The 11 Best Running Watches for Every Type of Runner, According to Someone Who Tested Them All

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Abby Hepworth for PureWow

I bought my first GPS watch back in 2014 and, up until six weeks ago, it was the only watch I’d ever run with. It’s a Garmin Forerunner 15, an incredibly basic, now discontinued model that wasn’t even the best running watch seven years ago. But in the past two years my running has transitioned from casual, fun runs to more serious, focused training, and the need for a running watch upgrade has only become more and more apparent. So I set out to test the best running watches on the market by rotating through a group of six best-sellers.

How I Tested:

  • Each watch was rotated in for at least three runs of varying types and distances during the middle chunk of a half-marathon training schedule.
  • GPS accuracy was tested against my phone’s GPS, specifically the Nike Run Club app.
  • I wore the watches on both my right and left wrists to judge ease of use for both lefties and righties.
  • One major testing category was “run harmony” which basically means “how much does this watch add to my running experience while I am actually running.” Is all the info I want or need readily available at a glance mid-stride? Does it notify me when I’ve hit certain goals or lap markers? Is there an auto-pause feature?
  • Thanks to NYC spring weather, I was also able to test in both super-sunny hot conditions and cold, gray afternoons that necessitated running gloves.
  • Every watch on this list is compatible with both Apple and Android phones.

Here are my reviews for the best running watches, including five extras you should definitely consider.

New to Running? Here's Everything You Need for the First Few Miles (& Beyond)

1. Timex Ironman R300

Best Overall

  • Value: 20/20
  • Functionality: 20/20
  • Ease of Use: 19/20
  • Aesthetics: 16/20
  • Run Harmony: 20/20
  • TOTAL: 95/100

The Timex Ironman R300 was a surprising hit for me and is one of my top recommendations, provided you don’t care too much about its super retro look. I actually thought the ‘80s vibe of the watch was fun but wouldn’t be too keen about wearing it outside of working out. It also comes with a very long watch strap—good for those with larger wrists, but a little annoying for those with smaller wrists. And while it has its own app, it’s also compatible with Google Fit. Even better, however, is the fact that it can track your runs without your phone, meaning you can run out the door with fewer items in tow.

I love that the Timex design uses buttons instead of a touchscreen, something I find to be a major plus in a sports watch. It’s much harder to gently swipe through a touchscreen menu mid-run than it is to simply hit a button, and this is doubly true if you’re wearing gloves or tend to sweat a lot, as I do. And while the larger watch face makes this a less appealing style for all-day wear, it proved to be a major bonus while running as I could easily see my pace, distance, heart rate and other info at a glance, even while sprinting. The screen also stays on at all times so you won’t run into any issues with unresponsiveness when flipping your wrist up. The Timex tracked all the information I wanted and made it clear to read on both the watch itself and the app. And for those who want it, the app also has guided workout plans to help you achieve various running goals, like training for a 10K or triathlon.

Lastly, I loved that the packaging was minimal, and the user guide can be downloaded online (the watch doesn’t come with a paper copy), which is both more environmentally friendly and means I don’t have to worry about misplacing the manual should I run into issues later.

Bottom line: The Timex Ironman R300 isn’t the prettiest or chicest option, but it’s awesome for serious runners and newbies alike looking to track all things running related.

2. Garmin Forerunner 45S

Best Run-Focused Watch That Also Does Some Other Cool Stuff

  • Value: 18/20
  • Functionality: 18/20
  • Ease of Use: 19/20
  • Aesthetics: 19/20
  • Run Harmony: 20/20
  • TOTAL: 94/100

Because I’ve been using a Garmin watch for the last seven years, I was already familiar with the basics of the Garmin app and the watch setup. As I mentioned earlier, I find physical buttons to be superior to touch screens, and the Forerunner 45S uses five side buttons to direct you through the watch menus and start and stop your runs. They’re even labeled right on the watch face just in case you forget which is which.

My old Garmin sometimes had trouble connecting to the GPS satellites (as in, I stood on the corner for upward of ten minutes waiting for this thing to figure out where I was), and while the Forerunner 45S was initially significantly better at connecting, there were at least two runs out of six where I couldn’t connect at all. I’m not sure if it was an issue of my phone having so many GPS apps installed at once, or a problem with the watch itself, but it’s definitely something to note (although you can also use the watch sans GPS in a pinch). Once I was out running, though I loved how clearly the screen displayed my running stats. The watch face was even easy to read on a super bright afternoon run, and the backlight button was easy to employ on nighttime jogs. I also really appreciated the emergency assistance set-up, something I inadvertently tested after accidentally sitting on my watch resulting in a flurry of somewhat embarrassing calls with my three emergency contacts.

Bottom line: The watch can absolutely be used a general health tracker, providing information about your menstrual cycle, stress levels, sleep habits and notifying you about texts or calls (if you so choose), and has settings for use while training in a gym or cycling, but really, it’s a running watch that focuses on the needs of runners.

3. Fitbit Sense

Best All-Around Health Tracker

  • Value: 18/20
  • Functionality: 19/20
  • Ease of Use: 18/20
  • Aesthetics: 19/20
  • Run Harmony: 17/20
  • TOTAL: 91/100

If you’re hoping to invest in a well-rounded health tracker you can wear day-in and day-out, including on your weekly jogs, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option than the Fitbit Sense. It is one of the most expensive models on this list but for good reason: It provides all the same features as the other watches, plus a whole slew of extras, and it looks damn good, too. It has a super sleek design that sits right in that Goldilocks territory between too small to read anything and too large to look chic. The box also contains two strap sizes, so you don’t have to guess when ordering, and looks less overtly sporty than most other watches. The end of the strap is also designed to tuck under the other side so there’s no loose flap to catch on anything, which I initially worried would irritate my wrist, but that proved to be totally unnoticeable. However, it is a touchscreen, which means it only turns on whenever you flip your wrist up and requires you to swipe through menus to get where you want to go. There’s also a touch feature on the side that acts as a button to turn the screen on if you run into issues with the automatic flip (as I sometimes did), but because it’s not a physical button it occasional misses as well.

You don’t need to tote you phone with you in order to track a run, although you do need to have it close by in order to use the music controls, a feature I loved utilizing rather than pulling my phone out of a pocket. In addition to tracking your heart rate, sleep patterns and stress, it also allows you to track your SpO2 levels, breathing rate, menstrual cycle, eating habits and heart rate variability. You can use it for guided mediations, breathing exercises or training programs. You can also text or call friends, pay on the go, find your phone and access apps like Uber or Maps. It’s also waterproof up to 50 meters. So, yeah, the Sense is pretty much set and ready for just about anything you might want or need. It also came with minimal paper packaging, as an eco-friendly bonus.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a watch that can do it all, you’ll love the Fitbit Sense. But if you want something to use only while running, you might be happier with a simpler model.

4. Amazfit Bip U Pro

Best Affordable Watch

  • Value: 20/20
  • Functionality: 18/20
  • Ease of Use: 17/20
  • Aesthetics: 16/20
  • Run Harmony: 17/20
  • TOTAL: 88/100

Amazfit has been slowly but surely making a name for itself as a brand that makes top notch fitness watches at super affordable prices. But can a $70 watch really hold up against a $200 model? Short answer: No, but it’s still incredibly impressive for such a low price tag.

It looks sleek and simple with just one button on the side, which I found really helpful for navigating the menus, especially while running. Similar to the other touchscreen watches, the face sometimes wouldn’t appear when I flicked my wrist mid-run and was harder to see in bright sunlight. The battery also lasts a very long time—roughly nine days with regular usage and about five-six with heavy GPS usage—and is quick to recharge. You can also track more than 60 different types of workouts (including skipping rope, badminton, cricket and table tennis) and the built-in heartrate monitor is surprisingly accurate given the $70 price tag.

To be honest, for my first two runs with the Amazfit it appeared to do a terrible job tracking me. It wouldn’t display any pace information and was a whopping 0.3 miles off from my phone’s distance measurement. But after I futzed a bit with the app and watch settings it worked significantly better and lined up beautifully with the information provided by my phone’s tracker. The pace, distance and time data is displayed in a very clear, easy-to-read manor, or you can swipe up or down for larger single-focused screens.

Bottom line: You might have to play around with some of the settings to get things to be just right, but this is a mighty impressive all-around fitness tracker and running watch for under $100

5. Letsfit IW1

Best Under-$50 Watch

  • Value: 20/20
  • Functionality: 18/20
  • Ease of Use: 17/20
  • Aesthetics: 16/20
  • Run Harmony: 17/20
  • TOTAL: 88/100

I’ll admit, while I was simply skeptical about the Amazfit watch, I fully expected the LetsFit IW1, which costs just 40 bucks, to be pretty awful. But my expectations proved to be wrong, and I’d definitely recommend the LetsFit for anyone with a tight budget. It looks almost identical to the Amazfit Bip U Pro, just with a rectangular side button instead of round and a slightly thicker strap. That said, there is a bit of a weight discrepancy between the strap and the watch body such that the Bip U Pro tended to rotate around my wrist while running unless I wore it very snuggly. I prefer a looser fit, so this was annoying for me.

It’s super easy to navigate the watch’s menus to start a run, and while it does neatly display time, pace and distance mid-run, it also shows a rainbow-coded heartrate range that, despite being equal in size to all the other information, immediately draws attention and makes the screen feel busy. I assume with more consistent use you’d get used to this, but for early runs it made it a little harder for me to find what I was looking for at a glance.

Outside of running (or cycling or gym training), the watch also has guided breathing mediations, can display calls or texts, can control your music, track your blood oxygen saturation levels and analyze your sleep…which is a whole lot more than I expected a $40 watch to do.

Bottom line: It’s far from perfect, but the LetsFit IW1 really outperforms its incredibly low price tag and works well as both an all-around health tracker and a straight GPS running watch for anyone on a tight budget.

6. Polar Vantage M

Best for Advanced Runners or Triathletes

  • Value: 18/20
  • Functionality: 20/20
  • Ease of Use: 19/20
  • Aesthetics: 18/20
  • Run Harmony: 20/20
  • TOTAL: 95/100

The Polar Vantage M might be tied with the Timex Ironman R300 for my favorite running watch. If you have the extra money, you might want to consider splurging for this beauty instead. The Vantage M is billed as an advanced running or triathlon watch and tracks in-depth training data that new runners may not have the need for, like VO2 max. It also allows you to see how your training schedule is straining your body, makes recommendations for rest or effort levels and uses a “running index” number to track how efficient your training is long term. As for triathletes or runners interested in swimming, it also has an impressive swim tracker that can detect your stroke and swimming style to give you equally detailed information there. Everything is stored in the Polar Flow app, but the watch can also connect to a whole host of other apps, like Strava, MyFitnessPal or NRC.

I couldn’t help but think of my dad, a lifelong runner who’ll turn 71 later this year, each time I used this watch for two main reasons. First the Vantage M has three set-up options—phone, computer or watch—which is great for anyone who doesn’t have a smartphone (like my dad) or who just doesn’t want to deal with connecting the two. And second, the watch face is huge and displays your run stats very clearly, even if your eyesight is far from 20/20 (also like my dad). The oversized face might deter some folks from wanting to wear it every day, but the watch design is thoughtful, so it won’t necessarily stand out as a sports watch. And because it’s not a touchscreen (there are five buttons around the bezel), the watch face remains on at all times. However, the backlight does automatically light up when you tilt your wrist if you’re running at night, a feature I absolutely loved.

One oddity is that the Vantage M is programmed to count one “lap” as 0.62 miles, which is equal to 1 km (it’ll give you a little buzz to let you know when you’re there). However, as far as I can tell you can't change this preset marker to record at the 1 mile point instead. Nor can you change it to 400 meters or any other training distance you may want to see splits for. You can mark laps manually, but I do wish there was an option to alter the preset distance to something more useful for the average American runner, who is likely thinking about their running in terms of miles.

Bottom line: The Polar Vantage M is great for advanced runners looking to do a deep dive into their running metrics. The large watch face also makes this a good option for those with poor eyesight and, unlike the Timex above, it’s incredibly pretty.

More GPS Running Watches to Consider

7. Polar Ignite

Prettiest Fitness Tracker

The Ignite is similar to the Polar Vantage M above, but costs $50 less. Of course, that also means there are a few notable differences. First, the Ignite has a smaller watch face (better for everyday wear) and is also a touchscreen with a single side button (worse for running, in my opinion). It’s designed as more of an overall fitness tracker, which it does incredibly well, with a similarly beautiful look. One other difference between the two is that the Vantage M has more advanced heartrate tracking technology, but if you don’t consider yourself a high-level athlete, the Ignite’s heartrate tracker should suite you just fine.

8. Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Best for Those Who Can’t Run Without Their Jams

The Forerunner 645 Music has more going on that the 45S (like music storage, Garmin Pay and the ability to customize your run display information), which of course means a higher price tag, but for anyone who wants a watch they can wear for more than just running, it’s an excellent one to consider. It offers all the same GPS tracking, heartrate monitoring goodness of the 45S, but can also hold up to 500 songs and connect to wireless headphones, meaning you can leave your phone at home and still enjoy your pump-up jams on the track. (It’s also Wirecutter’s top pick for best GPS running watch, for anyone looking for a second opinion.)

9. Coros Pace 2

Most Lightweight Watch

As any long-distance runner will tell you, every ounce counts, which is why Coros made a watch that weighs just 29 grams. You’ll barely even notice it’s on your wrist, even once you reach mile 20 of your next marathon. However, it also boasts a 30-hour GPS battery life, meaning you won’t have to charge it after every run, even if you’re part of the ultra marathon crowd. Like other modern fitness watches, it tracks your heartrate, number of steps and sleep patterns, in addition to pace, distance, stride and the like. One notable different is that it comes with a nylon strap, rather than silicone, which some may find retains too much moisture to be comfortable for long stretches. That said, Coros is the preferred watch brand for superstar runner Eluid Kipchoge, so we doubt it’s really all that uncomfortable.

10. Soleus GPS Sole

Most Basic Design

I bought my OG Garmin Forerunner 15 because I wanted something extremely simple that would display only my pace, distance and time, as that was all I cared about tracking. That watch has since been discontinued, but the Soleus GPS Sole is equally streamlined, just with more impressive 2021 technology. It tracks pace, distance, time and calories burned, and while it can’t monitor your heartrate through your wrist, it does come with a machine-washable chest strap that reads your BPM and sends that info to right to your wrist. It has a supremely retro look, but the screen is super easy to read and great for those seeking the simple runner’s life.

11. Polar Grit X

Best for Trail Runners

While we definitely recommend taking your phone out with you in case of emergencies, it can be super annoying to have to pull it out to regularly check where you’re at. For those who like exploring new wilderness routes or off-trail running, the Grit X has super impressive navigation capabilities with a built-in map display to show you exactly where you are at all times. It comes set to track your position once a second, but you can adjust that reading to save on battery life if you want. This is the most expensive watch on our list, but it’s definitely better to splurge on a watch with superior safety abilities than to chance it out in the wilderness.



Abby Hepworth is an RRCA-certified running coach who has worked in fashion for over 10 years. Want to know what shoes are in this season? She's got you. Need recommendations on...

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