So you can find the right GPS running buddy, we’ve put all the latest watches through their paces. We’ve tested each GPS watch and ranked them to help us choose the best one.
A good GPS reading is essential, along with excellent biometrics (including blood oxygen saturation and heart rate) to ensure you get the best out of your sessions. Each watch is tested on a pre-measured course. We then compare the heart rate data to a chest-strap monitor, to see how they perform. We also tested their training tools, to make sure they are useful and not just add-ons.
We have compiled a list of the best watches for runners at all levels, from ultra-runners to beginners.
The most elegant running watches
1. Garmin Fenix 7
Garmin Fenix 7 runs watch is packed with advanced training tools that will help you maximize your week and plan your race strategy. The Fenix 6’s best features are still available, but it now includes excellent new tools like a real-time stamina monitor that shows how your energy levels change over time. This allows you to adjust your efforts accordingly. A new graph shows how your training affects your race times.
It still features Garmin’s five-button layout but this Fenix watch is the first to have a touchscreen. This makes it easy to navigate the detailed maps on the watch. Garmin’s GPS accuracy is outstanding, and Garmin made several map packs available for download via the Fenix 7’s new Map Manager.
This watch isn’t just for runners. It has profiles for indoor, road, and trail running. There are also training tools for swimming, cycling, hiking, climbing, and many other sports. You can even use it as a legal golf watch with thousands of course maps.
Although the Fenix 7’s color memory-in–pixel (MiP), the display isn’t as vivid as AMOLED screens like the Venu 2, Plus, it is still easy to see in all lighting conditions and contributes to its impressive battery life. Solar editions are more durable than the regular versions and the optional sapphire lens protects against scratches while you’re off-the-beaten-path.
2. Garmin Forerunner 945
Garmin Forerunner 945 watch is for you if you love running in triathlon training. Its biometrics and location tracking are extremely accurate. The watch is packed with useful training tools that will help you get more out of your runs, bike rides, and swims.
The Training Load Monitor is one of our favorites. It measures how much you have trained over the past seven days, and then tells you if you need to reduce your training or push yourself harder for better fitness. This is combined with the Body Battery function, which measures how much you have recovered from previous days’ exertions, to make sure that every training session runs smoothly.
We were also impressed by the on-screen full-color maps. Such a large display makes navigation simple and intuitive. It is easy to create your own interval sessions based on distance or time.
Garmin Fenix 7 looks more elegant and offers more sports modes. The Forerunner 945 is more affordable and is an excellent training aid for serious athletes.
3. Coros Pace 2
The Coros Pace 2 running watch is lightweight but packed with features. It weighs in at just 29g and is barely noticeable on your wrist. However, it includes many features you’d expect to find in higher-end running watches. These include an AI trainer to help manage your training load for events, interval, triathlon, and multi-sport modes, compatibility with third-party sensors such as heart rate monitors and foot pods, and compatibility with chest-strap heart rates monitors.
The GPS is very accurate and is complemented by GLONASS, Baidu positioning (GALILEO support will be added in a future update). The watch will automatically calculate your stride length and cadence if you happen to be in a tunnel.
Our only gripe was with the screen’s dimming. It was difficult to read in daylight without using the backlight button. This is a minor issue that we found in our testing. This watch is a great choice for road runners and it’s one of the most reliable.
4. Garmin Instinct Solar
The new Garmin Instinct2 is currently being tested. We will be sharing a complete review soon. However, the original Instinct remains a great watch that will serve runners who are more adventurous. Garmin Instinct solar is a tough running watch with incredible battery life. It has a photovoltaic lens that keeps it charged so it can last for weeks.
The Garmin Instinct watch is excellent. The Instinct Solar adds new features to the (extremely solid) foundation, such as a pulse oximeter that tracks changes in blood oxygen saturation. This, along with heart rate variability, helps the watch (along with the Garmin Connect app), estimate your stress levels throughout a day so that you can take appropriate action.
The Instinct Solar is accurate and reliable as you would expect from Garmin devices. It also supports Garmin InReach satellite communications, if you are truly off-grid.
The Instinct Solar’s tough plastic shell makes it a less attractive Garmin watch. However, it is great for multi-day events and navigating off the beaten track.
5. Coros Apex
The Coros Apex is an excellent alternative if you are serious about running but find the Garmin Forerunner 945 or Fenix 6 too expensive. It provides you with a wealth of training data you can use.
This watch is made for data geeks. Are you looking to increase your cadence? You want to know how much training you have done for the week. All the information you need is right at your fingertips. The GPS tracking system is precise (with stunningly detailed maps) and the Intelligent Stride Algorithm tracks stride length and cadence over time. This allows it to keep an accurate record, even if you train in a tunnel or out of satellite range.
We were also impressed with the Apex’s navigation features, which make it an excellent running watch for anyone who is interested in exploring new routes and changing up their training.
We found the display to be a bit dark, similar to the Coros Pace 2. However, enabling the gesture-activated backlight solves the problem nicely. It provides clear information about your pace, distance, heart rate, and heart rate during a run without draining the battery.
6. Polar Vantage V2
The Polar Vantage V2 shares a lot with the Polar Grit X (below), putting wealth biometric data at your fingertips. But the V2 also has a few extras we believe give it an edge and make it the best running watch to use for off-road.
One of the most important is a fitness test that gives you numerical values for your maximum aerobic power, maximum VO2 max, and maximal aerobic speed. You can repeat the test later to get a better idea of your fitness improvement.
Vantage V2 weighs 52g more than GritX, while the GritX is 64g. This is due to the fact that it uses aluminum instead of plastic and stainless steel. Although it has a less rugged appearance, this device is still very tough and can withstand any knocks.
Both are nearly the same price so unless your preference is for the Grit X’s chunkier look (which is a valid preference), then we recommend the V2.
7. Polar Grit X
The Polar Grit X was designed for serious athletes who want to take their adventures off the beaten path. This could be the right running watch for you if you are looking for something a little cheaper than the Garmin Fenix 6.
Polar is a pioneer in heart-rate monitoring technology, and the Grit X provides super-accurate biometrics. This data can be put to good use with adaptive fuelling advice to keep you hydrated and prevent bonking during long runs. Recovery insights also help you decide how long you should rest and when you need to get back on your feet.
Training sessions can be set up with intervals, race paces, and timers. If you feel competitive, Strava Live segments are available.
These features are all shared with the Polar Vantage V2 and offer more advanced training tools. However, if you don’t need those extras or prefer rugged looks, the Polar Grit X may be worth your consideration.
Polar has added two new models to its line-up: the Polar Grit X Pro (and Grit X Titan) if you are looking for something more rugged and lighter. We are currently testing GritX Pro and will soon bring you a complete review.
8. Garmin Enduro
Garmin Enduro has similar software to Fenix 6 number 4 on our list and a similar display. The Garmin Enduro is unique in that it has a battery life that lasts for at least a year.
When you add solar power, the Enduro can last up to 65 days when used in smartwatch mode and provides 80 hours of GPS battery backup. The Garmin Eunduro can last between 130 and 1 year if you keep your operations simple.
The Enduro provides everything you need to track your runs. It offers advanced fitness tracking metrics as well as sleep monitoring. It includes a barometric altimeter and a pulse ox tracker, 24/7 fitness tracking, and smartwatch features such as notifications and payments.
Garmin’s Fenix watches and Forerunner 945 watches don’t offer full topographical mapping. It will also be expensive for many. The Enduro is a great choice if you are looking for a large, lightweight watch with a powerful battery.
9. Apple Watch 7
The Apple Watch 7 may not offer the same amount of data for running as other watches, but its tracking tools are great if you run for fun and general fitness.
Although it doesn’t have as many features as the Apple Watch 6, it is a significant upgrade to its predecessor. However, the larger display allows you to quickly see your stats during training sessions. It’s easy to use the always-on display, which eliminates the need for you to mess with the Smart Crown during a run.
You can also enjoy Apple Fitness Plus on the Apple Watch 7. This allows you to join fun instructor-led workouts using your Apple TV, iPhone, or iPad. Your heart rate stats will be displayed on-screen.
Although it can’t replace a dedicated watch for serious training, its heart rate monitoring and third-party app support (if a run doesn’t appear on Strava, is it really there? The Apple Watch 7 is extremely versatile and can be used as a running watch or for everyday wear.
10. Garmin Vivoactive 4
It is a smartwatch? Is it a GPS-running watch? Or a fashion watch. It has all three. This Garmin watch is the first that has been designed for design-loving runners, competing against Android Wear and Apple Watch.
You can imagine that it has all the Garmin smarts. This means full GPS and heart rate tracking. It also supports on-watch music streaming for Spotify and Deezer. However, the interface could be improved.
This means that the battery lasts for a good four to five days or 18 hours of GPS training, or six hours if you are also listening to music. The design of this running watch is simple: a stainless steel bezel with a rubberized strap, which can be changed to suit any occasion.
Garmin Connect offers a wide range of watch faces and apps, with more to come.
What are the key features to look for in a running clock?
The first thing to think about when choosing a running watch is your goal. A dedicated GPS watch is beneficial for all runners, but it will not be the best choice if your goal is to run your first 5K.
A watch that helps you create a training plan and gives your runs variety is a useful tool for new runners. Garmin Forerunner 55 offers workout suggestions to help you avoid getting stuck in a routine even if your training is not set. You can also see how much time you should take to recover from each session, so you get the most out of your training.
The Polar Grit X monitors your fuelling strategy and alerts you when it is time to eat more carbs or water. You can also download customized plans from TrainingPeaks to help you reach your next goal.
A smartwatch can be used to track your runs but a running watch with physical buttons is always a better option. This allows you to use your watch’s screen to navigate the menus and pause/start workouts without needing to read it.
Another important factor is battery life. It is not a good idea to wait for your watch to charge before you go on a training session, or worse, to find out that it has stopped working halfway through.
You can add additional tools such as music or contactless payments to your running watch. This lets you listen to music during your training and then take a break to eat a snack or to buy water if do not have one. There is no need to purchase an additional smartwatch for daily use.
These considerations have been taken into account when we judge the watches. You don’t need to go through the specification sheets to ensure that the watch you are interested in is correct.