Track your training, race stronger and recover quicker with expert run-tester Kieran Alger’s pick of the best running watches

A good running watch is a powerful tool. The coaching elements can help fine-tune your training, measure your performance and progress, and boost motivation. Even the cheaper options now cover the basics, with reliable GPS, wrist-based heart rate tracking and loads of training, coaching and recovery insights to help you hit any goal.

What is the best running watch?

The Garmin Forerunner 965 (buy now) is the best running watch I’ve tested. The ultra-crisp AMOLED touchscreen adds some user-friendly smartwatch style to Garmin’s market-leading training, performance and recovery insights. Accuracy across the board is generally impressive, and the week-long battery life caters for just about every level of runner. 

Other running watch recommendations

Best running watch on a budgetWith the Coros Pace 3 (buy now), Coros has added things we love to see like longer battery life, better GPS accuracy and some navigation smarts. For me, the Pace 3 builds on the bang-for-buck strength of the Pace 2 and I’d definitely recommend this highly for new runners, those on a budget or people looking for an unfussy watch that ticks the basic boxes – and goes a bit further to boot.
Best Polar running watchThe Polar Vantage V3 (buy now) delivers a bright, smartwatch-style AMOLED display, multiband GPS with an upgraded chip, plus Polar’s new Gen 4 heart rate sensor setup that promises to boost the optical accuracy. The result is Polar’s best ever running watch.
Best AMOLED watch on a budgetThe Suunto Race (buy now) is an excellent watch for the price. The AMOLED screen is crisp; the breadth of training, navigation and health features is good; battery life is competitive; and GPS accuracy is largely on point
Best running smartwatchThe Apple Watch Ultra 2 (buy now) sets the benchmark for smartwatches with running credentials. The native running experience now offers quite a lot of the training insights you’ll find on Garmin and if you’re willing to beef that up with third party apps it’ll do almost everything your Garmin, Polar or Suunto can do – just not in the same integrated fashion.

The best running watches you can buy today

Garmin forerunner 965

1. Garmin Forerunner 965

Men’s Fitness verdict

The ultra-crisp AMOLED touchscreen adds some user-friendly smartwatch style to Garmin’s market-leading training, performance and recovery insights. Accuracy and battery life are also impressive.
Pros
  • Large, stunning, bright display
  • Multiband GPS
  • Week-long battery life
Cons
  • Screen prone to scratching (as shown in image above…)
  • Price hike on the Forerunner 955
  • Larger screen might not suit all wrists
DisplayAMOLED (optional always-on mode)
Display resolution454 x 454 pixels
Display size35.4mm (diameter)
ConnectivityBluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Weight52g

Garmin has been top of the running watch tree for a little while, and for my money it stays there with the Forerunner 965 – the best running watch I had the pleasure of testing.

The large AMOLED touchscreen display looks great and makes the interface experience a dream. That’s partnered with big battery life, accurate GPS and a host of performance metrics that can genuinely enhance your running.

coros pace 3 running watch

2. Coros Pace 3

Men’s Fitness verdict

The Pace 3 builds on the bang-for-buck strength of the Pace 2. I’d highly recommend it for new runners, those on a budget or people looking for an unfussy watch that ticks the basic boxes.
Pros
  • Brilliant all-round value
  • Reliable multi-band GPS
  • Great battery life
Cons
  • Design is a bit plastic and basic
  • Patchy heart rate measurements
DisplayTouch screen always-on memory LCD
Display resolution240 x 240 pixels
Display size1.2 inches (diameter)
ConnectivityBluetooth, WiFi
Weight39g with silicon band; 30g with nylon band

It doesn’t boast the crystal-clear AMOLED display of the other running watches featured in this guide, but the COROS Pace 3 is more budget-friendly for it. And what it lacks in crispness it more than makes up for with a suite of run-boosting features.

Building on the impressive foundations of the COROS Pace 2, the Pace 3 brings in bigger batter life – I got 15.5 hours of GPS training out of it on a single charge – and accurate GPS in Dual Frequency Mode.

polar vantage v3 running watch

3. Polar Vantage V3

Men’s Fitness verdict

A bright smartwatch-style AMOLED display, multiband GPS with an upgraded chip, plus Polar’s new Gen 4 heart rate sensor makes for Polar’s best ever running watch.
Pros
  • Excellent, bright AMOLED display
  • Reliable multiband GPS
  • Free Komoot and Strava subscriptions
Cons
  • Phone pairing and syncing is buggy
  • Raise to wake is sometimes laggy
  • No Spotify/Deezer playback
DisplayAMOLED
Display resolution454 x 454 pixels
Display size1.39 inches (diameter)
ConnectivityBluetooth, ANT+
Weight57g

Polar is back with a bang with the Vantage V3, a great-looking running watch that does the basics very well, and introduces a few useful extras.

Wrist-based heart rate tracking still has a way to go, but I found the Vantage V3 provided one of the most reliably accurate heart rate measurements of any of the running watches I tested. The AMOLED display is big and bright, and the interface intuitive; while battery life is an improvement on previous models.

Suunto Race running watch

4. Suunto Race

Men’s Fitness verdict

An excellent watch for the price. The AMOLED screen is crisp; the breadth of training, navigation and health features is good; battery life is competitive; and GPS accuracy is largely on point.
Pros
  • Excellent, bright, crisp display
  • Good battery life for an AMOLED
Cons
  • Software and touchscreen is laggy
  • Stainless steel watch is bulky
DisplayAMOLED
Display resolution466 x 466 pixels
Display size1.43 inches (diameter)
ConnectivityBluetooth, WiFi
Weight83g

If Suunto has struggled to make a mark with its recent running watches, the Suunto Race represents a big step back in the right direction. It’s a beast of a watch, with a huge display that’s easy to read and navigate on the run.

Battery life is impressive, too, especially given the size of screen that needs powering, and it’s considerably cheaper than the other AMOLED options in this list.

Apple Watch Ultra 2

5. Apple Watch Ultra 2

Men’s Fitness verdict

If you want a brilliant smartwatch – the best in the business – that also has good running credentials, this is it. But if you want the best running watch, you can get more for your money.
Pros
  • Best smartwatch battery life
  • Stunning, rugged design
  • Accurate heart rate and GPS
Cons
  • Very expensive
  • Battery life still short for a running watch
DisplayRetina LTPO OLED, 3000 nits (peak)
Display resolution502 x 410 pixels
Display size1.92 inches (diameter)
ConnectivityBluetooth, WiFi
Weight61.4g

If you want a smartwatch you can do a bit of running with, and have a big budget to play with, look no further than the Apple Watch Ultra 2. For day-to-day tracking and smartwatch features, Apple continues to be well out in front.

However, there are better – and cheaper – watches available if you want to go deep diving into your running metrics.

Running watch lying on a table

6. Garmin Forerunner 165 Music

Men’s Fitness verdict

The offline music, sleek design and AMOLED display make this Forerunner a sound proposition, but there’s no escaping that lower-than-average battery life.
Pros
  • Excellent bright display
  • Comfortable, compact design
  • Offline music
Cons
  • Battery life not class leading
  • Missing some training insights
DisplayColour AMOLED touchscreen
Display resolution390 x 390 pixels
Display size1.2 inches (diameter)
ConnectivityBluetooth, WiFi
Weight39g

With the Forerunner 165 Music, Garmin looks to be setting a new benchmarks for budget running watches. For under $300 / £300 you still get most of the significant training insights found on its pricier watches, as well a bright, crisp 1.2-inch AMOLED screen – not to mention the ability to play music offline.

The one concession is a rather average battery life, which you might need to manage, especially if you plan on playing music on most of your runs. But if your running routine can cope with that, you’re getting a great value running watch with plenty of high-end features.

What makes a good running watch?

The best running watches get the basics right, with accurate heart rate, fast satellite link-up and reliable GPS tracking for pace and distance. Along with good runtime GPS battery life, these are the non-negotiables. The good news: you can now find these essentials in even the cheapest running watches. 

A good running watch boasts a bright, clear, crisp screen that’s easy to read in all light conditions, particularly on the move. There’s a big trend for AMOLED screens, with all the major brands, Polar, Suunto and Garmin adding these Apple-esque super-sharp displays to their mid-to-premium watches. Though you might sacrifice the longest battery life for that pleasure. 

Customisation of your mid-run stats and post-run watch faces is also very handy. And the best watches offer zippy interfaces and responsive controls and touchscreen. You don’t want to be jabbing at unreactive buttons when you’re trying to take your splits.

When it comes to training insights, the best watches now track a huge array of metrics and offer up a broad sweep of feedback. That ranges from post-run training effect, the build-up of fatigue and recovery time recommendations, to heart rate variability, blood oxygen levels, daily stress, sleep and even ECG.   

You might look for lifestyle health tools like sleep tracking and training readiness scores, but be warned: almost all of the sleep trackers lack accuracy, and the readiness scores that often rely on sleep data are fallible, too. 

If you’re heading off grid onto the trails, or you plan to run an ultra, the bigger, rugged adventure running watches like the Garmin Fenix 7 and COROS Vertix 2 offer more robust design, longer battery life and more powerful navigation tools. 

If navigation is a priority, route planning with breadcrumb navigation is a given. But more capable watches offer turn-by-turn navigation, offline topographical maps and clever features like back-to-start, elevation profile and waypoint marking. 

Smartwatch skills are improving and most watches now let you read notifications, text and call alerts. If music is important, some let you control your smartphone music players, but the better watches offer offline music storage, and play nice with streaming services like Spotify and Deezer. 

The app and web training tools are also important, and Polar Flow differs greatly from Garmin Connect or the COROS and Suunto apps. If you’re a first-timer with these, it’s smart to download them first (they’re free) and have a play with them before you buy the watch. These partner training tools can be a big part of the overall experience so it’s worth the time invested.