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Clock In for Training Success with the Best Running Watches

Toggle through your training with in-depth metrics and more with these impressive fitness accessories.

collage of three gps watches
Gear Patrol

Tech and fitness go hand-in-hand these days, and for athletes that favor running over the weights and barbells, there are plenty of benefits to this digital training environment. Now more than ever, we’re able to fine-tune our paces and workouts through monitoring data, all for the sake of better health and wellness. No tool makes that tracking easier than a quality running watch.

These wearables aren’t just for keeping tabs on the time, however. With plenty of health-related features and GPS monitoring services baked into each face, running watches have become an extension of your smartphone. There are plenty of premium running watches on the market today, so before we jump into our roundup of the absolute best, let’s take a second to understand just what these accessories do and which athletes can benefit from them the most.

What Do Running Watches Do?

Outside of being damn fine timepieces, running watches are digital monitors that allow you to unlock new training potential at every step. These devices utilize sensors to track your heart rate and other measurables, tracking data points to give you a better scope of your body’s output. Running watches can also feature GPS systems that help you navigate winding roads and routes wherever you roam. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine how many features you need within your running watch, although heart rate monitoring and GPS services can be a good foundation for most.

Do You Need a Running Watch?

In short, no. While the metrics tracked through running watches can be great, especially for more advanced athletes looking to get the most out of their workouts, all this information does not necessarily make for a healthier physique. You’re still plenty capable of running and maintaining positive performances without the assistance of these accessories.

With that being said, I’ve trained with and without a running watch, and after understanding the data points, I don’t think I’d train without one again. I feel the metrics allow me to better understand my workout potential, giving in-depth analysis that can bolster any session. I look at running watches like any timepiece — once you become accustomed to wearing one, it’s hard to stop.

How to Choose a Running Watch

While there’s certainly no shortage of bells and whistles when it comes to running watches, there are a handful of factors that one should consider, regardless of how simple or luxe you decide to go with.

Data Tracking

Most running watches will track time, pace, distance and heart rate. These are the most basic metrics to look for in any of these wearables and can be great for any level of athlete. If you prefer to run new routes or fancy trail running as your go-to discipline, I highly recommend investing in a running watch featuring a GPS system as well for added safety and security on unknown roads.

If you want to peel back more layers of your training with metrics like VO2 Max, stride length and recovery rate, look for a running watch that features these data points, although they’re not entirely necessary for every budding enthusiast. The number of tracking points will also affect price, so be sure to have a good idea of just what you want to accomplish before investing in a watch that’s overkill for your needs.

Battery Life

As with any digital device, having a quality battery life is important, especially when it comes to training. A running watch is nothing more than a stylish accessory if it can’t power itself to track your desired metrics. Most running watch batteries can last up to five days between charges, but some have massive tanks that can reach up to 50 or more. Some running watches also utilize solar power to help maintain levels when out and about.

Size and Fit

A running watch shouldn’t be a burden to your workouts, and that can easily occur if the device is ill-fitting or cumbersome on the wrist. Pay close attention to the size of the watch face and think about how you’d like to wear the watch. It’s also important to look at the band itself and make note of any fabrics or fibers. You’re likely to sweat around the device during training, so any material that will pool or harbor moisture should be avoided. Trust me, your skin will thank you later.

If you want to stylize your running watch with some metal bands for off-training scenarios or just like adding a splash of color to your wardrobe, many running watches feature interchangeable bands that can better suit your intended style as well.

Extra Features

Many running watches come with additional perks that go beyond training. Some can link to your digital wallet for seamless paying at your favorite coffee shops. Others can link to your music streaming service for easier toggling and control, rather than pulling out your phone to shuffle through your playlists. In all, these features aren’t completely vital to any training scenario, but they can be beneficial and make daily life much easier. Read through your running watch description and see what’s baked into the build, and see if any of these add-ons are worth your time.

collage of gps watches on running shoes
Ben Emminger

How We Tested

Over the past few weeks, I’ve dawned a handful of these powerful fitness accessories across multiple miles and routes, seeing how accurate and worthwhile the tracked metrics were. I toggled through a number of faces and features, outlining how simple each running watch was to use, as well as how well they felt both on the road and off. I also wore these watches through multiple lifting sessions to see the crossover value of the training features because after all, what good is a fitness accessory if it's restricted to one form of training?

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar


Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar


  • Exceptional battery life that lasts for days
  • Morning Report feature provides helpful information to plan out a training day

  • Can take a while to fully dial in this watch’s features
  • Mapps app can feel clunky at times

With enough battery to power any activity, the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar stood out in spades when compared to the rest of the testing field. Whether I was finishing up a strength training session, powering through the final meters of a rowing workout or trudging through my daily jogs, the Forerunner was there with plenty of tracking capabilities.

I also appreciated the Morning Report feature that outlined how my body measured up at the start of the day. This allowed me to better judge my daily training goals and provided helpful insight into my current routine. While this watch does take some time to fine-tune every stat and feature, this is one wearable that should be at the forefront of any athlete’s shopping list moving forward.

Apple Watch Ultra


Apple Watch Ultra


  • GPS tracking is the best the brand has to offer thanks to LF GPS capabilities
  • Action button allows for precise starts from the minute you press “Go”

  • Heaviest Apple Watch in the brand’s lineup, which may turn off some athletes
  • Oversized buttons can feel cumbersome in other workouts that require a lot of wrist movement

The Apple Watch is no longer a smartwatch that doubles as a fitness tracker. Unveiled earlier this year, the Apple Watch Ultra is a phenomenal tool for monitoring your training output as you work through your routines. Key additions, like the “Precision Mode” that starts a workout at the push of a button, showcase how Apple has listened to athletes when building out this all-new running watch.

L5 GPS capabilities also add to the Apple Watch Ultra’s makeup, providing the most precise navigational statistics to date. While this is a bulkier fitness accessory, there’s no doubt that the beefier makeup houses plenty of technological advances.

Amazfit T-Rex 2


Amazfit T-Rex 2


  • Durable construction that can withstand the rigors of intense training in any environment
  • An abundance of sports modes caters to multi-faceted training regimens

  • Larger face can feel bulky on the wrist
  • GPS features can lag at times, leading to some inaccuracies that may be less than ideal in trail running scenarios

If you want the navigational features of some of the advanced running watches out there without the premium price, look no further than this adventure-ready option from Amazfit. The larger face is easy to read, and there are plenty of sports tracking capabilities baked into the software.

I will say, however, that I wouldn’t rely on this running watch to guide you out of an unknown trail or roadway. The GPS features can lag at times, leaving you spinning as you try and determine your next turn. Still, though, the durable build and approachable price point make this a great running watch to consider if you’re considering upping your training.

Polar Pacer Pro


Polar Pacer Pro


  • Slim, lightweight build blends easily into any wardrobe, whether training or not
  • Improved color display is easy to read

  • Smartphone integrations seem lacking
  • Charging port is not the most secure, which can lead to slippage and less-than-full batteries

Sleek and comfortable, this running watch pairs as well with a gym outfit as it does with a wardrobe destined for a night on the town. The color display is easy to read, and I also enjoyed the utilitarian nature of the buttons.

While I had some issues securing the charging cable to the port, which was witnessed in a few overnight charging sessions, this is still a great watch for athletes wanting all-day convenience with our investing too much in their gear. Accurate data points, visible metrics and a downright stylish aesthetic, what’s more to want from a sleek piece of fitness equipment?

COROS Vertix 2


COROS Vertix 2


  • Exceptional battery life extends time between charges
  • Large screen allows for clearer visibility when toggling through trail-specific features

  • Larger face may not feel comfortable to some
  • Touchscreen functions are not as seamless as others on this list

This watch was built for the wild. Seriously, the bulky, rugged design of the COROS Vertix 2 makes this the perfect companion for trail runs. I brought this fitness accessory along through multiple treks in newfound territories and never doubted my ability to find my way home thanks to the extended battery life, easy-to-follow navigational services and large, visible face.

I also found the heart rate monitoring capabilities of the Vertex 2 to be the best f the bunch, measuring both electrocardiogram and heart rate variability through the wrist. While the bulkier frame might not be the best for every athlete, this is one running watch that’s quickly become my favorite for more wild training scenarios.

Garmin Forerunner 255 Music


Garmin Forerunner 255 Music


  • Onboard music capabilities allow for easier selections mid-run
  • Includes endurance metric systems like a gyroscope and barometric altimeter

  • Proprietary charging setup requires a standalone cord
  • No touchscreen capabilities

If you want to train with your own soundtrack, I recommend this impressive, music-ready watch from Garmin. Controlling your tunes is a breeze through the toggles, and I also enjoyed the multiple sports tracking features that fit whatever workout I was involved in throughout the day.

While this doesn’t have as many features as the premium 955 Solar, the Garmin Forerunner 255 Music can be capable enough for most athletes. Just be sure to save the proprietary cable, as you cannot charge this fitness accessory with any ordinary cord.

Fitbit Sense 2


Fitbit Sense 2


  • Display is easy to read, providing all the stats you need to get started in fitness tracking
  • Durable construction and comfortable band make for a trustworthy companion in any setting

  • Audio quality during calls can be a bit lacking
  • USB-A charging limits versatility

If you’re looking for a stylish smartwatch to introduce you to the world of fitness metrics, I recommend the Fitbit Sense 2. A continuous electrodermal activity sensor tracks a ton of data throughout the day, including stress levels and heightened responses. This made taking a breather or knowing when your body became overworked much easier.

The Fitbit Sense 2 also sits pretty flush on the wrist, making workouts more comfortable as well. Yet while this is technically labeled as a smartwatch, I didn’t find myself using these features too often. The audio quality during calls can be spotty at times, so for my needs, I mostly used this as a fitness tracker. After all, that’s sort of Fitbit’s bread and butter.

Suunto 9 Peak


Suunto 9 Peak


  • Bezel and strap combination is aesthetically pleasing, fit for any environment
  • Plenty of sports modes to track your data, whether on the road, in the gym and more

  • Software can feel sluggish at times
  • Cheaper running watches available that provide similar training experiences

Slim, sleek and ready to take on any workout, the Suunto 9 Peak is an impressive watch on looks alone. I really admire the aesthetics of the bezel and strap, and it’s impressive to see how many features are thrown into the device.

There are plenty of sports modes and data metrics available in the Suunto 9 Peak, but don’t expect to toggle through them at breakneck speeds between splits or sets. The software can be sluggish, which is a bit of a letdown considering how good-looking this accessory is on the wrist. While there are cheaper options available offering similar workout experiences, if your main focus is style, the Suunto 9 Peak should definitely be on your radar.

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