Best running watch 2020: Track your progress and see how you've improved | Fit&Well

Best running watch 2020: Track your progress and see how you've improved

The best running watch for novice joggers, experienced runners, and those who like to go off the beaten path

best running watch: Runner tying their laces
(Image credit: Getty)

Selecting the best running watch for you is a great way to help achieve your personal goals. A good running watch will provide you with encouragement, accurate tracking, and guidance on how you're performing every step of the way. 

Whether you're taking a quick jog around the block or undertaking a marathon, insight into how you're performing makes all the difference. 

For the majority of people, the Garmin Forerunner 735XT is the best all-rounder. Key features include built-in GPS and heart rate monitoring, ensuring you know exactly how well you're performing and if you're pushing your body to the appropriate levels. However, plenty of other running watches are available, so read on to find out more about potential alternatives for you, no matter what your ability level is or how much you want to spend.

For something more streamlined, you might also want to consider one of the best fitness trackers, or for more general features, here are the best fitness watches.

How to choose the best running watch for you

It's worth considering a few pivotal factors before you make your purchase.

One key consideration is how much you want to spend, and our advice would be to pick the best model you can afford. Really cheap running watches are available, but it's typically false economy and not a good deal in the long run (pardon the pun). Even if you're only a novice runner, you want a running watch that tracks your performance accurately.

That said, you don't necessarily need to spend a fortune. If you're not a hardcore runner, then something with the basic features - namely GPS and heart-rate monitoring - will do the trick nicely. However, more advanced runners may want to consider functions such as stride length. Similarly, if you're an all-weather runner - or if you like to swim, too - then you may want to consider a waterproof running watch.

Also think about what phone your watch will be paired with. Are you an Android or iOS user? It makes a difference. If you're an iOS user, an Apple Watch is generally the best option for you - dependant on your budget, of course. However, it's not much use for Android users. Meanwhile, if you're keen to get away from it all then you might prefer a running watch that doesn't require you to be attached to your phone at all times. Consider what's important to you. 

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

The best running watch you can buy right now

Best running watch: Garmin Forerunner 735XT

(Image credit: Garmin)

1. Garmin Forerunner 735XT

The best running watch for most people

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

Ideal for mostly everyone, the Garmin Forerunner 735XT is a solid 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. 

Best running watch: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro

(Image credit: Garmin)

2. Garmin Fenix 6 Pro

The best premium running watch

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: Polar M430

(Image credit: Polar)

3. Polar M430

The best 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. 

Best running watch: Garmin Vivoactive 3

(Image credit: Garmin )

4. Garmin Vivoactive 3

The best running watch if your exercise is varied but your budget limited

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. 

best running watch: Apple Watch Series 5

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple Watch Series 5

The best running watch for fashionistas

Specifications
Max battery life: 2 days
Swimproof: Yes
Notifications: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Powerful features+Looks good
Reasons to avoid
-Poor battery life-Limited Android support

If you're keen for a full smartwatch rather than just a running watch, the Apple Watch Series 5 is a great bet. It automatically tracks your workouts, whatever they may be, and it's swimproof too. An always-on Retina display means it looks good and sharp at all times as well. An accurate GPS and heart rate monitor will make you wonder what the catch is.

That lies with the battery life. At most, you'll get 2 days out of the Apple Watch Series 5 which is pretty poor compared to others here. In part, that's because it does so much more than the competition but it will annoy you. Still, if you want to look good while you run and enjoy a phone on your wrist (almost), you can't go wrong.