Whether you’re a couch-to-5K runner, marathoner, or somewhere in the middle, you’ll find plenty of watches and trackers to fit any workload or preference. An Apple Watch or Wear OS watch will give you some basic fitness functions along with lifestyle apps for a more well-rounded experience. But the best running watches prioritize sensor accuracy, advanced fitness features, and durable battery life above all else. Starting with the Garmin Forerunner 255, we’ve tested and chosen the best running tech that caters to your passion for running.
Keep the pace going with the best running watches
For years, the Garmin Forerunner 245 and 245 Music has been our go-to running watch thanks to reliable health and location tracking, along with tools like Garmin Coach and Running Dynamics that keep you on the right training path. But it lacked some key features and its battery life didn’t exactly wow us. Thankfully, the Garmin Forerunner 255 arrived in 2022 with some key upgrades to cement its place as the first choice for runners.
The many useful running widgets from the 245 return, including Body Battery, Pacepro, Training Effect, and so on. But it added a few new gems, starting with Morning Report: a widget that sums up your current energy and recovery level, local weather, your workout goal for the day, and other customizable data. Your sleep recovery is calculated with heart rate variability (HRV) measurements via the upgraded HRM, helping to show your body’s stress levels during workouts or rest. There’s even a new Race Widget showing how long until your next race and how you should train that day to prepare.
Another neat new feature is all-systems multi-band GPS, which tracks you across all three GNSS systems (GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO) and across multiple satellite frequencies simultaneously for near-perfect location tracking. It burns through your battery, but some serious runners needing accurate results in areas with poor coverage will really benefit from this tool.
All of the shiny new features aside, the Garmin Forerunner 255 is the best runner’s watch because it gives you all the data on your form, performance, and health you need without a monthly fee.
The Forerunner 255 comes in 1.3-inch and 1.1-inch display sizes, offering a 0.35oz-lighter model with a slightly shorter 12-day/26-hour battery life — a fair trade-off if you prefer a watch that’s less noticeable on your wrist during runs. Both sizes also offer a Music upgrade for $50 more, adding enough storage space for about 500 songs downloaded from Spotify, Deezer, or Amazon Music.
Shopping for the best running watch doesn’t automatically mean you need to spend a fortune. With the Garmin Forerunner 55, it comes with core Garmin features like built-in GPS, heart-rate monitoring, activity/sleep tracking, sports apps, Body Battery energy monitoring, and stress tracking. It trades off features like NFC, an altimeter, and music storage; but it has all the essentials for a much lower price than most Garmin devices.
As our Garmin Forerunner 55 review explained, this bargain running watch won’t win any style awards — though some third-party Garmin Forerunner 55 bands could help with that — but its 5-button design makes it just as easily navigatable as more expensive models. And it packs in two weeks of battery life in smartwatch mode or 20 hours in GPS mode, beating many non-Garmin watches at this price point.
Runners will enjoy several run profiles like treadmill running, indoor track running, outdoor track running, and virtual running for various workouts. The recovery advisor helps you understand how much rest time you need between workouts, and the race predictor accounts for your fitness level and training history when helping you reach your race goal. You’ll also be able to view the impact of training on your predicted finish time.
You’ll miss out on plenty of Forerunner 255 features; but self-guided runners who care more about metrics than training guidance won’t miss out on much with this budget runner’s watch.
Some people run for the joy of running; others because it’s the simplest way to get your heart and body healthier. If health is your main concern, or if you spend as much time in the gym as hitting the pavement, you may want to opt for a Fitbit instead. Casual runners will find plenty to like with the Fitbit Versa 3, the best Fitbit available today.
Our Fitbit Versa 3 review explains the many perks that come with this model, starting with the attractive “squircle” design with AMOLED touchscreen. Its one capacitive touch button and a sweaty touchscreen isn’t as easy to navigate as a five-button Garmin watch, but it’s undoubtedly a lighter, more attractive watch for casual wear outside of runs. And you’ll get good everyday mileage out of tools like tap-to-pay, Google Assistant integration, and a decent selection of third-party apps.
In terms of fitness features, you get essentials like heart-rate monitoring, sleep tracking, automatic exercise recognition, on-screen workouts, and female health tracking. And you’ll love Active Zone Minutes, which shows the time you spend in fat burn, cardio, or break heart-rate zones.
You don’t get any super-advanced features here as far as running is concerned, and the six-day battery life doesn’t match other options on this list. Still, casual runners and those just getting started with their fitness tracking journey will appreciate the efficient simplicity of the Versa 3. Just keep an eye out for the Fitbit Versa 4, which is rumored to arrive sometime this year.
If you’re looking for a straightforward running watch with stellar battery life, look no further than the Coros Pace 2. It offers many of the same perks as a Garmin watch — a Training Hub with free data and running metrics, button-based navigation, and a long battery life — but at a lower price point. Our Coros Pace 2 review dives into various ways it beats the Forerunner 55 while selling at the same price point.
The Coros Pace 2’s battery life is the star of the show. This smartwatch can last for up to 20 days with regular use. That translates to 30 hours in continuous GPS mode. Other watches like the Forerunner 255 hit this figure, but for hundreds more. Whether you’re a casual runner or a more serious one with daily training, you’ll likely only need to charge your watch 2-3 times a month.
It also offers a lightweight design at a mere 29g with a nylon strap (or 35g with silicone). You also get a 1.2-inch LCD with 64 colors and a useful rotating crown for unlocking the watch and scrolling quickly through data and menus. Plus, of course, you’ll have all of the features you’d expect, including built-in GPS, heart-rate monitoring, activity/sleep tracking, multiple workout modes, and more.
In terms of data, Coros EvoLab has the essentials like Training Effect/Load, your relative Running Performance, your Fatigue level, a Race Predictor, and even a Marathon Level score for your marathon training.
Just don’t expect the Coros Pace 2 to offer much else beyond the essentials. You lack NFC payments, music storage, an SpO2 sensor, or 3rd-party apps. Plus, you may want to invest in the silicone strap, as the default nylon strap gets somewhat itchy and uncomfortable as a trade-off for the lighter weight.
For the most reliable running metrics and health data that isn’t tied to a paid subscription, we have three main brands we trust: Garmin, Coros, and Polar. The latter recently released the Polar Pacer Pro, a revamped mid-level running watch that made some significant spec upgrades to go with its typically reliable data tools. Aside from missing a few key features, our Polar Pacer Pro review mostly raved about this watch as another Garmin Forerunner rival.
For starters, we tested the GPS and HRM tracking compared to other watches’ results, and were satisfied with the accuracy, especially for heart rate. Button-tapping through watch faces is fast, so you can swap between info like daily activity progress, weekly heart rate zone data, current heart rate, weather, nightly recharge, and recommended workouts in a snap. No need to open the mobile app to find out how your body is doing or what your next run should be.
We’re also fans of the Running Performance test, which has you steadily run faster and faster while staying in an MPH/KPH zone to test your VO2 Max and judge what kind of pace and distance to recommend daily. The Polar Flow app collates your data and gives you a clear look at how your running fitness is progressing.
Compared to other watches, it’s certainly missing some sensors other brands add by default, and it lacks many uses outside of running that makes a typical smartwatch handier in everyday life. But simply as a watch you strap on for runs and fitness guidance, it’s an excellent choice.
The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar’s appeal is the claim that it has “unlimited” battery life thanks to its Solar Panel, though mileage will vary based on local weather and your daily habits. Sunlight will counterbalance everyday health tracking and your GPS tracking will be much more efficient than most Garmin watches — with 18 more GPS hours than our top pick, the long-lived Forerunner 255.
Runners will need to charge it eventually, but much less often than any other watch if you get regular time outdoors. In our Garmin Instinct 2 Solar review, we found it lived up to Garmin’s battery estimates, with the solar panel offsetting the GPS use across multiple running races so it rarely needed a charge.
One can still argue the Coros Pace 2 has the better price-to-battery ratio. It matches the Solar-less Instinct 2 at 30 GPS hours, costs less than half as much as the Solar version, and is much lighter on your wrist. But at 48 estimated GPS hours in 50,000 lux conditions (a cloudy day, so you don’t even necessarily need direct sunlight), the Instinct 2 Solar is the marathoner of all running watches.
It’s a good choice for trail runners, with MIL-820 shock resistance and a scratch-proof Gorilla Glass display that’ll handle any fall or collision. The black-and-white memory-in-pixel display is lower resolution than most other Garmin watches at just 176 x 176 pixels, but it’s fully visible in sunny conditions and contributed to the long battery life.
Otherwise, it gives you all the core Garmin metrics you need, from Body Battery to Pulse Ox, daily workout suggestions to recovery time. It supports Garmin Pay and connects with the Connect IQ app for different watch faces. Just keep in mind that the Instinct 2 Solar lacks many of the running widgets you’d get on the Forerunner 255, or even the 55. Its software isn’t specifically designed for everyday runners in the same way as our other picks.
As our Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 review makes clear, Samsung called upon its expertise from its Galaxy Watch Active days and added in a huge focus on health sensors to create a lifestyle watch that runners can appreciate.
Its 3-in-1 BioActive Sensor gives you optical heart rate, electrical heart (ECG), and Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA), giving you a glimpse at your heart’s health and rhythm and your overall body composition, including fat and muscle percentages. It even offers SpO2 tracking for more accurate blood oxygen data during sleep monitoring.
As for running, the default Galaxy Watch 4 sport modes give you a few options, and running tracking should give you data on your sweat loss and cadence, carried over from Samsung’s Active days. But thanks to third-party app support, you can also use Strava workout tracking directly, something most other running watches don’t offer.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 comes in two sizes: 40mm and 44mm. The lightweight aluminum case will never get in the way of your intense runs and other workouts. It has a digital capacitive bezel that’s fun to use without the extra parts to worry about. You’ll also appreciate having a large and vibrant AMOLED display that shows you your workout details clearly. You just have to live with a battery that tops out at 40 hours in smartwatch mode, well below our other picks.
It’s the best Android smartwatch we’ve tested, giving you plenty of perks outside of fitness to enjoy, while still giving plenty of perks for casual runners striving to achieve their goals.
We may focus on Android smartwatches on this site, but the Apple Watch Series 7, which our reviewer called “the only premium smartwatch you should buy,” is too excellent a choice for iPhone users to ignore. It offers seamless connectivity between your phone and smartwatch, with some of the best watch apps available. It’s a pleasure to use for everyday life, with the activity rings as a great “gamification” tool that motivates you to get running every day. And the latest operating system adds some incredibly useful running tools, as well.
The latest model ships with all of the core health and fitness sensors you need: built-in GPS, heart-rate monitoring, an always-on altimeter, blood oxygen (SpO2) monitoring, electrocardiogram (ECG) readings, and native sleep tracking. And Apple Fitness+ video workouts offer plenty of cross-training potential for HIIT or Strength days, though you’ll have to pay extra for it.
WatchOS 9 (opens in new tab), currently in beta on the Apple Watch Series 7, adds heart rate zones, custom and multisport workouts (aka triathalon mode). It measures Stride Length, Ground Contact Time, and Vertical Oscillation, includes new Sleep Stages for better sleep tracking, and even adds AFib history if you’re monitoring any longstanding heart issues. All these tools will arrive in full when the Apple Watch Series 8 ships this fall.
Like the Galaxy Watch 4, the Apple Watch requires daily charging and is much more likely than any of the other best running watches to die mid-workout if you don’t keep it topped off. But it’s more attractive, lightweight, and generally useful than most of our other picks.
If you’re familiar with the Garmin Forerunner 945, you’ll notice that the more recent Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE offers many of the same features, including two weeks of battery life. As the name indicates, the main difference is LTE connectivity. When it comes to LTE smartwatches, most people think of making calls and sending texts from their watch without their phones connected. The Forerunner 945 LTE takes a different approach.
As our Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE review explains, the watch’s LTE support is both more independent and less functional than what you’ll find on other LTE smartwatches. It requires a $6.99 monthly Garmin subscription to use; in exchange, it lets runners share live tracking or broadcast an emergency signal if you go somewhere without your phone (or your phone dies). It’s especially helpful as an emergency backup if you tend to run on rough trails or hike deserted paths, but isn’t helpful for on-watch calls or messaging.
Other LTE watches — like the Galaxy Watch 4 or Apple Watch Series 7 with cellular upgrades — will have more robust features, but they’re unlikely to last more than a day and won’t have the same fitness tools. The Forerunner 945 LTE has a ton of useful tools like full-color mapping and turn-by-turn navigation that cheaper Garmins lack, plus all the essentials like VO2 max, training load, training status, performance condition, and training effect. This makes the 945 LTE a great choice for runners who like to run all over the world and want plenty of data to go with it.
Best running watches: How to decide
When shopping for the best running watch, there are several factors to consider, including your battery life needs, feature preferences, and budget. Most dedicated runners will find the Garmin Forerunner 255 is the best option. It’s a mid-level running watch that covers all the essentials without breaking the bank. Of course, there are cheaper options out there, but you’re going to receive a solid set of features for the price. It also offers a whole week of battery life, which will be more than enough for most runners.
If you feel like something’s missing from the Forerunner 255, you could always consider one of the more advanced options on this list. While you might spend more for a premium pick, keep in mind that these are some of the best running watches you can buy right now. With that said, if you’re new to all this, you might want the bare minimum from your wearable. No matter what you’re looking for, there’s a running smartwatch out there for everyone.