As runners we're lost without the data from our GPS running watch – but with so many choices, which is the right one for you?
We've tested every running watch on the market in our in-depth reviews, and compiled this brand new round up of our top picks. We've included entries for every type of runner, from data obsessed ultras to newbies that are just graduating from Couch to 5K.
The key takeaway? Everyone can benefit from a running watch to help them gauge their improvements and motivate, so read on for our best of the best.
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When it comes to pure running, the Forerunner 935 gets the nod. While the Fenix 5 Plus is probably the company’s ultimate multisport and endurance watch, the Forerunner 935 gets you the complete running experience. Light, clear to read and easy to use, the Forerunner 935 is one of the most wearable running watches out there.
It’s designed to track most forms of running, including trail sessions, plus it includes the company’s Elevate heart rate sensor, for HR data from runs, and also 24/7 fitness tracking. And it’s what it does with that data that’s truly impressive. VO2 Max data, Training Effect ratings from your session, training effectiveness and advised rest times are all gleaned from your heart rate variability readings.
That’s of course on top of standard running data: pace, distance etc, as well as more complex data. Heart rate zones are all accessible during a run, and you can use an ANT+ chest strap if you really want top notch accuracy. The Garmin’s optical sensor is good enough for medium intensity training runs, but falls down during hill sprints and other types of session. It's also compatible with Garmin's Running Dynamics Pod, which delivers six running dynamics including cadence, ground contact time, stride length and more.
In short, if you’re getting serious about running, the Forerunner 935 offers the best running focused analytics. Ultrarunners should look to the Fenix 5, while novices are much better served by the Forerunner 235.
A veteran in the running watch game, the Forerunner 235 is three years old, but always available for a good deal. It was the first to introduce the form-factor carried on by the 935 and is comfortable to wear and easy to use.
It uses the company’s Elevate optical HRM (the same sensor found on the likes of the Garmin Forerunner 935 at 2x the cost) and VO2 Max metrics; it's the complete package. You don’t get the full range of data you’ll find on the Fenix and Forerunner 935, but VO2 Max is a great running stat, and a great addition at this price point.
And you get more than just GPS-tracked running and cycling, with all-day heart rate tracking, steps, sleep and smartwatch features. There aren't many in Garmin's line-up which do all that for under $200.
The Polar V800 tracks everything, and is one of the most detailed watches in terms of data for runners. Pace, distance, fat burn calories and max heart rate are all covered on super-clear screens that are brilliantly customisable.
But the V800 is showing its age. You’ll still need to pair it up with a Polar H7 or new H10 heart rate monitor to get bpm data – though that’s music to the ears of those who really obsess over data accuracy. Hook it up to a shoe pod and it'll also give you cadence, stride length and other insights to help hone your Mo Farah running form.
But there is still data unique to the V800, which is why it remains in our list. The Recovery Status and Orthostatic Test features predict when you'll be ready to train again, and there’s a running program that will adapt if you miss a scheduled run. It also includes exercise routines to aid recovery.
While it might be a bit of an oldie, Polar continues to support it with software updates including better Strava and GoPro integration. It's a beast of a running watch and getting on the old side, but it still delivers the goods.
All the entries in our list have been fairly pricey – and offer a lot of data. But what about runners who just want a good GPS watch without the data science of an Olympic athlete? The Garmin Forerunner 35 eschews the detailed data in favour of running pace, distance and heart rate zones.
Like the rest of the Garmin line-up the Elevate heart rate tech is plenty good enough to offer insights into steady, medium intensity runs, but you won’t want to be using it for high intensity. However, unlike bigger, better watches, you can’t hook up a chest strap.
The design is pretty minimal, but the LCD screen is ready to read while running, and it’s water resistant to 5ATM – so you can wear it in the shower after. There’s basic fitness tracking elements as well.
While its $200 price tag has been usurped by the new Polar M200, we'd still opt for Garmin's budget running watch as it boasts most of the features you'll need out on your run.
Not one of the traditional running watch names, the Amazfit from Chinese company Huami is a bit of a Garmin copycat – but the results actually pay off.
The Stratos tracks walking, running, cycling, triathlon, swimming, elliptical, mountaineering, trail running, tennis, soccer and skiing. It comes with built-in GPS and GLONASS (Russian satellites which should offer a faster lock-on) support to boot.
Amazfit has signed up FirstBeat, who does all of Garmin’s advanced metrics. That means VO2 Max data a big part of the package , for substantially less than you’ll find elsewhere. While there’s optical heart rate on board which struggles compared to Garmin, Apple and co, the Stratos will hook up to chest straps for properly locked on data.
And the features keep on coming. You can add GPX files which will suit trail runners, and it kicks out to Strava too, which is great because the app experience is sometimes crummy compared to the likes of Polar Flow or Garmin Connect. You could do a lot worse than the Amazfit Stratos.
TomTom has pulled out of the wearable tech game, but the good news is that this favourite of the Wareable team can be picked up at stunning prices.
While it does all the basics, its optical heart rate monitor was what really impressed. Top notch accuracy aced our tests, and we loved the Route Exploration feature, which enables you to upload GPX routes and follow them from the watch.
The Spark 3 can store MP3s, which it'll play via a pair of wireless headphones, although that side of the experience was always a bit clunky. But that serves to detract from a great fitness experience. Easy to use with clear screens make it well suited to beginners, and it plays nicely with every third party service – Strava included – so you can have your data pushed into better, more able platforms.
Back when the Apple Watch first arrived we’d have never recommended it as a running watch – but if you’re looking for a smartwatch suited for running it’s now got the features you’ll need.
Built-in GPS is accurate and locks on instantly so there’s no waiting around on cold days, and 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 ridiculously 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.
While you'll want to opt for third-party apps (Workout is still data-light for runners), the heart rate sensor stood up well to the rigours of testing. It's far from perfect, but still capable of returning useful data, training within zones, and getting feedback on HIIT sessions.
When it comes to running the Ionic is the only Fitbit watch with GPS built in.
The experience matches the basic end of the Garmin line-up by measuring pace, distance and calories. There’s not a great many extra metrics like cadence – the Fitbit Ionic keeps things simple, and will suit weekend runners more than those who are getting really serious.
But 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 five days of use and 10 hours of GPS tracking. That’s much better than an Apple Watch Series 3, which is a much closer competitor.