Improve your performance out on the track with the best running watches of 2020. We highlight 12 of the best models in existence today. If you’re a runner who takes your performance seriously, there’s no better tool available to you than a good running watch. These cool gadgets come with a range of features and can serve as everything from pace trackers to activity monitors. And most exercise watches extend their usability to provide you with value even outside of running.
They don’t just allow you to ditch your phone. They provide you with an extensive number of metrics that provide you with deeper insights into your performance. But that doesn’t mean you should pick up the first trail running watch you see on the shelf. We’ve compiled together reviews for 10 of the best running watches in 2020, and we’re ready to help you find the right model for your unique needs.
- The Best Running Watches
- 1. Garmin vívoactive 3 GPS Smartwatch
- 2. Garmin fēnix 5X Plus Multisport GPS Watch
- 3. Huami Amazfit Bip Smartwatch
- 4. Garmin Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit
- 5. Polar M430 GPS Running Watch
- 6. SUUNTO Ambit3 Peak HR Running GPS Watch
- 7. Fitbit Ionic Watch
- 8. Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch
- 9. Apple Watch Series 4 GPS Watch
- 10. Garmin Forerunner 235, GPS Running Watch
- 11. POLAR Vantage V GPS Multisport Watch
- 12. Timex Ironman GPS Silicone Strap Watch
- Running Watches Buyer’s Guide
The Best Running Watches
1. Garmin vívoactive 3 GPS Smartwatch
With their reputation as one of the best manufacturers of GPS devices around, it's no surprise that Garmin has developed into one of the undisputed leaders for running watches with GPS. The vivoactive 3 is a relatively cheap smartwatch for running that still manages to pack in all the features you'd expect, and the fact that it focuses so strongly on fitness needs means that you get a lot more bang for your buck than you would with some of the more generalized smartwatches on our list.
The round face is stylish and cleanly designed. But most importantly, it does a great job of conveying all the necessary information without much in the way of clutter. Owners get access to 15 different activity tracking tools and a 14 day history, but all of your information can be uploaded via Garmin Connect to provide you with detailed fitness data for analysis.
2. Garmin fēnix 5X Plus Multisport GPS Watch
The fenix 5X is a significant step up in price from Garmin's vivoactive 3, but it's also one of the most thorough and sophisticated activity watches on the market. If you're looking for a model of sports running watch that can track practically every aspect of your everyday health and provide you with detailed metrics on all of your exercise activities, this is a model well suited to your needs. The main advantage on offer here is the inclusion of advanced health monitoring features that let you keep tabs on your heart rate as well as your estimated blood oxygen saturation levels.
Like the vivoactive 3, the fenix 5X syncs up to a central database with the impressive Garmin Connect interface, but it's also one of the sturdiest athletic watches available. The sapphire glass lens and stainless steel or carbon bezel will protect it from just about anything.
3. Huami Amazfit Bip Smartwatch
The Amazfit Bip isn't the most fully featured of available running watches, but it manages to pack in a huge selection of features despite being one of the more affordable running watches on our list. Less than a hundred bucks gets you GPS functionality, real time activity tracking, and even a heart rate monitor. That latter is a big deal since it tends to be reliable only in much more expensive activity trackers.
The Amazfit Bip is also versatile to the needs of athletes. It sports a dust and water resistance rating of IP68 so it will work perfectly well in the pool, and it allows you to set daily fitness goals so you can track your improvement over time. But if you're looking for a watch that requires little maintenance, it also automatically records steps, distance, and calories. That makes it one of the best running watches for beginners.
4. Garmin Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit
The Forerunner falls square in the middle of pricing between Garmin's vivoactive 3 and fenix 5X. It's one of the most formidable touch screen running watches available today, and it even comes with a quality heart rate monitor. If you don't find yourself demanding the automated fitness goals that come with the fenix 5, it can offer you most of the same features for a few hundred dollars less.
Pretty much any fitness tracking you could expect to find from womens or mens running watches are available, but it also comes with the ability to assess your elevation and estimate the effect it has on your health. In fact, the artificial intelligence here is probably the biggest selling point. The Forerunner grows smarter over time and can evaluate your workout routine to determine if you're overexerting yourself or underperforming to your established standards, essentially turning it into a virtual trainer.
5. Polar M430 GPS Running Watch
The Polar M430 is neither the most stylish nor the most feature rich Bluetooth running watch on the market, but the fact that it focuses more exclusively on the needs of runners than more broad activity trackers makes it one of the best running watches for womens or mens use available. The heart rate monitor is accompanied by five different heart rate zones so you can settle on an exercise pattern that's catered to the intensity you're looking for, and it also comes with auto-lapping built in.
The watch itself may be more functional than aesthetically pleasing, but that utilitarian design is an asset. The no frills screen provides all the information you need front and center without any unnecessary flourishes, and it's bright and bold enough to read even in glaring sunlight.
6. SUUNTO Ambit3 Peak HR Running GPS Watch
SUUNTO isn't the most prominent manufacturer of smartwatches, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't so much as give their digital running watch a glance. $300 provides you with a thorough suite of running and other exercise features as well as a reliable variety of more traditional smartwatch features. GPS accuracy is high-quality and connects quickly to existing satellites. But it really shines when you account for the Movescount app and web interface. It offers traditional notifications as well as detailed activity tracking and even the ability to shoot and share videos.
These are also reliable waterproof running watches capable of being submerged to depths of up to 100 meters, so you can wear it in the pool or the shower without worry. The screen itself is very scratch resistant, and the rubberized band feels comfortable on the wrist even when worn for extended periods of time.
7. Fitbit Ionic Watch
As far as smartwatches catered to fitness are concerned, there's no more trusted or prominent name than Fitbit. The Ionic is a reliable interval running watch occupying the lower cost point for mid-range watches, but it outperforms what you might expect for a $200 model. It packs in the exhaustive list of standard exercise features that Fitbit is known for with some more general smartwatch features like remote payment systems that are brand new for the company.
But Fitbit hasn't sacrificed the functionality or comfort they're known for for the sake of this more mainstream model. The aluminum face is both low profile and incredibly lightweight, and swapping out different bands is easy. The bands that are available are also highly comfortable. Exercise specific features include the ability to tell when you're breaking during a run and automated coaching plans.
8. Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch
The Samsung Galaxy is one of the best general smartwatches on the market. If you're looking for a great all purpose smartwatch that can also serve as a sensible gadget for your daily run, it's an exceptional choice, but it may be a little too much if you just want something to wear on the track or in the gym. The Tizen operating system is easily capable of holding its own with Apple's watchOS, and that gives you access to a truly expansive variety of apps.
The fitness tracking features right out of the box are incredibly dense too. A simple and streamlined interface draws your eye to all the critical information. Run tracking is automated, and there's also dedicated tracking options for 40 different workouts. The Galaxy additionally offers calorie tracking as well as guided meditation and breathing exercises to keep your stress levels in check.
9. Apple Watch Series 4 GPS Watch
The series 4 Apple Watch may be expensive, but it can afford to be. Not only does it give you access to the best operating system and app store available, but it also sports a stylish and lightweight design that puts much of the competition to shame. But the biggest innovation is the inclusion of the first ECG monitor approved by the FDA. That provides you with significantly more comprehensive health tracking than what you'd get from a more traditional heart rate monitor.
The features specifically tailored to runners are pretty phenomenal too. This is no basic running watch. Automatic workout detection is built in, and it even tracks your cadence and provides you with pace alerts. The large and bright screen can provide you with five different metrics at a time, and what you choose to see is highly customizable.
10. Garmin Forerunner 235, GPS Running Watch
The Forerunner 935 is a lot of watch with a price tag to match. But if you're looking for cheap GPS running watches that provide much of the same functionality, you may want to look to the Forerunner 235. The 935 does come with a few prominent features you won't find in the 235. That includes a built in barometer, automatic syncing, and the ability to track multiple different activities at once. It also sports a higher resolution and a compass.
But both are still good running watches, and the Forerunner 235 comes with one enticing advantage: the fact that you can score one for less than half the price. The real question is how much you're willing to spend. And if you're looking at a price range of about $250, the Forerunner 235 can easily keep pace with its contemporaries in terms of both features and design.
11. POLAR Vantage V GPS Multisport Watch
If you're looking for a running watch with the most accurate GPS capabilities and the most creative and varied features, Garmin is in a class all its own. But the Vantage V by Polar could change that. This is an impressively packed watch from one of the best (though least known) manufacturers in the business, and it manages to also be one of the most stylish and elegant choices on the market.
A big part of this is just due to how smartly the interface is designed. The watch face is clear and minimalistic, but it always keeps your weekly goals front and center so you can keep your eyes on the prize. But not only does it keep your training load in perspective, it also tracks potential stress factors and provides you with the tools you need to exert yourself in a healthy and more balanced manner.
12. Timex Ironman GPS Silicone Strap Watch
The Timex Ironman sports a retail price of less than a hundred bucks, and surface appearances would suggest a slimmed down and bare bones approach to running watches. It's certainly not the prettiest model around, but there's a surprising amount of depth lingering beneath the surface. If you're looking exclusively for a serious training watch and aren't worried about other extravagances, it will fit the bill and manage to do so at a significantly lowered price than the competition.
Most notably, this isn't a Bluetooth watch. That means no distracting notifications from your phone or downloading apps. Your relevant information is displayed on a clean if spartan digital interface and can be uploaded by connecting it directly to your computer. The functions are similarly slimmed down. You choose running, biking, or swimming and rely on the built in GPS to provide you with all the relevant metrics.
Running Watches Buyer’s Guide
Our run watch reviews only tell half the story. They can provide you with some guidance on the features each model offers, but read on to learn some general tips for shopping for a running watch.
Do You Need a Running Watch
One of the biggest arguments against smartwatches is that they often offer less to the consumer than cell phones, and that’s still true to some degree when talking about watches specifically built for the needs of athletes and gym rats. There are a ton of great exercise apps you can access right on your phone.
But the advantage of a running watch is that it puts the relevant information front and center. While a phone might be able to track valuable metrics like your pace, heart rate, and miles ran, it’s hard to read those things in the moment. If you take your training seriously, the ability to glance down at a wearable to see your stats and make the most of the intuitive training features that many of these models offer is an invaluable asset.
Should You Get a Running Watch or a General Smartwatch?
While running watches and smartwatches have a lot in common, they also have some distinct differences. We’ve included examples of both in our running watches reviews. Models like the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy are first and foremost smartwatches that include exercise functionality.
If you’re just looking for running watches with music and the ability to track basic run metrics, these might be the right choice for you. They’re comparable to great running watches while also offering more general purpose needs. But dedicated running watches often strip out those general features for the sake of something significantly more focused. This can take the form of something like the Ironman, which offers the most basic of functions at a low price point.
Or it can take the form of the high end Garmin models that offer truly breathtaking moment to moment and long term insights into your exercise routines. Whether that’s something that matters to you will come down to how seriously you take your running regimen.
Do You Need Wi-Fi?
All of the watches on our list apart from the Ironman come with Bluetooth built in. This connectivity option allows you to sync up your watch to your phone, and that makes it a practical necessity if you want to access deeper features, stream music, or receive notifications.
A rare few watches offer Wi-Fi as well. The convenience here is that they allow you to connect to the deeper features a watch offers without having to have your phone on you. But they’re somewhat limited by the fact that they need to be in reach of an accessible Wi-Fi network. In other words, it’s a nice convenience, but it probably shouldn’t be a make or break decision when weighing your options.
If you’re seriously considering getting a running watch, chances are that you’re passionate about running. While smartwatches are in vogue right now, the sort of specialized features provided by running watches are going to mostly appeal to the most serious and passionate athletes and health nuts.
But if that’s what you’re looking for, a good running watch can be one of the most valuable tools at your disposal. If you decide you want something a little less specialized, be sure to check out our guide to the best smartwatches of 2020.