Best heart rate monitors: smart devices to track your ticker

Our guide to best heart rate monitors, featuring both chest straps and wrist-based devices

Athletic man wearing a Polar heart rate monitor
(Image credit: Polar)

Looking for the best heart rate monitors on the market right now? With a wealth of options available, picking the right one for you can be confusing - but we're here to help with this, our expert buying guide. We'll help you make an informed decision on our top-rated models, and explain what you should take note of if you’re looking to buy one.

The technology behind heart rate monitoring has come a long way in the last few years. As a result, the best heart rate monitors are now lighter, easier to use and - importantly - more accurate than ever. In fact, a recent study by the National Library of Medicine showed that sensors with optical heart rate monitoring produce accurate heart rate readings irrespective of the user's age.

So, why do we need to track our heart rate and how can it help performance? “The most common reason for measuring heart rate is to track recovery speed after exercise or during resting periods," says personal trainer Rosaria Barreto, who adds: "The faster the recovery the better."

Your heart rate can also help you show progress. “The more intense the workout the faster your heart rate - so if you're looking to physically challenge yourself checking your heart rate regularly will inform you of how hard you are pushing yourself,” says Barreto.

How to choose the best heart rate monitor for you

Heart rate monitors generally take two forms: either smartwatches/fitness trackers (which are worn around the wrist) or chest straps (which are worn around the, umm, chest). Which one suits you is one of the main decisions you'll need to make when settling on the best heart rate monitor for you.

The former typically uses integrated technology called optical heart rate monitoring. This technology tracks your pulse through photoplethysmography – a way to detect any changes in blood flow. 

Meanwhile, most chest straps use a more extensive technology called electrocardiography to track heart rate, which reads electrical signals directly from your heart, which is then feed through to your phone or a smart watch. This typically produces more accurate results - although today's advanced smartwatches and fitness bands still offer good readings.

Of course, we all work out differently, so our needs will differ when it comes to heart rate monitoring. If you're simply looking for a device to help you track your general health and fitness (for example, if you're working on lower your resting heart rate), you'll likely be happy with a fitness tracker or smartwatch with heart-rate functionality. One major plus-point is that they come with a host of other handy health and fitness features. You'll find products like these in our list below, and you should also check out our pick of the best fitness trackers and the best smartwatches for fitness for more options.

At the other end of the scale, if you're a dedicated athlete or fitness fanatic who's looking to improve fitness levels and push your training to the next level, a chest strap monitor might be more appropriate. Our favorite (and top of our best heart rate monitors list below) is the Polar H10, which provided the most accurate heart rate readings across our testing.

As you might expect, costs vary significantly. Whilst you can typically purchase a chest strap for less than a good fitness tracker or smartwatch, it doesn't come with the additional features that make wrist-based models so attractive.  So, is it worth investing in a chest strap? 

Advanced wrist-based devices Apple Watch 5, will give you a good indication of how your heart is performing when completing light fitness activities, such as jogging or strength work and offers lots of other functions too, such as sleep and calorie tracking. Whilst it also offers ECG readings (where you press your finger against the crown to get a heart rate reading) which are typically more accurate, it's hard to do this during activity, and you may find your watch struggles to keep up when you perform more high intensity workouts. 

Meanwhile, chest straps undoubtedly give you more accurate readings. The small electrode pad that sits against your skin reads your heart rate via electrocardiography, picking up the electrical signals directly from your heart and transmitting them to another device, whether that be your phone or another smartwatch. 

Ready to make some decisions? Read on for our pick of the best heart rate monitors on the market.

The best heart rate monitors you can buy right now

best heart rate monitor: Polar H10Fit&Well Best Buy Award

(Image credit: Polar H10)

1. Polar H10

The best heart rate monitor for most people

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth & ANT+
HR measurement: ECG
Battery life: 400 hours
Water-resistant: 30m
Weight: 60g
Reasons to buy
+Precise heart rate tracking+Great for any activity
Reasons to avoid
-Chest strap can be uncomfortable

Most chest straps offer precision heart rate monitoring but the Polar H10 is by far the most reliable and competent of the lot. Similar trackers often support one of ANT+ or Bluetooth, but the H10 supports both so it'll happily link up with any watch or mobile device you use, simultaneously if you like. If you don't want to wear a watch or carry your phone on a workout, that's fine too – the H10 will record and store your heart rate data onto on-board memory, so you can download it later. Polar's fitness ecosystem is superb – the Polar Beat app is tailor-made for analyzing your heart rate and helping you improve your fitness, but the H10 will play nicely with all the other major fitness apps too. In short, this one-size-fits-all option is perfect for anyone who wants precision data. 

best heart rate monitor: Garmin Forerunner 945

(Image credit: Garmin )

2. Garmin Forerunner 945

The best premium heart rate monitor

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth & ANT+
HR measurement: Optical
Battery life: 50g
Water-resistant: 50m
Weight: Up to 2 weeks
Reasons to buy
+Incredible data analysis+Smartwatch features
Reasons to avoid
-Overkill unless you're a serious athlete

Without question, the Garmin Forerunner 945 sits at the top of the pile when it comes to functionality – this watch is designed for hardcore triathletes, so Garmin has packed it with every trick in the book to help you reach peak performance. There's an optical heart rate monitor under the hood so yes, it will struggle to get accurate data if you're HIIT training or playing sport, but you can connect a chest strap monitor to it directly if you need to. For runners and triathletes, it's an absolute powerhouse – it records and analyses a staggering amount of data, from your running cadence and stride length to your VO2 max and training load and effect. If you're serious about taking your performance to the next level, this is the watch for you. 

best heart rate monitor: Wahoo TickR

(Image credit: Wahoo)

3. Wahoo TickR

The best budget heart rate monitor

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth & ANT+
HR measurement: ECG
Battery life: Over 500 hours
Water-resistant: 1m
Weight: 48g
Reasons to buy
+Brilliant value+ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity
Reasons to avoid
-No internal storage-Doesn't track advanced metrics 

If you want solid, dependable heart rate monitoring without the bells and whistles of the Polar H10 or the Garmin Forerunner 945, the Wahoo TickR will be just the ticket. With the more expensive (but equally excellent) TickR X leading the way with extra features, Wahoo's budget heart rate monitor does an outstanding job of the basics – it's comfortable to wear, gives you accurate, real-time heart rate and calorie data, and dual band ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity means you can have it linked to multiple devices at once. It tracks heart rate variability too (that is, the variation in time interval between consecutive heart beats – another indication of heart health). A very worthy budget option.

Garmin Vivosmart 4 in black, one of the best heart rate monitors

(Image credit: Garmin)

4. Garmin Vivosmart 4

The best heart rate monitor for casual users

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth
HR measurement: Optical-based wrist sensor
Battery life: 7 days
Water-resistant: Yes
Weight: 16.5g
Reasons to buy
+Super-lightweight+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-No built-in GPS

Garmin’s Vivosmart 4 is ideal for those who want to keep an eye on their heart rate but aren’t fussed about the bells and whistles on more expensive watches, and the avalanche of data that comes with them. 

This watch tracks your HR 24/7 (including during sleep), and uses these stats to calculate your ‘Body Battery’, a figure that represents how much energy your body has for the next workout session. 

The lack of in-built GPS means this is not aimed at runners – instead, it’s an affordable option for those doing gym-based workouts who like an idea of how hard they push themselves.

best heart rate monitor: Apple Watch Series 5

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple Watch Series 5

Best all-round wellness monitor

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth
HR measurement: Optical + ECG
Battery life: 30.8g+
Water-resistant: 50m
Weight: Up to 18 hours
Reasons to buy
+Outstanding health and fitness features+Superb build quality
Reasons to avoid
-Not as accurate as a chest strap-18 hour battery life

Clearly the Apple Watch Series 5 is more than just a heart rate monitor – the latest version of Apple's world-beating smartwatch is a wellness workhorse, tracking noise levels, menstrual and fertility cycles, steps, calories and lots more. The heart rate tech has seen a significant upgrade in this iteration; the Series 5 uses an optical sensor to track your ticker 24/7, but it also has electrodes in the crown that when pressed with the tip of your finger, will generate an ECG of your heart in just 30 seconds. It's hard to use this whilst exercising, but the ECG sensor and accompanying app can identify heart arrhythmias and other underlying conditions, making this a fantastic choice if you want to monitor your wellbeing. 

Fitbit Sense watch with heart rate monitoringFit&Well Approved

(Image credit: Fitbit)

6. Fitbit Sense

Best all-round wellness monitor

Specifications
Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth
HR measurement: Optical-based wrist sensor
Battery life: 6+ days
Water-resistant: 50m
Weight: 46g
Reasons to buy
+A wide range of insightful HR data+ECG features
Reasons to avoid
-Lacking other features-Basic music storage 

For those who want to track health metrics and get more detailed, accurate feedback on things such as calories burnt and VO2 Max, the Fitbit Sense packs more than most into its stylish frame. 

Your heart rate is tracked every five seconds, and it can be programed to alert you if your HR goes over, or drops below, a certain rate, which is useful if you suffer from arrhythmia. It also features an electrocardiogram sensor (ECG) which can be used to check your heart for atrial fibrillation. 

Another useful HR-based feature is its ability to use your heart-rate data, combined with your sleep info and your palm’s electrodermal activity, to give you a score on your overall stress rating. Based on that score, the Sense will then recommend mindfulness sessions if the numbers are too high.