So let's be real here, you really can get by without a lot of fancy sports gear! You don't really NEED a fitness tracker, the latest fitness app on your phone, or top of the line running shoes. But the one thing you DO need is a watch.
Why is that?
A sports watch will let you know how long you've been training, how many seconds of an exercise you have left, when break time is over, and some watches even track your distance. A good sports watch has some of the fitness tracking features you want, but it's a simple, durable accessory that will be with you through every workout.
Want to know the best part?
We've done the research to find the very best sport watches on the market for you. Check out our list below to find the sport watch that will suit you best.
Sleek and slim, low-profile watch face, simple features, low price, highly durable, and water resistant.
Interface isn't the easiest to use and you can't press buttons (timer/stopwatch) underwater.
Performance: Long distance runners need to avoid anything that rubs, grinds, or chafes. The sleek, lightweight design of this watch is ideal for comfort, and you'll find that the natural curve of the wristband makes it sit comfortably on your wrist. There's even a special notch in the band to keep the watch loop from sliding around.
You won't have to worry about scratching the watch face, as it's made of a highly durable material that will survive a lot of regular use. The battery life is excellent (up to 4 years).
Features: The watch is designed with Ironman and long-distance runners in mind, so it comes with all the features you could ask for: a 100-lap counter with 30-lap memory, 100-hour chronometer, 3 alarms, timer, accurate stopwatch, and an Indiglo LED light to illuminate the watch face after dark.
It's designed to be easy to use, and you'll find that it's a watch that can easily keep up with your hours of running.
Price: At $30, this is a VERY affordable watch. Yet it doesn't sacrifice quality for price. It's a durable, well-designed timepiece that will be a marathon/Ironman-runner's dream.
Beautiful sleek design, feature-rich, highly accurate wristband HR monitor, easy to use in tandem with workout apps, and great for most aerobic activities.
Strap buckle is a bit cheap and not the best for truly punishing workouts.
Performance: If you're looking to go high-tech, this FitBit is the watch for you. It's a sleek bracelet that is far less obtrusive than a proper fitness watch. The FitBit "face" is small and slim, and the band looks great on your wrist. It's not going to match a suit and tie, but it's ideal to wear with anything from gym sweats to casual professional attire.
Features: This is one of the most versatile of the FitBit models, largely thanks to the wide range of features it offers. In addition to the watch features, it comes with all the standard fitness tracking options--pedometer, calorie counter, step counter, etc.--but also includes a few additional features you won't get with basic health activity tracking watches: auto sleep logging, heart rate monitor and zoning, caller ID to see who's calling you, and exercise log. You'll even love that there are EIGHT silent alarms built into this baby!
Note: Some users report that the heart rate monitor is less accurate when performing high intensity exercise or anything that involves sudden spikes in heart rate.
Price: At $130, it's a bit of a pricey option for a simple fitness watch. However, it's a good option for anyone who wants to take their timekeeping high tech. If you're looking for a versatile sport watch with fitness tracking capabilities, this is a great option.
Highly accurate built-in GPS functionality, good fitness/workout tracking features, sleek and slim design, user-friendly interface, easy to start using, keeps you thinking about your fitness, and is an overall great watch for a good price.
Battery life is iffy and GPS signal takes a while to lock on.
Performance: For those who want to track their runs, this is an excellent little GPS watch to use. It delivers excellent GPS functionality (with only the occasional connection glitch or tracking error) and is fully compatible with the Garmin fitness tracking software. It will give you the full details on your runs, hikes, or walks to help you stay on top of your workouts.
The watch is sleek and beautiful, and it's designed to be an unobtrusive timepiece. The battery life isn't too good—between 6-8 hours of consistent use—but you'll find it’s easy to charge between runs. You can get started using this watch right out of the box. The interface is user-friendly and designed to start working right away. With a 5 ATM water rating, you can go running in the rain or even swimming up to 50 meters deep without worrying about damage.
Features: The GPS watch is designed with runners in mind, so it tracks time, distance, and pace of every run. It will also monitor your sleep performance, keep track of your heart rate, and display the day, date, and time clearly.
The watch syncs with your PC or Mac to upload the data to Garmin's fitness tracking software, allowing you to map your runs, compare your progress, and share your activities. It will also send notifications when you've been sitting too long, and will encourage you to keep up the efforts as you run and train. It even has a pedometer to ensure you get in those 10,000 steps every day!
Price: $105 is a good price to pay for this GPS watch. It's a bit pricier than the simpler sport watches on our list, but it comes with a lot more features. Definitely worth paying for if you want a watch that can keep up with your runs.
Elegant, analog watch with digital functionality, durable, fitness tracking features, and compatible with iOS and Android.
Poor sleep tracker performance and inaccurate step counter.
Performance: For those who want a fitness tracking watch that looks as good as it functions, you must give this beauty a try. It's sleek, elegant, and matches any formal outfit or business attire, but has the functionality of a high-tech fitness tracker.
The stainless steel watch case can take a beating, and the silicone strap won't break even with regular use. Some users have complained that the glass scratches easily, while others have used it for years without a scratch. The battery life only lasts up to 8 months, but you'll find it's easy to replace with a cell watch battery when it runs out of juice. Compared to other fitness trackers that require regular charging, it's a much more user-friendly option. It's water resistant up to 50 meters, so it's safe to use for swimming and water sports as well as running, resistance training, and looking awesome!
Features: This watch comes with all the fitness tracking features you could ask for: step counter, sleep tracker, calorie counter, alarm, and more. It's designed to auto-sync with the Activite app on your smartphone, passing all the activity data to the app so you can track your fitness progress. The sleep tracker and step counter aren't the most reliable and the app suffers from a lack of versatility, but overall the watch delivers the fitness tracking features you need.
Price: The watch will run you just over $100—not too high a price to pay considering how elegant it looks. Sure, it's not the best fitness tracker on the market, but it's the perfect combination of functionality and style to make it a good choice for elegant men.
Never runs out of battery, features a solid buckle/closure to keep it securely on your wrist no matter what, classic G-Shock durability, plus very lightweight and comfortable.
Fake screws tend to fall off with regular use and battery will die if not left in the sun to charge.
Performance: This is one of the best sport watches for men who are in the armed forces, law enforcement, or just want a watch that can keep up with a hardcore lifestyle. The G-Shock design means it can handle a beating, survive up to 200 meters of water, and is fully resistant to magnetism.
The 50mm dial case is a little wide for men with smaller wrists, but it's great for larger men who need a larger watch. The mineral dial window has good backlighting so you can always see the time no matter how dark your conditions. The U.S.-made watch is built from durable resin that is scratch-resistant, flexible, and unlikely to break. There are four screws built into the watch face, but they're just for show. They do, however, give the watch a much more "hardcore" look, making it a highly appealing timepiece for rugged men.
Features: Not only does the watch come with a solar panel that recharges the battery every day, but the watch is designed to sync with the U.S. Atomic Clock every night. Talk about highly accurate timekeeping and maximum reliability!
The watch also comes with a highly precise stopwatch (to 1/100 of a second), atomic timekeeping, both 12 and 24-hour format, 31 time zones, calendar (featuring day, date, and month), and even a graph of the tide and the moon.
Price: At $100, this is one of the pricier watches on our list. However, it's well worth it for a watch that can survive regular use in the military, law enforcement, outdoor adventure sport, or chores around the house.
Packed with an extensive range of health and wellness monitoring/tracking features, user-friendly design, lightweight and comfortable, accurate, and easy to use interface.
The Garmin Connect app can be glitchy, particularly the GPS tracking.
This is first and foremost a watch, with workout and wellness features integrated. It is built with all the durability of a classic sports watch--with a slightly larger design--but comes with everything you need in a tracker. Definitely one of the best devices of its kind!
The features included in this bad boy are very extensive: pedometer, calorie counter, GPS tracking, activity time, run/cycle pace, distance monitor, highly-functional timer, heart rate monitor, and more. The watch will track your overall exercise progress and alert you if you've reached personal records (for time, distance, pace, etc.).
Garmin Connect makes it easy to upload your data to your computer or smartphone, allowing you to plan your training and track your routes. The watch comes with "real-time coaching" that keeps you running at the right pace to reach your goals. It's designed to auto-sync with your smartphone as soon as it's in range. With vibrating and audible alerts, it's the perfect activity watch for every workout.
At just under $250, this is one of the pricier models around. However, considering everything it has to offer, it's worth the cost. You will spend a pretty penny, but the versatility, accuracy, and durability of this watch is a solid investment.
Digital features included, highly durable, excellent range of functions, good battery life, rugged appearance, good fit, comfortable, and lightweight.
You have to manually adjust both digital and analog time separately.
Performance: This is a watch that's built to last! It's lightweight and sits comfortably on your wrist, but you can feel just how solid it is every time you move your arm. The durable material can survive a beating, and you won't have to worry about the watch as you run, train, swim, row, cycle, hike, or lift weights.
Like all G-Shock watches, this timepiece is shock-resistant, can handle up to 200 meters of water, and is resistant to magnetism. You get about 3 years of battery life, and you'll find that it's a very accurate watch. It's a good-looking watch as well, as the red contrasts beautifully with the black watch case and band with its white accents. All in all, worth it!
Features: The watch comes with a digital screen that will do more than just display the time—it can also show date, speed, stopwatch, timer, and more features. You can cycle through the display modes easily, and you'll love how it includes the functionality of a digital watch into a classic analog timepiece.
The EL backlight allows you to check the digital time after dark, though a few users have complained that the light isn't bright enough. You get an accurate stopwatch, a calendar, dual time feature, a daily alarm, and the ability to switch between 12 and 24-hour formats. A great timepiece with all the features you need for your runs or workouts.
Price: $55 is a very reasonable price to pay for this durable watch. You'll find that it can keep up with your active lifestyle, and it will be the perfect watch for you whether you practice Yoga, go paddleboarding, lift weights, or run marathons/Ironman races!
Highly precise stopwatch, packed with useful features, built from durable resin, hard-wearing and good-looking design, affordable, G-Shock quality, large buttons for easy operation, and designed for years of daily sport use.
Orange display light is faint and useless in the dark.
Performance: One of the best things about this watch is the fact that it's so rugged and durable. Made in the U.S. from high-quality resin, it's built with the classic durability that has made the name of G-Shock so well-known in the sport accessory world.
This watch can take one heck of a beating! It's shock-resistant, waterproof up to 200M, resistant to magnetism, and comes with a battery that lasts 2 years. Yet despite its durable design, it's also a beautiful watch. The extra-large face looks stylish and hardcore, and the matte black finish pairs nicely with any casual or formal outfits. Given its dual analog/digital function, it's a truly gorgeous piece of hardware!
Features: The fact that it's a mix of analog and digital makes this watch highly functional. The white hour/minute hands will glow in the dark to tell the time, but there's also an orange backlight for the digital display. (Be warned: a lot of users complain the backlight is useless.)
The watch is magnetic-resistant, waterproof, and built to last. You get World Time, a fully automated calendar up to 2099, auto LED light, a stopwatch accurate to 1/1000th of a second, and a speed indicator. Definitely a sports watch you can use for everything!
Price: At just over $70, this is actually a pretty well-priced watch. You get an incredibly durable design, excellent functionality, and a beautiful appearance. What more could you ask for in a sports watch?
Sport watches are built specifically for sport and active use. They're not only built using sweat-resistant, waterproof, and dust-resistant materials (such as silicone or PVC), but they include features (GPS tracking, heart rate monitor, stopwatch, etc.) that are required for sports, running, and resistance training.
You can find sports watches as low as $10 at Wal-Mart or Target, but those tend to be cheap—both in terms of build quality and functionality. If you're looking for a stopwatch, alarm clock, and date/time functions, you can find decent sports watches for up to $50.
However, if you're looking for quality, a decent smartwatch/running watch/sports watch will run you as much as $100. It will have basic features (heart rate monitoring and GPS functionality), but not much else. Over $100, that's when the watches start getting good. For up to $300, you'll find more functionality, including accelerometers, heart zone training, interval session programs, and connectivity with smartphone apps and computer programs. Over $300, the watches are fully functional, including VO2 Max readings, vertical oscillation, indoor/outdoor tracking, and even tips on improving run form.
For the average person, a top-of-the-line watch isn't necessary. A GPS watch with heart rate monitoring should suffice, though you can consider spending a bit more to upgrade the functionality of the watch. However, for professional athletes, it may be better to spend more ($300+) to get a watch that can keep up with your rigorous training.
Sports watches tend to be digital, thanks to the broad range of features required for full functionality. Digital watches display the time clearly, and they offer a much more versatile design that makes it easier to integrate other features like GPS tracking, heart rate monitoring, and intervals.
However, analog sports watches do exist. They are built with the same rugged case, glass, and band as a digital sports watch, but they use a classic quartz movement to keep the time. They don't always offer the same broad range of functions, and tend to be less common than digital sports watches.
Thanks to the popularity of "classic" analog watches, many sports watches today are incorporating analog timekeeping and displays with digital functionality. The time display is an analog movement, but there are digital features (day, date, GPS tracking, heart rate monitoring, etc.) available in the watch. This is a stylish choice, but it still offers a decent range of functions.
Sports watches may be alike, but they're not all the same. In fact, there are a surprising range of watches for various sport and recreational activities:
GPS watches, fitness trackers, and smartwatches are all the rage when it comes to tracking workout or run performance. These watches are often promoted as being the "way of the future" for your exercise.
However, you'll find that there are a few subtle differences between these watches. While they can all provide similar functionality (telling the time, tracking your running distance, connecting with your smartphone, and monitoring your fitness), they each serve a slightly different purpose:
GPS Watches are typically designed for runners, cyclists, hikers, and anyone who needs to be sure of their location on a map. GPS watches will track your movements, display your distance and speed/pace, and provide better GPS connectivity than your smartphone. They tend to have large buttons that are easier to use than a touchscreen, giving you the ability to cycle through your display interface.
GPS watches can be used for sports beyond running, as they may include a triathlon mode, swimming mode, and cycling mode. They tend to have built-in ANT+ receivers that can be paired with heart rate monitors for more accurate monitoring, or cycling sensors to display speed and cadence. GPS watches may feature a number of apps that allow you to expand the functionality of your device.
Fitness Trackers are designed for running and general activity, but not usually for a specific sport. They track running distance, run speed, step count, calories burned, heart rate, and sometimes GPS positioning. However, they don't offer the same range of functionality as a GPS watch, and they tend to be simpler (and cheaper).
Fitness trackers are often narrow bands worn around the wrist. They may not even have timekeeping capabilities, but are simply there to monitor your activity performance. Some are compatible with smartphones or computer programs.
Smart Watches are designed to be more "tech-forward" than exercise-friendly. They come with a full range of features—everything from email access to internet capabilities to dozens of fitness tracking apps—that allow you to monitor a broad range of exercise metrics. They're fully compatible with your smartphone, and they work with the fitness tracking apps to help you stay on top of your workouts.
However, they're much more fragile than your average sports watch, and they tend to be a lot pricier (the Apple Watch will run you anywhere from $330 to $1,300). They're built for form rather than function, and they lack the durability of sturdier sports watches and fitness trackers. The bands, especially, are prone to damage from sweat and water, and the glass isn't as scratch-resistant as well-built sport watches. Worse, impact can destroy the fragile tech integrated into the watch.
The term "sport watch" is used to describe ALL active watches, including hiking watches, climbing watches, cycling watches, and, of course, running watches.
Sport watches generally come with a broad range of generic "sport" features: GPS tracking, day/date, chronograph, and heart rate monitor.
On the other hand, running watches are built specifically for running, so they incorporate features specific to your runs: route recording, pace, distance, heart zone training, interval sessions, calories burned, performance graph display, and so on.
As a casual runner, you may not NEED a running watch specifically. You may be able to get by with just the generic features included in a sports watch. However, for those who are trying to improve their running performance by tracking run-specific metrics (like pace, run time, route, etc.), the features included in a running watch may come in handy.
Sports watches come in many different styles, but the look of the watch isn't as important as what it can do or how long it will last. Before we get into the functionality of sports watches (see the next section), you need to understand the types of watch materials to choose from:
Stainless Steel – Stainless steel is the most commonly used material, thanks to its durability and fairly low cost. It's lightweight, resistant to corrosion (from sweat and water), and makes for a strong, impact-resistant watch. However, it's easily scratched, which makes it less than the best option for heavy outdoor/sports/active use.
Ceramic – Ceramic is a highly durable, heat-resistant material, one that is used to protect NASA space shuttles from heat damage. It's very pricey and has an unusual appearance, but it's fairly resistant to impact and wear. Luxury sports watches are often made using ceramic.
PVD – PVD watches are really made of steel, with a layer of oxides, nitrides, or carbides deposited on the surface of the steel using physical vapor deposition (in a vacuum). They have a very masculine appeal, and the build is as durable as stainless steel watches. However, they're not resistant to scratches, so they will often wear out/fade more quickly than stainless steel.
Titanium – Titanium is another high-end material that is used to make luxury sport watches. It weighs about half as much as steel, but it has twice the strength and durability. However, it's not an easy metal to work with, so repairs to titanium watches are challenging and costly. Expect to spend about 30-40% more on a titanium watch than on a simple stainless steel watch.
Carbon Fiber – Lightweight, super strong, and very durable, carbon fiber is a material commonly used in sports equipment—not just watches, but everything from golf clubs to tennis rackets to racing boats. It's a sleek, stylish material with a matte black finish. However, it's not as versatile as some of the other materials listed here.
Silicone – Silicone is soft, flexible, and rubbery, with just the right amount of elasticity to make it the perfect material for active and sports use. It may not be the most stylish or luxurious material, but it's durable, inexpensive, and easily adapted to any watch design. It's a synthetic material that will hold up under a lot of heavy use.
Resin – Resin is a material similar to hard plastic, and it's as lightweight and durable as silicone but as versatile as regular plastic. It's usually molded while liquid, then dried and cured into the desired watch band/case shape. Resin watches tend to be more three-dimensional than silicone watches, and are usually more stylish without being pricier.
Textile/Canvas – Textile and canvas aren't the most commonly used materials for sports watches, but they can be incorporated into running, rowing, and other active-use watches. Textiles and canvas are durable, and they are a stylish option if you're looking for something for casual wear as well as active wear.
PVC/PU – PVC and polyurethane (PU) are both synthetic materials used for watches (specifically watch bands). They are lightweight, durable, flexible materials that offer good versatility in terms of style, color, and texture. They're also very inexpensive.
If you're considering buying a sports watch, here are the features you DEFINITELY want your watch to have:
Chronograph – Also known as a stopwatch, this is a must-have for any workout you do. A chronograph will help you know how much time you've spent training, running, or playing, and will give you the most accurate way to measure a specific amount of time.
Alarm – Having an alarm on your sports watch will help you know when it's time to wake up, time to hit the gym, or time to get back to work. All digital watches come with alarms, but you may want to consider one if you're going analog or analog/digital. It's just helpful to have an alarm right on your wrist!
Day/Date – This is another feature built into most digital watches, but it's an important one to help you know what day of the week—thus what workout day of the week—it is.
Heart Rate Monitor – No matter what type of activity you'll be engaged in, you want to make sure you're hitting the workouts hard. A heart rate monitor will enable you to track your performance and keep your heart rate above the minimum. The longer you keep your heart rate up, the more calories you burn.
Water Resistance – This is a MUST even for those who never intend to swim. Your exercise will cause you to sweat a lot, and you may end up running or training in the rain. Anywhere from 5 to 10 ATM (5 to 100 meters) will be more than enough to keep your watch working in any wet or rainy condition.
Calories Burned – Whether you're lifting weights, running, or playing sports, the point of working out is to burn those calories and push your body to its limits. A calorie counter built into your sports watch will help you know exactly how hard you've been working.
Large, Clear, Bright Display – Whether you're running, swimming, cycling, or hiking, you want a clear view of your watch's display. The readout should include large numbers on a screen that's bright even in low-light environments.
Bright Backlight – If you train at night or low-light environments, you'll need a backlight to illuminate the screen.
Long Battery Life – While many simple sports watches have batteries that last for years, your average GPS watch has a battery life of 5 to 12 hours. Some models (like the Garmin Fenix 3 HR) can last for up to 50 hours, with some (like Suunto's Ambit 3) hitting 100 to 200 hours before needing to be recharged.
The features listed above will come in handy for all outdoor, sport, and athletic activities. However, if you're planning on engaging in a specific type of exercise or activity (interval training, distance running, mountain biking, hiking, etc.), here are a few more specific features to consider:
Multi-Sport Mode – If you're planning on doing multiple types of activity (running, swimming, cycling, interval training, etc.), you'll want a watch that can handle it all. Multi-sport mode allows you to switch between sports easily, and provides you with customized interface/tracking features for each type of activity.
Activity Tracking –To stay on top of your fitness progress, you'll want an activity tracker that can pair with your smartphone or computer to display and monitor your activity statistics.
Pedometer – Getting in those 10,000 steps per day isn't easy, but it's important for staying healthy! With a pedometer (step counter) built into your watch, you'll be able to see how many steps you've taken each day.
Accelerometer – If you're cycling, running, or engaging in sprint training, you'll need an accelerometer to track your speed and distance.
Underwater Heart Rate Monitor – For swimmers and triathletes, this is a must-have feature. It will help you to monitor your heart rate while swimming or training, helping you stay on top of your performance overall.
Route Navigation – Hikers, runners, and cyclists will love this GPS feature! It allows you to not only plan a route for each workout, but lets you know how far you've come and how much you have left to go.
GPS Positioning – This isn't a must-have if you never leave the gym, but any outdoor runner, mountain biker, or hiker will want this feature! You'll never get lost as long as you have a watch that lets you know your GPS position.
Heart Zone Tracking – To improve your fat burning, cardiovascular endurance, or stamina, you need to get your heart rate into the right "zone". Too high, and you could go from fat-burning to high intensity endurance training. Too low, and your intense workout could end up little better than a slow jog. With heart zone tracking, you can set how high you want your heart rate to be, and your watch will let you know when you've hit that target heart rate. It will also alert you if your heart rate rises above or drops below the target zone.
Connectivity – Many GPS watches come with ANT+ compatibility that allows you to pair them with chest strap heart rate monitors and sensors (which have been proven more accurate than wristwatch sensors). Others are Bluetooth-compatible or Wi-Fi-enabled, which allows you to connect them to your smartphone for fitness tracking and data transfer. For those who want to be part of a larger "fitness community", connectivity is a must-have.
Intervals – For CrossFitters, resistance trainees, and HIITers, this is a must-have feature. The interval timer allows you to set your watch to beep when it's time to switch from low to high intensity intervals (or vice versa). That way, you don't always have to check your watch in the middle of your training session, but the pre-set intervals input by you will keep you focused on your workout.
Lap/Split Times – For runners, this will help you to track your lap time so you can keep pushing yourself to complete those laps/distances faster.
Indoor Run – For those who spend a lot of time training on treadmills rather than outdoors, the indoor run option allows them to track their treadmill performance.