UPDATE: We have a new best GPS running watch round up with all the latest devices – check it out here.
Deciding on the best sports watch is no easy feat right now. That's because the likes of Garmin, Polar, Suunto and even Apple currently offer strong options for anyone that might like a bit of running, but also dabbles in some cycling, swimming or even a sport that's a little more niche.
The good news is there's solid sports watches for men and women now too, offering more designs, fits and looks. Whether you want something you can comfortably wear all day or just when you need to get into that training, there are options for everyone.
So what makes the perfect sports watch? Well, accurate GPS is a given these days, but now the focus is on biometric data and what that brings to the party. Most watches have heart rate sensors built in, and the ability to connect a chest strap as well, for really intense training sessions.
And what does that heart rate data do? Aside from giving you the chance to tailor your sessions to specific heart rate zones, heart rate data can offer insights into VO2 Max (a great measure of your fitness), as well as gauge the effectiveness of a training session.
Many watches now put a focus on recovery, which can help stave off injury. Using heart rate variability data, top sports watches will suggest the amount of rest you need, as well as assessing how your body is adapting to your session.
Best running watches 2018
So whether you're into swimming, running, cycling, a budding triathlon or live in the gym, these are our pick of the best sports watches and sporty smartwatches to buy.
Got any questions? Let us know in the comments section below.
Best multisport watches
These are the watches the cover a catalogue of sports, bring big battery life and features that make them a good fit for training indoors and braving the elements in the great outdoors.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series
Feature check : GPS | Optical heart rate | Water resistant to 50m | 18 hours battery, 42 hours UltraTrac | TOPO mapping | Garmin Pay | Music player | VO2 Max | Smartwatch notifications
A welcome update to its previous super watch, the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus doesn’t change a winning formula. The Fenix tracks pretty much every sport imaginable – and many you can’t, thanks to the Garmin Connect IQ app store. Running, cycling and swimming (thanks to 50ATM water resistance) meets paddle-boarding, golf, hiking and even skydiving. This is still a sports watch built for the outdoors.
In terms of standard sports tracking, the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is unchanged. You still get optical HR tracking, and a host of VO2 Max insights from tracked runs, cycles and workouts. If you’re not much of a high-intensity athlete, you might want to look at something less hardcore, as the stats only really respond to hard sessions, and that can be a little frustrating. We ran a 33 mile ultra marathon, and that was only intense enough for the Fenix 5 to say it was “maintaining” our fitness.
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Of course, endurance athletes will also want to consider the Fenix 5 Plus carefully. It features UltraTrac mode for slower, but longer GPS tracking, which can reach 42 hours when fully turned on, or 18 hours in full GPS mode. The Fenix 5 Plus does feature less battery life than the standard Fenix 5, which managed 60 hours of UltraTrac and 24 hours of standard. If you don’t want these news bells and whistles, the older Fenix 5 is your best bet.
The extras in the Plus edition come in the form of Garmin Pay contactless payments, much improved, routable TOPO mapping – which offers topographic information as well as local points of interest – and the ability to store and play MP3s, and offline sync Spotify and iHeartRadio playlists.
A word on the other versions here. The Fenix 5S Plus offers the same features in a smaller, sleeker package (with less battery life), while the Fenix 5X Plus maximises battery and offers blood oxygen tracking in a beasty 48mm package.
In short, the improvements bring Garmin’s best sports watch bang up to date – and there’s little argument that it’s the king of sports watches.
Garmin Forerunner 935
Feature check : Multisport modes | GPS | Optical heart rate | VO2 Max analysis | Smartwatch notifications | Garmin Connect IQ | Water resistant to 50m | up to 24 hours GPS battery life
It might say Forerunner in the name, but this high-end Garmin watch is a great fit for triathletes and was a rightful winner of the Sports Watch of the Year accolade at last year's Wareable Tech Awards.
It's primarily designed for those who favour participating in the multi-discipline events, but it takes the best of the new tracking skills packed into the Fenix 5 and puts it into a slimmer and smaller body.
Sitting at the top of the Forerunner family, above the Forerunner 735XT and Forerunner 235 watches, it covers a raft of sports (indoors and outdoors) and even has a mode for SwimRun events. A heart rate sensor will dish out data to give you an insight into the effects of your training.
It's also compatible with Garmin's Running Dynamics Pod, which delivers six running dynamics including cadence, ground contact time, stride length and more. Heart rate monitoring is by no means perfect, but it's come on leaps and bounds in terms of accuracy since Garmin first started putting optical sensors inside of its watches.
We should also talk about the battery life. Bottom-line, It's one of the best performers we've tried and can manage a couple of weeks if you're not hammering marathon distances everyday. We love training with it and we think you will too.
Polar Vantage V
Feature check : Multisport modes | GPS | Optical heart rate | VO2 Max analysis | Running power | Smartwatch notifications (coming soon) | Water resistant to 50m | up to 40 hours GPS battery life
Natural successor to the Polar V800, the Vantage V brings a new design, innovative features but retains the features that made the V800 so well liked by serious athletes.
It tracks a comprehensive array of sports including those core ones (swimming, cycling and running) offering up rich metrics that you can delve into on the Polar Flow app (smartphone and desktop).
For runners, there's built-in support for producing running power data without additional accessories and an improved heart rate monitor that uses new optical tech ensures the Vantage V has one of the best performing wrist based monitors out there.
Then there's the smart coaching features, which are plentiful. If you're willing to go deep into the analysis of your performances and training sessions, this is one of the best watches to it with.
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We should also mention that there is the Vantage M (which we are still testing), a more affordable alternative that offers most of the same features as the V for considerably less. Features like running power and muscle load requires third party accessories while battery life is 30 hours as opposed to the V's 40 hours. But if you want to save a bit of money, it's worth considering too.
Feature check : Multisport modes | GPS | Optical heart rate | VO2 Max analysis | Smartwatch notifications | Garmin Connect IQ | Water resistant to 50m | up to 24 hours GPS battery life (120 hours in power saving mode)
Suunto's latest multisport watch goes big on battery life, but it doesn't ignore its main duties and to track a whole lot of sports both indoors and outdoors.
It's got running, cycling, hiking, swimming and more covered. Then you've got features like recovery to estimate how long your body needs to recover and a raft of route navigation features to help you stay on track in the great outdoors.
Suunto's heart rate monitor is a solid performer, while its ability to double as a fitness tracker continues to improve. It's one of the bulkier options on this list and the app and analysis elements are still a little patchy, but if you're someone that yearns for big battery life, the Suunto 9 is going to appeal.
Feature check : GPS | Optical heart rate | Chest strap compatible | Water resistant to 50m | 20 hours GPS | VO2 Max
If you want serious sports insights it generally means forking out serious dollar, but new kid on the block Amazfit’s Stratos offers an alternative. A sub-brand of Huami, purveyors of Chinese copycat tech, the Amazfit Stratos does more than a decent impression of a Garmin sports watch.
The Stratos tracks walking, running, cycling, triathlon, swimming, elliptical, mountaineering, trail running, tennis, soccer and skiing. It comes with built-in GPS and GLONASS (Russian satellites which should offer a faster lock-on) support to boot.
If that wasn’t good news enough for runners, Amazfit has teamed up with FirstBeat, who does all of Garmin’s advanced metrics. That means you get the same detail on the Stratos, with VO2 Max data a big part of the package – something that you’d pay serious money for elsewhere.
There’s also other premium features. You can upload GPX files which will suit hikers – and it will kick out running data to Strava too, so there’s no worries about being stuck in an inferior software experience.
The only let down under testing was the optical HR sensor, which is no-where near that of the Garmin, Fitbit or Apple Watch Series 4 (not that those sensors are anywhere near perfect). But you can attach an optical HR sensor, which will still enable you to get accurate data.
TomTom Spark 3
Feature check : Multisport modes | GPS | Optical heart rate| Route guidance | Water resistant to 50m | Music playback from the wrist | Up to 5 hours battery life in GPS mode
TomTom has pulled out of the wearable tech game, which is a serious shame for its Spark 3. It's a running watch first and foremost, but it also serves up solid cycling and swim tracking skills too. The good news is that this favourite of the Wareable team can be picked up at stunning sub-£100 prices, so it remains here until it finally dies off for good.
As well as the usual running metrics (distance, speed, time), its optical heart rate monitor aced our tests, and it plugs into nearly every running app going. It'll also store MP3s, which it'll play via a pair of wireless headphones. Only select Garmin watches offer that kind of music support.
A Route Exploration feature enables you to upload GPX routes (you can quickly make one in Strava or Map My Run) and follow them from the watch. It's a nifty feature and really useful for getting out and exploring new areas.
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It's not without its issues. Pairing is still a bit of a nightmare at times (we actually do this via a cable to our PC/Macs now to save blood vessels popping). But its solid stats, improved smartphone app, great heart rate sensor and extensive list of extra features earn the Spark a place on our list.
If you want the full works (GPS, heart rate, music playback), you'll be paying above £200, but if you're willing to sacrifice some of those features you can pick it up for a less and still get a great run tracking experience.
Top multisport smartwatches
If you're willing to sacrifice mammoth battery life and support for some of those more niche sports for a watch with top smart skills, these are our top picks.
Apple Watch Series 4
Feature check : Multisport modes | GPS | Optical heart rate | Water resistant to 50m | Smartwatch skills | LTE | Apple Pay | Up to 6 hours battery life in GPS mode
We can debate whether we call the Apple Watch a sports watch, a smartwatch or a sporty smartwatch. Bottom line, it has the ability to track multiple sports and does that looking nicer than most other watches that you can take for a swim or a run.
The Series 4 brings new size options, ECG (for serious health monitoring) and an improved Digital Crown. But in the sports department, it still excels as a running watch (indoors and outdoors) with snappy GPS, performs in the pool and the open water and works well for cycling too.
With watchOS 5, Apple's latest software update seeks to improve support for other activities outside of the core sports putting the emphasis on its improved heart rate sensor to provide insightful workout data.
Then you've got all the smarts to enjoy. Apple Pay when you need to grab a drink to refuel, LTE to stream tunes from Apple Music, the ability to download third party health and fitness apps and some of the best notification support you can find on a smartwatch right now.
If you're after a nice blend of sports tracking wrapped up in a watch you'd happily wear all day (and don't mind charging it every night), this is a good option.
1.42-inch LCD touchscreen | GPS | Altimeter | Digital compass | fitness tracking | 24/7 heart rate monitor | 5ATM | 10 hours GPS battery life | 5 days general use
When it comes to GPS tracked workouts, the Fitbit Ionic is the only option within the company’s line-up – and fortunately it’s one of the best. Unlike the rest of Fitbit’s line-up, there’s no need to piggy-back GPS off your smartphone, as this has the mapping tech built right in.
There are modes for running and cycling, which will measure pace, distance, calories and all the normal basic metrics, displaying pace/speed live on the watch face. You can customize what you see, but there’s not a great deal of extra metrics like cadence – the Fitbit Ionic keeps things simple.
After a workout you get a neat summary of calories burned and pace, and GOS tracked workouts will be shown on a map. You can kick runs and cycles out to Strava, and of course you get full credit against your Fitbit activity stats.
A word on that: that’s still where the Fitbit Ionic really excels. If you’re interested in a 360 degree picture of your daily activity, sleep and wellbeing, the Ionic really comes into its own. And if that involves gym or outdoor workouts, that’s what makes the Ionic a really smart buy. For hardcore sports lovers all that stuff might seem a little irrelevant, in which case the Ionic really isn’t for you.
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Battery life is decent, but won’t trouble high-end Garmins, Polars and Suuntos. You get around 5 days of use and 10 hours of GPS tracking. That’s much better than an Apple Watch Series 4, which is a much closer competitor.
Huawei Watch GT
1.39-inch AMOLED touchscreen | GPS | Barometer| fitness tracking | 24/7 heart rate monitor | 5ATM | 24 hours GPS battery life | 2 weeks general use
The Huawei Watch GT might offer a more streamlined smartwatch experience in comparison to what Fitbit and Apple's watches offer, but it does beat them for features that will be desirable to sports tracking fans.
Running, swimming and cycling is covered here as well as additional outdoor sports tracking like hiking and cross country. It has GPS/GLONASS/Galileo support to offer the widest range of mapping support and an altimeter to track that all important elevation data when you're sweating it out outdoors.
Other features include a heart rate monitor, 24/7 activity tracking and Huawei's Lite OS keeps things simple offering smartwatch features like notification support. Crucially for some, it doesn't support third party apps. So you can't pore your data into apps like Strava unfortunately.
With bigger battery life than what Apple and Fitbit currently offers and a surprisingly impressive sports tracking performance, the Watch GT is well worth considering. Especially for the price.