Best Watches for Trail Running for 2021

Forerunner 201 by Garmin

I couldn’t wait; the ultimate training tool that I needed to be a world class runner was on the way. And finally I got my Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS training watch. I run on trails that don’t have even the hint of trail markers or mile markers so I wanted this watch to help me know my splits better. And I got so much more. I have now been using the watch for over 2 months and have learned that its great for my training. I know my mile splits while I’m running and through the PC interface I can download them to my computer after each run for a great historical picture.

So far my concerns have been few. The button placements are not really great for people moving rapidly and not wanting to mess up the timer. Additionally the time to synch with the satellites each time the unit is turned on can get old. I have learned while its synching up I can stretch outside. I have modified some of the pace smoothing settings to help ensure that I’m getting the most accurate picture of my pace.

Forerunner 201 by Garmin

And I have learned that the pace is more accurate over distance than every 2 seconds that I want to check it. I also recently started using its virtual training partner which is a great tool when my human training partner is unavailable. The virtual training partner is a great way to keep me motivated. As I mentioned there is software to download your runs to and Garmin provides a great looking profile and track of your runs when the information is loaded to your computer.

I really hope that Garmin will begin to tailor the interface to runners though because currently the software seems to be more of a hiker’s tool. And lest I forget the Forerunner provides the extra cool feature of using your body weight, effort expended (both pace and elevation changes) to provide calories burned per run. (That gives me a great excuse for those extra goodies throughout the day.) For their first foray into the running world I think Garmin has created a great product with the Forerunner 201 that with little effort and attention to runner’s needs will outpace the competition.

And by the way it didn’t make me a world class runner; I guess I’ll just wait for the next ultimate training tool.


  • Pace using satellite positioning.
  • Auto-lap feature which will automically cause the lap timer to be tripped at a predetermined distance.
  • Virtual Training Partner. Great when you need extra motivation!
  • PC Interface. Download your workouts to your computer and view the profile and track of your run as well as other info.


  • Poor positioning of buttons. I often have to stop or slow down to ensure I don’t hit the wrong button and stop the timer while running.
  • Lack of appropriate scale in the computer software. I change elevation by 100-300 feet in my runs and yet the base scale is 1000 feet which skews the profile view. Also the scale for the pace is not scaled so that the slowest time is the chart 0 thus the pace chart is also skewed.
  • No way to incrementally load from the watch. Which means as you gather more runs it will take longer to download.
  • Can’t hit the lap button manually to mark a favorite spot or turn-around without also restarting the Auto-lap which throws off the mile positioning.

Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS Running Watch

The Forerunner 205 is a great improvement over the 201 for trail runners. First, the GPS receiver maintains coverage much better in canyons and heavily forested than the Forerunner 201 did. Second the controls have been better positioned on the watch to aid in use while running on the trails. The last great improvement with this watch is that it seems to synch up much more quickly with the satellites than the previous model. Additional improvements are that it can now be charged and connected to the computer using a USB connection (versus the serial port connection of the Forerunner 201).

garmin forerunner 205

The Forerunner 205 also comes with much better training software and the ability to create “courses” on the watch. I have only created a limited number of courses on the trails and find that I primarily like to use them when I am trying to meet or beat my performance on a particular trail or run.

  • Pros: Faster synch, better coverage in canyons and densely forested areas, more usable controls
  • Cons: None.

Ironman by Timex

The classic in outdoor fitness watches; the Timex Ironman continues to be one of the best values in the market today. For $30 you get a 30 lap chronograph, alarm clock, and timer ready to help runners of every level understand the basics of their last run. Recently redesigned with a single button on the face, the Ironman is now easier to operate and clearly displays your lap and overall times. For runners looking for more in-depth data, such as heart beat, direction, and temperature you will need to look at the next level of watches, starting around $150 as the Ironman is definitely an entry level watch.

ironman timex

Update: I have found myself time and again using this watch as a backup when I’ve left my Garmin Forerunner at home or my Forerunner isn’t charged. The IronMan continues to amaze me as a great running watch. It’s lightweight, easy to use and full of classic but neccessary features for a runner.

  • Pros: At $29.95 the Timex IronMan is a hard value to beat.
  • Cons: No fancy features, just your basic Time, Stopwatch, and alarm.

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