The best running watches fit well and track your health and fitness metrics accurately. So, whether you're training for your fastest marathon or just want to get fitter, your watch should be easy to read at a glance and navigate your route seamlessly.
These days, the best running watches are super advanced. They're fitted with GPS tracking, on the spot heart rate monitoring, and can tailor to specific sports and activities like hiking and HIIT. Many running watches are also water-resistant, but we recommend checking the maximum ATM before you buy as some won't be suitable for diving or swimming.
Looking for more suggestions? Check out the best Garmin watches here, as well as the best Fitbits. We've also tested the best smartwatches, and the best GPS sports watches.
If you're looking to use one of the best running watches to reach your 2023 workout goals, we've got you covered. We've been running in some of the top devices on the market across various categories. We've tested them for ease, design, battery life, and extra features so that you know you can make an informed choice. Read on to find the watches that came out on top.
The best running watches you can buy today
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Our pick for the best sports watch is also our top running watch: The Garmin Forerunner 265. This lightweight device gives you everything you’d want in a running watch, from accurate tracking to music controls to the ability to create custom workouts, for the price of an Apple Watch. The device also offers access to Garmin’s wide range of training metrics, which help you not only plan workouts but also recovery time.
During testing, we found the Garmin Forerunner 265's beautiful AMOLED display to be bright and easy to read, even in direct sunlight. It also has a touchscreen, which makes it easy to navigate around the watch. The battery is long enough to last through a few workouts, even with music playing.
The Forerunner 265 has inherited some of the more advanced health features usually reserved for Garmin’s more expensive running watches. The watch has Garmin’s latest Elevate V4 sensor — the green light records heart rate, the red light records blood oxygen levels (referred to as Pulse Ox on the watch). This sensor is used to calculate breathing rate, HRV, and stress. It also now has the ability to track multisport training sessions in the triathlon mode, and Garmin's Training Readiness Score.
It's a fantastic improvement on an already fantastic watch, and a great buy for all levels of runner.
Read our Garmin Forerunner 265 review
Looking for a bargain? Now is a good time to buy the Garmin Forerunner 255 Music which is likely to be discounted following the launch of the new watch.
If you’re starting to get into running, chances are you want a device that’s a step up from a basic fitness tracker but also won’t overwhelm you with too many features. Among Garmin watches, the Forerunner 55 is a clear choice.
At its core, the Garmin Forerunner 55 is an entry-level fitness watch, replacing the popular Forerunner 45 earlier this year. While it looks very similar to its predecessor, Garmin made some important changes, adding some of the more advanced training tools usually reserved for their more expensive watches. The Forerunner 55 has Garmin's new PacePro technology, which gives you gentle speed and cadence alerts on the run. There are also suggested recovery times and workouts, based on your training history, fitness levels, and recovery. This is a differentiator from similarly priced watches such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active or the Fitbit Charge 5 which track workouts but don’t offer custom coaching plans.
It’s worth noting that the Garmin Forerunner 55 doesn’t support music storage, mobile payments, or third-party apps. It also has a relatively small display, at just over 1 inch. If these are must-have features for your Garmin watch, you may want to consider a higher-end device. If you are looking for a cheaper watch, the Forerunner 45 is often in the sale right now, following the release of the Forerunner 55, so it's a good time to buy.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 55 review.
The Garmin Forerunner 955 is the upgraded version of the Forerunner 945. It's a top-tier running watch, and possibly the best Forerunner we've ever tested. If you're trying to decide between the newer model and the older version, read our Forerunner 955 vs Forerunner 945 face-off here.
The Garmin Forerunner 955 comes in two different versions: solar and non-solar. As its name suggests, the solar version of the watch has a Power Glass screen, which harnesses the power of the Sun to increase the watch’s battery life. Talking of battery life, the solar version of the Forerunner 955 has a top battery life of around 20 hours in smartwatch mode, 49 hours in GPS mode without music, and 110 hours in Ultratrac mode.
On the run, the watch was easy to read and navigate around. Off the run, Garmin has added a touchscreen to make the watch feel more like a smartwatch. There's also a bunch of impressive training metrics, including Garmin's new Training Readiness metric, which shows you at a glance how ready you are for a difficult day of training based on sleep, recovery time, HRV status, acute load, and stress.
This is a fantastic running watch, with all of the features of the Fenix 7 in a much cheaper package, so unless you’re planning on rock climbing or doing really extreme sports, we're not sure why you’d opt for anything else on your wrist.
It's worth noting, this watch has just been updated with the Garmin Forerunner 965, which is due to be released at the end of March 2023. Here's everything we know about the new Garmin Forerunner 965.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 955 review.
This is a monster running watch made by Coros, designed to rival the likes of the Garmin Fenix 7. Whereas the Fenix 7 comes in three different diameter options (42mm, 47mm, and 51mm) and multiple “editions” to suit different budgets, fitness needs, and wrist sizes, there’s only one model of the Vertix 2, which has a case diameter of 50.3mm — up from 47mm with the original Vertix. There are no solar editions of the Coros Vertix 2.
The high-spec watch does everything you'd want it to do and more, plus, it's designed for multi-day adventures. During testing, we appreciated the huge battery life of this running watch, which has the capacity to last 240 hours in UltraMax GPS mode. It's also super durable, with a reinforced bezel and screen to protect the watch from any knocks or scrapes along the trail.
While you could buy this for a heavy marathon training plan (we tested this watch in the run-up to a trail marathon), if you're not someone who is planning on skiing, swimming, and going off-road, there are cheaper watches on the market for you.
Read our full Coros Vertix 2 review here.
Not all smartwatches make for good running watches. Touchscreens can be tough to use with sweaty fingers or gloved hands. Batteries typically don’t last for more than a couple days, either. Without an always-on display, you have to shake your wrist or press a button just to glance at the screen.
The best smartwatch for runners is the Fitbit Sense 2. While it won’t allow you to make untethered phone calls like the Apple Watch Series 8 or the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, the Fitbit Sense offers better health and fitness features.
The Fitbit Sense 2 is the company's premium smartwatch that comes with more advanced health and wellness features that the Versa line. Not only does it have an FDA-approved ECG sensor and blood oxygen reading, but the Sense has the ability to measure electrodermal activity and skin temperature, too. Compared to the original Fitbit Sense, the Sense 2 features an upgraded design, interface and EDA sensor, making for Fitbit's most holistic smartwatch yet.
Read our full Fitbit Sense 2 review.
Overtraining is a common cause of running injuries. Through a number of unique features, the Polar Vantage V2 is designed to help serious runners recover. This makes up for some of its limited smartwatch functionality and otherwise standard activity tracking features.
After a run, you can use the Polar Vantage V2 to conduct a Leg Recovery test, which helps you determine how long to wait before your next hard run. Other watches provide recovery recommendations, but metrics specific to legs are unique to the Polar Vantage V2. In addition, the Nightly Recharge feature puts sleep quality in the context of workout recovery.
During testing, one feature we found impressive was the training plans. Plugging workout data into Polar Flow lets you create training plans and share them with personal trainers or coaches, which is another way to help prevent injuries.
Read our full Polar Vantage V2 review.
The Apple Watch Ultra is the best Apple Watch to buy if you're doing any serious running training. As well as the new WatchOS running features, the Ultra has a third button — the Action Button, which makes pausing the watch, or lapping the watch on the move, that little bit easier with sweaty fingers, or when wearing gloves.
The Apple Watch Ultra doesn’t reinvent the wheel, Apple has added features that have been available on most of the best running watches for years, but the Ultra does feel like an upgrade from the Apple Watch Series 8 from a running perspective. (Here's how to choose between the Apple Watch Series 8 vs the Apple Watch Ultra). Its 49mm screen is huge, especially on petite wrists, but it's built for adventure — the bezel is made from titanium, with a lip around the screen to add more protection. The display is made from sapphire glass, and the watch has an increased water resistance of 100m.
With 60 hours of battery life, it also has the stamina to keep up — something that’s been missing from the best Apple Watches for the past few years. The watch looks beautiful and is easy to read, even in direct sunlight. Plus, in workout modes, the bigger screen allows for seven data fields, rather than six. That said, if you're looking for longer battery life, recovery metrics, or the ability to upload maps onto the watch, you're better off shopping for one of the Garmins on this list.
Can't decide between the Ultra and some of the other popular watches on this list? Check out our Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 7 and Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Epix 2 face-off here.
Read our full Apple Watch Ultra review.
The Garmin Fenix 7 is a rugged watch for outdoor adventurers. The device supports everyday fitness activities such as running and swimming, and it comes with Garmin’s typical health-tracking features, but it’s really designed for anyone who gets an adrenaline rush from scuba diving, backcountry skiing, or a multi-day hike deep in the wilderness.
Make no mistake: With a weight that starts at 2 ounces for the standard Fenix 7S, and tops out at 3.1 ounces for the 51mm Fenix 7X Saphire Solar addition, this watch is a beast. But the trade-off is storage, battery life, and water resistance up to 100 meters (330 feet). It’s also easy to swap out bands — no small thing if you’ve just spent days in the woods without a shower.
The Fenix 7 has one major improvement on the Fenix 6 — a touch screen. The screen is super responsive, even when being used in the rain, and makes moving around and customizing the watch a lot easier. There's also a new Stamina metric, and the watches come loaded with more maps, and sports tracking modes than ever before. It's a brilliant watch, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a fitness tracker with a better battery life.
Read our full Garmin Fenix 7 review here.
Can't decide between the Garmin Fenix 6 vs the Garmin Fenix 7, the Garmin Fenix 7 vs the Garmin Epix 2, the Garmin Fenix 7 vs Apple Watch Ultra, or the Garmin Fenix 7 vs Garmin Forerunner 955? Check out our round-ups.
Garmin watches aren’t just for serious athletes. The Venu 2 Plus is a stylish smartwatch on a par with the Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa 3 — and it’s rugged enough for bike rides, strength workouts, and playtime with the kids. It’s also a step up from the Garmin vivoactive 4 with an AMOLED display and a stainless steel bezel.
For runners, it has everything you'd expect from a Garmin watch — the ability to track all of your runs and workouts, as well as receive live feedback on the move. The big difference here is that thanks to tools like voice and call assistant, you can ask Siri to add eggs to your shopping list mid-run, or finally call your mum, should you wish.
Like some of the other smarter running watches on this list, the Venu 2 Plus also has mobile payments, notifications, a touchscreen, and storage for up to 650 songs on board. The watch also boasts a much better battery life than most smartwatches, even with its AMOLED display.
Read our full Garmin Venu 2 Plus review here.
How to choose the best running watch for you
When buying a running watch, here's a few things to consider:
Appearance: If you want a running watch that can also be an everyday watch, overall design and appearance are key considerations. Will it clash with a dress or blazer, or will it get caught on the sleeve of a sweater or shirt?
Phone notifications: Do you want to be able to receive WhatsApp messages and emails mid-run, or is this your worst nightmare? Plenty of modern watches have smartwatch features, but if you're not bothered about them, you can save money.
Battery life: If you're planning on running a marathon, or heading out on an all-day adventure, you'll want a watch that can keep up with you in GPS mode. This shouldn't be a problem with most Garmin running watches, but is something to consider with a Fitbit or Apple watch.
Fit: If you're a particularly petite runner, you'll want a watch that fits neatly around your wrist, or a watch that has different size straps for a good fit.
How we choose the best running watches
Even today’s low-end running watches typically come with GPS sensors, heart rate monitors, and step counters. In addition to evaluating watches on these features, we look at more advanced functionality such as VO2 Max data, sleep tracking, music storage, and the presentation of training data such as recovery time and recommended workouts.
Our reviewers are experienced runners who test devices on several runs in open spaces, around tall buildings, and in the woods. We pay attention to accuracy, ease of use, and comfort during our runs, and we evaluate each watch and its companion app together after our runs. We wear watches for several days to compare battery performance to manufacturers’ claims.
If a running watch also has smartwatch capabilities, we look at the software, application ecosystem, and use of special features such as mobile payments or notification responses.
Next: I don’t want a new running watch, I want the streets to be safe for female runners, writes our Fitness Editor.