Polar S625X
Polar S625X (courtesy, REI)

What fitness watch tracks distance plus elevation?

I a runner and cyclist looking for a watch that tracks distance as well as elevation. Can you tell me the difference between GPS-based watches such as the Garmin Forerunners/Timex Body Link versus watches with the footpod attached to the shoe (Nike Triax CV10 or Polar S625X)? I'm leaning towards the Polar one since it's got a heart-rate monitor in addition to the cycling add-ons. Your thoughts? Mauro Sunnyvale, California

Polar S625X

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Interesting question. The difference between GPS-based units such as the Garmin Forerunner 301 ($325; www.garmin.com) and those such as the Nike Triax CV10 ($280; www.nike.com) is fairly basic. As you note, the Forerunner is simply a compact GPS unit—one that updates every second for constant speed/distance information. Plus it has a heart-rate monitor for training purposes, and a USB link so you can profile your workouts on a PC.

Polar S625X Polar S625X

The Nike and Polar units use what is called “inertial technology.” This means placing a motion sensor on your foot to measure acceleration and other factors. The data is then converted to complex computer algorithms to determine your speed, distance traveled, and so on. The advantage is less weight and better battery life compared to GPS units (plus no problem with losing satellites among buildings or in dense forest). The downside is slightly lower accuracy—but not much, and certainly not enough to cause you any problems (Polar claims 99 percent accuracy once the unit is fully calibrated). And, as you note, the Polar S625X ($350; www.polarusa.com) can be adapted for bicycle use. Additionally, an extra $40 gets you an infrared PC adapter to let you track your training on a Windows platform.

The only downside to the inertial units is their lack of directional orientation, but I imagine you know your running/cycling routes pretty well. They also lack an altimeter feature, and I don’t know how committed you are to that. What’s more important than how far up you run or bike, I think, is knowing your heart rate and exertion.

So, I’d go with the Polar or Nike units. They’re more compact and lighter than GPS units, and are serious training tools (so are the GPS units, but in a different form).

For more expert reviews of top training devices, including the Garmin Forerunner 301 and Polar S625X, check out Outside Online’s all-new Fitness Watches Buying Guide.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021
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Lead Photo: courtesy, REI