Do all GPS running watches show altitude?
August 4, 2013 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a running watch for mud runs... more details inside...

I have found myself doing quite a few mud runs (Warrior Dashes, Spartan Races, etc...) and have realized that I would really like to track myself on them, much like I do when I am running without the mud and huge walls :-)

What I think is important to me is to make sure it has GPS to track distance and lap times, and being able to see the changes in altitude. Normally I use a HR strap and my iPhone, but I'm not about to take my phone on the courses with me as I'd like to actually keep it in one piece. I really like my running apps on the phone, so the watch will really only be used for the mud runs. As long as I can see the results charted somewhere (such as Garmin or Polar's websites) the bells and whistles don't really matter.

Any suggestions that are affordable? As much as the Top end garmin is nice, I just won't use it enough to justify the $$$.

Also - do all GPS watches show altitude? I know one with Barometic Altitude is more accurate, but do the models that just have GPS do some sort of elevation?

posted by niteHawk to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: All GPS modules can calculate elevation just as well as lat/lon, but I don't know if all GPS watches show elevation in the UI. GPS-derived elevation is not very accurate, it's easy for it to fluctuate ±25m, so it's a bit noisy.

If you only want elevation after the fact, many track analysis programs can give you an elevation profile from just a lat/lon track by matching it to a digital elevation model. Very accurate and reliable as long as you're on the ground.
posted by Nelson at 6:00 PM on August 4, 2013

I can confirm that the two Garmin brand GPS watches I've owned/own - Forerunner 201 and Forerunner 405 - record altitude.

Based on informal comparisons, the altitude output on the dedicated running watches is significantly better than that obtained from smartphone based GPS, but that's the same as the positional information. I think this is because the GPS watches have more space for a larger and therefore more sensitive antenna.

Using sites like Strava and Garmin Connect you can compare the difference between the "as recorded" altitude and the altitude calculated from the position as Nelson describes above. I find that the GPS results do jump around more (i.e. more noise), but also give a more accurate overall result where there are large changes in height. A local hill in my area isn't well represented in the model, but besides that the results are similar.
posted by trialex at 7:04 PM on August 4, 2013

Best answer: DC Rainmaker's blog is pretty much the gold standard for GPS watch reviews. You might take a look at the Timex Run Trainer 2.0 as a lower cost alternative to the Garmin Forerunners (note: I don't own one, have just heard good things about them).
posted by kovacs at 7:22 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: DC Rainmaker has a great page explaining gps based vs barometric altimeters.
posted by pixie at 7:15 AM on August 5, 2013

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