Best Watches for Running Reviewed
The evolution of the athletic watch really is an amazing thing. These devices have come a long way from bulky satellite watches. Modern models are sleek, accurate, and packed full of handy features. As the market has grown and technology advanced, the range of watches available has increased. Once upon a time, running watches were only sold in one expensive price range. Runners today have multiple price levels to choose from, each with their own corresponding set of features. When choosing the level that works for you, there a few key points to consider. These include style, value, features, use, and comfort. These are the criteria we used when we looked at the market and compiled our list of the ten best running watches.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 19 hrs of research
Amazing battery life
Sharp GPS abilities
Smart Device Compatible
- Garmin Forerunner 935
- Suunto 9
- Apple Series 4
- Samsung Galaxy
- Fitbit Ionic
- POLAR Vantage V
- Garmin Vívoactive 3
- Tomtom Spark 3 Cardio
- Amazfit Stratos Multisport
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Other Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
10 Top Running Watches
1. Garmin Forerunner 935
Amazing battery life
Sharp GPS abilities
Smart Device Compatible
Software may occasionally glitch
Notification replies may lag
If you want all the bells and whistles, this is the best running watch is for you. Garmin is a leader in GPS technology and GPS-based devices. This specialized triathlon watch for runners has a ton of useful features for hardcore training. While it really shines for triathlons, most any sport will benefit from its use. Even with all the features and highly technical functionality of the Forerunner 935, Garmin still managed to avoid the bulky designs of the past. The Forerunner 935 only comes in at around 49 grams so it won't hold you back while exercising and it is easy enough to wear around town.Read more
The minimal weight of this watch really is astounding given its terrific functionality. It pretty much does everything and anything you'd need it to do, including wi-fi connectivity. The straps are extremely comfortable too. So much so that you could honestly sleep in it if that's your style.
While it works like a charm for triathlon training, the Forerunner 935 watch for runners can do so much more. Its wide range of features means that you can easily use this for biking, hiking, running, and swimming as separate sports. This versatility makes Garmin's model a hit for avid athletes of all disciplines.
The Forerunner 935 is considered an advanced product so you have to expect a matching price tag to reflect that. However, you can use it for pretty much any sport. The GPS capability and the heart rate monitoring are features you would expect to get in a high-quality product. So is the ability to work with your smart devices, which this product does. The barometer and altimeter are key for running, hiking, camping at various altitudes. And, even if the GPS gets spotty for some reason, you won't get lost. Not with the built-in manual compass.
2. Suunto 9
Rugged and Durable
Withstands Extreme Temperatures
Perfect for Adventures
Few App Connection Options
Are you a survivalist or adventurer and need your gear to first and foremost be durable? If you said yes, then you want the Suunto 9 running watch. The 120-hour battery life will keep up with you and the solid construction won't break down on you when you are far away from civilization. Even if you get caught up in your adventure and forget to charge the battery, the software has a reminder mechanism that will actually tell you when it is time to plug in and charge up.Read more
This is a great light watch that has boasts an excellent battery life. 120 hours, for most people, means up to a week of regular use before the Suunto 9 needs a charge. It can also be used for a number of activities. That can mean cycling, running, or a day spent hiking in the woods.
And though there are a couple of apps that work with this device, the Suunto App is the way to go. The other app is Movescount, which is said to be closing down by 2020. But continued use is not the only upside to going with the Suunto app. It is easy to work with and planning routes isn't hard to figure out.
You will get a good amount of feedback from all your activities with the Suunto 9 running watch. The wrist band is comfortable on both fairly small and larger bones structures. Should you have to tighten it up to keep it in place, it's not one that will dig into your wrists and irritate your skin. The Suunto 9 also boasts a clean and streamlined design which makes it easy to wear at night should you want to use the sleep tracking feature.
The wrist sensor offers fairly accurate feedback which may eliminate the need to purchase a use a chest strap, though some users still opt to use both. The features are almost endless on this product which means it might be worth your while to watch some of the many YouTube videos offer in-depth guidance. It may seem unusual but they will help you make the most of all that it offers.
3. Apple Series 4
Fun color options
Very large screen
Waterproofed for swimming
Incompatible with other pedometers
If you are a gadget person and especially if you are an Apple enthusiast, you will like this option. The Apple Series 4 running watch has a very large display and a nice number of built-ins. There are various workouts you can download so you can keep your exercise routine interesting and have the guidance to know what you are doing when you get into it. It is also a great runner's option with both cadence and pace feedback. When you want to show off how many miles you logged, you can share that information with friends and family just as they can share their information with you. Which may just keep you honest regarding your workout routine.Read more
The Apple Series 4 is a very solid investment, as this can be your phone and your fitness tracker all in one. The sound quality has been improved since the last model of Apple watch. It is now much louder and clearer. The cool thing is that as soon as you go out for your run or get into a workout session, this watch can sense it and it will react with features that track your heart rate as well as the workout you are engaging in.
If you have a hard time sticking with an exercise program, this device may be the solution. You can set your own goals and track them to see if you have met them, how close you are, or if you are slacking. You can't get any better than that without working with a personal trainer to keep you accountable.
The band is made from rubber and fits on the wrist comfortably. It isn't stiff and feels very smooth on your skin.
This is a watch that can track all your activities, even if you want to go swimming since it is waterproof. All those calories you burn off during your exercise sessions will be tracked and easy to see so you feel good each time you exercise and get your burn on! Like most Apple products, it is a monetary investment, but that's nothing new for Apple product aficionados. It also comes with a protective case that helps you protect your investment.
4. Samsung Galaxy
Tracks sleep patterns
Tracks heart rate
Software is older
Spotty on stair steps
Offered in three really pretty color options, this light, sleek, and the highly functional piece will do everything you want in a fitness device and then some. The Samsung Galaxy allows you to customize your whole experience. If you want certain notification but not others depending on what you are doing for your day, you can filter what the watch shows you.Read more
The Galaxy watch for running is a smaller watch that really reduces bulk. It can fit under your shirts and clothing when you are wearing it during your daily activities. When you get into your workout you can pump it up and not have to worry about the watch getting in the way or distracting you from your goals. The Galaxy is another comfortable option that can even be worn to bed without disrupting your sleep or causing your skin to itch. It comes with two straps and switching between the two is a simple process.
Its features are pretty spot-on including the heart rate functionality. So if you are really hitting it too hard, this product can actually sense that and ping you to calm down a bit. The other wellness-focused feature of this watch is its ability to sense when you are sleeping. Instead of continuing to beep and produce annoying indicators that can wake you up, it will sense you're sleeping and stop notifications until you wake up.
5. Fitbit Ionic
Great battery power
Tracks sleep patterns
Limited active screen use
Not call compatible
Fitbit's Ionic is their answer to a smartwatch. Well, a hybrid really. The Ionic has smart functionality with its iconic fitness tracking abilities. The battery life is not too shabby and some of its features make it comparable to Apple offerings. While this is a hybrid, this brand fo running watches still focuses on its main niche, and that is fitness tracking. So it is like the Fitbit of old with a side of a smartwatch.Read more
It really comes down to what exactly you are looking for. If your main goal is a smartwatch then this product has the functionality. But it is not its strongest feature set and you might be better off with one of the other options on this list. However, if your main goal is health and activities tracking and you like a bit of the smartwatch ability intertwined with that, then you have found the ideal product. It is Fitbit after all. They are the leader in fitness tracking devices.
You might appreciate the Ionic's look but it's not just all about a pretty face. Its trackers are accurate and the battery life is first-rate. The sleep monitoring abilities are pretty neat and can help you improve your sleep schedule. You may even be tempted to play around with oils or varying up the temperature in your room to see the difference it makes in the Ionic's records. It is pricey but not over the top and the price makes sense give the product's range of features.
6. POLAR Vantage V
Easily set up
Accurate heart rate
May feel bulky
Screen may seem dim
If you are serious about training and are always looking for the next race or trying beat your last time, the Polar Vantage V watch for runners is a very useful tool. It can work for all sports and has the capability to monitor your progress as well as help you train better and smarter so you can continue to improve. It is light and the design is quite svelte.Read more
While the Vantage V is good for just about any activity where you want accurate heart rate monitoring, it really shines on the trail and for long distance running. The battery lasts and lasts, so you can go a good distance without stopping to recharge. It also measures your power so you can develop and maintain constant stamina.
The Vantage V is also a comfortable option that you can wear to bed. It's also nice enough to wear at work, you can keep a handle on your pulse all day and all night. It even has the ability to share information with your friends and family which, in today's age of social networking, makes this product fit right in. The Polar Flow app allows you to choose from a large list of activities and GPS works smoothly through it.
7. Garmin Vívoactive 3
Multiple app compatibility
Fitness monitoring capabilities
Pairs with phones
Loading music may lag
Music playback quality varies
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 runner's watch is a durable option with a decent battery. It is also comfortable to wear with easy to use bands that tuck right inside themselves so you don't have the extra volume on your wrist. You also have the option of buying different bands and interchanging them as you desire. The touch screen is sensitive enough to work well even when using a screen protector.Read more
This is a running watch you can fall in love with. If you are a runner, and especially if you are training for a competition, the Vivoactive 3 will provide you with all the tools you need to get your program on track. You can easily customize your activity and set heart rate target zones for any activities you want to track. You have the ability to set up distance alerts and reminders that will ensure you stay hydrated.
This product is on the more affordable range for sport-specific watches which will really help those on a budget. It has a nice universal design so you can wear it all day without it looking uber sporty. The comfortable band also means that wearing it around the clock won't get uncomfortable.
8. Tomtom Spark 3 Cardio
Heart rate monitor
Pace tracking is spotty
Display limited while active
If you are looking for a moderately priced option that is easy to use and has a nice battery life, the Tomtom Spark 3 Cardio is a product to consider. Anyone would be happy with this running watch. It's one that you can play music on without using your phone. There are headphones that you can use but they aren't necessary if you prefer open-air listening. It is also waterproof for your favorite warm-weather outdoor activities like swimming.Read more
The Spark 3 Cardio is a great running companion with solid navigational abilities and an intuitive design. It is not a complicated product that requires tons of YouTube videos or reading to understand which makes it easy to get started. This is a product that offers you the ability to check the metrics that are most important to you while you are on the move. It also gives you the updates and feedback you need to make adjustments.
The battery life is pretty good. You can make it a significant distance without having to recharge during your run. When it does need a charge, it can take one quickly when you are finished with a workout. This feature is essential for those that prefer distance tuns. Overall, this is a really fun watch for runners to work with and it comes with a moderate price tag.
9. Amazfit Stratos Multisport
Tracks distance, and calories
Uses Strava for sharing
The volume is limited
Need a fair price for a multi-sports watch? The Amazfit Stratos Multisport can do the job. It has moderate functionality and it is really simple to set up. The software is easy to learn and intuitive to use. It will track your activities and your sleep. You can set your own goals and keep an eye on your progress. In short, it has just about everything you'll need!Read more
For those that are looking for a budget-friendly product that still has the features needed to give you sport-specific tracking and capabilities, this is a nice option. The Stratos Multisport has the connectivity to pair with your phone, you have your basic functions like GPS, and you have heart monitoring abilities. The range of fitness apps is pretty good and you can play your music on top of all that.
The screen is easy to use and clear to see. It does offer a larger, sporty look, but it's not overwhelmingly huge. Additionally, the water resistance will allow you to wear it in the lake, pool, or out in the rain.
Three color options
Smart device compatible
Short battery life
Ginsy is the most affordable option on our list and one of the most affordable runner's watch you are going to find anywhere on the market, Ginsy downright makes a great, simple watch. You simply cannot beat the price tag, and you still get most of what you really need at its core. It offers enough style and minimal bulk to wear it throughout your day.Read more
This product is very easy to charge and using it is a breeze. You get pedometer functionality and heart rate support. There is also the ability to track health features in a sleek package. It is waterproof and sweatproof so you don't have to worry about getting into your workout on land or in the water.
There is a little bit maintenance required as you may want to periodically clean the sensor ever so gently. But that is about it. Ginsy's running watch is durable and can hold up to consistent workouts, which you can't beat for the cost. This is a straightforward value of a fitness tracker that still offers a bit more than baseline models.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
Choosing the right watch for your needs can take a bit of research and time. There is a good amount to consider, including understanding what your own needs may be. The way in which you plan to use the watch, what features are necessary, like GPS-functionality, for instance, . Will you be using the watch when you are just running or will you be using it daily, or for other physical activities? When you have a good idea of how and where you are going to use your watch and what you need out of it, you can more easily narrow down your search and find the most suitable option for you.
There are two basic styles that you will be choosing from, advanced models and basic models. What is the difference between the two? Basically, the more simple the watch the fewer features it will offer and it should come with a lower price tag. This is compared to more advanced options that will be much techier, have many more features and capabilities, and as a result, will tend to have a larger price tag.
When you are looking at watches it can be easy to get stars in your eyes and be taken by the high priced, fancier options.
But do you really need to spend that amount of money for all that functionality? It is an important question. You may get excited at all the features but in reality, spend a lot on them and really not every uses them. So, you may want to first lay down some basics as to what you really need and what you are looking for. Ask yourself, how often will you wear the watch and for what purposes will you mostly be using it for? If you are only going to use it a couple of times per week for a quick run here and there your needs could be much different from using one daily for everything from your workouts to your daily errands. Some advanced features that are built-in to modern watches nowadays can be very advanced. You may see shrewd options like contactless payments or even barometric altimeters. Gyroscopes are incorporated into some models and for the most convenient ease of use check out options that have voice-activated controls which are really nice. Believe it or not, there are models that can actually order your morning cup of joe from Starbucks for you. That is pretty insane. Others can sync your full music library, give you access to wireless uploads of routes, or even create customized programs to help you better meet your fitness goals.
While all that sounds great, if you just need a watch for the time, maybe heart rate and steps, you are likely looking at a more basic and simple model. Not everyone needs all these functionalities in their watches, as most people have multiple devices that can do a lot of these things already. There's no need to duplicate. This is in contrast to others who like to have the top of their device of the line and ultra-capable. Whichever style you need, getting a grip on your requirements is a good starting point to looking at all the brands and models you can choose from.
Value is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to these devices. The higher-end models are so much more than just watches, they are personal assistants, phones, and computers. For these advanced features, you are going to pay more and perhaps, the cost to get these capabilities would be well worth it and make sense in terms of value because these are functions that you need and will use often. Features that can make your life immensely easier. Others may see all these features unnecessary and the high price tag doesn't come with much value because they wouldn't the full capacity that the watch can provide.
When it comes to cost, budget options are going to be around $100 or less. They may be budget but they aren't just basic.
They can do a variety of things including track time, distance, speed, pace, and many also have additional accessories or can be paired with apps that can track the heart rate and monitor food pods. Even in this category, you can find models that will sync with computers so you can gain access to downloaded workouts.
You will be looking at approximately $100-300 for mid-range options which will offer GPS functionality, heart rate monitors, and most of the other capabilities the budget models offer. They sync with computers, and the battery power you are going to get will be much stronger. Many times, you will be able to program training support features into them.
High-end options will be in excess of the $300 mark. These will be able to provide all accessories and functionalities that are compatible with GPS. They can be programmed, have customizable screens and can be activity specific in their functionality. If you are a swimmer, for instance, you could find a model that would track distance covered or even count the number of strokes you take. They can offer daily assistance like the ability to use the phone for calls or texting. They can also have computer functionality such as access to emails and the ability to search the internet.
There are a ton of features that we could get down into the nitty-gritty on but the time it would take to cover so many technological applications and very specialized options would simply take too long. Therefore, to keep the information concise, here are the general categories you will most likely see all these applications fall into. These categories should cover the majority of the features you may run into.
Extended Battery-life, GPS location abilities, and other sensors that are even more advanced and detailed than GPS such as thermometers or accelerometers can be found. The ability to tell direction with a built-in compass is very helpful when you are exercising outside. You may also find barometric altimeters.
This is what you'd want in a model that can track and record information such as pace the number of steps you take. This information can help you monitor your fitness level and your progression over time. Standard features like a watch to tell time, or the ability to track distance and pace are going to be standard on most all products. Calorie expenditure, or elevation measurements, even cadence measurements are some of the other more niche and advanced features you may look at if you are engaging in a particular activity like rock climbing or swimming for example. The list of what can be tracked and recorded doesn't end there.
Maps and Memory
Some watches may have simplistic maps that help track full routes taken. Others may store location points without charting the full route, and use numbered coordinates to navigate location. If you are out hiking in the woods and need to know where a road intersects a lot where you parked your car, these navigational tools are going to be invaluable for you to find your way back once you have gotten deep into the brush. The range of memory depends on the model. Some can store a ton of information while others only have a minimum capacity.
Training Aids and Signals
If you are looking to meet specific fitness goals, like running a certain distance or a number of laps on a course, you can set these alerts to beep or alert you in some way, maybe even vibrate to let you know that you reached your desired distance or goals.
Nowadays most of our electronic devices will sync. When you are training, the ability to download a training program and access them with your laptop, computer, or other smart devices can be very helpful. In the modern day of social media, accountability is easier and easier to obtain. Many of these syncing abilities are also functional with social media accounts like say, Facebook, so when you have done a workout or if you ran a tough course not only will you know it but so will all of yoru friends and family.
If you have a watch that doesn't have some of the built-in functionality of say, a heart rate monitor for instance, but you do own a separate heart rate monitor you may have the ability to pair each device together. This is also true for an assortment of accessories like cadence sensors for example. There are many accessories you could potentially have the ability to pair together, you just have to take the time to look at all your fitness devices and check to see if that potential exists.
There is almost nothing that cannot be tracked via GPS. There are also a ton of outdoor activities that can benefit from the use of GPS tracking. Running or hiking, maybe even your daily walk can find benefit in GPS tracking.
Because these watches can be made to fit specialty or niche activities like mountain climbing to running, you want to keep in mind that the features associated with one activity specific watch may not translate to the features needed for another activity. A swimmer isn't going to want a watch that is made for bicyclists any more than a runner wants a watch that has information capabilities for skiers. Your best bet in getting the exact features you want is to figure out what specifically you want to use your watch for.
You also would do well to assess how in-depth or how technical you need the features to be. If you are just a casual runner, you may not need a watch that is designed to provide all the detailed feedback that a seasoned triathlete who competes often requires. Knowing these things could not only save you money, increase the value of the product you pick as it will align better to your needs, but also serve you the best way.
As with any type of gear you use when you are active the lighter the better, the less bulky, the better, and of course the more comfortable the better. Nothing that you want will be heavy and awkward to wear. You don't want anything to weigh you down and hold you back from meeting your full potential while exercising and performing at your best. If a piece of gear is uncomfortable to wear, it is less likely you will use it. So finding materials that breathe, that can be easily washed or wiped down, that have some ability to flex without being so loose that they dangle or fall off, designs that don't dig into your skin or cause you rashes or irritation will all go into the comfort level when using your gear.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
One wireless transmitter is all it takes to send signals to many thousands of receivers as long as those receivers are set up to take in identical information.
GPS is the shorthand acronym for Global Positioning System. There is a minimum of 24 satellites used to help provide navigational abilities throughout the world. GPS was originally intended for military use until the 1980s when it was opened up for civilian use.
Other Factors to Consider
Even the most basic watches will suit the average runner with their standard features. For the most part, if your watch has some sort of GPS ability you are in business as a runner, no matter your level. From here it's all about your needs, your preference, and your budget. Remember, you can literally spend a small fortune on super specialized models, and for some, that makes sense because they need all the highly technical capabilities. For others, that is just a lot of money for features that aren't going to do much but grow old and collect dust.
We covered the majority of features that you are going to run into when searching for a running watch. There are, of course, many aspects not covered here. But when it gets down to the minute details of a watch and very specialized applications that are offered, those things are more like the icing on the cake for many quality options.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: Must I always use a chest strap to get full functionality?
Not necessarily. While some argue the chest strap provides the most accurate heart rate tracking feedback, many runners rely solely on models that have a sensor located in the watch. Even some models come with a chest band though it isn't necessary. With others, you have to buy the strap separately. Without a chest strap, you will have to keep the watch tight on your wrist. But many watches have very comfortable bands that won't irritate your skin.
q: Can you use one of these running watches to help you lose weight?
Of course! Many of these watches have the ability to provide built-in workouts to help you get active And they also have progress reporting and goal setting features which allow you to customize the markers you want to hit for success. Similar to the accountability you would have from a professional fitness partner, these will ping you when you have met your goals or remind you when you have not which helps.
Additionally, many have calorie trackers which can help you adjust your food intake based on what you are burning to meet specific dietary goals.
q: What is a barometer?
A barometer measures changes in air pressure. Tracking these changes provides you with valuable insight into temperature changes or weather changes in your environment. This is a specialized feature and not everyone will absolutely need it. Those who might find it useful, however, include hikers, skiers, campers, and anyone else dependent on working outdoors. This is especially true if your activity requires you to go off the grid for an extended period of time.
q: Is the ability to share necessary?
It isn't necessary but most models have this capability. Many people like to build supportive social networks that are excited for them when they hit their goals or provide valuable motivation when they are struggling. So much of our lives today is shared, it makes sense that some people may want to connect and share their workouts or progress.
q: Are these runner's watches useful for training for a race?
Very much so. The main thing you want to do, depending on the distance you are going to compete, is to track your distance and speed capabilities, then build on them. Tracking both distance and time helps you work on speed and gives you goals to work towards. These watches, many having training programs that you can utilize, can track your work and your progress. This not only helps you stay on track but ensures you are advancing which will keep you motivated. If you are particularly competitive, being able to track your time helps too.