Update: There are more heart rate monitors to choose from than ever, so we've added six new affordable entries to this list. It's also TechRadar's Fitness Week where we talk you through the tech you need to keep improving your health.
How fast the old ticker beats is a great indicator of how healthy you are, especially when you're resting. In fact, there's plenty of evidence to show that general good health is associated with a low resting heart rate (HR), which is why HR tracking is fast becoming the gold standard for fitness wearables. And consumers are currently spoiled for choice.
The advantage of HR-based activity monitors is that they help you incorporate regular exercise into your daily routine, which has the knock-on effect of lowering your resting heart rate over time.
Keep reading to discover which wearables offer the best way to stay motivated and achieve your HR goal in quick-fast time.
Note: we've ranked these from cheapest to most expensive according to prices at time of writing.
1. LetsFit Fitness Tracker HR
Monitoring on a budget
Colors: Black, Blue, Green, Purple, Red
Decent heart rate tracking technology doesn't have to be pricey, as evidenced by Letsfit's compact offering, which somehow manages to pack in the full gamut of now-typical tracker features.
The soft rubber strap has a stud that fastens securely through the molded holes, while the tracker itself can be removed from the band for easy charging via the hidden USB port. You can swipe on the OLED touchscreen to view and select the various functions, like real-time heart rate monitoring, pedometer, calories burned, time and date, and discreet push notifications.
The band also does sleep quality monitoring and offers a remote control function for your iPhone's camera, which is a neat touch at this price. Add to that the seven-day battery, and the LetsFit really exceeds expectations.
2. Withings Pulse Ox
A basic big-brand tracker
Colors: Black, Blue
Withings may have been rebranded Nokia recently, but some of its earlier products can still be found online at knockdown prices, like this casual-wear Withings Pulse Ox tracker with heart rate and blood oxygen level sensors.
Steps, elevation, distance, running, calories burned, and sleep quality are all metrics recorded by this device, which can be worn on the wrist using the adjustable band or affixed to the waist or pocket with the supplied clip.
Unfortunately, the heart rate and blood oxygen level readings aren't continually taken when you're wearing the Pulse – you have to take it off and place your finger purposefully on the sensor located on the rear of the device. It isn't waterproof either, so be sure to take it off before you step into the shower.
3. Huawei Band 2 Pro
A slim, capable wearable with impressive life
Colors: Black, Blue, Red
Smartphone maker Huawei has a habit of packing in lots of tech at an affordable price, and that certainly extends to its Band 2 Pro wrist-based wearable.
The band offers accurate GPS and HR tracking on top of the usual metrics, and even utilizes the heart rate sensors to serve up a comprehensive sleep quality readout when you wake up.
Unlike some budget trackers, the Band 2 Pro even packs in a touchscreen display, offering you an at-a-glance view of your running routes and distance covered. Granted it looks a bit dim in sunlight, and you can't replace the strap with anything snazzier, but at this price, it's hard to complain.
4. Wahoo Tickr X
A chest-worn option
Despite the marketing spiel of wrist-based heart-rate monitors, nothing beats a HRM chest strap for accuracy, especially if your training regime involves irregular movement (think HIIT workouts involving various exercises in quick succession).
The Tickr X meets these challenges and then some - offering motion analytics and real-time data through its wide compatibility with fitness apps like Nike+ Running and MapMyFitness.
The Bluetooth waterproof tracker on the strap is a plastic pebble that houses a battery which lasts around 12 months, and features vibration alerts and two LEDs to display wireless connection and HR detection.
The strap also tracks calories burned as well as running analytics including cadence and ground contact time that can be synced after your workout. On first wear it feels weird, but it's so light that after a few minutes you don't even notice it. Reasonably priced, discreet, insightful - what's not to like?
5. Jabra Sport Pulse
Heart rate-tracking headphones
The Jabra Sport Pulse headphones track your heart-rate from inside your ear, because science! Basically, the HRM and oxygen consumption tech is packed into the left earbud, where a light sensor reads off the small blood vessels close to the skin surface in your lug and sends it to the Jabra mobile app.
Behind the right bud meanwhile is a USB charging port, with a single charge providing 4.5 to 5 hours' use - not great, but not terrible considering the tech it's powering.
The short cord on these wireless Bluetooth buds sits comfortably behind your neck, and the included clip keeps it raised to prevent it from swinging, while the conveniently placed inline remote offers volume and music playback controls.
Audio-wise, the buds pipe through the soundtrack to your run with punchy clarity, and their noise isolation is pretty decent too.
6. Moov HR Sweat Band
Pushes you to get fit
You've probably heard of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It's taken the fitness world by storm, and for good reason. HIIT is scientifically proven to burn more fat in less time than the average gym session, but it demands all-out effort via a series of quick and intense bursts to keep your heart rate up.
That philosophy is central to Moov – an AI-powered training app that coaches you in real-time through HIIT workouts as your heart-rate is recorded via the company's super-accurate Moov HR Burn chest band or HR Sweat headband, both of which connect via Bluetooth.
The HR Sweat is comfy during wear (the strap is adjustable) and easy to pair with the mobile app, which offers a great selection of bodyweight exercise circuits with video demonstrations, as well as indoor/outdoor cycling and running sessions with options for Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Custom.
7. Mio Fuse
Great for runners
Colors: Cobalt, Aqua, Crimson
Mio was one of the first brands to offer wrist-based HRM and has an impressive track record when it comes to heart monitor accuracy. That reputation continues with the Mio Fuse, which might not be pretty, but offers comfort and security in spades, especially once you've got a sweat on.
The LED screen lies behind a loop of black silicone and displays your stats when tapped. A press-and-hold starts activity tracking, and the LEDs can also show time, goal percentage, steps taken, distance travelled and calories burned.
The band can track sleep too, and gives you a resting heart-rate reading when you wake. Apart from all-day activity you can record specific workouts for detailed stats, but there's no categories to work from. Still, that's the attraction with the Fuse - it keeps things simple and does what it does well.
8. Polar A360
Your heart rate is never more than a glance away
Colors: Powder White, Charcoal Black, Sorbet Pink
The waterproof Polar A360 is a comfy silicone band with an oblong watch face and a big old touchscreen LCD. The A360 measures heart rate during specific exercises as well as on demand, and offers typical activity stats like step count, distance travelled and calories burned, alongside the progress to your pre-specified goal.
Stats and times are displayed boldly across the screen, especially the pulse changes across heart rate zones, and notifications can be routed from your phone with a discreet vibration of the band.
A micro USB port sits under the band beneath a flap that's a faff when it comes to charge, but once you've worn the A360 and gazed at that screen, you'll be eager to wear it again as soon as possible.
9. Garmin Vivosmart HR
Almost smartwatch smart
Colors: Black, Imperial Purple, Midnight Blue
The chunky yet sleek Vivosmart HR has a five-day battery life and shares the same heart rate monitor tech as the company's flagship Forerunner 235, offering all-day HR tracking, resting rate, and workout presets via its touchscreen LCD, which shows the time, all the time, making it a decent watch replacement, too.
The band also supports phone-forwarded notifications, delivering a buzz as it shows the message on the screen.
The Vivosmart packs an altimeter to track stairs climbed, and gives you distance in steps as well as a record of your sleep patterns. It also makes a point of letting you know how sedentary you are, tracking your stillness by negatively affecting your motion stat – a smart way of keeping you challenged and moving.
All your analytics can be viewed in the accompanying Garmin Connect app, whose options and graphs are legion. If you like your metrics broken down and delivered to your brain in every possible way, look no further than the Garmin app. Just be ready to learn the mental gymnastics.
10. TomTom Spark
Feature-packed and simple to use
Colors: Black, Purple, Brown
It's clear from the off that the TomTom Spark targets runners, cyclists and gym enthusiasts who prefer to leave their phones at home. Aside from built-in GPS and heart rate monitoring, this rubbery addition to your wrist also offers built-in music playback and support for Bluetooth headphones.
Odd as it may seem at first, the Spark doesn't use a touchscreen and all control is done by a four-way button under the display. That sounds awful in theory, but in practice it's a refreshingly simple way to get to the functions and stats you want while you’re on the move, thanks to the well-designed menus on the monochrome display.
The TomTom app tracks running, cycling, swimming, treadmill, gym workouts, indoor cycling (with a cadence sensor) and open training, while the device provides five hours' worth of GPS tracking along with five days of battery life on one charge. The design won't be for everyone, but in terms of accuracy, the Spark lives up to its promise.
11. LifeTrak Zone R420
Does the job it sets out to
The comfy R420 band is another HRM wearable that doesn't try too hard to do everything, and lives up to its straightforward promises running off a replaceable watch battery - a rarity for heart trackers.
Heart-rate accuracy is on par with the big hitters on the market, although it needs to be paired with a Bluetooth chest strap to show a continuous reading.
On its own, you can place your middle finger on the crown for an immediate recording, and set your activity goals and clock options using the smaller buttons either side.
Readings for sleep, calorie count and distance covered don't seem out of kilter with the competition, plus the included app is well presented and simple to use. If you're comfortable operating a retro Casio watch, this one's a no brainer.
12. Fitbit Alta HR
A hearty upgrade to the Fitbit Alta
Colors: Black, Blue, Coral, Fuchsia, Gunmetal Black, Pink/Rose Gold
In many ways, Fitbit defined the HR wearable category and has been refining its line-up ever since.
The Fitbit Alta HR is the resolutely minimalist offering in the company's range, and while it lacks some of the features of modern smartwatches, its super slim design means it's easy to fit into your style for all-day wear.
On top of real-time HR tracking, its sleek array of discreet sensors will record how many steps you take, how far you walk, the number of calories you burn, and the time you spend active, with all of this data synced to the excellent Fitbit app.
The band can even buzz you with phone notifications that show up on the OLED strip display.
13. Spree SmartCap
Smarter than the average hat
Colors: Black, White, Teal, Pink
Three parts make up the Spree. The cap houses a headband and inside that sits a small monitor which sits on the middle of your head. (You can wear the band on its own, but it's going to turn heads for all the wrong reasons.)
The included app uses your phone's GPS to track distance and map routes. In fact, the in-app stats are pretty detailed and offer a handful of training regimes to test yourself against.
Body temperature is also added to the analytics, which Spree claims makes for a more precise calorie count since the monitor knows when you're warmed up and if you're properly hydrated.
As long as you don't mess with the cap's placement, its HRM accuracy is fine. But if you're a fidgeter by nature and crave tracking consistency, you might want to pass this one up.
On the look out for other fitness tech? Watch our beginner's guide on what you need to look out for below:
- Want to track more than just a heart rate? Check out our guide to the best fitness trackers