What probably seemed unthinkable a decade ago is now possible; our movements can be tracked from outer space with something as small as a wristwatch.
These technological advancements have been a boon to the outdoor recreation industry, and to kayaking specifically. They’ve made it possible to track all kinds of workout statistics, in addition to acting as a navigational aid. Today, a GPS watch is a critical piece of equipment for serious paddlers.
Heart Rate Monitor
Best Kayaking GPS Watch on the Market
1. Garmin Fenix 5
Out of 10
Best Budget GPS Watch
2. Polar M400
Out of 10
Best Mid Range GPS Watch
3. Suunto Traverse
Out of 10
What a Paddler Looks for in a GPS Watch
GPS watches are used for all kind of sports, but paddlers will need to look for some specific features, and it goes beyond being waterproof.
This is the primary purpose of a GPS for kayakers: tracking stats like speed, distance, time, heart rate, etc. Different watches are packaged with different sensors, so choose one that has the functionality you need, not the one that does the most. If you don’t see yourself using a particular function, it’s just one more screen you’ll have to go through to get to the ones you do want to use.
Unless you’re kayaking something massive like Minnesota’s Boundary Waters or the Bowron Lakes in British Columbia, you won’t need a lot of navigational equipment for freshwater paddling. Just take note of the landmarks around your point-in point.
Big sea kayaking adventures are a different story though. It can be helpful to record waypoints to create a map of where you’ve been, and the built-in compass can help you keep a straight bearing in open water. This is a lot easier than pulling out a paper map and trying to figure out distances between various islands and the shoreline.
Most GPS watches can fulfill the relatively minimal navigational needs of kayakers, but it’s critical that it’s easy to use. If it’s a struggle to add waypoints and view the distances between them, you probably won’t use it at all.
Screen size is another big factor; it’s difficult to look at a watch face mid-paddle stroke, so most kayakers will mount the watch on their deck if they need to be able to see it at all times. Having the watch that far from your face necessitates a larger screen to be able to see anything.
Most GPS watches have tons of functions, and while that might be cool when you’re nerding out on land, it’s a hindrance when you actually need to use it in the water. Functionality needs to be balanced out with an uncomplicated user experience.
Review of the Garmin Fenix 5 GPS Watch
Garmin makes a few different variants of the Fenix 5, including those made with Sapphire glass and the 5X, which includes mapping. This review covers the non-Sapphire glass Fenix 5.
Most paddlers will not need the extra durability of the Sapphire glass. If you’ve cracked the glass on a previous watch, maybe you should consider it, but otherwise, most people will be fine with the less expensive non-sapphire watch face.
The watch comes with a built-in heart rate monitor, which was only seen on the upgraded version of the previous generation of Garmin GPS wearables. This is a great addition for keeping track of your ideal exertion range and making training most effective.
Only the Fenix 5X comes with mapping functionality. Maps aren’t really that important while kayaking, but if you see yourself using the watch for activities like hiking, upgrading to the 5X might be a good choice. The Fenix 5X also differs from the 5 in that it has a larger face to accommodate the display of this mapping software.
The non-Sapphire glass model does not come with Wi-Fi, but it still has USB and Bluetooth connectivity, which should be sufficient for most users (and keeps the price down a little).
The watch has a fantastic battery life, with 24 hours in GPS mode (only used when you’re working out) and two weeks in its smart watch mode.
The user interface is pretty easy to use; just click the bottom button on the left side of the watch to scroll through the different functions. Being able to easily switch functions is critical to controlling a GPS watch; you don’t want to be spending a bunch of time fiddling with the watch when you’re trying to paddle.
The biggest downside of this watch may be its appearance. If you were looking for something fashionable, this is not the watch for you. It’s large and utilitarian looking, with visible screws fastening a chunky base. It was designed for form, not function. On a positive note, the bands are easy to switch out and require no tools.
While this review is aimed at kayakers, a GPS watch can be used for a number of other activities, like running, hiking, swimming, or cycling. The Fenix 5 works exceptionally well for each of them.
Garmin also makes a more accurate chest strap heart monitor that can be paired with the watch. It adds around $150 to the price tag, but is invaluable for athletes or even weekend warriors who want to really get into the data of their workouts. Chest straps are more accurate than even the best wrist monitors, so if you really want to delve into the data, you’ll want one of these.
Definitely the Best Gps Watch for Kayakers
The Fenix 5 is a great choice for kayakers who are looking for the absolute best GPS watch on the market. It has excellent functionality, with its only major downside being that it looks too functional.
For those who need extra durability or greater navigational functionality, there are upgraded models. You also know that you’re buying a quality piece of equipment with Garmin – they’ve been making great GPS technology for decades.