The eight best running watches for crushing your PBs

From keeping track of heart health, to setting a course through hills and forests, these are the best running watches for any budget

A person using a running watch tracker

by Ryan Houghton |
Updated on

While the smartwatches of today are loaded with fantastic features, not all of them are ideal for running enthusiasts.

What's more, deciphering the myriad of apps and software to begin your fitness journey can similarly become a dull, frustrating ordeal - you need to know precisely what you're getting and whether it'll be helpful to you as a runner.

From the most cutting-edge GPS to your VO2 Max, we've collected smartwatches from the top brands in the world, offering not only the best technology that the smartwatch market has to offer but also the best value for your money.

For more fitness tracking options from Garmin, check out our favourite Garmin watches of the year so far - style, cutting-edge technology, it's all there.

Choosing a running watch

The number of features, alongside the capabilities of running watch technology over the past few years, has rapidly increased - giving you a detailed insight into your own health that would otherwise be impossible (or incredibly expensive) to figure out.

But what is it you're looking for in a smartwatch? We're here to break down all the wild and wonderful tech features that just might interest you in your search for the perfect running watch.

GPS tracking

When you're looking for a great running watch, one of your greatest concerns should be - just how good is the GPS? While there are hundreds of smartwatches that aid the modern lifestyle, giving you easy access to messaging - a running watch should have a sufficiently sophisticated GPS system.

Plan your perfect route, complete with up-to-date local trails, or track your regular routes with extensive details to ensure you're really pushing yourself - GPS can make a boring morning route an exciting race against time and even bring you closer to some trails you weren't quite aware of near you.

Heart rate tracking

A basic but crucial feature of the modern smartwatch - heart rate tracking offers insight into whether you're training too hard or not quite hard enough - with some higher-end watches even detecting heart rate irregularities, identifying some potential early warning signs of serious illnesses.

Accelerometer

An accelerometer keeps track of your speed while amidst your exercise routine, allowing you to keep track of your personal best times with absolute ease and accuracy.

Battery life

Having a smartwatch is fantastic - but a dead smartwatch is absolutely useless on a run - you need to invest in your battery life.

Many high-end smartwatches can be used for weeks without the need to recharge, making them perfect for those longer excursions and the days when you're slightly scattered and simply forgot to do a quick charge the night before.

Interval training

Sometimes a normal daily run is just perfect for scratching that exercise itch, but the occasional challenge rarely hurts. Interval training programs are the lifeblood of modern smartwatches, offering high-intensity workouts from a myriad of sports - rowing, swimming, strength training, and of course - running.

The best running watches of 2023

Best running watch

Sitting comfortably at the top of our list, Garmin's Venu 2 GPS smartwatch truly combines the best of both worlds when it comes to its excellent style and its incredible array of functions.

Garmin is relatively well-known outside of fitness trackers for its second-to-none sat-navs, and so GPS tracking on smartwatches is a natural next step towards the future.

Offering a high degree of precision unrivalled by even higher-end smartwatch models, Garmin's Venu 2 is faultless when it comes to route planning and awesome when looking at just how much personal fitness data this watch can truly acquire.

Built with a truly elegant 1.3-inch AMOLED screen and simple-to-use menus that break down even complex body statistics with ease - the Garmin Venu 2 is, without question, one of the best running watches on the market - and at less than £350, it is a steal.

Pros

  • Incredible GPS tracking
  • Intense interval training programs
  • Great AMOLED display

Cons

  • Slightly pricey

Best Samsung running watch

Samsung's latest and greatest smartwatch, the Watch5 Pro, has taken the fitness community by storm with its enormous array of staggering features - and we couldn't be happier.

Utilising a Samsung-backed Google operating system, Watch5 Pro users are comfortably welcomed by a familiar Samsung feel that makes getting used to the watch an absolute breeze.

What's more, the Watch5 Pro is more than a little comfortable. Its silicon strap and sensational haptic feedback create a luxurious level of day-to-day indulgence.

When it comes to its viability as a running watch, there's just no competition. With a precise Google-based GPS system, pretty much every fitness sensor you could ever wish for and then some, and an unbelievable 80-hour battery - fitness tracking has never been easier.

Alongside standard GPS tracking, there's also GPX functionality - where users can download pre-existing trails and tracks to follow, made by other fitness enthusiasts - it's a reinvigorating and bold step in the right direction for Samsung that brings the fitness community just a little closer together.

Pros

  • Phenomenal range of features
  • Great GPS/GPX functionality
  • Incredible look

Cons

  • Slightly chunkier than expected

Best Polar running watch

Polar Grit X Pro - GPS Multisport Smartwatch

Rrp: $559.90

Price: $530.25

Ultra-durable, rugged and engineered for fitness fanatics - the Polar Grit X Pro not only looks the part, but it's also one of the very best running watches on the market.

Polar's cutting-edge GPS tracking, alongside an arsenal of barometers and altometers, makes it far and beyond the best smartwatch for a seriously challenging nature adventure.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous, Polar's Grit X Pro is also built to withstand the most intense temperatures on the planet, from -20 to 50 degrees Celsius, so wherever you find yourself heading, you've got a great watch to rely on.

Pros

  • Military-grade durability
  • Excellent battery life
  • Great array of features

Cons

  • The display isn't mindblowing

Best budget smartwatch

Sometimes less is more - and with Garmin's Forerunner 45, one of the most popular running watches ever made - this is certainly the case.

For beginners and more advanced users alike - the Forerunner 45 doesn't quite have the frills and refinement of a £600-plus smartwatch, but what it does have is a pretty excellent collection of pre-installed workouts, alongside a fairly impressive GPS tracking system.

The display itself does leave something to be desired, and yet - for the price, it still stands out ahead of the crowd. Compatible with both Android and iPhone - simply connect your Forerunner 45 and begin tracking everything from sleep to stress and even your internal body battery.

For a much more in-depth insight into this fantastic midrange watch, check out our complete Garmin Forerunner 245 review.

Pros

  • Excellent budget running watch
  • Great for beginners
  • Looks fantastic for a low price

Cons

  • Not as refined as higher-end watches

Best Apple running watch

For most exercise enthusiasts, considering an Apple Watch as their devoted fitness companion would seem unlikely, and yet with each generation, the Apple Watch has steadily become a great option, even when in the running against high-end fitness-oriented watches.

Designed with quick, accurate access to a variety of second-to-none sensor technology, the Apple Watch Series 8 brings together the ultimate convenience of a smartphone with the highly accurate sensor technology of modern smartwatches.

Blood-oxygen detection, ECG, heart rate irregularity notifications and a huge range of Apple Watch exercises, there are very few things that the Apple Wath truly lacks compared to other running-centric brands.

Of course, there are some immediate drawbacks that are noticeable - namely, the weaker 14-hour battery, which would be impressive for a smartphone, but is considerably poorer as a smartwatch.

Pros

  • Stunning technology
  • Excellent GPS
  • Incredible depth of body statistics

Cons

  • The design doesn't innovate from previous generations too much

For the pros, there are few choices that can truly top Garmin's fēnix® 7 - one of the most technologically advanced, perfectly designed running watches Garmin has ever made.

The fēnix® 7 is far from your basic smartwatch - while yes, it's equipped with all the basic functions you've come to expect from a smartwatch; heart rate monitoring, accelerometer, and GPS tracking, and yet it provides so much more.

From hundreds of programs, apps and sensors such as body composition, sleep and stress tracking, fitness fanatics will get the complete rundown of their health and fitness, with a great selection of apps to assist their weaker areas such as strength, HIIT, and more.

The crowning feature, however, simply has to be the fēnix® 7's ingenious in-built solar charging, ensuring that wherever you are, you can depend on your smartwatch.

For deep-pocketed running enthusiasts, the Garmin fēnix® 7 is a fantastic option - but at its price, we'd recommend shopping around a little first.

Pros

  • Very rugged, durable design
  • Fantastic battery life
  • Solar charging function is fantastic

Cons

  • Very expensive

Best midrange running watch

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

Rrp: $349.99

Price: $299.00

Easily one of the most popular watches for running on the market right now, the ever-popular Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is simply brilliant for anything and everything involving exercise - and is designed for ease of access during the adrenaline-fuelled highs and the sweat-drenched lows of your training routine.

Utilising easy-to-access buttons on the sides of the watch face, mid-marathon wearers can comfortably switch songs, check their heart rate or check just how far they've travelled without the concern of a sensitive touchscreen.

Yes, there are some drawbacks when it comes to this midrange model's screen, which is frankly on the dull side, and the design which doesn't exactly wow us - and yet, as a running watch, it's durable, it's easy to use, and it simply does the job, and does it well.

Pros

  • Solid price
  • Excellent fitness monitoring
  • Great fitness programs

Cons

  • Lower resolution display

Best value Samsung smartwatch

Simple, effective and great for running - the Samsung Galaxy Watch4 may lack some of the polish of the Watch5 Pro, but at less than half the price, who are we to complain?

From heart rate monitoring to GPS tracking, an accelerometer and a BioActive body sensor - there's very little else you'll need for a quality run at the price.

And with a 40-hour battery life, there's no denying it'll last your entire workout.

Pros

  • Great, simple design
  • Solid fitness features
  • Durable

Cons

  • Not as fitness-oriented as other smartwatches

Samsung Watch vs Garmin running watch - what's the best?

Between Samsung and Garmin, there's a lot of debate as to which brand truly holds the crown as the best for running - with some slightly more advanced body sensors used in Samsung watches and a wider variety of programs being available on Garmin running watches, but which is truly better?

For us, there is no definitive answer - but we must say that running and using a touchscreen is a recipe for disaster - you simply have to slow down to navigate a Samsung watch screen, whereas Garmin's lesser emphasis on touchscreen control gives it the slight functional edge in this tech battle.

Utilising buttons and dials, a seemingly out-of-date method of control, runners can more accurately browse their smartwatch at their leisure, even while amidst an intense run, should they wish to.

Why should I get a running watch?

A running watch isn't just for looks - or for the features for that matter, it's actually an incredibly effective motivational tool. Keeping track of your PBs, encouraging you to push yourself to your limits in your weaker areas - a smartwatch is more than capable of assisting your fitness journey and carrying you towards your ultimate fitness goals.

Why do I need a GPS watch?

A GPS watch has a multitude of fantastic functionalities - keeping track of your pace, guiding you on a labyrinthian trail, and keeping you motivated with distance tracking - these features keep runners motivated and training as hard as they can.

Are running watches worth it?

All-in-all, a running watch is more than worth it - from the incredible modern aesthetic to the endless convenience and day-to-day functionality, running watches integrate incredibly smoothly into our exercise routines with absolute ease.

Ryan Houghton is a commercial content writer for What’s The Best, specialising in gaming, PCs, and televisions. As an English Literature and Film graduate, with an unhealthy obsession with PC gaming – when Ryan isn’t engrossed in writing about an enthralling new technological marvel, he’s probably sauntering about inside a decade-old, largely decrepit open-world RPG.

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