The best running watch or
GPS sports watch is a personal choice and much depends on the amount of detail you want from your runs. Beyond just simple tracking and pace information, the latest watches will feed back heart rate information to detailed observations of your running style. In short, GPS watches are becoming powerful tools in the runner’s arsenal.
Essential reading: How to use your watch to be a better runner
Some are pricey, some more
affordable, most have GPS and a few have full mapping. There’s a handful
with heart rate monitors built in and a clutch that’ll even help out with your swimming and cycling needs too.
Of course, there’s no one perfect watch – so we’ve highlighted our top pick below and followed up with other devices that have impressed during our tests that might suit different budgets and preferences.
Wareable’s top pick
For price, features and performance, the TomTom Spark earns its place at the head of our best running watches list. It boasts all the normal running metrics (distance, speed, time), has a built-in optical heart rate monitor which aced our tests, plugs into nearly every running app and has built in storage for listening to MP3 while you run (via a pair of wireless headphones, of course).
In depth: TomTom Spark review
Best high-end running watches
Garmin Forerunner 630
Garmin’s flagship watch now adds smartphone notifications on the wrist as well as a host of new metrics. You can view data on stride length and vertical ratio which can be used to boost running efficiency, and there’s a renewed focus on recovery. The 630 rates lactate threshold and performance condition to try and prevent overtraining. We’ve used it and it’s strictly for the hardcore runner who also wants great smartwatch-inspired features. If you’ve got the money to spend, it’s one of the best running watches available.
In depth: Garmin Forerunner 630 review
Garmin Forerunner 225
Garmin’s first running watch with built-in heart rate tracking means users can enjoy the best GPS tracking on the market, without the uncomfortable chest strap. The combination colour screen and vibrating alerts makes training within zones much easier, and there’s activity and sleep tracking to boot. A great all-rounder at a fair price. You might not get the same metrics as the 630, but there’s plenty for 5k or marathon runners to love.
In depth: Garmin Forerunner 225 review
$299.99, garmin.com | Amazon
Garmin Forerunner 235
Last year’s Forerunner 225 has been the pick of our top running watches for most of the year, but Garmin has already replaced it with the Forerunner 235. The difference? Not a great deal, but Garmin has ditched Mio heart rate tech in favour of its own, and added VO2 Max stats, which can offer better insights into recovery times. Expect our full Garmin Forerunner 235 review in the not too distant future.
Fitbit’s most powerful wearable to date is looking to take on smartwatches by adding smartphone notifications, but it’s still the fitness prowess that wins out here. Onboard GPS makes for accurate route tracking, a week long battery keeps you going without the need for a charger and the rubber construction is durable, if a little on the itchy side. It’s also the first Fitbit device to pack an actual display, even it is only a monochromatic touchscreen.
In depth: Fitbit Surge review
Suunto Ambit3 Sport
The cheaper version of the Ambit3 Sapphire Peak, the Sport edition packs accurate GPS for tracking speed, pace, distance and altitude along with route guidance and a compass for keeping you on the right path. The heart rate monitor works even if you’re taking a dip in the pool and the addition of Bluetooth lets you connect the watch up to your smartphone for altering settings and diving deeper in to your stats.
Best entry level running watches
Basically a more affordable take on the Polar V800, the M400 is a brand new watch that tracks pace, distance and altitude via built-in GPS. But that’s not all, this beautiful looking running companion comes with special skills.
In depth:Polar M400 review
On top of twenty-four-seven activity tracking that means you can ditch your fitness band, there’s a whole host of running-specific innovations to keep you moving and motivation. There’s an interval timer that can be tuned to time or distance for custom training session, plus it’ll even give you an estimate of when you’ll finish your run based on you current pace.
For those who get lost easily or often run on their travels, there’s a cunning back-to-start option that’ll directs you to your starting point in the shortest distance possible.
If you’re looking for improved performance – and most of us are – the Polar Running Index calculates how you’re (hopefully) improving over time based on heart rate and speed. It’ll also tell you the training effect of every single run.
Garmin Forerunner 15
It’s ageing fast but the Forerunner 15 does all the basics and can still be picked up at a bargain price.
The built-in GPS gives you
distance and pace and you can hook up a range of other external sensors
including heart rate monitors, cycle sensors and foot pods that measure
additional stats like how many steps you’ve taken, calories and treadmill runs.
It’s also waterproof to 50m adding a touch of swimming smarts to its weaponry.
With a decent eight hours battery
life in GPS mode or five weeks in activity tracking mode, it’s got the legs to
outlast most entry level runners. Plus all of your data can be synced and
scrutinised via the Garmin Connect smartphone app and web tools.
In depth: Garmin Forerunner 15 review
Best running watch money no object
training timepiece for swim-bike-runners, the Polar V800 tracks everything you
do on two wheels, two feet, in the water or on dry land. Pace,
burn calories and max heart rate are all covered on super clear screens that
are brilliantly customisable.
Pair it up
with a Polar H7 heart rate monitor and you can also unlock the V800’s
zonal training smarts, making sure you’re sweating it out to achieve the right
effect. Hook it up
to a shoe pod and it’ll also give you cadence, stride length and other insights
to help hone your Mo Farrah running form. Wannabe Wiggos can also opt for a
range of cycle accessories to increase the stats haul from two-wheeled
reveals while you workout is one thing but this smart watch keeps giving long
after you’ve sunk your post workout protein shake. The
Recovery Status and Orthostatic Test features predict when
you’ll be ready to train again. The V800 doubles as
an activity tracker and lets you see whether you’re daily calorie burn comes
from just being alive, workouts or general activity.
Garmin Forerunner 620
Garmin’s the king of the running watch kingdom right now, and we could have chosen any number of their gadgets for this list. But if you must pin us down, we’d pick the super high-end Garmin Forerunner 620.
As well as measures like pace and cadence, the 620 brings in VO2Max data for an indication of how well your body transports oxygen. There’s also Recovery Check and Recovery Advisor, which analyse fitness and keep you from injury, and all of those help complete as detailed a look at your running as you can possibly need.
You’ll need a separate heart monitor strap for it to talk to but otherwise it’s got you covered so tight you’re practically vacuum packed. What’s more, it actually looks good too. It’s a big price, but a big watch.
In depth: Garmin Forerunner 620 review
Best multisport all-rounders
Suunto Ambit 3 Sapphire Peak
For the serious athlete, Suunto’s Ambit3 boasts accurate tracking capabilities thanks to GPS and some nifty connectivity tech. Pair the watch up the Suunto Movescount app to alter settings and check your progress on your phone. The watch itself is jammed full of sensors, from a compass, to a heart rate monitor (that even works during swimming) and altitude checker and of course it uses the GPS to give you route guidance.
Garmin Fenix 3
The update to Garmin’s previous all action
sports watch, the Garmin Fenix 3 is perfectly suited to runners that have
broken beyond the confines of the pavements. Cycling, open water swimming and
even cross-country skiing are all supported, but it’s running where the Fenix
really earns its stars. When paired with the heart rate strap accessory, the
Fenix 3 tracks distance, elevation, cadence, vertical oscillation and V02 max,
and the Garmin Connect software is simply brilliant.
In depth: Garmin Fenix 3 review
Best running smartwatch
Sony SmartWatch 3
If your interest has been piqued by the latest crop of Android Wear smartwatches, then the Sony SmartWatch 3 is your running savior. One of only two Android Wear watches to boast GPS built-in, it can track runs away from your handset, and boasts 4GB of built in memory for music, which can be listen to using a pair of Bluetooth headphones. Pretty compelling stuff.
In depth: Sony Smartwatch 3 review
Moto 360 Sport
If you don’t fancy the SmartWatch 3, the Moto 360 Sport is well equipped for indoor and outdoor running sessions. It’s robustly built with a silicon case and band and features an AnyLight LCD touchscreen to swipe through and easily view your stats in the bright outdoors or at night. Motorola’s Moto Body app is surprisingly well designed making your data easy to digest on the move.
In depth: Moto 360 Sport review
Another addition straight from the floor at CES 2015 is the Garmin Vivoactive, the runner’s smartwatch. If you’ve had your eye caught by the Android Wear Sony SmartWatch 3, the Garmin Vivoactive is the company’s response. Smartwatch style notifications and the ability to read emails and messages are the order of the day, along with built-in GPS for smartphone-free run tracking, in addition to cycling, swimming and golf.
In depth: Garmin Vivoactive review