What’s the point of going for a run or a bike ride without tracking every performance metric you can? Seriously, if someone could explain why you’d do that to the exercise-mad team here at Review Geek, that’d be great; we can’t leave the house without hitting “Start Workout” on our GPS watches.
Though, if you want to join us in obsessing over split times, minutes-per, and power output, here are the best running and multi-sports watches you can buy right now.
What to Look For in a Running or Multi-Sport Watch
The running, multi-sport, and even sport-focused smartwatch category is increasingly stacked. There are lots of different options at all kinds of price points. We’ve pulled out the options that we feel are most suitable for most people, but if you want to dig deep in the catalogs or double-check our work, here’s what to look for.
- Support for your sport of choice: There’s now less of a divide between running and multi-sport watches. All of our picks, and most GPS watches on the market today, can track a wide variety of different sports and outdoor activities. However, if you’re getting a watch for a niche sport, make sure it’s fully supported. Some watches have triathlon specific features, like open-water swim tracking and quick transitions, and continuous tracking between the swim, bike, and run, while others support backcountry skiing and mountaineering. It’s not that you won’t be able to do triathlon training or skiing with any of the watches, your tracking options will just be more limited.
- Accurate heart-rate tracking: It’s not really an issue with any of our picks, but budget watches and some smartwatches can struggle to get an accurate heart-rate reading, especially when you’re working out. Of course, wrist-based tracking is inherently less accurate than upper-arm or chest-based tracking, though you can fix the problem with an external HR monitor.
- Something you’re comfortable wearing: Most GPS watches are now designed to be worn all the time. They have smartwatch and fitness tracker features like notification support, steps tracking, and contactless payments. There’s a good chance you’re going to start wearing your GPS watch all day, every day. And since they all track sleep, probably all night, too. This means it’s super important to get a watch that’s comfortable on your wrist, both physically and stylistically. Most people will be better off with slimmer slightly less-featured watches than a ridiculously big top-of-the-line rugged model.
- A good smartphone app: The user interface on most running watches is a bit rough and ready. To really drill into your performance stats, see how you’re improving over time, or configure things, you’re going to want a decent companion smartwatch app. Again, this isn’t something any of our picks lack, but if you’re going off-brand or looking at something crazy-niche, make sure the app is well designed.
Best for Most People: Garmin Forerunner 245 Music
Garmin’s Forerunner 245 is a great running watch that is thin and light enough to wear every day—it’s less than 1/2 an inch thick and weighs in at 1.36 ounces. While not a true multi-sport watch, the Forerunner 245 can track cycling, weights workouts, pool swimming, and a lot more (and of course, running).
We think you’d be mad not to upgrade to the music version, which enables you to store up to 500 songs for phone-free playback over Bluetooth headphones, and even sync them from Spotify. It means you can leave your phone at home when you hit the road or trails.
Battery life is good across the board: You’ll get a week when you use it as a smartwatch and up to 6 hours when you’re using the GPS tracking and blaring some music. The more you work out the more you’ll need to charge it, but, unless you’re deep in a marathon plan, it’s never going to need to be nightly.
And, speaking of nightly, the Forerunner 245 does a lot overnight. It tracks your sleep and blood oxygenation, and uses the information to calculate how recovered you are from your workouts and how much you should push yourself on a given day. It will even take into account your stress and non-exercise activity levels.
While the Forerunner 245 Music isn’t Garmin’s most advanced watch, best watch for triathletes, or even best smartwatch, it pulls a lot of great features together from across Garmin’s line and hits a really nice sweet spot for a lot of amateur athletes, and especially amateur runners. You certainly don’t have to go with the 245—but you need to have a reason not to.
Best Ultra and Outdoors Option: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar
Most GPS running and outdoor watches have lost a little bit of their niche edge as they’ve added smartwatch features, fitness tracking, and otherwise become appropriate for weekend warriors to wear to the office. The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar, however, hasn’t given an inch. If you’re looking for the ultimate ultra-running, mountain climbing, backcountry skiing, and off the grid watch, it’s for you.
The problem with most GPS watches for a lot of extreme outdoor activities—and let’s be honest, even just a long hike—is that the battery life just doesn’t last. The Forerunner 245’s 6 hours, for example, is perfect for any amount of running training, but it won’t last a day in the hills. The Fenix 6 Pro Solar solves this problem in three ways: a bigger battery, more power management options, and a Power Glass solar charging screen. With GPS on, you’ll get up to 40 hours of continuous tracking with just a few hours sunlight a day. You can even put it into Expedition GPS mode if you’re, say, skiing across the polar icecaps and only need to occasionally register your position: that lasts for more than a month.
Of course, the Fenix 6 doesn’t just have great battery life. It’s also got a feature list that warrants keeping it charged up with built-in topographic maps; terrain-aware run coaching; ski, mountain bike, and altitude acclimation tracking; an altimeter, barometer, and compass, and a whole lot more. If you’re planning to run an ultramarathon, go on a multi-day backpacking trip, or get out at dawn to tour up some nearby mountains and ski back down, it’s got everything you need to track your activities, monitor your performance, and keep you safe.
And, look, while we’re reluctant to call the Fenix 6 a watch you’ll want to wear all the time, you can. It’s available in three case sizes from the merely large (41mm) to the extremely large (47mm) and gigantic (51mm), and has all Garmin’s regular sleep tracking, step tracking, and notification displaying smartwatch features. It’s even got Garmin Pay for when you forget your wallet and need to pay for some aprés beers.
Best for Triathletes and Multi-Sport Enthusiasts: Garmin Forerunner 945
While the difference between running watches and multi-sport watches has blurred, it’s not quite gone yet. The Forerunner 245, our pick for most people, for example, can track your swimming pool sessions with aplomb and all the metrics you could want, but it can’t track open-water swims. It’s not a problem for everyone—but gaps like this are a problem for someone who puts as much emphasis on their swim training as they do their bike, run, or strength sessions. If you want a watch that gives equal weight to every activity, it’s the Forerunner 945 you’re after.
With the Forerunner 945, you can happily track your open-water swims—but you can also track your triathlon and other multi-sport training as a single activity. Just select the right multi-sport option and bash the lap button when you transition from the water to the bike and again when you go from the bike to the road run. You can also track other multi-sport options, like a swimrun, or create your own if you’re training for a hike-cycle-kayak adventure race or the like.
And, if you’re looking for training data, the Forerunner 945 brings it in a major way. As well as the usual performance metrics and VO2 Max, it also tracks and calculates your current conditioning level, the effect your training is having on your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, your training load, and whether or not you’re training productively and optimally. If you’re balancing lots of different activities, it’s a great way to keep tabs on how you’re doing overall.
Rounding things out, the Forerunner 945 boasts all the usual high-end Garmin features: music playback, Garmin Pay, a pulse oxygenation sensor, and even topographic maps. It really is the complete multi-sports package.
Best Non-Garmin Watch: Polar Vantage M
Garmin has the GPS running and multi-sport watch category thoroughly covered so it can feel, at times, like there are no other options. Thankfully, that’s not true at all. Polar, Coros, and Suunto all make great products. Though, if you’re looking for our pick for the best bang-for-your-buck non-Garmin GPS watch, it has to be the Polar Vantage M.
The Polar Vantage M is a great running and multi-sport watch. It can track 130 different activities—including that all important open-water swim—and has a great multi-sport mode that lets you switch back and forth between different activities. Interspersing swim and run intervals? It can track them perfectly.
Polar has a reputation for making great heart-rate monitors (the Polar H10 chest strap is one of the best regarded) so it’s no surprise that, even with all the caveats about wrist-based tracking, the Vantage M is among the best around. It’ll still be out by a few beats-per-minute especially at higher intensities, but reviews almost universally praise it.
The Vantage M harks back to older sports watches. It doesn’t have the same level of smartwatch features as most Garmin watches—it can display notifications, track your sleep and activities, and that’s about it—but it has a battery that lasts for 30 training hours. Sure, you can wear it all day if you want, but it’s not really meant for that, nor is Polar throwing in lackluster features to try and pretend otherwise. This the watch you wear when you workout—and it works great that way.
GPS running and multi-sport watches are great—if you’re looking for something that accurately tracks serious athletic activities. If you don’t quite need the crazy running metrics or recovery time tracking and want something that’s got more smartwatch and everyday features, check out the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2.