With the release of new watches from Garmin, we have updated this to include two of their new releases, one being the new best overall pick.
Whether you’re an experienced runner or just starting out, all you need to conquer a run is a pair of shoes and enough open space to put one foot in front of the other. Other pieces of equipment like foam rollers or a yoga mat for post-run stretching might be helpful, but when it comes down to it, the only extra accessory that may enhance your workouts is a running watch.
We spent months testing the most popular running watches on the market. Our favorite ended up being the Garmin Forerunner 245(available at Amazon for $349.99) because of the ease of use during long runs and extra bonus features like being able to download music. If our top pick isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of other options.
These are the best running watches we tested ranked, in order:
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
Garmin Forerunner 45
Apple Watch Series 4
Suunto 9 Baro
Polar Vantage M
Garmin Vivoactive 3
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Who’s it for: The semi-serious runner who’s looking for data and feedback during and after their run while getting hands-free music (a non-music version is available for $50 less).
Ease of use: Setup is relatively easy via the Garmin Connect app and the watch synced to my iPhone pretty much instantly. (You can also set it up on a computer using the Garmin Express software.) The watch takes less than two hours to charge, and the battery claims to last for 24 hours with normal usage and six hours if you use the music function (we didn't notice it draining faster than expected).
To use the music function, you need to connect the 245 to WiFi, which takes some time but is well worth it. You can download playlists from Spotify and Apple Music or directly from your phone or computer, but if you update the playlist on your app, phone, or computer, you’ll have to re-download it to get the new songs on your watch. It was also relatively simple to link the watch to wireless headphones and the music plays seamlessly. You have the option to set the playlist to shuffle, but to skip songs mid-run we recommend using the buttons on your wireless headphones as it’s quite difficult to do so once you get going on your run.
Comfort: The watch is quite comfortable to wear. The screen isn’t too big or heavy, and is large enough to see your various stats during your run. The water resistance is great for rainy runs or tracking pool laps on Swim mode. The fact that you can listen to music without having to carry your phone or subjecting it to the rain is a major game changer. While it's not the most stylish running watch on the market, it looks good with activewear, and comes in several colors.
Pros: The 245 acquired GPS almost instantly in the Boston area, which means you aren’t waiting around for your watch to find the satellites. Although the watch has five buttons, it’s very clear what each one does. It’s simple to start and stop recording your run, pause the watch at a traffic light, scroll through your run stats, and switch to the music screen. Distance, time, and pace (or whatever stats you choose to display) are all easy to read mid-run. By default, when you reach each mile, you can feel the light vibration and a beep that’s especially loud if you’re using headphones, so it’s nearly impossible to miss a mile marker. (If you prefer, you can change these alerts to trigger at different distances or time increments, or to measure in kilometers.)
Cons: The Garmin app is a bit cluttered and we found it difficult to find previous runs and a few other stats. The watch gives you a ton of data, which can be a bit overwhelming for runners who just want their basic stats. We also didn’t love the colorful watch face that comes standard on the 245, but you can change it and—download other options from the Garmin Connect store—on the app.
Bonus perks: Like most running watches, the 245 tracks steps, sleep, and other workouts such as bike rides and swims. It also has some smartwatch features, including a weather report, and calendar, text, and phone alerts. You can opt to turn the notifications on or off during an activity, provided that you bring your phone along with you. In addition, many premium features that were once only available on pricier Garmin models have trickled down to the mid-priced 245, including free race training plans, the ability to customize and follow workouts from your wrist, and safety and tracking options that allow you to share your activity and location to others via email or text.
Who it’s for: This music-enabled Forerunner 645 is for the serious runner who’s looking to get data and feedback both during and after their run, and wants a good-looking, comfortable watch and fitness tracker to wear 24-7. (Like the 245, a non-music 645 costs $50 less.)
Ease of use: The 645 has the same interface and setup as the 245. The watch setup combined with the app only takes a few minutes and then you’re ready to go. The battery life reaches full charge in approximately two hours and lasts for days, just like the 245, so you don’t have to worry about charging it every night before you go to bed. It presents running data in a very straightforward way and it’s easy to sync to the Garmin app, too. Its music function works identically to the 245 Music’s, and is a great option for those who like to run with tunes and don’t want to be saddled with carrying their phone.
Comfort: This watch is the perfect size—more compact and lighter than the 245 but with the same size screen—making its additional cost over the 245 worthwhile if you plan to wear it all the time to track your steps and sleep. While testing, it never got caught up in sweatshirt or sweater sleeves, making it easy to check out our pace and time during a bundled-up winter run. Like the 245, the 645 is water resistant so it can be worn in the rain, in the shower, or to track laps in the pool. The 645 Music is available with a rose gold or stainless steel bezel and in a variety of band colors, so not only is it functional, it’s really sharp-looking—another plus for all-day, everyday wearers.
Pros: The best thing about this watch is the sleeker look and feel it has over the 245. It functions nearly identically to the 245, with five marked buttons that make it abundantly clear what each is for—you never have to second-guess which button means pause or end up pressing the wrong one while you’re waiting at a redlight during a run. Distance, time, and pace are prominently displayed and easy to read when you quickly glance down in the middle of a tough workout. Its screens are also even more customizable than the 245’s, so you can have it show any data in any combination you desire.
Cons: Similar to the 245, it can feel overwhelming to figure out how to use the 645 Music watch and the accompanying app, on account of just how much data each accumulates and stores.
Further, unless you find the 645 Music on sale, it’s pricey—even pricier than the top-of-the-line Apple Watch, which arguably offers more functionality but isn't as well suited for a serious runner's training needs.
Bonus perks: Like the 245 Music, the 645 Music has smartwatch alerts and fitness tracker features, and other sports and workout settings to record all your workouts. The 645 includes a few additional running-specific functions that might appeal to serious runners, with the most noteworthy being an additional sensor: a barometer that may improve its record of elevation changes during a run (the 245 measures elevation change with GPS only).
Hi, I’m Kate, the social media editor at Reviewed and resident fitness fanatic. As a marathoner, triathlete, and someone who gets way too excited for local 5ks, I’m always on the lookout for the best way to track my workouts. On most weekends, you can find me lining up on a starting line somewhere or out on a long run in Boston. I also recruited Courtney Campbell, a fellow runner and Reviewed staffer who is also a Spotify subscriber, to help test out the music functions of the watches.
While researching watches to test, I looked at the most popular watches on the market in a variety of price ranges and consulted other publications that are fitness specific, like Runner’s World, to see what their editors thought were the best of the best. I was able to narrow it down to 12 watches, ranging in price from $99 to $599, that fit the lifestyle of everyone from running beginner to someone who qualifies for the Boston Marathon every year.
When testing, I looked at basic setup factors at first, seeing how easy it was to set up the watch, sync with my phone and corresponding app, and the length of battery life. I took every watch out on the same 5-mile loop twice and did a track workout with each one. I also ended up using them during my other workouts too and they made appearances in treadmill classes, yoga, spin class, swimming laps and four different races I ran. During all of this, I was always considering factors like comfort, aesthetic, water resistance and durability.
During my runs, I looked at how easy it was to see my stats in the middle of a run, how quickly the watch acquired GPS signal, how accurate the GPS tracking was, and how easy it was to navigate the watch for data before, during and after my run. After every workout, I checked the data on both the watch and on the app, to check for accuracy and to see what it was like navigating information on each of them.
Courtney tested Music-enabled watches with her Spotify account and AfterShokz headphones, to report back on ease of use.
What You Should Know About Running Watches
What’s the difference between running watches and fitness trackers?
A GPS running watch is the next level up from a fitness tracker if you are—or become—a more dedicated runner. While a fitness tracker tracks things such as steps taken, calories burned, stairs climbed, and heart rate, a GPS watch does all that and more. During a workout with a running watch, you get even more data instantly. You can watch your running pace change as you make real-time adjustments on your run and these watches also offer more sophisticated stats like cadence, ascent and descent, training status, and heart rate zones. You can also see how your stats perform over the course of a week, months, or years using the companion app.
What should you look for in a running watch?
When looking for a running watch, you should ask yourself what type of runner you are. If you are a serious, dedicated runner who loves data, you should look for a watch that can offer ample statistics on not only running workouts, but cross-training workouts, too. With that being said, these watches are often times on the more expensive side. If you are going to be making a significant investment in this piece of workout equipment, you should look into factors like style and comfort, so you can wear this watch even when you aren’t pounding the pavement.
If you’re a running beginner who regularly logs miles, but don’t need a data overload, you should look for a watch that has less bells and whistles and a solid presentation of the basics like pace, distance, and time. These watches usually aren’t as pricey, so while you want them to be comfortable, you don’t have to worry about making a huge investment on a more stylish piece, because you won’t be wearing it every single day.
Other Running Watches We Tested
Garmin Forerunner 45
Who’s it for: The recreational, yet dedicated runner, who wants a watch without all the unnecessary bells and whistles.
Ease of use: Like the majority of Garmin products tested, setting up the watch with the app and then syncing them is incredibly easy. The Forerunner 45 is highly intuitive and because there isn’t an overload of information, you can find everything you’re looking for fairly quickly. The five buttons are clearly labeled, so you’ll never accidentally hit the wrong button during your run.
Comfort: The round watch face is large enough to see the screen clearly with a quick glance during your run (though it’s smaller that that of our picks). The watch itself is just the right size to wear casually and not look like you have a hulking sports watch on your wrist. (A smaller Forerunner 45s version is even smaller, but shrinks the screen even more.) Plus, the sleek design doesn’t get caught in sweatshirt sleeves, unlike other bulkier watches we tested.
Pros: The Forerunner 45 is designed with an entry-level or no-frills runner in mind who just wants to upgrade from using a running app on his or her smartphone.. There aren’t any unnecessary screens you have to wade through to find the information you want. Plus, like pricier Forerunners, if you want to do a specific workout interval, you can create your own workout right in the watch. With that being said, you can create even more intricate training intervals and workout plans in the app, which you can then download to your phone to follow along. Any run where you don’t have to keep track of your laps yourself, is a greatly appreciated perk.
Cons: This watch is Garmin’s upgraded version of the Forerunner 35, our previous Best Value winner. The 45 didn’t win Best Value this time around was because the GPS acquisition on our tests in the Boston area was incredibly finicky. The GPS often took minutes (rather than seconds) to acquire, which is not ideal, especially at the start of a race. This happened even when it was synced to our phones. Multiple times, we began a run without the GPS acquiring, fed up with the waiting around. On the other hand, there were a few times when the watch acquired GPS in a matter of seconds. The inconsistency is especially surprising as we were repeating test runs in the same locations. Also, we found we had to charge the 45 more frequently—every few days—than others, which only needed once weekly charging.
Who’s it for: Someone who is looking for a high-tech watch that also has fitness features. If you’re a casual runner who wants a watch that can “do it all” with music, texts, calls, emails and all of your apps, then this is for you.
Ease of use: The hardest part about setting up the Apple Watch was opening up the box it came in. Seriously. I found this watch so incredibly simple and easy to set up, it was almost scary how smooth it went. With just a few taps of my iPhone, I was ready to go.
Comfort: It was one of the smallest watches we tested, and also one of the most comfortable. The sleek design allows it to look good no matter if you’re out for a run or at the office. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Apple Watch is wildly popular, so regardless of where you are wearing it, you won’t look out of place.
Pros: This was hands down one of the easiest touch screens of the watches we tested that had them. With a turnstyle button on the side to help scroll through apps and data, it was easy to explore and figure out all the watch had to offer. The app was also one of the easiest to use, with enough data to satisfy an athlete, but laid out in a way that we didn’t find visually overwhelming. Even when you aren’t running, the watch (like others) encourages general overall fitness, tracking how many flights of stairs you go up, how long you stand during the day and how many steps you’re taking. As an athlete, it’s almost impossible to not want to complete the three activity tracking rings every day, so you can find yourself sneaking in extra steps or stairs, just to get the satisfaction of all the rings filled.
Cons: When you run with the Apple Watch, the screen stays black and you have to flick your wrist in a specific way to see your stats. While you can also just hit the side button to see the stats, I found this incredibly frustrating, because I want to be able to quickly look down to check out my pace and distance. When I finally could see my stats, the numbers on the watch face are a bit too small, meaning I had to take an extra second to make sure I was reading the numbers correctly (and my vision is fine). Also, post-run, if you really want to get a good look at your stats and recap of the activity, you have to do that on the app, not the watch.
This was the only watch tested that I felt like I had to constantly recharge. Since the battery works so hard all day with all of your apps, it is necessary to charge it every night. This is tough if you want to track your sleep, because you either have to forget tracking sleep and charge the watch, or wake up to a battery on 2 percent.
Bonus Perk: It’s basically a phone on your wrist. You can text while you run and have access to all of your apps as well. Plus, if you have running apps, like Nike Run Club or Strava, you can use those directly on this watch as well.
Who’s it for: The serious runner who is also a triathlete, and loves getting an influx of data about all of their workouts.
Ease of use: While the look of the Suunto Baro 9 watch is militant and almost intimidating, it is very easy and straightforward to set up. The combination of buttons on the side of the watch and a touch screen allows you to easily scroll through data regardless if you’re sitting at home or out on a tough run.
Comfort: The Suunto 9 Baro is absolutely gigantic. It’s built like a tank and feels indestructible, which is great for when you’re working out. However, this was the only watch that was wildly uncomfortable to wear for everyday use. It was way too large and its prominence on my wrist was so apparent.
Pros: Due to the size of the watch face, it made it incredibly easy to glance down and check my stats mid-run. The large numbers showing pace. time, and distance are easy to make out, no matter how quickly you’re running. Also, it has settings to track multiple workouts, so when you’re cross training you can still get stats about your other workouts.
Cons: Both men and women tried the Suunto 9 Baro on during testing and all of them had the same shocked reaction over how large this watch truly is. If you’re looking for something sleek and discreet, this is not the watch for you.
Bonus Perk: Like many other watches we tested, you can individually track a swim, bike ride, or run. However, if you’re competing in a triathlon, you can also switch to the triathlon setting to track all three in one event.
Who’s it for: The serious runner who wants an intuitive watch that presents data in a clear, non-overwhelming way.
Ease of use: During setting up, the Polar products were pretty straightforward, but compared to the other brands, they always had us jump through an extra hoop or two. However, once set up, the watch face of the Vantage M was one of my favorites to view. The data numbers are displayed in a clear, easy-to-read font, so I could immediately see my heart rate, time, distance, and pace.
Comfort: The fit of this watch is pretty bulky, especially underneath long sleeves and while wearing with gloves. Although it has a sleek look, the watch face is just large enough that if you have a smaller bone structure, you probably wouldn’t want to wear it as an everyday watch.
Pros: The stopwatch and countdown setting makes it easy to use for a track workout, and the way the Vantage M buzzes on your wrist after your preferred distance means you’ll never miss your mile splits because you didn’t hear a beep.
Cons: One of the more frustrating aspects of the Polar Vantage M is that you have to hit two different buttons to start a workout and stop it. I often found myself getting confused and hitting the wrong one. Also, the buttons were challenging to work with because they are flush to the side of the watch, making them difficult to press.
Bonus Perk: The Vantage M has about 20 other sport profiles on there, so if you like to run but also like spinning, cricket, or even ballet, there’s a setting for that.
Who’s it for: The casual runner who loves taking their music with them, but not their phone. This is also ideal for someone who prefers a touch screen and also enjoys tracking workouts other than running.
Ease of use: The Garmin Vivoactive 3 music was the least intuitive of the Garmin watches to set up. I had to closely follow the guide to understand how to get started with this watch. Once it’s set, though, it’s easy to scroll through and see all of your information, although it does take a lot of digging around to figure out where everything is.
Comfort: Highly comfortable and very sleek looking, this watch could easily be worn as an everyday watch as well.
Pros: The touch screen allows you to easily scroll through to see all of your stats, even while you’re on the go. Plus, the main during-run screen is set up so you can quickly glance down and know your heart rate, time, pace, and distance immediately.
Cons: The Vivoactive 3’s touch screen might actually be a bit too sensitive to the touch. My test watch was accidentally paused a few times on my run when my sleeves brushed up against it, and it would also respond to touch when I was wearing non-touch screen gloves. It also was one of the slowest watches we tested when it came to acquiring the GPS. I found it tough to find the data from my previous runs on it, so I would just look on the app instead.
Bonus Perk: Like our top picks, you can download music to the watch to listen via Bluetooth headphones while you run, so you don’t have to worry about carrying your phone with you, too.
Who’s it for: Serious runners who loves getting tons of data about every aspect of their run.
Ease of use: By far, the Coros Apex watch was one of the easiest watches to set up. All you have to do is download the app, scan the code that appears on the watch and, boom, watch and phone are synced. However, the only way to scroll through the watch interface is by a digital knob and a button. While this is reminiscent of the Apple watch, this knob is much more sensitive to the touch and it takes some getting used to before you can comfortably scroll through the menus.
Comfort: Neither incredibly comfortable nor uncomfortable, it errs on the larger size. Depending on bone structure and fashion preferences, most people could probably get away with wearing it as an everyday watch as well.
Pros: This was one of my favorite watches I used for track workouts during the testing process, as I could easily set intervals and rest time and then let the watch be my coach. Also great: When you hit pause at a crosswalk or on a break, you can easily scroll through your current in-activity stats to select what you want to see—as opposed to other watches that don’t allow you to control the watch when it’s paused.
Cons: The Apex had a tough time accessing GPS at first, and halfway through my runs it would often beep and say “GPS acquired” making me wonder what was going on there. While my full distance was always tracked accurately at the end of the run, it always made me nervous that it wasn’t properly being recorded. When running, the default data screens show a lot of information to take in, and I felt like I was slowing down to stare at my watch and figure out what data it was telling me.
Who’s it for: Someone who wants a Fitbit fitness tracker with built-in GPS.
Ease of use: Setup of this watch is pretty simple and the Fitbit app is incredibly user-friendly, albeit basic. However, the layout of information throughout the watch is a bit confusing, and I couldn’t always find what I wanted without some hunting.
Comfort: The Ionic’s bulky fit and the fat, square screen gives it the look and feel of being the Apple Watch’s less sleek counterpart.
Pros: The watch face itself is incredibly easy to read, so you never have to do a double take of your stats while you’re out on a run. The Ionic’s running features are quite limited, but there are a few preinstalled workouts for your entire body, which is great to use for a warm-up or cool down. You can also track other workouts like swimming and biking.
Cons: The Fitbit Ionic’s screen is incredibly persnickety, as you have to flick your wrist just so to get it to light up to show your stats. More often than not, the screen would not light up for me, so I had to press the side button to illuminate my stats pretty much every time I wanted to look at them. This was particularly frustrating during long runs. Also, the watch has plenty of settings, but the layout is poor, so you really have to dig deep to find what you’re looking for.
Bonus Perk: This watch has a few next-level smartwatch features beyond the usual notifications.. It comes preloaded with apps for Strava and Pandora, and you can even link your Starbucks account to it.
Who’s it for: The runner who wants a simple, straightforward watch that tracks runs and other workouts, without being overwhelmed by data.
Ease of use: Polar products are pretty intuitive to set up, but unlike the other watches we tested, there was always one or two stumbling blocks that tripped us up momentarily. However, once the Polar M430 watch is synced with the app, it was one of the easiest and most straightforward interfaces to navigate.
Comfort: The Polar M430 is bulky and (to our eyes) ugly—not something we’d want to wear for everyday use. It was particularly uncomfortable to wear with long sleeves and also got in the way when wearing gloves, too.
Pros: It has a very straightforward interface and it’s easy to navigate the watch menus. Since the screen is so big and square (unlike most others, which are round), there’s a plethora of information on display, and (like other watches) you can customize the watch face to display the stats to your liking.
Cons: The four buttons on the side of the M430 are not ideal—they’re too flat against the sides, making it tough to press them, especially when wearing gloves. You also press a different button to stop the watch than to start it, which seems counterintuitive, especially to the running-addled brain.
Who’s it for: The runner who just wants to see data on a watch during a run—there’s no phone app or fitness tracking capabilities.
Ease of use: Setting up the Timex Ironman is pretty straightforward and done entirely on the watch. Since it doesn’t connect to a phone, you have to set the date and time and other information yourself, which is a bit tedious. To export run data, you have to download software to your computer and plug the watch in. But during use, it’s easy to flip through everything using the side buttons.
Comfort: This isn't the most attractive watch on the list, but it’s good for its purpose of basic function. It’s somewhat large on your wrist, but not heavy by any means.
Pros: It’s very easy to start and pause the run with the Timex. The screen is also large enough to see your time, distance, and pace with a quick glance while running. As the watch doesn’t do much other than track runs, the battery life is insanely long—even longer if you plan to solely use this as a running watch over a daily watch.
Cons: It took a very long time for the Timex Ironman to connect to GPS—sometimes more than 5 minutes. This watch only beeps rather than vibrate, so it can be hard to know when you hit your mile mark, especially if you’re listening to music with headphones. Also, when you pause the run, the only stat you’re able to see is time, which is annoying, especially if you’re more concerned with how far you’ve gone. During one of my runs, the recording cut out after attempting to resume the run and none of the run was recorded. It’s also annoying that there is no app, so to get your run data log, you have to plug the watch into a computer.
Who’s it for: The runner who wants a simple, straightforward watch that tracks runs and other workouts, without receiving too much data.
Ease of use: While testing the Polar M200, I found the setup incredibly difficult. To charge it, you need to pull the watch unit out of the band and plug it into a USB port. The directions weren’t clear, and it comes with a different cord that looks like it’s used for charging, but is exclusively for porting data to a computer if you prefer to do that than use the app. There were also issues with syncing and updating the watch, as it kept disconnecting from my phone. When I later attempted to sync the watch to the phone again, it would not connect. The overall experience was very frustrating.
Comfort: This watch isn't the prettiest, but it’s also not the ugliest. It’s quite large and bulky, which allows you to easily see the stats on the screen, but I wouldn’t want to wear this watch other than running.
Pros: The screen size on the M200 makes it easy to see the stats on the chosen screen.
Cons: During my test runs, I found that the GPS didn’t kick in until the middle of the first mile of my runs, meaning I didn’t get accurate recordings. There isn’t a hub screen with basic data, so you also have to toggle through to see each stat individually, which makes it harder to take the information in at a quick glance. The pause/resume button is hard to press with sweaty hands, too.
Courtney is an writer and shopper with a passion for finding the best deals on the internet. She's a foodie and loves a sale on kitchen gadgets. She has previously worked for Country Living, Woman's Day, and Our State Magazine.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.