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Maximising your GPS battery-life

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Ever been half way through a run or even worse a multi-day hike or alpine mission and realised your watch is going to run out of battery? I certainly have! You might feel a sense of disappointment that you won’t know how far you went, or that you can't share your adventure with friends and family. Or maybe it'll throw off your training log and make it harder to track your training load and ensure you strike the right balance between training and recovery.

Over the years, I've experimented with how to get the most out of various GPS watch batteries when undertaking an activity that is waaaaay too long for my watch to last right the way through in its normal operating settings. Happily, there are a bunch of little tweaks you can make to increase your battery life.

What determines watch battery life?

Every GPS watch has its own battery life determined primarily by its:

  1. Hardware (i.e. battery capacity and computing chip)

  2. Usage history (i.e. age and number of charges)

  3. Battery management software (i.e. brand & firmware)

  4. How you use it!

Aside from buying a new watch, the first three are pretty hard to improve. Fortunately, there is lots of scope to improve your watch’s battery life with a few little tricks.

Simple tricks for extending your battery life

On longer trips, I want to make sure my battery charge lasts the distance. Here are my top tips:

  1. Turn off your battery back light: In most watches the back light is one of the major sources to energy use – when in use. Some watches will automatically turn on the back light if it is night. This can generally be deactivated under settings.

  2. Turn off notifications and bluetooth: Depending on your watch it may spend a fair bit of power using bluetooth to pair to your phone. It will use more power the more is sent over bluetooth. You can manage this by turning off most or all notifications and by either disabling the bluetooth on your watch or phone.

  3. Turn off alerts/vibrations: Watch vibration and noises associated with notifications and alerts also use power. I usually turn off all lap and other alerts when really trying to maximise my battery life. This can generally be done under settings or activity settings.

  4. Turn off/down sensors: Smart watches can come with a wide array of internal and external sensors like Optical heart rate sensors. Turning these off or reducing the frequency of these sensors is another way to reduce your watch’s power usage and increase your battery life. External sensors (and the associated bluetooth connection) will usually use more than built in sensors.

  5. Avoid navigation mode: Some watches have built in maps and a navigation mode where you can see where you are in the map and your GPS trace. This is power intensive, so avoid this view (look on your phone or a paper maps instead) if you're trying to maximise your watch battery life. If you do need to check it, do it quickly then go back to a different view.

  6. Change your GPS settings: Depending on your watch there will be a few different ways to do this. You are trying to reduce the ping rate (how often your watch checks your location using GPS), and use less energy intensive GPS modes. COROS have published a good article on selecting what GPS mode to use.

Hopefully this has been helpful!

Buying a new GPS watch based on battery life

It may be that even with these tricks you still can't ekk out enough battery life from your old watch to match the missions you're doing these days. If that is the case, it might be time for a new GPS watch. There are a few considerations to make when buying a watch related to battery:

  1. Battery size – the bigger the battery the longer it will last all things being equal. Like other batteries, a watch battery size can be defined in milliamp x hours (mAH). This is sometimes defined in the specs sheets, otherwise you'll have to rely on the 'expected battery life'.

  2. Brand – each of the major GPS watch brands have their own battery management software. The better this software the longer the same watch battery will last. As of 2022, COROS is the clear favourite (Which is why I’m so stoked we’re sponsored by them), followed by Garmin, followed by Suunto.

  3. Other features – the more other sensors and functionality your watch has the more these will drain your battery. That's not to say you shouldn't get the top of the range watch with all of the sensors (they usually also come with a bigger battery) – just make sure you'll use them at least some of the time 😉 otherwise you may be able to save a few $$ while also getting a comparable or even better battery life.

Other Material

COROS has a handy article on maximising their watch batteries, which is also applicable to other watch brands.

COROS and Suunto both have handy comparison tools:

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