Looking to take your running to the next level? A running watch could be the tool you need to train better and smarter. We’ve rounded up some of the absolute best.
If you’re already regularly hitting the track, or training towards a best new marathon time, a basic activity tracker simply won’t cut it. While they’re great for people starting out on a fitter and healthier lifestyle, they lack the more advanced features that appeal to more seasoned athletes and runners. If you want to improve your running, you need to consider a more specialist sports watch.
We’ve put each and every running watch in this list through its paces, so don’t forget to read the full reviews to find out more about the best wearable for you.
Related: Best fitness trackers
Best Running Watches – Features you need
A built-in GPS receiver is a must-have for any serious running watch. Where basic accelerometers and gyroscopes have to estimate your distance covered, a GPS-enabled running watch will more accurately be able to show all the ground you’ve covered.
GPS can also allow you to upload .GPX routes to your sports watch, letting you follow along popular trails and routes. The TomTom Spark 3 also makes use of its GPS and built-in compass to show you the route you’ve ran on your wrist, allowing you to then find your way back to the start more easily. This is perfect if you’re often running in unfamiliar locations or have a habit of getting lost while out on your runs.
A running watch with a screen will also provide easier at-a-glance data during your run, so you can see your pace, lap times, cadence and heart rate without having to try and pull your phone out. Many general activity trackers lack a screen.
Related: Best heart rate monitor
The application used to display performance data is another important consideration. Better watches and accompanying apps will let you break down your run into segments. You can then not only compare your personal bests across distance, but also against specific parts of your run. That massive hill at the start of your course you particularly dread? Now you can see you made it up there just that much faster.
More advanced running watches will also include other sensors, such as altimeters. These calculate your altitude so you can more accurately log those devastating hill sprints you’ve been working on to improve your acceleration and explosiveness.
In place of a wrist-based optical heart rate monitor (HRM), or sometimes to supplement one, most running watches will work with a separate chest-based HRM.These are far more accurate than their optical counterparts and are able to more accurately take continuous readings. This means those High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions are tracked more accurately, both in terms of speed through GPS and also in taxation on your cardiovascular system.
Sign up for the newsletter
Get news, competitions and special offers direct to your inbox
Related: What is VO2 Max?
Upcoming running watches
Recently, Fitbit took the covers off its Fitbit Ionic fitness smartwatch, which could well turn out to be a fantastic running companion for those who want to leave their phones behind. It has GPS/GLONASS for location tracking, a heart rate monitor and onboard storage for your music. There’s even NFC payments just in case you need to buy yourself a treat reward (or catch a bus home). The Fitbit Ionic will be released in October 2017, so be sure to check back for our full review to see if it makes our list of best running watches.