Whatever your needs, check out our selection of top running watches
The best running watch or GPS sports watch is a personal choice, and increasingly depends on the amount of detail you want from your workouts.
Beyond just simple pace and distance information, the latest watches will feed back everything from heart rate data to detailed observations of your running style. In short, GPS watches have become an essential tool in the runner’s arsenal.
Essential reading: How to use your watch to be a better runner
Some are pricey, some are more affordable. But even entry level running watches are now coming with surprisingly advanced features. Heart rate monitors are now coming built in as standard, and increasingly swimming and cycling modes are being added to.
Of course there’s no one perfect watch, so we’ve highlighted our top picks below – but also followed up with other devices that have impressed during our tests and that might suit different budgets and preferences.
Wareable’s top pick
TomTom Spark 3
We loved the original TomTom Spark and the follow up is now our top-rated running watch. As well as the usual running metrics (distance, speed, time), its optical heart rate monitor aced our tests, and it plugs into nearly every running app going. But it’s perhaps the storage for MP3s, which it’ll play via a pair of wireless headphones, which tips the Spark for us. The feeling of running unencumbered by your phone isn’t to be underestimated.
The new version also has a Route Exploration feature, which enables you to upload GPX routes and follow them from the watch. It’s a nifty feature and really useful for getting out and exploring new areas.
It’s not without its issues. Pairing is still a real nightmare (we actually do this via a cable to our PC/Macs now to save blood vessels popping). But its solid stats, great heart rate sensor and extensive list of extra features earn the Spark its place at the head of our best running watches list. While a Garmin or Polar may suit you better, the TomTom Spark is a lot more fun to train with than any of its peers.
Best for the basics
Garmin Forerunner 35
Propping up the Garmin GPS watch line-up, the Forerunner 35 adds notifications, heart rate, all-day activity and a host of training modes.High-end running watch features are tumbling onto entry level devices at a terrific rate, and there’s no better evidence than with the Garmin Forerunner 35.
We’ve already published our Garmin Forerunner 35 and for beginner to mid-range runners, there’s no better device on the market. While it eschews the detailed sports science data offered by the Forerunner 630 and multisport modes of the Vivoactive, it tracks pace, distance, heart rate zones and time for running and cycling, and is water resistant to 5ATM.
Indeed, there are only two problems: its $200 price is set to be usurped by the new Polar M200 and it’s ugly as sin. But for those eyeing a Garmin running watch, it boasts most of the features you need.
Best smartwatch for running
Apple Watch Series 2
The Series 2 (not the Apple Watch 2) is a sportier smartwatch than its predecessor and that’s because it’s finally thrown built-in GPS into the mix. That means you can track runs (distance pace and speed) as well as cycling sessions.
While you’ll want to opt for third-party apps (Workout is still data-light for runners), the heart rate sensor stood up well to the rigours of testing. It’s far from perfect, but still capable of returning useful data, training within zones, and getting feedback on HIIT sessions.
The Series 2 also comes in a new Nike+ edition, which adds a perforated rubber strap and comes with custom software and watch faces. It’ll also provide coaching plans to get the most out of your running sessions.
Best Android Wear watch for running
The Polar M600 is very much a Polar running watch first and Android Wear smartwatch second. It’s unashamedly a fitness device, so much so that it’s almost inaccurate to compare it to the current crop of smartwatches at all.
The first thing you’ll need to do is get Polar Flow hooked up, and you can enter the company’s fitness platform from a dedicated button on the watch. One push fires up the app on your phone, which is your gateway to tracking runs and workouts. GPS run tracking is on the money and the stats and metrics the excellent Flow app provides post-run make it the top smartwatch for runners.
Best on a budget
Basically a more affordable take on the Polar V800, the M400 is a brand new watch that tracks pace, distance and altitude via built-in GPS and boasts an optical heart rate monitor to boot. But that’s not all, as this beautiful looking running companion comes with some special skills too.
On top of 24/7 activity tracking that means you can ditch your fitness band, there’s a whole host of running-specific innovations to keep you moving and motivated. There’s an interval timer that can be tuned to time or distance for custom training session, plus it’ll even give you an estimate of when you’ll finish your run based on your current pace.
For those who get lost easily or often run on their travels, there’s a cunning back-to-start option that’ll directs you to your starting point in the shortest distance possible.
If you’re looking for improved performance – and most of us are – the Polar Running Index calculates how you’re (hopefully) improving over time based on heart rate and speed. It’ll also tell you the training effect of every single run.