Finding which watch to watch for wandering around in the mountains could mean the difference between earning a skull and not. With what’s available today, I can only wish I had this kind of technology back when I first participated in the Death Race, not that it didn’t exist, but battery life was poorer as was I. Breadcrumbs, route planning, elevation data, there is so much incredible information that can be derived from these sophisticated GPS focused watches.
Now, some of you might be wondering, can I buy an Apple Watch and just use that? Probably, but really it’s not the right piece of equipment for this type of endeavor. When you are out in the woods, wandering around, trying to survive the misery that the Death Race organizers are serving up for you, you’ll want to know you have a reliable GPS reading and breadcrumbs to get back to where you started should you ever get separated from the pack.
Not all watches are made the same, and not all GPS trackers are the same, some have a much higher ping rate than others. Some have built-in intelligent battery modes that automatically change ping rate to allow the battery to last anywhere from 25 to 120 hours, some have built-in music storage, finding the right one for you is more a matter of preferences more than anything else. Personally, I will always choose the Finnish-made Suunto products over Garmin any day of the week but, I can understand why some prefer Garmin’s more personalized features. Both companies are respectable and reputable companies when it comes to GPS watches, so we won’t bother going outside them for the purposes of this post.
Below you’ll find my chosen selection of watches that would be most suitable for tracking and recording your experience at the Death Race. If there ever is another like the 2014 Year of the Explorer, I’d love to see the total miles covered and all the circles that a run and laps crawled from participants watch data. Before we review the watches, let’s take a look at some of the most important features for a watch to have when it comes properly tracking a Death Race.
What Makes a Good Death Race Watch?
Battery Life – This is obviously the most important and critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to selecting a sufficient device for tracking the Death Race. Clocking in on average at over 50 hours of endurance, you can expect you’ll need a GPS watch that can endure as long, if not longer, than you. Finding a GPS watch with a battery that can get through an entire Death Race might be the only truly critical factor you have to consider, everything else is trivial if the battery won’t make it until the endgame.
Accurate GPS – Having an accurate GPS reading and route tracking could provide a massive advantage at the Death Race. If you’re able to know where you’re going and where you’ve been, it can save a ton anxiety from ever surfacing. Trust me, there are a few times I could have massively benefited from owning one of these GPS watches when I was participating in my share of Death Races.
Breadcrumbs – Along with the ability to GPS track comes the ability to leave breadcrumbs, any good GPS tracking watch will be able to provide you with a trail of breadcrumbs you can follow back to your starting point should you ever find yourself totally lost and in need of retracing your steps, you’ll want a watch that makes this easy to do.
Customization – Most quality GPS watches today allow you the ability to customize your sports and the screens they display when you are in your activity tracking mode. This will allow you to display critical elements like, elevation gained, distance traveled, current heart rate, elevation loss, total time elapsed, and so forth. Make sure your watch is customizable to your taste, after all, what good is all this data if you can’t see the data you care to see.
Comfort – If you’re going to wear it for 60 or so hours, you want it to be comfortable, otherwise that’ll be on more thing to irritate you in addition to the onslaught of physical and mental abuse you’re about to subject yourself to. Hey, remember, you paid to participate in this shitshow.
Suunto Ambit 3 Peak
This is easily one of the best mountaineering watches on the market and it has been since it’s release mid-2014. While it is a little dated in today’s world of color touchscreen smart watches, it’s a heavy hitter in the world of GPS watches with one of the most reliable and accurate systems still today. With the ability to stay alive as long as 200 hours on the 60-second interval, this watch can do everything you need for the Death Race. I see this as a very effective training device, especially when paired with the HR chest strap, the only reliable way to monitor your heart rate. If you’re looking for a premium watch at a lower price point, this is your diamond in the rough. When this watch debuted it was a $700 piece of technology, today you can snag one for $229. That’s quite the deal when you consider what you’re getting.
Suunto Spartan Ultra
Starting Price: $449 | Rating:
The Suunto Spartan Ultra is an unbelievably powerful watch, the only thing this is impressive GPS watch is lacking is the intelligent battery mode that it’s newer big brother, the Suunto 9 boasts. With a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal color screen, multiple watch faces for different purposes, tracking for every sport under the sun, and the best GSP tracking in the game, the Suunto Spartan Ultra provides you with the resilience, data, and breadcrumbs you need to survive a Death Race. The best part, you’ll look damn good while doing it. Never have I received more compliments than I have since owning the Copper Edition of this exquisite watch.
In the past year and a half of ownership, my Spartan Ultra has helped me navigate to the top of Mt. St. Helens, plan a 24-hour adventure race in Mt. Rainier National Park, and discover hundreds of other places that would have otherwise been scarier to navigate without a reliable GPS tracking, routing, and breadcrumb leaving device. With the right settings, this watch will last the entire Death Race, you’ll just have to make sure you don’t ping every minute. Did I mention its water resistant to 100 meters? You won’t have a need to worry if you find yourself taking a dip in one of the rivers near Riverside Farm.
Starting Price: $329 | Rating:
The Suunto 5 is Suunto’s newly introduced compact GPS watch designed to provide a significant amount of features into a smaller design than their usual design. The only issue with this option is you’ll be lacking battery life so you’ll have to smart about pausing your Death Race activity when you’re not moving around much, like when you’re busy chopping wood, or when you’re doing burpees in the same spot for three hours straight. The Suunto 5 can last up to 40 hours but it can track everything else, so if you’re on a slightly smaller budget but still want a quality GPS watch, this one will get through ALMOST everything you throw at it.
Suunto 9 Baro
Starting Price: $469 | Rating:
The Suunto 9 Baro is the cheapest top of the line Suunto watch I’ve ever seen released and I’ve been monitoring their watches closely since the original Suunto Ambit. I wish I waited for this to drop six months after I purchased my Suunto Spartan Ultra. The Suunto 9 Baro comes with everything that watch does with the added benefit of intelligent battery modes that change on the fly as needed based on your activity. They eliminate the need for you to preplan what kind of interval tracking your device will need to track your effort. Just make sure you purchase the barometer version, it’ll give you more accurate elevation data, and is more than worth it at this price point. For those who want a little more sophisticated look to their GPS watch can get the Suunto 9 Baro in the same copper look that my Spartan Ultra came in here.
Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire
Starting Price: $499 | Rating:
The Garmin Fenix 5X is much like the Suunto 5, capable of tracking many types of activities and both are very accurate at this point in the development of GPS tracking devices. The Garmin Fenix 5 is nowhere near the battery life of the Suunto products, lasting only 12 hours with GPS mode enabled, you’ll find it difficult to track the entire event, save you plug it into an external battery pack and store it in the top part of your ruck the entire event. Because of this watches poor battery life, I can only give it two rupees, otherwise, it’s a very capable watch. For a Death Race, it isn’t ideal.
Garmin Forerunner 945
Starting Price: $599 | Rating:
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is a quality multisport GPS watch which might be a little more suited for something like a Death Race. The Forerunner 945 will last up to 36 hours in GPS mode, so once again unable to do what the Suunto products can, still very capable. Much like the Suunto 5 you’ll probably have to pause a bunch to be able to get through an entire Death Race event.
SUUNTO 9 BARO
This is without question the ultimate Death Race watch, with its super intelligent battery and extra-long battery life, this watch can actually track your moves throughout an entire Death Race event. With the Suunto 9 Baro you’ll be able to get the most accurate reading and your battery won’t have to be recharged mid-race, plus, it can withstand the elements you’ll be up against.