Best GPS smartwatches & fitness trackers 2023

Most smartwatches these days have built-in GPS, plus other global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) like GLONASS and BeiDou, so you can get accurate workout tracking without needing your phone for connected GPS. But only a rare few fitness trackers support the technology, possibly because it makes them too heavy or bulky. So we'll help you find those rare few trackers that let you leave your phone behind.

Also, a rare few smartwatches support more accurate tracking like All-Systems GNSS, which accesses multiple satellite systems simultaneously for more accurate results. And the newest technology is dual-frequency GPS, which accesses L1 and L5 GPS data for multiple angles on your position that can help bypass major obstructions like mountains, buildings, or foliage.

So when it comes to the best GPS smartwatches & fitness trackers, we'll try to lay out all of the models that give you the best possible accuracy for your training; otherwise, we'll simply name some of the best fitness watches that happen to have GPS data.

These are the best GPS smartwatches for location accuracy and mapping

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Want a fitness tracker with built-in GPS? Try one of these!

Deciding how much GPS accuracy you actually need

We've described all the different watches with All-Systems GNSS or dual-frequency/ multi-band GPS, but do you actually need those? Or is simple GPS data all you need? Well, it depends on where you typically work out. 

All-Systems mode employs two or more satellite systems at once, but the benefit of this depends on how well alternative systems like GLONASS, GALILEO, BeiDou, or QDZZ actually perform in your area. Garmin says multiple GNSSs help with "increased performance in challenging environments and faster position acquisition than using GPS only," while COROS recommends it for these areas: "city near tall buildings, neighborhoods with significant tree canopies or mountainous/hilly terrain." Overall, this is a useful perk, but you're still liable to deal with reflecting location signals.

Dual-frequency mode offers the most accurate data you can get because it tracks you across L1 and L5 satellite data coming from multiple directions, so if one signal is blocked, you can still count on the other to pick up the slack. Garmin says this delivers "more consistent track logs, improved positioning, improved multi-path errors, and fewer atmospheric errors." COROS recommends it for "rock/ice climbing sheer rock faces in narrow canyons, hiking deep within forests, in between mountain peaks, or near sheer cliff drop-offs such as the Grand Canyon." 

In other words, you may not need dual-frequency tracking outside of extreme conditions, but it's certainly nice to have, and it generally offers better tracking even if you live somewhere totally flat. On the other hand, this mode also consumes the most battery life, so you have to consider which GPS smartwatch will last long enough for your needs.

As for trackers, most of our favorite fitness trackers rely on connected GPS, meaning you need your phone nearby to track your workouts. Most phones have pretty accurate location data on par with what you'd get with a GPS-only smartwatch, so a fitness tracker or watch with built-in GPS lets you run without a phone but doesn't necessarily give you a huge accuracy boost. It's only with All-Systems or dual-frequency that you'll get the best possible performance, which means choosing a bulky fitness watch over a tracker.

Michael L Hicks
Senior Editor, VR/AR and fitness

Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.