The best running watch is the most versatile fitness wearable money can buy. These GPS-enabled running watches are more than just expensive smartwatches. Top-tier running watches from brands such as Garmin, Polar, Suunto and Coros can help you run and work out better, faster and more efficiently.
Wearing a running watch is a real step up in terms of data and workout experience if you've only used the best fitness trackers and best smartwatches before. And although the gap between multisport GPS watches and fitness bands is closing, members of the former group are still considered the pro athlete's choice, even in 2022.
For slower movers who want to know where they're going, we recommend investing in the best hiking GPS instead. Triathletes better peruse our best triathlon watch guide instead of this one, although there is a bit of an overlap between the two. Finally, we have a dedicated best Garmin watch guide and a Garmin watch deals roundup, just in case you're after a cheap Garmin. You probably are, aren't you?
Even. if you buy a new running watch, avoid these running watch mistakes so you can utilise your new performance wearable to its full potential.
How we test the best running watches
T3's running watch test is a labour-intensive process, especially considering
that modern running watches have a slew of features including sleep/SPO2/respiration tracking, contactless payment, smart notifications and stamina measurements, just to name a few.
Hence why we like to test running wearables for at least a few weeks to make sure we have a clear picture of how precisely the sensors and features work and how they perform under rigorous training circumstances.
As well as all this, we examine the companion apps the watches use to check compatibility. And, of course, we compare the running watches to other watches on the market in terms of value for money.
Best running watches to buy right now
The Coros Pace 2 was released in late 2020 and has received multiple software updates since then. Not to mention, Coros works tirelessly to establish itself as a serious Garmin and Polar competitor and its efforts are paying off.
It might provide fewer lifestyle features than some Garmins, but the running features the Pace 2 offers are spot on, as we noted in our Coros Pace 2 review. Its predecessor, the Pace, was a good enough watch, but the Pace 2 improved on all the key features such as battery life and sensor accuracy and did it without you having to pay the premium.
For us, the best part of the Coros Pace 2 is its screen. It's sharp and bright, and just a joy to look at. Bright it might be, the display doesn't eat away battery life: impressively, the Pace 2 can go for up to 30 hours between two charges in GPS mode. In smartwatch mode, it can go well over two weeks without having to charge the watch.
It measures running power on the wrist without any additional sensors required and it also has ABC sensors (accelerometer, barometric altimeter and compass) to better monitor outdoor conditions and provide you with all the extra data.
According to Coros, the Pace 2 is also the lightest running watch on the market today: it weighs only 29 grams, including the nylon band. And if all this didn't convince you to get the Pace 2, we'll let you know that Coros is now endorsed by the Eliud Kipchoge (external link), the fastest marathon runner in the world. If he likes Coros, we do too.
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is a great compromise between top-notch features and price whilst not being a compromise at all. And while the Forerunner 945 has retained the look and feel of the Forerunner 935, on the inside, it has been completely revamped.
To start, the Forerunner 945 uses Garmin's new Elevate optical heart rate sensor, which is more accurate than before, even underwater. It also uses a new GPS chip that manages battery life better, and it is more accurate than its predecessor.
Unlike its predecessor, the Forerunner 945 has onboard music storage and is Garmin Pay ready. You won't use any of these features on races, probably, but we can safely assume that you will wear the smartwatch on non-race days, too, where they might come in handy.
You also PulseOx, Live Event Sharing, accident detection and assistance, Body Battery energy monitor, Training Load Focus and many more.
The Garmin Forerunner 945 comes with onboard maps as well. Granted, the 1.2" screen is not as detailed as your smartphone, but if you want to break away from the phone screen for a bit and still want to be able to navigate at the same time, the Garmin Forerunner 945 has got your back, we concluded in our Garmin Forerunner 945 review.
The Garmin Forerunner 55 is an entry-level running watch that sure doesn’t look as sleek as the Garmin Forerunner 945, nor does it have the battery power of the Garmin Enduro. It might not help you navigate the Great Outdoors, as well as the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, does, and it probably won’t be the number one choice for triathletes either, like the Garmin Forerunner 745.
However, most runners aren’t top athletes; they like to jog before or after work. They don’t require stuff like turbo trainer connectivity or screens with six data fields during workouts. They need an accurate running watch with solid battery life and a built-in GPS chip/heart rate sensor for a reasonable price. And guess what, the Garmin Forerunner 55 has all that and more.
Compared to its predecessor, the Forerunner 45, the most significant change is the improved battery life: in both smartwatch and GPS mode, the Forerunner 55 lasts almost twice as long as the 45, we said in our Garmin Forerunner 55 review.
It also added a load of non-performance features such as respiration rate and women's health tracking, hydration reminders, breathing timer, and so on. Needless to say, this is on top of the features that were already available in the Forerunner 45.
As for performance features, the Forerunner 55 now has a Pool Swimming profile and can track a range of metrics while you're splashing around. Outside the water, it can help you pace yourself better using the PacePro Pacing Strategies (link to Garmin's site) feature. Using PacePro, the algorithm calculates a strategy when to increase or decrease your pace along the course for the best overall pace.
There are also personalised run workout suggestions on offer; these are based on your training history, fitness level and recovery time, and you should definitely listen to them if you’re new to running. The adaptable Garmin Coach (link to Garmin's site) feature could also come in handy for beginner athletes.
The more we think about the Polar Vantage V2, the more we appreciate its features. It might lack some more casual features you'd expect to see in a top-notch running watch, such as on-board music storage and maybe even contactless payments, but truth to be told, the Vantage V2 is for the hardcore crowd, and they might not care all that much about these filthy casual frivolities anyway.
The Polar Vantage V2 is a watch of many qualities, according to our Polar Vantage V2 review. Its built quality is excellent and definitely a step up from the original Vantage V. It has loads of useful tests and data for serious runners and cyclists to better their form and get ready for races more efficiently.
Better still, most of the tests and data provided by the Vantage V2 can't be found elsewhere, making it all the more appealing for the information-thirsty athletes.
It would have been great to see some improvements to the user interface and especially the navigation in future iterations of the Vantage series. Touch controls are a bit laggy, although the screen feels a bit more responsive than the one found on the Vantage V.
We would recommend the Polar Vantage V2 to anyone who would like to take their athletic performance to the next level: there aren't many wrist-wearables that provide quite as much data like this one.
If you're interested to know how the Vantage v2 compares against the Vantage M2, read all about it here: Polar Vantage M2 vs Vantage V2.
Huawei is after the big dogs of the running watch market with the Watch GT Runner. The company's first foray into the field of specialised performance wearables is built on the Huawei Watch GT 3 platform that, at least in our opinion, is an excellent smartwatch on its own terms.
Compared to the sporty Watch GT 3, the Watch GT Runner lost some of the heft, kept all the sensors and added more running-specific features, creating an affordable running watch that's easy to use (and like). The AI Running Coach feature is similar to Garmin's Running Coach, but here, the watch talks a lot more (literally) and informs you about everything from pace to heart rate as you run.
Sadly, the Watch GT Runner is only available in the UK and Europe, and as of now, we haven't got any information about when will it become available in Australia and the US. If you live in either the UK or Europe, you'd be silly not to try out the Watch GT Runner.
Read our full Huawei Watch GT Runner review for more info about his excellent running watch.
The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is an excellent GPS running watch option for the price-conscious runner. Other multi-sport watches, like the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro or the Polar Vantage V, might provide more data but for the low price point, the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is a more than a capable device, hence why it received fice stars in our Garmin Forerunner 245 review.
The GPS+GLONASS+Galileo positioning system is quick and accurate, tracking your movement outdoors with high precision. The battery can last up to seven days in smartwatch mode and six hours in GPS mode with music, meaning that you won't have to charge it more than three times in two weeks.
The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music also supports Garmin Coach, an adaptive training guide that can train you to run a certain distance (5k, 10k or half marathon) within a certain time limit set by you. The plan adapts to your training load and progression and adjusts it accordingly.
You can check your progress and pore over data from previous activities using the Garmin Connect app. You can also collect badges for a range of activities in the app, a fun way to stay motivated!
The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is a bit on the light side, though, which is great for running, not so much if you're after that premium smartwatch feel. That said, the Forerunner 245 is not as light as the Coros Pace 2, which, according to Coros, is the lightest running watch on the market today.
How do the two watches compare? Find out here: Garmin Forerunner 245 vs Coros Pace 2.
The Polar Pacer Pro (link to our full review) is one of the best Polar watches, especially if you aren't too keen on touch screen operation. It's definitely better value for money than the Vantage V2, although the latter has more features and tests.
The new screen is brighter and easier to read in broad daylight. The Pacer Pro works faster than the Vantage M2, its closest predecessor, which is evident when looking at screen transitions and load times.
The addition of extra features, such as running power and the different tests, was also a good call from Polar and further increased the 'getting your money's worth' appeal of the Pacer Pro.
Sadly, once you zoom out and look at the broader running watch market, things will look less rosy for the Pacer Pro almost immediately. There are numerous AMOLED running watches for the same price (e.g. Huawei Watch GT Runner) or cheaper MIP watches with a more robust training ecosystem (e.g. COROS Pace 2) – why would you choose the Pacer Pro over these?
Polar needs to completely overhaul the user interface of its watches and maybe even rethink the Polar Flow app. Why can't a running watch released in 2022 connect to the app without me pressing a button? Where is my AMOLED Polar running watch? In the age when many people use the Apple Watch Series 7 for running, the Pacer Pro simply can't keep pace with its competition.
On the bright side, the Pacer Pro is a decent mid-range multisport watch, so if you're on the market for one of those, by all means, get the Polar.
Despite the Garmin Enduro being tailored to a niche market, non-ultra trail runners can also benefit from wearing the watch, as we noted in our Garmin Enduro review. Sure, the extra-long battery life will certainly come in handy if you're an endurance trail runner. Still, if you're happy to spend this much money on a watch and torn between the Fenix 6 and the Forerunner 945, we would recommend getting the Enduro: we're sure you'll love it.
The same goes for the new trail-specific features: even if you mostly run in urban environments, having features onboard that take incline into account when calculating VO2 max will help get more accurate results without going off the beaten path. Will other Garmin watches get this feature too? Probably, but even when that happens, not many other running watches will be able to match the battery life of this beast.
As for the Fenix 6, the only real reason to choose the Fenix 6 over the Enduro is if you like point-of-interest navigation on the watch. The Fenix 6 has offline TOPO maps, which are quite cool, but if you prefer long battery life over wrist-based navigation, you're better off with the Enduro. Some Fenix 6 models can be bought for cheaper, but similar-sized versions retail for roughly the same price as the Enduro.
Regarding the price, we can only assume the Enduro would be cheaper without the inclusion of the Power Glass and in all honesty, taking into account the long battery life, we don't think it was necessary to add the solar charging feature, but we also think that it suits the Enduro to have this feature onboard. The Garmin Enduro is not a watch you'll use for a year or so and throw away; the premium features and build quality will help the watch retain its value for longer.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is a great smartwatch for anyone who loves the Great Outdoors, and it is perfect for triathletes and trail runners. The Fenix 6 has a multisport mode, making switching between sports modes as easy as pressing a button.
Garmin improved on the formula that made the Fenix 5 Plus so great, further enhancing the battery life and tweaking the user interface, which is now way easier to glance over, thanks to the new widget view.
If anything, the Fenix 6 Pro is more rugged than light, but it is far from being too heavy. The Titanium version is 11 grams lighter than the steel version, making it on par with other smartwatches on this list.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Series is not flawless, though. They not only retail for more than many of the watches on this list, but it is also very overpowered: it feels more like a demonstration from Garmin of what their technology is capable of than a good set of features runners might appreciate.
It's doubtful, for example, that many people will want to use the Garmin Fenix 6 for points-of-interest navigation in urban areas, although the watch is capable of doing just that.
Nevertheless, if you can justify the price – and weight – of the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, you should definitely get one because it just feels great on the wrist and really represents what fitness smartwatches are capable of.
Multi-sport watches come in many shapes and sizes, but if we had to pick two to pit against each other, it would be the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro and the Polar Vantage V2. Both are excellent on their own terms yet approach the same tasks very differently. How differently? Find out in our Polar Vantage V2 vs Garmin Fenix 6 Pro article.
Read our Garmin Fenix 6 Pro review today.
Read our full Suunto Baro 9 Titanium review
The Suunto Baro 9 Titanium is a modernised version of the ultra-runner favourite Suunto 9 Baro and will serve you well as a training and outdoor adventure companion, as well as a usable backup/emergency GPS unit. However, the premium pricing and streamlined functions mean that competition is white-hot, with a host of cheaper options available and other flagships leaning in too.
While you’ll be missing some of the bells and whistles of other models – such as mobile payments and music storage – there is certainly an argument that these add complexity and distraction to the inevitably limited watch interface and ‘simple’ training tools and navigation are more than enough. Whichever side of that argument you sit on, the Suunto Baro 9 Titanium is a competent outdoor watch with great training tools attached.
Read our full Suunto 7 review
The Suunto 7 has plenty to offer: a sharp display, plenty of smart functionality, good heart rate sensor and built-in GPS, not to mention the offline maps and the really cool heatmaps.
The controls are slightly confusing at first; the mix of touch and push-button operation, which – combined with the laggy Wear OS interface – can cause frustration, especially until you get used to the system's shortcomings.
On a scale from Garmin Forerunner 945 to Fitbit Versa 2, the Suunto 7 sits closer to the former but still gives the impression that it's the latter on steroids. One thing that pushes the Suunto 7 towards the Fitbit Versa 2 end of the scale is the battery life.
You will be lucky to go two days between two charges, which is not too bad for a Wear OS watch with a huge display. Still, it is not great compared to running watches like the Suunto 9 (a bit higher above this list) or even the aforementioned Garmin Venu (not on this list) which can last up to five days (it has a smaller display, mind).
The biggest issue with the Suunto 7 is its price; it might be an Apple Watch competitor, but I doubt many people would choose a Suunto over an Apple Watch. Once the price has dropped slightly (watch out for those sweet discounts here at T3!), I will be able to recommend the Suunto wholeheartedly.
Read our full Casio GBD-H1000 review
I like the premise of the Casio GBD-H1000. The Japanese manufacturer tried its best to deliver functional G-SHOCK for runners and included all the sensors the designers could think of: we have an optical heart rate sensor, a magnetic sensor, pressure sensor, thermo sensor and finally, an accelerator included in the rather large body of the GBD-H1000.
You have to love the bulkiness of the GBD-H1000. It might put some runners off to have such a large and heavy – it weighs over 100 grams – running watch wrapped around their skinny wrists, but if you decide to pay £379/$399/AU$599 for a G-SHOCK running watch, you will want it to be seen. The strap is not hinged, though, so if your wrists are actually small, that might make reading heart rate more difficult for the watch. Not like optical heart rate sensors are precise to start with.
The problems start when you want to use the Casio GBD-H1000 for tracking activities. For starters, it is not a multi-sport watch: the GBD-H1000 only tracks runs. Also, although it has a built-in GPS, it takes forever for the watch to pick up the signal. What you can do is to start the watch as you go outside and warm up; by the time you've finished with your warm-up, the GPS signal should be ready for you.
The other issue is the precision of the optical heart rate sensor, or the lack thereof. The heart rate readings are way off, and tightening the watch around the wrist makes it worse. This, in turn, screws up your training load and VO2 max estimation, making those features pretty useless.
On the upside, the Casio Move is a decent app, especially considering it's just been launched. The runs are easy to find, and it is really cool that the route is coloured differently based on your heart rate at that point. VO2 max and training status are also clearly displayed.
Maybe a bit further down the line, once the sensors and the software have been tweaked, the Casio GBD-H1000 will be a good buy for even serious runners, but until then, it will remain the choice of fashion-conscious runners who don't mind a bit of inaccuracy.
How to buy the best running watch
For the record, you don't necessarily need a running watch to log indoor or outdoor activity. You can use your smartphone's GPS to track your geolocation and a heart rate monitor to track the activity itself.
However, running watches provide heart rate sensing and GPS tracking on your wrist and thanks to their screens, you can keep an eye out on all the data in real-time. On some models, you can also check the map and your exact position on the watch itself as you run without consulting your phone.
Probably the best advice when shopping for a sports watch is to buy one that's a bit more advanced than you currently need it to be. If you've literally just hauled yourself off the sofa for the first time in a decade, you might well think you'd rather not know your heart rate, but in nine months, after you mastered the art of how to lose belly fat fast, you may feel very differently.
Likewise, if you've been running for a while, you may be heading towards that point where you'll want to know more about your cadence or lactate threshold.
If you're only going to use your watch in the gym, you may be able to get by with just heart-rate tracking and the ability to time intervals. How about cyclists? More casual pedal pushers can make do with GPS and the ability to track time, speed and distance. But as you get more into it, you could be swayed by the ability to link to power meters and the rest of the Lycra warrior's arsenal of ANT+ and Bluetooth paraphernalia.
Almost all of these watches sync with their respective mobile apps (Garmin Connect, Polar Flow etc.) and third-party apps, like Strava. These let you dig deeper into the details, create and download pre-planned coaching lessons and set up goal-specific training plans to help you achieve your running and fitness goals.
What is the best running watch?
The real question is: which is the best running watch for you?
Our favourite running watch at present is the Garmin Forerunner 245 because it represents a good balance between price and functionality and it's versatile enough for runners of all abilities as well as being powerful enough to satisfy stat-hungry semi-pros as well. Garmin makes more running watches than anyone else and – in our opinion – the best of them are the finest running watches you can buy.
For off-road adventures, you can choose the Suunto 9 Baro or the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro: both have excellent battery management options and they are also more rugged, a feature that might come in handy when exploring the wilderness. For the same reason, they are also a bit heavier than some of the other models on the list.
If you have less than £200/$230/AU$399 to burn, you can get a Fitbit Versa 3; this smartwatch is aimed at casual users but can track all the key body metrics. It's also comfortable enough to wear for sleeping and has a pretty AMOLED screen.
Alternatively, the Polar Ignite 2 is a good entry-level fitness watch/fitness tracker with great functions and a decent touch screen. Talking about Polar: the Ignite might not be the best Polar watch but it's pretty decent nevertheless. Just like the Suunto 7 is not the best Suunto watch but you should buy it anyway as it received a massive update recently.
Wrist heart rate tracking: what you need to know
A lot of running watches now offer heart rate tracking directly from the wrist. The technology used in the running watches is different from heart rate monitors: the former uses optical sensors which read pulse using lasers and therefore require the watch and the sensor to be close to the skin for accurate readings.
Here is our best advice on buying a running watch:
1. When it works, a good, wrist-mounted heart-rate tracker is sufficiently accurate for most users.
2. For daily tracking of your resting and active pulse rate, it is more than adequate.
3. For running, it is broadly speaking fine.
4. For very high-intensity exercise, anything where your muscles are highly tensed, and for anyone who sweats a lot, wrist HR isn't always fit for purpose. Moisture causes the light from the tracker to refract, ruining its accuracy and, in many cases, stopping it from working correctly.
5. In all cases except all-day tracking, a chest strap is a more accurate option. We're not saying those are perfect, but they're more precise.