the Best Running Watch 2024 comparing Garmin, Apple, Fitbit, Polar & Coros

best running watch gps 2021 garmin polar apple fitbit coros women trail ultra hiking smart fitnessBest Running Watch – Buy a Top 10 GPS Sports Watch

Let’s cut to the chase…the best running watch for most runners is the Garmin Forerunner 265. No question. It’s (almost) obvious. Unless that is, you want a smarter or more casual running watch, in which case the obvious choice is the Apple Watch 9, well, at least it is obvious if you have an iPhone.


Updated: 15 Feb 2024

There are other seemingly obvious contenders for each class of Best Running Watches for 2024, I’m a runner/triathlete that’s run thousands of miles with those Garmin, Polar, Apple and Coros watches so here you get great pointers for the right GPS running watch for every kind of running – trail, track, casual, ultra, marathon, parkrun. I recommend every best-in-class GPS running watch, let’s start with a list of all winners, starting with the overall winner, the Garmin Forerunner 265. Use the table of contents to jump to the categories that interest you most.

best running watch gps 2021 garmin polar apple fitbit coros women trail ultra hiking smart fitness

Best GPS Running Watch features for which kind of runners?

These are the top 10 features that most people consider and which are factored into the recommendations, below, for the best running watches, Price, Aesthetics, Optical heart rate, Smart and connected features for safety, music, contactless payments and maps, Social and health features, Connectivity to phone apps, sensors and wifi, Durability in extreme environments, ABC Sensor, accelerometer & support for Footpods for using in special environments, Workouts, structured intervals, guided training & coaching plans, and Running Power.


Best Running Watch with GPS – Overall Winner – Garmin Forerunner 265

Overall, the winner is the Garmin Forerunner 265.

Buy FR255 here with discounts typically of around 10% from these: $299, £226, Eu299 

The small size-format and cheaper Garmin Forerunner 255s will do every running task required by 95% of you who read this, it is that good and it ticks most of the feature boxes from optical heart rate through to battery life, training guidance, free training plans, smartphone notifications and advanced running features galore from deep physiology feedback to track mode. The downsides are the ‘Garmin’ premium and a comparatively cheap build quality; even then, you will get at least 10% off the rrp when buying from here. Due to be replaced in 2022 at the latest.

best running watch gps 2021 garmin polar apple fitbit coros women trail ultra hiking smart fitness
Forerunner 255 plus STRYD and my New Balance shoes

Best Garmin Running Watch – Garmin Forerunner 255

Naturally, the best Garmin running watch is also the Garmin Forerunner 255. You could go cheaper to the Forerunner 55 or get a second mortgage for the Garmin Forerunner 955 but there’s no point. All of the normal running features and more are on the FR255.

Buy FR255 here with discounts typically of around 10% from these: $265, £226, Eu299

Best Running Watch with Music – Garmin Forerunner 255 Music

Unsurprisingly, the Best Running Watch with Music is the Garmin Forerunner 255 Music, it works well with most headphones; unlike the Apple Watch it allows you to store your MP3s on the watch; and it supports more music-streaming services than Apple with support for Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music. Being the overall winner of ‘Best Running Watch’ you can rest assured that it will also perform all running tasks excellently.

best running watch gps 2021 garmin polar apple fitbit coros women trail ultra hiking smart fitness music

The LTE versions of the Apple Watch could be best for those who want to stream over a cellular connection as Garmin is unlikely to be able to ever offer that.

If you want to use your existing Google Youtube Music then my recommendation for you is to switch to the Suunto 7 and if you want a cheap option that simply lets you use your ripped MP3 collection then consider the Amazfit Stratos. Fitbit Sense is a good bet if you are already a Fitbit user (otherwise do NOT switch to them) and the Fossil Gen 5, like the Suunto 7, will be a good call one Youtube Music gets its act together and makes an app.

Buy FR255 Music here with discounts typically of around 10% from these: $289, £263, Eu349

Complete the purchase of your Garmin Forerunner 255 Music version

ESSENTIAL READING: Garmin Forerunner 255 Music Review


Best Polar Running Watch – Polar Vantage V2

The Polar Vantage V2 is a superb quality running watch. It has a better build quality than the more plastic feel of all Garmin Forerunners. It’s one of my personal favourites and has a wealth of ‘proper’ running features for athletes, including great physiology insights and the ability to execute complex & targetted running workouts. Less common needs are fully covered such as the native handling of running power and breadcrumb routes synced from Strava and elsewhere.

best running watch gps 2021 garmin polar apple fitbit coros women trail ultra hiking smart fitness musicWhat it lacks in the latest smartwatch features it makes up for in its looks.

Don’t worry about choosing Polar over Garmin, Polar has been supporting runners for longer than Garmin and their whole platform is primarily runner-focused.

Buy Polar Vantage V2 here with discounts typically of around 10% of rrp: $499, £395, Eu499


Polar Vantage V2

The Best Sports Watch For Women – Apple Watch 9, 41mm

I don’t like to make gender-specific recommendations…but here goes, please don’t bite me. The average female runner menstruates, has a thinner wrist than the average man and is more inclined to join sporty, non-running activities like gym classes and to be more attuned to dietary requirements. My personal experience is that women tend to run more in groups, run in safer places and listen to music when running alone. To contain tech that covers all those aspects of your life, you would probably want me to recommend the Fitbit Versa 3 or the Garmin Forerunner 255M. I’m not going to.

Apple Watch Series 7 sport

Despite a good social platform, Fitbit’s future now it is owned by Google is unclear; female-specific health tracking is best supported by dedicated smartphone apps, and both the Fitbit and Garmin models need to pretty up a bit. So that leaves you with a price-based choice of either an Apple Watch 7, Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch 3 starting as low as $169 in sales. You know that any Apple Watch has all the apps you want and is certainly the most sensible choice for iPhone users, the downside is that the Apple Watch lacks individuality. The Apple Watch SE is similar to the Apple Watch 7, lacking an always-on screen, slower charging, less durability, shorter battery life and previous-gen optical heart rate.

If you want guided training or if you are on the Android platform, then go for the beautiful screen of the Polar Ignite which covers most gender-specific aspects that women need from tech and which also has FitSpark adaptive training guidance which will properly guide you every day in support of your running and fitness regime.

Buy Apple Watch 3 here from $189, £179, Eu191 (price will fall in 2022)

Buy Apple Watch SE here from $279, £269, Eu299 (price will eventually fall to $199)

Buy Apple Watch 7 here for $399, £378, Eu399

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Best Cheap Running Watch

If you want a price-based recommendation then the Sigma iD.FREE is the best, cheap running watch. Also covered in the next category.

Best Running Watch for Aspirational Runners – Sigma iD.TRI

best running watch gps 2021 garmin polar apple fitbit coros women trail ultra hiking smart fitness music


Sigma has taken over my recommendation at the budget end of the market with a great offering in a classic rectangular format. Either the iD.FREE or id.TRI will suffice, they are very similar.

Despite the CHEAP price ($110/£130ish,) they have LOTS of features including crash alerts, optical HR, barometric altimeter and structured workout support. The aesthetics may not be to everyone’s liking but they will be great for a beginner runner and also will still be great for the same runner two or three or more years down the line. The iD.TRI or iD.FREE should do all the running-related stuff you need but it’s not going to have much of the smart functionality or features for physiology, sleep patterns and the like. It’s probably the watch you wear for your sport but not for the rest of the day.

Garmin’s offering here is the more expensive Forerunner 45 and 45S (smaller version), despite being the budget Garmin option with several smart features, this Garmin is over-priced. If you are wowed by an app like Garmin Connect then DO get the Garmin and if you want running features on the watch then get the iD.FREE.


Buy Sigma iD.TRI/FREE here from £125, Eu116

Best Mid-Priced Running Watch – Coros Pace 3

Arriving late in 2023, the successor to the Coros Pace 3 took the entry-level price tier for ‘proper’ running watches by storm

best running watch for women gps coros garmin polarThis is an excellently featured running watch for an amazing price. It is super-light, has a long battery life and contains a Garmin-level number of features PLUS it originally had features that even Garmin lacked – like track mode. If you want to start using running power then the Pace 2 offers native support for STRYD and its own on-the-wrist power calculations. With physiology insights, training plan creation and Garmin-level accuracy, what’s not to like? It ticks every box with a great big thick marker pen. Except one. The app. The app is OK and perfectly usable but it’s not awe-inspiring. Coros WILL further improve it in 2023 but that’s the future and you might not want to buy now on a promise.

Summary: Pace 3 has better features for your money than Garmin Forerunner 255 *BUT* the Garmin phone app is superior to Coros.

If you don’t want to risk a challenger brand like Coros AND if you want an awesome platform then get an updated version of 2020’s winner – Polar Pacer Pro, which is now widely discounted.


Buy Coros Pace 2 here from $199£179, Eu199 (The price won’t fall much, perhaps a maximum of 20% in 2022)



Best Premium-Priced Running Watch- Garmin Forerunner 955

Either the Garmin FR955 or Polar Vantage V2 is the best premium running watch. The Garmin has more smart features and more peripheral features,and  the Polar is packed full of running features and is a better-made watch (I’d say prettier, too). If you want a small-format premium watch you’d go for the Garmin FR745 which is kinda the same as the Garmin FR955 but smaller. The Fenix 7 ranges are highly comparable effectively they are the same features in a more robust metal case.


Most-Featured Running Watch – Garmin Forerunner 955

The most-featured running watch is the Garmin Forerunner 955 which does everything sporty that a running watch needs to do andhas  lots more smart features too…like music, PAY and maps. It’s a pro-tri-watch and another of my personal favourites.

best running watch gps 2021 garmin polar apple fitbit coros women trail ultra hiking smart fitness musicIt will give you all the racing, pacing and run training features you will ever need. No other running/triathlon watch has this many features covering track mode, Firstbeat physiology, structured training, guided training, training suggestions, voice guidance, alerts,and  customisable lap screen…I could go on but it would be a very, very, very long list of features.

The Forerunner 945 contains every Garmin running feature. It is expensive and plasticy, yet still gets any new Garmin running feature unlike the much older 645. IMPORTANT for smaller-wristed people: you might prefer the smaller case of the Forerunner 745…apart from MAPS, battery & price the FR745 and FR955 are almost identical.

Buy Garmin Forerunner 955 here from $498£449, Eu506 (discounts of over 10-15% are typical)

ESSENTIAL READING FULL REVIEW: Garmin Forerunner 955 Review

Garmin Forerunner 955




Best Smart Running Watch – for Fitness – Apple Watch SE

An iPhone user with not too much cash to splash will choose the Apple Watch SE. It is an awesome fitness watch.

best running watch gps 2021 garmin polar apple fitbit coros women trail ultra hiking smart fitness musicYou will get so many smart features and apps that you won’t know what to do with – women’s health, advanced triathlon apps, Stryd power support, maps and compasses…there’s an app for all. You will also get an extremely competent fitness watch with the Apple Watch SE and it has the ‘just works’ factor. The only reasons to get the Apple Watch 7 over the SE are a slight speed boost; a slightly better, always-on screen; faster charging & longer-lasting battery;  and a superior optical heart rate monitor. It’s that last point that might persuade a fitness aficionado to go for the more expensive AW7 – although a chest strap will work with either Some of you will point out that the slower AW3 is cheaper and similarly functioned, which is true, but for a few dollars more the superior SE will be supported for MANY years more than the AW3.

Android users? I know you’re going to buy a Fitbit Versa 3 / SENSE but I can’t recommend those even though they offer improvements over the previous generation. Sorry. Try an awesome Suunto 7 instead.

Buy Apple Watch 3 here from $169, £179, Eu191 (price will fall in 2022 and it will be discontinued in 2022)

Buy Apple Watch SE here from $279, £269,and  Eu299 (price will eventually fall to $199 and the SE gen 2 will also be sold in 2022)

Buythe  Apple Watch 7 here for $399, £378,and  Eu399 the (price will fall significantly in 2022 as the replacement Watch 8 nears)

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Best Running Watch just with ‘Proper’ Running Features – Polar Pacer Pro

This is an award for an old-school watch. However, it morphed into an award for a watch that is not pretending to be anything other than what it is designed to be. The Polar Pacer Pro is a running watch…for, ahem, runners. It just happens to be a PROPER triathlon watch as well (I used one for racing in 2019 and I like it).

The Pacer Pro is well-discounted and much cheaper than the Vantage V2 but has very similar components and software inside. However, the Pacer Pro seems to make the GPS and oHR work better than the V2 model. The Pacer Pro’ is the ‘real deal’ with structured training, alerts, native running power and a comprehensive app/platform. Don’t be fooled by the price.



The one downside of the Pacer Pro is the lack of audible alerts, although can just hear the vibration alert. If that bothers you then consider the Vantage V2 or the more rugged Grit X.


Polar Pacer Pro with discounts typically of around 25% of rrp: $209, £185, Eu208 

Range of best prices for Polar Vantage

The Most Accurate Running Watch – Garmin Forerunner 745 & Apple Watch 7

I am so sorry. I have to deeply apologise to all my longtime readers who have, for so long, trusted me to ‘say it how it was’ with Garmin’s optical HR and GPS accuracy. Sadly, Garmin may have turned the corner into Accuracy Street, hand-in-hand with the Apple Watch 7. The FR745, Fenix 7, Enduro 2, Epix 2 and Forerunner 955 can, sometimes, be very accurate. But not always. And really, the Apple Watch 7! What? It’s not even a ‘proper’ sports watch. It can’t be accurate. Can it?

Read this: Apple Watch 7 Accuracy (the most detailed sports-accuracy report out there, supporter-only content)

Read this: Garmin Forerunner 745 Accuracy (the most detailed sports-accuracy report out there, supporter-only content)

  1. Garmin Epix 2 (Best GNSS/GPS) – Garmin 745 & AW6 both ONCE reported the joint best GNSS score in a repeated test I perform on ALL sports watches. Epix 2 has taken accuracy to a new level with multi-band, all constellation goodness…that’s like GPS+GLONASS on LOTS of steroids.
  2. Apple Watch 7 (Best optical HR) oHR with Garmin’s latest-gen ELEVATE sensor is generally good and often perfect but sometimes less so. The new oHR sensor in the AW6 is even better but occasionally it’s rubbish and flatlines or locks onto your running cadence rather than your heartbeat (yes really!).
  3. Apple Watch 7 (Best elevation) – Apple Watch periodically re-calibrates a barometrically-derived altitude with GPS (maybe also querying actual elevation via LTE or your phone). Even AW6 is very good in my experience. I will temper that by saying other reports out there disagree.

Put it this way if both my STRYD battery and HRM-PRO battery suddenly stopped working, I would be happy to continue my run with either the AW6 or FR745 rather than breaking down and crying at the chance of less-than-perfect data.

OK, that last bit was tongue-in-cheek, you get my point tht these are accurate enough. Please note that physiological and environmental factors will certainly cause your experience of oHR and GNSS/GPS to be different from mine. Buy a foot pod and a chest strap for guaranteed results.

Buy Apple Watch 7 here for $399, £378, Eu399

Buy Garmin 745 here from $470£412,and  Eu445 (discounts of 5-10% are now typical)

Best Running Watch for Wear OS

best running watch gps 2021 garmin polar apple fitbit coros women trail ultra hiking suunto music

My detailed Suunto 7 review from earlier in the year easily found the Suunto 7 to be a very well-made piece of kit with all the goodies that are packed into Wear OS – payments, Google Assistant, maps and more. Furthermore, it is beautiful and easily the best-ever smart running watch for WearOS. The Suunto Wear OS app i superior to most running apps and all the issues identified when it was launched, like customsportst profiles, have now been fixed. Even if you don’t like the Suunto Wear OS app there are many other sporty Wear OS apps you can choose to admire on the awesome screen it comes with. Just like the Apple Watch, the only downsides are the battery and the price.

DETAILED REVIEW Full Suunto 7 Review

Buy Suunto 7 here with discounts typically of up to 15% of rrp: $433, £377, Eu483

Check a range of Suunto prices at local retailers

Best Large-Format Watch for Ultra Running  & Trail Running – Garmin Enduro 2

With long battery life, the Garmin Enduro is the winner in this trail and ultra categories, with very few reservations.

You get the highest-durability case, life-saving sensors Altimeter, Barometer & Compass to sit alongside the awesome, solar-powered battery life that comes as standard. Sure you can follow breadcrumb routes, see progress up pre-planned climbs with ClimbPro, and have the piece-of-mind of fall detection and lightweight, titanium ruggedness to keep going in confidence to the end of your adventure. This has every relevant Garmin running feature….hundreds of them, from every multisport feature to every Firstbeat physiology feature an immense battery life, plus it’s faster and smoother to use than the earlier Fenix sibling models. You even get VO2max ratings adjusted for off-road terrain. No competing watch delivers these niche features.

Garmin Enduro
Enduro 1 Shown



Perhaps the screen could be more colourful and with a better resolution? Now it even has inbuilt maps and trail-race-specific features like auto-rest station time recording

It’s very expensive. But it is the best-in-class when considered in the context of its features and the Garmin platform.

Spanner in the works: The Coros Vertix 2 has offline maps, superior battery life and an excellent feature set on the watch. If only the app were better I would recommend it. That said, MANY trail/ultra runners are switching to Vertix 2 and it is another good choice at a MUCH lower pric..

Use discount code THE5KRUNNER at coros and add a free $30 accessory

Buy Garmin Enduro here from US$899.99, Eu899.99, £800


Best Adventure Running Watch – Coros Apex 2 Pro

The best adventure watch is the Coros Apex 2 Pro and when you factor in the cost it beats the Garmin Enduro.

best running watch gps 2021 garmin polar apple fitbit coros women trail ultra hiking music

The Coros Apex offers a very well-featured alternative to Garmin at a significantly lower price. Weight, maps and battery life are important and there is no single product that is the best at those 3 criteria, so my trade-off favours the Apex which only has breadcrumb routes (like the Enduro). ONLY IF maps are important will you get a Fenix 6 or Fenix 7.

The Coros app does the basic job but is clunky at times and you may not like the Applesque crown. Apart from that, it’s a winner that is stacked full of features covering physiology, barometric altimetry, compass, interval workouts, customisable alerts, plus a battery life of 35 hours. Many happy Coros owners are quite vocal on the net about their great watch.


Buy Apex here from $299£269, Eu299 (Price might fall by 20% in 2022)

Use discount code THE5KRUNNER at coros and add a free $30 accessory

Best Hiking & Running Watch – Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Sapphire

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The best GPS watch for lovers of hiking and running is the Garmin Fenix 7. It has every single top-end Garmin running feature and all the top-end Garmin outdoors features that cover maps/navigation, environmental ABC sensors, safety alerts, bearings, courses and WAY more. Do you want every multisport feature ever? You got it. I’m recommending it here rather than the Solar version as the Solar 6X just might add a little something extra over the already-great battery life for super serious, longer adventures but with the multi-day package that is the 6 Pro Sapphire, you have a sturdy hardware package that will still keep you going for days.

At the lower end of the price scale, Garmin Instinct clears the battery issue by relying on a low-powered screen but then offloads some of your navigation needs onto your smartphone – that setup sounds messy but is a reasonable compromise if you want simple environmental and directional information on your wrist and the ability to re-plan in full-map-&-app-glory on your phone. Of course, your phone will need a phone signal wherever you are heading off.

Note: Look for sapphire glass (gorilla) and titanium shells for the best durability and scratch resistance.


Buy Garmin Fenix 7X Pro Sapphire here from $849£740, and Eu834 (discounts of up to 10% are not uncommon)


Best Running Accessory

The best accessory for running is the STRYD footpod followed closely by the Garmin HRM-PRO. STRYD gives pace and distance accuracy,and  running dynamics and it produces POWER to judge your true effort levels and the HRM-PRO gives running dynamics and accurate heart rate.

Essential Reading: STRYD Review

Essential Reading: Garmin HRM-PRO Review

Order Directly From STRYD – Also Fulfilled in the UK/EU Avoiding Import Duties – Any Current Discounts Automatically Added on


My Running watch Choices

My personal favourite is the Garmin Epix 2 and Apple Watch 7. I love the awesome screen, battery life and sports feature combo of the Epix but the Apple Watch is just a smarter companion for my iPhone that can log the occasional basic workout perfectly well. That said, I’m using the Garmin Forerunner 955 triathlon watch right now mainly because I train for triathlons!

Best Running Watch Category Winners - Details Below
  • Best Running Watch – Overall – Garmin Forerunner 255 - 90%
  • Best Garmin Running Watch – Garmin Forerunner 255 - 90%
  • Best Running Watch with Music – Garmin Forerunner 255 Music - 90%
  • Best Polar Running Watch – Polar Vantage V2 - 90%
  • Best Running Watch for Women - Apple Watch 7 41mm - 90%
  • Best, CHEAP Running Watch – Sigma iD.FREE - 85%
  • Best Mid-Priced Running Watch for Aspirational Runners – Coros Pace 2 - 92%
  • Best Premium-Priced Running Watch - Garmin Forerunner 955 - 95%
  • Best Smart Running Watch – for Fitness - Apple Watch SE - 88%
  • Most-Featured Running Watch – Garmin Forerunner 955 - 95%
  • Best Running Watch with just 'Proper’ Running Features – Polar Pacer Pro - 95%
  • Most Accurate Running Watch – Garmin Epix 2 - 91%
  • Best Running Watch with Optical HR Apple Watch 7 - 90%
  • Best Running Watch for Wear OS - Suunto 7 - 89%
  • Best Adventure Running Watch – Garmin Fenix 7X - 95%
  • Best Watch for Ultra Running  & Trail Running - Garmin Enduro 2 - 95%
  • Best Adventure Watch – Coros Apex - 83%
  • Best Running Accessory - STRYD - 95%

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4 thoughts on “the Best Running Watch 2024 comparing Garmin, Apple, Fitbit, Polar & Coros

  1. The Garmin enduro doesn’t have the best battery life on the market anymore. The Coros Vertix 2 has more than double the claimed battery life for tracking GPS activities and maps. The Coros mapping solution may be less sophisticated than Garmin’s but the enduro has no maps at all.

    If you are talking ultra running then Coros has remapping that arguably competes with Garmin fenix 6 and also battery life that destroys the Garmin enduro. For that sub-discipline where you are pushing over 60-ish hours, Coros is on top for now.

    1. yep agreed, Coros hardware is probably also better
      it’s just that pesky app and general software platform off the watch that irks me, plus the physiology stuff lacks a bit a trust on the coros side

    1. sadly you might have to. Fitbit is now owned by Google. Even if the Fitbit brand is kept going the software/experience will change to Google’s Wear OS which isn’t yet as good as the FitOS you are used to. That said, you should start to get a more decent selection of apps

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