How To Choose The Best Running Watch? [Updated as of June 2018]

Date Posted:22 June 2018 

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 with 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 4 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 vivosport 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 4 Garmin vivosmart 3
Garmin vivofit 4
(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 watch below would be most suited for you. This GPS running watch track how far and how fast you are on each run and provides a good idea about your progress. It also lets 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 vivosmart 3 Garmin Forerunner 35
(with wrist-based HRM)
(with wrist-based HRM)
 
TomTom Runner 3 Suunto Fitness 3
(with wrist-based HRM)
(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.
 
Garmin Forerunner 630 Garmin Forerunner 645
Garmin Forerunner 630
 
(with wrist-based HRM) Suunto Ambit3 Run

 

The Forerunner 630 provides feedback on your running dynamics including cadence, ground contact time and vertical oscillation. Other watches will need the Garmin Running Dynamics Pod to track this metrics.

 

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.
 
TomTom Spark Cardio Music
TomTom Runner 3 Suunto Fitness 3
(with wrist-based HRM)
(with wrist-based HRM)
 Suunto Fitness 3
(with wrist-based HRM)

 

Garmin vivoactive 3 Garmin vivoactive 3 Music Garmin Forerunner 645
(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

 

Suunto Spartant Sport Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR  
Suunto Spartan Sport
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR

 

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

 

Garmin fenix 5s Plus Garmin fenix 5 Plus Garmin fenix 5X Plus TomTom Adventurer Outdoor Cardio + Music GPS Watch
(with wrist-based HRM)
(with wrist-based HRM)
(with wrist-based HRM)

 

Suunto Ambit3 Peak Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro Suunto Spartan Ultra
Suunto Ambit3 Peak Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro Suunto Spartan Ultra

 

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.
 

Watch

Built-in Wrist-based Optical HRM

Compatible with Bluetooth Smart
HRM Strap

Compatible with ANT+ HRM Strap

Garmin vivofit 4

Garmin vivosmart 3

Garmin vivosport

Garmin vivoactive 3

Garmin vivoactive 3 Music

Garmin Forerunner 35

Garmin Forerunner 235

Garmin Forerunner 630

Garmin Forerunner 645

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Garmin Forerunner 935

Garmin fenix 5

Garmin fenix 5s

Garmin fenix 5x

Garmin fenix 5 Plus

Garmin fenix 5S Plus

Garmin fenix 5X Plus

Suunto Ambit3 Run

Suunto Ambit3 Sport

Suunto Ambit3 Vertical

Suunto Ambit3 Peak

Suunto Fitness

Suunto Spartan Sport

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR

Suunto Spartan Sport Ultra

TomTom Spark Cardio + Music

Tomtom Runner 3 Cardio

Tomtom Runner 3 Cardio + Music

Tomtom Adventurer Cardio + Music

 

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.
 
Garmin
Suunto Tomtom

Garmin vivosmart 3

Garmin vivosport

Garmin vivoactive 3

Garmin vivoactive 3 Music

Garmin Forerunner 35

Garmin Forerunner 235

Garmin Forerunner 630

Garmin Forerunner 645

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Garmin Forerunner 935

Garmin fenix 5

Garmin fenix 5s

Garmin fenix 5x

Garmin fenix 5 Plus

Garmin fenix 5S Plus

Garmin fenix 5X Plus

Suunto Ambit3 Run

Suunto Ambit3 Sport

Suunto Ambit3 Peak

Suunto Ambit3 Vertical

Suunto Fitness

Suunto Spartan Sport

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR

Suunto Spartan Sport Ultra

TomTom Runner 3 Cardio

Tomtom Runner 3 Cardio + Music

Tomtom Adventurer Cardio + Music

 

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

Garmin Running DynamicsThe 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

Physical size

Weight

Water Rating

Battery Life

Garmin vivofit 4

Width: 19 mm
Thickness: 9.4 mm

Circumference (small/medium): 122-188 mm
Circumference (large): 148-215 mm

Small/medium: 25 g
Large: 25.5 g

5 ATM

Up to 1 year (2 x SR43 user-replaceable)

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 vivosport

Width: 21.0 mm
Thickness: 10.9 mm

Small/medium fits wrists with a circumference of 122-188 mm.

Large fits wrists with a circumference of 148-215 mm circumference

Small/medium: 24.1 g
Large: 27.0 g

5 ATM

GPS mode: Up to 8 hours
Smartwatch mode: Up to 7 days

Garmin vivoactive 3

43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7 mm

Fits wrists with a circumference of 127-204 mm

43.0 g

5 ATM

Smartwatch mode: Up to 7 days
GPS mode: Up to 13 hours

Garmin vivoactive 3 Music

43.1 x 43.1 x 13.6 mm

Fits wrists with a circumference of 127-204 mm

39.0 g

5 ATM

Smartwatch mode: Up to 7 days
GPS mode with music: Up to 5 hours
GPS mode without music: Up to 13 hours

Garmin Forerunner 35

35.5 x 40.7 x 13.3 mm

37.3 g

5 ATM

Smartwatch Mode: Up to 9 days
GPS mode: Up to 13 hours

Garmin Forerunner 235

45 x 45 x 11.7 mm

42 g

5 ATM

Smartwatch Mode: Up to 9 days
GPS mode: Up to 11 hours

Garmin Forerunner 630

45 x 45 x 11.7 mm

44 g

5 ATM

Smartwatch Mode: Up to 4 weeks
GPS mode: Up to 16 hours

Garmin Forerunner 645

42.5 x 42.5 x 13.5 mm

Fits wrists with a circumference of 127-204 mm

41.8 g

5 ATM

Smartwatch Mode: Up to 7 days
GPS mode: Up to 14 hours

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

42.5 x 42.5 x 13.5 mm

Fits wrists with a circumference of 127-204 mm

42.2 g

5 ATM

Smartwatch Mode: Up to 7 days
GPS mode with music: Up to 5 hours
GPS mode without music: Up to 14 hours

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

44.5 x 44.5 x 11.9 mm

40.2 g

5 ATM

Smartwatch Mode: Up to 11 days
GPS mode: Up to 14 hours
UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 24 hours without wrist heart rate

Garmin Forerunner 935

47 x 47 x 13.9 mm

49 g

5 ATM

Smartwatch 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

85 g

10 ATM

Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks
GPS/HR mode: Up to 24 hours
UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate

Garmin fenix 5s

42 x 42 x 15 mm

67 g

10 ATM

Smartwatch 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

51 x 51 x 17.5 mm

98 g

10 ATM

Smartwatch mode: Up to 12 days
GPS/HR mode: Up to 20 hours
UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 35 hours without wrist heart rate

Garmin fenix 5 Plus

47 x 47 x 15.8 mm

86 g
Titanium version: 76 g

10 ATM

Smartwatch: Up to 12 days
GPS: Up to 18 hours
GPS and Music: Up to 8 hours
UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 42 hours

Garmin fenix 5S Plus

42 x 42 x 15.4 mm

65 g

10 ATM

Smartwatch: Up to 7 days
GPS: Up to 11 hours
GPS and Music: Up to 4.5 hours
UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 25 hours

Garmin fenix 5X Plus

51 x 51 x 17.5 mm

96 g
Titanium version: 87 g

10 ATM

Smartwatch: Up to 20 days
GPS: Up to 32 hours
GPS and Music: Up to 13 hours
UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 70 hours

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 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 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 Fitness

43 x 43 x 14.3 mm

  36 g

30 metres

Training mode without GPS: up to 40h
With 24/7 tracking and mobile notifications: up to 5 days
In time mode: up to 10 days
Training mode with GPS: up to 30h with connected GPS

Suunto Spartan Sport

50 x 50 x 13.8 mm

  70 g

100 metres

10 hours in training mode
(up to 80 hours in power saving mode)
With 24/7 tracking and mobile notifications: 7 days

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR

  50 x 50 x 16.8 mm

74 g

100 metres

In time mode: 14 days
10 hours in GPS training mode
(up to 40 hours in power saving mode)

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro

50 x 50 x 17 mm

74 g

100 metres

In time mode: 14 days
10 hours in GPS training mode
(up to 40 hours in power saving mode)

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR

  46 x 46 x 15.7 mm

56 g

50 metres

In time mode: 14 days
10 hours in GPS training mode
(up to 30 hours in power saving mode)
With 24/7 tracking and mobile notifications: 7 days

Suunto Spartan Sport Ultra

50 x 50 x 17 mm

73 g

100 metres

In time mode: 20 days
18 hours in GPS training mode
(up to 140 hours in power saving mode)
With 24/7 tracking and mobile notifications: 10 days

TomTom Spark Cardio + Music

 22 x 25 x 11.5 mm

50 g

5 ATM

Activity tracking: up to 3 weeks,
GPS: up to 11 hours,
GPS + Heart Rate + Music: up to 5 hours

Tomtom Runner 3 Cardio

 22 x 25 x  13.7 mm

50 g

5 ATM

25 days (Watch mode);
11 hours (GPS) 9 hours (GPS + HR);
5 hours (GPS + HR + Music)

Tomtom Runner 3 Cardio + Music

 22 x 25 x  13.7 mm

50 g

5 ATM

25 days (Watch mode);
11 hours (GPS) 9 hours (GPS + HR);
5 hours (GPS + HR + Music)

 22 x 25 x  13.7 mm
 55 g
5 ATM
25 days (Watch mode);
24 hours (Hiking mode);
11 hours (GPS) 9 hours (GPS + HR);
5 hours (GPS + HR + Music)
 
 

Feature Comparison

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

Watch

GPS

Multisport Profiles

Multisport Mode for Triathlon

Swim Mode

Point to Point Navigation / Follow GPS Track

Barometric Altimeter

Compass

Daily Activity Tracking

LiveTrack

Music Storage

Contactless Payment

Garmin vivofit 4

Garmin vivosmart 3

Garmin vivosport

Garmin vivoactive 3

Garmin vivoactive 3 Music

Garmin Forerunner 35

Garmin Forerunner 235

Garmin Forerunner 630

Garmin Forerunner 645

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Garmin Forerunner 935

Garmin fenix 5

Garmin fenix 5s

Garmin fenix 5x

Garmin fenix 5 Plus

Garmin fenix 5S Plus

Garmin fenix 5X Plus

Suunto Ambit3 Run

Suunto Ambit3 Sport

Suunto Ambit3 Vertical

Suunto Ambit3 Peak

Suunto Fitness

Suunto Spartan Sport

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR

Suunto Spartan Sport Ultra

TomTom Spark Cardio + Music

Tomtom Runner 3 Cardio

Tomtom Runner 3 Cardio + Music

Tomtom Adventurer Cardio + Music

 
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


Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up