We put the best running watches through their paces, which is no small feat considering how feature-rich these high-performance wearables are nowadays. Some of the most capable models have solar charging, onboard GPS, electrocardiogram sensors, in-built torches and tons of other hardware, while even the best value models play host to loads of smart functionality. Looking at the specs of some of them can be rather overwhelming, especially for beginner runners.
This is why we created this handy guide that explains it all so you can pick the perfect GPS-tracking running buddy for your needs. Every running watch worth its salt will provide you with a wealth of information about your run, from your heart rate zones to your cadence, a detailed map of your route, and the energy you expended.
Some of the features any decent running watch should have to make the list are an accurate GPS chip to track and log your running routes; accurate biometrics, including the calories you burned and your VO2 max; and detailed information on your pace, cadence and speed at which you were running to help you see if you were going too fast (for an endurance race) or too slow (for a faster sprint).
We've picked the best watches for every level and budget, from beginners to ultra-runners, and each one listed here is top of its class. If you don't need something quite this advanced, take a look at our guide to the best fitness trackers for some great activity bands to track less intense workouts.
The best running watch for 2022
Let's cut to the chase: the Forerunner 955 Solar is the best Forerunner to date. It looks good, performs brilliantly, tracks your metrics accurately, and it packages the information in a useful way that can strengthen your training protocol and improve your health and fitness.
Its GPS tools are excellent, with particular emphasis on cycling and running, warning users of upcoming inclines and helping them navigate through adventures off the beaten track. This is supported by Garmin's multi-band GPS abilities, which the Forerunner can access for pinpoint accuracy.
New features such as Training Readiness and Body Battery help and support recovery effectively, essential for everyone from casual park-runners to high-performance triathletes and ultra-runners. This is all supported by a battery that lasts well, supported by Power Glass solar technology, and loads of storage space for all your favorite music and routes.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar review
Is it a smartwatch, is it a GPS running watch, is it a fashion watch? It’s all three in one. This is the first Garmin watch that’s really clearly gone for the design-loving runner, going up against the likes of Apple Watch and Android Wear devices. Sure, it's not technically as powerful as some of its contemporaries on this list, but in terms of offering the best bang for your buck - an attractive look and features at an attractive price - it's hard to beat.
As you can probably imagine, like all the best running watches, it’s got all the Garmin smarts, meaning full GPS and heart rate tracking, multi-sport support and even on-watch music streaming for Deezer and Spotify (though the interface here could stand some improvement).
All that and battery life lasts a hefty four or five days of normal use or 18 hours of GPS training (six if you're also playing music). On the design side of things, this running watch features a stainless steel bezel and a comfy rubberized strap that can be swapped out to suit the occasion.
A huge selection of watch faces and app options are available on Garmin Connect, which is open to developers, meaning more cool new additions all the time.
Read our full Garmin Vivoactive 4 review
The Garmin Fenix 7 is a running watch that's packed with advanced training tools to help you optimize your weekly training and perfect your strategy for race days. It keeps all the best features of the Fenix 6, but adds some excellent new tools, such as a real-time stamina meter, which shows how your energy level is decreasing over the course of a run so you can tailor your effort accordingly.
There's also a new graph to show how your training efforts are affecting your predicted race times; when we tested it, we found it a great motivator to push ourselves a little harder.
Although it still has Garmin's traditional five-button layout, this is the first Fenix watch with a touchscreen – an addition that made panning across the watch's detailed maps a breeze during our tests. GPS accuracy proved exceptional, and Garmin has made a whole set of map packs available to download through the new Fenix 7's new Map Manager.
This isn't just a watch for runners, though – in addition to a full set of profiles for road, trail, and indoor running, there's also a huge suite of training tools for cycling, swimming, hiking, climbing, and dozens of other activities. It's even a tournament-legal golf watch, with thousands of course maps preinstalled.
The Fenix 7's color memory-in-pixel display isn't as vibrant as the OLED screen of watches like the Venu 2 Plus and Epix (Gen 2), but it's easy to read in most lighting conditions, and contributes to the Fenix 7's impressive battery life. The solar editions last longer still between charges, and the optional sapphire crystal lens will protect against scratches when you're running off the beaten path.
Read our full Garmin Fenix 7 review
The Garmin Instinct 2 is a fantastic running watch if you've ever laced up your shoes and been about to head out the door, then realized your watch is going to run flat before you've finished.
The Instinct 2 has battery life that can be measured in weeks rather than days or hours, and in the right conditions, its solar variants can keep running indefinitely. Tracking workouts require a little extra juice, but on a sunny day, a two-hour run with all sensors enabled barely made a dent in the battery.
The Instinct 2 is seriously robust, with a fiber-reinforced resin case and bezel rather than the flashier stainless steel of some higher-end Garmin watches, which means it's light and shrugs off knocks and drops, making it a solid option for trail runners too. Garmin has added some fun new colors this time around, so you'll be easily visible while exploring woodland routes.
During our tests, the only real downside we found is that the Instinct 2's monochrome memory-in-pixel (MiP) display isn't great for maps. You can plot routes in the Garmin Connect app or import ones from third-party sources, but the watch itself will only be able to give you a vague impression of your bearing. If you want to explore new places, then the Fenix 7 or Epix would be a better choice, but otherwise, the Instinct 2 is easy to recommend.
Read our full Garmin Instinct 2 review
If you enjoy running as part of triathlon training, the Garmin Forerunner 945 is the watch for you. Its location-tracking and biometrics are particularly accurate, and it's packed with genuinely useful training tools to help you get more from your runs, bike rides, and swims.
One of our favorite features is the Training Load monitor, which measures your training over the last seven days and tells you whether you should dial it back to avoid over-training or push yourself harder to improve your fitness. Combined with the Body Battery function that measures how well you've recovered from the previous day's exertions, this helps you make every training run as effective as possible.
We were also particularly impressed by the full-color on-screen maps, which make navigation easy on such a display and the sheer degree of customization on offer. Building your own interval sessions around time or distance, for example, is surprisingly straightforward.
The Garmin Fenix 7 is a classier-looking running watch with a broader range of sports modes, but the Forerunner 945 balances that out with a slightly more affordable price and is a superb training aid for the serious athlete.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 945 review
The Coros Pace 2 is a superb mid-range running watch that's super lightweight but heavy on features. At just 29g, it's barely noticeable on the wrist but includes several features we'd expect to find in more expensive running watches, including an 'AI trainer' to help you manage your training load in preparation for events; interval, triathlon, and multi-sport modes; and compatibility with third-party sensors like chest-strap heart rate monitors and foot pods.
Positioning is excellent, with GPS supplemented by GLONASS and Beidou positioning (GALILEO support is coming in a future update). If you do happen to stray off the radar (in a tunnel, for example), the watch automatically calculates your cadence and stride length so you can keep monitoring your progress.
In our tests, our only complaint was that the screen was a little dim and could be tricky to read in daylight without a tap of the backlight button, which puts a small dent in its otherwise impressive battery life, but that's a small gripe. This is one of the best running watches around and will serve road runners well.
Read our full Coros Pace 2 review
If you take your running seriously, but the Garmin Forerunner 955 and Fenix 7 are too much for your budget, the Coros Apex is a great alternative, providing you with a vast pool of training data that you can put to good use.
This is a serious running watch built for data buffs. Working on increasing your cadence? Want to check your training load for the week? It’s all there, at your fingertips. GPS tracking is accurate (with impressively detailed maps), and the Intelligent Stride Algorithm tracks your cadence and stride length over time so it can keep an accurate record even if your training run takes you through a tunnel and out of satellite range.
We were also impressed by the Apex's navigation tools, which make it a great running watch if you're interested in changing up your training and exploring new routes.
Like the Coros Pace 2, we found the display a little dark in daylight conditions, but enabling the gesture-activated backlight solves that problem neatly, providing a clear views of your pace, distance and heart rate mid-run without putting too much drain on the battery.
Read our full Coros Apex review
The Polar Vantage V2 shares a lot of DNA with the Polar Grit X (below), putting a wealth of biometric data and training tools at your fingertips, but the V2 has a few extras that we believe give it the edge and make it the best running watch for heading off-road.
The most important of these is a new fitness test, which gives you numerical values for your VO2 max, maximal aerobic power, and maximal aerobic speed. Repeating the test at a later date will give you a measurable indication of how your fitness is improving over time.
The Vantage V2 is lighter than the Grit X, too, tipping the scales at 52g compared the Grit X's 64g. That weight difference is down to construction that uses aluminum rather than plastic and stainless steel. It's a less rugged look, but this is still a seriously tough device that can take all the knocks you throw at it.
The two are almost the same price, so unless you're particularly fond of the Grit X's chunkier looks (which is a perfectly valid preference), then we'd opt for the V2.
Read our full Polar Vantage V2 review
As its name suggests, the Polar Grit X is built for serious athletes planning to their adventures off the beaten track. If you're looking for a slightly more affordable alternative to the Garmin Fenix 6, this could be the best running watch for you.
Polar made its name in heart-rate monitoring tech, and as you'd expect, the Grit X offers super-accurate biometrics. That data is put to good use, too, with adaptive fuelling advice to help you stay hydrated and avoid bonking during long runs, plus recovery insights so you know how long to rest and when it's time to lace up your running shoes again.
There are intervals, timers and race pace options for training sessions, plus support for Strava Live segments if you're feeling particularly competitive.
All of those features are shared with the Polar Vantage V2 above, which also offers some more advanced training tools, but if those sound surplus to your running requirements and you like more rugged looks, then the Polar Grit X is worth serious consideration.
If you're looking for something even tougher and a little lighter, Polar recently added another two models: the Polar Grit X Pro and Grit X Titan. We're currently testing the Grit X Pro and will bring you a full review very soon.
Read our full Polar Grit X review
The Garmin Enduro runs similar software to Fenix 6, number four on our list, and has a similar display. But there’s one major way it stands out from this, and indeed all other Garmin watches: battery life.
The Enduro can go up to 65 days in smartwatch mode, and offers 80 hours of GPS battery life, when you factor in solar power. And if you keep operations to the basic minimum, the Garmin Eunduro will keep going for anywhere between 130 days and one year.
In general, the Enduro gives you pretty much everything you could want to track runs. It provides advanced fitness tracking metrics and offers sleep monitoring too. Features include a barometric altimeter, a heart rate monitor, a pulse ox monitor, 24/7 fitness tracking and smartwatch features like notifications and payments.
You don’t get full topographical mapping like you do on Garmin’s Fenix and Forerunner 945 watches. And it’s price will be prohibitive for many. But if you’re seeking a big, light watch that's a real battery powerhouse, the Enduro has a lot to offer.
Read our full Garmin Enduro review
While the Apple Watch 7 won't give you the same breadth of training data as the dedicated running watches in this roundup, its sports tracking tools work perfectly well if you enjoy running for fun and general fitness rather than competitions.
In terms of features, it's not an enormous step up from the Apple Watch 6, but its new larger display makes it easy to see your stats at a glance during a training session. The always-on display makes things even simpler and avoids the need to fiddle with the Smart Crown mid-run.
The Apple Watch 7 will also allow you to reap the benefits of Apple Fitness Plus, which lets you join fun instructor-led workouts on your Apple TV, iPhone or iPad, with heart rate stats from your watch displayed on-screen.
It can't replace a dedicated sports watch for serious training, but its solid heart rate monitoring and support for third-party apps (if a run isn't on Strava, did it really happen?) mean the Apple Watch 7 is extremely versatile and the best running watch if you need a fully-featured smartwatch for everyday wear.
Read our full Apple Watch 7 review
How we test
Each time we test a running watch, we wear it for at least two weeks to ensure it gathers a full set of fitness data. Almost all modern running watches include sleep and recovery tracking, so it's essential to wear each one 24 hours a day to get the most accurate insights.
We test each watch on a pre-determined run and compare their heart rate data with figures from the best heart rate monitors and another control watch to see how they measure up. We've also put their different training tools to the test, making sure they're genuinely useful additions rather than gimmicks.
Each watch starts testing fully charged, and we record how quickly power is drained in typical use so we can compare it to the manufacturer's quoted figures. Our reviews will always tell you the features we had enabled and the type of workouts we tracked to get a good sense of battery life.
How to choose the best running watch for you
When you're picking a running watch, one of the first things to consider is your current goal. Every runner can benefit from a dedicated GPS watch, but if you're aiming to complete your first 5K, your needs will be very different to a person aiming to set a new personal best in a marathon.
For new runners, a watch that will help you set up a simple training plan and give your runs some variety are useful tools. The Garmin Forerunner 55, for example, gives workout suggestions, so you don't get stuck in the same routine, even if you're not following a specific training plan. It also suggests how long you should rest and recover after each session, so you get the most out of your training.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Polar Grit X keeps tabs on your fuelling strategy for long-distance events and training sessions, letting you know when it's time to take on more carbs and water. It also works with services like TrainingPeaks, so you can download specialized plans to help you meet your next goal.
While you can use a smartwatch to track your runs, a dedicated running watch with physical buttons will always be an advantage. Not only does this allow you to control the watch without having to study the screen, but it also lets you navigate its menus, pause and start workouts while wearing gloves or with sweaty hands.
Good battery life is another important consideration. You don't want to be waiting for your watch to charge before heading out on a training session or, worse still, find that it goes flat part way through a run.
Additional tools like music and contactless payments can also be a very useful addition, allowing you to keep yourself occupied with music or a podcast during your training and stop to pick up a bottle of water or quick snack if you aren't carrying supplies. These tools also make your running watch more practical for everyday wear, so you don't need to invest in a second smartwatch to use when you're not training.
We've factored in all these considerations when judging the watches above, so you don't have to search through specification sheets to make sure the device you're interested in checks all the right boxes.