The best running watch for any budget in 2019

Running can be a relatively cheap sport that anyone can take up. But there are certain luxuries that can make the sometimes painful experience more enjoyable. A good pair of running shoes is an ideal starting point and your second piece of gear should be a decent running watch.

At the basic level a GPS running watch should allow runners to track how far – and how fast – they've moved. But these days the best running watches monitor an impressive selection of other metrics such as running form, heart rate, training load, recovery and even sleep.

Even budget running watches now boast biometric insights that a few years back would’ve been the preserve of elite athletes. But whether you’re a stats-obsessed wannabe Mo Farah or just enjoy your weekly park run, whatever you're looking for in a running watch, these are some of the best you can pick from.

You may also want to read our guide to the best headphones for running.

What's the best GPS running watch in 2019?
The Polar Vantage V (£327) is the overall best GPS running watch around right now. Why? It tracks running power, as well as optical heart rate monitoring, and offers brilliant recovery insights, all in a stylish package.

View the Polar Vantage V for £327 on Amazon

Garmin's Forerunner 45 (£159) is our best cheap running watch, replacing its predecessor for the wallet-friendly top spot. Garmin packs clever coaching for beginners, rich tracking and smartwatch features and a heart rate-monitor in an easy-to-use run partner.

View the Garmin Forerunner 45 for £159 on Amazon

If you're looking for more of a smartwatch-sports watch hybrid, go for the Apple Watch Series 5 (£399), our best smartwatch for runners. Apple has improved its dedicated run features no end in recent years and phone-free calls, payments, music and a new always-on display are hard to resist.

View the Apple Watch Series 5 for £399 on Amazon

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Polar Vantage V
WIRED Recommends: The Vantage V is the most complete running watch money can buy

Screen: 1.2in 240x240 colour | Works with: iOS/Android |
Battery life: 40h | Water resistance: 50m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 66g

Designed for runners who are pursuing performance, the Polar Vantage V (£327) was the first watch to offer running power – a new metric that helps you train and race more intelligently; it's wrist-based optical heart-rate monitor is as accurate as you’ll find, and it also boasts some of the most advanced training and recovery features we’ve seen in a running wearable.

Polar’s most stylish watch by a four-minute mile is by no means cheap – and there’s no built-in music like you get with the (more expensive) Garmin Forerunner 945 – but the Vantage V is the closest you’ll get to having a coach on your wrist.

This watch's advanced training load tracking monitors the strain each workout puts on your body, differentiating between the work your cardio system does and how much you load into your muscles. Meanwhile smart recovery recommendations advise you when it’s time to go hard, or back off in training. Throw in sleep tracking, smart notifications and 40-hours of run time on a single charge and you’ve got the ultimate tool for hunting personal bests.

Pros: Tracks running power; top-notch recovery insights
Cons: Strap can rub

Price: £327 | Check price on Amazon | Polar | Wiggle

Garmin Forerunner 45
The best running tracker for beginners

Screen: 1.04in 208x208 | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 13h (GPS) 7 days (watch mode) | Water resistance: 50m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 36g

The Forerunner 45 (£159) is the successor to the very popular Forerunner 35 and takes its crown as the best budget running watch out there. That’s especially true for beginner runners, owing to the integration of the Garmin Coach feature on the watch. You can set up training plans for events like a 5K or half marathon in the Garmin Connect app and all the workouts in the plan will be beamed straight to the watch to follow on your wrist. That means anyone training for their first half marathon or aiming to improve their park run PB has easy access to a plan from one of Garmin’s coaches so they know how to structure their training.

It’s not just a running watch either, with impressive everyday activity tracking and several other sports modes, even if many people will find the design a little too sporty to wear the 45 at all times. The 45 also has an emergency assistance mode where you can send an SOS to up to three contacts via text and email by holding down one button, and its battery life is impressive for such a small watch, offering 13 hours of GPS and lasting seven days in watch mode.

Also consider: You can pick up last year's Garmin Forerunner 35 for £100. It has a smaller screen and less visually appealing (square) design but you get a built-in heart-rate monitor, accelerometer and support for smartphone notifications via Bluetooth.

Pros: Easy to use; structured workouts and training plans
Cons: Sporty design

Price: £159 | Check price on Amazon | Wiggle

Apple Watch Series 5
The best feature-packed smartwatch with running skills

Screen: 1.57in 394x324/ 1.78in 448x368 | Works with: iOS | Battery life: 18h | Water resistance: 50m | LTE: Yes | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes (ECG) | Sizes: 40/44mm | Weight: From 30.8g

The Apple Watch Series 5 (from £399) is very much smartwatch first, running watch second. And though there are exciting hardware and software changes to this latest generation, there aren’t many headline upgrades for runners.

It’s still packed with familiar run-friendly features including built-in GPS, optical heart rate and automatic workout detection, handy should you forget to start a run session on the watch. Plus some very clever indoor treadmill data sharing and all those third party apps like Strava and Nike Running.

The Series 5’s large screen makes it much easier to read your stats on the run and with some clever tweaking of the screen refresh rates, you can now also have your stats ‘always on’ during runs, without draining the 6-hour workout mode battery life. That’s just about enough for most people to complete a marathon. You can also chart more of your basic running trends in the Activity app, including a 365-day view of your pace, distance and VO2 Max cardio fitness to tell you if you’re trending faster, longer, fitter.

There are some neat new navigation tools too, including a compass app that shows your heading, along with your incline, elevation, and latitude and longitude. Trail runners will like that fact you can also see your current elevation alongside your elevation gain, distance and pace.

The Apple Watch lacks the depth of training insights you get with top-end Garmin and Polar devices but you’re not really buying an Apple Watch to train for the Olympics and the smartwatch smarts are hard to beat. You can leave the house with just your watch and still track your run, listen to music with a set of Bluetooth headphones, take calls, pay for water and if you’ve got a smart lock on your front door, you don’t even need to take your keys. There aren’t many other running watches that offer that kind of freedom.

Also consider: Those on a budget should seriously look at the Apple Watch Series 3 which is now at a bargain £199. You don't get advanced features such as the always on screen and ECG but you do get GPS and heart rate.

Pros: Phone-free music; cash and calls; great design
Cons: Limited post-run stats; battery life

Price: From £399 | Check price on Amazon | Apple | Argos

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Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
An endurance-adventure ready sports watch for wilder runs

Screen: 1.30in 260x260 | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 10h (GPS+music)/36h (GPS)/ 72h (Ultra Trac) 28 days (watch)/46 days (expedition) | Water resistance: 100m | LTE: No | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Sizes: 47mm | Weight: From 72g

The full Fenix 6 range features no fewer than 19 different variations on size, materials, battery life and features. Bang for buck the best bet is the Fenix 6 Pro. There’s not much that this battle-ready adventure running watch can’t do.

Rugged, durable and full of features to help you run on – and off – the beaten track, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro (from £599) packs multi-system tracking with GPS, GLONASS and Galileo while an altimeter, barometer and compass log all your important off-road info. There’s wrist-based heart rate and a Pulse Ox2 sensor that keeps an eye on your sleep and altitude acclimation, adding extra data to an already-huge suite of fitness insights across multiple sports.

When it comes to running, there’s heat- and altitude-adjusted VO2 max estimates for charting fitness, training effect feedback for every run and cadence stats to help you monitor your form efficiency. One standout new feature is Pace Pro, a smart-pacing tool that lets you create a race strategy on the watch and adjusts your real-time target pace depending on the elevation of the course. A recovery advisor also tells you when you’ll be ready to go again and the training load tools help you avoid overtraining.

The battery life is impressive too with 36 hours in normal GPS mode and a Power Manager that shows you how to adjust your settings to stretch battery life.

The Fenix 6 Pro also features Spotify music streaming, Garmin Pay and the smart notifications bells and whistles of its Forerunner stablemates. But if you’re sticking to urban runs, this is probably more watch than you really need.

Pros: Great battery life; phone-free music; rugged
Cons: Pricey; overkill for urban runners

Price: From £529 | Check price on Amazon | Garmin | Argos

Garmin Forerunner 945
The do-it-all multisports watch with exemplary training detail

Screen: 1.2in 240x240 | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 10h (GPS and music)/36h (GPS)/14 days (watch)/60h (UltraTrac) | Water resistance: 50m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 50g

The Forerunner 945 (£520) does absolutely everything, and it does it all pretty damn well. That starts with the best sports tracking in Garmin’s Forerunner line-up, with in-depth analysis that breaks down your running workouts by aerobic and anaerobic training effect and advises if your training is proving productive as a whole.

The 945 will also tell you what type of training you need to do more of to get the right balance, whether that’s extra easy running to boost your aerobic fitness or some hard intervals to increase your anaerobic capacity. On top of this the 945 can judge how well your acclimating at altitude thanks to its pulse oximeter sensors, and will also check on how well your body is adjusting to heat when training in temperatures over 22°C.

Serious runners and triathletes won’t find better sports tracking on any other watch, but what really sets the Forerunner 945 apart is that it also offers music playback and brilliant navigation features. You can set it up with a Spotify Premium account to wirelessly sync across your playlists, and the full colour maps it has onboard mean you can create routes for your outdoor runs, hikes and rides on the fly.

Pros: Tracks everything in exceptional detail; colour maps; music
Cons: Expensive; plastic design won’t suit everyone

Price: £520 | Check price on Garmin | Wiggle | Argos

Coros Apex
Incredible battery life of up to 100 hours

Screen: 1.1in 218x218/ 1.2in 240x240 | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 25h (GPS)/80h (UltraMax)/24 days (smartwatch mode) | Water resistance: 100m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Sizes: 42mm/46mm | Weight: From 50.8g

Coros might be an unfamiliar name for many runners but the brand is making waves with its feature-rich, budget-friendly running watches. The GPS-powered Coros Apex (£270) has an incredible battery life of up to 100 hours in low GPS mode and 35 hours in normal GPS mode, all off a full charge that takes just two hours.

The lightweight, water resistant running watch comes in two sizes, 46mm and 42mm, and is well designed with a simple traditional crown control that’s quite unique in running watch world but lets you scroll through an intuitive interface with ease on the move.

There’s built-in heart rate, though this isn’t the most reliable. An interesting array of training features ranges from simple pace and distance tracking, through to a stamina score that shows you how hard you’ve worked. You also get recovery time recommendations, VO2 Max fitness benchmarking and even an estimate for your threshold pace – the speed at which you can run long without breaking down. Not bad for 300 quid.

Pros: Incredible battery life; simple controls
Cons: Hit and miss heart rate accuracy

Price: £270 | Check price on Amazon

Suunto 5
Good running partner for general fitness over fastness

Screen: 1.0 inch 218x218 | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 40h (training) 14 days (watch mode) | Water resistance: 50m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 66g

The Suunto 5 (£259) has all the basics you now expect in a running watch – GPS, optical heart rate and 80 different sport modes – but without doubt the standout feature on this watch is the adaptive training plans. The watch crunches ongoing fitness data from your most recent performances to plot seven day training programmes based on three different general fitness goals: Maintain, Boost and Improve. Skip a session, it’ll recalibrate. Run too hard and put too much strain on the body and it’ll suggest how to respond to reduce the risk of overtraining and injury.

The feature set isn’t quite as running specific as some other devices on this list, so you don’t get all the minute details about your running form but if you want to run just for general fitness, with a 40-hour battery life, fitness level estimates and sleep and activity tracking this is worth consideration.

It also has a smart battery tool that’ll clock how much juice you’ve got left, and what your next workout entails and then recommend the right power-saving mode to see you through to the finish.

One word of caution, the Suunto user interface isn’t as friendly as some and takes a bit of learning and despite its rugged look, the screen is prone to scratches.

Pros: Adaptive training; good battery life
Cons: Complicated interface

Price: £259 | Check price on Amazon | Cotswold Outdoor

Polar Vantage M
The watch for serious marathon training

Screen: 1.2in 240x240 | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 30h (training mode) | Water resistance: 30m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 45g

The cheaper sibling of the range-topping Vantage V, the Polar Vantage M (£212) is a fantastic option for runners who like to delve into their stats but aren’t so committed to running that they’re ready to invest £500 in a watch.

Ideal for anyone training for a marathon for the first time, or just starting to take their running a little more seriously, you get almost the same tracking features of the Vantage V but with a much friendlier price tag.

You get Polar’s most advanced optical heart-rate sensor to date, accurate GPS and 30 hours of runtime all in a lightweight – if a little bit plastic – design. Training features include training load monitoring, Running Index that helps you chart your fitness progress and feedback on the exact training benefit created by each of your runs.

If you want to track running power, you’ll need to use a third-party sensor and likewise, while there’s cardio load tracking, unless you pair up a footpod you’ll miss out on the muscle load insights you get with the Vantage V.

There’s no Garmin-style music player either but you do get simple smart notifications, 24-7 heart rate, activity tracking and sleep insights. Bang for buck it’s a very good all rounder that’ll grow in usefulness as your running improves.

Pros: Loads of metrics; good battery
Cons: No music; can be slow to sync

Price: £212 | Check price on Amazon | Polar | Wiggle

Suunto 9
Durable, water resistant and great for multi-events

Screen: 1.97in 330x300 | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 25h/50h/120h (GPS)/7 days (smart)/14 days (watch) | Water resistance: 100m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Sizes: 40mm/44mm | Weight: 72g

Running doesn't have to be about races, times and personal bests. There's plenty of joy to be had in leaving behind tarmac pavements and taking to the trails. If you're planning to swap city runs for countryside exploration, a watch that will withstand nature is a must. Enter, the Suunto 9 (from £391).

The watch is large and pretty heavy, but has a reassuring amount of heft. The case has been constructed from a glass-fibre-reinforced polyamide, and its screen is sapphire crystal so it takes scrapes and bumps for fun.

It features a low GPS mode, which isn't as accurate as the watch's other GPS modes, but extends the battery life up to 120 hours. That’s ideal for anyone running ultras, tackling multi-day adventures or who wants to do a week’s shorter runs without having to charge. The Suunto will also tell you when you need to switch between GPS modes to avoid running out of juice.

Under the chunky exterior you also get built-in optical heart rate that powers some very capable training features including interval training, training load feedback and recovery time recommendations and the on-watch post-run stats are among the most comprehensive you’ll find. Navigating the watch’s myriad menus could be made easier, though, and the Suunto partner app isn’t quite up to the likes for Garmin Connect and Polar Flow.

For those heading off the beaten track, there are also options for route planning, barometric and GPS altitude sensors, details on weather and sunrise times, as well as tracking for pool and open water swimming (it is resistant to 100m).

Pros: Full colour screen; built to last
Cons: Chunky

Price: From £391 | Check price on Amazon | Wiggle

PowerWatch Series 2 with Matrix
The running watch you never need to charge

Screen: 1.85 inch, 240 x 240 | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 5h (training), Unlimited (watch mode) | Water resistance: 200m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: No | Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 70g

Somewhere near the top of the wish list for any running watch is great battery life and this second-generation PowerWatch ($499) has that licked. It’s the only GPS multi-sport watch with built-in optical heart rate on the market that never needs charging. In fact it doesn’t even ship with a charging cable.

Instead, the watch uses groundbreaking technology to turn your own body heat – or to be more specific the differential in your body heat to the ambient temperature – into power. There’s also a solar cell ring on the face to help harvest more juice.

That doesn’t mean the PowerWatch will never run out, there’s still only a limited lifespan when you’re using GPS and heart rate. How long it lasts depends on the conditions around you, for example, you get more runtime in colder climates than running a desert ultra, where the temperature differential is higher.

It’s rugged, built to last and boasts the basic sport tracking skills you get from the likes of Garmin, Suunto and Polar. What you won’t get are detailed running form metrics, in-depth training status and recovery insights but if you want a running watch that’s always ready to go when you are, this is now a serious contender.

Pros: Never needs charging
Cons: Basic training insights

Price: $499 | Check price on Powerwatch

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