The best running watches help you keep track of your routes, your running times, plus heart rate and calories burned. During our 20+ hours of testing we evaluated features like GPS functionality, heart rate monitors and display quality, along with overall durability, comfort, and battery life. We also considered additional features like safety notifications and activity trackers, as well as considering the best running watch with that ability to play music.
Our top pick, the Forerunner 35, is a Garmin running watch that has GPS functionality, constant heart rate monitoring, an easy to use interface and that lets you connect to a free online fitness community making it the obvious top pick for the Best Running Watches in 2020. Read on for more of the best running watches.
Top 6 Best Running Watches
#1 Garmin Forerunner 35 Running Watch
Award: TOP PICK
WHY WE LIKE IT: This Garmin Forerunner 35 running watch has a built in accelerometer as well as GPS, so you can monitor your runs indoors or out. It’s also smartphone compatible and features a nifty run/ walk mode great for interval workouts.
Read Full Review: Garmin Forerunner 35 Running Watch
- Best for hiking & waterproof to 50m
- Heart rate monitor
- Full-time GPS mode
- Connected features via iOS or Android
- No color display
- Lacks sophisticated interval timing functions
This relatively inexpensive Garmin running watch uses full time GPS and a built-in accelerometer, as well as the ability to pair with external sensors, to deliver useful pacing and distance information and complement your workout. It also has physical buttons and a simple, easy-to-read at a glance display, making it one of the top contenders for best GPS watch for hiking.
It also does heart rate tracking and can estimate calories burned. It can push notifications when paired with an iOS or Android mobile device over Bluetooth. It also lets you share and connect with the free online Garmin connect ecosystem. Plus, it’s waterproof to 50m and has a battery life of up to 9 days on standby and 13 hours when in training mode. If you’ve got money to spare and no budget to worry about, check out Garmin Forerunner 945. The Forerunner 945 has far more features including Garmin Connect, damage-resistant glass, a compass, can monitor blood oxygenation levels, 36 hours in GPS mode, and more. The best body fat monitor is another great tool for your health.
#2 Timex Ironman Classic 30 Full-Size 38mm Running Watch
Award: HONORABLE MENTION
WHY WE LIKE IT: This Timex Ironman watch has five buttons for instant access to lap timer and interval functions, with a 100 lap memory and customizable alarms. Plus it’s water resistant to 330ft and has an indigo backlight.
Read Full Review: Timex Ironman Classic 30 Review
- 10 year battery life (up to)
- Durable acrylic screen and physical buttons
- Interval timing with 100 lap memory
- No connected features
- Lacks heart rate tracking
With its classic, no frills digital display and easy-to-access physical stopwatch buttons, this running watch is great for high intensity interval training, triathlon training and sprinters. It’s also water resistant down to 100 meters, making possibly the best multisport watch in its class if durability is a priority.
The Ironman Classic is somewhat “old school,” as the name implies, and in place of app connectivity or fitness monitor features, it has reliable, easy to use and accurate timing, with the ability to save up to 100 laps. Plus it has a battery that lasts up to ten years. That said, and for clarity, there is no GPS functionality. But the trade off is the stellar battery life that will probably outrun your ability to jog. Another great workout aid is the best door anchor.
#3 Lintelek Fitness Tracker with Heart Rate Monitor
Award: Best on a Budget
WHY WE LIKE IT: This multifunctional and sleek fitness tracker pairs with smartphones to upload fitness info and push through notifications like call and message alert, and even has a remote camera feature. It also IP67 waterproof, does step counter and calorie counter functions as well as lets you set workout time reminders.
Read Full Review: Lintelek Fitness Tracker with Heart Rate Monitor Review
- IP67 water resistant
- Durable acrylic screen and physical buttons
- 14 different sports modes
- Not as durable as the Timex
- Band is on the smaller side
If budget is a priority and you’re looking to get features like those of a Fitbit or other fitness tracker, this may be the best multisport watch on our list. It pairs with smartphones to offer app functionality and push notifications, while a built-in sensor tracks steps, heart rate and can estimate running pace and calories burned.
It also has IP67 dust and water resistance, so you don’t have to worry about this running watch calling it quits the first time you break a sweat or get caught in the rain It features a sleep monitor and workout reminder timers, plus 14 different sport modes. Battery life is said to be up to 7 days standby on a single charge. To charge this fitness tracker you unclip the band to reveal an USB plug, a nifty solution and more convenient than using a USB cord. You may also want to use the best medicine ball for a great workout.
#4 Suunto Ambit 3 Running Watch
Award: Best Trail
WHY WE LIKE IT: A built-in altimeter, barometer and compass as well as integral GPS make this the best trail running watch for ultra runners and serious hikers. It’s also waterproof to 100m and boasts an impressive 200-hour battery life.
Read Full Review: Suunto Ambit 3 Review
- Built in compass and satellite GPS
- Pairs with your smartphone
- Heart rate monitor even while swimming
- More expensive than the Garmin GPS watch
- Less engaging display than the Polar Ignite
This high tech running watch not only has integrated GPS– meaning it doesn’t rely on your cell signal to fix your position–but also a built in barometer, altimeter and compass, making it the best Suunto watch for running, the top performing GPS watch for hiking and the best trail running watch for cross country runners, ultra marathoners, cross country skiers and mountaineers.
It’s waterproof to 100m, making it also the best swimming watch on our list. It keeps track of heart rate, even while swimming, and offers a connected option, too, where using Sunnto’s app you can share routes and progress, as well as photos of your adventure. Battery life is class competitive with up to 200 hours while GPS is active. It does have less features than the Suunto 9, but that is reflected in the cost. You can also use the best smartwatch.
#5 LETSCOM Smart Watch Fitness Tracker
Award: Best Smart Watch
WHY WE LIKE IT: This fitness tracker offers a color touch screen, phone pairing ability and exceptionally long battery life of up to 45 days, making it a solid choice for the best GPS running watch with music on our list.
Read Full Review: LETSCOM Smart Watch Fitness Tracker Review
- Sleep and excercise tracking
- IP68 waterproof
- Single tap stopwatch function
- Few physical buttons
- Lacks built-in GPS
This fitness tracker and GPS running watch comes with a handsome and easy to see color touch screen, plus a good set of features much like those found on far more expensive sports watches, like sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring with a built-in sensor, and smart phone connectivity so you can share and upload fitness goals, receive notifications and even locate your phone.
While it lacks the built-in GPS that comes on the Garmin running watch (our top pick) it does track distance and pace for runners using a smartphone as its GPS signal. The only major limitation here is that it may not remain functional if you go out of cell service, meaning those mainly seeking the best trail running watch should probably look elsewhere. But otherwise, this is an easy top pick among cheap running watches and even the best smart watches. The ladies will want to have a look at the best smartwatch for women.
#6 Polar Ignite – Advanced Waterproof Fitness Watch
Award: Best for Trail
WHY WE LIKE IT: Built in GPS tracking along with waterproof durability and advanced workout/ recovery tracking features make this the best trail running watch and fitness tracker we’ve tested.
Read Full Review: Polar Ignite GPS Smartwatch Review
- Best screen in sunlight
- Recovery tracking and progress reports
- More complex to set up than a Garmin running watch
- More expensive than most fitness trackers
Among the top performing fitness devices, and the best multisport watch with integrated GPS that we’ve tried, this Polar running and swimming watch is waterproof and offers 24/7 fitness monitoring that tracks rest and recovery as well as peak performance. It pairs with smartphones and lets you connect with the Polar Flow app and web service to share your gains and get fitness Inso. If you love to workout, pick up the best fitness tracker too.
Unlike many fitness trackers and even the best cheap running watches, this watch has built-in GPS that doesn’t rely on pairing with your phone’s signal. It can continue tracking your speed, distance and route if your phone dies or goes out of service. Battery life ranges from 5 days while using continuous heart rate tracking to 17 hours while GPS and pairing are in use.
How We Decided
In order to narrow down the choices when it comes to the best running watch, we looked for products with good quality, ease of use and durability.
We only considered running watches with at least an IP67 rating for water and dust resistance. Built-in GPS was not strictly a requirement, but for our picks for the best GPS watches, we only considered those with at least 1 minute accuracy and at least 10 hours of GPS tracking on a charge.
We also only considered those models that promised battery life of at least five days of stand by time and at least 10 hours of continuous use.
A year or more of warranty coverage was a plus, with extra credit given for lifetime guarantees.
Along with fitness tracker smart watches and a few contenders for the best multisport watch, we looked for GPS-enabled running watches to find the best trail running watch and the best GPS watch for hiking.
For traditional running watches like the Timex (our #2 pick) we required single-button stop watch functionality, a memory function, and well-proven durability.
For GPS watches we looked for accurate, integrated GPS signal such as the promised 5-second accuracy of the Suunto Ambit3. We also looked forthe ability to pair with a smartphone and at least an option of tracking fitness metrics like heart rate and calories.
For fitness trackers, accurate heart rate tracking via a built-in sensor was a must, as was an easy to use screen and the ability to push notifications, set alarms and track running pace and distance.
Best Running Watches Buyer’s Guide
Features to Consider
If you’re looking for the best trail running watch, make sure you check to see if the watch you’re considering has built-in GPS. This feature lets you track your pace and distance traveled with or without staying connected to your mobile phone, and especially comes in handy if your run takes you sometimes out of reach of the cell towers.
- Smartphone Pairing
Many of today’s running watches, including the best Suunto watch for running, the best Polar multisport watch and the best Garmin GPS watches, let you seamlessly pair your watch with your phone and push notifications, control your music, plus share data and upload to an online fitness community.
- Waterproof Rating
If you’re training for an obstacle course race or like to run in all sorts of weather, or if you just tend to have sweaty wrists, make sure you go for a running watch with at least some level of water resistance. IP67–dust and splash resistant–at a minimmum. For a fitness watch you want to take with you swimming and diving, look for more serious waterproofing, such as a rating of IP68 or above.
- Battery Life
A good running watch should have some endurance; today’s smart watches often have rechargeable Li-ion or Li-polymer batteries that can last a week or more on a 2 hour charge. Most charge via USB cable.
- Heart rate tracking
The best multisport watch, running watch and trail running watch should offer a full set of fitness and performance tracking metrics. Even cheap running watches today should offer built-in heart rate tracking via a wrist sensor.
- Interval Timing
This feature lets you save and keep track of sprint intervals, helping you plan your pacing and get the most out of a HIIT workout.
Running Watches FAQs
What is the best running watch this year?
Depending on your needs, you may want to go with a running watch with GPS, such as our top pick, the affordable yet precise and reliable Garmin Forerunner 35. If a fancier display and more features are what you’re looking for, you might want to look into a multisport watch like the Polar Ignite (our #6 pick)
Are running watches worth it?
Running watches can help keep track of your progress and monitor your workouts in ways you can’t get with either just a smart phone or a plain old watch. GPS gives you accurate pace and distance tracking, and the built-in heart rate sensors help with training as well.
What does a running watch do?
A running watch is an evolved variant of the stop watch or fitness tracker with specialized features like keeping track of running pace and distance traveled, heart rate and calories burned.
Are Apple watches good for running?
The Apple Watch has some great fitness tracking features and an excellent heart rate sensor, especially on the Apple Watch 4 and up, making it a good choice for running and as a smart sports watch for exercise. Another added benefit to the Apple Watch is that, unlike other products, it’s truly customizable. Feel free to add any third party band or strap to your Apple Watch no questions asked.
What is a VO2 Max Score?
Your VO2 Max is a measure of your body’s maximal oxygen uptake ability. It monitors how much oxygen your body can take in when you push yourself during aerobic exercise. A high VO2 Max score is shown to correlate with cardio-respiratory fitness. This means your performance at sports such as running, cycling, swimming and so on will improve with a high VO2 Max score.