​Best running watch 2021: Brilliant multi-sport GPS watches for all budgets

Top sports watches for triathlons, swimming, cycling and more
​Best running watch 2021
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Whether you're a beginner tackling your first 5k or prepping for your first marathon, buying a running watch can help you hit your goals.

A running watch offers an honest appraisal of your efforts and achievements, whether it's just working out how far and fast you run, or taking advantage of data on recovery, intensity and even nutrition.

But new sports watches are more than just about running – with aspects of wellness, heart rate, swimming and cycling all catered for.

We've reviewed every running watch on the market – from cheap running watch options to the detailed alternatives for budding athletes – and compiled a roundup of the best picks from our testing.

It really is the definitive list, and we've tried to make sense of the dizzying selection for you.

Best sports watch quick look:

  • Best for entry level runners: Garmin Forerunner 45 (£149.99)
  • Best for advanced athletes: Polar Vantage V2 (£449.99)
  • Best for multisport: Polar Ignite (£299.99)
  • Best for ultra distance/trails: Garmin Fenix 6 (£599)
  • Best running watch with music: Garmin Forerunner 245 Music (£299.99)
  • Best smartwatch for runners: Apple Watch SE (£269)


Best running watch 2021: Brilliant multi-sport GPS watches for all budgets

Before getting into the our top running watch picks based on our testing, there is a watch we are currently putting in the running time with that's worth highlighting here.

The Garmin Enduro is a new watch range for Garmin and is designed firmly with ultra runners and trail runners in mind. It's biggest appeal lies with battery life promising up to 70 hours of battery in full GPS mode, which can go up to 80 hours based on its solar charging skills. That's currently more battery Polar, Suunto and Coros offers in similar use.

It's also introduced features like Trail VO2 Max to better take into consideration your terrain to gauge fitness levels if you spend most of your time going off-road. There's now a new ultra mode, which offers rest timers to better take into consideration aid stations in races. Though both of these features have since rolled out onto the Fenix watches.

Garmin has also introduced a new lighter titanium case design paired up with a nylon band to make it almost as light as its Forerunner 945 watch. Once our review is done and dusted, we'll let you know if this is one you need to consider.

Top pick: Garmin Forerunner 45

Best running watch 2021

Garmin Forerunner 45

  • 39 and 42mm sizes
  • Pace, distance, time
  • Heart rate monitor
  • ANT+ support
  • VO2 Max
  • 50 ATM water resistance
  • Price when reviewed: £149.99

A fantastic all-rounder, the Forerunner 45 isn't Garmin's cheapest running watch (its fugly predecessor the Forerunner 35 is still around for less), but it packs in features at a great price.

it's the build that we really love. It's so slim and light – and with 39mm and 42mm sizes it's brilliantly unisex.

And while it's certainly at the entry-level end of the huge array of Garmin devices on offer, it's far from basic.

You get the normal running metrics, but also more advanced analytics with VO2 Max scores to help you monitor your improving fitness. They aren't presented on the watch with all the recovery data found on the likes of the pricier Garmins like the Forerunner 245, but VO2 Max will be shown at the end of a run, and tracked in Garmin Connect.

You're getting the same display you get on all of Garmin's watches, waterproofing up to 50 metres depth and an optical heart rate monitor. It will track running, cycling, treadmill running, indoor track, elliptical, cardio, yoga abut there's no swim profile, despite the water resistance.

It's also compatible with both Android and iOS-friendly phones, with the main tracking skills shaped running and cycling.

Smartwatch features on the Forerunner 45 include notification support, while Connect IQ compatibility lets you customize your watch face.

If you're new to running and don't want to spend much, the Forerunner 45 (and smaller 45S) keeps things simple and should be a definite consideration.

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 45 review

Polar Ignite

Polar Ignite

  • 43mm case
  • FitSpark workout analysis
  • Optical heart rate
  • 17 hours GPS tracking
  • Price when reviewed £174.50

Sitting well below the price of Polar's Vantage series watches, the Ignite is a fitness watch with a slender frame that makes a great running companion.

It measures in with a 43mm case, weighs just 35g and measures in at 8mm thick, making a great fit for slimmer wrists and anyone that likes to keep their tracking discreet.

Despite its slender frame, the Ignite has pretty much everything you could want from a running watch. It has a color touchscreen display to view your metrics on, along with a solid performing heart rate monitor.

It's a bit shy on smartwatch features, offering just notifications, though it does work with iPhone and Android devices. It also doubles as a decent fitness tracker, too.

The killer feature here? Something called FitSpark, which analyzes your workout data to offer recommendations and advice. So, if you've had a particularly intensive run, it can recommend a series or supportive exercises to help you recover.

Battery life is 17 hours based on tracked workouts with GPS and heart rate enabled. In smartwatch mode, it'll last you four or five days before you're grabbing that charger.

It's well priced, nice-looking and a good alternative to something like the Forerunner 45, if you want something a little smaller on the wrist. If you can live without onboard GPS you get on the Ignite and want to spend even less on a Polar watch, you should also cast your eye over the new Polar Unite too.

In-depth: Polar Ignite review

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

  • Running, biking, swimming, gym workouts
  • Heart rate monitor
  • VO2 Max
  • Music playback, 500 songs storage
  • Spotify syncing
  • Price when reviewed: £299.99

One of the most popular Forerunner lines has been given a boost for the latest generation. It still has to be a top consideration for those on a budget, but music support also makes it a great option for those who prioritize playback from the likes of Spotify.

The built-in music player support works in the same way as other Garmin watches. You can transfer over your own music or playlists from streaming services, then you can pair some Bluetooth headphones and leave your phone at home. You've got enough storage on the 245 for 500 songs, too, which should be enough for most.

Obviously, it's not all about the music - the Forerunner 245 Music is also a formidable running watch. Unless you're a marathon veteran, it has everything you'll need, including GPS and a built-in heart rate monitor.

The Forerunner 245 enjoys many of the advanced running analytics found on much more expensive Garmin watches. It leverages the optical heart rate sensor to take VO2 Max readings – which is then turned into insights on your recovery, including Training Load, Training Effect and Training Status, which are all determined by analysing post exercise oxygen consumption and heart rate variability.

It also has Garmin's PacePro feature, which uses GPS data to pace races to your desired finishing times – even taking hills into account.

Battery life sits at around a week with standard use, though, naturally, taking advantage of the music features will reduce this. It does lack payment support and an altimeter, but, all in all, it's a great running watch for anyone that has been looking for music features too.

In-depth: Our full Garmin Forerunner 245 Music review

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch SE

  • Works with iPhones only
  • 42mm and 44mm sizes
  • Improved heart rate monitor
  • Swim-proof
  • Works with third party sensors like chest strap monitors
  • Distance, time, pace and cadence
  • Third party apps from Strava, Runkeeper etc
  • Price when reviewed: £269

Back when the Apple Watch first arrived, we’d have struggled to recommend it as a running watch. Fast forward to 2020, and, if you’re looking for a smartwatch for casual running, Apple's option is firmly the best we've tried.

And here we're recommending the cheaper Apple Watch SE over the new Series 6. While you do miss out on the always-on display (and ECG/SpO2) for runners we feel the Apple Watch SE offers everything you need.

Built-in GPS is as accurate as it's ever been on an Apple Watch and locks on instantly, so there’s no waiting around on cold days.

Apple has let third-party apps like Strava access sensor data. Yes, the data is limited to pace, time, distance and heart rate – but you’ll also get credit for sessions in the Apple Watch’s excellent fitness tracking features.

Apple Music playlist syncing is easy, and you can pay for a drink with Apple Pay when you're done. What's more, the addition of LTE means streaming tunes on the go, and you can make calls on long runs, which adds that level of personal safety.

And watchOS 7 also adds VO2 Max for the first time, and in the revamped iPhone Fitness app you can see that as a Cardio Fitness score.

GPS battery life is around 6-7 hours, which should make it good enough for a marathon, though our experience suggests it might struggle with its full gamut of features in play. There are power saving modes that will help nurse the Apple Watch through – and this is one area where it's best NOT to have the always-on display.

The heart rate sensor on the Apple Watch SE is as good, if not better, than any optical wrist-based sensors we've used for running and upping the intensity.

A highly recommended running watch for casual to intermediate runners.

Read more: Apple Watch SE review

Huawei Watch GT2e

Huawei Watch GT2e

  • Works with Android and iOS
  • 47mm case size
  • GPS built in
  • 14 day battery life
  • Pace, distance, calories data
  • Training Effect, Training Load and advanced data
  • Fitness tracking smarts
  • Price when reviewed: £159

A running focused smartwatch with plenty of detailed fitness data on offer, the Huawei Watch GT2e is a great option for anyone looking for a good-looking watch that offers some nice running features for beginners or anyone that wants to add more structure to their runs.

It now has a more workout-friendly band, which is changeable if you want to smarten things back up. The 1.39-inch AMOLED screen is super sharp and is a nice place to view your fitness stats on the move too.

It covers the basics in terms of real-time stats, but packs in Firstbeat's heart rate powered insights to start delving more into your performance. That means you get the same Training Effect, Training Status and recovery data you'll find on top level sports watches such as the Fenix 6 and Forerunner 945. However, we did find VO2 Max estimates to be much higher than Garmin, and frankly unrealistic.

Huawei also includes a series of running plans, which are all nicely integrated and a good starting point for beginner runners who want to add more structure to training.

One downside of this watch is that data has to live inside of Huawei's own Health app. So that does mean you can't send it over to third party apps.

But battery life is a real highlight. Huawei promises 14 days, and that's what you will get from it. Even when you tap into smartwatch features like notifications and music.

For the price, it offers a strong sports tracking experience, particularly for running. Just make sure you have an Android phone to do it with. Even if it does play nice with iPhones too.

Wareable verdict: Huawei Watch GT2 e review

Garmin Forerunner 945

Forerunner 945

  • Works with Android and iOS
  • Triathlon tracking
  • 47mm case size
  • Heart rate monitor
  • ANT+
  • Advanced analytics
  • Running Dynamics with Running Pod
  • Smartwatch notifications and Garmin Pay
  • Spotify syncing and offline music (1000 songs)
  • 36 hours GPS tracking, 17 hours with music
  • Price when reviewed: £519.99

This Forerunner 945 sits at the top of the Forerunner line, and though the name suggests this is solely focused on tracking runs, it actually packs in support for a huge gamut of workouts, as well as Garmin Pay support, music playback, navigation features and color maps.

Obviously, it does track your runs, though, covering everything from treadmill to trail running, with plenty of metrics to dive into after your training session.

It's also compatible with Garmin's Running Pod, which adds additional data, such as vertical oscillation, ground contact time, stride length and lactate threshold.

It has top-tier battery life, too, as well as built-in heart rate monitoring (which has vastly improved from previous wrist HR tracking efforts from Garmin).

And it goes big on the detailed analysis of your workouts – with VO2 Max, heart rate variability and post-exercise oxygen consumption a huge part of the attraction. These features called Training Effect, Training Load and Training Status try to ensure sure you're not overexerting yourself. It will advise you on your progress, predict your race times (hit and miss) and let you know how long to leave it before your next run.

This is the Forerunner for power users, and, because of that, most buyers will actually be better served going with something a little less feature-packed (and, as a bonus, less expensive).

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 945 review

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro

  • Works with Android and iOS
  • Huge array of tracked sports
  • 47mm case
  • Optical HR + ANT+ support
  • Advanced running analytics
  • PacePro
  • TOPO mapping
  • Connect IQ apps
  • 2000 songs + Spotify syncing
  • Price when reviewed: £599

The Garmin Fenix 6 is the company’s ultimate running watch, make no bones about that. It caters for all types of outdoor sport, and there’s modes for normal and trail running (not to mention everything from hiking to SUP and even skydiving, as well). Garmin offers its Fenix in standard and Pro models, and we'd say it's worth paying extra and going Pro.

There’s no Garmin watch that offers more in terms of running dynamics, and it matches the Forerunner 945 for data output. That naturally includes VO2 Max, recovery times, race prediction, Training Effect (aerobic and anaerobic from every session), Training Load (and when to take a break) all gleaned from the built-in optical sensor.

For those who love to explore on their runs, there’s full TOPO rich mapping, an upgrade over the standard Fenix 5, and you can also upload GPX routes to follow, as well.

On the music front, you're getting similar features you'll get on the likes of the 245 Music and 945, letting you drag and drop on your own music and podcasts to the watch.

You have enough room for 2,000 songs, and of course, can benefit from support for apps like Spotify and Deezer. That means you can listen to your playlists offline and leave your phone behind.

The smaller and lighter design means it's a nicer watch to run with than previous Fenix models. The battery life remains strong too and if you want to eek out even more power, Garmin has launched a Fenix 6 Pro Solar edition, bringing the solar charging powers from the larger Fenix 6X.

In-depth: Garmin Fenix 6 review

Polar Vantage V2

Polar Vantage V2

  • Works with Android and iOS
  • 47mm case
  • 1.2-inch, 240 x 240 pixel
  • 22mm replaceable straps
  • MIL-STD-810G durability
  • 40 hours GPS battery life, 100 hours tracking in low GPS mode
  • Optical HR
  • GPS, Glonass, Galileo
  • Running power and cadence on the wrist
  • 130 sport modes
  • FuelWise fuelling recommendations
  • Hill Splitter segmented insights
  • Turn-by-turn navigation
  • FitSpark workout recommendations based on recovery
  • Nightly Recharge sleep and recovery insights
  • Price when reviewed: £449.99

The Vantage V2 is the follow-up to the Vantage V and is the watch built for triathletes and truly data obsessed runners.

It comes in one size – a hefty 47mm – although it's impressively light at just 52g compared with the 84g of the Fenix 6.

Ultrarunners demand good battery life, and that's here with 40 hours of full GPS tracking that can be extended to 100 hours. However, we have found accuracy issues in power saving modes, and we couldn't get 40 hours in testing as promised.

But runners are well catered for with a full range of stats – and there's a focus here on running power, for those interested in pacing based on effort.

Polar as added the Hill Splitter and FuelWise features from its Grit X sports watch, with the latter enabling you to plan your adventure's food intake and remind you on the go. We found it worked really well, but the reminders were a little easy to miss.

What we really like are the new running performance tests. A maximal (run until exhaustion) and a sub maximal (run and stop before exhaustion) option to give you a better sense of your current state of fitness, and much more accurate VO2 Max scores.

And recovery is a big part of the Vantage V2 experience, with an excellent leg recovery feature that estimates when your body has recovered for races or long training runs.

Sleep tracking also focuses on recover and we found outstripped Garmin in terms of accuracy.

Running stats and VO2 Max are a big part of the feature set. Training Load and Benefit insights to give you a better sense of your workouts and make sure you're not training too hard - and FitSpark workouts are tailored around your physical readiness.

The 10-LED array heart rate monitor is the most advanced on a Polar watch to date, and it helps fuel a bunch of data points, from recovery and sleep tracking to running analytics derived from HRV and VO2 Max.

There are problems here - but if you're really focusing on the minutiae of your recovery and physical performance, this is a top sports watch.

Read our full Polar Vantage V2 review.

Garmin Fenix 6S

Garmin Fenix 6S

  • Works with Android and iOS
  • Huge array of tracked sports
  • 42mm case
  • Optical HR + ANT+ support
  • Advanced running analytics
  • PacePro
  • TOPO mapping
  • Connect IQ apps
  • 1000 songs + Spotify syncing
  • Price when reviewed: £529

For serious athletes with smaller wrists, the Fenix 6S should be top of the list.

Garmin introduced a smaller version of its outdoor watch with the Fenix 5 series, and, for the latest edition, it's doing the same. In terms of running features, it's on par with the Forerunner 945, but packs in more sport profiles, especially for the outdoors – so it's certainly one for hikers, trail runners and ultra runners.

Like the Fenix 6 and the Fenix 6X, the 6S has all of the same features albeit packed into a 42mm-sized body. It comes in a standard and pro models with the latter giving you a built-in music player, mapping and Wi-Fi connectivity.

Across both models you'll get a 1.3-inch display, which is bigger than the one included on the 6S. It's also available in a sapphire edition to offer extra protection to that screen.

In terms of new features, you're getting the latest version of Garmin's operating system, which makes improvements to the UI and how you can find your data. There's an improved heart rate monitor, Garmin's new PacePro feature for runners and new battery modes to help you get the most of out of the already impressive battery life.

Again, you get VO2 Max, Training Effect, Training Load and Training Status and all that good stuff as well.

You're still getting plenty of sports tracking options, advanced metrics and smartwatch skills like payments and that built-in music player if you go for the Pro model.

It might not feel like a huge leap from the 5S, but Garmin has overall made its outdoor watch much nicer and more comfortable to wear all day.

The Fenix 6S’s reduced case size does lead to one major difference over its bigger brothers – battery life.

The quoted battery life is 9 days as a smartwatch – with up to 25 hours of GPS tracking. That’s down from 14 days and 36 hours from a 47mm Garmin Fenix 6.

In-depth: Garmin Fenix 6 review | Garmin Fenix 6X review

Coros Pace 2

Best running watch 2020: Brilliant multi-sport GPS watches for all budgets

  • Works with Android and iOS
  • 1.2-inch display, 240 x 240 resolution display
  • Optical heart rate monitor
  • Barometric altimeter, accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, thermometer
  • Works with Stryd and external heart rate monitors
  • Waterproof Rating 5ATM
  • 30 hours in Full GPS mode
  • 60 hours in UltraMax mode
  • Price when reviewed: £179

Coros is somewhat of a minnow in the GPS running watch world - but it's quickly make a name for itself and that's best represented by the new Pace 2.

It's a feature-packed sports watch that's still designed for triathletes, but has all the tools to make it a formidable running watch without having to pay a premium for it.

All the key sensors and running profiles are on board, plus it has the connectivity support to let you pair up additional sensors like Stryd's foot pod sensor and external heart rate monitors.

Using the built in heart rate sensor the Pace 2 can tap into its own recovery metrics in the shape of AI Trainer. This shows you a ‘Stamina’ percentage and aerobic/anaerobic training effect numbers (0-6), to show how recovered you are.

Coros has now also added strength training features that will count reps, let you build workouts and will show you whether you're focusing as much on your legs are you are bulking up your upper body.

It works with third party apps including Strava and then there's that battery life. It pretty much wipes the floor with the closest priced Garmin and Polar watches for GPS battery numbers. If you have around £200 to spend, you'd be struggling to find a watch that offers better value for money.

Full review: Coros Pace 2 review

Suunto 9

Suunto 9

  • Works with Android and iOS
  • 100m water resistance
  • Valancell optical HR
  • Recovery data
  • 50mm case
  • 25h / 50h / 120h GPS modes
  • Swimming, cycling, running, multisport open workouts
  • Price when reviewed: £499

Another sports watch with a clear USP, it’s purely ultrarunners who need apply for the membership of the Suunto 9 club. With a whopping 120 hours of GPS on offer (if you put the device into its strictest power saving mode), it’s all about longevity.

There’s a bunch of tracked sports in addition to running (cycling, hiking, and swimming to name but a few), but the focus is predominantly on battery life.

Before any workout you’ll get a predication of how much battery you have, and warnings will prompt you to charge before it’s too late. What’s more, you can switch up battery modes mid-run, so there’s no worries about the Suunto finishing before you do.

The Suunto also uses a nifty FusedSpeed feature, which estimates pace from arm movement when the GPS gets patchy. That’s great news for trail runners fed up with garbled GPS data when running in woods.

However, a lacklustre app and analysis, plus a pretty annoying interface on the watch means that unless you’re someone who tests the battery limits of their existing GPS watch – we’d recommend one of the Garmin watches above.

Wareable verdict: Suunto 9 review

Fitbit Versa 3

Best running watch 2020: Brilliant multi-sport GPS watches for all budgets

  • Works with Android and iOS
  • 40mm case size
  • 1.58-inch AMOLED touchscreen always-on display
  • GPS built in
  • 12 hours GPS tracking
  • Basic pace, distance, calories data
  • Fitness tracking smarts
  • Price when reviewed: £199

Fitbit no longer sells its Ionic smartwatch, so now the Versa 3 and its Sense health watch are your choices if you want a Fitbit watch with built-in GPS.

Now we should say that the Versa 3's run tracking features are nowhere near as advanced as most of the watches on this list including the Apple Watch. It's a good choice for runners that put less emphasis on digging deep into metrics and do a few short runs every week.

You'll get basic stats like pace, distance and calories, with metrics displayed individually on the Versa 3's sharp display, that's easy to glance at during the move. Your data can live within Fitbit's app and third party apps including Strava.

Like the Apple Watch it’s the fitness tracking elements that really excel. The app is excellent, and using it for running means you get more of a 360-degree picture of your health, with badges earned for running goals and a more detailed assessment of your weekly activity.

Battery life is decent, but won’t trouble high-end Garmins. You get around 5-6 days of use and 12 hours of GPS tracking, which is two more hours than what the Ionic offered.

If you'd prefer a Fitbit fitness tracker to run with, the Fitbit Charge 4 includes built-in GPS in a slimmer design than the Versa and the Sense.

Wareable verdict: Fitbit Versa 3 review

Amazfit Bip S

Amazfit Bip S

  • Works with Android and iOS
  • 14 tracked sports
  • 42mm case
  • Optical HR
  • 22 hours GPS tracking
  • Up to 15 days as smartwatch
  • 5ATM water resistance
  • Works with Strava
  • Price when reviewed: £63.55

If you're looking for a GPS sports watch on a very strict budget then the Amazfit Bip S could be your first port of call. It basic, core running features, for just £60.

It's made of plastic, but it certainly doesn't feel like a cheap watch to wear and the 42mm case holds in place a transflective display. That's the same screen tech Garmin uses on the majority of its watches to deliver good battery life and good visibility in bright outdoor light.

You've got built-in GPS, which we found reliable and doesn't dent the battery life. There's a heart rate monitor here too, which should be good for steady runs, though there's no support to pair up an external sensor.

What you do get is an app that lets you sync your data over to Strava, which is something the Huawei Watch GT2e can't.

Smartwatch features are basic, but we like the fact you can access music controls easily while running, which you can't do on some pricier watches.

The battery performance is strong too. It lives up to the numbers based on our experience and as a package it makes for a cheap running watch that outperforms ones that are double or triple the price.

It's basic, cheap and cheerful - but also reliable and extremely affordable.

Read our full testing: Amazfit Bip S review