The best running watches are an excellent way to get more information about your endurance sports – primarily running, but cycling, swimming and other sports too. These high-performance fitness tools have tons of features to help you improve your personal bests, including virtual pacers, suggested workouts, route creation with GPS, and all the usual heart rate, time, and pacing information you get fed during your run.
If you’re a runner, especially a beginner, the number of features that running watches have are vast, and this can make selecting the right one quite daunting. What is multi-band GPS? Do you need solar charging? What’s the difference between heart rate and heart rate variability?
We’re on hand to test and evaluate some of the best running watches for your budget and fitness levels. We’ve searched high and low to test running watches, testing their accuracy and examining how they track your route, calories burned, pace, cadence, speed and more. Knowing this information can help you pace yourself for longer runs, or speed up to beat any personal records.
If you don’t need a specific running watch, but still want to track your fitness levels here’s our guide to the best fitness trackers. If you’re on a budget, our best cheap running watches guide has everything you need.
Matt is TechRadar’s Fitness, Wellbeing and Wearables Editor, which means he’s an expert on workouts, smartwatches, and all things fitness tech. Matt’s spent years covering the health and fitness beat and has personally tested many of the watches below.
Latest updates: Added Garmin Epix Pro to this list in place of the Fenix 7, removed Garmin Forerunner 955 in favour of the 265, and added the Fitbit Charge 5.
The quick list
You can read about each of the best running watches in our full list below, but here are the cliffnotes: a brief word on our top six running watches, and who they’re best suited for.
The best running watch for most people
Garmins are system-agnostic, the Forerunner is Garmin’s premier running watch brand, and the 265 is reasonably priced and up-to-date. The best pick for most people unless you want a cheap, ultra-premium or OS-specific watch.
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Best budget running watch
The best budget running watch
Garmin’s cheap and cheerful Vivoactive range combines the best of conventional smartwatch and dedicated running device in an affordable package
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Best premium running watch
The best premium running watch
Ideal for big outdoor adventures which might require GPS credentials and a detailed map, complete with weather information, displayed on its big color screen.
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Best for trail runners
The best for distance runners
The Garmin Instinct 2 isn’t as expensive as the monstrous Enduro 2, but still contains a load of great GPS tools, plus that extra-rugged aesthetic. It lasts for ages too.
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Best for iOS users
The best for iOS users
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is an incremental upgrade that brings a world-leading screen to an already beautiful design. The watch retains a 36-hour battery life, which is essential if you’re out a lot and using GPS at the same time.
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Best Garmin alternative
The best Garmin alternative
If you don’t like Garmin’s interface, the Coros Pace 2 is an excellent long-distance running watch, attractively-priced and bursting with features.
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If you enjoy running as part of triathlon training, the Garmin Forerunner 265 is a great watch for you. It’s as good as the Forerunner 955 – only the fact it’s a very iterative update and shares many of the same features as its predecessors stopped it from winning an elusive five stars.
It’s reasonably priced if you can’t stretch to some of the more expensive entries in Garmin’s stable. Its location-tracking and biometrics are extremely accurate thanks to the latest Garmin software and multi-band GPS, and it’s packed with genuinely useful training tools to help you get more from your runs, bike rides, and swims.
Last year’s Training Readiness score is here, and Heart Rate Variability functions allow you to more accurately tell if you’re fully recovered, offering training suggestions based on how ready or how fatigued you might be. It measures how well you’ve recovered from the previous day’s exertions, which helps you make every training run as effective as possible.
We were also particularly impressed by the full-color on-screen maps, which make navigation easy on such a display and the sheer degree of customization on offer, especially via the new AMOLED screen. Building your own interval sessions around time or distance, for example, is surprisingly straightforward.
There are bigger, more powerful, classier-looking running watch with a broader range of sports modes and better battery lives out there, but the Forerunner 265 is a superb training aid and affordable for beginners and serious athletes alike.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 265 review
Best budget watch
Is it a smartwatch, is it a GPS running watch, is it a fashion watch? It’s all three in one. This is the first Garmin watch that’s really clearly gone for the design-loving runner, going up against the likes of Apple Watch and Android Wear devices. Sure, it’s not technically as powerful as some of its contemporaries on this list, but in terms of offering the best bang for your buck – an attractive look and features at an attractive price – it’s hard to beat.
As you can probably imagine, like all the best running watches, it’s got all the Garmin smarts, meaning full GPS and heart rate tracking, multi-sport support and even on-watch music streaming for Deezer and Spotify (though the interface here could stand some improvement).
All that and battery life lasts a hefty four or five days of normal use or 18 hours of GPS training (six if you’re also playing music). On the design side of things, this running watch features a stainless steel bezel and a comfy rubberized strap that can be swapped out to suit the occasion.
A huge selection of watch faces and app options are available on Garmin Connect, which is open to developers, meaning more cool new additions all the time.
Read our full Garmin Vivoactive 4 review
Best premium watch
The Garmin Epix Pro is a fantastic smartwatch, but one that exists in a weird spot between some of its stablemates. This isn’t just a watch for runners, though – in addition to a full set of profiles for road, trail, and indoor running, there’s also a huge suite of training tools for cycling, swimming, hiking, climbing, and dozens of other activities. It’s even a tournament-legal golf watch, with thousands of course maps preinstalled.
Focused on endurance, it offers a great-looking design and a big, bright display, battery for days, and much more, but much of that can be found on the Fenix 7 Pro, or even the Fenix 7. That’s not to say it’s bad (far from it, it’s on this list after all), but at over $900 / £800 / AU$1,300, it’s a big commitment.
That said, the new Hill and Endurance scores are a great way to up your training level, tracking new metrics for you to try and push yourself to the next increment. The torch is great, too, with a variety of modes to keep you visible on the roads, find your way in the brush, and signal in an emergency.
Read our full Garmin Epix Pro review
Best for distance runners
The Garmin Instinct 2 is a fantastic running watch if you’ve ever laced up your shoes and been about to head out the door, then realized your watch is going to run flat before you’ve finished.
The Instinct 2 has battery life that can be measured in weeks rather than days or hours, and in the right conditions, its solar variants can keep running indefinitely. Tracking workouts require a little extra juice, but on a sunny day, a two-hour run with all sensors enabled barely made a dent in the battery.
The Instinct 2 is seriously robust, with a fiber-reinforced resin case and bezel rather than the flashier stainless steel of some higher-end Garmin watches, which means it’s light and shrugs off knocks and drops, making it a solid option for trail runners too. Garmin has added some fun new colors this time around, so you’ll be easily visible while exploring woodland routes.
During our tests, the only real downside we found is that the Instinct 2’s monochrome memory-in-pixel (MiP) display isn’t great for maps. You can plot routes in the Garmin Connect app or import ones from third-party sources, but the watch itself will only be able to give you a vague impression of your bearing. If you want to explore new places, then the Fenix 7 or Epix would be a better choice, but otherwise, the Instinct 2 is easy to recommend.
Read our full Garmin Instinct 2 review
Best for iOS users
If you want the ultimate Apple Watch that you can take anywhere, including into the wilderness and under the sea, then the Apple Watch Ultra 2 will be perfect for you. It’s not hugely different from the first iteration of the Ultra, but the screen is Apple’s brightest screen ever, which makes it perfect on those days when you’re fighting to see the screen because of glare from the sun on the side of the mountain.
The refresh rate is like water falling off a duck’s back, and it’s Apple at its peak. It’s the best smartwatch screen we’ve ever seen in person from a purely technical standpoint. The new S9 SiP chip enables a range of new features including the hands-free Double Tap control. This innovative new gesture allows you to start workouts, dismiss timers, answer calls and more, all hands-free.
These small changes have made an already great watch into one of the very best on the market, which is why it also merits inclusion in our best smartwatch guide.
Read our full Apple Watch Ultra 2 review
Best Garmin alternative
The Coros Pace 2 is a superb mid-range running watch that’s super lightweight but heavy on features. At just 29g, it’s barely noticeable on the wrist but includes several features we’d expect to find in more expensive running watches, including an ‘AI trainer’ to help you manage your training load in preparation for events; interval, triathlon, and multi-sport modes; and compatibility with third-party sensors like chest-strap heart rate monitors and foot pods.
Positioning is excellent, with GPS supplemented by GLONASS and Beidou positioning (GALILEO support is coming in a future update). If you do happen to stray off the radar (in a tunnel, for example), the watch automatically calculates your cadence and stride length so you can keep monitoring your progress.
In our tests, our only complaint was that the screen was a little dim and could be tricky to read in daylight without a tap of the backlight button, which puts a small dent in its otherwise impressive battery life, but that’s a small gripe. This is one of the best running watches around and will serve road runners well.
Read our full Coros Pace 2 review
Best value Polar
The Polar Pacer Pro shares a lot of DNA with the Polar Vantage V2 and, funnily enough, other Polar devices. It’s a stripped-back, super-light, runner’s running watch, with no time for smartwatch frippery. It’s a terrific watch and very attractively priced, but it’s missing a couple of things the premium models higher on this list are packing.
The most important inclusion is Polar’s advanced suite of running metrics and suggested workouts. I love this watch as it provides some excellent training recommendations, a fitness test, and all the information I could want about my run including heart rate zones, burned calories broken down minute-by-minute, detailed maps of your routes, hills you’ve climbed, and power you’ve exerted. A fitness test was introduced in previous models which gives you numerical values for your VO2 max, maximal aerobic power, and maximal aerobic speed. Repeating the test at a later date will give you a measurable indication of how your fitness is improving over time.
The Pacer Pro is lighter than the Grit X, too, and may be one of the lightest watches on this list at 41g. It doesn’t feel like a plastic toy either, as so many light watches do. It doesn’t contain enough memory for music, and despite packing on-board GPS and trackback features, it doesn’t display maps on its watch face, providing simple (in theory) directional arrows instead, which can be fiddly to use. However, it’s a great watch for the price.
Read our full Polar Pacer Pro review
Best for multi-day events
The Garmin Enduro 2 is a beast of a watch that boasts all of Garmin’s usual features and some of the most impressive battery life we’ve ever seen on a watch. The old Enduro was missing topographical maps, which have since been added, making it hard to find a fault in the Enduro 2’s makeup beyond its obvious size and price.
The Enduro 2 can go up to 65 days in smartwatch mode, and offers an enormous 140 hours of GPS battery life when you factor in solar power. And if you keep operations to the basic minimum, the Garmin Enduro 2 will keep going for anywhere up to a year.
In general, the Enduro series gives you pretty much everything you could want to track runs. It’s a tank, the Christian Bale Batmobile of fitness watches. It provides advanced fitness tracking metrics and offers sleep monitoring too. Features include a barometric altimeter, a heart rate monitor, a pulse ox monitor, 24/7 fitness tracking and smartwatch features like notifications and payments.
Its price will be prohibitive for many, but if you’re seeking a big watch that’s a real battery powerhouse, the Enduro 2 is the one for you..
Read our full Garmin Enduro 2 review
Best for Wear OS users
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is a very cool watch with loads of features perfect for runners, without a doubt the best true Wear OS watch for dedicated runners and Samsung users.
The Watch 5 Pro packs improved sleep tracking and a great body composition feature for general health, as well as an Exynos W920 dualcore 5nm chipset capable of advanced GPS tracking, turn-by-turn navigational direction, and Samsung’s new Route Workout function. This allows you to plan your route and share it with friends, so you can run the same course together.
It’s well-designed, with a friendly UX, a chunky raised bezel to protect the screen and IP68 waterproofing. 16GBs of RAM ensures you can pack plenty of music into it. However, it’s a massive watch, big and bulky and heavier than many on this list, and it locks certain features away to anyone other than Samsung Health users, so it incentivizes you to use it with a Samsung phone. The battery also isn’t really up to par, betraying its true nature as a high-powered smartwatch first and economic sports tool second.
However, if you’re already a Samsung user and want a top lifestyle watch with loads of running applications, this is a terrific buy.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro review
Best Fitbit for runners
The Fitbit Charge 5 takes the best features from all of the company’s other devices and rolls them into one sporty package. It’s technically a tracker rather than a watch, but it packs all of Fitbit’s running expertise into a single handy device, packs an AMOLED touchscreen and lasts for over a week. We think it merits inclusion.
You get onboard GPS for tracking runs, walks and bike rides without carrying your phone; an EDA (electrodermal activity) sensor to measure changes in stress levels, an ECG app, and (like the Fitbit Luxe) a bright AMOLED display that makes it a pleasure to use.
The Charge 5 is a fitness tracker built for people who are taking their workouts seriously, but want an affordable option that works as an all-around activity tracker. Less obtrusive than a “true” running watch, it still provides excellent GPS-driven metrics such as pace, cadence and speed.
The Charge 5 doesn’t let you control your Spotify playlist or other music from your wrist, but that’s a minor quibble, and it’s an otherwise excellent fitness tracker.
Read our full Fitbit Charge 5 review
How to choose
How to choose the best running watch for you
When you’re picking a running watch, one of the first things to consider is your current goal. Every runner can benefit from a dedicated GPS watch, but if you’re aiming to complete your first 5K, your needs will be very different to a person aiming to set a new personal best in a marathon.
For new runners, a watch that will help you set up a simple training plan and give your runs some variety are useful tools. The Garmin Forerunner 55, for example, gives workout suggestions, so you don’t get stuck in the same routine, even if you’re not following a specific training plan. It also suggests how long you should rest and recover after each session, so you get the most out of your training.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Polar Grit X keeps tabs on your fuelling strategy for long-distance events and training sessions, letting you know when it’s time to take on more carbs and water. It also works with services like TrainingPeaks, so you can download specialized plans to help you meet your next goal.
While you can use a smartwatch to track your runs, a dedicated running watch with physical buttons will always be an advantage. Not only does this allow you to control the watch without having to study the screen, but it also lets you navigate its menus, pause and start workouts while wearing gloves or with sweaty hands.
Good battery life is another important consideration. You don’t want to be waiting for your watch to charge before heading out on a training session or, worse still, find that it goes flat part way through a run. Some people will only need an hour of GPS at a time, while at the more extreme end of the spectrum, others will need days.
Additional tools like music and contactless payments can also be a very useful addition, allowing you to keep yourself occupied with music or a podcast during your training and stop to pick up a bottle of water or quick snack if you aren’t carrying supplies. These tools also make your running watch more practical for everyday wear, so you don’t need to invest in a second smartwatch to use when you’re not training.
We’ve factored in all these considerations when judging the watches above, so you don’t have to search through specification sheets to make sure the device you’re interested in checks all the right boxes.
How we test
Each time we test a running watch, we wear it for at least two weeks to ensure it gathers a full set of fitness data. Almost all modern running watches include sleep and recovery tracking, so it’s essential to wear each one 24 hours a day to get the most accurate insights.
We test each watch on a pre-determined run and compare their heart rate data with figures from the best heart rate monitors and another control watch to see how they measure up. We’ve also put their different training tools to the test, making sure they’re genuinely useful additions rather than gimmicks.
Each watch starts testing fully charged, and we record how quickly power is drained in typical use so we can compare it to the manufacturer’s quoted figures. Our reviews will always tell you the features we had enabled and the type of workouts we tracked to get a good sense of battery life.