Your guide to buying a running watch

Anna Hecht
November 1, 2017

Story highlights

  • Running watches with varying functionality for every budget.

For runners, there's something about lacing up your shoes and strapping on your watch that makes you feel alive. With the right gear, you instantly feel prepared and equipped to put in major miles and tackle your fitness goals.

Perhaps the most complicated fitness gadget to get right is a watch. Most runners would tell you it's a worthy investment. The only thing is, it can sometimes be difficult to choose which watch suits you best, especially when there are so many options.

Whether you're a new or experienced runner, the right watch depends on your fitness style.

For those who want the bare bones, several brands offer watches that track distance, time and sometimes heart rate. For those who want a more advanced, multipurpose tracker, many watches have sleep trackers, GPS mapping, music control and more.

Your decision comes down to two important considerations: functionality and cost.

To help, we've compiled a list of running watches, breaking them down by functionality and other specs. Additionally, we bucketed them based on functionality, so you can find one that suits your needs and budget.

In choosing our favorites, we scoured Consumer Reports, CNET and other reputable reviews.

Note: The prices below reflect the listed retailers' prices on the date this article was published.

The basics

Garmin Forerunner 10 ($129.99; garmin.com)

For those who want push-of-a-button functionality, this watch is for you. The Garmin Forerunner is a simple, stylish way to keep track of your miles. It earned an average 4.2 out of 5 stars from more than 2,000 customers. And we can see why. The Forerunner 10 tracks distance, pace and calories with ease. To monitor your progress, there's the Garmin Virtual Pacer, which compares your pace to target goals, as well as an easy-to-read display screen. Since this watch tends to run low on Amazon, we recommend buying it from Garmin.

Intermediate

Garmin Forerunner 35 ($199.99; garmin.com)

For those looking to buy a watch with a heart rate monitor (but who only want the basics, otherwise), Garmin has developed an impressive (and affordable) entry-level GPS watch with heart-rate-tracking capabilities. One CNET product review explained the Forerunner 35 as Garmin's "cheapest running watch" to offer GPS technology. Though this watch has a simplified interface, the Forerunner 35 works like a pro. It tracks pace, distance and speed. And it measures steps, distance, calories and sleep while also controlling your music when connected to an iPhone or Android.

Polar M200 GPS Running Watch ($149.46; amazon.com)

A best-seller on Amazon, this running watch is straightforward, easy to use and made for those with serious fitness goals. With an integrated GPS, heart rate monitor and sleep tracking, this watch is for those who are watching their habits around the clock. If you're looking to start a running plan, this watch comes with a running program made for you and your needs. Using Bluetooth, you can study your progress using the Polar Flow app.

Fitbit Blaze Fitness Tracker ($198.95; amazon.com)

This Fitbit tracker isn't just a running watch. It also tracks other activities, such as cross-training, cycling and weight training. The reason to invest in this watch, according to Consumer Reports, is that it's easy to use and accurately tracks steps. Even though it doesn't have GPS tracking, this Fitbit has a heart rate monitor, altimeter, long battery life, sleeping sensor and notifies you of texts and calls. It also syncs with your mobile device.

Most Advanced

The Forerunner 235 ($329.99; garmin.com)

CNET recently rounded up its Best Wearable Tech of 2017. This model was deemed "the best watch for casual and serious runners." So what does that mean? Basically, this watch was made for anyone looking to get after his or her running goals in a tech-savvy fashion. Packed full of features, including an optical heart-rate sensor, a sleep monitor and a highly functioning GPS, this tracker also is waterproof, so you can wear it while swimming or showering. And it has a recovery advisor, which tells you when your body should be ready for your next intense workout. Way cool.

The Garmin Fenix 5 ($559; amazon.com)

Earlier this year, Garmin announced the latest iteration of its advanced sporting watches: the Fenix 5 Series. The multisport watch designed for "fitness, adventure and style," according to Garmin, features wrist heart rate technology, GPS tracking and GLONNASS satellite reception. An Amazon No. 1 best-selling altimeter watch, the Fenix 5 can do a lot more than your average bare-bones tracker. In addition to tracking running, biking and other gym activities, your Fenix 5 will send notifications to your phone and allows you to connect with other athletes via the Garmin Connect online fitness community. Not only that, but the battery lasts two weeks when used as a smart watch, up to 24 hours when using GPS and up to 60 hours in battery saver mode.

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