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Best running watch 2021: Transform your training with GPS tracking, heart-rate monitoring and more

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Whether you’re aiming for a first 5K or a marathon PB, here are the best watches for every kind of runner

One of the great joys of running is its simplicity – just pull on a pair of trainers and away you go. However, a good running watch can add an extra dimension to the sport, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced athlete.

With performance tracking features including GPS, heart rate monitoring and sometimes VO2 max estimates, the best running watch will be able to inspire, entertain, guide, and even coach you to become a better runner. In this list, you’ll find running watches that boast all of these abilities and more, at a range of prices to suit every budget.

Of course, if running isn’t your only means of exercise, then you might want a tracker that can handle a more varied workout. We recommend checking out our list of the best sports watches for the best wearables that will be able to track your cycling and swimming, as well as running.

Save over £50 on the Garmin Forerunner 45 at Amazon

Amazon is offering a big discount on the updated version of our favourite budget running watch, the Garmin Forerunner 45. It's packed with features and very easy to use, but get in there quickly as this eye-catching offer will expire soon.
Amazon
Was £160
Now £109

The Fitbit Sense is down to its lowest-ever price at Amazon

The Sense is our favourite Fitbit watch when it comes to running. It has a built-in GPS and offers a great selection of features, including blood oxygen and ECG monitoring, Run Detect and music storage. You can often buy it for around £254 on Amazon, but now it's down to a new low price of £189.
Amazon
Was £300
Now £189

The Polar Grit X is £60 off at Amazon

In the roundup below, we name the Polar Grit X as the best running watch for ultramarathon, and right now, you can get one hugely discounted at Amazon. Previously averaging around £339, the Polar Grit X will now cost you just £279.
Amazon
Was £339
Now £279

Best running watches: At a glance

  • The best running watch for beginners: Garmin Forerunner 55 | Buy now
  • The best all-round running watch: Garmin Forerunner 245 | Buy now
  • Best budget running band: Huawei Band 4 Pro | Buy now
  • Best smartwatch for runners: Apple Watch Series 6 GPS + Cellular | Buy now
  • Best running watch for ultramarathon: Polar Grit X | Buy now
  • Best running watch when money is no object: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro | Buy now

How to choose the best running watch for you

How much do I need to spend?

If you want a running watch with built-in GPS – allowing it to accurately and independently record the routes and lengths of your runs – then you’re looking at a minimum of around £80-100. If your budget is tight, however, you can pay under £50 for a simpler fitness tracker that connects to the GPS receiver in your phone, or you can get one that simply uses an accelerometer to estimate how far you’ve run.

Stepping up to the £150-300 range gets you some a good set of features and ergonomic comfort, and most runners will find what they need in this mid-range bracket. If you need oodles of battery life, advanced training features or a versatile smartwatch, you’ll find the tracker for you in the £300-600 price range.

What are the most important features?

GPS is absolutely key to a dedicated running watch; if you go for a cheaper fitness tracker, the accuracy of the accelerometer is crucial. The ability to monitor your heart rate while running is another popular feature, especially if you want the tracker to create guided running workouts based on your personal fitness levels.

Battery life is also important – check how long the watch lasts with the most accurate GPS setting engaged. Around eight hours of GPS will get most people through a week’s training, but smartwatches tend to have less juice. Top-end running watches can provide up to 24 hours of continuous GPS use on a single charge, which translate to a couple of weeks of all-round use.

What other features should I look out for?

The ability to create and follow structured workouts on a watch is useful for many runners, especially if you’re following a training plan that switches between long, steady efforts and interval sprint sessions. Many watches go beyond GPS tracking with navigational capabilities, ranging from a simple back-to-start pointer to full turn-by-turn directions.

More advanced watches will give also provide greater insight into your training – such as the effect each workout had on your fitness, a VO2 max estimation, and how long you should spend recovering before your next run.

Another feature to look for is Bluetooth and/or ANT+ connectivity. This lets the watch use data from external sensors, such as a foot pod or a heart-rate strap, which will always be more accurate than a wrist-borne tracker.

Finally, if you’re already committed to a particular running app – be it Strava, Nike+ Run Club, MapMyRun, Runkeeper or any of the other million that exist – you’ll naturally want to check that your running watch is able to upload your workout data to that app.

What smart features can I get?

You don't need to opt for a smartwatch to get smart features these days, with most running watches at least mirroring the notifications from your phone. Beyond that, the handiest feature for most runners is space for music or the ability to connect to streaming services such as Spotify, removing the need to carry your smartphone or MP3 player with you while running. Another useful feature is the ability to store a credit or debit card to buy things while running – so far it's fair to say that only true smartwatches like the Apple Watch have nailed this, but Fitbit and Garmin now have devices capable of NFC payments, they just need to get more banks signed up.

READ NEXT: The best smartwatch and fitness tracker deals available right now

The best running watches to buy

1. Garmin Forerunner 55: Best running watch for beginners

Price: £179 | Buy now from Amazon

Runners shopping in the sub-£200 category now have two excellent watches to pick between, and while the Coros Pace 2, below, is our best all-round pick at that price, those new to the sport would be better off opting for the Garmin Forerunner 55.

That’s because of all the guidance the watch can offer when it comes to your training. Along with features like suggested recovery times after each run, race predictions for 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon events, and training plans for a 5K, 10K or half marathon, the watch also gives you a suggested workout to do each day to keep your training balanced and productive.

It’s also just a great all-round tracker that runners of all levels will find meets their essential needs, with a good battery life of 20 hours’ GPS use, reliable GPS and heart rate tracking, and customisable workouts.

Key specs – Battery life: 20 hours GPS, 14 days watch mode; In-built GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth/ANT+


2. Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: Best all-round running watch

Price: £300 | Buy now from Garmin

The Forerunner 235 was a favourite in the running community for many years, offering the perfect balance of price and features – but it was certainly due an update given how much watches have moved on since it launched in 2015. Fortunately, Garmin has nailed the exact same balance with its successor, the Forerunner 245 Music, which offers everything a runner needs – and more.

Alongside reliable and easy-to-use tracking using an array of sensors, including built-in GPS and an impressively accurate optical heart-rate monitor, the 245 offers structured workouts and even full training plans for events like 5Ks or half marathons that you can follow from your wrist.

The watch comes in two versions – the basic 245 and the 245 Music – and it’s certainly worth spending the extra money to have music in our view. Not only can you transfer your music library, but the watch can also be linked to a Spotify Premium account so you can update your playlists wirelessly.

Add in the improved battery life – the 245 now offers 24 hours of GPS tracking compared with 11 hours on the 235 – and smarter design, and the 245 looks set to be just as popular with runners as its predecessor.

Key specs – Battery life: 24 hours (GPS), six hours (GPS plus music), 7 days (watch mode); GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth & ANT+

Read our full review of the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music


3. Huawei Band 4 Pro: Best budget running band

Price: £40 | Buy now from Amazon

A band will always be at a disadvantage compared to a watch when it comes to seeing your stats while running, but the impressive 0.95in AMOLED colour screen on the Band 4 Pro is clear to read even at a glance. That screen is the first of several features that make you wonder how the band can be so cheap, with others including the fact it has built-in GPS, continuous heart rate tracking, blood oxygen saturation monitoring and a decent battery life of seven hours of GPS.

You can even track your sleep, get information on how long you should recover between runs and estimate your VO2 max. The Band 4 Pro might not always run as smoothly as pricier watches, but its features are unrivalled at this price, and committed bargain hunters should look no further for a run tracker.

Key specs – Battery life: 7 hours GPS, 12 days watch mode; In-built GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: No


4. Garmin Forerunner 35: Best budget running watch

Price: £88 | Buy now from Wiggle

The Forerunner 35 has been superseded by both the Forerunner 45 and 55, but since the 35 is still available at a much lower price than the newer models and has all the key features a runner could want, it’s still the smartest option for bargain hunters.

The 35’s small, boxy design belies its wealth of features, including both built-in GPS and optical heart-rate tracking. There are several sports modes and you can customise your running display both to show the stats you want and to follow interval or run/walk workouts from your wrist.

Battery life is pretty solid at nine hours when using GPS, and the Forerunner 35 will even estimate your VO2 max and resting heart rate. All in all, it’s a very solid range of features in a device that’s incredibly easy to use.

Key specs – Battery life: 13 hours GPS, 9 days watch mode; In-built GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: ANT+

Read our full review of the Garmin Forerunner 35


5. Apple Watch Series 6 GPS + Cellular: Best smartwatch for runners

Price: From £479 | Buy now from Amazon

The arrival of an always-on screen on the Apple Watch Series 5 was a huge boon for runners, who could more easily see their stats at a glance while on the move. The most trumpeted new feature on the Series 6 is an SpO2 sensor to measure your blood oxygen saturation (which is a useful thing to track as part of your general health), but when it comes to running the most exciting changes have arrived more quietly. For a start, the GPS tracking seems to be far more accurate in our testing when compared with past models, which often came up short on runs.

One other welcome change is that the always-on screen is brighter on the Series 6, which is useful when you’re running on sunny days. Other than that, you’re getting the same great Apple Watch experience as before. All of the most popular running apps are available for the device if you don’t rate the somewhat basic native tracking, including Strava, Runkeeper and iSmoothRun, which gives you pretty much all the stats you’d get from a bona fide running watch.

The cellular version of the Watch is £100 more than the standard one, so if you tend to keep your phone with you on the run then it’s worth opting for the cheaper device. If, however, you prefer to be phone-free, the cellular model will allow you to stream music and receive calls, texts and emails while you run.

It’s also worth considering the cheaper Apple Watch SE if you can live without an always-on screen, the ECG app, and blood-oxygen saturation measurements. For runners, however, we’d say that an always-on screen is worth the upgrade by itself.

Key specs – Battery life: 18 hours, 7 hours (GPS), 6 hours (GPS plus music); GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth


6. Fitbit Sense: Best Fitbit running watch

Price: £269 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re a running obsessive, then you’ll never get as much from a Fitbit as you would from a dedicated sports watch like the Garmin Forerunner 245, but if you want to take a more holistic look at your health and fitness, the Sense is a brilliant option. The watch can take an ECG, track your electrodermal activity, which is an indicator of stress, and also measures your blood oxygen saturation at night.

When it comes to running, the Sense has built-in GPS and an always-on screen, and provides all the key stats you need for your training. The Run Detect feature also means you can step out the door and just run and the watch will automatically detect your activity and start tracking it, though we’d always prefer the security of getting a GPS lock before starting a run ourselves.

This comes on top of Fitbit’s terrific everyday activity and sleep tracking, plus a range of other smart features like music storage and having Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant on board (Google’s voice assistant is arriving on the watch soon).

Key specs – Battery life: 12 hours (GPS), 6 days watch mode; GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth


7. Polar Grit X: Best running watch for ultramarathon runners

Price: From £352 | Buy now from Amazon

The Grit X is built for the long haul, with a lightweight but rugged design that meets US military standards for toughness, and battery life that’ll last you 40 hours in full training mode or up to 100 hours if you activate some of its battery saver features.

It also comes loaded with other features that’ll make running distances beyond a marathon that little bit easier. The best of them is FuelWise, which helps you to set up a nutrition strategy for activities over 90 minutes in length; the watch sends you smart alerts when you should take carbohydrates on the run based on how hard you’ve been working.

The Grit X also offers turn-by-turn navigation through a partnership with Komoot, though the directions are on basic breadcrumb trails, not full maps. Rather handily, it also automatically tracks and separates the up and downhill sections of your run, too, so you can review them in the Polar Flow app later.

These features exist alongside Polar’s excellent general sports tracking and training analysis, and the Grit X also offers detailed sleep tracking and workout recommendations each day based on how well you’ve recovered overnight.

Read our full review of the Polar Grit X

Key specs – Battery life: 40 hours GPS, up to 100 hours in battery saver mode; In-built GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth


8. Polar Vantage V2: Best running watch for fitness features

Price: From £449 | Buy now from Amazon

The Polar Vantage V2 is a serious, high-end fitness watch. Much like the Polar Grit X, this is a wearable that’s very much angled towards the upper end of the market, packed with features and fitness tests. As our reviewer writes: “Where the Vantage V only offered the orthostatic and generic fitness tests for establishing baseline stats such as VO2 Max, the Vantage V2 adds running, cycling and leg recovery tests into the mix.”

Battery life is excellent - 40 hours for continuous GPS use, according to Polar, although in our experience that might be closer to 30 if GPS is left on all the time, which is still easily enough to cover you for a marathon and beyond. There are sport modes for all the core activities – indoor/outdoor running, indoor/outdoor cycling, pool/open water swimming and walking, “plus a huge selection of more specific and esoteric sporting activities from badminton to yoga and everything in between,” writes our reviewer.

It has a few major misses, namely the lack of onboard maps and local storage for music, and arguably isn’t much of an upgrade on the already excellent Polar Grit X. But as Polar’s top-end fitness wearable, it’s a convincing choice if you’re looking for the maximum number of features to help your training regime.

Read our full review of the Polar Venture V2

Key specsBattery life: 40 hours GPS, up to seven days in battery saver mode; In-built GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth


9. Garmin Fenix 6 Pro: Best running watch when money is no object

Price: £600 | Buy now from Garmin

The most feature-packed watch in Garmin’s extensive line-up is a truly brilliant running watch, and given how much better it is than the flagship options available from other companies, it’s fair to say it even justifies its huge price tag.

Alongside Garmin’s detailed sports tracking, the Fenix 6 Pro also offers training analysis that can tell you what kind of session you need to do more of – whether it’s intense intervals or extra-easy runs – to ensure the right balance. The watch also has colour maps onboard to make it easy to navigate in new places, and it offers music playback as well.

The Fenix 6 range also introduced Garmin’s new PacePro feature, which can help you pace any event you enter to perfection. Set up the course in Garmin Connect and PacePro will give you target times for each individual split (kilometre or mile), taking into account the hills in that section and your overall time goal.

On top of these features, the Fenix 6 Pro has a huge battery life (36 hours of GPS) and a large screen that can display up to six stats at once during a run.

Read our full review of the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro

Key specs – Battery life: 36 hours (GPS), 10 hours (GPS plus music), 14 days (watch mode); GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth & ANT+


10. Coros Pace 2: Best running watch under £200

Price: £180 | Buy now from Amazon

The Coros Pace 2 has a formidable feature set that matches up pretty well to devices that cost double its £180 price, and it lives up to that on-paper promise with excellent real world performance.

For starters, the battery life is superb for a relatively cheap watch, with the Pace 2 offering 30 hours of GPS and up to 20 days’ use in watch mode. It’s also a true multisport watch, with triathlon and open water swimming modes, and it offers detailed training analysis with insights into the overall load you’re placing on your body and guidance on whether you’re currently fit enough to tolerate that load.

There are other nifty features rarely found at this price, too, like running power data measured from your wrist and the ability to link up with Coros’s running pod to get technique stats like your ground contact time and stride length. All in all the Coros Pace 2 is a snip at £180, and runners of all levels will be satisfied by the features you’re getting here.

Key specs – Battery life: 30 hours GPS, 20 days watch mode; In-built GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth/ANT+


11. Huawei Watch GT 2e: Best budget smartwatch for runners

Price: £89 | Buy now from Amazon

Since Huawei stopped using Google’s Wear OS on its watches, it’s perhaps not entirely right to call them smart, since you have no access to the Google Play app store or features like NFC payments. However, the watches did gain incredible battery life as a result of the split, with the GT 2e lasting over a week even if you’re running every day.

It’s also true to say the GT 2e is pretty smart for its price, with space for music onboard (Android users only) and a few handy widgets that show info such as the weather forecast. It also looks the part, with a gloriously bright 1.39in AMOLED HD display that’s clear to read even when running in the sun.

The GT 2e is also an excellent budget sports watch, especially for runners, who can choose from a range of preset workouts or load up a training plan for events from 5K to the marathon to follow from their wrist. Huawei has a partnership with Firstbeat, the company that provides the training analysis features on Garmin watches, so you get similar stats from the GT 2e as you do on a mid-range Garmin such as VO2 max, race time estimates and recovery advice. It’s a pretty great running watch as a result, and perfect for anyone seeking the rare combination of a bright, smartwatch-style screen plus long battery life.

Key specs – Battery life: Up to two weeks; In-built GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth