From personal experience, men and women seem to put one leg in front of the other in a very similar way, so I am not entirely sure by which criteria we should try to find the Best Women’s Running Watch.
What Defines a Woman’s Running Watch?
Without wishing to offend any sensitivities in these PC times, let’s try these 4 criteria for the Best Women’s Running Watch:
- Wrist Size – a woman’s average wrist size is 17.78cm whilst that of a man is 21.59cm. This is likely to be skewed slightly upwards in the Netherlands where people are the tallest and slightly downwards in Asia where women are generally of a more slight build than in the West. So I will consider the size of a running watch as one of my criteria. Of course, some men have thin wrists and some women have thick wrists.
- Colour – In the UK, retailers generally assume that pink is a girl’s colour (ie for children) but this is only a relatively recent social construct with pink/blue being reverse-gendered a hundred, or so, years ago. Of course, both men and women have their individual colour preferences, so I will consider watches that have interchangeable bands and then everyone is happy.
- Women’s health issues have some clear differences to those of men. But in terms of running watch design, these issues have minimal impact. FOR SPORT we are only talking about a means to track or predict menstruation periods.
- Music – From my own observations over many workouts in the running-Mecca of SW London, women seem to run more in pairs or, when alone, seem to run more often to music than men (Sample Size of 1 observer: Me). So I will consider music playback too. Of course, men listen to music too. #Sigh.
If none of those specific issues is of particular concern to you then try this link more detailed look at a wider range of running watches for men and women alike.
There are probably lots of smaller brands offering half-baked solutions. I’m only going to look at brands that I consider to offer competent running watches. Here are the models I would look at if I were you and in search of the Best Women’s Running Watch.
- Garmin Fenix 5S Plus – Super techy. Super Good. Sufficiently Accurate. Nice enough screen, nice aesthetics. This is a supremely competent-cum-awesome triathlon watch that can even navigate you to a post-run coffee and pay for it with the card details it stores in the watch. On the downside, pay particular attention to the thickness of the watch – in that sense, it is a bit chunky. Don’t get too excited about the 5S Plus until you have seen the price tag. And don’t think you will be best advised to buy the non-Plus version, there are some drawbacks there including an inferior screen.
- Suunto 3 Fitness – This is one of those hidden gems. The watch is small and lightweight with good aesthetics. It has all the smart running stuff you will likely need as well as a great level of sporting competence in its ability to connect to certain sensor types and display the information you want. It has a super-cool onboard feature that is an adaptive training plan which automatically adjusts and reschedules your workouts as you progress and feeds into specific workouts that you are coached through. It only gets GPS from your smartphone though.
- Suunto Spartan Trainer – This is another highly competent watch that will also rank highly as a mid-range triathlon watch. Although the screen size is relatively small, the case around it is bordering on ‘normal’ sized. so maybe it’s not as small as you might think. It has an unusual lug that means the straps are not interchangeable.
- COROS APEX 42mm – COROS is a relative newcomer that is probably best described as a challenger brand for running and multi-sports. As a consequence, this model offers much more reasonable value-for-many than the better-known incumbents. It’s well made and has good aesthetics, although some of you will either love or hate the Apple Watch-like crown on the side that is used to navigate the device menus. The ‘normal’ running and smart features are pretty much ‘all there’. Nevertheless, you should still consider it.
- Apple Watch 3 or 4 – Comes in a smaller version and it’s getting sportingly better every single year.
- Garmin Forerunner 35 is the smaller, squarer Garmin. It is a competent running watch but better value and prettier alternatives exist.
- Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 Music offers an Apple Watch alternative but in a different aesthetic format. It’s packed full of tech in a small format. Like most Garmins it has better sporty functionality but also lacks a little on aesthetics and screen quality.
- The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music is broadly similar to the Vivoactive 3 Music and additionally offers uber top-end running functionality inside a properly designed running watch case. ‘Meh’ screen quality and the ‘Oh!’ price tag might put you off.
Other running watches to consider would be from Polar. The Vantage M is lightweight and thin, although the watch face itself is ‘normal-sized’. The Polar M600 (super techy Android/WearOS sports watch) and M430 are both highly competent sports devices with square screens. These square screens are small but the strap and case around them bulk up the overall look somewhat. I like the looks of the M600/M430 but they are not for everyone and I won’t be covering them below.
Hey, I’ve got skinny wrists too but prefer a larger watch. Each to their own.
The reality is that there is less of a choice with higher spec running watches in a smaller format. There are several issues arising from a physically smaller watch. Perhaps most importantly, there is less room inside for a battery so either a smaller battery is required or something else from inside has to go instead. It’s almost always the smaller battery that is chosen and that means that there will be a shorter battery life as a result. This shorter battery life can then impact on the practicality of some of the other features like, for example, music which eats a fair amount of battery juice especially when paired to Bluetooth headphones ie a smaller running watch might not play music for as long as a larger one would.
A smaller watch may also have a smaller watch face and this can then have knock-on effects like a lower screen resolution, which can look a bit tacky, or there simply not being enough space to display as much workout data as you might like.
The Fitbit Versa is also worthy of consideration here as is the look-alike Apple Watch.
Skinny Wrists – Sizing
I would recommend you to look most closely at these skinny-wristed watches. The dimensions shown are the CASE size and not the screen size. Some of the weights exclude the weight of the straps and I’ve not shown the strap length options.
- Apple Watch 4 – 40 mm x 34mm x 10.7mm, case 39.8g
- Apple Watch 3 – 38.6 mm x 33.3 mm x 11.4 mm, case 26.7g
- Suunto 3 Fitness – 43mm x 43mm diameter xx 14.3mm deep, 36g [20mm bands]
- Fitbit Versa – 39.35mm x 39.35mm x 11.24mm deep, 38g
- COROS APEX 42mm – 42mm x 42mm diameter x 14.5mm deep, 50.8g [20mm bands]
- Garmin Fenix 5S Plus – 42mm x 42mm diameter x 15.4mm, 65g [20mm bands]
- Garmin Forerunner 35 – 40.7mm x 35.5 mm x 13.3 mm, 37.3g
- Garmin Forerunner 645 Music – 42.5 x 42.5 x 13.5 mm, 42.4g [20mm bands]
- Garmin Forerunner Vivoactive 3 Music – 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7 mm, 43g [20mm bands]
Just from a purely size and weight perspective, these all seem highly similar. For example, I would say that a 50g watch is LIGHTWEIGHT and nearly all of these are lighter than that.
Clearly, you could get a short strap to fit a larger watch case but I’m assuming when you say ‘skinny wrists’ you probably really mean a small watch case. Apologies if not.
Thick Wrist, Skinny Wrist, or No Wrist At All
The “no wrist at all option” is to use a smartphone, smartphone apps or a ring.
There are many women’s health apps and you are much likely to find a great one for either your iOS or Android smartphone through the Google Play store. The Windows phone or Samsung Galaxy apps will offer less of a choice.
Or try a ring-based solution like CIRCULAR or Motiv but these are not appropriate options if you are looking for a high level of sporty detail.
Fertility, Ovulation, Cycle Tracking App
Some smartphone apps have ‘partner apps’ that also work on connected watches.
For running and women’s health apps to ALSO WORK on your Apple Watch of your WearOS Watch then you will find that your choice of app suddenly considerably shortens. In this respect, the Fitbit app+watch environment would probably come a distant third but still well ahead of Garmin’s CIQ apps.
Having said that about Fitbit’s apps IN GENERAL, I would add the caveat that Fitbit specifically recognises the importance of female buyers and have targeted SOME of their app efforts towards women’s issues. This moves Fitbit up to a close third rather than a distant third in terms of the watches+apps we are talking about here
Apps – Some Details
Apps – Problems
Problem: How are you going to measure basal body temperature from an app on your smartphone?
Smartwatches like Fitbit and Apple have temperature sensors to support such features. Furthermore, Apple has their Reproductive Health area which can combine data from other sources like the apps mentioned previously. I could only find one Garmin CIQ app.
Apps – Solutions
Thus, the smartphone is a great place for women’s health apps, especially when combined with a watch that has an accurate temperature sensor. Of course, once you have a decent app+watch combo then there’s a great chance that you will easily find sports apps and music apps as well as getting support for MANY brands of wired- and wireless headphones.
All The Colours of the Rainbow
I’m just going to look here at the smaller-format running watches that will take interchangeable straps.
Consider: Just because you can change the colour of the strap, that does not mean that the colour of your new strap will match the colours of the main body of the watch. So you will need to think about the colour of the watch case, bezel and face if you are going to be picky about colour compatibilities on your wrist. The more generic approach would be to choose a watch that has a metallic finish on the case/body or a colour more easily matched – eg black or white.
eg Here, on the left, is my Garmin 235 which originally had a lurid, green strap, which I never liked. The solution was to change it to a black one but, as you can see, some of the green detailing permanently remains on the face. Grrrrr.
Furthermore, some smart, running watches allow the colour of the digital watch face to be changed to complement/match your bands…some don’t. Most companies really haven’t thought through colour compatibility, so don’t expect that dull-coloured screen to match your bright watch strap.
Here you can see the pins on the straps of the rear of 3 Polar Vantage M watches. You can EASILY change these straps but good luck with finding a strap that will match the red-bodied model on the left.
Furthermore, even if you bought a replacement red strap then it might be the wrong shade of red that STILL wouldn’t go with the red body. to make matters worse, you might also find that the strap and body are initially the SAME colour but made of different material, thus with exposure to sun and with swimming you may well find that one will fade more quickly than the other. #Sigh.
You will find VERY many alternative bands on Amazon for the well-known Fitbit and Apple brands. The COROS, Garmin and Suunto watches I mentioned earlier have standard strap widths so you will easily be able to find ones for those models too. It’s just the Garmin Forerunner 35 that is restricted with strap colours, although it does come in 4 colours from new.
Good Screens – Bad Screens
You’ve done all your online research for your Best Women’s Running Watch and you then made your purchase. But when it arrives the screen looks hideous. Then you realise that many of the images you saw online were probably photoshopped and/or the ‘just so’ digital screen was used because every other screen on the watch looks naff. Sometimes, in my opinion, the watches can look pretty good but the screens really let down the overall aesthetic.
The reality here is that you will only get amazing screens with the Apple Watch and watches like the WearOS watches for Android. You can research the number of pixels (more is better) but even then the type of techy screen used can give dull, vivid or ‘meh’ looks.
Here is a broad guideline to the best screens
- Apple Watch / WearOS watches – can be things of great beauty. AW4 – 40mm, 324x394px 759 sq mm display area. LTPO OLED Retina display with Force Touch
1000 nits brightness
- Fitbit Versa – Pretty good. Likey Likey. 300x300px LCD
- Garmin/Coros/Suunto – Meh. Choose a digital watch face and it might look alright if you are lucky. In a bit more detail…
- Garmin 240x240px transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) or 218x218px on some models – digital faces can look alright
- Coros 42mm 1.1 in. 218x218px (64 colors) memory LCD – digital faces look nice
- Suunto 3 Fitness 218x218px matrix – digital faces can look alright
- Of these 3 the Garmin tends to have a slightly better resolution BUT a more ‘dull’ colour. So I’d rank these all equally.
I’ll recap the main contenders and then add specific recommendations for each of your different requirements the Best Women’s Running Watch
With the exception of the Forerunner 35, all of the watches in the list meet the broad criteria that we started out with. Here they are again with a one-liner for each
- Apple Watch 4 – ‘Expensive, supposedly accurate and with many app options’
- Apple Watch 3 – ‘Get a good sale deal for the AW3 and overlook its lower levels of accuracy than the AW4 and enjoy the many, many app options’
- Suunto 3 Fitness – It has a good aesthetic and a good price but is quite plasticy, it’s coaching/training feature is one of the better ones but beware the lack of GPS unless connected to your phone’
- Fitbit Versa – Hopefully by 2019 it will be living up to the great promise it initially showed. A nice female health slant but beware the lack of GPS unless connected to your phone’
- COROS APEX – You’ve never heard of it but it’s a great, well-made and ACCURATE running watch. If it’s a competent, small RUNNING watch you want, that’s not too expensive, then this is the one…but only if you like the Apple Watch-like crown/knob. No apps and no music.
- Garmin Fenix 5S Plus – This is one of the most awesome, techy sports devices ever made. The price tag matches. Little consideration is otherwise given to women’s health.
- Garmin Forerunner 35 – Relatively cheap and cheerful and does the basic ‘running’ job reasonably well – but that’s all. Even then it’s over-priced for what it is unless on sale. You’d never wear it to a ball but it’s fine in the park.
- Garmin Forerunner 645 Music – This is a super-competent, smart running watch with all the bells and whistles. No women’s health apps.
- Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music – This is a super-competent running/smartwatch with all the bells and whistles. (A Vivoactive 3 Plus Music version will be released in Q1.2019)
Recommendation: if Women’s Health monitoring is important
If you want to integrate women’s health issues with your running stats then Apple and Fitbit are the places to go. I’m not entirely convinced that the Fitbit Versa with its lack of GPS is the place to for any half-serious runner. So that leads to the obvious conclusion of the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch should be more than good enough for a half-serious runner. Let’s say it should even keep a 3/4 serious runner happy too 😉 I’d never really followed this train of thought before and I guess it explains one of the reasons why the Apple Watch is the biggest selling wearable...ever.
Recommendation: Apple Watch 3/4 or a smartphone and lots of apps.
Recommendation: if Coaching is important
You can get some competent coaching apps for the Apple Watch. I like the clever, adaptive coaching app on the Suunto 3 Fitness which is HR based and gives further instructions during the workout. Fitbit has a similar sort of coaching app but it’s not free. Garmin has a free ‘coach’ feature which should get your 5K times down to 25 minutes but beyond that, you are on your own.
Recommendation: I’m not happy to recommend anything here for coaching. Maybe the Suunto?
Recommendation: if Music is important
The 3 choices you have are the Apple Watch, the more expensive Garmins and the Fitbit Versa. Garmin’s implementation of music is great; as is that of the Apple Watch. But those two options are both expensive and so the Fitbit Versa will be on many of your wish lists just because of the cost. Check out my review of the Versa before jumping down that path.
Recommendation: As a running watch with music I can definitely recommend the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus. The 645 Music and Vivoactive 3 (Plus) Music versions from Garmin have identical music functionality.
Price, Availability & Discounts
Here are the links to detailed review and to the lowest price on your local Amazon store. There’s a couple of special deals I have that are listed as well and there is a good chance of a Versa, Suunto or Apple Watch 3 in a sale.
These are approximate prices as of publication. These should give you a rough idea to narrow down your choices
- Amazon : Review : Suunto 3 Fitness (Sub £200/ Eu/$230)
- Amazon : Review : Fitbit Versa (Sub £200/ Eu/$230)
- Amazon : Review : COROS APEX (Sub £250/ Eu/$300) – 10% discount via the review
- Amazon : Review : Garmin Fenix 5S Plus (Sub £600/$/Eu700)
- Amazon : Review : Garmin Forerunner 35 (sub £150/$/Eu200)
- Amazon : Review : Garmin Forerunner 645 Music (Sub £400/$/Eu500)
- Amazon : Review : Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music (Sub £250/ Eu/$300)
- Amazon : Apple Watch 4 (£500+ ish/Eu/$650)
- Amazon : Review : Apple Watch 3 (£400+ ish /$/Eu450)
- Amazon : Apple Watch 2 Nike (Sub £250/ Eu/$300)
- Amazon : Apple Watch 1 Sport 38mm (sub £200/ Eu/$230)
- Amazon : Review Suunto Spartan Trainer (Sub £200/ Eu/$230)
Any purchase via these links supports this site…thank you!