The best running watch is the most versatile fitness wearable money can buy. These GPS-enabled running watches – aka sports watches – are much more than just expensive smartwatches. Top-tier running watches from brands such as Garmin, Polar, Suunto, Coros and more can help you to train, workout and run 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 serious athlete's choice, even in 2021.
For slower movers who just want to know where they're going, head to our best hiking GPS guide instead. Triathletes better check out T3's best triathlon watch guide instead of this one, although admittedly, there is a bit of an overlap between the two. Finally, we have a dedicated best Garmin watch list and a Garmin watch deals roundup, just in case you're after a cheap Garmin. You probably are, aren't you?
How we test the best running watches
Our running watch review process is suitably labour intensive. 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 work and how they perform under various circumstances.
Modern running watches have many performance and casual features at this point, and we also like to test these, including sleep/SPpO2/respiration tracking etc.
As well as all this, we examine the apps the watches use to make sure they work well together. 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 in 2022
The Garmin Forerunner 245 won the 'Best Running Watch' category at the T3 Awards 2021, the second time in a row!
The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is the ultimate smartphone-free GPS running watch for the price-conscious runner. Other multi-sport watches, like the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro or the Polar Vantage V, might provide more metrics, but for the low price point, the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is a more than capable device.
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, of course, great if you use it for running, but you also won't get the sense that you have something substantial wrapped around your wrist. 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 Garmin Forerunner 945 is a great compromise between top-notch features and price whilst not being a compromise at all. Many people will say, 'but it looks the same as the Forerunner 935', and you know what? They are right. But whilst the Forerunner 945 has retained the look and feel of the Forerunner 935, on the inside, it has been completely revamped.
For starters, it uses Garmin's new Elevate optical heart rate sensor, which is more accurate, even underwater, than the 935's sensor. The Forerunner 945 also uses a new GPS chip that manages battery life better, and it is more accurate than its predecessor.
The Forerunner 935 didn't have any onboard music storage and wasn't Garmin Pay ready either, unlike the Forerunner 945. 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.
The Forerunner 945 also has many of Garmin's latest-gen features, including PulseOx, Live Event Sharing, accident detection and assistance, Body Battery energy monitor, Training Load Focus and many more. Some of these features are more casual than hardcore, but that's okay; if I were Garmin, I would like to make my top-tier products more appealing to everyday users too.
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.
The more I think about the Polar Vantage V2, the more I 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 NFC, 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. 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 still a bit laggy, although the screen feels a bit more responsive than the one found on the Vantage V. It's funny that Polar boasts about the ability to choose from four (!) watch faces for the Vantage V2 when Garmin has hundreds, if not thousands, of watch faces available to all of its watches.
I would certainly 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.
The Coros Pace 2 is one of the best running watches that was released in 2020. It might provide less casual features than some Garmins, but the running features on offer here are pretty much spot on. Its predecessor, the Pace, was a good watch, but the Pace 2 improved on all the key features such as battery life and sensors 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, it's bright, and it is just a joy to look at. The always-on memory LCD screen might be handsome, but it doesn't eat away battery power: 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 it.
The Pace 2 gets the basics right, but as well as that, it also has a couple of tricks up in its sleeve. For example, it measures running power on the wrist without any additional sensors required. It also has ABC sensors (accelerometer, barometric altimeter and compass) on board 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, the fastest marathon runner in the world. If he likes Coros, we do too.
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The Polar Vantage M2 strikes a good balance between style and substance: it has numerous features, both sport and casual ones, and despite all the premium features it has to offer, it doesn't cost the earth either. Although fitness wearables are never an investment, we reckon the Vantage M2 will serve its users well for at least a good few years.
Is there a reason why you shouldn't get the Polar Vantage M2? Admittedly, if you need a hardcore running watch, you might find the Vantage M2 a tad bit too fashion watch-like. To clarify, it really isn't one. Still, Polar is certainly trying to make the Vantage M2 more appealing to smartwatch users by offering certain colour variants (looking at you, Champagne/Gold Vantage M2).
However, under the hood, you'll find an adroit – but not Android, thankfully – multisport watch that can effectively help you get better in whatever sport you practice.
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 – you've guessed it – the Forerunner 45, the most significant improvement is the aforementioned battery life: in both smartwatch and GPS mode, the Forerunner 55 lasts almost twice as long as the 45.
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 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 feature could also come in handy for beginner athletes.
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 sport 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.
Despite the Garmin Enduro being tailored to a niche market, non-ultra trail runners can also benefit from wearing the watch. 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 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.
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.
All things considered, the Amazfit GTS 2e is an excellent value for money health-cum-fitness smartwatch. It's not without shortcomings, but those are few and far between, especially if you are using the watch to track fairly light physical activity instead of improving athletic performance.
For such a low price, the build quality of the Amazfit GTS 2e is excellent. The specs are admirable too: for a little bit over $100/£100/AU$160, you'll get a fitness watch with an AMOLED display, aluminium body, built-in GPS, an optical heart rate sensor and many health and fitness features. The watch is easy to use, and the touchscreen is also highly functional with not much lag.
The only criticism I can offer is that the Amazfit GTS 2e lacks innovation. Instead of coming up with new ideas, the watch takes features found in other watches and offers them for less money. But even so, I can forgive the Amazfit GTS 2e as it does it all so effortlessly. For this price, the watch is a real bargain. For those who don't want their fitness watch to be a status symbol, the Amazfit GTS 2e is a perfect choice.
If the Casio G-SQUAD PRO GSW-H1000 was a dedicated running watch, I might have given it only three stars out of five as it's far from being a capable training partner. The accuracy of the heart rate sensor isn't anything to rave about, and there aren't any recovery tips or sleep tracking on offer here.
Thankfully, the G-SQUAD PRO GSW-H1000 doesn't take itself too seriously. The goofy sensor overlay feature and the heap-load of smart features firmly place the watch in the fitness tracker category and far away from multisport watches such as the Garmin Forerunner 945 or the Polar Vantage V2.
Is this a bad thing? I don't think so. Yes, the £599/$699 asking price makes the Casio G-SQUAD PRO GSW-H1000 the single most expensive fitness tracker on the planet, but you don't pay big bucks for the accuracy here. You shell out top dollar for having a smart G-SHOCK wrapped around your wrist to track fitness activities with relative accuracy.
The Casio G-SQUAD PRO GSW-H1000 is not perfect by any means, but I'm sure fashion-forward athletes will appreciate its chunkiness and casual features, not to mention the looks.
With the ability to store more than 300 songs and to detect crunches and other gym workouts, as well as having built-in GPS and pulse tracking, this is the most complete fitness watch Fitbit has ever produced.
The Ionic's heart rate monitor is a bit peculiar. It seems accurate once you're into more intense activity but very inaccurate at lower levels when exercising. The issue with this is that some people like to exercise in the more relaxed, so-called 'fat burning' zone. We're not sure they'll get anywhere with the Ionic because it is less accurate at that kind of level. For tracking resting/average heart rate and workouts in the higher cardio/threshold/intense zones, the Ionic is good. It's just the area in between where it seems to go haywire.
Fitbit claims 4+ days of battery, although as with every watch on the market, the more you use it regularly, the less time the battery will last. For a running watch, that is not bad, and for a smartwatch, it's great.
Being a Fitbit, the Ionic also tracks your steps, distance covered, calories burned in one day and how well you've slept. It also tracks how many flights of stairs you’ve walked up and reminds you to move when you have been sitting for too long. This feature is a bit peculiar as it also tracks your movements outdoors. So if you walk or cycle up a hill, that will be logged as climbing stairs. It's handy if you want to know how many flights of stairs a hill is equivalent to.
The Ionic also has personalised coaching workouts that guide you through specific exercises. This could one day be useful, but if you spend too much time looking at the screen of your watch, you won’t execute the drill properly.
The Ionic is water-resistant up to 50 meters and will have a go at tracking lengths, distance and time. No wrist heart-rate trackers can work underwater, and the Ionic is no exception.
Finally, to train better and become stronger (or faster), you need rest and recovery. The Fitbit Ionic monitors not just your hours of sleep but also the quality, according to your heart rate activity and your night movements. It then breaks your night down into deep, light and REM sleep, which is pretty advanced.
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.
It’s hard to summarise what's not quite right with the Polar Ignite 2. To some degree, it’s still a perfectly adequate fitness wearable and very similar to the Polar Ignite, a watch I really liked. On the other hand, it fails to offer anything new, so I wonder what the point of re-releasing the same watch two years later was?
Even more strangely, Polar already has a watch for the market the Ignite 2 is clearly aimed at, the Polar Unite, a fitness watch that looks the same, is a bit cheaper and less competent but serves its purpose just fine. For the price of the Ignite 2, you can also get a Fitbit Versa 3 or a Garmin Venu Sq (or Sq Music), both being either more popular and/or more capable than the Ignite 2.
Would I recommend the Polar Ignite 2? Well, yes and no. I recommended the original Ignite, and since the Ignite 2 is very similar, I guess I can recommend the new watch too. The training tools are good, the sensors are not too bad either, and the smart features are okay.
But the lack of updates since the Ignite is a bit disappointing, not to mention the increased competition, makes me wonder how many people will actually choose the Polar Ignite 2 over its competitors.
How to buy the best running watch for you
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, like the Polar H9, 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.
Using a smartwatch as a dedicated running watch is still not as satisfying as it should be. The Fitbit Ionic is an excellent fitness watch, but its smartwatch credentials are limited so far by a lack of apps and an unnecessarily fiddly contactless payment system.
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.
Best running watches: what you need to know
The best running watches, despite their name, have the ability to track way more than just runs: GPS multisport watches can track workouts, cycling, swimming, rowing and a million other types of exercises. That's because the best multisport watch, unlike most fitness bands, not only has a slew of sensors (heart rate sensor, accelerometer, barometer etc.) and built-in GPS, but they also tend to be more accurate, as well as generally looking better too.
If you're looking at ways to get fit in 2021 and lose belly fat, using a running watch can come in handy. Running watches track heart rate in real-time, on your wrist, and are capable of estimating calories burnt throughout the day, providing a clearer picture of your energy balance.
Running watches can also help you how to run faster by calculating VO2 max levels, cadence and heart rate zones which will come in handy if you are looking into improving running form. Some of them, like the top of the range Garmin models, can also connect to the best heart rate monitors so you can get even more data out of your runs.
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 more casual users but can track all the key body metrics, as well as being comfortable enough to wear for sleeping. It also has with a great screen.
Alternatively, the Polar Ignite 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.
Lastly, a few words on the Apple Watch Series 6. Particularly for more casual runners (and gym users, and even cyclists and hikers), the Apple Watch Series 6 will provide all the fitness watch features they need, and it also does a whole range of other things that 'proper' running watches cannot do. However, you will need to charge the watch every day, and this watch is not ideal for proper training, either. For more information and to find out if the Apple Watch is best for you, read T3's guide to the best Apple Watch.
Wrist heart rate tracking: what you need to know
A lot of running watches now offer heart rate tracking direct from the wrist. The technology used in the running watches is different from heart rate monitors: the former uses optical sensors which reads pulse using lasers and therefore requires the watch and the sensor to be close to the skin for accurate readings.
Here is our best advice on buying a running watch; you can read reams more about the matter online.
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 just sweats a lot, wrist HR is barely fit for purpose. Moisture causes the light from the tracker to refract, ruining its accuracy and in many cases, stopping it working entirely.
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 accurate in general.