After 12 hours of research evaluating 75 products, we picked Garmin Vivoactive as our top choice.
Runners really only need three things for a proper training session: a good pair of running shoes, music, and a running watch. Running watches do more than just track your lap time or total run time—a good GPS running watch will also help you monitor your location, map your route, and analyze your performance.
Never run without one!
Finding a good GPS running watch may be easier said than done, given how many models are available on the market. But don't sweat it: we've done the work of analyzing each watch for you to make finding the best running watches a breeze.
Here's what we did:
We read thousands of reviews for dozens of running watches, wore a few of the top-rated watches during our runs (with the sweat stains to prove it!), and put the various features through their paces. We dug deep into the various options to ensure you got the best, most reliable options for your training sessions. Read on to find the best running watch for you.
Simple, reliable, VERY durable, waterproof, basic digital watch features, shock-resistant, good for sports and training, and easy to see in the dark.
No fancy watch features.
Performance: Tired of your high-tech running watch running out of battery life? With this digital watch, you get simple timekeeping without all the fuss of the other watches on our list. It has all the basic functions you need from a watch, but with a battery life measured in YEARS rather than hours.
The watch is built to last, with a durable PC case, polyurethane band, and a resin mirror. It's shock-resistant, waterproof up to 50 meters, and resistant to scratches and damage. You'll never have to worry about your watch breaking or being damaged on your runs!
Features: The watch lacks all the high-tech features of the other options on our list, but gives you a stopwatch, backlight, LED display, alarm, time, and date. The numbers are bright, bold, and big, easy to see even in low light conditions. Though it won't track your heart rate or receive smartphone notifications, it's a reliable, durable timepiece that will last through any workout, run, or weather conditions.
Price: At $13, this is a very well-priced watch. It'll last for years to come, with good battery life and reliable functionality. If you want something inexpensive, this is your best bet.
Provides insights into your performance, tracks all the important fitness metrics, lightweight, sleek, stylish, feature-rich, very user-friendly interface, smartwatch functionality, GPS tracking, customizable watch face, compact, and decent battery life.
Some users experience syncing issues, and this watch is not as durable as other running watches on our list.
Performance: Be warned: this isn't the most advanced running watch on our list (that honor goes the Vivoactive in our #1 spot). However, it's the easiest to use, thanks to its user-friendly interface, intuitive controls, and simple programs. You'll be able to scroll through the watch's various features, programs, and settings easily—you can even go so far as to customize it according to your desires.
The watch is compatible with Garmin's web-based app/software, and though syncing can be challenging, you'll find the software/app makes it easy to track, analyze, and share your performance data. With the built-in training programs, you'll always be able to step up your run and workout performance!
Features: The watch comes with a built-in GPS system, heart rate monitor, audio prompts for your smartphone (notifications/emails), lap/lap time tracking features, calendar reminders, VO2 monitoring, live tracking, and Garmin's in-depth analysis of your performance. Though it's not as feature-rich as some of the other running watches, the user interface makes it easy to access each feature without a steep learning curve.
One of the great features is the watch's ability to "learn" your running habits and fitness level. It will give you insights into your resting heart rate and oxygen uptake so you can push yourself on your runs without training too hard. Thanks to the GPS positioning of the watch, you'll never get lost!
Price: At $310, this is on the pricier side of things, but definitely worth it if you want a feature-rich watch that's not too complex and beautifully easy to use.
Designed for multiple sports and training protocols, long battery life, reliable, built-in GPS, accurate heart rate monitoring, waterproof, and easy to charge via micro USB cable.
Polar Flow app/software prone to bugs, and syncing is sometimes slow and difficult.
Performance: For runners who need simplicity and reliability, you can't beat Polar! Though the M400 doesn't have a lot of the fancy features of some of the higher-rated watches on this list, it delivers excellent value in what it does give you.
The heart rate monitor, for example, is one of the most accurate of any running wristwatch, making it easy for you to track your run (or workout) performance, even when sprint training. The watch is fully waterproof, so you can use it for a swimming session or even a triathlon. It delivers up to 24 days of battery life, and you'll find it's easily charged via microUSB cable.
With its sleek, stylish design, it's one of the best-looking watches on our list. The watch face is big with bold, bright letters and numbers, making it easy to read all of your performance data on the run.
Features: The watch comes with some pretty nifty features. The GPS tracking will ensure you're always on track, and you can monitor your distance traveled, distance remaining, pace, and even altitude. The fitness tracker monitors your daily activity levels, sleep patterns, calories burned, and steps walked. Though you can pair the watch with a chest heart rate monitor, the wrist monitor is accurate enough for all but the most high intensity workouts.
One of the great things about this watch is its compatibility with the Polar Flow app and web-based community and fitness tracking software. Though syncing is a pain in the butt (takes up to 30 minutes, according to one user) and the app is buggy, access to the web-based community of fellow fitness enthusiasts and runners is a definite "pro". You can also use the fitness tracking software to analyze and track every aspect of your run and training performance.
Price: Starting at $175, this watch delivers excellent reliability at a pretty good price. If you're looking for a running watch to help you improve your performance, this is an excellent option to consider.
Comes with all the features you need for your triathlon, compatible with heart rate straps, displays a full range of performance and fitness metrics, one of the most versatile running watches on our list, sleek design, and good battery life.
The wrist heart rate monitor design is flawed, and the watch is pretty pricey.
Performance: If you want performance, this is the watch for you! It's sleek, slim, and loaded with features to help you measure and analyze every aspect of your performance. From heart rate monitor to VO2 sensors to training programs to notifications from your smartphone, this little watch is as high-tech as it gets without being a proper smartwatch.
The battery life is surprisingly long—up to 24 hours in GPS mode—so you'll never have to worry about running out of power mid-triathlon. It's water-resistant up to 100 feet and built with a solid band that will stay firmly in place no matter how fast you swim.
Features: While the wrist heart rate monitor isn't the most accurate, it's easily paired with a Garmin chest strap and other accessories to make tracking your performance a breeze. The algorithms of the watch will actually learn your fitness levels and performance, helping to push you to your limits without causing strain. It will literally tell you if you're working too hard or not hard enough.
The watch interface is designed for convenience, and you can see all the important metrics at a glance. Better still, you can customize the interface with the widgets and data you want displayed. The numbers and words are easily legible and very sharp, and you'll find the interface is very user-friendly.
Price: At close to $480, this isn't a watch for casual runners. However, for serious triathletes who need a multi-sport watch capable of keeping up with their hardcore training and racing, this is worth every penny!
Incredibly durable, built-in GPS tracking, 3-axis compass, performance widget displays run metrics, connected to Garmin's app, multi-sport tracking, waterproof, compatible with heart rate sensors, and features basic smart watch capabilities.
Larger and heavier than most running watches and VERY pricey.
Performance: This is a watch built for hardcore use! With a stainless steel case, the choice of metal or silicone band, and sapphire glass, you've got a watch that will survive any marathon or training regimen.
Despite the rugged design, it's a surprisingly sophisticated watch, built with a lot of features to help you track run performance. The built-in GPS sensors will help you track your location in the marathon, and the 3-axis compass will keep you from getting lost. With a gyroscope and barometric altimeter, you have everything you need to stay on course to the finish line.
The watch has a built-in widget that displays your training load, training status, and smart notifications. Thanks to its compatibility with Garmin Connect, you can upload your data to the online community and personalize your digital watch features.
Features: The watch comes with full-color TOPO U.S. maps, complete with the option to program your routes ahead of time. The GPS tracker is highly accurate and will help you stay updated on your position in the race.
The built-in heart rate monitor is fairly accurate, though its ANT+ compatible, so you can connect it to any chest strap monitor. The digital features include settings for not just running, but also cycling, cross-country skiing, climbing, HIIT training, and so much more. With the basic smart watch capabilities, you can check your texts and receive alerts of new messages or emails.
Price: At almost $700, this is a VERY pricey watch. However, for dedicated marathoners that need a watch that can keep up with their training, it's an investment worth making.
Top-notch battery life, beautiful slim and sleek design, perfect for tracking run performance, easy to use with Android/iOS, feature-rich, and waterproof.
Chest strap required to monitor heart rate.
Performance: This bad boy is designed like the Apple Watch, though with a much sportier design. The touchscreen is durable and easy to use, giving you total control over the OS. If you like a smartwatch design, this is definitely the running watch for you!
The battery life lasts up to 7 days of normal use, or 13 hours with the GPS on. It has one of the most accurate GPS functions of any running watch on the market.
Never worry that the band of the watch is about to break--all the bands are swappable, so you can switch it for a new one. Whether you're a heavy sweater or (like me) are rough with watches, the changeable band drastically enhances durability.
Features: Despite the 1.13-by-0.80-inch reflective LCD display, the watch is beautifully lightweight--clocking in at just 1.34 ounces. It's highly accurate, with GPS monitoring that activates immediately. Syncing and charging is a breeze, making this one of the best, most user-friendly wellness watches around.
One of the things that makes this model unique is the Connect IQ app store offered by Garmin. All of the apps are unique to Garmin products, giving you a wide range of activity tracking and entertainment options on your smartwatch. This makes it easy to track your run time, distance, speed, route, and laps!
If you want to add functionality to your device, simply download an app. You can find apps for weather, calendar alerts, music playlists, cycling, or running workouts, and so much more. Definitely one of the best, most feature-rich devices around!
Price: Considering what it offers, the price tag of $115 is very reasonable! For those who want customizability and versatility, this is the best running watch you'll find.