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.
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.
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The best running watches you can buy in 2023
1. Garmin Forerunner 55: Best running watch for beginners
Price when reviewed: £180 | Check price at John Lewis 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 255: Best all-round running watch
Price when reviewed: £300 | Check price at GarminWe’ve long been fans of the Forerunner series, with Garmin’s 245 model previously gracing this list. We’re happy to say that the Forerunner 255 is also fully deserving of a spot, bringing a plethora of features and excellent design at a reasonable mid-range price. With highly accurate multi-band GPS, a new and improved Elevate V4 heart rate sensor (the same one used in Garmin’s high-end Fenix 7 watch), a large and readable MIP screen and great battery life, the Forerunner has all the specifications a runner could ask for.
Read our full-length Garmin Forerunner 255 review
Key specs – Battery life: 30 hours (GPS), seven hours (GPS plus music), 14 days (smartwatch mode); GPS: Multi-band GPS; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Yes
3. Huawei Band 4 Pro: Best budget running band
Price when reviewed: £50 | Check price at 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. Coros Vertix 2: Best running watch for battery life
Price when reviewed: £599 | Check price at AmazonWith a weight of 89g and a rugged titanium design, the Corox Vertix 2 isn’t the slimmest sports watch around, but it more than makes up for its dimensions with fantastic features and a simply stellar battery life.
The Vertix 2 is waterproof to 100m, has a heart rate monitor that can measure your blood oxygen level and can carry out ECG measurements, as well as track your daily activity and sleep. It’s also the most accurate GPS watch we’ve ever tested, thanks to a mode that lets the watch use all of the main satellite navigation systems.
Its battery life steals the headlines, though. In general use, it will last around 60 days, while you’ll get continuous 140 hours with the GPS switched on or a gargantuan 240 hours in Ultramax mode, in which it uses the GPS for 30 seconds every 120 seconds.
If you want a running watch that excels at guiding your runs and will last for weeks on end, the Corox Vertix 2 is well worth the comparatively high asking price.
Read our full review of the Coros Vertix 2
Key specs – Battery life: 140 hours with GPS, 240 hours with Ultramax, 60 days with general use; In-built GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth
6. Apple Watch Series 6 GPS + Cellular: Best smartwatch for runners
Price when reviewed: £393 | Check price at 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
7. Fitbit Sense: Best Fitbit running watch
Price when reviewed: £220 | Check price at 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
8. Coros Apex 2 and Apex 2 Pro: Best running watches for accuracy and battery life under £500
Price when reviewed: £349 (Apex 2), £449 (Apex 2 Pro)| Check price at AmazonGarmin may dominate the sports watch landscape right now but if Coros keeps producing wearables like the Apex 2 and Apex 2 Pro, that won’t be the case for long. We found both watches performed brilliantly in testing, and they’re nicely designed, complete with tough sapphire crystal glass covering MIP (memory in pixel) displays.
They come packed with all the features a serious athlete needs to up their training game, too, including a touchscreen interface and a new Effort Pace metric, which helps runners maintain a more steady effort in hilly terrain than regular pace.
The Apex 2 and 2 Pro watches are functionally the same but have different screen sizes (the Apex 2 has a 1.2in display while the Apex 2 Pro has a 1.3 screen) and slightly different GPS systems; with the smaller watch coming with “all systems” positioning and the latter adding dual-frequency positioning for improved accuracy in city centres and mountainous areas.
However, it didn’t seem to matter which we used. In testing, the accuracy of the GPS systems in both watches was excellent, battery life was superb and we were impressed with the accuracy of the heart rate monitor as well.
Read our full Coros Apex 2 and Coros Apex Pro 2 review for more details
Key specs – Battery life: 75 hours (GPS); GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth
9. Garmin Venu 2 Plus: Best Garmin for making calls
Price when reviewed: £338 | Check price at AmazonWhile the other running watches on this page have excellent exercise-tracking features, few are capable of letting you make a phone call from your wrist. Garmin’s Venu 2 Plus bucks this trend and it’s the brand’s only wearable to have a microphone and speaker set; a duo that provided fantastically clear audio on both ends during our tests.
To be clear, you’ll need to be within Bluetooth range of your phone to make and receive calls, since there’s no cellular version of the watch. However, that means you can leave your phone in a pocket or bag and forget about it while you’re exercising. There’s even a dedicated voice assistant button should you want to ask Alexa/Google any mid-run queries.
As with all Garmin wearables, the activity tracking is exceptional with accurate heart-rate and GPS tracking. There’s also a great range of activities covered, with everything from walking and golf to pilates and HIIT available. Plus, you’ll find a plethora of wellness features for keeping tabs on your sleep and stress, which rounds this watch off nicely as one of best sports watches on this list.
Read our full Garmin Venu 2 Plus review for more details
Key specs – Battery life: 24 hours (GPS), up to 9 days (watch mode); GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth and ANT+
10. Polar Grit X: Best running watch for ultramarathon runners
Price when reviewed: £288 | Check price at AmazonThe 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
11. Polar Vantage V2: Best running watch for fitness features
Price when reviewed: £356 | Check price at AmazonThe 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 specs – Battery 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
12. Garmin Fenix 7: Best running watch if money’s no object
Price when reviewed: £499 | Check price at AmazonThe Fenix 7 has supplanted the Fenix 6 Pro as the most feature-packed watch in Garmin’s extensive lineup. It comes with a price tag to match, but given how much better this is than other flagship models, the Fenix 7 justifies its price.
Standout features include the refined design, improved battery life and the inclusion of a touch screen – marking the first time this feature has been offered in the Fenix range. Garmin’s latest Elevate optical sensor is used here, for more accurate heart rate and blood oxygen saturation monitoring, and a host of new training features help you get the most out of your workout.
Finally, unlike the 6 series, all models of the Fenix 7 now come equipped with onboard mapping and turn-by-turn navigation, as well as supporting all-system, multi-band GNSS (global navigation satellite system) for more accurate and consistent navigation.
Read our full Garmin Fenix 7 review
Key specs – Battery life: 57 hours (GPS), 10 hours (GPS plus music), 18 days (watch mode); GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth & ANT+
13. Coros Pace 2: Best running watch under £200
Price when reviewed: £179 | Check price at AmazonThe Coros Pace 2 has a formidable feature set that matches up pretty well to devices that cost double its £179 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 £179, 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+
14. Huawei Watch GT 2e: Best budget smartwatch for runners
Price when reviewed: £123 | Check price at AmazonSince 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
15. Garmin Forerunner 955: Best running watch for training features
Price when reviewed: £480 | Check price at Garmin With the Forerunner 955, Garmin has delivered an outstanding running watch that outperforms its price tag by doubling up as an all-round sports watch. Ostensibly for runners– including new triathlon and duathlon modes– the Forerunner is truly a do-it-all health and fitness device, complete with sleep monitoring, daily suggested workouts, and tracking for a range of advanced metrics, including your blood oxygen saturation and energy level.
It’s loaded with tools to help you meet your running goals, our favourite being Garmin Coach, which produces a personalised, adaptive training programme for your upcoming event. Other impressive features include Morning Report, which provides you with a concise, easily-digestible overview of various key stats every day and Training Readiness, which recommends a suitable workout intensity based on your sleep quality and recovery, amongst other data points.
Its GPS is highly accurate, as is its heart-rate tracker, plus it comes with built-in maps and the capacity to download music from Spotify, allowing you to head out on a run without your phone bumping around in your pocket.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 955 review for more details
Key specs – Battery life: 42 hours (GPS mode), 15 days (smartwatch mode); GPS: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Heart-rate tracking: Yes; Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth, ANT+