However, if you’d like to join us in your obsession with split times, minutes per minute and power, here are the best running and multisport watches you can buy right now.
What to look for with a running or multisport watch
The running, multisport, and even sports-focused smartwatch category is increasingly stacked. There are a lot of of different options in all price categories. We’ve pulled out the options that we think are best for most people, but if you want to dig deep into the catalogs or double check our work, this is what to look for.
- Support for your favorite sport: There is now less of a gap between running and multisport watches. All of our picks, and most of the GPS watches on the market today, can track a wide variety of different sports and outdoor activities. However, if you’re buying a niche sport watch, make sure it’s fully supported. Some watches have triathlon-specific features, such as open water swim tracking and fast transitions, and continuous tracking between swimming, biking and running, while others support backcountry skiing and mountaineering. It’s not that you can’t do triathlon training or skiing with one of the watches, your tracking options are just more limited.
- Accurate heart rate measurement: It’s not much of an issue with our picks, but budget watches and some smartwatches can struggle to get an accurate heart rate reading, especially when you’re exercising. Wrist-based tracking is, of course, inherently less accurate than upper arm or chest tracking, although you can solve the problem with an external HR monitor.
- Something you can wear comfortably: Most GPS watches are now designed to be worn all the time. They have smartwatch and fitness tracker features such as notification support, step tracking, and contactless payments. Chances are, you’ll be 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 fits comfortably on your wrist, both physically and stylistically. Most people will be better off with slimmer watches with slightly fewer features than with a ridiculously large, rugged top model.
- A good smartphone app: The user interface on most running watches is a bit rough and ready. To really dive into your performance stats, see how you improve over time, or configure things, you need a decent companion smartwatch app. Again, this isn’t something that’s missing any of our picks, but if you’re going off-brand or looking at a 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’s thin and light enough to wear every day – it’s less than 1/2 inch thick and weighs 1.36 grams. While not a true multisport watch, the Forerunner 245 can track cycling, weight training, pool swimming and more (and running, of course).
We think you’d be nuts if you didn’t upgrade to the music version, which allows you to store up to 500 songs for phone-free play through Bluetooth headphones, and even sync them from Spotify. This means that you can leave your phone at home when you go out and about.
The battery life is good across the board: you get a week if you use it as a smartwatch and up to 6 hours if you use the GPS tracking and play some music. The more you train, the more you need to charge it, but unless you’re deep in a marathon plan, it never has to be overnight.
And speaking of nighttime, 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 to push in a given day. It even takes into account your stress level and the level of non-physical activity.
While the Forerunner 245 Music isn’t Garmin’s most advanced watch, best triathlete watch, or even best smartwatch, it combines a lot of great features from all over Garmin’s line, reaching a really pretty good spot for many amateur athletes, and especially amateur runners. You certainly don’t need to go for the 245, but you should have a reason not to.
Best for most people
Best option for ultra and outdoors: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar
Most GPS running and outdoor watches have lost a little bit of their niche origins as they added smartwatch features, track fitness, and otherwise become suitable for weekend warriors to wear to the office. However, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar has not budged an inch. If you’re looking for ultra-modern running, mountaineering, backcountry skiing and off the grid watch, this is for you.
The problem with most GPS watches for many extreme outdoor activities – and let’s face it, even for a long walk – is that the battery life is short. For example, the Forerunner 245’s 6 hours is perfect for any running workout, but won’t last a day in the hills. The Fenix 6 Pro Solar solves this problem in three ways: a larger battery, more power management options and a Power Glass solar charging screen. With GPS on, you can track continuously for up to 40 hours with just a few hours of sunlight per day. You can even put it in Expedition GPS mode if, for example, you are skiing over the polar ice caps and only need to record your position every now and then: that takes more than a month.
The Fenix 6 doesn’t just have a great battery life, of course. It also has a feature list that keeps it charged with built-in topographic maps; terrain-aware running coaching; keep track of ski, mountain bike and altitude acclimation; an altimeter, barometer and compass, and much more. If you’re planning to run an ultra-marathon, take a multi-day backpacking trip or get out the door at dawn to tour some nearby mountains and ski back down again, there’s everything you need to track your activities, track 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 comes in three case sizes, from the purely large (41mm) to the extremely large (47mm) and gigantic (51mm), and has all of Garmin’s normal sleep tracking, step tracking and notifications with smartwatch features. It even has Garmin Pay for when you forget your wallet and have to pay for a few après beers.
Best for Ultra Outdoor Adventures
Best for Triathletes and Multisport Enthusiasts: Garmin Forerunner 945
While the difference between running watches and multisport watches has blurred, it’s not completely gone yet. For example, the Forerunner 245, our choice for most people, can track your pool sessions with confidence and all the stats you could wish for, but it can’t track open water swimming. It’s not a problem for everyone, but holes like these are a problem for someone who puts as much emphasis on their swim training as they do on their cycling, running or strength sessions. If you want a watch that packs the same weight in any activity, this is the Forerunner 945 for you.
The Forerunner 945 lets you monitor your open water swimming with pleasure, but you can also track your triathlon and other multisport training as a single activity. Just select the correct multisport option and hit the round button when switching from water to bike and again when going from bike to road. You can also pursue other multisport options such as a swim run, or create your own if you’re training for a hiking bike kayak adventure race or the like.
And if you’re looking for training data, Forerunner 945 delivers it in an important way. In addition to the usual performance statistics and VO2 Max, it also tracks your current fitness level and calculates the effect your training has on your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, your training load and whether you are training productively and optimally. Balancing many different activities is a great way to keep track of your overall performance.
To top it all off, Forerunner 945 has all the usual advanced Garmin features: music playback, Garmin Pay, a pulse oxygenation sensor and even topographic maps. It really is the complete multisport package.
Best for triathletes
Best Non-Garmin Watch: Polar Vantage M.
Garmin has thoroughly covered the GPS running and multisport watches category, so it sometimes feels like there are no other options. Fortunately, that is not true at all. Polar, Coros and Suunto are all great products. However, if you’re looking for our pick for the best value-for-money non-Garmin GPS watch, the Polar Vantage M.
The Polar Vantage M is a great running and multisport watch. It can track 130 different activities – including that all-important open water swimming – and has a great multisport mode that lets you switch back and forth between different activities. Alternate swimming and running intervals? It can follow them perfectly.
Polar has a reputation for making great heart rate monitors (the Polar H10 chest strap is one of the best rated), so it’s no surprise that, even with all the caveats about wrist-based tracking, the Vantage M is among the best out there. It will still come out a few beats per minute, especially at higher intensities, but ratings are almost universally praised.
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 show notifications, track your sleep and activities, and that’s about it – but it has a battery that lasts 30 hours of exercise. Sure, you can wear it all day if you want, but it’s not really for that, and Polar is also throwing in lackluster features to try and pretend otherwise. This is the watch you wear when you exercise – and it works great that way.
Best Non-Garmin Option
GPS running and multisport watches are great if you’re looking for something that accurately tracks serious athletic activity. If you don’t really need the crazy running stats or recovery time tracking and want something that has more smartwatch and everyday features, check out the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2.