Best running watch: top models to get the most from your runs

The best running watches can help you hit your running goals, whatever they might be

Man wearing the Polar Vantage V2, one of the best running watches
(Image credit: Polar)

Whether you’re a running newbie or a more experienced runner, selecting the best running watch for you will help you track your performance, give you accurate and useful data, and inspire you to run that little bit faster.

Whatever your goal - be it completing a couch to 5k program, running a marathon or somewhere in between - a good running watch can help you achieve your goals.

For our money, we reckon that the Polar Vantage V2 is the best all-round running watch on the market right now. Featuring a lightweight design, this baby has built-in GPS and heart rate monitoring, giving you detailed information that can help you push your performance to the max each time you lace up your running shoes. 

Alternatively, there are plenty of good options from Garmin, one of the leaders in the running watch field. You'll find a selection of their products on our list below, along with options from other brands too - giving you a range of choices to suit your needs and budget.

Once you're done with this list, may we also recommend you take a look at our lists of the best running shoes for women, the best running shoes for men and the best trail running shoes.

How to choose the best running watch for you

Running watches aren't always the cheapest of purchases (if you want something a little less specialist - and pricey - then check out the best smartwatches for fitness or even the best fitness trackers). With that in mind, it pays to do your homework and understand what the best running watches offer before you commit to buying. Below we outline some key factors to consider.

Price seems like an obvious place to start. The range is admittedly huge: the cheapest option on our list (the Polar M430) retails for $149.95, whilst the most expensive option (the Garmin Enduro) rings in at a somewhat eye-watering $799.99. 

Ultimately, deciding what you're prepared to pay will come down to your needs. That's because factors such as your fitness levels, the type of running you're training for and your level of enthusiasm will determine what you want in terms of features.

Personal trainer Rosaria Barreto explains: “If you're a beginner, you may only need basics such as GPS and heart rate monitoring. However if you’re training for a triathlon or you’re an ultra-marathon runner, other features such as stride length or a waterproof watch may be important to you.”

If you are hoping for more detailed data to track your recovery and performance, Rosaria recommends looking for a watch that provides maximum VO2 levels, oxygen consumption and recovery rate. "It’s very tricky to provide accurate results on these normally without more intricate testing methods like blood samples and lung capacity testing methods – so you’ll be getting your money’s worth,'” says Barreto.

You will also need to investigate whether the watch you decide on will pair with your phone. Typically the apps attached to running watches give more detailed breakdowns, which aren’t available on the watch itself – so make sure they’re compatible. Nowadays most watches are compatible with a variety of phones, however proceed with caution if you’re interested in the Apple Watch but you’re an Android user - as you won’t be able to pair the phone with the watch and reap the benefits from the app. 

Ready to make your selection? Read on to discover our pick of the best running watches on the market...

The best running watches you can buy right now

Polar Vantage V2 - the best running watch in our eyesFit&Well Best Buy

(Image credit: Polar)

1. Polar Vantage V2

The best running watch for most people

Specifications
Max battery life: 7 days
Swim proof: Yes
Notifications: Yes
Weight: 52g
Colors: Black/Black, Silver/Grey Lime, Black/Green
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Vast amount of running data
Reasons to avoid
-If you want more of a smartwatch-No ability to store music on the watch

With stiff competition in the GPS running watch market, the Polar Vantage V2 offers enhanced battery life and a pared-down, lightweight design that lifts it above competitors. 

The amount of metrics on offer is simply astounding: anything and everything a runner could want is here, including a 24/7-tracking wrist-based HR monitor (with, we found, above-average accuracy), running power and detailed recovery data. 

It also features a unique running training app that includes leg performance tests to tell you how tired you really are, plus the option to track multiple other sports, follow Komoot routes, and the ability to see when you are on a Strava segment if you want to push a little harder to bump yourself up the leaderboard. Throw in touchscreen operation and wireless music control and you're onto a winner.

Garmin Enduro - one of the best running watches availableFit&Well Approved

(Image credit: Garmin)

2. Garmin Enduro

The best premium running watch

Specifications
Max battery life: 300 days in max mode
Swimproof: Yes
Notifications: Yes
Weight: 58g
Colors: Steel w/ grey strap, Carbon Grey w/ black strap
Reasons to buy
+Unmatchable battery life+Multiple advance features
Reasons to avoid
-No topographical maps-Can’t store music

With the Garmin Enduro, you get everything you could ever need for any adventure. This watch packs so much in it’s difficult to list even a small percentage of what it does: pretty much any metric that can be tracked is tracked, including hydration and recovery levels.

It’s aimed at those who love nothing more than spending multiple hours - or even days - doing activities, such as ultra runners, endurance cyclists and Ironman athletes, but can also be happily used by Parkrunners. The battery life takes this watch beyond all others: it can record for up to 80 hours of activity thanks to a solar-powered battery boost. 

Trail runners in particular will be drawn to the Trail Run VO2 Max, which gives a reading that takes into account off-road terrain and weather. Garmin Pay is included for contactless payments, and the Carbon Grey model’s titanium bezel helps reduce weight as well as increase toughness (a cheaper, non-titanium version made of steel is also available).

Garmin Forerunner 45 Plus running watchFit&Well Approved

(Image credit: Garmin)

3. Garmin Forerunner 45 Plus

The best budget running watch

Specifications
Battery life: 7 days
Swimproof: Yes, but doesn't track swimming
Notifications: Yes
Weight: 32g
Reasons to buy
+Great price+Lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-Basic running data-If you do a lot of swimming

Whether you consider yourself a serious or a casual runner, the Garmin Forerunner 45 Plus watch provides a host of features that will satisfy everyone. Garmin is renowned for producing simple-to-use GPS watches with accurate data and handy features such as the ability to play music through your watch (which you can do with the 45 Plus). 

You can also follow training plans via Garmin Coach and monitor your body’s recovery levels (based on your HR data), as well as tracking heart rate 24/7 through the inbuilt wrist sensor and see your predicted race times via a handy Race Predictor feature, which is not available on the regular 45 model. 

As an entry level watch, this does the job and more. Note that the 'Plus' model isn't currently available Stateside - the standard Garmin Forerunner 45 is your next best bet.

Best running watch: Polar M430

(Image credit: Polar)

4. Polar M430

Another great budget running watch

Specifications
Max battery life: 5 days
Swimproof: No
Notifications: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Low price+Fitness test programme
Reasons to avoid
-Not swim-proof-Not as accurate as competition

The Polar M430 is the best option for runners starting out but unsure about committing to vast sums of money. For the price, you get built-in GPS and heart rate monitoring along with a fitness test that keeps an eye on your abilities before dishing out personalised running programmes. A built-in accelerometer means you can use it just as easily indoors on a treadmill too. Its accuracy isn't quite up there with pricier options, but it's good enough to still give you an idea of how you're doing. 

There's no swim proofing either but if you're solely after a running watch, the Polar M430 is a great inexpensive option that will consistently give you encouragement to do better time and time again. 

Apple Watch Series 6

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple Watch Series 6

The most stylish running watch

Specifications
Max battery life: 18 hours
Swimproof: Yes
Notifications: Yes
Weight: 47g
Reasons to buy
+You want to track your blood oxygen+Powerful features+A versatile, stylish watch
Reasons to avoid
-Short battery life-Not as much data as a dedicated running watch

The updated Apple Watch Series 6 is not a huge leap forward for runners from the Apple Watch Series 5. The big new addition is the inclusion of a blood oxygen sensor. This can provide a useful metric for when running at altitude, which is something perhaps only more serious runners take part in. 

As always with Apple watches, the limited battery life is an issue, but the inclusion of a faster 1.5hr charge helps when you are short on time (which may well be the case if you are using it to track sleep data, too).

Apple claims that the altimeter is more accurate on the Series 6, too. Pair that with the always-on display that was introduced on the Series 5, the Apple Rings that actually encourage you to keep active, and Apple’s trademark minimal and distinctive design, and this watch will please every type of runner.

Best running watch: Garmin Forerunner 735XTFit&Well Approved

(Image credit: Garmin)

6. Garmin Forerunner 735XT

The best running watch for triathletes

Specifications
Max battery life: 7 days
Swimproof: Yes
Notifications: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Rugged design+Comprehensive stats
Reasons to avoid
-Bit chunky-Display could be sharper

If you'd prefer a Garmin model but don't want to shell out on the Enduro listed above (or, indeed, you don't need that many features), then the Garmin Forerunner 735XT is a solid option and a great all-rounder.

 It's lightweight enough that it won't feel like an imposition while still offering plenty of useful features. Besides the built-in GPS, it tracks your heart rate throughout the day which is ideal for knowing when you've hit your stride. Indeed, when it comes to stride, the Garmin Forerunner 735XT spots your stride length, ground contact time and more, meaning it's ideal for getting your technique just so. 

For those times when you're not running, it's water resistant up to 50m plus it offers smart notifications from your phone with everything from texts to emails and social media alerts being fed here. The only real downside is that its display is a bit weak and lacks a sharpness we've come to expect from most products. 

Suunto 9 Baro Titanium, the best running watch for trail runnersFit&Well Approved

(Image credit: Suunto)

7. Suunto 9 Baro Titanium

The best watch for trail runners

Specifications
Battery life: 170 hours
Swimproof: Yes
Notifications: Yes
Weight: 76g
Reasons to buy
+Great battery life+Rugged design
Reasons to avoid
-Not the lightest

If you consider yourself an outdoor adventurer and enjoy nothing more than exploring forests, moorland and coastal paths, the updated Suunto 9 Baro Titanium is for you, especially if you are planning to hit the trails for extended periods of time.

The battery will power you through up to 170 hours of activity, the unexpectedly handy weather-tracking feature helps your analyse how conditions might change, and the new turn-by-turn navigation via Komoot routes means you can find your way without a phone or map. 

Tested to US military standard 810H, the watch will take a lot of punishment, and the touchscreen operation makes it easy to navigate (although you can’t use the touchscreen during activity). 

Best running watch: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro

(Image credit: Garmin)

8. Garmin Fenix 6 Pro

The best running watch for anyone who does more than just run

Specifications
Max battery life: 9 days
Swimproof: Yes
Notifications: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Advanced training features+Extensive GPS
Reasons to avoid
-Overkill for some-Large design

Regularly run but also do so much more? In which case, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is for you. It doesn't just track walks and runs like most smartwatches, it also comes with preloaded TOPO maps, ski maps for over 2,000 ski resorts around the world and has an advanced GPS system so it's always going to keep up with where you are. 

As well as that, there are advanced training features like its grade-adjusted pace guidance system so the advice given is always perfect for your abilities. The display is clearer than most too, so you won't have to worry about struggling to see feedback. It's overkill for all but the most active users, and it's a bit bulky for some wrists, but it's certainly powerful. 

Best running watch: Garmin Vivoactive 3

(Image credit: Garmin )

9. Garmin Vivoactive 3

Another great budget running watch option

Specifications
Max battery life: 7 days
Swimproof: Yes
Notifications: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Perfect for many exercises+Clear display
Reasons to avoid
-No specialisms-Poor sleep tracking

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is the running watch for people who do a little bit of everything. Well priced, it offers pre-set workouts associated with yoga, strength training, swimming, as well as walking and running. A built-in GPS and heart rate monitoring means it covers the basics, with estimates of your physical health based around your accomplishments and age. With all-day stress tracking, it also keeps an eye on any time you're stressed out, suggesting relaxation breathing exercises to help. The screen is easy to see and use too.

The downside? Well, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 isn't quite perfect at anything. It's the curse of being an all-rounder meaning it doesn't specialise in one activity, but that's not really a big issue for most people.