Buying Guide for Runners: How To Choose The Best Running Watch? [Updated as of August 2017]

Date Posted:9 August 2017 


Buying Guide for Runners: How To Choose The Best Running Watch?

Running has grown popularity in the past few years. There are now more people who understand that having an active lifestyle has a huge impact on our health. Although, there are plenty of exercises and sports to choose from, running is simply the simplest and still the most popular way to get fit.

Why do you need a running watch?

While smartphones nowadays have apps you can use when running, a running watch displays real-time tracking information right on your wrist. Using a running watch not only takes out the hassle of running with a phone in your pocket but also provides you with longer battery life and more accurate running data. 

Running watches basic features include tracking your distance, speed/pace, and calories. Advanced features can be anything from heart rate monitoring and interval session programming, to running dynamics and full-route navigation. Latest models also let you choose from wide range of watch faces and allow you to control music from your phone.

For people who are just starting to run or those who already incorporated running into their lifestyle, a running watch can provide some source of motivation to stay on track by giving you goals to achieve and alert you when you hit a milestone. For runners who have taken this activity seriously to a professional level, like triathletes and marathoners, a running watch will be the best tool to record and analyse running performance. Data gathered during a run can then be used for find ways on how to improve your running form.

Obviously, the more features you get, the pricier the watch gets. But not all of those extra features might be necessary for your running needs. To help you find the best running watch suited for you, here are the top 4 factors you need to consider.

  1. How would you use it?
  2. Would you use it for sports other than running?
  3. Would you like to have a heart rate monitor feature?
  4. Would you like to pair it with your smartphone to receive notifications or alerts?
  5. Would you like to pair it the Garmin Running Dynamics Pod?

Check out: Product Specifications | Feature Comparison

 

1.) How would you use it?

Choosing a good running watch will depend basically on how you would use it. There are watches for all kinds of runners, from beginners to running enthusiasts, to professional runners who compete in marathons and multisport events.

For Occasional Runners
The activity tracker or fitness bands such as the Garmin vivofit 3 and Garmin vivosmart 3 measure your calories burned and track your daily steps, distance & speed/pace using an accelerometer instead of GPS. Fitness bands that use such as the Garmin vivosmart HR+ use GPS provide a more accurate measurement for your speed and distance. If you’re more concerned with your overall daily activity rather than specific running data, a fitness band would do a good job.

Garmin vivofit 3 Garmin vivosmart 3 Garmin vivosmart HR+
Garmin vivofit 3
(with wrist-based HRM)
(with wrist-based HRM)

 

For beginners and regular runners
If you’re looking for a GPS watch that you’d use mainly for running, the watches listed would be most suited for you. These GPS running watches track how far and how fast you are on each run and provides a good idea about your progress. These also let you upload your data online to see your run on a map, get more detail on each mile and share it to your friends.

      Garmin Forerunner 25
(Use Suunto GPS Track POD
to track GPS)
Garmin vivoactive
(with wrist-based HRM)
Garmin Forerunner 25
        
Garmin Forerunner 35
Magellan Echo Fit Garmin Forerunner 35 (with wrist-based HRM)


For running enthusiasts, professional runners, and marathon athletes
If you want a watch that you would use to train for a running competition or marathon, the following GPS watches can do more than just track your distance, speed/pace, and calories. These have running features such as interval training, V02 max estimate, and recovery advisor to help you train smarter and achieve new race goals. They also include an internal accelerometer which calculates distance for indoor workouts.

(with wrist-based HRM)
Garmin Forerunner 620 Garmin Forerunner 630 Suunto Ambit3 Run


The Forerunner 620 and Forerunner 630 also provides feedback on running form by showing your cadence, ground contact time and vertical oscillation.

 

2.) Would you use it for sports other than running?

Many people prefer to have one watch that can be used for a variety of fitness activities. Sometimes, runners who want to get fit, want to a watch that can also be used for training in other sports. 

For Running, Cycling, and Swimming
If you want to have a running watch you can use for other sports such as cycling, and swimming, you can choose from the multisport GPS watches below. These watches can track the performance data that most people would need for running and other sport activities. 

Garmin vivoactive
(with wrist-based HRM)
(with wrist-based HRM)

 

For Marathon, Triathlon, and Multisport Competition
For triathletes, you’d prefer to have a watch that has a multiport functionality which lets you easily transition from one sport to another. The following multisport GPS watches make an excellent job in measuring advanced performance data for running, cycling, swimming, and many others.

Garmin Forerunner 735XT Garmin Forerunner 935
(with wrist-based HRM)
(with wrist-based HRM)
Suunto Ambit3 Sport

 

For Outdoor Adventures
If you mostly run on mountains, hills, or forests, you’d prefer a watch with altimeter, barometer, compass, and route navigation features as well as weather alerts. The outdoor GPS watches listed below are not only excellent multisport watches but they’re also great GPS navigation watches for mountain running, hiking, and skiing. Designed to withstand the rugged conditions of the outdoor terrains, they also have longer battery life in GPS mode.

Garmin fenix 5 Garmin fenix 5s         Garmin fenix 5x
Garmin fenix 5 Garmin fenix 5s    Garmin fenix 5x
       
Suunto Ambit3 Peak Suunto Ambit3 Vertical
Suunto Ambit3 Peak Suunto Ambit3 Vertical

 

3.) Would you like to have a heart rate monitor feature?

Most of the running watches mentioned above can be paired with a separate heart rate monitor (HRM) strap via Bluetooth Smart Connectivity or ANT+ connectivity. Monitoring your heart rate in beats per minute (BPM) during workout session helps you determine if you're exercising at the right intensity to achieve your fitness goals.

Includes Wrist-based Optical HRM

Compatible with Bluetooth-Smart HRM Straps

Compatible with ANT+ HRM Straps

 

4.) Would you like to pair it with your smartphone to receive notifications or alerts?

Many people now would like to pair their watches with their smartphones to receive email, text and other alerts. This feature comes in handy during your run since you no longer have to pick out your phone from your pocket to view the information. You just have to view it from your watch. Here are few of the running watches in the market that provides this smart notification or mobile notification feature.

 

5.) Would you like to pair it the Garmin Running Dynamics Pod?

Garmin Running Dynamics Pod

The  Garmin Running Dynamics Pod easily clips onto your waistband to measure the running dynamics. Its internal accelerometer measures torso movement to calculate these 6 running metrics:

  • Cadence is the number of steps per minute. It displays the total steps (right and left combined).
  • Ground contact time balance displays the left/right balance of your ground contact time while running. It displays a percentage. For example, 53.2 with an arrow pointing left or right.
  • Stride length is the length of your stride from 1 footfall to the next. It is measured in meters.
  • Vertical oscillation is your bounce while running. It displays the vertical motion of your torso, measured in centimeters for each step.
  • Vertical ratio is the ratio of vertical oscillation to stride length. It displays a percentage. A lower number typically indicates better running form.
  • Ground contact time is the amount of time in each step that you spend on the ground while running. It is measured in milliseconds.
 

The following GPS running watches are compatible with the Garmin Running Dynamics Pod:

 

Product Specifications

Here’s the table on how the running watches mentioned above compare to each other.

Watch Size Weight Water Rating Battery Life
Magellan Echo Fit 46 x 49 x 13mm 44 g 3 ATM Up to 3 months (CR2032)
Garmin vivofit 3 Regular wrist circumference: 137-195 mm; X-large wrist circumference: 165-225 mm Regular: 26 g; X-large: 28 g 5 ATM One replaceable CR1632 coin cell
Garmin vivosmart 3 Width: 18.5 mm
Thickness: 9.8 mm
Length: 197 mm (small/medium); 223 mm (large)
Circumference: 122-188 mm (small/medium);
148-215 mm (large)
Small/medium: 20.4 g
Large: 21.5 g
5 ATM Up to 5 days
Garmin vivosmart HR+ Wrist circumference: 136 to 192 mm (Regular); 180 to 224 mm (X-large) Regular: 31.0 g; X-large: 33.0 g 5 ATM Up to 5 days watch/activity tracking mode (24/7 heart rate monitoring, no GPS) or up to 8 hours using GPS
Garmin vivoactive 43.8 x 38.5 x 8.0 mm 38 g 5 ATM Up to 3 weeks (10 hours in GPS mode)
Garmin vivoactive HR 30.2 x 57.0 x 11.4 mm Regular bands: 47.6 g; X-large bands: 48.2 g 5 ATM Up to 8 days in smartwatch mode (with 24/7 heart rate monitoring, No-GPS), up to 13 hrs in GPS mode
Garmin Forerunner 25 Large: 40.2 x 47.0 x 13.9 mm; Small: 35.9 x 43.9 x 13.9 mm Small: 31 g;Large: 39 g 5 ATM Small: 8 weeks, watch mode; 8 hours in training mode; Large: 10 weeks, watch mode; 10 hours in training mode
Garmin Forerunner 35 35.5 x 40.7 x 13.3 mm 37.3 g 5 ATM up to 9 days, watch mode; up to 13 hours in training mode
Garmin Forerunner 235 45 x 45 x 11.7 mm 42 g 5 ATM 11 hours training, 9 days watch + activity tracking + notifications + heart rate
Garmin Forerunner 620 45 x 45 x 12.5 mm 43.6 g 5 ATM Up to 6 weeks in watch mode; up to 10 hours in training mode
Garmin Forerunner 630 45 x 45 x 11.7 mm 44 g 5 ATM 16 Hours training, 4 weeks watch + AT + Notifications
Garmin Forerunner 735XT 44.5 x 44.5 x 11.9 mm 40.2 g 5 ATM Up to 24 hours in UltraTrac mode without optical HR; up to 14 hours in activity mode with GPS and optical HR; up to 11 days in watch mode, including activity tracking, smart notifications and optical HR tracking
Garmin Forerunner 935 47 x 47 x 13.9 mm

49 g

5 ATM Smart Mode: Up to 2 weeks
GPS/HR mode: Up to 24 hours
UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate
Garmin fenix 5 47 x 47 x 15.5 mm silicone band: 85 g
metal band: 156 g
10 ATM Smart mode: Up to 2 weesk
GPS/HR mode: Up to 24 hours
UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate
Garmin fenix 5s 42 x 42 x 14.5 mm silicone band: 67 g
metal band: 125 g
10 ATM Smart mode: Up to 9 days
GPS/HR mode: Up to 14 hours
UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 35 hours without wrist heart rate
Garmin fenix 5x 47 x 47 x 15.5 mm silicone band: 85 g
metal band: 156 g
10 ATM
 
Smart mode: Up to 2 weesk
GPS/HR mode: Up to 24 hours
UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate
Suunto Ambit3 Run 50 x 50 x 15.5 mm 72 g 5 ATM Up to 14 days in watch mode; GPS: up to 100 hours (60-second update rate)
Suunto Ambit3 Sport 50 x 50 x 15.5 mm 80 g 5 ATM Up to 14 days in watch mode; GPS: up to 100 hours (60-second update rate)
Suunto Ambit3 Peak 50 x 50 x 18 mm 89 g 10 ATM Up to 14 days in watch mode; GPS: up to 100 hours (60-second update rate)
Suunto Ambit3 Vertical 50 x 50 x 15.5 mm 74 g 10 ATM Up to 14 days in watch mode; GPS: up to 100 hours (60-second update rate)
Suunto Quest 42.7 x 42.7 x 13.2 mm 40 g 3 ATM 12 months
(CR2032)
TomTom Spark Cardio Wrist Size: 121-175mm (small); 143-206 mm (large) 47 g 5 ATM Activity tracking: up to 3 weeks, GPS: up to 11 hours, GPS + Heart Rate: up to 9 hours
TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio GPS Display: 22x25 mm; Thickness: 13.8 mm 62.9 g 5 ATM Up to 8 hours (GPS+HR), up to 10 hrs

 

Feature Comparison

Here’s a feature comparison table of the running watches.

Watch GPS Accelerometer Live Tracking Daily Activity Tracking Smart Notification Built-in HRM Multisport Point to Point Navigation / Follow GPS Track
Magellan Echo Fit
Garmin vivofit 3
Garmin vivosmart 3
Garmin vivosmart HR+
Garmin vivoactive
Garmin vivoactive HR
Garmin Forerunner 25
Garmin Forerunner 35
Garmin Forerunner 235
Garmin Forerunner 620
Garmin Forerunner 630
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
Garmin Forerunner 935
Garmin fenix 5
Garmin fenix 5s
Garmin fenix 5x
Suunto Ambit3 Run
Suunto Ambit3 Sport
Suunto Ambit3 Peak
Suunto Ambit3 Vertical
Suunto Quest ✔ with Suunto GPS Track POD
TomTom Spark Cardio
TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio GPS
 
 
Which running watch do you think is perfect for you? Comment below.
 
Feel free to check out the buying guides below:

 

Top Four Ways How Activity Trackers Can Improve Your Fitness


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