Tech

Top picks for all abilities

Whether you’re a beginner tackling your first 5k or prepping for a marathon, buying a running watch can help you hit your goals.

Top running watches are more than just about pace/distance. They’re now designed to tell you when to train, and when to rest as well.

We’ve reviewed every running watch on the market – from cheap running watch options to the detailed alternatives for budding athletes – and compiled a roundup of the best picks from our testing.

It really is the definitive list, and we’ve tried to make sense of the dizzying selection for you.

Our top running watch picks

Best for beginners: Garmin Forerunner 55 – ($199/£149)

The Garmin Forerunner 55 is slim, lightweight and simple to use, without complicating things with too many bells and whistles. It hooks up to Strava, has a strong suite of sleep and wellness tracking, and comes highly recommended.

Best value running watch: Coros Pace 2 – ($199/£179)

The AI Trainer, advanced metrics and top battery life make the Coros Pace 2 excellent value, with its sub $200/£200 price tag. For runners that are starting to train for longer events and building speed, it’s a really savvy purchase.

Best for performance athletes: Polar Vantage V2 – ($499/£449)

The Vantage V2’s focus on recovery, and its strong array of workout, nutrition and fitness analytics make it an excellent running watch for those that focus on peak performance.

Key considerations:

Battery life

The first consideration when buying a running watch should be battery life. How far do you run – and what kind of distances would you like to run in the future?

Some smartwatches with running watch features will struggle to last 5 hours while tracking GPS, thus might not last a full marathon.

Likewise, many of the most expensive running watches offer 100 hours of continuous tracking, which is overkill for people that just do a weekend 5K. Consider what you need.

More than just running

So you like running – but do you want your watch to track other workouts too? Most running watches will track swimming and cycling too – but what about things like golf or HIIT? For swimming, check the waterproof rating (5ATM should be the minimum) and ensure that pool metrics are up to scratch.

Training plans

Many running watches will have guided training plans built in, which is useful if you’re looking to structure your session – or have a specific goal in mind.

Deep insights

More advanced running watches can tap into your body to reveal things like VO2 Max (the purest score of your fitness), recovery advice, readiness, fuelling and even nutrition.

Music storage

There are plenty of running watches that can store music, so you can run to the beat and leave your smartphone at home. Check out our special guide to sports watches with music playback.

Coros Pace 2

$199/£179 | Amazon, Coros

Key considerations:

  • 20 days smartwatch/30 hours in full GPS
  • Run, swim, bike, gym
  • Strength training programs
  • AI Trainer and Evolab stamina and recovery metrics

Coros is relative newcomer to the GPS running watch world, but it’s quickly made a name for itself – and that’s best represented by the Coros Pace 2.

It has all the tools to make it a formidable running watch without having to pay a premium. The screen isn’t world-beating, but the 1.2-inch, 240 x 240, 64 color LCD display puts it in-line with Garmin devices.

All the key sensors and running profiles are on-board, plus will let you pair additional sensors like Stryd’s foot pod and external heart rate monitors.

Using the built-in heart rate sensor the Pace 2 can tap into its own recovery metrics courtesy of its AI Trainer. This shows you a Stamina percentage and aerobic/anaerobic training effect to show how recovered you are. Coross Evolab also offers the kind of training insights, and a race predictor for runners that you’d expect to find on pricier watches.

Coros has now also added strength training features that will count reps, let you build workouts and will show you whether you’re focusing as much on your legs are you are bulking up your upper body.

It works with third party apps including Strava and then there’s battery life. It pretty much wipes the floor with equivelently priced Garmin and Polar watches for GPS battery life numbers. If you have around $200/£200 to spend, there are few rivals that offer better value for money.

Pros

  • Great sports tracking
  • Plenty of metrics
  • Big battery life

Cons

  • Screen brightness could be better
  • Still quite a bland design

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

Price: $349/£299 | Amazon, Garmin

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

Key considerations:

  • 7 days smartwatch/24 hours GPS tracking
  • Run, swim, bike, gym
  • Adaptive training plans
  • VO2 Max/Training Effect/Recovery advisor

The Forerunner 245 has endured in Garmin’s running watch line-up, and blends Garmin’s advanced analytics, music storage (including Spotify syncing) and good battery life in a compact design.

It was launched in 2019, and the fact it’s still going strong is testament to its range of features – but we do expect it to be replaced this year by a Forerunner 255, so do bear that in mind.

Unless you’re looking for monster battery life it has everything you’ll need, including GPS, some advanced running analytics and a built-in heart rate monitor.

It leverages the optical heart rate sensor to take VO2 Max readings – which is then turned into insights on your recovery, including Training Load, Training Effect and Training Status, which are all determined by analysing post exercise oxygen consumption and heart rate variability.

It also has Garmin’s PacePro feature, which uses GPS data to pace races to your desired finishing times – even taking hills into account.

It does lack payment support and an altimeter, but, all in all, it’s a great running watch for anyone that has been looking for music features too.

The built-in music player support works in the same way as other Garmin watches. You can transfer over your own music or playlists from streaming services, then you can pair some Bluetooth headphones and leave your phone at home. You’ve got enough storage on the 245 for 500 songs, too, which should be enough for most.

If you’ve outgrown basic running watches this comes seriously recommended.

In-depth: Our full Garmin Forerunner 245 Music review

Pros

  • Small and comfortable design
  • Music player features
  • Good training features

Cons

  • Three years old and could be replaced
  • Pricey

Garmin Forerunner 55

$199/£149 | Amazon, Garmin

Garmin Forerunner 55

Key considerations:

  • 2 weeks smartwatch/20 hours GPS tracking
  • Run, swim, bike, gym
  • Adaptive training plans
  • VO2 Max

The Garmin Forerunner 55 is the natural successor to the Garmin Forerunner 45, but this entry level running watch steps things up.

The Forerunner 55 boasts a low-profile and minimal design, and it’s brought on board some of the more insightful training and analysis features usually reserved for pricier Garmins.

The watch case itself measures just 42mm, which creeps up slightly in thickness coming in at 11.6mm thick compared to the 11.4mm sized body on the 42mm Forerunner 45.

Front and centre is a 1.04-inch, 208 x 208 transflective, always-on display, which offers strong visibility in all conditions, and is a lot kinder on battery life.

The Forerunner 55 promises up to 7 days in smartwatch mode and 20 hours of GPS battery life and that’s what we experienced in our testing. That’s more than good enough for those embarking on half and full marathon training programs.

When it comes to racing, a key addition is PacePro, which helps you target race pace with gradients taken into account, VO2 Max estimation and race predictor data on finishing times based on your fitness.

It now supports Garmin Coach and suggested workouts, so it can be more of an active participant in your training.

There’s Garmin’s Elevate optical heart rate monitor to track heart rate continuously, during exercise and unlock features like Garmin’s Body Battery Energy monitor and the improved recovery advisor.

You do also have the option to pair up external heart rate monitors to improve accuracy measuring effort levels during runs.

The Garmin Forerunner 55 is a better running companion than the 45 thanks to new software features, that seek to help you run your best. It balances a fantastic set of features that offers way more than the basics, in a sleek and light package. We love it.

Read our full Forerunner 55 review

Pros

  • Small, light design
  • PacePro and suggested workouts
  • Full Connect IQ support

Cons

  • Basic metrics compared to Coros
  • Low res screen

Polar Vantage V2

$499/£449 | Amazon, Polar

Polar Vantage V2

Key considerations:

  • 7 day smartwatch/40 hours GPS battery life
  • 130 sport modes
  • FitSpark workouts/Performance & recovery tests
  • Running power, sleep and recovery insights

The Vantage V2 is built for triathletes and truly data obsessed runners. It comes in one size – a hefty 47mm – although it’s impressively light at just 52g.

Ultrarunners demand good battery life, and that’s here with 40 hours of full GPS tracking that can be extended to 100 hours. However, we have found accuracy issues in power saving modes, and we couldn’t get to 40 hours in testing as promised.

But runners are well catered for with a full range of stats – and there’s a focus here on running power, for those interested in pacing based on effort rather than speed.

Polar has added the Hill Splitter and FuelWise features from its Grit X sports watch, with the latter enabling you to plan your adventure’s food intake and remind you to refuel. We found it worked really well, but the reminders were a little easy to miss.

What we really like are the new running performance tests. A maximal (run until exhaustion) and a sub maximal (run and stop before exhaustion) option will give you a better sense of your current state of fitness, and they will supercharge your VO2 Max scores to new levels of accuracy.

Recovery is a big part of the Vantage V2 experience, with an excellent feature that estimates when your body has recovered for races or long training runs using analysis of your jumps.

Sleep tracking also focuses on recovery, and we found it outstripped Garmin in terms of accuracy.

Running stats and VO2 Max are a big part of the feature set. Training Load and Benefit insights to give you a better sense of your workouts and make sure you’re not training too hard – and FitSpark workouts are tailored around your physical readiness.

The 10-LED array heart rate monitor is the most advanced on a Polar watch to date, and it helps fuel a bunch of data points, from recovery and sleep tracking to running analytics derived from HRV and VO2 Max.

If you’re really focusing on the minutiae of your recovery and physical performance, this is the running watch for you.

Read our full Polar Vantage V2 review.

Pros

  • Insightful performance and recovery tests
  • Great sleep and recovery tools

Cons

  • Battery less than stated in testing
  • No music storage
  • No mapping

Garmin Enduro

Price when reviewed: $799/£699 | Amazon, Garmin

Garmin Enduro

Key considerations:

  • 50 days smartwatch/80-hour GPS battery (with Solar)
  • Swimming, cycling and MTB, snowsports, golf
  • Garmin Coach adaptive workouts
  • VO2 Max/Trail VO2 Max, recovery, training effect

The Garmin Enduro is the company’s latest specialist variation of the Fenix, built specifically for ultrarunners.

The headline feature is the mammoth battery life, that claims over 70 hours GPS battery life (assisted by the build in solar screen), rising to 200 hours in lower power mode.

We ran a 40 mile ultramarathon and it drained just 10% from the battery. Conceivably, you might only have to charge this watch just a handful of times in a year.

It’s a beast of a watch, however, and the 51mm case will be too much for most people.

There are profiles for running, treadmill running, indoor track running, trail running, ultra running and virtual running – an MTB cycling and swimming is also well supported.

The ultra run mode has a clever rest timer, splits out how long you at aid stations and the new trail VO2 Max estimate takes slower off-road runs into account, and adjusts your VO2 Max estimate accordingly.

Garmin’s excellent ClimbPro feature now also includes descents as well as ascents. So you get a full picture of the quad-burning that awaits you on your preloaded courses, including real-time information on the current and upcoming climbs and descents with gradient, distance and elevation gain/loss.

Pros

  • Insane battery life
  • Stylish and comfortable nylon strap
  • Good ultrarunning features

Cons

  • Big price tag
  • No mapping
  • Huge case

Read our full Garmin Enduro review.

Apple Watch Series 7

Price when reviewed: $399/£379 (41mm) | Amazon, Apple

Apple Watch Series 7

Key considerations:

  • 18 hours smartwatch battery life/7 hours GPS
  • Run/Swim/Cycle/dance/yoga/gym
  • Apple Fitness+
  • VO2 Max/Cardio Fitness

Back when the Apple Watch first arrived, we’d have struggled to recommend it as a running watch. Fast forward to 2022, and, if you’re looking for a smartwatch for casual running or serious running, Apple’s option is firmly the best we’ve tried.

We’re recommending the Series 7, which comes in new 41mm and 45 case sizes, but includes the same optical heart rate sensor technology as the 6, that still offers some of the most accurate HR data we’ve seen from a smartwatch. If you’re not satisfied with the accuracy, you can pair it up with external chest strap monitors.

The outdoor tracking is up there with the best in terms of accuracy and if you’re not satisfied with Apple’s own Workout app to track runs, you’ve got a host of great third party running apps to try out instead.

Then you can factor the smartwatch features that enrich that tracking experience. You can sync playlists from the likes of Apple Music and Spotify. Apple Pay on the Watch is arguably the best payment support you’ll find on a smartwatch, plus you’ve got an LTE option to help you leave your iPhone behind and still make calls and receive notifications.

Overall battery life remains the same 18 hours as the original Apple Watch and GPS battery life is is around 6-7 hours, which should make it good enough for a marathon, though our experience suggests it might struggle with its full gamut of features in play.

Opt to not use the always-on display and make use of the new quick-charging feature to give you a quick top up before a run and battery gripes aside, Apple offers a great running experience from its latest and greatest smartwatch.

Read our full Apple Watch Series 7 review.

Pros

  • Immediate lock on
  • Great screen
  • Huge selection of running apps
  • Offline syncing of music

Cons

  • Battery life
  • Generally light on running metrics

Huawei Watch GT Runner

Price: £259/259 | Amazon, Huawei

Huawei Watch GT Runner

Key considerations:

  • 14 days smartwatch battery life/15 hours GPS (from testing)
  • 100+ sports modes
  • AI Running Coach
  • Running Ability Index, VO2 Max, training load, lactic acid data

Of course, the Apple Watch only works with iPhones – so if you have an Android smartphone, the Huawei Watch GT Runner is a top smartwatch option.

It’s a repackaging of the Huawei Watch GT 3, which is also excellent for running workouts. But the GT Runner has got a more sporty design and lightweight build.

Core running features include excellent training plans and coaching, based on your performance as a runner, and you can do everything from the watch itself.

There’s also a host of VO2 Max and training effect data on the watch – including the Huawei Running Ability Index, which measures your performance and suggests finishing times for key race distances. And these were spot on in our testing.

GPS has supposedly been boosted with a new floating antennae, although we saw no real evidence of improvement in our testing and we did find some small tracking issues in built-up areas.

Heart rate tracking performance was also quite average, with up to 10bpm variations from a chest strap, which is slightly more than we’d expect to see from rival Garmin/Fitbit/Apple devices.

Pretty much all Huawei Watch GT Runner features can be found on the cheaper GT3, but the design will appeal to runners. However, for Android users looking for a smartwatch, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Read our full Huawei Watch GT Runner review.

Pros

  • Nice, light design for running
  • Useful running software features
  • Good for a week’s worth of heavy training

Cons

  • GPS accuracy lacking despite new antennae
  • Lacking third party support
  • Average smartwatch experience

Garmin Venu 2

Price when reviewed: $399/£349 | Garmin, Amazon

Garmin Venu 2

Key considerations:

  • 11 days smartwatch battery life/22 hours GPS
  • Run/Swim/Cycle/Golf
  • Garmin Coach
  • VO2 max

The Venu has emerged as Garmin’s answer to the Apple Watch. With the Venu 2, you’re still getting a color screen, the best smartwatch features Garmin has to offer and those tracking staples that make it a great fit for running.

The latest Venu now comes in two size options with the Venu 2 (45mm) and the smaller Venu 2S (40mm). The Venu 2 will give you the bigger, higher resolution color AMOLED touchscreen display, but both include Garmin’s latest Elevate optical heart rate sensor that promises to deliver more accurate data.

You’ll get built-in GPS of course and core running metrics along with additional ones like running VO2 Max found inside of Garmin’s companion Connect app.

As a smartwatch, it’s something that works with Android and iPhones and gives you notifications, a music player with room for 2,000 songs and support for streaming services like Spotify. There’s also payments and access to Connect iQ Store to add more apps, watch faces and data fields. if you want some voice-enabled features, the new Venu 2 Plus offers a built-in microphone and speaker to let you access your smartphone assistant from your watch.

We found tracking accuracy reliable and the bigger screen and improved UI makes it a nicer watch to run with too. We didn’t see improvements in heart rate accuracy for running, despite the inclusion of that new sensor. You can pair up an external sensor at least.

The quoted 12 days battery life came up short for us and is better suited to just over a week. If you factor in using it with the screen set to always-on, that’s going to drop to closer to 4-5 days. The 22 hours of GPS battery should be fit to get you a week’s worth of tracking too.

If you want more battery than an Apple Watch and great run tracking, the Venu 2 is one to look at instead.

Read our full Garmin Venu 2 review

Pros

  • Good health features
  • Great sports tracking

Cons

  • Wrist raise not great
  • Clunky in places
  • Pricey

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