Finland has a thing for making advanced training watches and devices. Polar Electro and competitor, Suunto both hail from this Nordic land. For as long as I can remember, Polar has been heralded as a leader in heart rate training devices. As electronics have gotten more and more compact, they have been able cram a whole lot more into their watches. The Polar Pacer Pro is one of their latest multi-sport watches that’s stacked with running features. Using it for trail running, cycling and indoor training, there’s a lot to love about this watch.
Polar Pacer Pro GPS Multisport Watch Features:
- MIP (memory-in-pixel) reflective color display
- Running power measurement
- Integrated barometer
- Polar Precision Prime™ OHR Technology optical heart rate tracking
- Sleep tracking
- Activity tracking
- Gorilla Glass 3.0 screen
- Built-in VO2 max analysis
- GPS with route tracking
- Up to 7 days on a single charge and 35 hours of active training
- MSRP: $299.95
All the metrics, all the time
While Apple Watches are ubiquitous, those who know opt for dedicated training watches. For athletes, there’s no need for all that clutter when all you really want is a purpose-built training companion. I’ve long-ditched my Apple Watch in favor of either the Wahoo ELEMNT Rival or the Polar Pacer Pro. With multi-day training ability and targeted performance monitoring, the Pacer Pro offers way more than the smartphone-on-my-wrist ever did.
Tops on that list is battery power. The Pacer Pro can go 4-5 days between charging — even when used for daily 45-minute training sessions. That alone should be reason to ditch the smart watch. I haven’t used it for continuous activity tracking, but Polar states that it can function for 35 continuous hours of training. Since we all value sleep more than breaking world records, that just means that you can go all day without worry. Something like SBT GRVL or the Park City Mid Mountain Marathon would be a breeze with this unit.
First off, let me go through some of the livability of this watch. Tops on that list is the comfortable, airy strap. It’s easy to adjust and fits nicely when worn snug for activities or a little loose as a daily driver. The form-factor is very compact and low-profile. With a brushed aluminum bezel and a bombproof Gorilla Glass 3.0 screen, there’s no sign of use after 7 months as a daily driver.
As I dig into the training functions, I’m going to level with you and say that I’m not covering every available feature, but only the ones that I used extensively for trail running, mountain biking, road biking and indoor training.
Trail running with the Pacer Pro
The local trails are my playground and I use them for trail running, mountain biking and gravel riding. Let’s all about the running-specific functions of the Polar Pacer Pro. Power measurement is a great way to measure your performance and output over time. It also helps understand if you are improving your fitness levels or not, based on comparative performance data. In recent years, I’ve tested running power via the Nurvv Smart Run Insoles, Wahoo ELEMNT Rival and now with the Pacer Pro.
The only problem with that is neither Polar nor Strava will show your Power Curve for running like they do for cycling. So, you’ll have to either use another tool or track progress manually. To make things even more challenging, the activity list views in Polar Flow don’t allow power to be displayed without tapping into each workout. It’s possible to export all workouts and do manual analysis, but I’ve found it all distilled in Strava’s “Fitness and Freshness” chart (requires a subscription). Filtering this down by running only, I can see my overall performance and fitness progress throughout the year. This algorithm behind this data is somewhat unknown (see Strava support), but it does analyze your heart rate and power output to come up with this information. That blended approach is only possible with running power meters — I just wish running power was a little more available for manual or advanced analysis.
Outside of the power data, you’ll find that the Pacer Pro has any number of custom screens and views for you to consume your data during and after your trail run. I’m a pretty simplistic guy while running, so pace, distance, HR zone, power and ascent data are all on the two screens I use. For all activity profiles, the data displayed can be personalized. Unlike the Wahoo ELEMNT Rival, you can’t change the viewable data during an activity, but it is fairly easy to change before or afterwards for future activities.
If your running varies between trail, road and treadmill, you can have different profiles for each one. And, also connect to various sensors used with each specific activity. If you prefer the heart rate accuracy of a chest strap or the cadence/power provided by a foot pod, you can also pair those items with the Pacer Pro.
Cycling with the Pacer Pro
For road, mountain or gravel riding, the Polar Pacer Pro is a great training tool. With that extended battery life, it can certainly last throughout an all-day adventure or lunch lap alike. I’ve been able to pair it up with various power meters (Wahoo POWRLINK Zero, Quarq DZero, etc.) on several bikes and it captures that data just fine for post-ride analysis. During the ride, it’s difficult to see your current data, but can be scanned during any breaks.
One bit of frustration with the Pacer Pro is around how it shares heart rate data. Sharing heart rate automatically is only compatible with gym exercise equipment, which uses specific protocols. To share heart rate data with a Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt or Hammerhead Karoo 2, you have to tap into the activity and specifically pair the HRM before beginning the activity. Often times, I would inadvertently forget to share heart rate data, only to have to cancel that activity, clear it and start again. I wish the Pacer Pro would simply broadcast my heart rate via Bluetooth automatically instead of requiring that extra step (that I almost always forget on the first try).
While the broadcasting feature does take some extra steps, it DOES offer it, which is more than some watches can. I have the Suunto Peak 9 Pro in review and it doesn’t broadcast heart rate data at all. I guess I’ll gladly take the capability offered by the Polar Pacer Pro. Again, this wasn’t a big deal for mountain biking, where I don’t use a head unit. It only comes into play for road and gravel riding where I use a separate head unit.
Overall livability and value
As with all heart rate tools, measurement is best if the watch or strap is tightened down snug. With the Pacer Pro, that’s tight enough that you can’t so you can’t slip your pinky under it. Occasionally, I also have to wet my skin to get initial measurements. Luckily, the flexible and airy watch strap remains comfortable and stretches with you — even when overly snug. Related to this, I have found the left buttons to be a little difficult to tap when worn on my left wrist (preferred), due to arm hair interference. To alleviate this, I most often tilt the watch away from my skin just a little before depressing those buttons. The tactility of the buttons are great
The menu structure is mostly intuitive (with the exception of heart rate broadcasting). I’ve been able to configure the watch on the device and then augment it with the Polar Flow iOS app, when needed. Syncing and maintaining a Bluetooth connection between the app and the Pacer Pro is a bit problematic. It works for a few days, then it just stops syncing. To fix this, I open the app, then force a sync by holding down the lower-left button. That almost always fixes the connection, but I have had to toggle Bluetooth on/off a couple of times to get it working again.
Integration with music controls is good and works well. Notifications are clunky and annoying. I wish I could configure the watch to only show text messages, but it pulls in all notifications from every app. It quickly became unbearable and I turned them off completely.
I haven’t had any data loss or glitches during activities, so I’d consider the Pacer Pro to be reliable. I did have one instance where the unit completely lost its brains and automatically performed a factory reset, but it wasn’t during an activity. There are infrequent firmware updates (maybe two so far), which is reflective of the maturity of Polar’s tech stack (or their lack of care… not sure which). Compared to Wahoo, their mobile app and their interfaces do leave something to be desired. Overall, they feel dated and limited, but are still data-rich.
Here are a few examples of clunky user interfaces that I’ve noticed:
- Verbiage on confirmation screens with green check and red x options are double negatives
- There’s no need to add the “current heart rate” label on the watch face above the heart rate — it adds clutter
- Battery level is only viewable when raising the watch and kicking off the backlight
- It’s obvious that not all text has been translated by English speakers (“Battery low. Charge.”)
Daily fitness tracking
With long battery life, the Pacer Pro is a great tool for daily activity tracking as well as sleep tracking. I find that I will wear it for about 4 days and nights before charging it overnight. Sleep tracking is adequate and provides a view into your recovery and sleep patterns. As far as fitness levels, I do find the cardio load status to be helpful and motivating. when my watch says I’m “detraining,” I feel like I need to step up my game to pull out of that zone.
Sep 2023 Update: After a little hiatus from using the Pacer Pro, I went back to it after testing the Suunto 9 Peak Pro and I had forgotten just how much I like this watch. It is lightweight and comfortable, with crisp and clear metrics on the display.
- Endless data configuration with hundreds of activity types
- Running power and cadence
- Additional fitness tools for FTP, Vo2 Max, etc.
- Training tools for fueling
- Low-profile and compact design
- Durable materials
- Stretchy and comfortable band
- Overall a reliable activity and sleep tracker
- Very easy to live with
- Good battery life (4-5 days)
- Strava Live Segments support
- Full GPS tracking with navigation and “back to home”
- Vertical, HR and GPS feels accurate
- Notification preferences should be more granular
- Infrequent updates
- HR broadcasting is clunky, but it has it
- Some interfaces aren’t intuitive or obviously not translated well
- Regularly loses connection with Polar Flow app
The Bottom Line: Polar Pacer Pro
While I’m still digging into all the features of the Polar Pacer Pro, it does everything I need it to. As I vary my activities from trail running to cycling and hiking, it reliably tracks my performance metrics and interacts with my various setups. There are some clunky experiences in the watch and Polar Flow app, but I’ve come to expect that from many of these training watches since English isn’t their first language. Overall, the Pacer Pro is a solid, mid-priced training watch for running, cycling and indoor training.
Buy Now: Available on Amazon