FITNESS

Best Fitness Watch for Running: The Ultimate Devices for Runners of All Levels

Best Fitness Watch for Running CP
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

Whether you’re a triathlete or just starting your running career, tracking your exercise can provide incredible insights into your fitness level, training effectiveness, and improvement over time. Wouldn’t it be nice if you have a device that can help you stay on top of your fitness goals? Plus, would you prefer such a device that can be easily worn on your wrist? Well, the best fitness watch for running will surely help you with that.

Sure, you can use your smartphone for tracking your activities, but that’s only for casual exercise. If you want to make the most out of your workouts without a device weighing you down, a fitness watch might just be the better choice. However, with all the tracking devices on the market, it can be impossible to tell which one to pick – what features you need, which you don’t, and how much bang you’re getting for your buck. Lucky for you, we are here to help!

In this guide, we’ll give you the low-down on picking the very best fitness watch for running – specific to your needs and fitness level. We’ll go over the key features to watch out for, including those that are totally necessary and the ones that are just plain fun. We’ll also give you a review of 8 of our favorite products, from the beginner-level to the hardcore models, so you can find the perfect watch for you.

Product NameExtra Features Waterproof Rating Price
Polar M430AverageWR30/3ATMCheck price on Amazon
Garmin Forerunner 15 MinimalWR50/5ATMCheck price on Amazon
TomTom Spark 3 AverageWR40/5ATMCheck price on Amazon
Garmin Forerunner 230ExtensiveWR50/5ATMCheck price on Amazon
FitBit Charge 2 ExtensiveSplash ProofCheck price on Amazon
Garmin Forerunner 630 ExtensiveWR50/5ATMCheck price on Amazon
Runme Fitness TrackerMinimalIP67Check price on Amazon
Garmin Vivoactive ExtensiveWR50/5ATMCheck price on Amazon

Things to Consider Before Buying

Before you buy a fitness watch of any kind, you need to make sure you understand both what you need and what you’re actually buying. In this section, we’ll go over a few of the things to watch out for, and how to tailor them to your specific needs.

Waterproof Rating

When it comes to waterproof ratings, it’s easy to get confused. Most ratings don’t come out and say, “you can swim with this one!” or, “don’t even walk through sprinklers!” Instead, they consist of numbers and letters that look more like an alien code than anything. Luckily, we’ve got some tips to translate.

In the world of fitness trackers, most are rated according to two scales – the WR scale, and the IP scale. WR stands for “water-resistant” (easy, right?) but the number that come after are where things get a little more complicated.

water proof tracker

The WR number refers to the depth in meters that the watch can withstand underwater in laboratory tests, and is usually coupled with a pressure rating in ATMs. However, the real world is a lot different than the lab. Here’s a quick run-down of what the numbers mean:

  • WR30 – Can handle a little rain, but not submersion. Don’t swim with this one.
  • WR50 – Take a shower or swim on the surface, but don’t go diving.
  • WR100 – If you don’t need a scuba tank, you’re fine to dive.

IP numbers are a little confusing as well. We won’t get into the science of it all, but the numbers refer to the resistance to both water and dust. For instance, IP67 means that your watch can handle being fully submerged up to about 1 foot for about 30 minutes.

water proof tracker

That means that swimming, surfing, and running in Seattle are all probably fine – but still, be cautious with extreme weather conditions, cold, heat, and hard impacts like diving.

Phone Compatibility

Obviously, not all fitness trackers are made the same. While many trackers sync to apps, some don’t – so be sure you’re buying a tracker that has all the phone syncing compatibility you need.

For instance, if you’re looking to analyze your workout data, join a community of other athletes, or get visual representation of your sleep, exercise, and rest patterns, you probably want a tracker that’s compatible with your phone.

Some trackers have additional features that work with your phone, like Find My Phone programs, call answering capability, and music controls. For all of these types of features, make sure that your phone is compatible with the specific watch you buy.

fitness watch

Most quality fitness trackers work with both Android and iOS phones – but if you run your phone on Windows or another less-common operating system, double check to make sure you can access all the great features of your tracker.

Accuracy

The next thing to consider when buying your next running watch is accuracy. There are many features on a running watch that don’t need to be super accurate – for instance, accuracy isn’t really a good metric for answering phone calls, buzzing when you’ve been sitting for too long, or switching between songs on your “Best Workout Ever” playlist. There are some features, however, where accuracy matters a lot.

Measurements on your watch like heart rate, steps taken, GPS tracking, and altitude vary a ton in their accuracy. While some trackers boast extreme accuracy, others offer a little less for a little lower of a budget.

woman with fitness wathch

If you plan to use your watch to seriously track data like heart rate, cool down times, calories burned per workout, and so on, you probably want to opt for a higher-quality model that doesn’t skimp in the accuracy department. The same goes for buyers who are using their watch to meet goals like diabetes control, cardiac health, and healthy weight loss.

Appearance

While it may not seem like a truly important factor, we think appearance is one of the most important considerations when buying any new accessory. Confidence helps everything – including your ability to perform athletically – and buying a watch that you feel good about in every way will do nothing but boost that attitude.

While compromise is always important, don’t buy a watch that you hate looking at just because it’s features are great. Chances are you’ll be able to find something similar with a look that you do like – and give your individual sense of style some credit.

elegant fitness watch

Remember, exercise can be discouraging, especially when you’re new to it, out of practice, or recently injured, and having a watch that makes you feel good about your looks is a perfect way to battle some of that discouragement.

Extra Features

Our final consideration for watch buyers is the number of features. There are a lot of options for fitness watches, and all of them do different things. Most have a few standard features – step tracking, calorie tracking, a lap stopwatch, and a GPS locator. For casual runners, these simple features may be plenty, but if you want your tracker to go above and beyond, there are options for you, too.

Some of the more advanced and exciting features offered on running watches include altimeters to track elevation gain and loss, heart rate monitors (either in the watch itself or on an accessory chest strap), personalized analytics, guided breathing exercises, and a whole host of other stuff. These features are all awesome, but they’re not always necessary.

charging fitness wathch

When you’re shopping for a running watch, try to decide if more features equal more function or more confusion. While a lot of stuff can be a blast, it can mean a bulky, expensive, and difficult to navigate watch. Prioritize the features that are essential, and consider carefully on everything else.

These five considerations are just a few to look out for when buying a fitness watch – but they’re the most important. Now that we’ve run through them, let’s get into the reviews!

Best Products on Today’s Market

Here are our 8 favorite running watches available today:

Polar M430 Running Watch Polar M430 Running Watch

Price: Approx. $230

Weight: 5.9 oz

Display resolution: 128 x 128 pixel

Specific features: Continuous heart rate monitor; GPS tracking; step tracker; sleep tracker; calorie tracker; rechargeable battery; integrated running metrics programs; Android and iOS compatible; WR30 water resistant

Best use: Serious runners

Description: The Polar M430 Running Watch is made for runners, by runners. Featuring a rechargeable, long-lasting battery and syncing capability with both Android and iOS, the Polar M430 offers runner continuous, highly accurate tracking for all types of running – indoor and out. The band contains a heart monitor that tracks your cardio fitness without the need for another accessory, making this one of the best, all-inclusive watches out there.

In addition to the heart monitor (and all the other standard features), this tracker offers personalized running metrics, which you can use to plan workouts, track your progress over time, and analyze weak points. The only downside to this piece of gear is its low water-resistance – but runners who stay out of the pool will be satisfied with this high-quality, highly-accurate tool.

There’s a reason why the M400 is one of the most popular fitness watches out there. The M430 is definitely a worthy upgrade.

PROS:

  • Highly accurate
  • Extensive features

CONS:

  • More expensive
  • Not waterproof

Related: For those who want a bit more of a classic watch look, check out the Polar M200 Running Watch, which also offers wrist-based heart monitoring.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 15 Running Watch Garmin Forerunner 15 Running Watch 

Price: Approx. $110

Weight: 1.5 oz

Display resolution: 55 x 32 pixels

Specific features: WR50 water resistant; GPS; heart rate monitor with strap; calorie tracker; classic watch appearance

Best use: Casual running

Description: If you’re looking for a simple, easy-to-use fitness tracker that won’t break the bank, the Garmin Forerunner 15 Running Watch is the option for you.

This affordable and sleek fitness tracker doesn’t go overboard on the features, which makes it perfect for beginners, casual runners, or those buying their first piece of tracking equipment.

This watch looks more like a traditional watch, and comes with the same standard features as any stopwatch or lap timer. In addition, the Forerunner 15 includes calorie and step tracking utilizing a GPS tracker.

The tracking features themselves are quite accurate but this is provided that you spend some time setting up the device first. So expect a slight learning curve with this watch.

One of the main downsides to this watch is that it doesn’t allow wireless syncing so you will have to do it old-school with a cable. This watch is a simple, attractive, and affordable option for any casual athlete.

PROS:

  • More affordable
  • Simple

CONS:

  • Needs accessories to record heart rate
  • Less accurate

Related: Stack up your Forerunner features with the Garmin Premium Heart Rate Monitor, which allows you to track cardio health and syncs with the Forerunner line of watches.

Check the price on Amazon

TomTom Spark 3 Fitness Watch TomTom Spark 3 Fitness Watch

Price: Approx. $130

Weight: 1.7 oz

Display size: 5.67 x 6.61 in

Specific features: GPS; step tracker; calorie tracker; sleep tracker; trail manager; speed and pace calculators; Android and iOS compatible; WR40 water resistant

Best use: Moderate running, cycling

Description: The TomTom Spark 3 Fitness Watch is a high-quality product without the high price. This watch includes all the basic features of a running watch – a digital clock and stopwatch, step counting, sleep tracking, and GPS tracking. It offers much more than that, however. The Spark 3 also includes a trail manager for outdoor running, phone syncing capability, and a pace calculator.

The trail features and water resistance of this model make it perfect not only for indoor and urban runners, but trail runners and cyclists as well. The new route exploration feature might just be the best reason why you should consider this watch. This means that as you go on a big run, your route will be mapped out on the screen, which helps in finding your way back home.

This watch is the perfect addition to any outdoor enthusiast’s wardrobe, and can be coupled with any style – athletic or not.

PROS:

  • Personalized settings
  • More affordable
  • Route exploration feature

CONS:

  • Not waterproof
  • Does not include phone notifications

Related: If you want a fitness tracker that can do even more, check out the TomTom Spark 3 Music. This watch has all the same great features as the regular Spark 3, but includes 3 GB of music storage and a set of Bluetooth headphones.

Garmin Forerunner 230 Running Watch Garmin Forerunner 230 Running Watch

Price: Approx. $250

Weight: 1.4 oz

Display resolution: 215 x 180 pixels

Specific features: WR50 water resistant; GPS; Connect IQ apps and widgets; weather display; music compatibility; step counter; calorie tracker; sleep tracker; personalized workout plans; heart rate monitor with chest strap

Best use: Serious all-sport athletes

Description: The Garmin Forerunner 230 Running Watch is the go-to fitness accessory for dedicated athletes of all kinds. As far as running watches go, the Forerunner 230 is about as standard as you can get. That’s one way of saying that it offers most of the tools a runner needs.

The watch is made of super light but durable plastic and is actually waterproof to 50 meters. It doesn’t have the highest display resolution at 215 x 180 pixels but it certainly gets the job done. Plus, unlike the older Forerunners, the 230 is actually not monochrome.

When it comes to stat tracking, it will track speed, distance, and pace with the help of its accurate GPS. If you are into interval sessions, you’ll be glad to know that the 230 has got you covered as well. For more advanced stats, this watch will also track your recovery time and VO2 max score after a run.

Overall, the 230 is a very solid fitness watch for running if you can get past the expensive price tag.

PROS:

  • Many features
  • Personalized features
  • Music controls

CONS:

  • Expensive

Related: If you want Garmin quality with a little less bulk and fewer features, check out the Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band. This watch reminds you to move throughout the day and allows you to set – and meet – your personalized fitness goals.

Check the price on Amazon

Fitbit Charge 2 Fitness Wristband Fitbit Charge 2 Fitness Wristband

Price: Approx. $150

Weight: 1 oz

Display resolution: 240 x 180 pixels

Specific features: Continuous heart rate monitor; calorie tracker; GPS; step tracker; sleep tracker; personalized fitness plans; guided breathing feature

Best use: Serious all-sport athletes

Description: You can’t talk about fitness tracking without talking about Fitbit. The Fitbit Charge 2 Fitness Wristband is one of the OG fitness watches, and features all the basic functions of any other brand, along with a ton of unique, customizable features that turn your workout into a totally personalized experience.

In addition to GPS tracking, step counting, and speed tracking, the Fitbit uses PurePulse technology to continuously track your heart rate. Then, your heart rate is transformed into a personalized Cardio Fitness Score, which you can use to guide your workouts and track your cardio performance.

When you get home, your Fitbit keeps going. The Charge includes tools like personalized breathing guides to help you cool down after your run. Even the standard features go above and beyond with the Charge – this watch doesn’t just count steps, but floors climbed and more. The only downside to this product is its low waterproof rating – no swimming with this one – but with that aside, it’s a lot of bang for its buck.

PROS:

  • Many features
  • Personalized and customizable
  • Durable

CONS:

  • More expensive
  • Not waterproof

Related: Fitbit has a huge variety of fitness watches for all tastes. Check out the Fitbit Blaze Smart Fitness Watch – a stylish tracker that takes on the style of a traditional watch.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 630 BundleGarmin Forerunner 630 Bundle

Price: Approx. $330

Weight: 1.6 oz

Display resolution: 215 x 180 pixels

Specific features: GPS and compass; syncs with Android and iOS; step tracker; sleep tracker; personalized goal setting; personalized workout planning; continuous heart rate monitoring; cycling mode

Best use: Serious running

Description: If you’re a hardcore runner, the Garmin Forerunner 630 Bundle is a hardcore option made for you. This bundle includes the Forerunner 630 watch and chest strap heart monitor.

The watch itself comes with extensive features, from the standard GPS, step tracker, and sleep tracker, to completely customizable goal-setting, personalized aerobic stats, and workout planning. This watch syncs with your phone to give you real-time notifications, allow you to answer calls, and control your music with the touchscreen monitor.

In addition to the feature-packed watch, this bundle comes with a heart monitor that pairs with the tracker to give you continuous heart monitoring wherever you go. The heart monitor gives you ultra-accurate cardio data that you can use to tailor your routines and achieve your best fitness ever. This is a bundle for serious runners with serious tracking needs, and it won’t disappoint.

PROS:

  • Many features
  • Highly accurate
  • Highly personalized

CONS:

  • More expensive
  • Not waterproof

Related: If you want the quality and features of the Forerunner Bundle with a little les bulk and expense, check out the Garmin Forerunner 630 Watch without the heart monitor.

Check the price on Amazon

Runme Fitness Tracker Watch Runme Fitness Tracker Watch

Price: Approx. $116

Weight: 0.9 oz

Display resolution: 128 x 88 pixels

Specific features: IP67 waterproof; step tracker; calorie tracker; sleep tracker; GP; four color options; weather forecast feature

Best use: Casual running, everyday use

Description: For those looking for a tracker that combines affordability, quality, and all-weather compatibility, the Runme Fitness Tracker Watch delivers. While not heavy on the extra features, this watch holds all the standards including step tracking, GPS location tracking, calorie tracking, and a sleep monitoring feature. It’s not a watch for those who need ultra-accurate tracking or personalized workouts, but it’s affordability, quality, and style make it a great purchase for the buck.

One of the best features of this watch is that, unlike many other products, it’s rated at IP67 waterproof. That means that not only is this tracker great for running and cycling, but it can withstand all types of weather and even surface swimming.

Overall, it’s a very solid fitness watch and it commands a fairly reasonable price tag. This is a perfect intro to running watches for just about any blooming enthusiast.

PROS:

  • Waterproof
  • More affordable

CONS:

  • Less features
  • Less accurate

Related: Runme also makes the Runme Smart Watch – a tracker with a few additional features and a longer battery life for extended use.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Vivoactive Smart Watch Garmin Vivoactive Smart Watch

Price: Approx. $244

Weight: 1.7 oz

Display resolution:  205 x 148 pixels

Specific features: Heart rate monitoring; altimeter and barometer; GPS; music control compatibility; step tracker; calorie tracker; personalized goal setting

Best use: Serious all-sport athletes

Description: Our final product review covers an incredible piece of equipment that any serious athlete will be more-than-pleased with – the Garmin Vivoactive Smart Watch. This watch goes above and beyond (literally) with all the standard features of a fitness tracker, plus a barometer and altimeter that allow you to track not only horizontal distance, but vertical as well. Along with heart rate monitoring in the wristband, this watch is the ultimate for serious athletes in serious outdoor terrain.

The Vivoactive isn’t all business, however. This watch syncs with Android and iOS to provide music control and snapshot capabilities – meaning you can enjoy your workout even more. While a little more expensive, this watch is well worth the money, and offers hardcore durability unlike most others.

PROS:

  • Many features
  • Includes heart rate monitor
  • Includes altimeter

CONS:

  • More expensive
  • More bulky

Related: If you want the best and most versatile watch on the market, you’ve got to check out the Garmin Fenix 5x Multisport Training Watch. This watch features even more than the Vivoactive – including live GPS navigation and maps.

Check the price on Amazon

Wrap Up

We’ve come to the end of our list. You’re now prepared to buy the perfect running watch for your needs, level, and style. To top it off, we gave you eight recommendations for some of the best watches money can buy.

man with fitness tracker

So what do you think of our selection of the most top-rated fitness watches for running? Is there a particular model that has caught your fancy? Let us know in the comments!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Foster

Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

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