We still get asked a lot what GPS sports watches for women are out there. Partly that's because nobody has built the ultimate, compact, comfortable, female-friendly sports watch yet.
So you're going to have to compromise on something.
Let's get something straight: Women can buy, use and love any of our recommendations for the best GPS running watches, the best fitness trackers and the best running watches and smartwatches with music playback.
But there's also nothing wrong with wearable tech companies targeting health and fitness conscious women as long as it's done in the right way. In fact we want more of it. Those lists mostly contain wearables designed by men, for men.
For now, here are the trackers and watches that we think will particularly appeal to female fitness freaks, whether that's down to smaller sizes, stylish form factors or customisation and flexibility. The most important thing – there's no slacking on features or performance.
Here's our pick of fitness trackers that cater to women slightly better than most. Let us know in the comments which ones you prefer.
Fitbit Alta HR
If you like the idea of a Fitbit but you're serious about running, the recently retired Fitbit Surge and the new Ionic smartwatch are still the only options to offer built-in GPS. The Blaze and Charge 2 use your phone's GPS.
Our Fitness Tracker of the Year, the Fitbit Alta HR is a good choice if you want a stylish looking, affordable fitness tracker that still has a small screen. The big new feature is heart rate tracking – plus reminding you to move around every hour – and otherwise it repackages Fitbit's step, distance and calorie tracking into a slim, customisable band. Plus, Fitbit's app is great for motivation and designer collaborations from Public School and Tory Burch are available.
Read this: Our Fitbit Alta HR review
Garmin Vivomove HR
Another award winner and a wearable that is better designed for both sexes, the Vivomove HR is a hybrid smartwatch with some impressive connected skills.
It has a smart analogue design with a discreet, disappearing OLED display built into it – just tap to access alerts and fitness info like steps, sleep, calories burned, notifications, heart rate and stress info. Then when you're not using it the watch face looks blank. The watch hands even move out of the way of the screen while you read it – clever.
Being from Garmin, we expect nothing less than stellar accuracy and performance from the dedicated sports modes and Garmin IQ auto-tracking. The watch comes in black, gold, silver and rose gold finishes with Sport and Premium models – Premium is more expensive and gets you a nicer, leather strap.
At just 11.6mm thick and weighing just 40.8g for the Sport – 56.5g for Premium – it's a real winner. Battery life is five days in 'smart mode', two weeks otherwise.
Wareable verdict: Garmin Vivomove HR
Nokia Steel HR
It's small, it's light, it's geek chic. The Nokia Steel HR makes a great everyday fitness companion. It's more for increasing how long you're active each day, steps taken, calories burned or the distance you've walked than hardcore workouts or running – there's no GPS for instance. But the Steel HR can also track your sleep if you don't mind wearing it in bed.
We're big fans of the small, discreet screen (which also does some notifications and calendar alerts) and the activity dial on the analogue watch face plus the heart rate tracking on a watch that doesn't look super sporty. You can pick one up at 36mm or 40mm, both waterproof to 5 ATM and with a battery life of 20 to 25 days. The Health Mate app had a recent revamp but note that the Steel HR's future is somewhat uncertain as Nokia sold its health tech business back to one of Withings co-founders.
Wareable verdict: Nokia Steel HR review
Smart rings have been around for a couple of years now, but the Motiv is the first that we actually feel is built for wearing 24/7.
Measuring in at just 8mm wide and available in rose gold or slate grey finishes of titanium, the smart ring comes in seven sizes and is waterproof up to 50 metres so you can go swimming with it on too.
On the fitness tracking front, it can monitor steps, distance, active minutes and there's even a heart rate monitor to collect BPM data throughout the day to provide resting heart rate insights.
While fitness tracking skills might seem a little on the basic side, it's still a stylish alternative to having to wear something around your wrist.
Read this:Motiv Ring review
This smart jewellery lifestyle tracker can be worn as a necklace or a brooch and tracks everything from steps and sleep to breathing patterns and menstrual cycles. You can also let the Leaf know how stressed you're feeling in relation to your breathing so it can track stress levels with its clever algorithms.
With a six month battery life and a range of boho-friendly accessories including leather and vegan fibre straps and a dark marshwood with gold leaf limited edition, Bellabeat is right on the money.
Read this: Bellabeat Leaf Urban review
We ummed and ahhhed about whether to classify the Fitbit Versa as a fitness tracker or a sports watch but without built-in GPS, here it is.
Fitbit's second smartwatch is an everyday wearable that improves on the design of the Ionic, comes at a nice price and is packed with features. It's 11.2mm thick, with softer edges than we've seen on the Blaze and Ionic and it's really comfortable and light to wear. Battery wise, it'll last for four to five days and it's waterproof to 50m.
When it comes to sports, you can pair the Versa to your phone for GPS tracked runs but as we say, it's not built in. What you do get is comprehensive, though, as you can track running, cycling, swimming, yoga and gym workouts on the watch.
Heart rate tracking is accurate for moderate runs and workouts, it falls down for high intensity training. There's also steps (of course), sleep tracking, distance/calories burned and female health tracking if you want to track your period on your watch.
On top of all that there's the usual smartwatch features like alerts. In Europe, there's NFC and Fitbit Pay but in the US, it's the Versa Special Editions only.
This is the tricky category when it comes to size, design and fit, but there are a few options to add to your shortlist depending on your budget.
Apple Watch Series 3
You're not going to find a smaller, lighter, more comfortable smartwatch-that-does-running than the Apple Watch, which comes in 38mm and 42mm sizes. Now, the Series 3 is 1.25mm thicker than the original and the Series 2 no longer exists, but these are minor points compared to the competition.
It's not a sports watch, it's an all day smartwatch that has considerably beefed up its usefulness for runners, cyclists and swimmers. With built-in GPS you can track distance and pace for running and cycling, plus it's now water resistant with swim tracking to 50m so you can wear it in the pool.
The Series 3 has an eSIM for LTE connectivity (if you want it) plus a new faster W2 processor, an altimeter for stairs climbed and new resting heart rate data via watchOS 4. The Series 1 is still available. FYI we're expecting an Apple Watch Series 4 announcement in September so you might want to hold out for that.
Apple's own Workout app is still data light for runners and we're not bowled over by Strava's standalone app but we're hoping this will continue to improve. The optical HR monitor can be used for heart rate training zones and there's both Apple Pay and music storage (via Apple Music) on your wrist, even when you leave your phone at home.
Read this: Apple Watch Series 3 review
Suunto 3 Fitness
This is a sports watch from Suunto that's designed to appeal to casual fitness fans and beginners. The Suunto 3 Fitness is small and light to wear with solid sports tracking and offers heart rate data driven guidance and easy to follow adaptive training plans.
It works with a new Suunto app, rather than the MovesCount app Suunto watch wearers will be used to. It tracks running, cycling, swimming (pool and open water), a multi sport mode for triathletes and a standard sport mode for well, everything else. Heart rate tracking is good but not stellar here and there's also regular activity and sleep tracking on board - both of which feed, together with stress via HRV, into Suunto's recovery and resources features.
The one big omission is built-in GPS so like the Fitbit Versa, you'll be running with your phone. Battery life is five days or 30 hours of connected GPS. We also had a few syncing issues in our testing and we'd like the ability to build our own plans. Still, for the price you get a hell of a lot.
Garmin Fenix 5S Plus
The smallest of Garmin's latest trio of high end Fenix watches, the Fenix 5S Plus adds Google Pay, onboard music and hiker-friendly, full colour topographical maps to the already feature stuffed Fenix 5S.
It's a 42mm watch which weighs 69g and offers a 20% bigger display than its predecessor in the same sized body. Overall, it's better for smaller wrists than the rest of the Fenix Plus range, there's a choice of glass or pricier sapphire and it looks slightly more compact and like a regular smartwatch too.
For sports, you get modes for running, cycling, swimming, golf, kayaking, paddleboarding and more with GPS, GLONASS and Galileo for GPS and optical HR tracking. Missing is the pulse oximeter you'll find on the Fenix 5X Plus. Battery life gets a boost too though - it's now 11 hours with GPS turned on and seven days in 'watch mode'.
Read this: Garmin Fenix 5S Plus review
Garmin Forerunner 235
It's also worth checking out the Forerunner 235. It's not so ladylike as some of the other Garmin options like the more expensive Fenix 5S Plus but is a great all-rounder for runners who want to be scientific in their training.
It's damn light at 42g and very easy to strap on and go. It feels a little plasticky and flimsy but we like the teal model and the 1.23-inch LCD screen does the job just fine.
The activity tracking is excellent, the running stats are well rounded and resting heart rate data turns this sports watch into a powerful health monitoring tool. So, the optical HR tech isn't quite accurate enough at higher intensities - you might be able to forgive that - and some users might find Garmin Connect intimidating or confusing. This is still a terrific does-it-all watch that shouldn't be ignored just because it's a few years all.
Read this: Garmin Forerunner 235 review
Garmin Forerunner 630
A bit of an old recommendation, and not one available directly from Garmin, but still worth looking at is the Forerunner 630. It 's not as chunky or heavy as most specialised running watches and has a uncluttered, simple design that makes it easy to read and not so hideous if you want to turn the GPS off and wear it as a regular watch.
The feature-packed 630 is one of the best watches you can lay your hands on if you're serious about running and the matte plastic, 5 ATM waterproof watch is the kind you can wear comfortably. It's only 11.7mm thick and 44g too, which is pretty good for a GPS watch. The Garmin Connect app and particularly the website are also fantastic running tools to check your progress and the watch can even offer advice on recovery time after each workout.
It's a very similar package to its predecessor, the Forerunner 620, but it also records stride length and vertical ratio, which can be used to make runners more efficient.
Wareable verdict: Garmin Forerunner 630 review
This might not be the running wearable that you set out to buy, but stay with us. Moov Now is a virtual coach in an inoffensive, small wearable that you wear on your ankle when jogging or on your wrists for other activities, like boxing. It's also worth considering for cyclists and swimmers.
You do need to carry your smartphone with you, which could be a dealbreaker for some, but you get audio coaching, for a whole range of abilities, and a nice six months battery life. It focuses on your personal achievements, most importantly, and doesn't just spit out data – though if you want GPS on the device, look elsewhere.
Wareable verdict: Moov Now review
A supreme GPS running watch in all but design, you might get on better with the Vivosport's hybrid form factor than a regular watch. It's thinner than a bulky watch but still houses built-in GPS, optical heart rate monitoring and a week's worth of battery even with workout sessions and onscreen smartphone alerts turned on.
It works with both Android and iPhones, syncs up to Garmin Connect and activity tracking is really impressive with a moveable goal. In terms of looks, in the flesh the two-tone texture finish is a big upgrade from previous models and looks really smart.
It also brings new features like rep counting and stress monitoring along with the onboard GPS to make this one of the slimmest, yet most feature-packed trackers you'll get your hands on.
Wareable verdict: Garmin Vivosport review
TomTom Spark 3
TomTom has shut down its wearable division but the Spark 3 is still on sale and worth considering - for a long time it was our go-to recommendation for women looking for sports watches. You just won't be getting any updates, put it that way.
It comes with two sizes of straps – small and large – weighs 47-50g depending on your choice and is available in either black or aqua with a bunch of different strap colours. That said, it is 13.7mm thick so this one will sit up on your wrist. The price is that sweet spot, though, way below most of the female-friendly but feature-packed Garmins on offer. If you are willing to live without some of the extra frills.
At the top end, you get GPS, heart rate monitoring and music storage on board (which you can listen to via Bluetooth headphones), alongside a new, nifty Route Exploration feature and a great heart rate sensor. It works with a whole bunch of running apps and there are bike/gym/swim and treadmill modes.
In depth: TomTom Spark 3 review
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