Best heart rate monitors 2020: Keep track of your ticker

We check out the best heart rate monitors on the market, from chest-straps to watches

best heart rate monitor: Wahoo TickR
(Image credit: Wahoo)

If you’re looking for the best heart rate monitor money can buy, well, you’re in the right place.

Heart rate monitors have come a long way in the last few years. Thanks to massive advances in optical heart rate monitoring, the days of being weighed down by bulky chest straps are long gone. 

Choosing the best monitor for you will depend massively on your needs. If you’re an athlete looking to squeeze every last bit of performance out of your body, you’ll probably find that a chest strap monitor like the Polar H10 is the way to go, as it still provides the most accurate live readings of your heart rate. If you’re a more casual user and you want to keep an eye on your general health, there are a wide range of wrist-worn optical heart rate monitors on the market with varying features and price points. 

How to choose the best heart rate monitor for you

So, let’s break things down a bit. Optical heart rate monitors are generally integrated into the underside of smartwatches and fitness trackers, and they track your pulse through photoplethysmography – that is, using light to measure blood flow. Your heart rate remains one of the best indicators of your general health, so wearing an optical heart rate monitor is a fantastic way of keeping tabs on your ticker and smartwatches like the Apple Watch Series 5 are equipped with lots of other functionality to help you monitor your general health. 

An optical monitor will do just fine on a jog around the park, but they struggle with activities where your heart rate changes rapidly, like a HIIT workout or sports where you are sprinting a lot, such as football or netball. 

This is where chest straps come into their own – yes, they can be uncomfortable, but they are unquestionably the most accurate way of tracking your heart rate. 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. 

If neither of those sound like exactly what you’re after, don’t fret – there are other options. As well as wrist-based trackers and chest straps, Polar, Scosche and Whoop all make optical monitors that strap to your arm rather than your chest. There are also innovative in-ear headphones from Jabra and Bose that track your pulse while simultaneously pumping the tunes. 

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 H10

(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 analysing 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.

best heart rate monitor: Fitbit Inspire HR

(Image credit: Fitbit)

4. Fitbit Inspire HR

Best heart rate monitor for casual users

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth
HR measurement: Optical
Battery life: 20g
Water-resistant: 50m
Weight: Up to 5 days
Reasons to buy
+Sleek design+Great for casual use
Reasons to avoid
-Can't connect to chest strap heart rate monitor-Not much in the way of analytics

Fitbit's entry-level fitness tracker is worth considering if you want to monitor your general health and well-being. We love the build for starters – it's not much larger than a bracelet, but Fitbit has packed some impressive tech into that small frame, including a very good optical heart rate monitor. The Inspire HR is designed to keep watch over your resting heart rate throughout the day; it does a great job of that and it'll even stretch to a gentle jog around the park, but the optical sensor struggles with anything more intense. Unfortunately there's no way to connect a chest strap sensor to the Inspire HR, but if you're a casual user and you'd value the smartwatch features and sleep-tracking, this is definitely worth a look.

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.