Ranking the best running watches of 2020


Running watches are technology that help to track and record various physical stats when undergoing physical activity. As health and wellness have taken center-stage, the methods of keeping track of this information has also increased.

Activities designed to increase good health have long been held as beneficial, but the measurements needed to quantify these benefits and determine whether or not they are effective has been an area of uncertainty. The expansion of technology, has now provided individuals with the tools necessary to ensure their health is adequately monitored during times of physical exertion. 

The need to access health-related information in real-time has become increasingly important. Running watches allow you to not only monitor elements such as heart-rate, pace, and the number of steps you’ve taken but also manage daily activities and information to provide a complete solution to merging an active lifestyle with normal day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. The number of running watches available on the market currently only serves to prove that their presence is not only helpful but crucial in a society where merging one’s different interests is the key to success.

Best Running Watches

1. Polar M430

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While there are a lot of running watches that may be more well-known, the Polar M430 is a fuss-free version that checks all the necessary boxes in terms of easy use and efficiency. 

The M430 is very similar to older versions of the same running watch but still delivers on the most important key areas. It is very easy to use and comes with a heart rate monitor that is great for both zone-training and continuous heart rate monitoring. This can also be done off of the wrist, which makes it ideal for resting heart rate monitoring. 

For those who also need to monitor sleep patterns, the M430 also watches this and provides smart notifications set to your preferences. There is also a companion app available for the Polar M430 that allows you to communicate with your phone and tailor your goals to your current availabilities. 

All in all, the Polar M430 running watch is specifically designed to cover the main components of exercise while giving a comprehensive overview of where you are – while also providing you motivation for the future. 

2. Garmin Forerunner 235

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Garmin has been primarily known for their involvement in the GPS and navigation market, but their Forerunner 235 has combined their talents into a compact version that is well-suited for the majority of users. 

One of the best components found with Garmin Forerunner 235 smartwatch is the battery life. As charging a smartwatch can often hinder your plans or progress, having one that charges for a significant period of time is important. The Garmin Forerunner 235 provides up to 11 hours of GPS tracking and activity tracking 24/7 for up to 9 days on a single charge, which is far superior than most of the competition. 

In addition to the long-life battery, Garmin provides smartphone notifications, customized training routines, audio prompts, live tracking, and the Garmin Connect app for in-depth training analysis. As an added benefit, you’ll also get a feature that will bring you back to the start of your workout if you ever get lost which makes it ideal for those who may be running in unfamiliar areas. 

3. Garmin Vivoactive 3

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Another Garmin product, the Vivoactive 3, brings a stylish appeal and a feature-rich list that rivals more popular running watches provided by Apple and Samsung.

In addition to the traditional Garmin benefits such as GPS tracking and extensive heart rate monitoring, you’ll also find the ability to use Garmin Pay which provides the ability to make payments without your phone present. This makes a prime option for those who want a little more convenience than what is found in some of the more GPS focused running watch products

Similar to the Forerunner running watch, the Vivoactive 3 also provides extensive battery life which lasts for up to 7 days of normal use.

In terms of visual appeal, the Vivoactive 3 allows you to download a variety of watch faces and app options via Garmin connect. This is an open developer app, so there are also constant updates to improve the overall usability of this running watch.

4. Fitbit Ionic

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No stranger to the running watch market, Fitbit has consistently managed to be at the forefront of progress. While it is absent of the third-party apps you may find in the app or Google Play stores, this is still a running watch with a lot to offer and focuses on fitness. 

The Fitbit Coach app is a companion app that provides you with expert-led training programs and seeks to make your training even more effective. The programs include not only workouts for outdoor runners but also those who may prefer working out at a gym.

Additionally, the battery life for the Fitbit Ionic running watch will last for multiple days allowing for the continuous heart rate monitor to function at its optimum best.

In terms of features, you’ll also have the ability to download music for offline listening, use GPS, use sleep stage tracking, personalize your voice coach, and use the auto-pause feature if you happen to stop at traffic lights while in your neighborhood. 

5. Samsung Galaxy Watch

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As one of the more prominent running watches available, the Samsung Galaxy Watch is a great choice for those who want to focus on fitness while also merging their day-to-day activities. There are two size versions available which both work fairly well, though the larger version provides a slightly longer battery life.

While it is a Samsung Galaxy watch, there is some IOS compatibility as well which makes it a good choice if you happen to prefer this design but have an iPhone. You’ll also get third party app usage and notifications for your calendar if you prefer. The heart rate monitor found with this product is very efficient and accurate and the data tracking centre is also easy to use.

Though it looks like it may be less durable than some of the other running watches available, it actually holds up quite well to some of the rougher terrains or trails you may choose to take. 

6. Suunto Ambit3 Vertical

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For those who may be more focused on outdoor running or training, the Suunto Ambit 3 running watch is specifically designed with more rugged terrains in mind.

In addition to the features you would expect to find like a heart rate monitor, you’ll also get an altimeter, barometer, and compass to help with navigation and climate data. You’ll also be able to use standard GPS to help map out your training exercises and the routes that will work best for the results you’re trying to achieve. 

There are also multiple smartphone notifications that you can also use with this running watch such as caller ID and email support. This is all thanks to the Bluetooth pairing which has been reported to be extremely solid and effective. The battery life of Suunto Ambit3 Vertical running watch provides up to 5 hours of continuous use.

7. Polar Vantage V

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The Polar Vantage V distinguishes itself from the competition using its substantial data tracking features. In addition to being able to track aspects of your workout such as recovery and provide various training insights, this running watch also brings the ability to monitor power. This measures the amount of effort you’re putting into your workout. This makes it ideal for those who may want to avoid straining their body or muscles. 

Though it packs a lot into a tiny running watch, it still also manages to be lightweight and stylish which makes it ideal for those who prefer something a little simpler on their wrist. 

There is also over 40 hours of battery life making the Polar Vantage V one of the longest-lasting running watch options available

8. Apple Watch 5

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The Apple Watch 5 is one of the more prominent running watches available and, based on the included features and perks, it’s easy to tell why. 

For those who want to take full advantage of the Apple product suite, you’ll find the ability to use both Apple music and Podcast downloads, which makes the use of your phone unnecessary and provides a great deal of convenience. 

Though it does come with a heart rate monitor and GPS, the workout app included with the running watch does lack some of the more sought after fitness detail found in other products. The battery life for the Apple Watch 5 is also lacking when compared to other running watches at a similar price. 

If you’re looking for a running watch that focuses more on a connection with your phone and app notifications rather than substantial fitness tracking, this is a solid and reliable choice. 

9. Garmin Forerunner 935

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Unlike the previous Garmin running watches, the Forerunner 935 is specifically designed for serious athletes. 

While you will find traditional features found in running watches such as a heart rate monitor and GPS,  you’ll also be able to track more advanced running patterns such as cadence, ground contact time, vertical oscillation, and more. 

The biggest drawbacks to this running watch are price and the inability to listen to music. Though the price tag itself shouldn’t be the only determining factor, you should choose what is most important to you when choosing whether or not this will fit your needs.  

10. Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

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The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus includes all of the advanced features you would expect from a Garmin running watch and some you wouldn’t think of. 

This rugged and durable running watch includes in-depth GPS, a heart rate monitor, built-in music, Garmin pay, rotatable topography maps, and app notifications connected via Bluetooth. If you’re focused on athletic training, this is the running watch you want. 

The reduced battery life and higher than average price tag could be a deterrent to some, but this is still a great choice if your goals are aligned with its benefits. 

How We Ranked

When ranking the best running watches, we chose to focus on several elements including convenience, and accuracy.

The first thing we looked at when ranking watches was the balance between features and ease-of-use. Though it is beneficial to have a running watch that offers an array of abilities, it is even more important that the watch be easy to read and to use. The easiest way to use most running watches is through the use of an accompanying app or with Bluetooth technology found in most of the Garmin running watches and the Apple and Samsung offerings. Running watches that included Bluetooth or app notifications, like the Garmin Forerunner 235, were given higher preference.

Next, we looked at the features provided with each running watch. Though there are multiple features found with various watches, we focused on choices placed a higher value on fitness, specifically running. As a result, more popular brands such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch and the Apple Watch 5 were lower in the rankings. Products such as the Polar M430 were given top spots because their features such as GPS, heart rate monitoring and sleep cycle observation, were the primary focus of their design – features that runners are looking for in a watch. 

Third, we reviewed each of the available watches for data accuracy and consistency. Though this is a little harder to measure due to the variances in each, we chose to review literature that was based on science. Running watches that had scientific literature to bolster their claims or had been reported to have a higher rate of success, like the Garmin Forerunner 235, were looked at more favorably.

Though cost should not be the final determining factor when choosing a running watch, we did consider the element of affordability when compiling our list. While the adage “You get what you pay for” can apply to various electronic devices, we chose to eliminate products that may have been too expensive for the features and benefits they provided. Conversely, running watches that were on the cheaper side of cost were removed from consideration if they did not offer benefits that were found to be useful or effective. 

Lastly, we briefly considered style when compiling our final list. Though this seems unimportant to some degree, the style of a running watch and its overall design can affect how suitable it could be for multiple people. Watches that were found to be suitable for both indoor and outdoor environments were more highly rated due to their versatility. Though it was not a requirement to have a rugged design, more sleek and stylish options needed to be reinforced to avoid damage such as the Fitbit Ion which has gorilla glass for its display. 

The final list is comprised of running watches that not only serve as a companion device to cellular phones but also a complete solution for those focused on running with a mix of versatility.

Benefits

Running watches allow you to track more health data independently, leading to better overall health. In previous years, there were many concerns regarding patient engagement in their own healthcare and proactivity to prevent potential issues. The expansion of running watches and wearable technology has allowed patients to be more active and invested in their health on a daily basis. 

A 2015 study published in BMC Medicine shows that a patient’s involvement subsequently leads to better health outcomes and fewer issues with chronic diseases and post-operative care (1).

Though the trends found through present studies are still extremely preliminary, there are signs that interest and engagement may continue to increase as the using of running watches becomes more prevalent. 

Running watches add convenience to a workout routine. In many cases, the objection to working out or developing a routine often involves a lack of convenience or time. This is especially true of those who may feel their lives are too busy to disconnect from their phones or other devices. 

Many running watches include connections to smartphone apps allowing for calendar management, call functionality, and email dictation. These features allow for greater productivity while on the go, as well as a higher rate of convenience.

Running watches can help you find your way back. Many running watches now come with a built in GPS. This is not only ideal for tracking distance but it can also help you find your way back home in the case that you are running in an unfamiliar environment. 

Running watches can help predict your level of readiness and how hard to push. Many of today’s running watches monitor not only your running, but also your sleep and “readiness”. 

This allows them to determine how ready your body is to push and how much exertion you should be doing that day – if any at all. This is imperative for serious athletes who want to perform their best and avoid injuries. 

Running watches can help you focus. With our smartphones attached at the hip, it’s very rare to find peace and quiet and really focus on what matters most.

Running watches allow you to leave the phone and endless messages at home to focus on the running and be present in the moment. Not only is this good for your mental health, but it helps you get a better workout. 

Side Effects

Running watches can create and increased dependence on technology. As the increase in using wearable technology becomes more prevalent, there are some detrimental effects found through consistent usage of these particular devices. 

The consistent use of running watches or other forms of wearable technology serves to increase overall dependence on technology and an increase in the lack of ability to monitor this information absent of this technology. 

According to a study conducted in 2007, an increase in technology dependence can lead to adverse unintended consequences including confusion caused by downtime if systems fail, false expectations related to data accuracy, and the inability to work efficiently without the use of this technology (2).

Running watches can be beneficial, but it is important to not solely rely on them nor the data they provide. Incorporating the data obtained through the use of these devices with the involvement of your primary care physician will help to mitigate these issues. 

Running watches could increase perceived pressure. Though running watches have many health benefits and can provide an additional way with which to monitor your progress and goals, there is also the possibility of increased pressure included with consistent and constant use. According to a Pew Report published in 2017, there are approximately 60% of U.S. adults that track their diet, exercise or weight (3). 

The use of health trackers could have significant effects on the mental health state of individuals who use them. The constant tracking features found in the majority of these devices help to increase the compulsive need to check this information, but also the need to align with a one-size-fits-all solution.

In general, health targets can vary widely based on body size, weight, and other determining factors. Running watches provide results using baseline information derived from general scientific studies which could lead to inaccurate comparisons. It is important to consult with your personal physician to ensure the data obtained through your workouts is accurate and applicable to your body, especially if you are someone with a lot of muscle mass 

Some running watches may cause an allergic reaction to material used in the band. Running watches not only vary in terms of size and capabilities. They also vary based on their style. A large component of style, however, involves the band. In most cases, the material found in watch bands is generally safe and well-tolerated. In some cases, however, the combination of sweat and the materials used in the making of the watch band may result in an allergic reaction occurring. 

Allergic reactions to watches or bracelets are better known as contact dermatitis. Reactions of this kind are rarely life-threatening, and mostly present in the form of rashes or hives on the affected area. Contact dermatitis occurs when the human body identifies a foreign substance as a threat while in contact with the outer layer of skin. 

Contact dermatitis can usually be addressed through the use of topical antihistamine ointments or corticosteroid creams. In general, the condition of your skin should improve in a matter of days. 

If the allergic reaction continues to occur, it is best to possibly change the band associated with your running watch or find another option that is made from a different material. 

Running watches do not address the broader range of health concerns. Running watches are ideal for those who are focused on exercising and achieving optimum health in terms of heart rate or physical exertion. These elements, while important, are not the sole aspects found in a healthy lifestyle. 

Healthy lifestyles consist of activity in conjunction with a healthy diet. With this being the case, it is important to monitor the foods consumed and the caloric intake associated. Running watches do not track this information on a regular basis. As a result, this critical element of living a healthy lifestyle and weight loss is often forgotten or ignored. 

To get the most out of your running watch, it is important to find one that either helps to track this information as well through the use of a companion app or ensure that you are still tracking this information as well. The amount of physical activity you participate in and a healthy diet will generally provide better results than solely looking at one or the other. 

Recommended Dosage

There is no recommended dosage for running watches as they should be used as needed and tailored to the individual.

FAQ

Are running watches the best way to get the most out of your workout? Though there are various opinions as to whether or not a running watch will give you the best benefits, using one will more than likely increase your success. Features such as heart rate monitoring, distance tracking, power monitoring, and cadence tracking serve to make workouts more efficient and increase the rate of success. 

While these features do work in terms of giving you additional tools for your workout, it is recommended that you consult with a physician to determine which elements will give you optimum results. 

Are heart rate monitors the same as running watches? Though these terms are usually used interchangeably and the devices are similar, there are slight differences between heart rate monitors and running watches. Most heart rate monitors will include straps that extend across the chest or wrist respectively. Heart rate monitors will also have a specific focus on this element and will usually be absent of any additional information you may want to track during a workout session. 

Running watches are generally more comprehensive and provide a broader overview of your health data. While they will include a heart rate monitor, these products are generally worn on the wrist and incorporate features such as GPS tracking and smartphone apps to provide a more convenient work out solution. 

Can running watches be inaccurate? In most cases, there is the possibility of a running watch being inaccurate. Though manufacturers work to ensure accuracy, other factors such as low battery or low satellite signals could result in running watches being less than 100% accurate. While there are no current methods to fully eliminate this risk, it can be minimized through ensuring your battery is fully charged when possible and keeping track of where you run. Keeping your own records will allow you the opportunity to measure your running watch results against more common mapping software. 

Should I rely solely on running watches to provide information about my body? No, while running watches work as an effective component to your health it should be used as your sole source of information. Running watches can provide data that could be very important to a health evaluation, however, this information should also be accompanied by the opinion of a trained physician when trying to diagnose or determine the possibility of other issues. 

When consulting your physician, advising them of your running watch use is highly recommended. This provides your physician with any additional information that could be useful while also allowing the opportunity for them to align with both you and your overall health goals. 

Are running watches recommended by doctors? No, while many doctors do not mind the use of a running watch, there are those who prefer you take a more traditional approach to health and wellness. To ensure you have the best possible results, it is recommended that you consult your personal physician to make sure that you are not only using a tracker which will prove to be most helpful for you, but also provide the most optimum health benefits. 

Are there different types of running watches? Yes, currently there are multiple running watches available. While most running watches will have similar features, the focus of each can vary greatly based on the preferences of the manufacturer. There are many that include a focus on GPS navigation, while others focus on heart rate monitoring or app connectivity. This variance allows for greater customization and versatility when shopping for the perfect running watch option.  

What is most important in a running watch? The answer to this question is very specific to the user of the running watch. When choosing a  running watch it is important to focus on what is most important to you specifically. Considering important factors such as fit, display size, data retrieval, your overall goal and reason for purchasing a running watch, and the type of information being monitored are just a few of the factors you should consider when trying to make a final decision as to what is important. 

What is the best way to purchase a running watch? As with many other electronic devices, the best way to purchase a running watch varies greatly depending on the individual. As such, it’s best to purchase a running watch in-person. This will allow you to visually inspect and evaluate the watch to make sure you like the way it feels when being worn and that you can read the display and decipher the information accurately as well. 

If you prefer to purchase your running watch from an online source, it is important to do so from a reputable source and to make sure you have done extensive research to make sure the watch’s functionality and look will work well for what you need and prefer. 

Are running watches expensive? Though there are some running watches that may be more expensive than others, there is generally an affordable option for everyone who chooses to purchase one. In most cases, the price of the running watch does not determine the efficiency of the watch or lessen the benefits if it happens to be a cheaper model. There are many running watches that are increasingly affordable with a focus on the features and functions that matter most when choosing a product. 

Can running watches lose connection? As running watches are electronic devices, there is the possibility that they may lose connection or battery which is common with electronics. Bluetooth connections may also prove to be an issue if signals are not strong enough. Though there are multiple charging options available, the loss of power that may occur from a low battery can easily amount to an interruption in the tracking process and therefore provide incomplete data. 

Do running watches have the ability to track dietary needs? No, in most cases, running watches will not keep track of dietary needs. There are some running watches that will keep track of calorie-burning information as you proceed with your run, however, they will generally not track food intake or other elements of your diet. This information is best monitored through the use of additional third-party apps or traditional food journals in conjunction with the involvement of your physician. 

Is a running watch necessary? No, in general, a running watch is not necessary to reach your fitness and health goals. Though they do provide an additional source of information when running, health benefits and goals can still be achieved without purchasing one. 

Recap

The use of a running watch not only enhances the ability to independently monitor your health progress but also makes this ability available to a wide array of people and lifestyles. In addition to providing general health information, they also serve to connect day-to-day tasks with your workout needs. This is most often done through the use of app connectivity and Bluetooth technology that has become key in the design of these particular devices. 

Though choosing the best running watch for you and your specific needs may take some time, it is best to find one that is uniquely designed to help you achieve your personal goals. If you can take the time to do the necessary research, you’ll be able to find a running watch that provides the best access to technology to enhance your life, health and running, rather than detract from it. 

For FitBug’s #1 running watch recommendation, click here.

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