Best running watch 2019: Brilliant multi-sport GPS watches for all budgets
Whether you’re a beginner or prepping for your first marathon, buying a top running running watch will supercharge your training.
But new sports watches are more than just about running – with all aspects of wellness, heart rate, swimming and cycling all catered for.
We’ve reviewed every running watch on the market – with cheap options to detailed options for budding athletes – and compiled this new roundup of our best picks from our testing. It really is the definitive list, and we’ve tried to make sense of the dizzying selection for you.
Best running watch – video
If you don’t fancy trawling through all those words, you can check out the video we pulled together with our friends at The Running Channel:
Best running watch:
Garmin Forerunner 945
Buy now: Amazon | £519.99
At Wareable, we ranked the predecessor, the Forerunner 935, as the top running watch since it launched in 2017. It’s no surprise, then, that the new Forerunner 945 immediately takes over on the throne.
This watch sits at the top of the Forerunner line – and though the name suggests this is solely focused on tracking runs, it actually packs in everything you get from the Fenix multi-sport watches, as well as Garmin Pay support, music playback, navigation features and color maps.
Obviously, it does track your runs, though, covering everything from treadmill to trail running, with plenty of metrics to dive into after your training session. It’s also compatible with Garmin’s Running Pod, which adds additional data, such as vertical oscillation, ground contact time, stride length and lactate threshold.
It has top-tier battery life, too, as well as built-in heart rate monitoring (which has vastly improved from previous wrist HR tracking efforts from Garmin), Training Effect, Training Load and focus features to make sure you’re not overexerting yourself.
This is the Forerunner for power users, and, because of that, most buyers will actually be better served going with something a little less feature-packed (and, as a bonus, less expensive).
In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 945 review
Best cheap running watch:
Garmin Forerunner 45
Buy now: Amazon | $199.99
Ditching the rectangular bezel of the predecessor, the Garmin Forerunner 45 offers a more traditional Forerunner design, builds on features and maintains the budget price.
It’s now available in a round design that comes in 39mm and 42mm sizes. You’re getting the same display you get on all of Garmin’s watches, waterproofing up to 50 metres depth, and an optical heart rate monitor.
It’s also compatible with both Android and iOS-friendly, with the main tracking skills shaped running and cycling. There’s full satellite mapping support, when tracking, which is joined by a mix of core metrics and some advanced ones, like VO2 Max.
Smartwatch features on the Forerunner 45 include notification support, while Connect IQ compatibility lets you customize your watch face. So, if you’re new to running and don’t want to spend much, the Forerunner 45 (and smaller 45S) should be a definite consideration.
In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 45 review
Best cheap running watch #2:
Garmin Forerunner 245
Buy now: Amazon | £299.99
One of the most popular Forerunner lines has been given a boost for the latest generation. It still has to be a top consideration for those on a budget, but music support also makes it a great option for those who prioritize playback from the likes of Spotify.
The built-in music player support works in the same way as other Garmin watches. You can transfer over your own music or playlists from streaming services, then you can pair some Bluetooth headphones and leave your phone at home. You’ve got enough storage on the 245 for 500 songs, too, which should be enough for most users.
Obviously, it’s not all about the music – the Forerunner 245 Music is also a formidable running watch. Unless you’re a marathon veteran, it has everything you’ll need, including GPS and a built-in heart rate monitor.
Battery life sits at around a week with standard use, though, naturally, taking advantage of the music features will reduce this. It does lack payment support and an altimeter, but, all in all, it’s a great running watch for anyone that has been looking for those music features too.
In-depth: Our full Garmin Forerunner 245 Music review
Best running watch for women:
Garmin Fenix 5S Plus
Buy now: Amazon | £699.99
For serious athletes with smaller wrists, the Fenix 5S Plus should be top of the list.
Garmin has downsized the alpha-male Fenix 5 Plus, but it’s still powerful. Google Pay, on-board music and a crazy amount of tracked sports and metrics, full color topographical maps and access to Garmin Connect IQ – it doesn’t get more feature-rich.
It also boasts a 42mm case, weighing just 69g, which makes it better for smaller wrists than the rest of the Fenix Plus range. It looks slightly more compact, too – more like a regular smartwatch. In terms of tracked sports, there’s running, cycling, swimming, golf, kayaking, paddleboarding and much, much more, with GPS, GLONASS and Galileo support and optical HR tracking.
Battery life measures 11 hours with GPS turned on and seven days in ‘watch mode’.
In-depth: Garmin Fenix 5S Plus review
Running watch for women #2:
Polar Vantage M
Buy now: Amazon| £249.99
Joining its bigger (and more expensive) compatriot the Vantage V, the M manages to pack in plenty of the same features to make it a formidable running watch companion.
Sitting in between the Polar M430 and the V, the Vantage M features a comfortable design with interchangeable straps and is really easy to use. Running power is supported (but with an additional accessory) with Polar’s new heart rate tech on board and up to 30 hours of battery life.
You also get the best of Polar’s Training software features to optimise workloads and make sure you’re getting enough rest and recovery between sessions. If you care about really straightforward run tracking and serious insights, this is a running watch for you.
Wareable verdict: Polar Vantage M review
Best for interval training:
Polar Vantage V
Buy now: Amazon | £319.99
Replacing the mighty (but ancient) Polar V800 in our running watch list, the Polar Vantage V adds new metrics into the mix, making it a different proposition to any sports device out there.
Aside from great heart rate tracking and pace/distance data, the Vantage V aims to track running power – without the use of a footpod. Why you ask? Running power is becoming the metric de jour, helping runners to hit pace targets via the physiological effort rather than heart rate or pure pace. Intelligently used, this will help you to conserve energy in long runs or races, and use your reserves intelligently.
And there’s more. A focus on recovery means this is a watch for those who are interested in training to the max, and certainly a strong choice for goal-chasing PB hunters.
It’s got a big 40 hours of battery life, it’s better looking than the V800 and it has all the metrics a serious runner could dream of.
Wareable verdict: Polar Vantage V review
Best running watch for music:
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus
Buy now: Amazon | £474.99
We initially deemed the Fenix 5 Plus overkill for the standard runner, but recent changes have meant its exclusion can no longer be justified.
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is the company’s ultimate running watch, make no bones about that. It caters for all types of outdoor sport, and there’s modes for normal and trail running (not to mention everything from hiking to SUP and even skydiving).
There’s no Garmin watch that offers more in terms of running dynamics, and it matches the Forerunner 935 for data output. That naturally includes VO2 Max, recovery times, race prediction, Training Effect (aerobic and anaerobic from every session), Training Load (and when to take a break) all gleaned from the built-in optical sensor.
For those who love to explore on their runs there’s full TOPO rich mapping, an upgrade over the standard Fenix 5, and you can also upload GPX routes to follow as well.
And as of a new update, it now includes offline Spotify playback. Add to that Garmin Pay NFC support and you have one hell of a running watch.
The only real negative is the price: expect to pay £599, which is twice the price of many of the running watches on test.
Wareable verdict: Garmin Fenix 5 Plus review
Best running watch for battery life:
Buy now: Amazon | £453
Another sports watch with a clear USP, it’s purely ultrarunners who need apply for the membership of the Suunto 9 club. With a whopping 120 hours of GPS on offer (if you put the device into its strictest power saving mode), it’s all about longevity.
There’s a bunch of tracked sports in addition to running (cycling, hiking, and swimming to name but a few), but the focus is predominantly on battery life.
Before any workout you’ll get a predication of how much battery you have, and warnings will prompt you to charge before it’s too late. What’s more, you can switch up battery modes mid-run, so there’s no worries about the Suunto finishing before you do.
The Suunto also uses a nifty FusedSpeed feature, which estimates pace from arm movement when the GPS gets patchy. That’s great news for trail runners fed up with garbled GPS data when running in woods.
However, a lacklustre app and analysis, plus a pretty annoying interface on the watch means that unless you’re someone who tests the battery limits of their existing GPS watch – we’d recommend one of the Garmins above.
Wareable verdict: Suunto 9 review
Best smartwatch for running:
Apple Watch Series 4
Buy now:Amazon | £389
Back when the Apple Watch first arrived we’d have never recommended it as a running watch – but if you’re looking for a smartwatch suited for running it’s now got the features you’ll need and watchOS 5 just delivered even more.
Built-in GPS is accurate and locks on instantly so there’s no waiting around on cold days, and Apple has let third-party apps like Strava access sensor data. Yes, the data is limited to pace, time, distance and heart rate – but you’ll also get credit for sessions in the Apple Watch’s excellent fitness tracking features.
Apple Music playlist syncing is ridiculously easy, and you can pay for a drink with Apple Pay when you’re done. What’s more, the addition of LTE means streaming tunes on the go, and you can make calls on long runs, which adds that level of personal safety.
But watchOS 5 – available for Series 2, Series 3 and Series 4, delivers a host of new features aimed directly at runners. Rolling pace (a summary of your last km/mile), average cadence and automatic run detection have all been added to the Workout app – if you choose to use it.
And while it’s now a decent ecosystem for runners, most services are catered for via third-party apps, which can now access the GPS sensor and optical heart rate monitor.
That sensor – on the Series 4 – stood up incredibly 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 – and tested better than Garmin, Suunto rivals.
Wareable verdict: Apple Watch Series 4 review
Best Fitbit for runners:
Buy now: Amazon | £199
When it comes to running the Ionic is the only Fitbit watch with GPS built in.
The experience matches the basic end of the Garmin line-up by measuring pace, distance and calories. There’s not a great many extra metrics like cadence – the Fitbit Ionic keeps things simple, and will suit weekend runners more than those who are getting really serious.
But like the Apple Watch it’s the fitness tracking elements that really excel. The app is excellent, and using it for running means you get more of a 360-degree picture of your health, with badges earned for running goals and a more detailed assessment of your weekly activity.
Battery life is decent, but won’t trouble high-end Garmins. You get around five days of use and 10 hours of GPS tracking. That’s much better than an Apple Watch Series 4, which is a much closer competitor.
If the look of the Ionic is not for you, but you do like the idea of owning a Fitbit smartwatch, you can always cast your eye on the Fitbit Versa. While it doesn’t possess the onboard GPS, those who still like running with their phones and can piggyback of your handset’s GPS to still map your running routes. And it’s cheaper than the Ionic.
Wareable verdict: Fitbit Ionic review
Great for value:
Buy now: Amazon | £269.99
You might not have heard of Coros, but after the Apex we think you might hear a lot more from the company, which is better known for its smart cycling helmets.
After releasing its Pace watch in early 2018, the Apex joined it landing in 42mm and 46mm sizes. Both watches offer the same features including GPS+GLONASS support, a heart rate monitor (with external HR monitor support too), an AI Trainer to offer training and recovery insights and 25 hours (42mm) or 35 hours (46mm) of battery in full GPS mode.
The companion app is surprisingly sleek and data-packed with Strava and TrainingPeaks integration also on board. If you fancy something that’s not a Garmin or a Polar, the Apex is well worth your time and money.
Wareable verdict: Coros Apex review
Great for value #2:
Buy now: Amazon | $179.80
Not one of the traditional running watch names, the Amazfit from Chinese company Huami is a bit of a Garmin copycat – but the results actually pay off.
The Stratos tracks walking, running, cycling, triathlon, swimming, elliptical, mountaineering, trail running, tennis, soccer and skiing. It comes with built-in GPS and GLONASS (Russian satellites which should offer a faster lock-on) support to boot.
Amazfit has signed up FirstBeat, who does all of Garmin’s advanced metrics. That means VO2 Max data a big part of the package , for substantially less than you’ll find elsewhere. While there’s optical heart rate on board which struggles compared to Garmin, Apple and co, the Stratos will hook up to chest straps for properly locked on data.
And the features keep on coming. You can add GPX files which will suit trail runners, and it kicks out to Strava too, which is great because the app experience is sometimes crummy compared to the likes of Polar Flow or Garmin Connect. You could do a lot worse than the Amazfit Stratos.
Wareable verdict: Amazfit Stratos review