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Article by: Bryan P.

Last Edited: 5 April 2019

Whether you enjoy running for fitness or are an avid enthusiast training for their next marathon or 10k, a running watch is an excellent companion to help you better yourself. A running watch can keep track of your heart rate, understand your own pace and distance and help to fine-tune a workout for your specific needs. In addition to not only keeping time, a proper running watch can help you to condition your body to help create a better you and to reach all those exercise goals that have been out of your reach until now.

What are standard features of a running watch?

When it comes to running watches, there are several features that are essential. The first is durability-since the watch will be bouncing up and down with the rapid movement of your body, you want something with a durable strap, sturdy case and a dust/shock/waterproof case.

Second is long battery life, anywhere from 15-30 hours is acceptable. Third is data tracking, which is beneficial for keeping track of your performance so that you can improve on it over time. Fourth being Heart Rate Monitoring which is vital for allowing you to keep tabs on how hard you are working so that you can better track your exertion levels. Finally, you want GPS functionality, so that you can keep track of your movements and paths, allowing you to safely navigate your given track without fear of being lost. as keeping your performance data is of vital importance so that you can improve on your  it will require some durability to the constant friction.

For most enthusiast runners out there, a watch is seen as a companion, and with that, we arrive at the most important feature your watch should have-comfort. Since you will be wearing this watch throughout your exercise, it is of vital importance that your watch is comfortable. Often times, most people tend to favor aesthetics over function, and in this case, it is crucial that you prioritize comfortability over any features that may seem appealing. Some watches can be attached to a chest mount, but not all of them have that option, so it is best to understand your options before purchasing.

How to choose my first running watch

The most important aspect of choosing the right watch for you is wearability/comfort. Since this will be sitting on your wrist for upwards of 1-2 hours at least, it is important that it doesn’t feel awkward or weigh your wrist down too much. And if you prefer, many runner watches can be mounted on your shoulder, close to your chest, which can be much easier for many people than their wrist, but not all watches can be mounted, so bear that in mind.

Outside of wearability, the most important factors will be battery life and features. Battery life varies across all models, and will probably see the greater price discrepancy-if you want the longer battery life, you will surely be paying more. Lastly we have features. It is important for your watch to have GPS, A heart rate monitor and some form of sports tracking. Now, each of these features are available on many watches, but how reliable they may be in practice will depend from watch to watch so it is important to test and try them for yourself before purchasing.

The difference between basic and advanced watches

The primary components of price when looking at low and high end runner watches comes down to features, quality and battery life. Battery life is pretty self-explanatory-the longer you want your watch to last without charging it, the more you will pay for it.

Features are a bit more complicated as all runner watches have GPS functionality, some form of bluetooth/wifi and heart rate sensors. However, not all of them can track data and feed them back into different workout regimes or stockpile exercises for you personally. A cheaper watch may have GPS, bluetooth and heart rate sensors, but the reliability of these features is typically of worse quality compared to the more expensive watches on the market, so be careful.

The higher end watches pretty much do it all-they have the highest water resistance, are more legible in many cases and have a more friendly interface to accommodate all the added features available. But like everything else, the higher end runner watches are not for everyone, and for many, a 150-200 dollar runner watch can easily satisfy

Best Runner Watch For Men

Garmin Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit

Garmin Forerunner

For wearability and complement of features, the Garmin Forerunner 935 is a clear winner for any running enthusiast. With a case diameter of 47mm and a height of 13.9mm, the Forerunner provides a large display that is easy to read especially on the move.

It offers quality bluetooth connection and will reliably not lose sync when compared to other runner watches out there. In addition to standard line features, the Forerunner also allows you to easily transition between a plethora of different activities such as biking, running and swimming, the Forerunner 935 monitors your performance through all of it and provides useful statistical data such as your heart rate, lap times, speed and distance and other useful tracking data so that you may improve your overall performance.

With programs such as VO2 Max data and Training effect, the Forerunner 935 takes the data from your previous exercises and creates new ones with the intended purpose of improving your performance gradually. Battery life is also a plus on this model, allowing it to run a full day in run mode and around 60 hours in low power mode.

The only drawbacks to this watch is that at 47mm, it tends to be for larger wrists and while the features on it are quite impressive, $470 might be a bit steep for starting runners. That being said, for the quality of the features offered, it’s a bit difficult to beat the Garmin Forerunner 935 as one of the best runner watches on the market.

PROS

+Reliable GPS and bluetooth functionality

+Has one of the most impressive set of features on a smartwatch than other watches on the market

+Suitable for nearly every environment

+Durable with high water resistance

+Long battery life

CONS

-Expensive as $470 is a bit steep for all but serious runners

-Watch runs on the large side of things with a case size of 47mm

-Specs are a bit too much for casual runners

Best Runner Watch For Women

Garmin Vivoactive 3

Similar to the Garmin Forerunner 935, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 provides you with the ability to track multiple activities such as running, cycling, swimming and beyond.

The watch uses this data in future exercises, tracking your going heart rate, your rest points, lap times/speed/distance and works on improving your times gradually with programs such as VO2 Max Data and training effect.

The Vivoactive also has room for lots of customization with 4 different color options; white with a silver bezel, black with a silver bezel, black with a gray bezel or white with a rose gold bezel for a more clean look.

An important aspect is the size of the watch itself with a case size of 43 and a case height of 11mm, it can fit smaller compared to other watches on the market, making it ideal for those with smaller wrists. With many of the basic features of normal smartwatches, it has reliable GPS functionality with safety features such as pinging your location using Garmin’s Livetrack, allowing you to send a link to email contacts through any social media so anyone can follow your location in real time.

Battery life is also another positive, allowing it to run for nearly 7 days without GPS and 16 hours with GPS functionality turned on.

PROS

+Subtle design, easy to read display

+Accurate Distance tracking

+Good Heart rate Monitor

+Long Battery life

CONS

-No onboard music storage

-Limited Coaching features

-No Garmin Pay or NFC features

Best Option Under $100

TomTom Spark

For those on a budget, the Tomtom Spark covers all your basic running needs for less than a $100. Equipped with a heart rate monitor, Gps, a bluetooth music player with 4 gb of storage and multi-tiered sports tracking activities.

The battery is a bit middling, giving you 5 hours of GPS and music playback and heart rate tracking, 11 hours of just GPS or 3 weeks of normal wear and just activity tracking. Music quality is also a bit lackluster, but for the price, it’s hard to complain about the number of features available on this watch.

PROS

+Accurate heart rate monitoring

+Simple interface

+Large number of features for the price

+Convenient phone-free running

+Music playback

CONS

-Mediocre sound quality

-Patchy sync issues

-No smartphone notifications

-Tomtom sports app is outdated

Best Running Watch for Beginners

Apple Watch Series 3

For beginner runners, there are many of options available with other established smartwatch companies such as Fitbit, Garmin, Suunto to name a few. But another smartwatch that I want to talk about is the Apple Watch.

For those that use an Apple watch in their day to day, it contains nearly all the features you want in a fitness watch. It has accurate built-in GPS, third party app support, specifically for Strava and any payments can easily be handled with Apple Pay-something that is a bit of a headache with other watches. And though it may not be as detail oriented as other watches, Apple Watch’s fitness tracking features are routinely solid, giving you an overview on your pace, time, distance and heart rate.

Music playback is also a breeze, giving you the full range of Itunes. Finally, with LTE support, you are allowed to make calls on your runs, adding to your safety especially on long runs. Though it may not appear it, the Apple Watch is a perfect entry level watch as it is already an established aspect of your daily life and you are comfortable using it, making it a great first companion towards improving your fitness.

PROS

+Great set of features, especially for beginners

+Excellent GPS

+Easy to wear/comfortable

+Solid battery life

+Easy to use music playback and NFC support

CONS

-Fitness tracking is not as in depth as other watches in the market

-Not very durable

Best Watch for Trail Runners

Garmin Forerunner 235

For those that are getting serious about running but don’t need all the extra features of the Garmin 935, there exists the 235-sleeker, smaller and much cheaper.

Built in heart rate monitoring, GPS and exercise tracking, the major cornerstones of a runner watch. Similar to the 635, it has VO2 Max data tracking so you can be up to date on your performance with things such as your calories burned, suggested recovery times as well as your speed, distance and pace.

The interface is readily legible and the 235 can store up to 200 separate activities, making it ideal for everyday use. Battery life is also decent, allowing 11 hours in GPS mode and about a week with normal use. For those looking for a mid range watch for their trail running, there aren’t very many options as robust as the 235.

PROS

+Affordable

+Great number of features for the price

+Able to track data on multiple exercises

+Comfortable and easy to wear

CONS

-Not as powerful or robust as the 935

-Heart rate sensor temperamental

Best Watch for Marathon Runners

Garmin Fenix 5

A veritable powerhouse, the Garmin Fenix 5 is perfectly designed for the marathon or Triathlon runner. Adding the functionality of it’s normal line of runner watches, the Fenix 5 is housed in a case protected by anti-scratch sapphire lens as well as an impressive 100m or 10 atm water resistance. With Spotify support, wireless payments, GPS and heart rate trackers, the Fenix 5 has all the normal features you would want from a Garmin smartwatch.

A feature exclusive to the Fenix 5 is a Pulse OX acclimation sensor, which estimates your blood oxygen levels at high altitudes so you can better prepare for the shift more easily. There are also a host of lifestyle metrics that the Fenix 5 can measure, such as changes in your heart rate with your sleep patterns and stress levels.

Like everything else, it has similar features, but much improved. The GPS system is more robust, providing even more accurate tracking through its own satellite system, Galileo, giving you much improved location accuracy over other smart watches. Battery life is also another selling point on this watch, giving you 33 hours with GPS tracking and 70 hours without GPS.

PROS

+Very durable watch

+Large array of lifestyle biometrics

+Music playback

+Wireless payments

+Features designed for marathon runners

+High water Resistance

CONS

-Very expensive for non-marathon runners

-Wears large

-Overly featured for the standard runner

Best Watches for Swimmers and Runners

Note: Something to discuss before we continue.Watches in general are not a fan of the water. Anything mechanical or electric typically does not function very well underwater. That being said, many products are sold as “waterproof”. There really isn’t anything like that and the word you want instead is “water resistance”.

A suitable watch for swimming should have a tested water depth of at least 5 atm or 50m-anything less will result in an incredibly short life span for that watch. A device’s ATM refers to it’s atmosphere unit which refers to the amount of pressure it can withstand, so wearing your watch in the shower is going to be much different than constant motion with intense lap swimming, so make sure your device’s ATM rating is higher than the activity you intend. When you are shopping for a swimming watch, make sure your resistance is at least 5atm or 50 meters to ensure your own safety as well as the health of your watch.

Fitbit Charge 3

With a water resistance of 5 atm, the Fitbit Charge 3 is a fantastic health tracker for both runners and swimmers alike. Using their Fitbit SmartTrack Tech, the Charge 3 can recognize and track your movements in the water as well as handle notifications with third party apps from your phone like texts and phone calls.

The only downside to it’s tracking is that there is no way you can view the data in real time, as you need to download Fitbit’s own companion app to view your data. For the price though, the Charge 3 is one of the more accurate swim trackers on the market, though not without it’s own fair share of convenience drawbacks.

PROS

+Fair number of available workouts that it can track

+Decent battery life

+Large screen

+Lightweight-ideal for swimmers and runners

+Water resistant up to 50m

CONS

-No onboard GPS

-No real time tracking data on device

-Proprietary charge technology

Casio Duro

  • A bit older technology wise, but a worthy mention, the Casio Duro is a fantastic beater or “toughneck” watch for those who prefer the outdoors and enjoy swimming as well. With a large water resistance of 200m, the Duro can withstand almost any water situation and still tick perfectly fine.

The rotating bezel helps in allowing you to time oxygen tanks, just like any traditional diver watch and the hands are lumed, giving you some light – even in dark waters.

For $40, there’s a lot of value in this watch. The case diameter is 44mm, with a height of 12mm, making it suitable for larger wrists.

PROS

Inexpensive Dive watch

  • High Water resistance

Very durable

CONS

-Very large for the average swimmer

-Weight may not be suited for smaller swimmers

-No automated functions

Best Suunto Watch for Running

Suunto Ambit3 Peak Hr Running GPS Watch

With a focus on rugged smart watches, Finnish company Sunnto Oy provides watches with an eye towards durability and features for touring a multitude of climates.

The Ambit3 Peak Hr Running watch is no different, offering a GPS watch in a robust and durable case that is also lightweight, giving you more flexibility in movement, which is key to an intense workout. The added water resistance of 100m also makes it a very durable watch for entering the water with without fear of damaging the internals.

Equipped with a compass, barometer, altimeter, compass, GPS and heart rate monitor, this watch makes an ideal companion on any jog or log work out, especially with a battery life of 30 hours before recharge. The GPS functionality is welcome, giving you a reliable aid during your excursions, ensuring you won’t be lost. It also has limited smart watch features such as message notifications on calls and texts.

On the negative end, the heart rate monitor will require an additional strap to function properly and the design is a bit bulky for your everyday run.

PROS

+Excellent battery life

+Durable

+High Water resistance

CONS

-Bulky in design

-Heart rate monitor requires extra strap

Best Watch for Cyclists and Runners

Garmin Forerunner 645

For Cyclists and runners, the Garmin Forerunner 645 attempts to solve the biggest problem with many Garmin smart watches-lack of onboard music.

The biggest selling point of this watch is a 4 gb capacity for a supposed “500 song capacity” for those who are cycling and running and want music support for their Garmin watch. You can of course get a model without the music playback function for $50-60 less, but that eliminates many of the watch’s main selling points.

With a case diameter of 42.5 mm and a case height of 13.5, the Forerunner 645 is in line with many other watches in the market and summarily should only be considered for those with larger wrists.

What sets it apart from other Garmin watches and for that matter, other smartwatches is a lack of touch screen functions-which for some, is actually a plus as it gives you much more control over the standard touch screen functions on a watch, especially when you are on a bike and are in constant fear of accidentally brushing some part of your watch, switching a song or opening a separate app. Contrarily, $400 is a bit steep for most, especially with other competitors offering similar music playback features for much cheaper, but the Forerunner is still an excellent watch with the standard fitness features that Garmin is known for at this point.

PROS

+Ergonomic shape and size

+Buttons instead of touch screen for more control

+Good battery life

+Large Music capacity

CONS

-Many NFC functions like Garmin pay are not compatible

-Only Spotify is compatible, if you are using Apple music, this watch does not support it

-Expensive for the feature list

-While lighter for its size, it is still meant for large wrists

Best Android Runners Watch

Samsung Galaxy Active

A minimalist take on their previous model of the Samsung Galaxy Watch, the Galaxy Active is an excellent runner watch for Android users. The design is slimmed down and sleekier, with a case diameter of 39mm and a height of 10.5mm, this size places it to more standard watch sizes, allowing it to fit a wider range of wrists and making it function better as a runner watch, in addition to changes in the UI and interface, enlarging the icons and screen, giving it much more legibility, especially on the go. It also will sync with your phone, allowing you a wide range of normal functions such as access to your contacts and playlists-a typical feature on most phones, but not all of them function as reliably.

Features include a heart rate monitor, such as every other smartwatch, but this monitor also tracks and measures your stress levels. It dynamically will recommend breathing exercises for you to undertake which is a nifty feature for your overall health. It has support for apps such as Strava, with GPS tracking and auto-fitness modules for 39 different exercises, which include intense running and cycling activities.  

The battery is a 230 mAh, which you can charge wireless through the typical samsung pads and should provide you with at least 2 days before having to recharge. For the price, the Galaxy Active is very affordable, coming in at around $170-200, when compared to the previous model, the Galaxy Watch with it’s heavier price tag of $280-300. For it’s minimalist design, smart features and solid wearability, there isn’t much to complain about with the Galaxy Active.

PROS

+Sleek size and design

+Wide range of features for running and a multitude of exercise

+Easy to read UI

+Long battery life

+Affordable

CONS

-Difficult to find

-Only supports Android

-Size offerings are limited

Best OS Wear Runners Watches

Before we continue, I would like to note that for runners, OS Wear is a bit behind compared to both Android and Iphone. The platform is relatively new and Google is still working on improving its functions and features, but for an avid runner, OS Wear watches may not have many of the runner watch features they desire. Things such as heart rate trackers and speed are a bit archaic at the moment especially when compared to other watches on the market. That is not to say that the watches themselves are poor quality, it is merely a fault of the platform itself. So keep that in mind when looking at OS Wear as your first runner watch.

Fossil Q Explorist

Coming in at with a case diameter of 45mm and a case height of 12.5 mm, the Fossil Q Explorist is a hefty watch with some very nice features that make it an excellent runner watch-built in GPS, heart rate monitor, light water resistance and support for Google Pay, all for a very affordable price. This watch has a water resistance of 100ft, making it perfectly suitable for recreational swimming in conjunction with it’s swim tracking functionality.

However, like most OS Wear watches, the sports tracking is a bit archaic, in conjunction with it’s other standard features such as the heart rate monitor which is a bit testy when attached to the chest strap, although, much of these problems have been rectified in the 4th gen model. The watch also errs on the large size, for those with smaller wrists, this may not be a great option.

For the price, the Explorist offers a nice set of features that you may be hard pressed to find on any other OS Wear watch on the market.

PROS

+Feature rich with heart rate monitor, NFC app support and GPS

+Stylish/Modern look

+High water resistance

CONS

-Not as durable as other options in it’s price range

-Tracking and software is a bit dated

-Not for smaller wrists

LG Watch Sport

Compared to other OS Wear watches on the market, the LG Watch Sport is a clear winner. It’s specs are in line with many standard watch sizes, coming in with a case diameter of 45 mm and a case height of 14.2mm, making it ideal for larger wristed individuals, with it’s bezels contoured to fit your wrist comfortably.

It is water resistant up to 1.5m or 5ft which means you may splash water on it, but certainly should not swim with it.

Features wise it has a heart rate monitor, GPS, barometer and 4G connectivity, allowing you to make calls with or without your phone present, though this function is slightly limited as it is only US or local calls and will require a sim card. The smart tracking is pretty robust, allowing for sizeable data regarding your workouts and can even keep up with strength and weight training.

The only downside is that it has a limited offering of apps which will certainly change with time and the battery life is a bit short, coming in at around roughly 14 hours before it required a charge.

For the price, the LG Watch Sport is certainly one of the best OS Wear watches on the market, the only downside is that for the price, this watch is certainly popular, meaning it has become a bit difficult to find. But, if you can track one down, it is a great option for those looking to be more active and would like to use the OS Wear platform.

PROS

+Sleek, comfortable design

+Host of features for the price

+Music playback

+NFC support

CONS

-Difficult to find

-Limited supported apps

Running watches come in all shapes and sizes, but most importantly, it is key to understand your own needs. Sure, there are plenty of amazing watches on this list with fantastic features for fitness, but is it right for you? So before purchasing a runner watch, understand what you need, what features are important to you and you will most certainly find the right watch for you.