Best Running Watches to Help You Achieve All Your Fitness Goals

Woman running with Garmin Forerunner 255


Running watches have come a long way. From the classic Timex sports watch to today's Garmin technology, it's easy to forget that runners during the first running boom mapped their runs using the odometers on their cars. Now we're all walking around like we have Inspector Gadget's Go-Go Gadget Watch on our wrists, and we think nothing of it. The latest tech can even estimate our blood oxygen levels and give us a pretty good idea of our Vo2Max. It's really cool but also a little overwhelming when it comes to choosing the right one for your specific needs.

Running watches are not created equal. You have smartwatches, fitness trackers, multisport watches, and plain old pedometers. We wanted to make it easy for you to choose your favorite type and brand. We reviewed several dozen to find the most functional, accurate, and easiest running watches to wear and use. All the watches on this list have useful features meant to help you be the healthiest, fittest version of yourself.

Why Trust Us?

ACTIVE.com's editorial team relies on the knowledge and experience of fitness and wellness experts including competitive athletes, coaches, physical therapists, nutritionists, and certified trainers. This helps us ensure the products we feature are of the highest standard. Collectively, the team has spent countless hours researching equipment, gear, and recovery tools in order to create the most accurate, authentic content for our readers. Customer satisfaction is also a key part of our review process, which is why we only feature products that are highly rated. More importantly, each member of our team is a fitness enthusiast. Fitness may be our job, but it is also our passion. Therefore, we strive to bring you products that we trust and would personally use.

The Best Running Watches - Our Top Picks

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Best Overall Running Watch - Garmin Forerunner 255

Garmin Forerunner 255

SPECS

  • Battery life: Watch mode, up to 14 days; GPS-only GNSS mode, up to 30 hours
  • Size: 49g; 45.6 x 45.6 x 12.9 mm
  • Intended uses: Running
  • Special features: Advanced health stats, guided training and suggested workouts, gold-standard GPS, recovery guidance

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After spending some time with the Garmin Forerunner 255, we had to ask: What can't this watch do? It has training plans, suggested workouts, the ability to track nearly everything your body does—it would be a little creepy if it wasn't so useful! Runners and triathletes alike will love this watch. It has a sleeker design than the cumbersome Fenix without sacrificing functionality.

If you are using your watch primarily for running, you will be impressed by the GPS speed, heart rate precision, Vo2Max tracking, and different training options. First, it will give you an overall read on your heart rate and health status. Based on this info, it will be able to show you how your training load is improving or maintaining your fitness and offer runs based on your current level and goals. If you wear the watch 24 hours a day, it can give you an accurate idea on how fresh or worn out your body is and make recommendations on recovery time.

Runners will love the race training features, which will grant you insights into courses, offer race-specific training tips, and provide pace predictions. And, to make sure you are well-rounded—the Garmin Forerunner 255 has 30 activities built in to help you track your cross training and strength training. In fact, the watch comes with HIIT, strength, cardio, yoga, and Pilates workouts already loaded, so you have no excuse not to strength train.

We don't have many complaints about this watch but understand that it might take a bit of time to figure out all it has to offer. Unless you're a total gearhead, you may have to spend some minutes going through the widgets and buttons to make sure you are getting the most out of this awesome beast.

What We Like

  • Relatively lightweight and comes in a smaller 39g version
  • Multiple and functional activity options
  • Race widget features course details and recommended workouts for epic training
  • Comprehensive body analytics

What We Don't Like

  • Not a touchscreen
  • Complex navigation, takes time to learn all the tricks

BUY: Garmin Forerunner 255

Best Garmin Running Watch - Venu 2 Plus

Garmin Venu 2 Plus

SPECS

  • Battery life: Watch mode, up to 9 days; battery-saver watch mode, up to 10 days; GPS mode with music, up to 8 hours; GPS mode without music, up to 24 hours
  • Size: 51g; 43.6 x 43.6 x 12.6 mm
  • Intended uses: Running
  • Special features: Smartwatch, animated cross-training workouts, sleep monitoring with a "restlessness" score, built-in microphone

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Imagine this: a running watch for a serious athlete plus an all-around smart watch with the ability to make and receive calls, texts, emails, and do almost everything your smartphone can do. I mean, forget working from home, with the Venu 2 Plus, you can work from your favorite trail. The call feature is amazing for runners who are hesitant to hit the road without a phone in hand. With the third button reserved as a personalize-able shortcut, you can program in a way to make a quick outgoing call and feel safe while out on your run. The overall functionality makes this watch a hit, and for runners, it has all the bells and whistles that will make training and health tracking enjoyable.

The Venu 2 Plus looks and acts like a lifestyle watch, allowing you to load a payment method on your wrist and use voice assistant to send texts and perform tasks. But it goes beyond what most lifestyle watches can do for runners and offers body battery tracking, a pulse ox and heart rate monitor, Garmin coach workouts, plus tracking for multiple activities (now including tennis and pickleball). This watch is perfect for the runner who wants it all.

What We Like

  • Sleek and stylish design, available in three colors
  • Microphone included for making and receiving calls plus voice assistance
  • Bright AMOLED display
  • Phone-free music
  • Long battery life

What We Don't Like

  • Expensive
  • Comes in only 1 size
  • Not ideal for triathletes; water-resistant, not waterproof

BUY: Venu 2 Plus

Best GPS Running Watch - COROS Pace 2

COROS Pace 2

SPECS

  • Battery life: Watch mode, 20 days; GPS mode, 30 hours; UltraMax mode, 60 hours
  • Size: 29g; 42 x 42 x 11.7 mm, 1.2-inch display
  • Intended uses: Running
  • Special features: 50m (5 ATM) waterproof rating, customizable data screen with easy one-finger operation, muscle heatmap shows you which muscle groups worked the most in a daily, weekly, or monthly view.

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There is much to love in the COROS Pace 2 for runners looking for accurate distance, heart rate and cadence metrics. First, it is featherlight and slim despite having a lot of the same features as its clunkier cousins. The battery life is unbeatable, and you can customize basically everything about the watch, including workouts to complete. It can also integrate with popular training apps so you or your coach can easily upload the day's session to your wrist, and it has strength training routines built into the watch as well.

While it offers quite a bit, the COROS Pace 2 is slightly more basic than a Garmin or Apple watch. You won't find music, voice assistance, or coaching embedded in the watch, but those extras aren't for everyone. Runners who value consistency, accuracy, and dependability for a reasonable price will love this product.

What We Like

  • Lightweight
  • Clear display
  • Long battery life
  • Accurate and consistent GPS even in water

What We Don't Like

  • Few activity modes
  • Difficult to navigate

BUY: COROS Pace 2

Best Running Watch with Music - Garmin Forerunner® 255 music

Garmin Forerunner 255 Music

SPECS

  • Battery life: Up to 14 days; GPS mode, up to 30 hours
  • Size: 49g; 45.6 x 45.6 x 12.9 mm
  • Intended uses: Running, triathlon
  • Special features: Advanced health stats, guided training and suggested workouts, gold-standard GPS, recovery guidance, phone-free music

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For just 50 bucks more, you can have everything that the Forerunner 255 has plus the ability to listen to music on your run without your phone. It's kind of worth it if you're going to be out on the roads and need some tunes to get you through your miles.

The Forerunner 255 music will give you a daily report on your health stats and progress, including a body battery reading, sleep analysis, heart rate map, and overview of training. It has multiple activity modes plus strength training sessions right on the watch. In fact, the watch comes with HIIT, strength, cardio, yoga, and Pilates workouts preloaded, making it easier than ever to cross-train.

The watch will also offer suggested daily running workouts and a Garmin coach, who will make a training plan for you for whatever distance you’re training for. This is seriously a great investment for any runner who needs a solid training companion.

What We Like

  • Clear display
  • Multiple activities and cross-training features
  • Race-specific training
  • Phone-free music
  • Responsive customer service

What We Don't Like

  • Pricey
  • Some users experience glitches when loading music

BUY: Garmin Forerunner 255 music

Best Budget Running Watch - Fitbit Inspire 3

Fitbit Inspire 3

SPECS

  • Battery life: Up to 10 days
  • Size: 17.69g; 1.55"L x .73"W x .46"
  • Intended uses: General fitness tracking
  • Special features: Touchscreen, phone notifications, mindfulness and meditation exercises, wellness report available

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We get it, running watches are expensive…like really expensive. Don't worry, though! If you are unwilling to shell out hundreds of dollars, the Fitbit Inspire 3 will serve you well. This compact little tracker can track your sleep, heart rate, Vo2max, stress levels, and blood oxygen saturation. It has 20 activity modes to choose from, and its SmartTrack technology can identify what activity you're doing and adjust its numbers accordingly. It will help keep track of your activity minutes and, of course, track your steps.

Fitbit Inspire 3 offers a lot for under 100 bucks, but it's probably not great for intermediate and advanced runners who need accurate readings on their daily and weekly mileage. The Inspire 3 still doesn't have a built-in GPS, so you will be left estimating your run totals. That might work well if you use duration instead of distance as a metric—for you, this watch is a steal. The final perk? It just looks good and can be worn like a shiny bracelet.

What We Like

  • Colored touchscreen
  • Multiple ways to track wellness
  • The price

What We Don't Like

  • No built-in GPS
  • Very small screen
  • Some metrics only available through premium subscription

BUY: Fitbit Inspire 3

Best Men's Running Watch - COROS Vertix 2 GPS Adventure Watch

COROS Vertix 2 GPS Adventure Watch

SPECS

  • Battery life: Watch mode, 60 days; GPS mode, 140 hours
  • Size: 89g; 1.97" x 1.97" x 0.62", 1.4" display size
  • Intended uses: Multisport
  • Special features: 200 preloaded strength exercises, sapphire glass screen with scratch-resistant titanium bezel, GPS accuracy based on its communication with 5 major satellite systems, waterproof to 10 ATM

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The reviews are in, and this watch rises close to the top. With incredible accuracy and nearly every body metric you could ever desire (plus the ability to view eight of these numbers on screen at the same time), this watch is a data-nerd's dream. The watch is ready to track your time on the slopes, bike, indoor track, pool, or open water as well and offers you the ability to add customized workouts. It also has a multitude of workouts and training sessions built in to help you amp up your training. This latest version is the first of the Coros watches to offer phone-free music.

It is a unisex watch, but aesthetically, it seems better suited for men who don't mind lugging around 89 extra grams on their wrist. It's a bit bulky, but that seems on-brand for rugged, fit dudes who are always down for an adventure. If you are ready for a watch upgrade and need a way to track all your activities and everything happening in your body, this watch is the perfect way to treat yourself.

What We Like

  • Accurate, consistent, and durable
  • Excellent battery life
  • Great number of activity modes
  • Phone-free music

What We Don't Like

  • Very expensive
  • Heavy

BUY: COROS Vertix 2 GPS Adventure Watch

Best Running Watch for Beginners - Garmin Forerunner 55

Garmin Forerunner 55

SPECS

  • Battery life: Watch mode, 14 days; GPS mode, 20 hours
  • Size: 37g; 42 x 42 x 11.6 mm; Display size, 1.04" (26.3mm) diameter
  • Intended uses: Running
  • Special features: Built-in GPS, suggests runs tailored to you, heart rate tracker, pace predictor, multiple activity trackers

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New runners, rejoice! The Garmin Forerunner 55 is just enough to see you through a training cycle without breaking the bank. If you are a casual runner who is itching to run a 5K, then it's time for a watch upgrade. And if you've already run a few 5Ks and you're wondering if you're ready for a half or full marathon, buy this watch and then sign up. Really, the Garmin Forerunner 55 gives you everything you need. It tracks your heart rate and fitness levels, has a built-in, super-accurate GPS, and will give you information to help you aim for paces that will get you to reach your goals.

The Garmin Connect app is one of the easiest interfaces to use, with automatic syncing, and digestible graphs. If you don't want another app on your phone, the Garmin Forerunner 55 has ample storage with room to hold up to 200 hours of activity data. It's waterproof up to 50m, so you won't have to worry about rain or the shower, and you can even do some training in the pool (it can track that too!). While it may not have all the features of the pricier Garmin watches, it's a great model to take for a spin for a year or two while you figure out just how much you love to run.

What We Like

  • Built-in GPS
  • Lightweight
  • Multiple activity trackers
  • Easy to use

What We Don't Like

  • No phone-free music
  • Limited daily suggested workouts

BUY: Garmin Forerunner 55

Best Running Watch for Women - Polar Pacer Pro

Polar Pacer Pro

SPECS

  • Battery life: Watch mode, 7 days; GPS mode, 35 hours
  • Size: 41g; 45 x 45 x 11.5 mm, 1.2" display
  • Intended uses: Running
  • Special Features: GPS and stride accuracy, clear display, fast processing speed

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Women runners are fierce, focused, goal-oriented, and dedicated to training. You need a watch that matches this intensity. The Polar Pacer Pro is a great running watch that is made just for runners with data and metrics intended to help you get the best results. Polar leads the way in heart rate technology and continues to improve its GPS functionality. These data points intersect to give you the best read of your Vo2Max and overall fitness.

The Polar Pacer Pro is a good option for the woman who is looking to take her training to the next level. Not only will it give you all the stats you need, but you can also compare yourself with other runners to see where you are and give you incentive to improve. The watch will tell you what HR zone to be in and when to maximize your training effectiveness. It also has the option to plan not just your training block but the upcoming running year as well. The look of the watch is sophisticated and slim, perfect for everyday wear as well as time on the road.

What We Like

  • Running-focused
  • Lightweight
  • Run ranking (compare your stats with other athletes of similar demographics)
  • Great Vo2Max metrics
  • Guided running sessions
  • Turn-by-turn guidance (pre-planned routes or back to your starting point)

What We Don't Like

  • Limited battery life
  • Not a touchscreen

BUY: Polar Pacer Pro

Best Smart Running Watch - Apple Watch 7

Apple Watch 7

SPECS

  • Battery life: Up to 18 hours
  • Size: 38.8g; 45 x 38 x 10.7 mm
  • Intended Uses: Smart watch
  • Special Features: Large display, 5 colors, fast charging, built-in GPS, Apple fitness+ workouts

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Apple says the Apple Watch 7 is the perfect companion for a healthy life, and they aren't wrong. In addition to being a user-friendly, popular smart watch, it's gone a step above to provide runners with accurate GPS and body metrics for days. It gives you a lot of what the other tracking devices offer—meditations, fitness tracking, heart rate monitoring—while including the ability to call, text, listen to music, and use voice assistance. On the Apple Watch 7, there is a larger display compared to the 6, a new blood oxygen app, and an ECG app. It still has everything we love about previous Apple Watches, like remote control features, access to Apple Pay, and Apple Music.

Why would anyone not want the Apple Watch 7? It really depends on your training (and software) preferences. Are you someone who needs their entire social and working life on their wrist? Then this is the top choice for you. But if you want a running watch just for running (and other fitness activities), one of the other products reviewed here may suit you better. Some users have noticed inconsistencies with their heart rate readings, which makes us wonder how accurate the rest of the new tech could be.

What We Like

  • Incredible GPS
  • Large, bright display
  • The best in smart watch technology
  • Lots of color and style options

What We Don't Like

  • Short battery life
  • Poor heart rate accuracy
  • Expensive
  • Need to subscribe to Apple Fitness+ for workouts

BUY: Apple Watch 7

Best Running Watch for Triathletes - Suunto Ambit3 Peak

Suunto Ambit3 Peak

SPECS

  • Battery life: Watch mode, 30 days; GPS mode, up to 200 hours
  • Size: 89g; 50 x 50 x 18 mm
  • Intended uses: Multisport
  • Special Features: Sophisticated GPS, route planning feature, 10 activity modes, advanced swim metrics

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There are only a few truly great watches for serious triathletes, and the Suunto Ambit3 Peak is at the top of this list. This is a high-quality watch with tons of data, an incredible battery life, and information that is useful to our run, bike, swim friends. One of the greatest attributes of the watch is its ability to track pool and open water swims alike. It can measure swim stroke rate and efficiency and record heart rate (with the Suunto sensor). Suunto flies somewhat under the radar in comparison to Garmin and Polar, but its GPS accuracy and health trackers are just as superior.

Triathletes will love the Suunto app. It's logical, clean, and helps athletes glean the important information to their performance. The only downside to this watch is its massive size. Many gearheads don't seem to mind lugging enormous watches around, but for those looking for a lightweight option, consider something a bit less giant.

What We Like

  • Outstanding battery life
  • Accurate GPS and HR
  • Swim and bike data that matters

What We Don't Like

  • Big and heavy
  • Ugly display

BUY: Suunto Ambit3 Peak

How to Choose the Best Running Watch for You

To find the best running watch for you, you must consider your athletic needs. Here are just a few tips for the different types of runners out there:

  • If you are using the watch to time runs and measure your basic activity level, a basic fitness tracker will work just fine.
  • If you are training for a race—5K to marathon—you will need a watch with an accurate GPS system, pace calculator, and heart rate monitor.
  • Triathletes will want a multisport GPS watch with run, bike, and swim modes. Also, if you can opt for something with a 100m (10 ATM) waterproof score.
  • If you are doing several different sports and looking to measure your abilities, get a watch with many activity modes.
  • Finally, if you are an ultrarunner, pay special attention to the battery life. A watch with less than 24 hours in GPS mode may not work well for the distance you want to tackle.

FAQs About Running Watches


Is a running watch worth it?

Yes! A running watch is worth it, especially if you are jumping into a training plan. When you're just starting to run, it's true that all you really need is a good pair of running shoes. But once you can run 15 minutes at a time, you should purchase your first running watch. You'll be delighted to see how far you've run and how fast you were able to do it.

How much should I spend on a running watch?

How much you spend on a running watch depends on what you use it and need it for. Watches with GPS trackers start at around $200, and that's a pretty good place to start.

But let's say you are doing an ultramarathon in the backwoods of Tennessee, and you need long battery life, access to a map and a compass on the watch, and all the other basic stuff a running watch provides. Also, you want to be able to call, text, and use voice-activated commands while you are training for this race because you know you'll be out on the trails for hours and need to maintain communication with the outside world. Add the fact that you love to swim and would like to track that activity, and you're looking at upward of $700.

The sweet spot for a really solid running watch with a lot of fancy features is going to run you about $350.

What features do I need in a running watch?

Most runners are going to want the essentials:

  • Built-in GPS to give you distance and pace
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Stride/cadence data
  • Comfort

Anything beyond that is a luxury. What is exciting is just how much running watches have to offer in 2022. Not only are you getting crazy data about how your insides are working, but you can also track sleep, menstrual cycles, and stress levels. Several of these watches have strength workouts loaded into the interface for you to use. Even middle-of-the-road running watches now offer daily training recommendations and have a "coach feature" that will help you plan your training calendar. Every watch brand has its own app where your running history will be stored. Many runners will find these tools cool while some might think it's overwhelming. Don't worry—there is a watch out there for both the data-hungry and the minimalist runner. The features you need and use are totally up to you.

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