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The best running watches you can buy (March 2022)
There are lots of different wearables for all types of users. Just need to keep an eye on your daily activity levels? Maybe a cheap fitness tracker will suit your needs. But if you’re an athlete that would like something more powerful — something that can track your long runs and not skimp on the handy smartwatch features — what are your options? Today, we’ll walk you through our list of the best running watches.
Buying the right running watch for your needs
If you’re a runner and need something that will accurately track your routes, has an easy-to-read screen, a built-in heart rate monitor, and GPS, this list is for you. Some of the options here are pricey, but that’s par for the course in this segment of wearables.
Everybody needs something different out of their GPS running watches, so we’ve listed each model in a different category to help you choose the right device for your needs.
The best running watches
- The Garmin Forerunner 745 is the best running watch you can buy. It strikes the perfect balance between training smarts and smartwatch features.
- The Garmin Forerunner 55 is the best cheap running watch. If you’re on a tight budget, this is the watch to go for.
- The Apple Watch Series 7 is the best smartwatch for running. Ultimately, it’s the best smartwatch you can buy, too, if you own an iPhone.
- The Polar Vantage V2 is the best running watch for triathletes. It packs excellent training coverage for swimmers, cyclists, and runners.
- The Coros Pace 2 is the best running watch for training. It packs a host of metrics tuned for runners looking to improve and lengthy battery life to boot.
- The Fitbit Charge 5 is the best fitness tracker for runners. It’s perfect for those who want a sleek running partner that also packs Fitbit’s other health tracking smarts.
Garmin Forerunner 745: The best running watch
The Garmin Forerunner 745 is our pick for the best running watch you can buy. Its combination of training and smartwatch features makes the 745 stand out as the “goldilocks” running watch. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s $100 cheaper than the Forerunner 945, which some people might find the benefits of which aren’t worth the $100 premium. The 745 is nearly the same as the 945, only without offline maps, less onboard storage, and shorter battery life.
The Forerunner 745 features Garmin’s PacePro and ClimbPro modes, training load focus stats, heat and altitude acclimation, and of course, now-staple features in Garmin devices like Body Battery, all-day stress tracking, a pulse oximeter, Garmin Pay, music storage, and more.
Read more about the Forerunner 745 in our list of the best Garmin watches you can buy.
Garmin Forerunner 55: The best cheap running watch
The Garmin Forerunner 55 is the best midrange running watch you can buy. It follows Garmin’s typical update strategy — the Forerunner 55 is essentially a cheaper Forerunner 245 with hardware similar to the Forerunner 45 line.
The 55 looks much more like Garmin’s other Forerunner devices; you no longer need a screwdriver to remove the straps. Battery life has been improved from the 45 series from seven days to two full weeks. Garmin brought many of its existing training features to the Forerunner 55, including PacePro, Race Predictor, Recovery Advisor, cadence alerts, daily suggested workouts, and new sport profiles.
- Improved design with easily removable straps
- Fantastic 2-week battery life
- Race Predictor and cadence alerts are helpful additions for runners
- Great value
- Excellent heart rate and GPS performance
- Sleep tracking accuracy is questionable
- Display could be improved
Check out our full review to learn more about the Garmin Forerunner 55.
Apple Watch Series 7: The best smartwatch for running
The Apple Watch Series 7 is one of our favorite GPS running watches, and overall it’s one heck of a fitness tracker. We’ve had a few issues with the Series 7’s heart rate sensor, but when it works, it’s extremely accurate. GPS performance is great, too. We do think Apple’s sleep tracking metrics are too basic, but you can always download a third-party sleep tracking app if you need.
Bigger Retina display
Durable, premium design
Accurate GPS tracking
Great software and app support
Battery life isn’t great
No third-party watch faces
Sleep tracking still feels like an afterthought
Finicky heart rate tracking
Check out our full review to learn more about the Apple Watch Series 7.
Polar Vantage V2: The best running watch for triathletes
The Polar Vantage V2 is the company’s flagship running watch, and it’s aimed squarely at triathletes. It matches the Polar Grit X in features and offers Recovery Pro; running, cycling, and leg performance tests; and onboard music controls (though no music storage). It’s also quite light on the wrist.
If you want everything Polar has to offer in one sleek, lightweight running watch, the Polar Vantage V2 is the watch for you.
Read more about the Polar Vantage V2 in our list of the best Polar watches.
Coros Pace 2: The best running watch for training
The Coros Pace 2 is our pick for the best running watch for training. The Pace 2 goes head to head with Garmin’s Forerunner 55, but we think the Coros watch edges it out just slightly in training features.
The standout feature is its long battery life: 20 days with regular use or 30 hours in GPS mode. It also offers running power metrics and support for Stryd power meters — a feature that’s not often found at this price point.
Speaking of price, it’s just $200. Sure, there are hardly any smartwatch features, but the Coros Pace 2 has got it where it counts.
Learn more about the Coros Pace 2 in our list of the best Fitbit alternatives.
Fitbit Charge 5: The best fitness tracker for running
The Fitbit Charge 5 is the best fitness tracker you can buy, ripping that title away from its predecessor. Fitbit didn’t need to do much to achieve this title again, but it added a bright OLED display, making it easier to peek at data. It also slimmed down the Charge 4‘s body further, making it less of a chore to lug around. We also get a host of added sensors to add even more context to fitness tracking. Finally, the built-in and highly reliable GPS is retained.
Fitbit’s Daily Readiness Score is the significant new fitness feature that makes workout recommendations based on the previous day’s steps, sleep, stress, and other factors.
All in all, if you want a GPS-enabled fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge 5 is the best you can get. Although, if its asking price is a bit too steep for you, the Charge 4 will still serve you exceptionally well.
- Bright, beautiful full-color OLED display
- Smaller and slimmer than Charge 4
- EDA, SpO2, and skin temperature tracking
- Usual quality of Fitbit tracking accuracy
- No altimeter
- Battery life isn’t good
- Promised features unavailable at launch
Check out our full review to learn more about the Fitbit Charge 5.
There are hundreds of GPS running watches available today. The ones on this list are our favorites, but we’ll also list a handful of options down below to help you find what you’re looking for.
- Garmin Venu 2 Plus: The Garmin Venu 2 Plus is a fantastic mid-range multisport watch. It’s pricey but definitely worth the cost for those who do a variety of sports.
- Polar Ignite: The Polar Ignite is essentially the baseline Polar watch. It’s not the most advanced running watch, but it does have built-in GPS, Polar’s FitSpark training suite, and VO2 max estimates.
- Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: Many of the Forerunner 245 Music’s features have made their way to the Forerunner 55. But if you want onboard music storage on a midrange running watch, the 245 Music is still your go-to.
- Garmin Forerunner 45: Buying last-gen tech is a good way to save some money. The Forerunner 45 is still a solid running watch, now available for around $150.
- Fitbit Charge 4: As we mentioned in the Charge 5 segment, Fitbit’s previous best fitness tracker still has a few tricks up its sleeve. If you don’t need the Charge 5’s OLED display, Daily Readiness smarts, or just prefer longer battery life, the Charge 4 remains an excellent alternative.
Q: What should I look for when buying a running watch?
A: First and foremost, you want a device with built-in GPS. While connected GPS is fine, you’ll need to lug your phone around on runs. This isn’t convenient or practical. After this, we’d recommend finding a watch that has the fit and feel you’re looking for, and the training software that suits your goal. Garmin provides plenty of software to help runners improve, while Coros provides excellent triathlon smarts for multisport enthusiasts.
Q: Are running watches worth it over normal smartwatches?
A: If you are a runner, yes. Running watches are better suited to those actively seeking a jogging, marathon, or trail-running companion. Running watches often include smartwatch features, like app support, additional health tracking smarts, and smartphone interactivity. If you’re not a runner, grab a traditional smartwatch or fitness tracker.
Q: Will running watches help me improve my pace?
A: Yes, absolutely. The core task of a running watch is to help improve your pace and stamina by providing tangible data and recommendations. If you want to improve as a runner, invest in a running watch.