Having tested and used more than we care to admit, trust us when we say, a good running watch makes all the difference.

Whether you’re just getting into jogging or getting ready for your next half marathon, in our experience a reliable running watch can make it radically easier to achieve your goals.

But, with so many different options to choose from, so of which cost in excess of £1000/$1000, knowing which to get can be difficult for even the most seasoned of shoppers.

This is especially true based on our experience. Today there are a lot of running watches doing the rounds that look great, but fail to deliver on key things, like tracking accuracy and battery life with real world usage.

On top of that, if you just want a basic watch to track your treadmill runs or the odd 5km, then you don’t need to spend hundreds on a running watch. Many of the cheaper trackers offer more than enough features to accommodate this.

Here to make sure you get the right running watch for your needs and budget we’ve created this guide detailing the top options we’ve tried and tested that are still on the market.

Every watch on this list has been used by one of our reviewers for at least a week tracking indoor and outdoor runs to gauge its performance, accuracy and battery life, so you can trust our buying advice.

On the off chance you don’t find what you’re looking for you can also check out our best smartwatch, best fitness tracker and best Garmin Watch guides, which offer further buying advice.

Best running watch at a glance

How we test

Find out more about how we test running watches

Every running watch we test is used by the reviewer for at least a week – or longer, if the battery life lasts beyond that point or we need more time to trial its features. During testing, we evaluate key metrics including app support, usability, battery life, and the accuracy of fitness and distance tracking.
 
For distance tracking, we assess how accurately the device records runs on tracks we know the length of. We also evaluate the level of battery life lost per hour using features such as built-in or connected GPS. To check heart rate accuracy, we compare the results from the wearable to a dedicated HRM strap.

Next we combine the data recorded with our general experience of using the wearable day-to-day, revealing whether the device proved comfortable to wear, alongside any issues we may have encountered with unexpected bugs over the review period.

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar

The best for serious runners and athletes

Pros

  • Snappy and accurate multi-band GPS connectivity
  • Comfortable discrete design
  • Local music playback

Cons

  • Limited smartwatch functionality

If you hop over to our best Garmin Watch of best fitness tracker guides, you’ll see the Garmin Fenix 7 is the best “top end” option we recommend for serious athletes. But, if you’re not interested in a tracker for extreme sports or only care about running specifically, then the Forerunner 955 is actually a better option.

Despite costing less than the baseline Fenix 7 it actually shares a lot of the same features and a few exclusives missing on its more premium sibling that during our tests made it as, if not better, for runners.

For starters, the device is a lot smaller, featuring a 1.3-inch transflective touch screen and chassis that’s a few millimeters thinner than what you find on the Fenix. This made it much more comfortable to wear during longer runs, and day-to-day for our reviewer, who was actually using the Fenix 7 as his daily tracker prior to reviewing the 955.

On top of that, it provides the same multi-band GPS support as the Fenix. This meant location tracking was accurate throughout testing and we never had any issue finding a GPS connection.

Add to this the same local music playback and local maps support and it became an easy recommendation. These are two key features that let you get guided, turn-by-turn directions on routes you’re not familiar with. The local music also let our tester enjoy a soundtrack to their run without needing to bring their phone along.

But what really sets it apart is its post-run analytics and coaching features. Unlike the Fenix and many other trackers, as well as distance, heart rate and training effect (which tells you how effective your last activity was) the device has a few useful add-on features. Our favourite was its training readiness service. Training readiness is an add-on that tells you how prepared your body is for a race or run. 

The feature flags causes for lower scores, like poor sleep and offer active recommendations about how to get race ready. As an added bonus, the watch also factors races you’ve put into your calendar into its daily recommendations, making it easier to avoid over training ahead of the big event.

This plus the week-long battery life we enjoyed reviewing it, makes the Forerunner 955 the best option we’d recommend to any serious runner or racer at the moment. The only reason we recommend the Fenix 7 over it for more generalist or adventurous athletes is the fact that it has a plastic, not metal, chassis. This plus the lack of a Sapphire Glass option mean it’s not as rugged as the Fenix and a less reliable option for climbers, watersports and extreme sports athletes.

Reviewer: Alastair Stevenson
Full review: Garmin Forerunner 955 review

Apple Watch Series 7

Best-looking running watch

Pros

  • Much faster charging
  • BIgger screen is great
  • Wide range of easy-to-use fitness features

Cons

  • Battery life remains a day
  • No neutral black or silver aluminium colour options

Not every runner will be happy to wear a watch that’s very clearly designed for sports. Some will prefer a smart-looking timepiece that can be worn at all times, proving useful for activities outside of running, too. If that sounds like you then the Apple Watch 7 is the best option at the moment.

Featuring a robust application library that comprises all the fitness apps you’d expect, including Strava and Runkeeper, the Watch 7 is the most attractive option on this list. Sporting a pebble-shaped design, the device is controlled using touch inputs and a physical watch crown. 

Apple’s wearable is easy to use and surprisingly well stacked for tracking runs. It features optional LTE connectivity, full GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellite support and, thanks to the included SpO2 and ECG sensors, it backs up its accurate distance and run tracking with a host of general wellness features. These include fall detection and the ability to warn you of potential heart problems. 

We found that GPS wasn’t quite as quick to connect as it was on the Fenix 7 in our tests, but distance tracking – for the most part – proved accurate, even when outdoors. The post-workout analytics offer all the detail and information entry to mid-level runners will need, and include heart rate zones, cadence as well as distance. 

The only real drawback is the device’s battery life. Although the variable refresh rate, always-on screen is a great addition to such a smartwatch, it clearly puts a significant drain on the device’s battery. In our tests, we never got beyond a full day of use before the Apple Watch 7 required charging. On top of that, using it for local music playback during a 25-minute 5km run with distance tracking on, we regularly saw the device shed 10-15% of its battery life – which makes it ill-suited for tracking longer, more serious runs such as marathons.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: Apple Watch 7 Review

Garmin Enduro 2

The best for battery life

Pros

  • Full-colour mapping added
  • New Multi-band mode boosts tracking accuracy
  • Slightly refined design

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Design will still be big for some
  • Smartwatch battery numbers are down

The Enduro 2 is Garmin’s latest wearable for extreme runners. It’s also one of its most expensive. The Enduro 2 differentiates itself from the other watches on this list with its overt focus on battery life above all else.

Garmin’s designed it to offer up to 46 days use as a smartwatch mode (with solar) and up to 150 hours GPS battery life (with solar). During testing we easily managed to get 3.5 weeks of heavy use out of the wearable. This included daily 5km runs with the GPS on and 10km’ jogs over the weekend.

Add to this its near indestructible design, healthy portfolio of fitness and health analytics, which are identical to what you get on the Fenix 7, accurate distance tracking and local mapping support, and the Enduro 2 becomes an easy recommendation for hardcore runners.

The only real downside is that you have to pay a real premium to get the battery life with it costing significantly more than the Fenix 7. As a result we recommend most runners, that don’t need 150 hours of GPS tracking opt for the cheaper Fenix 7.

Reviewer: Michael Sawh
Full review: Garmin Enduro 2 Review

Polar Pacer Pro

Best mid-level running watch

Pros

  • Slim, lightweight design
  • Snappier performance than other Polar watches
  • Lots of useful training tools and insights

Cons

  • Battery life drain outside of tracking
  • Unattractive black bezel
  • Smartwatch features aren’t fantastic

Something that we’ve discovered through reviewing so many running watches is that most of the top performers are prohibitively expensive, carrying price tags of $500/£500 and beyond.

If this far exceeds your budget, but you’re still looking for robust tracking and post-run analytics, then we suggest you consider the Polar Pacer Pro, which retails for a more modest $300/£300.

Despite costing a few hundred less, in our tests we were surprised by how competitive its feature set was against more premium running watches. 

The Pacer Pro supports GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS satellite systems, with assisted-GPS tech to speed up getting a signal fix. Although the device wasn’t quite as quick to connect as the Garmin Epix, the model our reviewer tested it against, the Pacer Pro delivered far more reliable distance and heart rate tracking than many rival running watches at this price.

Again, its on-board navigation features didn’t feel quite as snappy and reactive as those of the Fenix 7, but they were good enough to use by our tester to stick to a new run route with which they weren’t familiar. 

In general, post-workout analytics match those offered by Garmin, covering all the basics of pace and cadence, plus some custom metrics such as FuelWise, too. This is a measurement that uses data captured on the watch to gauge when and by how much you need to refuel your body at the end of a run. We found it a welcome addition, similar to Garmin’s body battery metric.

Reviewer: Michael Sawh
Full review: Polar Pacer Pro

Fitbit Versa 3

Best entry-level running watch

Pros

  • Feature-packed for the price
  • GPS is finally here
  • Six-day battery with intensive use

Cons

  • Fitbit’s apps and app store still need work
  • The step count is just too eager
  • Still no support for offline Spotify
  • Fitbit Premium is essential for getting your money’s worth

If you’re a newbie runner who’s just starting out then the Fitbit Versa 3 is currently our recommended affordable running watch. For less than $200 we found it offers a wonderfully competitive feature set that includes all the bells and whistles any new runner will need to reduce their 5km times.

On test we found the device atypical to most of the sub-$200 running watches we’ve reviewed in a couple of ways. For starters, it looks very like an Apple Watch, featuring a pebble-shaped square screen. Second, it actually comes with built-in GPS. Both are rare features on a watch at this price, putting the Fitbit Versa 3 above competing band-design trackers. Most affordable trackers – such as the Vivosmart 5 that we reviewed recently – rely on connected GPS.

While the Versa 3’s GPS connection speeds don’t match those of any other wearables on this list, the fact that the device lets you track distance without you having to take your phone with you is a definite bonus. Tracking itself was also pretty uniform, with the device throwing up anomalies only in city areas, where tall buildings interrupted the GPS connection. Heart rate tracking proved solid, too, with issues thrown up only with rapid spikes – during a particularly nasty test route, for example, that featured a very tall hill. 

The only serious drawback is that, unlike the Polar and pretty much every other wearable on this list, the Fitbit locks some of the more advanced post-run analytics behind a paywall. Thankfully, this isn’t a deal-breaker; the free data on offer is robust and sufficiently detailed for newbies and more casual runners. However, it’s a reason we recommend more serious athletes invest a little more and pick up the Polar instead.

Reviewer: Thomas Deehan
Full review: Fitbit Versa 3 Review

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro

The best option for people that want a smartwatch for an Android phone

Pros

  • Solid fitness tracking services
  • Rugged, sports-ready design
  • Wonderfully bright display

Cons

  • Route planning process feels clunky
  • Battery life doesn’t match rival fitness trackers

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is the best option for runners that want a full-functioning smartwatch too. The tracker is powered by Wear OS and that means you’ll find a much more developed application library than any of the other trackers on this list. Of course, you need an Android phone for this device, so it’s also for people who don’t have an iPhone.

There’s support for all the major running ecosystems including Strava, Runkeeper, my Fitness Pal and Samsung Health. 

On top of that, you’ll get Spotify support and reliable GPS that, during our tests, proved wonderfully fast and reliable.

The rugged watch impressed when it came to analytics. The Samsung Health app offers detailed breakdowns of your running performance. These include common metrics, like how long you spent in each heart rate zone as well as more detailed ones like contact time and stiffness. It was the latter that helped our reviewer identify issues with his technique and will prove especially useful to other runners.

The only real downside to the watch compared to some of the other options on this list, like the Forerunner 955, is that the Watch 5 Pro has a distinctly shorter battery life. Like many smartwatches, our reviewer never managed to get three days of regular use out of the device. 

It’s also slightly annoying that despite supporting GPX route planning, the feature doesn’t support running. Instead it’s limited to cycling and hiking. But if you want a proper smartwatch as well as a running companion and don’t like the look of Apple’s then this is the best option available.

Reviewer: Alastair Stevenson
Full review: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro review

FAQs

Do you need GPS for a running watch?

GPS lets your watch track the distance you run as well as location. If you plan to use the watch to run outdoors then we’d recommend investing in a tracker with the technology.

Are running watches all full waterproofed?

Not all running watches are fully waterproofed. If you need one that can survive under water you should invest in one with an ATM or IP rating. These are certifications that what depths and lengths of time a device can survive underwater.

Comparison specs

You can see detailed breakdown of the core specs of all the running watches included in this list. The main thing to look out for is their GPS support, if they have local music playback and key extras, such as an SpO2 sensor.

UK RRP

USA RRP

EU RRP

CA RRP

AUD RRP

Manufacturer

Screen Size

IP rating

Waterproof

Battery

Size (Dimensions)

Weight

ASIN

Operating System

Release Date

First Reviewed Date

Colours

GPS

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