In-depth Review of the Best Watches for Running

When it comes to buying a new running watch, the more information you have about your new device, the better off you’ll be in being able to make a good decision. Start with what you know you need, and add in features based on what you imagine yourself doing with the running watch. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming if you buy the running watch that is right for your needs. In this review of the best running watches, you’ll see just how many options and add-ons there are, and the various types of running watches that are popular on the market today.

What to Look for In Your Next Running Watch

The problem with trying to choose the best running watch for you, or in general, is that most running watches are trying to be everything to everyone. They function more like a smartwatch than a running device. However, despite their best effort to the everything to everyone, some of the brands on the market today are still lacking some essential functions. Brands and manufacturers seem to be going for “over the top” extras and add-ons instead of giving people what they need. If you are a runner and want a watch that is for running, and maybe a few extras,  then this is what you should look out for when you are buying your next running watch or device.

Distance Tracker

Obviously, any runner wants to know about distance, but some running watches do a better job at tracking distance through GPS than some other watches. It’s important to look for a good GPS monitor in your running watch. Watch out for ones that track through your smartphone and record using information that isn’t received through satellite tracking. A good running watch will provide very specific distance information, and you should have the option to change between measurements; for example, switching between miles and kilometers depending on where you are in the world.

Wrist Heart Rate Monitor

It’s funny to think that there are running watches on the market today that don’t have standard heart rate monitoring already included. Some of the models in this review come with an option to add a heart rate monitor, while others come standard. But it’s not a standard option. If you want a heart rate monitor in your running watch, be prepared to pay a lot more money. In some cases, it’s double the cost to have a heart rate monitor added to your running watch. It’s important to a lot of runners though, and it’s so surprising that it isn’t standard.

Indoor or Outdoor Tracking Options

Some running watches are better suited for the outdoors. It’s important to get a waterproof or water resistant running watch if you plan to do more than just run with your watch; for example, if you are going to be doing long distance running outside, or if you are also a swimmer or kayaker, you might want to invest in a more expensive running watch that has a water-resistant feature. Most running watches are sweat proof. What’s more, if you are going to run on a treadmill indoors instead of running on the road, you’ll want a running watch that can tell the difference for tracking and monitoring purposes. This might not matter to the novice runner, but an experienced runner will want to track the difference between indoor and outdoor runs.

Training Programs

Some people want their watch to do everything. If you need some help or coaching to get you through your workout, you’ll want to get a running watch that features a training program or training coach app. These typically offer interval training options and provide feedback and analysis of results over time. This is great for the novice runner who wants more motivation to keep pushing themselves, or for the experienced runner who is looking to up their game.

Bluetooth Compatibility

Similar to the heart rate monitor, not all running watches have Bluetooth compatibility. Again, it’s kind of crazy to think that every new electronic device is not automatically fitted with these options, but that’s what makes them “options,” I suppose. If you want your running watch to be able to talk to your smartphone, iPad or other mobile device, especially if you want to track progress and analytics over time, then you will want to upgrade your running watch to a device that has Bluetooth compatibility. Sure, you can use wifi, but the internet isn’t everywhere, and if you are huffing it on some dirt road, and you want your stats immediately, invest in a Bluetooth option running watch.

Our Top Selections for Running Watches

Here are the 5 best running watches available in our opinion. Each one is considered against the criteria above, and additional information is provided for your review and to help you make your decision about which running watch is right for you.

Polar M430

The Polar M430 offers a continuous and accurate heart rate monitor that is included in the standard price of the running watch. What’s more, this heart rate monitor does not require the owner to wear a chest strap, which is typical of some other running watch devices which offer an add-on, but where the heart rate monitor does not come standard. It has integrated GPS, which means it is very accurate for tracking distance, speed, pacing and more. It offers all day tracking of the runner’s activity — not just running — and it offers the option to track food intake, as well as sleeping patterns so that athletes can achieve optimal health through knowledge and analytics. The running watch offers vibration alerts when notifications are pushed from your smartphone, and it will remind you to get moving if your activity has slowed throughout the day.

This running watch is good for both indoor and outdoor runners because it will track indoor running metrics and report back through the app on the smartphone for the runner. It also offers the integrated Polar running program which puts runners through a learn to run program, conditioning program, and more. When you first get the running watch, you can take a 5-minute fitness test to set baselines for your current running abilities and set goals with the new information. It comes in several colors and offers a big, bold, readable digital watch face.

Garmin Forerunner 225

The Garmin Forerunner 225 is a colorful and fun running watch that offers big and bold features to help you keep your heart in the “zone” while running. The big digital face lets you track distance, speed, and pace. What’s more, the Garmin Forerunner 225 offers strapless heart monitoring but does also have the option to add in a strapped heart rate monitor if you prefer that method of training and tracking. The running watch features an optical heart rate monitor in the wrist strap of the watch. It tracks your progress using the Garmin Connect program which also offers a live social media platform, as well as training programs to help you improve your running speed, pace and distance. The watch itself is black in color but has features of red that make it really pop on your arm. It’s a beautiful and functional running watch.

The Garmin Forerunner 225 offers a built-in accelerometer to help you train indoors when it’s not possible to run outdoors. Runners can download more training programs from the Connect program online, and the watch features automatic uploads to your platform so your followers can stay up-to-date on your workout progress. This running watch is compatible with your smartphone or other mobile devices and more.

Garmin Vivoactive

The Garmin Vivoactive is a fantastic running watch that offers GPS tracking, the ability to read the LCD screen in direct sunlight (which is sometimes difficult for digital devices otherwise), and a high-resolution touch screen to keep you informed on your runs. This running watch features a wrist heart rate monitor, which is ideal for hassle free running; however, the heart rate monitor is not available while swimming. But that doesn’t mean that the Vivoactive is waterproof, which is a bonus. The running watch by Garmin will push notifications from your smartphone to your running watch so you can stay connected on the go: get text, email, and phone call notifications on the big bright screen of the running watch so you can see everything at a glance.

This running watch is great for multiple sports, so if you are looking for a running watch that can take you beyond the road and track, the Garmin Vivoactive might be the running watch for you. This watch has a great battery life, lasting almost 8 days with regular use. There are also a number of apps that turn your running watch into biking, skiing, snowboarding, rowing, golfing, and paddle-boarding watch in seconds. Download the apps to your running watch and the world opens up to you and keeps up with you while you are on the go.

Polar M400

The Polar M400 offers a great running watch with or without a heart rate monitor. This running watch also tracks workouts, steps, calories, sleep, distance, and activity around the clock. If you are looking for a full picture analysis of your health and activity, this is a good running watch for that. It has advanced technology that allows the running to train at various intervals and intensities which can target heart rates for fat burning optimization. With a social network, the ability to share progress and achievements, and the mobile app that connects automatically to your running watch, the Polar M400 is a great running watch and training product.

If you need some inspiration, there is a giant social network to offer support and encouragement, as well as built-in training programs to help you achieve your running and fitness goals. It comes in a variety of colors, including pink, red, black, blue, orange, and white, and is an impressive size running watch with a huge digital face. People will see you coming with this on your arm for sure. This watch is unmistakable on the arm of a runner.

Overall Thoughts

Like all good reviews, now we have to pick our favorite. It’s always tough because each running watch offers a variety of options that would be useful to anyone. But only one can come out on top. For its ability to become everything to everyone, without overwhelming the novice runner, we like the Garmin Vivoactive. It functions as both a running watch and a smart watch because of all of the added features, but you can customize it so that it is simple and perfect for your needs. For the price, the features, and because it checks the boxes on our buying guide list, we recommend the Garmin Vivoactive for your next running watch purchase.

Don’t be shy when it comes to asking questions about these products in-store or online. You want to make sure you are getting everything you need in your running watch. While you might not have a use for a golfing tracker on your running watch, the extra and added value it brings to your watch makes it a good investment. And who knows, you might find yourself the budding golfer someday. Running watches that offer multiple options typically have reliable GPS tracking devices which make them great at tracking distance, speed, and pace for your running efforts.

If you can, avoid buying running watches that require you to put extra accessories on your sneakers and try to get a running watch that has a built-in wrist heart rate monitor, so you don’t have to worry about misplacing your chest heart rate monitor strap. It’s just one more thing to lose. Wrist heart rate monitors are the way to go. Whatever running watch you decide to buy, make sure it checks off all the boxes on your list and then consider the extras for the price you are willing to pay.

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