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The best running watches you can buy

Looking for a running watch? There are plenty of options for all budgets.
By
October 17, 2022
garmin forerunner 955 solar weekly load
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

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 activity, there are a few things to consider. If it’s imperative that your wearable can track your routes accurately and without fault, you should seek a device with built-in GPS. Some device manufacturers have emphasized accuracy recently, and few devices have truly horrible location tracking. However, the more accurate a device’s GPS, the more precise your running data will be.

You may want a device that makes it easy to peek at information. We’re partial towards transflective memory-in-pixel (MiP) screens and AMOLED displays. All the devices on the list below make it easy to spot important stats with a glance.

What about health metrics? Consider a device with a reliable heart rate monitor and an SpO2 sensor. Both are important metrics for keeping tabs on your performance, while some devices can also use this data to extrapolate VO2 max and recovery time.

Of course, some of the options on this list are pricey, but that’s par for the course in this wearables segment. Everybody needs something different from their 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 955 is the best running watch you can buy. It packs everything a runner could want an the kitchen sink. There’s a fair share of smart features, too, from offline music playback to Garmin Pay support.
  • The Garmin Forerunner 255 is the best middle-ground running watch. If you don’t want to break the bank, but want a few more core smart features, this is the watch to get.
  • The Garmin Forerunner 55 is the best cheap running watch. This is the watch to go for if you’re on a tight budget.
  • The Apple Watch Ultra is the best smartwatch for running. It’s bulky and expensive, but you won’t find a better smartwatch that also packs advanced sports tracking elsewhere.
  • 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 955: The best running watch

Garmin Forerunner 955Garmin Forerunner 955
Garmin Forerunner 955
Countless activity types • NFC support for Garmin Pay Upgraded heart rate sensor
A premium GPS watch delivering top features for dedicated runners
The Garmin Forerunner 955 is a feature-loaded GPS watch with tons of training tools, improved sensors, onboard music storage, and Garmin Pay support. You can even download running routes directly onto the watch to view on its 1.3-inch touchscreen display.

The Garmin Forerunner 745 topped this list for the longest time thanks to its balanced combination of training and smartwatch features. However, we just can’t ignore the strides made by Garmin with the Forerunner 955.

Now standing as the company’s flagship GPS watch, it lands with an upgraded heart rate sensor that’s plenty accurate, Morning Report that outlines an ideal training regimen each day, and Garmin’s usual stellar training features like Body Battery and Training Readiness. Thanks to its offline mapping support, you can keep tabs on routes as you travel without an active data connection. The 955 also features multi-frequency GPS smarts to ensure more accurate distance tracking.

On top of these positives, NFC powers Garmin Pay, so you can purchase a refreshing drink even if you don’t have your wallet. There’s also enough storage for 2,000 songs, complete with offline playback support. If you really want to extend its already long battery life, the Forerunner 955 comes with a Solar model.

It is pricier than the Forerunner 745 and lacks the conveniences of modern smartwatches. But if you can look past its lack of an AMOLED screen and its pretty lofty asking price, the Forerunner 955 is the best running watch available today.

Our verdict: Garmin Forerunner 955 review

garmin forerunner 955 solar recovery time
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Pros

  • Excellent solar-enhanced battery life (Solar model only)
  • Countless activity types
  • NFC support for Garmin Pay
  • Upgraded heart rate sensor
  • Storage for up to 2,000 songs
  • Downloadable maps for running and biking

Cons

  • Expensive, though not more than the Forerunner 945
  • Redundancy between button-based navigation and touchscreen
  • Proprietary charging setup

Garmin Forerunner 255: The best mid-range running watch

Garmin Forerunner 255Garmin Forerunner 255
Garmin Forerunner 255
Multiple sizes to fit more wrists • Supports NFC and Garmin Pay • Gyroscope and barometric altimeter
Garmin's mid-level, fitness-tracking smartwatch loaded with features
The Garmin Forerunner 255 offers accurate GPS tracking and solid battery life in an attractive package. It's even available in two case sizes with optional music support. With Garmin's powerful training tools on board including an updated triathlon mode, its easy to recommend to any athlete.

The Garmin Forerunner 255 is the best midrange running watch you can buy. If you look closely, you might not even spot the differences between this watch and the pricier 955.

With the Garmin Forerunner 255, you’re also getting an upgraded heart rate sensor, a barometric altimeter that improves altitude tracking, and excellent multi-band GPS. Morning Report, Body Battery, and Training Readiness all feature, too.

For all its positives, there are a few omissions. For one, there’s no offline maps support. You’ll also forego music playback if you don’t get the Music edition. The non-touchscreen is also covered in slightly less resistant Gorilla Glass 3. All in all, these are small features that don’t detract from the overall experience. If you can live without these, you’ll benefit from a much lower price than the Forerunner 955. This, in our book, makes the Forerunner 255 a better watch for most users.

Our verdict: Garmin Forerunner 255 review

Garmin Forerunner 255 on wrist
Ryan Haines / Android Authority
garmin forerunner 55 black model watch face
Garmin Forerunner 55
Garmin's cheapest running watch, improved
The Garmin Forerunner 55 offers major hardware and software improvements over its predecessor. New training features, more than double the battery life, and a new design are just some of the upgrades you'll get with the Forerunner 55.

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • Sleep tracking accuracy is questionable
  • Display could be improved

Garmin Forerunner 55: The best cheap running watch

Garmin Forerunner 55Garmin Forerunner 55
Garmin Forerunner 55
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
Is the Garmin Forerunner 55 a worthy alternative to the Coros Pace 2?
The Garmin Forerunner 55 is a lightweight running watch made for people new to the sport and those who don’t want to spend an arm and a leg. The Forerunner 55 is the cheapest running watch in Garmin’s ecosystem, not including previous-gen devices.

The Garmin Forerunner 55 is the best affordable 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.

Our verdict: Garmin Forerunner 55 review

A Garmin Forerunner 55 on a user's wrist displays excellent VO2 Max data.
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • Sleep tracking accuracy is questionable
  • Display could be improved

Apple Watch Ultra: The best smartwatch for running

Apple Watch UltraApple Watch Ultra
Apple Watch Ultra
Louder speaker • Large battery • Extensive features
The rugged smartwatch for the iOS crowd
The Apple Watch Ultra has a large sapphire glass display, with an additional programmable Action button on the side. It also includes a larger and louder speaker for emergencies, LTE connectivity, and a large battery. The Ultra comes with a host of features for athletes, too. Rock climbers, scuba divers, hikers, and other folks who are looking for a smartwatch that can help them track intense workouts and also keep them safe will find a lot to love about the Ultra.

Apple’s new flagship smartwatch is an excellent albeit bulky piece of kit for runners. Beneath that chunky titanium exterior lurks a large AMOLED screen that’s visible in practically all conditions. Also included is a dual-band GPS that remains one of the watch’s unappreciated wins. watchOS 9 also brings detailed running metrics, but it isn’t nearly as detailed as its competitors.

However, the smartwatch aspect of the Apple Watch Ultra earns its place here. Apple’s app availability remains untouched, while if you’re deep in the company’s ecosystem, you’ll enjoy the cross-device support.

The Ultra isn’t without its faults, though. Its massive body may not be for everyone and could be a hindrance on longer runs. It also tries to cater to every potential athlete, which some runners may feel is spreading itself too thin. Beyond these issues and the high price, the Apple Watch Ultra is the best smartwatch runners can buy, at least in the Apple ecosystem.

Our verdict: Apple Watch Ultra review

An Apple Watch Ultra displays the multisport workout screen.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

Pros

  • Bigger, brighter (yet still comfortable) display
  • Added Action button with tons of potential
  • Durable build and increased water resistance
  • Longest lasting battery on an Apple Watch
  • Advanced health tracking sensors and accurate GPS
  • Showcases full suite of watchOS 9 upgrades

Cons

  • Only available in one (very large) size
  • Underbaked navigation/mapping features
  • Fitness metrics still not as comprehensive as competitors

Polar Vantage V2: The best running watch for triathletes

Polar Vantage V2Polar Vantage V2
Polar Vantage V2
Made for triatheles • running and cycling performance tests • leg recovery test
The Vantage V2 features a slew of smarts specifically geared for multi-sports athletes. It also features onboard GPS, a lengthy battery life, and in-depth performance tracking.

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 offers in one sleek, lightweight running watch, the Polar Vantage V2 is the watch for you.

The Polar Vantage V2 is the best Polar running watch
Polar

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 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.

See also: I want to love smartwatches, but I can’t replace my GPS watch

Learn more about the Coros Pace 2 in our list of the best Fitbit alternatives.


Fitbit Charge 5: The best fitness tracker for running

Fitbit Charge 5Fitbit Charge 5
Fitbit Charge 5
Bright OLED display • Stress monitor • Accurate sensors
The first stress management watch from Fitbit.
The Fitbit Charge 5 is a major update from its predecessor. Not only does it have a color AMOLED display, it's the first tracker to come with Fitbit's Daily Readiness Score — a feature that aims to predict how much activity or rest you should take on for the day.

The Fitbit Charge 5 is the best fitness tracker you can buy, ripping that title away from its predecessor. Fitbit didn’t need 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 sensors to add 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 most complete offering available in this segment.

Our verdict: Fitbit Charge 5 review

A Fitbit Charge 5 rests on its side on a cement surface.
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

Pros

  • Bright, beautiful full-color OLED display
  • Smaller and slimmer than Charge 4
  • EDA, SpO2, and skin temperature tracking
  • Usual quality of Fitbit tracking accuracy

Cons

  • No altimeter
  • Battery life isn’t good
  • Promised features unavailable at launch
  • Expensive

Honorable mentions

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 (Amazon): The Garmin Venu 2 Plus is a fantastic mid-range multisport watch. It’s pricey but worth the cost for those who do various sports and want a Garmin watch with more smart features.
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (Samsung): Samsung’s new Wear OS watch packs a reliable GPS with plenty of sport tracking modes. It also calculates VO2 max and body composition, a nice add-on for runners adding muscle or burning fat.
  • Polar Ignite (Amazon): The Polar Ignite is essentially the baseline Polar watch. It’s not the most advanced running watch but it has built-in GPS, Polar’s FitSpark training suite, and VO2 max estimates.
  • Garmin Forerunner 45 (Amazon): Buying last-gen tech is an excellent way to save some money. The Forerunner 45 is still a solid running watch, regularly available for under $150.
  • Fitbit Charge 4 (Amazon): As 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.
  • Xiaomi Mi Band 7 (Amazon): Xiaomi’s latest budget fitness tracker comes with several training features that runners will love. Although you’ll have to deal with connected GPS only, the price is one reason to snag this particular device.

FAQs

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. Grab a traditional smartwatch or fitness tracker if you’re not a runner.

No, a GPS watch isn’t necessary for running, but it will allow you to study your progress over time and learn how to improve. Overall, a GPS watch helps you to bolster and double your efforts.

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 recommend finding a watch with 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.

Yes, absolutely. The core task of a running watch is to help improve your pace and stamina by providing tangible data and recommendations. Invest in a running watch if you want to improve as a runner.