, this Venu Sq has the option to choose a rectangular shaped-face which is different than any of the others on this list. (You can also get a round face.)

“What to look for” specifics:

  • Accuracy: Garmin is top-notch when it comes to GPS tracking and the Venu is no different!
  • Battery Life: Up to 14 hours in GPS mode
  • Navigation Tools: You won’t find the fancy navigation tools you would need if you were running trails, instead think of this as a sport smartwatch that will at least track your mileage correctly
  • Colors: Hands-down this watch has the most beautiful color options of any of the watches on this list. The blue and gold is so pretty, but it would be a tough choice with the options.
  • Safety: Use the live track feature so loved ones can know where you are in your route at all times; the assistance function also allows you to send an automated message to your emergency contacts with your location
  • Size: Of all the watches, this one (IMO) has the most feminine design with its sleek sizing and style

Additional features to love:

  • More than 20 preloaded sport apps
  • Health monitoring such as Body Battery levels, respiration, hydration, sleep, menstrual cycle, and more
  • Utilize Garmin Pay for contactless payment

Improvements to be had:

This watch serves its purpose. There are plenty of other Garmin watches to turn to if you want more features, that will give you far better training accuracy than you’ll get with the similar-looking Apple watch. And if music is what you’re missing? You can opt for the Venu Music.

A GPS watch is an investment for sure, so you want to get it right. Hopefully, you’ve narrowed down your choices from the research I provided to get the very best one for all of your upcoming running adventures!

Jane

Hi, I'm Jane! I'm an avid runner who races 5ks to marathons. After a 4:59 first marathon, I came back to the distance years later running a BQ time of 3:36. I did a lot wrong for a long time and finally started doing a lot right. Now I'm an RRCA certified running coach and love sharing what I've learned to help others run their best.

Recent Posts