best running watch for you

Looking for the best running watch?

I’ve got you covered.

I mean, who wants to complete a tough long run, only to learn that your watch was glitching half the time and it says you ran 3 minute miles?

Watches nowadays can – and should – do a lot for you. They can track your distance, catch your splits, monitor your heart rate, assess your cadence, and even control your music. There’s honestly a large range of what they’re capable of.

Running watches are easily the most helpful running accessory you can get. Well, maybe except for running shoes.

They can help you learn to pace and can keep you accountable on easy recovery runs. They can also inform you why you feel so bad today (hint: you started too fast) and just be incredibly motivational.

Depending on your goals, you may want a higher-end ultra runner watch that can tackle it all or you may simply need a watch that can accurately track your distance.

That’s where it gets tricky, though. With all those watches out there, which watch is best for you and your goals?

Because I’m more of a hobby runner with the occasional 5k and half marathon thrown in for funsies, I knew I’d need to draw on my running resources to answer this question. I have a basic watch that I love, but I know that won’t cut it for everybody.

So today’s post also features recommendations from my brother, Koby Nelson, who happens to be a medaling ultramarathoner, has worked in a running store, and is a running coach. Check him out on Instagram at run_record_repeat.

RELATED POST: Long Distance Running Tips from a Medaling Ultramarathoner

Because we’re in the age of smart devices, all of these watches I talk about below are smartwatches, meaning they can all connect to and transfer data with your smart phone. A few other things all of these running watches have in common:

GPS tracking

Built-in heart rate monitor

– Phone notifications

Waterproof

– Activity level tracking and step count

– Live pace monitoring

So as you review these running watches, remember that they all do these things too.

So ready or not, let’s get going!


Please note: this post may contain affiliate links. For details, please visit my Disclosure page. Thank you!

Goal: The Basics

For hobby runners or those looking for a quality basic running watch.

Garmin Forerunner 35

Garmin Forerunner 35 Best Running Watch for Beginners

The Forerunner 35 watch is a Garmin basic. And Garmin, if you don’t know, dominates the running watch market for good reason.

Of note, this watch gets 4.5/5 stars on Amazon with tons of reviews. The reviews also say this watch is a perfect size (even for those with small wrists, which is where it wins against the newer Forerunner 235) and that it’s well worth the price. Speaking of, it’s the cheapest Garmin running watch they sell right now.

Key Features:

  • Battery life: 9 days Smartwatch mode, 13 hours GPS mode
  • Cues you for walk/run workouts
  • Monitors sleep
  • Estimates VO2 Max
  • Vibration alerts
  • Transmits data with Garmin Connect

Drawbacks:

  • Basic running watch with set features
  • Pacing features can be delayed and skew results
  • Music control available only for Android, not iPhone
  • Only provides analysis for running and cycling (not swimming)

Summary

This is an excellent running watch for new runners or anyone looking to upgrade from a simple stopwatch. It’s the cheapest on this list, is from a reliable brand, and has all the basics.

Click here for more on the Garmin Forerunner 35 watch.

Fitbit Versa Lite

Fitbit Versa Lite Fitness Watch

The Fitbit Versa Lite is another basic watch, but with a few more fun features.

Key Features:

  • Battery life: 4+ days, depending on use and settings
  • Touchscreen
  • Music control on Android and iOS
  • SpO2 sensor (pulse oximeter)
  • Heart rate zones
  • Personalized fitness reminders
  • Sleep tracking
  • Swim tracking
  • Customizable clock face
  • Ability to download many apps
  • Cardio fitness score
  • Female health tracking
  • Guided breathing sessions

Drawbacks:

  • Short battery life
  • No analysis for cycling

Summary

This watch is quite worth the price tag, which is a lot lower than many out on the market. It’s customizable, has a lot of features, and will give you a ton more information than your run-of-the-mill watch. Plus I’m a fan of the colors offered – but maybe that’s just me!

Click here for more on the Fitbit Versa Lite.

Garmin Forerunner 45S

Garmin Forerunner 45S Running Watch

The Garmin Forerunner 45S is a decent step up from the 35. This one is newer and will give you a lot more information.

Key Features:

  • Battery life: 7 days Smartwatch mode, 13 hours GPS mode
  • GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo for more accurate tracking
  • Music control on Android and iOS
  • Customizable clock face
  • Heart rate zones
  • Energy and stress monitoring
  • Cadence (real-time steps/min)
  • Personalized fitness reminders
  • Downloadable training plans
  • Move alerts (alerts you if you’ve been inactive for a while)
  • Sleep tracking
  • Cycling tracking
  • Estimates VO2 Max

Drawbacks:

  • Only provides analysis for running and cycling (not swimming)
  • Unable to download apps other than customizable clock faces to watch
  • No touchscreen
  • Shorter smartwatch battery life than Forerunner 35 by 2 days

Summary

The Garmin Forerunner 45S is definitely a new and improved 35. While still a basic running watch, it will allow you to get a more thorough picture of your runs and recovery so you can make adjustments as needed.

Click here for more on the Garmin Forerunner 45S.

Fitbit Versa 2

Fitbit Versa 2 Fitness Watch

Welcome to even more Fitbit magic. The Versa 2 is only $40 more than the Versa Lite, and has a decent bit of fun features added.

Key Features:

  • All the same features of the Versa lite (except touchscreen)
  • Battery life: 6+ days, depending on use and settings
  • On-screen workouts
  • Sleep score
  • All day calorie burn
  • Amazon Alexa built-in
  • Store and play your music
  • Can download Spotify and control it
  • Fitbit pay

Drawbacks:

  • No touchscreen
  • No analysis for cycling

Summary

Honestly, for only $40 more you get some amazing perks. When Fitbit was designing the Versa 2, I think their main goal was allowing you to ditch your phone and wallet. With downloadable apps, music storage/Spotify, Amazon Alexa, on-screen workouts, and Fitbit pay, you’ll really only need to bring your keys with you and that’s it.

Click here for more on the Fitbit Versa 2.

Goal: The Hobby Competitor

For runners who compete in local races up to marathon distance or those willing to pay a little more for some dope watch features.

Coros Pace Watch

Coros Pace Running Watch

The lightweight Coros Pace watch will take your training to the next level. The battery life alone is extremely impressive and beats out all the other watches covered so far by a ton. Plus the reviews of Coros Pace show a lot of happy customers. Coros clearly knows runners and knows what it’s doing.

Key Features:

  • Battery life: 30 days standard mode and 25 hours GPS mode
  • Accurate metric reporting
  • Advanced training analysis (effect, load, threshold pace, VO2 max)
  • Quick locating – uses GPS, GLONASS, and Beidou to find you fast
  • Multisport (including both cycling and swimming)
  • Elevation monitoring, such as for trail running or mountain biking
  • Stride length
  • Cadence measuring

Drawbacks:

  • Reviews report pacing updates are a few seconds delayed
  • No sleep monitoring
  • Heart rate graph shows averages, not actual collected numbers

Summary

With heart rate monitoring, elevation levels, stride length, and cadence evaluation, Pace is for those who take their running improvement seriously. The battery life makes this great for those who log a lot of miles, whether that’s running, cycling, or swimming. From everything out there about Coros Pace, this is an exceptional watch for not too bad a price.

Click here for more on the Coros Pace.

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

The Forerunner 245 music is a quality watch that allows you to ditch your phone and still jam while running. While this won’t be for everyone, I threw it on here for those who really want this feature.

Key Features:

  • Battery life: 7 days Smartwatch mode, GPS mode with music up to 6 hours, GPS mode without music up to 24 hours
  • GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo for more accurate tracking
  • Music control on Android and iOS
  • Stores up to 500 songs, including playlists from Spotify if you have Premium
  • Customizable clock face
  • Training status/load/effect
  • Downloadable apps
  • Heart rate zones
  • Energy and stress monitoring
  • Cadence (real-time steps/min)
  • Personalized fitness reminders
  • Downloadable training plans
  • Move alerts (alerts you if you’ve been inactive for a while)
  • Sleep tracking
  • Cycling and swimming tracking
  • Estimates VO2 Max

Drawbacks:

  • Pricey
  • No elevation metrics

Summary

If music storage is really important to you and you love Garmins, the Forerunner 245 Music has got the other ones beat. It’s definitely not ideal for trail running – both due to lack of elevation tracking and short battery life while playing music, and it’s also the priciest model on this list. But for competitive runners, it does beat out the Garmin Forerunner 45S as far as running analytics go. And there’s an option to get the 245 without music that lands it at around $299.

Click here for more on the Forerunner 245 Music.

Goal: The Ultra Runner and Trail Runner

For those committed to long distance running who need features like elevation measurement and long battery life. Because just like your body, your watch has gotta last you awhile. Godspeed!

Coros Apex

Coros Apex Ultra Runner

The Coros Apex is an amazing watch. It’s actually the watch my brother, Koby, currently uses – meaning it’s good enough for a competitive ultramarathoner. Some of his favorite things are that its battery life is exceptional and that it continually gets software updates with cool new features. So you don’t have to go buying a new watch again for awhile.

Key Features:

  • Battery life: 30 days standard mode and 25 hours GPS mode
  • All the same features as the Coros Pace (quick locating, accurate metric reporting, advanced training analysis, multisport, elevation monitoring, etc.)
  • Sapphire glass display
  • Winter and mountain climbing training modes
  • Back-to-start navigation
  • Phone notifications during workouts
  • Regular software updates

Drawbacks:

  • No touchscreen
  • No SpO2 (pulse oximeter)
  • No music control/storage

Summary

My brother describes the Coros Apex as a “no frills, serious runner’s watch.” If you want a quality watch for long distance or trail running, this is the one for you.

Click here for more on the Coros Apex.

Polar Vantage M

Polar Vantage M

The Polar Vantage M actually really impressed me. It has all the features needed to make it an exceptional running watch, as well as a great tri watch. I was pretty surprised when looking at the specs – but then again, Polar is a leader in the field of heart rate technology.

Key Features:

  • Battery life: 30 hours GPS mode
  • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo for more accurate tracking
  • 3rd party compatible (Strava, TrainingPeaks, etc.)
  • Advanced training analysis and training planning
  • Multisport (both cycling and swimming)
  • Elevation monitoring, such as for trail running or mountain biking
  • Stride length
  • Cadence measuring
  • Heart rate zones
  • Move alerts (alerts you if you’ve been inactive for a while)
  • Sleep tracking, sleep stages, Nightly Recharge recovery measurement
  • Breathing exercises for stress

Drawbacks:

  • Large watch face
  • Not compatible with Spotify/music apps

Summary

Polar was a surprising one to me, but once I reviewed its details I knew I had to include it. For under $300, it’s got a lot of features that more pricey running watches would have. If you’re more than a hobby runner, whether running marathons, ultras, or competing in triathlons, this is a watch to consider.

Click here for more on the Polar Vantage M.

Watches are undoubtedly useful tools. It’s pretty amazing all the features that are included nowadays, but it’s also important not to get carried away by them. My advice: review the specs and select one that will give you the basic information you’re really going to need (elevation, real-time pacing, sleep analysis, and what-not).

These are 8 quality running watches that all have great reviews or I wouldn’t have included them. I hope the information I provided helps you narrow down your list and find the best running watch for you!

Happy running!

8 Top Running Watches: How to Choose the Best One For You

Hi! I’m Cedar, a Registered Nurse, Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Weight Loss Specialist, runner for 15 years, weight lifter for 4 years, and all-around healthnut. My passion is helping people live their healthiest, happiest lives, and this blog is written with that in mind. Thanks so much for stopping by!

For more running posts, check these out:

Couch to 5k: How to Succeed

Running for Beginners: 11 Little-Known Tips That’ll Skyrocket Your Progress

How to Quickly Freshen Up Post-Workout – Without a Shower!