Best Running Watches 2017: The best GPS sports watches and trackers

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.

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.

Score

Key features:

  • GPS tracking
  • Multi-sport tracking
  • Waterproof to 100m
  • ANT+ compatible (HRM, cadence sensors)
  • Review price: £350

While the Garmin Fenix 3 is undeniably big and bulky, Garmin has packed it full of features to appeal to hardcore fitness enthusiasts and athletes. That goes some way to justify its hefty price as well.

For starters, it supports a boggling amount of sports and disciplines beyond just running. There’s cross-country skiing, climbing, trail running and more. Activities such as Indoor Cycling will require the addition of ANT+ cadence sensors, however. You’ll also need to pick up an ANT+ HRM if you want heart rate data.

There are plenty of sensors inside, however, with an accelerometer, barometer, altimeter and GLONASS for faster location detection. You also get basic smartwatch functionality thrown in, so you can check your notifications without digging out your phone.



Read the full Garmin Fenix 3 review

Score

Key features:

  • GPS and heart rate monitoring
  • ANT+ compatible
  • 5-day battery life
  • 5 ATM waterproof rating
  • Android and iOS app
  • Review price: £360

The Garmin Forerunner 735XT is available as a standalone watch or as a Tri Bundle (£450), which includes Garmin’s HRM Tri and HRM Swim chest straps. Even as a standalone watch, the Forerunner 735XT has plenty of features that will appeal to seasoned athletes.

The GPS sensor is incredibly fast at picking up a signal, meaning you’re quicker to set off on a run. It’s accurate, too. Even without the use of the chest HRM straps, heart rate readings were also surprisingly accurate from the optical HRM.

Throw in great sleep tracking and the Forerunner 735XT is a solid all-rounder that’s only a little let down by its clunky Garmin Connect app that can feel overwhelming and obtuse.



Read the full Garmin Forerunner 735XT review

Score

Key features:

  • GPS and heart rate monitoring
  • 5-day battery life
  • Waterproof to 50m
  • Multi-sport tracking
  • Review price: £170

While the Garmin Vivosmart HR Plus includes everything you could want from a running watch, it actually more closely resembles a standard fitness tracker. Still, Garmin has somehow packed in an accelerometer, barometric altimeter, optical HRM and GPS all into its slender design. All of those sensors prove accurate, too.

Battery life, at around five days, is great and the E Ink touchscreen is easy to use even in bright sunlight. The Garmin Connect app remains a little obtuse but it does provide some genuinely useful metrics, such as its ‘intensity minutes’ measurement that gets you motivated to push harder and further.



Read the full Garmin Vivosmart HR Plus review

Polar M400

4 of 9

Score

Key features:

  • Supports multiple activities
  • GPS and heart rate monitoring
  • Up to 24-day battery life
  • Waterproof to 30m
  • Review price: £170

The Polar M400 is a great introduction to running watches, providing the simplicity of a fitness band with some of the more advanced features of a dedicated running watch. It includes all the standard features, such as GPS, heart rate monitoring (through a chest strap) and sleep tracking.

The M400 also supports a multitude of sports beyond running, including swimming and even yoga. You can also conduct a 15-minute fitness test if you’re interested in finding out your VO2 max. At the end of each run you get a Running Index score that measures you against other runners with a similar profile, so you can get a gauge on your fitness.

Battery life is also stellar and the great news is that it charges over Micro USB, so you potentially have one less cable to carry around.



Read the full Polar M400 review

Polar M600

5 of 9

Score

Key features:

  • Android Wear (2.0 update coming)
  • GPS and heart rate monitoring
  • 1.3-inch display
  • IPX8 water resistance
  • Review price: £265

Building on a lot of what Polar learned from the excellent Polar M800, the Polar M600 adds in Android Wear support, meaning you have a fully-loaded smartwatch as well as a fantastic running watch. The great news is that the Polar M600 is confirmed to be receiving the Android Wear 2.0 update, too, so it should get a raft of new features.

Even on Android Wear 1.5, we found it worked great. Its running tracking was also excellent thanks to accurate GPS and well-performing heart rate monitoring. The M600 works alongside Polar’s Flow app, which provides some useful training insight such as its Running Index score and Training Benefit measurements.

While the Polar M600 might not be the most attractive smartwatch around, it is first and foremost a running watch, so Android Wear is a nice bonus.



Read the full Polar M600 review

Apple Watch 2

6 of 9

Score

Key features:

  • GPS and heart rate monitoring
  • Smartwatch functionality
  • Waterproof to 50m
  • Review price: £369

While the Apple Watch 2 might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to a running watch, it packs in plenty of features that make it more than capable. Apple has managed to cram in a GPS sensor into the new Apple Watch while keeping its small size. The Apple Watch Series 2 will likely be less of a distraction during runs compared to some of the weightier options available.

Apple’s watchOS 3 has better app support as well, meaning it might well be the more versatile smartwatch away from the running track, too. Apple has also made the Series 2 waterproof to 50m, which is very impressive for a smartwatch. So if you’re a triathlete it could well be the better option.

Apple also recently revealed watchOS 4, which improves the activity tracking with new goals as well as adding support for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. A new safety feature can also use the Apple Watch 2’s display as a safety light so you’re more visible when night running.

We compared the Apple Watch 2’s performance against some dedicated fitness trackers and running watches, and it came out impressively accurate. Be sure to have a read of our dedicated article for the full low-down as well as reading the review.



Read the full Apple Watch 2 review

Score

Key features:

  • Supports multiple activities
  • GPS and heart rate monitoring
  • Compass for Route Exploration mode
  • Waterproof
  • MP3 player and Bluetooth headphones 
  • Review price: £250

The Spark 3 is the third-generation of TomTom’s running watches (also available as the TomTom Runner 3, which has a slightly different strap). Like previous versions it’s available in a wide variety of models that include a HRM or built-in storage for MP3s. The model we reviewed was the Cardio + Music, which includes both. Having an MP3 player on your wrist, paired with included Bluetooth headphones, means you can leave your smartphone behind.

One of the best new features of the Spark 3 is Route Exploration. Thanks to a new compass, the watch can trace your route, meaning you can always trace your path back to the start if you’re running in unfamiliar territory. You can also upload .GPX route files to follow pre-determined running routes. Perfect if you want to take in some specific sites along the way There’s also both cycling and swimming support and impressive battery life longevity.



Read the full TomTom Spark 3 review

Score

Key features:

  • Onboard maps
  • Multi-sport tracking
  • Heart rate monitor
  • GPS
  • Super-rugged sapphire screen
  • Review price: £630

The biggest and most feature-packed of Garmin’s new Fenix 5 smartwatches with a price tag to match. There’s a myriad of sensors making this an impressive and flexible sports tracker. It’ll cover the more mainstream activities like running, cycling and swimming, but goes far beyond with more obscure activities like paddle boarding, as well as being a great hiking companion.

As you’d expect, it’s built to last, with a rugged sapphire screen and water-resistance to depths of 100m. The memory-in-pixel display makes it really easy to read the display even in bright sunlight, but it’s also great for the battery life.

You also get smartphone notifications from your connected device, which is always handy, making this an incredibly versatile running and sports watch for those that want an all-in-one device that’s suitable for adventurers.



Read the full Garmin Fenix 5X review

Score

Key features:

  • Multi-sport tracking
  • Heart rate monitor
  • GPS
  • Sleep tracking
  • Phone notifications
  • Review price: £470

This could well be the perfect running watch with everything you might possibly want including GPS, a heart rate monitor and activity and sleep tracking thrown in. With its altimeter and compass it’s also a versatile multi-sport tracker and perfect for triathlons thanks to its water-resistance.

We found the GPS superbly accurate but also quick to acquire satellite locks, meaning you’re not left waiting around before you can set off. If you are a triathlete, you can transition between disciplines with just one button press, and the menus in general are intuitive. Battery life is also fantastic, with around two weeks of general activity tracking or a full 24 hours of GPS use.

There’s also smartphone pairing so you can get notifications from your watch. The Garmin Forerunner 935 can be considered the result of years of product research and design and is an all-round fantastic running watch.



Read the full Garmin Forerunner 935 review