Whether you're a beginner tackling your first 5k or prepping for a marathon, buying a running watch can help you hit your goals.
Top running watches are more than just about pace/distance. They're now designed to tell you when to train and when to rest as well.
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 is the definitive list, and we've tried to make sense of the dizzying selection for you.
Best for beginners: Garmin Forerunner 55
The Garmin Forerunner 55 is slim, lightweight, and simple to use, without complicating things with too many bells and whistles. It hooks up to Strava, has a strong suite of sleep and wellness tracking, and comes highly recommended.
Best value running watch: Coros Pace 2
The AI Trainer, advanced metrics, and top battery life make the Coros Pace 2 excellent value, with its sub-$200/£200 price tag. For runners that are starting to train for longer events and building speed, it's a savvy purchase.
Best for performance athletes: Polar Pacer Pro
The Polar Pacer Pro offers running power without the need for any extra accessories, and the smart FuelWise feature helps plan nutrition for longer runs. Recovery is a big focus, with Training Load Pro insights, sleep tracking, and HRV measurements that work together to help you plan your big training sessions.
The first consideration when buying a running watch should be battery life. How far do you run – and what kind of distances would you like to run in the future?
Some smartwatches with running watch features will struggle to last 5 hours while tracking GPS, thus might not last a full marathon.
Likewise, many of the most expensive running watches offer 100 hours of continuous tracking, which is overkill for people that just do a weekend 5K. Consider what you need.
More than just running
More advanced running watches can tap into your body to reveal things like VO2 Max (the purest score of your fitness), recovery advice, readiness, fuelling, and even nutrition.
There are plenty of running watches that can store music, so you can run to the beat and leave your smartphone at home. Check out our special guide to sports watches with music playback.
Garmin Forerunner 255
- 12-14 days smartwatch/26-30 hours GPS tracking
- Run, swim, bike, gym, triathlon mode
- Multi-band mode
- Training status, visual race predictor
The Forerunner 255 follows to of the best running watches we've tested. The 235 and then the 245, which added a built-in music player. With the 255, Garmin is bringing its mid-range running watch closer in line with its pricier Forerunners.
Before getting into that, Garmin has decided to offer the 255 in two different case sizes and you'll still get the choice of standard and music editions if you want to stream your music or playlists from streaming services like Spotify.
Garmin has added its great multi-band mode from the Fenix 7, Epix, and 955 to improve accuracy when grabbing a reliable signal can be problematic. We've also noticed an improvement on the heart rate monitoring accuracy front with the ability to pair up external sensors if you're still not satisfied with your HR stats.
On the software front, there's a new race day mode that will help you countdown to your next big race, throwing suggested workouts designed to fit in with the recommended training.
A new Morning Report gives you a quick recap of your most recent sleep, any upcoming training sessions for the day and give you a sense of what kind of shape you're in to train. That's also powered by HRV status, which looks to heart rate variability measurements during sleep to offer richer recovery insights, though lacks the more intuitive Training Readiness feature Garmin added on the Forerunner 955.
You're still getting all of the same features as the 245, including daily suggested workouts, access to Garmin Coach, simple breadcrumb navigation, Garmin Pay and Connect IQ Store access, and battery improvements across all modes to keep you away from the charger for a bit longer.
If you want a running watch where you want more data, useful training, and analysis feature wrapped up in a light design, the 255 ticks the key boxes and more.
In-depth: Our full Garmin Forerunner 255 review
- Rich analytics
- New Race Day widget
- Improved HR accuracy
- Misses Training Readiness feature from Forerunner 955
Coros Pace 2
- 20 days smartwatch/30 hours in full GPS
- Run, swim, bike, gym
- Strength training programs
- AI Trainer and Evolab stamina and recovery metrics
Coros is a relative newcomer to the GPS running watch world, but it's quickly made a name for itself – and that's best represented by the Coros Pace 2.
It has all the tools to make it a formidable running watch without having to pay a premium. The screen isn’t world-beating, but the 1.2-inch, 240 x 240, 64-color LCD puts it in line with Garmin devices.
All the key sensors and running profiles are on-board, plus will let you pair additional sensors like Stryd's foot pod and external heart rate monitors.
Using the built-in heart rate sensor the Pace 2 can tap into its recovery metrics courtesy of its AI Trainer. This shows you a Stamina percentage and aerobic/anaerobic training effect to show how recovered you are. Coros EvoLab also offers the kind of training insights and a race predictor for runners that you'd expect to find on pricier watches.
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 battery life. It pretty much wipes the floor with equivalently priced Garmin and Polar watches for GPS battery life numbers.
- Full review: Coros Pace 2 review
- Great sports tracking
- Plenty of metrics
- Big battery life
- Screen brightness could be better
- Still has quite a bland design
Garmin Forerunner 955
- 1.3-inch touchscreen transflective display
- Full-color mapping
- Race widget, Training Readiness, suggested workouts
- Multi-band mode
- 15 days battery in smartwatch mode/42 hours GPS battery life
If you want a running watch that goes big on tracking, training, and analysis features and wraps that all up in a compact design, then cast your eyes on the 955.
Garmin has grown the case size compared to the 945, but it's still a nice light watch to run with and now offers a touchscreen to make it nicer to navigate maps and menu screens.
You have the option of adding solar charging powers for more money, there's an improved performance from the onboard heart rate monitor and it's added the multi-band mode from Garmin's Epix and Fenix 7 watches to make sure you get super accurate tracking for your runs.
There are some new software features here that will appeal to runners including a new Training Readiness mode, which looks at data like heart rate variability, sleep, and running history to better understand when you should train or take a rest day. It felt useful and insightful in our testing time with the 955.
You're getting Garmin's new Morning Report to give you an overview of what's on your agenda for the day and a race day widget that's a bit clunky to set up, but will deliver weather updates for the big race, a suggested finish time and recommend workouts based on the type of race you're tackling.
Garmin has made battery improvements here too, though they don't feel as huge as the ones on its latest Fenix and Epix watches. It's a watch that can last a solid week with regular training and features like notifications, music streaming, and continuous heart rate monitoring in play. Bring solar into play and those numbers grow as long as you've been out in the sun long enough.
It's packed to the rafters with running features and crucially, has the tracking performance to make those features feel useful. The bottom line, it's a fantastic running watch.
- Added multi-band mode
- New Training Readiness mode
- Battery improvements
- Same design as 945
- Heart rate tracking at high intensity
- No huge battery improvements
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 955 review.
Garmin Forerunner 55
- 2 weeks smartwatch/20 hours of GPS tracking
- Run, swim, bike, gym
- Adaptive training plans
- VO2 Max
The Garmin Forerunner 55 is the natural successor to the Garmin Forerunner 45, but this entry-level running watch steps things up.
The Forerunner 55 boasts a low-profile and minimal design, and it's brought on board some of the more insightful training and analysis features usually reserved for pricier Garmins.
The watch case itself measures just 42mm, which creeps up slightly in thickness coming in at 11.6mm thick compared to the 11.4mm sized body on the 42mm Forerunner 45.
Front and center is a 1.04-inch, 208 x 208 transflective, always-on display, which offers strong visibility in all conditions, and is a lot kinder on battery life.
The Forerunner 55 promises up to 7 days in smartwatch mode and 20 hours of GPS battery life and that's what we experienced in our testing. That's more than good enough for those embarking on half and full-marathon training programs.
When it comes to racing, a key addition is PacePro, which helps you target race pace with gradients taken into account, VO2 Max estimation, and race predictor data on finishing times based on your fitness.
It now supports Garmin Coach and suggested workouts, so it can be more of an active participant in your training.
There's Garmin's Elevate optical heart rate monitor to track heart rate continuously, during exercise and unlock features like Garmin's Body Battery Energy monitor and the improved recovery advisor.
You do also have the option to pair up external heart rate monitors to improve accuracy in measuring effort levels during runs.
The Garmin Forerunner 55 is a better running companion than the 45 thanks to new software features, that seek to help you run your best. It balances a fantastic set of features that offers way more than the basics, in a sleek and light package. We love it.
- Small, light design
- PacePro and suggested workouts
- Full Connect IQ support
- Basic metrics compared to Coros
- Low res screen
Polar Pacer Pro
- 7-day smartwatch/40 hours GPS battery life
- FuelWise fuelling recommendations, HillSplitter analytics
- Breadcrumb navigation and upload routes via Komoot
- FitSpark workouts/Performance & recovery tests
- Running power, sleep, and recovery insights
The Vantage V2 is technically Polar's top-end watch, but when you consider how many of its features are crammed into the Pacer Pro for significantly less money, it's the Polar watch runners should opt for in our eyes.
It's also a better performer than the slightly underwhelming Polar Ignite 3.
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 rather than speed.
Polar has included 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 to refuel. We found it worked well, but the reminders were a little easy to miss.
There are simple breadcrumb-style navigation features and the ability to upload routes, though that has to be done via the third-party app Komoot, which you will eventually need to pay for.
Recovery is a big part of the Pacer Pro too, including Polar's great Training Load Pro insights and a level of sleep tracking that's not only accurate but also pays close attention to measurements like HRV to offer better tips on your recovery needs.
Polar includes its Precision Prime optical heart rate sensor tech that offers strong accuracy but still has its odd flaky moments at high intensity and even on some low-intensity workouts.
If you like Polar's software and want the watch in its collection that offers the best value for money experience, the Pacer Pro is the one you want.
- Get the best of Vantage V2 features for less
- Light design
- Rich training and analysis
- Ugly black bezel
- No big new features
- Sleep tracking drains the battery
Apple Watch Series 8/SE
Back when the Apple Watch first arrived, we’d have struggled to recommend it as a running watch. Fast forward to today, and, for casual runners, the Apple Watch Series 8 (And Apple Watch SE) are two of the best options out there.
With GPS on board, it’s well set up for the tracking of outdoor runs, and there are treadmill workout options for those that enjoy the gym.
The onboard heart rate sensor is up there with the best we’ve used on any device, and Apple is adept at using it to produce meaningful data. You’ll see data like VO2 Max and Cardio Fitness levels within the Fitness and Apple Health iPhone apps.
And the large, AMOLED screen is well suited for showing off mid-run metrics, and the Workout app is well-designed and easy to use.
But what really sets it apart is the App Store. We prefer to use the Strava app for Apple Watch as it’s our preferred service, but if you like Nike Run Club or MapMyRun, all these are available too.
And then there’s the music aspect. With Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music apps, it’s one of the slickest devices for taking your tunes on the go.
There are downsides. Battery life with GPS tracking is around 7 hours – and in reality, can be less if music or LTE are involved. If you’re planning on doing a marathon, we’d probably look for something more specialized.
And the reason we use Strava is that we don’t feel that the Fitness app provides the detail, analysis, and motivation we crave as runners. There aren’t monthly progression targets, PB tracking, workout suggestions, or details on readiness. And this is where Garmin still holds plenty of cards.
Apple Watch Ultra
The idea of the Apple Watch is to be a better companion to those that love outdoor adventures – and it solves many of the pain points of the Series 8/SE.
It’s a huge design overhaul, with a bigger, brighter display and toughened 49mm case. It’s kind of garish, but looks like a proper adventure watch with bags of personality.
For road runners, the key improvements are boosted battery life and multi-band GPS, which has enabled the Apple Watch Ultra to compete with dedicated running watches.
Battery life is upped to 12 hours of multiband tracking. That’s significantly less than the 40+ hours touted by most flagship GPS watches, but good for most normal people’s running efforts.
We put the Apple Watch Ultra up against the Garmin Epix at Chicago Marathon, and found its accuracy was superior around the challenging course of skyscrapers that can destroy most running watches. So if you can live with the battery life, there is a good pay-off.
For off-road runners, there are some modest navigation features on board, and you can program waypoints in the compass app, and use trackback to find your way home.
As ever, there are third-party apps that can do this better – and like the Series 8 – this is the Ultra’s strength. The native analysis of runs is still lacking, but with battery life and accuracy boosted, there’s a lot to like.
But you do pay for the extras. With a price tag that eclipses the Garmin Fenix 7, it’s really about the Apple Watch Ultra as a desirable watch, and the advantages it brings on a daily basis, that make it worth the money.
Coros Apex 2
- 17 day battery / 30 hours full GPS
- Mapping and navigation
- Effort Pace guidance
- ECG sensor for HRV recovery assessment
The new Coros Apex 2 is a good pick for advanced runners, looking for a good value watch that shoots for big fitness insights.
It’s closer to the Garmin Forerunner 955, with navigation added to the mix.
There’s a focus on more advanced insights, with stride length, running power, elevation, and training effect insights all on board.
And then there’s Effort Pace, which is a new take on running power, designed to be more user-friendly. There’s some development to be done here, and this new feature needs to evolve a little more to be a true tool.
The Apex 2 offers downloadable global landscape maps and topographical regional maps. You can also use the touchscreen support to navigate around them.
And there’s also an ECG sensor on board, which is used to power a HRV test, that will access your recovery after big workouts. We’re fans of that application of ECG, however, the fact that this is done manually makes it less effective than similar features on Garmin and Whoop. However, accuracy via ECG should be better.
If you want more advanced multiband GPS tracking then you’ll need to opt for the more expensive Coros Apex 2 Pro.
Garmin Fenix 7X
- 37 days smartwatch/89-hour GPS battery (with Solar)
- Full-color mapping
- Visual race predictor, real-time stamina
- Multi-band mode
- Flashlight mode
The Fenix 7X is an outdoor watch first, but it's every bit a great running watch and if you want proper mapping, big battery life, and like the idea of having a nice big bezel on your wrist, then this is one for you.
The 7X is the priciest of the Fenix 7 series watches and comes in solar and sapphire solar editions, with the latter pushing the price up above $1,000/£1,000 for the more durable design and preloaded maps.
That does mean you can follow full TOPO maps on this watch and there's now a touchscreen to improve your navigation time. Garmin's added its great multi-band mode to noticeably improve outdoor tracking accuracy and features like a visual race predictor, which pays close attention to your tracking history to predict those times.
One feature you get on the 7X that you don't get on other Fenix or Forerunner watches is a flashlight mode, which adds an LED light at the top of the watch case. You can pick from white or white LED colors and there are cadence or blitz lighting modes to pick from here too.
Garmin includes its real-time Stamina mode to help make sure you don't empty your tank at the beginning of your run, using your past workout data to estimate how far you should be able to run. It sounds great as a concept but we found it a bit of a complex one to get on board with.
Then there's the battery life. Garmin went big with its Enduro watch and then with the Fenix 7X, it went bigger. We're talking about getting through a month of tracking with regular GPS use. GPS battery is a massive 122 hours (with solar) and Expedition mode will give you anywhere from 62-139 days.
If you want a running watch with huge battery life, great mapping, and the best of Garmin's running features, that's what you get from the Fenix 7X.
- Big battery life
- Improved mapping features
- Great core sports tracking
- Big case design won't be for everyone
- Heart rate accuracy during high intensity
- The price
Read our full Garmin Fenix 7X review.
Huawei Watch GT Runner
- 14 days smartwatch battery life/15 hours GPS (from testing)
- 100+ sports modes
- AI Running Coach
- Running Ability Index, VO2 Max, training load, lactic acid data
Of course, the Apple Watch only works with iPhones – so if you have an Android smartphone, the Huawei Watch GT Runner is a top smartwatch option.
It's a repackaging of the Huawei Watch GT 3, which is also excellent for running workouts. But the GT Runner has got a more sporty design and lightweight build.
Core running features include excellent training plans and coaching, based on your performance as a runner, and you can do everything from the watch itself.
There's also a host of VO2 Max and training effect data on the watch – including the Huawei Running Ability Index, which measures your performance and suggests finishing times for key race distances. And these were spot on in our testing.
GPS has supposedly been boosted with a new floating antenna, although we saw no real evidence of improvement in our testing and we did find some small tracking issues in built-up areas.
Heart rate tracking performance was also quite average, with up to 10 bpm variations from a chest strap, which is slightly more than we'd expect to see from rival Garmin/Fitbit/Apple devices. Thankfully, you can pair it up with an external heart rate monitor to improve that data.
Pretty much all Huawei Watch GT Runner features can be found on the cheaper GT3, but the design will appeal to runners. However, for Android users looking for a smartwatch, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Read our full Huawei Watch GT Runner review.
- Nice, light design for running
- Useful running software features
- Good for a week's worth of heavy training
- GPS accuracy lacking at times despite new antennae
- Lacking third-party support
- Average smartwatch experience
Garmin Venu 2
- 11 days smartwatch battery life/22 hours GPS
- Garmin Coach
- VO2 max
The Venu has emerged as Garmin's answer to the Apple Watch. With the Venu 2, you're still getting a color screen, the best smartwatch features Garmin has to offer and those tracking staples that make it a great fit for running.
The latest Venu now comes in two size options the Venu 2 (45mm) and the smaller Venu 2S (40mm). The Venu 2 will give you the bigger, higher resolution color AMOLED touchscreen display, but both include Garmin's latest Elevate optical heart rate sensor that promises to deliver more accurate data.
You'll get built-in GPS of course and core running metrics along with additional ones like running VO2 Max found inside Garmin's companion Connect app.
As a smartwatch, it's something that works with Android and iPhones and gives you notifications, a music player with room for 2,000 songs, and support for streaming services like Spotify.
There are also payments and access to Connect IQ Store to add more apps, watch faces, and data fields. if you want some voice-enabled features, the new Venu 2 Plus offers a built-in microphone and speaker to let you access your smartphone assistant from your watch.
We found tracking accuracy reliable and the bigger screen and improved UI make it a nicer watch to run with too. We didn't see improvements in heart rate accuracy for running, despite the inclusion of that new sensor. You can pair up an external sensor at least.
The quoted 12 days battery life came up short for us and is better suited to just over a week. If you factor in using it with the screen set to always-on, that's going to drop to closer to 4-5 days. The 22 hours of GPS battery should be fit to get you a week's worth of tracking too.
If you want more battery than an Apple Watch and great run tracking, the Venu 2 is one to look at instead.
- Good health features
- Great sports tracking
- Wrist raise is not great
- Clunky in places
Garmin Epix (Gen 2)
- 1.3-inch AMOLED touchscreen display
- Full-color mapping
- Visual race predictor, Training Readiness, suggested workouts
- Multi-band mode
- 16 days battery in smartwatch mode/42 hours GPS battery life
The Garmin Epix is what you get when you take the AMOLED screen from Garmin's Venu watch and match it up with the features of a Fenix 7. If that sounds like the recipe for a great running watch, then you'd be right.
Packed into a 47mm case that comes in stainless steel or titanium, the Epix features a 1.3-inch, 416 x 416-pixel resolution, matching the screen size and resolution included on Garmin's cheaper Venu 2 series.
It's a touchscreen too, which is smooth and responsive and brings a whole new dimension to viewing the full mapping it supports. It also makes scrolling through menu screens and using music controls a much slicker experience.
All of the running features are included on the Fenix 7 cut. There's multi-band mode, which does knock the battery more than normal GPS mode but does deliver supreme outdoor tracking accuracy.
The heart rate monitor performs well for steady-paced runs and handles the high-intensity stuff well too in general.
You've also got the much-improved race predictor and questionably useful addition in real-time stamina metrics. You can upload routes, and access Garmin Coach and there are daily suggested workouts here as well.
With that AMOLED screen in place, that does mean battery life isn't quite on par with the Fenix 7, but it's still good enough to get you through a solid week of tracking and potentially two weeks based on usage.
It's the kind of compromise you can make based on the difference that color screen makes living with the Epix day-to-day compared to the Fenix. It's a great running watch and if you've wanted a great running watch with a color screen, this is the best one out there.
- Great AMOLED screen
- Solid run tracking
- Great screen for viewing maps
- Connect app still feels busy
- Big price tag
- No solar power
Read our full Garmin Epix review.
How we test