Thursday, November 18, 2021

2021 Holiday Gift Guide and Mini Reviews: GPS Watches from Garmin, Polar, Suunto and COROS. Lighting from Petzl and Kogalla

Article by Sam Winebaum, Jeff Valliere, and Peter Stuart

2021 Holiday Gift Guide & Mini Reviews: GPS Watches from Garmin, Polar, Suunto and COROS. Lighting from Petzl and Kogalla.

Please help support RTR this holiday season. RoadTrailRun may earn a small commission from affiliate shopping links in this article.  

Garmin Forerunner 55 ($200)

Value, legibility, and essential run features.

Garmin’s basic run watch has just about every feature a runner needs: very accurate GPS and wrist HR, customizable data fields, long battery life, safety alert/features and especially a highly legible screen on the go.

At $200 it is very light on the wallet and on the wrist at 33g with only the Coros Pace 2 (RTR Review) a few grams lighter. The light weight and small size for sure contribute to its heart rate accuracy and comfort. 

As far as smart watch features and health tracking, it includes all the Garmin standards such as heart rate stats, steps, calories, sleep quality, VO2 max and race time estimates, Body Battery (recovery), weather, notifications, calendar, music control, incident Detection and Assistance (with phone in the mix) and recent run totals. All are accessible in summary and in detail from a handy single screen as widgets.

Fully capable as a training watch with most commonly used data fields available, it only leaves out some of the more sophisticated physiological evaluation metrics, navigation and usable altimeter (although it clearly has one as its data appears after runs, and some ”extra”  battery life. 

It still has a very respectable 20 hours training time and my initial run test indicates it definitely meets that spec. My initial all day smart watch battery test which consumed 5% of the battery over 22 hours indicates an 18 day battery life, exceeding the 14 day spec.

RTR Review

Comparable to the COROS Pace 2 also a fully capable watch at $200 with somewhat longer 30 hour battery life, visible altimeter, a few grams lighter but not as legible a screen (RTR Review)

Shop for Garmin Forerunner 55

Running Warehouse HERE

Moosejaw HERE


Amazon HERE

Coros Vertix 2 ($700)

Long, long battery life, multi sport versatility and adventure uses. Now with topo and road maps on board.

There is no question the defining feature of the Vertix 2 is its battery life. Even before getting to extended modes in  21.5 days of use and almost 22 hours of GPS activity tracking in its best all satellites in use mode and still have 19% battery left. At my activity level day in day out the battery should go about 26 days before needing a recharge. Its standard mode activity tracking battery life is 140 hours. No one else comes close. 

What does all this battery life stuff mean as most of us won’t be running for 140 hours or even more in extended modes, up to 240 hours in Max mode and even 35 hours of activity with on board music playing . Well you can pause and resume a multi day hike and as is the case with me you may forget where the charger cord is!

GPS accuracy has been on par with other watches.  Surprisingly for such a large watch ( wrist heart rate accuracy has been adequate even in cooler weather and related, due to its wide 26mm band, sleeping with it is decently comfortable.

The Vertix 2 features a redesigned Digital Dial which controls moving from screen to screen and actions such as start stop run by pressing.

The brand new topo and road map features (also coming to the Apex Pro RTR Review) are more than adequate and sure to improve in screen refresh and potentially labeling of summits and roads as some others do as well as contrast in colors between lines and features.

There are loads of other features on board including music control, an ECG sensor for HRV, Pulse Ox sensor, and  even a multi pitch climbing mode, deep canyons and city skyscraper mode using all satellite networks in dual frequency. It is reasonably priced at $700 for a watch with a titanium bezel, sapphire crystal lens, 1.4” display and slightly better than standard 280 x 280 screen  resolution.

Comparable to the Gramin Enduro (RTR Review)  at $200 more in similar Titanium and the same price in heavier steel. The Enduro has half the standard GPS battery life at 70 hours. It has no topo maps relying on breadcrumb navigation. It’s screen is more legible in bright conditions.

Also comparable to the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro series (RTR Review)  which have considerably shorter battery lives but in my view more detailed topo maps which include place names. The Fenix 6 Pro is now on sale for $200-$250 off regular pricing of $650-$800 and more so they are  for now a better bargain.

Shop for COROS Premium GPS Watches including Vertix 2


Running Warehouse HERE

Amazon HERE

Moosejaw HERE

Polar Vantage M2 ($300)  & Vantage V2 ($500)

Sam: If tracking long term recovery and cardiac fitness trends are a priority,  nobody does it better than Polar although the others are trying to close in on the pioneer in the field. I always have a Polar on one wrist as unlike any other watch or system I know of, when you wake up you get the complete evaluation of your Recharge (recovery) on the watches with simple scores and all the details. 

No digging around for the phone and app to see what the day might look like for you while of course the data is also synched. The screens above illustrate my Recharge after arriving at altitude in Utah, into a different time zone,  not getting much sleep the night before and I guess the stress preparing this and several other gift guide articles! My wife and I both closely follow and try to adjust training and habits based on what our Nightly Recharge indicates.

Your Nightly Recharge is just one of several swipe touch screen or button on the Vantage V2 and  button only on the Vantage M2 navigated watch face views of key data: altitude and compass, weather, training load by hours in the current week, cardiac load 7 vs 28 days, music control, daily activity, dawn-dusk times, show heart rate, access to completed runs and all other workouts, and Fit Spark training and cross training suggestions.

Keeping track of where you are in terms of fitness and recovery, both watches even suggest timed core, workouts and other exercises with helpful animations.


The web version of Polar Flow is incredibly detailed in its long term analysis of your training and fitness trends.

The Vantage M2 and Vantage V2 are quite similar. See them Compared in detail here. 

Basically the Vantage V2 adds navigation via breadcrumb maps with turn by turn directions, compass and altimeter (including data right on one of the several touch screen swipeable views including weather forecast with details below the watch face view as above), Strava Segments and a few more sophisticated fitness tests.

GPS, wrist HR, and battery life (40 hours in best mode for the V2) are on par with others here for most runners’ needs and I think both are fairly priced given the quality of the watches and especially the depth of the training, cardiac, and recovery ecosystem.   

RTR Vantage V2 Review

Shop for Polar Vantage V2 and M2

Amazon HERE

Moosejaw HERE


Suunto 9 Peak ($569-$700)

Jeff V:  The Suunto 9 Peak is an impressive leap from Suunto this year, retaining and even adding to the features of the S9 Baro, including its long battery life, and shrinking it down to a very thin, compact and exceptionally stylish package.  This is a huge departure from the notoriously thick and chunky GPS watch designs of the past and is even thinner, lighter and more comfortable than my Garmin Fenix 6S Pro. 

I appreciate the accuracy, ease of use, good battery life and battery sipping option of the surprisingly accurate Fused Track.  

Comfort is top notch with the new “Apple” style band, as well as the thin and light design.  RTR Review

Shop for the Suunto 9 Peak


Backcountry HERE

Petzl Aktik Core Headlamp ($70)

Peter: Adjustable light, rechargeable, stays on my head and also has a setting where it auto dims when light comes straight at it. Doesn’t survive well when you leave it on your jeep hood and it flies off onto the road and another car runs it over, FYI…

Jeff V: The Actik Core headlamp is one of my favorites, as it is light, bright, affordable and has an easily rechargeable/interchangeable Core battery pack.  I also appreciate its compact size that can easily and unnoticeably fit into most run pockets or hydration vests, plus the light weight on the head is perfect for comfort and no bounce.  If you want more than twice the amount of light with only a 30 gram weight addition and all of the same positive attributes, plus reactive technology, check out the Petzl Swift RL.  Both of these are my go to headlamps.  RTR Review of Actik Core and Swift RL

Shop for Petzl Actik Core


Backcountry HERE

Running Warehouse US HERE

Moosejaw HERE

Amazon  HERE

Kogalla UltRA ultra trail light ($180 with single battery Pack 1)

Jeff V:  I would also be doing the running/outdoor adventuring community a disservice by not mentioning the Kogalla RA when discussing lighting.  The RA has absolutely transformed my night running to the point where I hardly even care/notice whether or not it is day or night.  

I previously had a bit of a tough time running at night with “normal” headlamps and lighting, but with the warm, bright and broad beam of the RA at torso level, plus 5 LEDs that magically prevent any sort of odd bounce or juddery sensation, it is like having portable sunshine along. 

Add to that nearly endless mounting options and versatile battery configurations (it uses a detachable battery pack which can also be used to charge other devices), increaseing the versatility and overall awesomeness.  Coupled with a bright headlamp for long distance spotting, I no longer have any problem running at night.  If you do not already have a Kogalla RA and you run/adventure at night, don’t walk, but run to your computer and order one. RTR Review

Kogalla UltRA Ultra Trail Light 


15% Discount by entering code: RoadTrailRun

Apple iPhone 12/13 Mini:

Jeff V:  While not an item that I have reviewed, I feel obligated to extol the virtues of such a small phone.  I have previously owned the iPhone 6 (a decent size in retrospect), the iPhone 8 (good size, but heavier than the 6) and then the iPhone 11, which was an amazing phone with a great camera, but it was massive in size/weight and I could never get used to its bulk, whether it was for running (did not fit well or at all in run vest or clothing pockets), or for day to day use, I was always aware of its brick like presence in my pocket.  When the iPhone 12 Mini came out, I knew I had to trade up and am so glad I did.  Everything about the 12 Mini is on par with the larger models (though some complain about battery life), but the super small size and light weight is a huge advantage for me as a runner, as I can easily tuck it into most of my run short pockets and easily hides in any hydration vest pocket and I hardly know I have it along.  Battery life has not been an issue for me, as I am a light user, almost always have a supplemental battery along (such as the Kogalla’s above)  if I am gone all day and am good about keeping it charged up.  The iPhone 13 Mini however has increased the battery life.  If you run and are up for a new phone, I would highly recommend going with the Mini.

Sam: I recently bought the iPhone 13 Pro trading in a 12 Pro and the yet again improved camera quality, speed, screen legibility and battery life is well worth it. 

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Check out our other 2021 Holiday Gift Guides for Runners and Savings Page! HERE

Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes others. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content

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