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Best running watches in 2021

Best running watches
(Image credit: Garmin)

The best running watches blend form and function, providing accurate tracking of how far you’ve gone and how fast you’re going while being easy to read at a glance. 

GPS tracking and heart rate monitoring are standard on nearly all running watches. Most of the best running watches also support other sports, such as cycling and hiking, and most are also water-resistant so they survive a rainstorm, or swim workout.

Premium features are available for a price, whether it’s customized workouts based on personalized training data, music storage, more advanced smartphone capabilities, or a battery that will last for weeks instead of days. Sizes vary, too, with some watches better suited for smaller wrists or everyday use. We've selected the top devices in various categories, judging them based on ease of use, design, battery life, and availability of extra features. 

See all of the best running watches below. 

Note: All watches on this list come with GPS, heart rate monitoring, and Bluetooth connectivity.

What are the best running watches?

The best all-around running watch is the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music ($349). As one of the best Garmin watches, it has pretty much everything you could want in a running watch: It’s lightweight, it has a good battery, it stores up to 500 songs, and it has all the activity-tracking sensors and features that you’d expect from a Garmin. It’s admittedly missing some smartwatch features - but so are most of the watches on this list, which prioritize fitness over making phone calls.

If you’re on a budget, the Amazfit T-Rex doesn't have the sleek design of most watches on the market today, but as one of the best cheap smartwatches, it packs a lot of features — including a compass, altimeter, and AMOLED display— into a $140 package. 

On the other hand, if you don’t mind a hefty price tag and equally hefty device, the Garmin fenix 6X Pro Solar ($1,149) will give you weeks of battery life and (perhaps) more tracking capabilities that you know what to do with. This is the best running watch for runners who spend a lot of time outdoors.

The best running watches you can buy today

Best running watches: Garmin Forerunner 245Top Pick

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

Best running watch overall

Specifications
Battery Life in GPS mode: 6 hours (with music), 24 hours (without music)
Size: 42mm case, 38.5g
Water Resistance: 165 Feet
Music Storage: Up to 500 songs
Workout Recommendations: Yes
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: Yes
Mobile Payments: No
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Easy to read and use during runs+Robust training metrics
Reasons to avoid
-Can be hard to navigate

Our pick for the best sports watch is also our top running watch: The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music. 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.

The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music’s transflective display is easy to read, even in direct sunlight. Plus, you can pause and resume a run with the push of a button, which lets you keep an eye on the road or trail instead of looking down at your watch. The battery is long enough to last through a few workouts, even with music playing. 

If there’s a downside to the device, it’s the lack of a robust third-party app ecosystem, though this is not uncommon for Garmin devices as well as most running watches.

Read our full Garmin Forerunner 245 Music review.

Best running watches: Garmin Forerunner 945

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE

Best running watch for long (and safe) workouts

Specifications
Battery Life in GPS mode: 10 hours (with music), 36 hours (without music)
Size: 47mm case, 50g
Water Resistance: 165 feet
Music Storage: Up to 1,000 songs
Workout Recommendations: Yes
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: Yes
Mobile Payments: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Safety features with LTE+Good Battery life+Heat and altitude tracking+Native support for music
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

If you’re looking for the best running watch for advanced athletes, the Garmin Forerunner 945 should be on your short list. It's designed for triathletes, trail runners, and other endurance sport fanatics. The Forerunner 945 offers the same training and recovery metrics as the Forerunner 245 and 745 while adding metrics for tracking heat and altitude, which are important for determining the difficulty of a key workout. It also boasts a battery that should be long enough to support ultra marathon runners on race day.

More importantly, with Garmin's LTE service, the Forerunner 945 is the ultimate personal safety device. Even when your phone is nowhere to be found, this smartwatch can send your location to your designated contacts and let them know when there's an emergency. If you're someone who ventures out alone, the 945 can give you (and the people who care about you) some peace of mind.

Read the full Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE review.

Best running watches: Coros Pace 2

(Image credit: Coros)

3. Coros Pace 2

Best lightweight running watch

Specifications
Battery Life in GPS mode: 30 hours
Size: 42mm, 36g
Water Resistance: 165 feet
Music Storage: No
Workout Recommendations: Yes
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: Yes
Mobile Payments: No
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight and comfortable+Battery life+Nighttime display for workouts after dark
Reasons to avoid
-Limited non-running functionality

Weighing between 29g and 36 g (depending on the choice of silicone or nylon band), the Coros Pace 2 is one of the lightest running watches on the market. The watch still has plenty to offer, with a long-lasting battery, a custom “night mode” that makes it easier to see the display during workouts after sunset, and a dedicated Track Run mode designed to eliminate GPS idiosyncrasies from track workouts.

Beyond running, the Coros Pace 2 also offers a strength training program with more than 200 upper body, lower body, and core exercises; there’s also a “muscle heatmap” to show where you did the most and least work.

At its core, this is a watch for runners. The Coros Pace 2 will show smartphone notifications, but it’s missing mobile payments, music storage, and the ability to add third-party apps, all of which are available on higher-end devices. 

Best running watches: Fitbit Sense

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. Fitbit Sense

Best running smartwatch

Specifications
Battery Life in GPS mode: 12 hours
Size: 40mm case, 46 grams
Water Resistance: 165 feet
Music Storage: No
Workout Recommendations: Yes
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: Yes
Mobile Payments: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Battery life+Range of wellness features+All-day design
Reasons to avoid
-Limited as a smartwatch

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. While it won’t allow you to make untethered phone calls like the Apple Watch Series 6 or the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, the Fitbit Sense offers better health and fitness features. 

The Fitbit Sense offers EDA and skin temperature readings, which aren’t available on other smartwatches, and the device also comes with an FDA-approved ECG sensor. You can also watch cross-training workout videos that are exclusive to Fitbit users. The battery life also beats the latest Apple and Samsung watches, which most users need to charge every day.

Read our full Fitbit Sense review.

Best running watches: Polar Vantage V2

(Image credit: Polar)

5. Polar Vantage V2

Best running watch for monitoring recovery

Specifications
Battery Life in GPS mode: 40 hours
Size: 46mm, 51g
Water Resistance: 330 feet
Music Storage: No
Workout Recommendations: Yes
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: Yes
Mobile Payments: No
Reasons to buy
+Unique recovery metrics+Battery life+Create training plans through Polar Flow
Reasons to avoid
- Limited smartwatch features

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. 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.

Best running watches: Garmin fenix 6X Pro Solar

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

6. Garmin fenix 6X Pro Solar

Best running watch for the great outdoors

Specifications
Battery Life in GPS mode: 15 hours (with music), 60 hours (without music), 148 hours (Max Battery GPS mode)
Size: 51mm case, 93g (Steel) or 82g (Titanium)
Water Resistance: 330 feet
Music Storage: Up to 2,000 songs
Workout Recommendations: Yes
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: Yes
Mobile Payments: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Solar charging offers battery life for weeks+Track many activities besides running+Sensors for weather and altitude
Reasons to avoid
-Bulky

The Garmin fenix 6X Pro comes with the same features of high-end Garmin watches such as the Forerunner 945, including mobile payments and native music storage, but with a rugged design suitable for the most remote of backcountry adventures. 

Along with health and fitness monitoring and the usual types of workouts, you can also track your golf games and ski runs with the Garmin fenix 6X Pro Solar. You also get an altimeter, barometer, and thermometer. Sunlight will charge the watch, adding up to 28 hours to the 120 hours you get by using the watch in Max Battery mode. Put the watch in Battery Saver mode and get enough sunlight for solar charging and the battery will last as many as 120 days.

Make no mistake, though: The Garmin fenix 6X Pro Solar is huge. The case alone— 54g for the Titanium model and 66g for the Steel model —weighs more than most watches, plus there’s another 30 or so grams for the band. At 51mm, too, the watch will take up a sizable portion of your wrist. Fortunately, you can swap out metal bands for silicone if the device is weighing you down.

Read our full Garmin fenix 6X Pro Solar review.

Best running watches: Coros Apex

(Image credit: Coros)

7. Coros Apex

Best running watch for form

Specifications
Battery Life in GPS mode: 35 hours
Size: 46mm, 55g
Water Resistance: 330 feet
Music Storage: No
Workout Recommendations: Yes
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: Yes
Mobile Payments: No
Reasons to buy
+Able to measure running form+Navigation features+Training and recovery recommendations
Reasons to avoid
-Pulse ox and blood oxygen sensors not standard

For some runners, changes to form can lead to faster times and reduce the likelihood of injury. Runners interested in measuring and improving their form should look no further than the Coros Apex.

When paired with the Coros Performance Optimization Device ($69), which clips to the back of your shorts or pants, the Coros Apex will collect several metrics related to running form, including stride length and height, cadence, and stride angle. This data helps you identify how to make your running form more efficient. It’s one of the best running watches because it also uses activity data to provide training plan recovery recommendations. 

In addition, the Coros Apex comes with tracking and navigation features that let you upload maps onto a grid with compass settings. This is handy if you plan to venture onto a running route for the first time or plan to take the watch into the backcountry for trail runs or hikes. 

The slightly larger Coros Apex Pro ($499) has a touchscreen, a battery that lasts 40 hours in GPS mode, and blood oxygen and pulse oximeter sensors.

Best running watches: Garmin Forerunner 45

(Image credit: Garmin)

8. Garmin Forerunner 45

Best running watch for beginners

Specifications
Battery Life in GPS mode: 13 hours
Size: 42mm, 36g
Water Resistance: 165 feet
Music Storage: No
Workout Recommendations: Yes
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: Yes
Mobile Payments: No
Reasons to buy
+Easy to use+Inexpensive+Entry-level access to Garmin Connect
Reasons to avoid
-Limited features beyond run tracking

The Garmin Forerunner 45 is the ideal “starter” running watch. It’s comfortable and easy to use, featuring Garmin’s typical circular design with three buttons on the left and two buttons on the right. Higher-end Garmin watches may get a GPS signal faster, but the Forerunner 45 will get the job done, and give you at-a-glance access to the data you need during and after your run to make sure your training is on track.

Through Garmin Connect, you can access training plans that are personalized to your specific running metrics on the Forerunner 45. This is a step up from both Nike or Under Armour training plans or similarly priced smartwatches like the $200 Galaxy Watch Active and the Apple Watch Series 3. However, the Forerunner lacks a lot of smartwatch features, and it’s designed to look like a running watch first and foremost, so it may not be the ideal pick for a runner who wants something more stylish and functional after a run.

Read our full Garmin Forerunner 45 review.

Best running watches: Suunto 7

(Image credit: Suunto)

9. Suunto 7

Best running watch for Wear OS

Specifications
Battery Life in GPS mode: 12 hours
Size: 50mm, 70g
Water Resistance: 165 feet
Music Storage: No
Workout Recommendations: No
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: Yes
Mobile Payments: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Wear OS integration+Customizable watch faces and straps+Offline maps
Reasons to avoid
-Can be difficult to use-Short battery life

Google’s Wear OS watch operating system has been hit or miss, as devices have suffered from complex setup and use as well as limited battery life. When it comes to running watches, the Suunto 7 is the best of the bunch. 

Like most Suunto devices, the Suunto 7 is a rugged watch that can handle plenty of outdoor activities. B - but as a Wear OS watch, it also has a touchscreen suitable for everyday use. Along with supporting offline maps, the watch offers access to heatmaps for popular spots for running and other activities in cities around the world, given you ideas for where to work out (or where to avoid) the next time you travel.

While the Suunto does have better battery life than the typical Wear OS watch (- 12 hours in GPS mode and close to 48 hours in everyday mode) - it’s less than most other running watches in its price range. Turning on low-power mode or locking the screen will extend the battery life during exercise, but this limits the ability to see key data such as distance and pace. In addition, the Suunto 7 provides a training log and recovery recommendations, but it doesn’t offer recommended workouts.

Best running watches: Amazfit T-Rex

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

10. Amazfit T-Rex

Best durable budget running watch

Specifications
Battery Life in GPS mode: 10 hours
Size: 44mm, 57g
Water Resistance: 165 feet
Music Storage: No
Workout Recommendations: No
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: No
Mobile Payments: No
Reasons to buy
+Inexpensive+AMOLED touchscreen+Robust tracking for the price
Reasons to avoid
-Dated design and display

If you can get past the bulky design the Amazfit T-Rex is a worthwhile option for runners who want an inexpensive watch that’s durable enough for the great outdoors. 

The Amazfit T-Rex features an AMOLED touchscreen, which is rare for watches under $150. The screen locks once you start a workout, though, which not only prevents accidental taps but eliminates the frustration of trying to navigate the watch with sweaty fingertips. During workouts, the buttons allow you to navigate. The watch will also provide metrics such as altitude and compass position during workouts, another rarity for watches in its price range.

The Amazfit T-Rex and its accompanying app don’t come with the fitness analysis capabilities that a range of other running watch makers offer. While that may be a downside for some runners, those who find the metrics distracting or work with a dedicated running coach may appreciate a watch that doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles.

Read our full Amazfit T-Rex review.

Best running watches: Garmin Vivoactive 4

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

11. Garmin vivoactive 4S

Garmin’s best smartwatch for runners

Specifications
Battery Life in GPS mode: 6 hours (with music), 18 hours (without music)
Size: 40mm, 40g
Water Resistance: 165 Feet
Music Storage: Up to 500 songs
Workout Recommendations: Yes
Sleep Tracking: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: Yes
Mobile Payments: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Smartwatch with Garmin’s insides+Battery life+Touchscreen plus push buttons
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult to navigate menus

The Garmin vivoactive 4 is Garmin’s best smartwatch for runners. On the outside, it has the touchscreen you expect from a smartwatch and the easy push button controls you expect from a Garmin. It doesn’t have the AMOLED display of the Garmin Venu, but that also means the battery lasts longer — 18 hours in GPS mode and up to 8 days in smartwatch mode. 

The main selling point of the Garmin vivoactive 4S is what’s inside: Garmin’s activity and sleep tracking capabilities, plus the ability to create custom workouts or complete preloaded workouts. Those features aren’t available on other smartwatches, and they make up for the limited availability of third-party apps. The watch does support mobile payments and music storage, which are key features for runners.

Size is another benefit of the Garmin vivoactive 4S. At 40mm and 40g, this watch is designed for runners with smaller wrists. The Garmin vivoactive 4 is a slightly larger version of this watch, at 45mm and 50.5g, which puts it more in line with the Forerunner 945.

Read our full Garmin vivoactive 4S review.

How to choose the best running watch for you

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? The availability of third-party apps or the ability to sync with your phone are important if you want a running watch with some smartwatch capabilities.

On the other hand, if you only plan to use the watch in the great outdoors, smartwatch features will likely matter less than battery life, support for tracking multiple activities, and overall durability.   

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.