12 Days of Triathlon Gear: Day 12 - GPS Watches

The holidays are a time to celebrate with friends and family, look back on the year's accomplishments, and give thanks for everything we have. But they're also an excellent excuse to stock up on triathlon gear for next season! Obviously, we're partial to our own Switch Aero System, but in this 12-part series we'll highlight and recommend some of the best triathlon gear that will get you to the finish line faster in your next race.

GPS Watches - Triathlons are all about time and distance, and a GPS watch is a fantastic way to track your progress during training and on race day.  Recent technology improvements have brought prices down to the point where any triathlete can afford to track their routes accurately.

What to Look For:

GPS watches range from simple route and time trackers all the way to full-featured multisport supercomputers!  What you choose will depend on your athletic goals, budget, and personality.  Essentially all GPS watches sold by reputable brands are accurate these days, so here are some of the features that differentiate the models.

Sensor Integration - many watches integrate with add-on sensors that can track all sorts of data like heart rate, running cadence, cycling power, etc.  There are two main sensor types: ANT+ and Bluetooth.  ANT+ is the older protocol, so there are lots of sensors available, but Bluetooth sensors are growing rapidly in popularity and will often connect directly to your phone (provided you have a recent-model phone).

Waterproofing - some GPS watches that are focused more on running are not sufficiently waterproofed for swimming, which is obviously a problem for us triathletes!  Look for waterproofing to 50m depth as a general guideline.

Software Integration - Once you've collected all this data, what do you do with it?  Different manufacturers (Garmin, Polar, Timex, etc.) all have different online tools that let you view your workouts and races.  If you love the hardware, but hate the website, you won't enjoy using the watch as much.  Take a look at each site before you buy into a specific system to make sure you're comfortable with the back end (you can usually create an account for free).

We Like:

Garmin 920xt - If you're an elite triathlete or just a serious data junkie, the 920xt is a technophile's dream.  It connects to basically every type of sensor, tracks swimming metrics (laps, lap times), and has a great multi-sport mode that lets you time every part of your race.

Timex Marathon GPS - This is a low-cost GPS watch that will accurately track distance and time for well under $100 USD.  It doesn't let you upload your data from the watch or integrate with sensors, but if you're just looking for a simple way to track your runs and rides, this is a great way to start.

Suunto Ambit2 S - This watch doesn't pack all the bells and whistles of the Garmin 920xt, but it does include most of the big-ticket items, including swim tracking.  An added benefit is that Suunto lets you export your data directly to sites like Strava, which might be just the extra motivation you need to finish that last interval set.

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