Self-tracking is nothing new. Professional athletes and trainers have monitored their personal metrics for decades in an effort to improve performance, while doctors and clinicians have studied medical data for even longer to improve patient health.
But in the last few years, interest in biometrics has increased exponentially, and it's hard to find a wearable these days that doesn't offer some form of heart rate tracking, a metric which remains arguably the best indicator of overall health.
The prevalence of heart rate trackers is particularly good news for health-conscious consumers, because in such a competitive space, getting a decent tracker no longer costs the earth.
In this article then, we've - in no particular order - rounded up the best affordable wearables in 2020 that incorporate heart rate tracking into your daily activity and exercise routine.
1. Fitbit Inspire HR
Inspiration to get off the sofa
Almost all of Fitbit's fitness trackers now offer heart rate monitoring, but it’s the Fitbit Inspire HR that we think makes the most of the Fitbit app's HR features at an affordable price.
The Inspire HR is noticeably thin and light on the wrist, while the black and white touchscreen keeps things simple, with a left and right swiping gesture revealing your daily stats. These include your step count and calories burned, as well as your resting heart rate, which is a key indicator of overall health.
With over 15 exercise modes to choose from, it's Fitbit's most full-featured affordable tracker to date. Perhaps surprisingly at its budget price point, the Inspire HR is also waterproof and can track swimming lengths, too.
Still, if you're looking for something from the same company that offers a few more fitness feature chops, check out the Fitbit Charge 3, which also makes our roundup.
2. Wahoo Tickr X
A chest-worn option
Despite the marketing spiel of wrist-based heart rate monitors, nothing beats a heart rate monitoring chest strap for accuracy, especially if your training regime involves irregular movement (think HIIT workouts involving various exercises in quick succession).
The Wahoo Tickr X meets these challenges and then some, offering motion analytics and real-time data through its wide compatibility with fitness apps like Nike Run Club and MapMyFitness.
The Bluetooth waterproof tracker on the strap is a plastic pebble that houses a battery which lasts around 12 months, and it features vibration alerts and two LEDs to display wireless connection and heart rate 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?
3. MyZone MZ-3
Like the Wahoo Tickr X, the MyZone MZ-3 chest strap achieves high-accuracy heart rate tracking whatever activity you're performing, but it also gamifies your workout by tracking your heart rate zones and awarding MyZone Effort Points (MEPs) based on how hard your heart is working.
The strap streams data to the accompanying MyZone mobile app, allowing you to see which zone you're in during your workout and ramp things up or slow down accordingly. Five color-coded HR zones indicate increasing levels of effort, and you earn a different number of MEPs for every minute you can stay in each zone.
In addition, the MyZone app offers guided workout sessions that challenge you to reach different levels of intensity. And even if you don't have your smartphone handy, the strap's built-in memory will record your session data and upload it to the app the next time it's in range.
4. Jabra Sport Pulse
Heart rate-tracking headphones
The Jabra Sport Pulse headphones track your heart rate from inside your ear, because science! Basically, the heart rate monitoring 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 ear and sends the data to the Jabra mobile app.
Behind the right bud meanwhile there's 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.
5. Polar OH1
Avoids the wrist
Chest strap heart rate trackers may offer more accurate readings than a wrist-based device, but if you find them uncomfortable to wear then it's worth taking a look at the Polar OH1, which can be worn on the upper or lower arm.
Thanks to its placement away from the wrist joint, the Polar OH1 generally achieves a more consistent heart rate reading. It's also capable of recording 200 hours of training, so there's no constant need to sync it to your smartphone over Bluetooth. That said, if you want to see your heart rate in real time during a workout then you'll need to use it with the Polar Beat app.
The arm strap offers 12 hours of battery life, is waterproof up to 30 meters, and can pair with gym equipment as well as most third-party apps that support Bluetooth heart rate straps.
6. Fitbit Charge 3
Rugged activity tracking
If you're looking for an affordable heart rate tracker with extra smartwatch smarts that's built for more intensive workouts, the Fitbit Charge 3 should fit the bill. It may be bulkier than the Inspire HR, but the bigger display includes features like calendar and weather, not to mention support for smartphone app alerts and the ability to send quick replies to messages.
As you'd expect, the Charge 3 includes continuous heart rate monitoring and automatic exercise recognition, but it also offers real-time heart rate zones, so you can see at a glance when you're in Fat Burn, Cardio, or Peak zones and ensure you're making the most of your workout.
It's waterproof too (up to 50 meters), so you can track your time in the pool, while the breathable strap keeps things comfortable whatever activity you're engaged in.
Fitbit's auto sleep tracking makes it worth wearing around the clock, and can offer personal insights into your rest. To round things off, it also has a built-in blood oxygen sensor that's able to detect breathing irregularities and can help identify conditions like sleep apnea.
7. Huawei Watch GT
A stylish smartwatch
Now available at half of what it launched for in late 2018, the Huawei Watch GT inches into our round-up of affordable heart rate trackers, and it comes with an impressive raft of smart features, and a fantastic 30-day battery life to boot.
Running on the company's own LiteOS operating system, Huawei's stylish wearable boasts a responsive 1.4-inch color OLED touchscreen that you can swipe to keep tabs on real-time heart rate, activity rings, and sleep quality, as well as to access on-watch apps like timer, weather, compass, barometer, and the like.
A wealth of activity tracking options are on offer, including cycling, swimming, hiking, climbing, and even training courses for beginner runners. You can also adjust and keep track of your heart rate zones using the Huawei Health app, although there are few ways to sync your heart rate data to other apps, which is about our only real bugbear at this price point.
8. LETSCOM fitness tracker with HRM
Smart features on a budget
For an unabashedly budget fitness tracker, this wrist-based offering from LETSCOM has a few impressive tricks up its sleeve.
The lively color touchscreen offers four watch faces to choose from and supports multiple swipes to access various features, including up to 8 workout types, a music controller, guided breathing, fitness data (including live heart rate readings) and even smart notifications from your phone.
GPS tracking during workouts is offloaded to your mobile device via the VeryFitPro app, but otherwise the step, heart rate, and sleep tracking are remarkably accurate. Granted, it's no Apple Watch beater, but there's relatively little to complain about at this price.
9. Garmin Vivosmart 4
Tracks more than just HR
Garmin has garnered a reputation for making fitness trackers that are packed with voluminous exercise activities and matched with deep statistical analytics, and its most affordable models don't disappoint in this regard.
Apart from its real-time heart rate monitor, the Garmin Vivosmart 4 also features VO2 max testing for cardio workouts and heart rate variability (HRV) stress scores that can alert you to take a break. There's even something for weightlifters, thanks to the tracker's ability to count reps.
Garmin's device augments all these features with a 'Body Battery' monitor that gauges your energy levels and can help you decide how ready you are for your next workout. And if that wasn't enough, the Vivosmart 4 includes a pulse oximeter sensor, which can help detect conditions like sleep apnea.
10. Withings Pulse HR
Sleek wrist-based tracker
Despite not being a smartwatch, this sleek tracker from Withings has several things going for it. For one, it's hardly any bigger than a wristband, yet it manages to pack in a monochrome raise-to-wake OLED screen that displays your activity stats at a tap and tells you how close you are to your daily goal.
The Withings Pulse HR tracks a vast range of exercise types and comes with connected GPS support, so you can log your workouts on a map so long as you have your phone with you.
The 20-day battery life is also particularly impressive, although that's offset by the fact that the Pulse HR only reads your heart rate every 10 minutes unless you're in workout mode, which drains the battery a lot quicker.
Still, the Pulse HR's sleep tracking smarts are commendably accurate and extend to duration, depth, regularity and interruptions. That's great if you're looking for insights into your bedtime habits, but if you're also after real-time 24-hour heart rate tracking, a Fitbit is probably a better option.
- Need more inspiration? Check out the best cheap fitness trackers