Best Running Watch, including Garmin, Polar, & Suunto – Fellrnr

Best Running Watch, including Garmin, Polar, & Suunto – Fellrnr

As of Jan 2018, I’m no longer actively reviewing watches, but this page will remain accessible as a point in time reference. The “what to look for in a running watch” remains valid and I’d recommend understanding the limitations of GPS for running. I’d recommend checking out [1] for a fairly unbiased opinion, but you should read my review of Stryd footpod as that remains one of the most useful devices for measuring pace and distance. I would suggest avoiding “pseudo-marketing” sites that proport to being detailed reviews without providing any critical thinking. A good litmus test is to check what they say about GPS Accuracy – if they say “it’s all good” then you’ll know it’s just marketing.

This flowchart is a simple guide to finding the right watch for you. Use it as a starting point, and read the detailed reviews to understand if a watch is really right for you. (Click for a larger version.)

1 What to Look for in a Running Watch

A modern running watch often has a huge number of features, but I think it’s best to focus on its ability to answer these basic questions.

There are several additional features to you could consider, though I’d argue none are as important as the above questions.

2 Comparison

Here’s a table of these features for each of the watches I recommend (all have GPS).
I evaluate running watches in three distinct ways. Firstly, you can use a watch on its own, without any kind of Footpod. This is probably the most common way runners use their watch, but you miss out on a lot. The second rating is with a standard Footpod that is available quite cheaply. These Footpod’s can be reasonably accurate once the calibrated, but calibration is a little tedious. The final evaluation is with the Stryd Footpod, which is vastly more accurate than any other type of Footpod, or and more accurate than GPS. The table below looks at the score, and the value for money of each watch for each of the three conditions. (I’ve also tested the Apple Watch 3, but I’ve not included it in these tables as it’s not really a running watch.)

The score is the sum of how well each watch can answer the four basic questions (how far, how fast, where are you, what’s your cadence), plus some bonus points.

2.1 Score Breakdown without a Footpod

2.2 Score Breakdown with a Standard Footpod

2.3 Score Breakdown with a Stryd Footpod

2.4 Basic Features

3 Navigation Features

4 GPS Accuracy

An infographic of GPS Accuracy of running watches. The top right corner represents the most accurate watches. (This graphic uses ISO 5725 terminology.)

5 Using a Smartphone

Most smartphones have a GPS built in and support various applications that allow them to function as sports watches. These phones can have remarkable levels of GPS Accuracy as well as many other advantages.

6 Watches for Ultrarunning

Choosing a watch for an ultramarathon requires some tradeoffs and there’s no simple answer. The main factor is battery life, as few watches can be relied on to lost more than 20 hours with GPS active. I think there are three main approaches to this problem:

And some runners will want navigation. I see three main approaches to I wish I could provide, simple, clear cut advice, but unfortunately things are not so easy. You’ll need to think about how long you’ll be running for, the features that are important to you, and how much compromise you can live with.

Charge On The Run is an option for ultras.

6.1 Battery Life

6.2 Navigation

For some ultras (and shorter trail runs), navigation is a problem. I’ve been lost on the occasional race and it’s a horrible experience. Even when I’ve been on course, the doubts and stress of worrying can be an enormous drain. My first GPS watch was purchased so that I’d have an outline of the course I was running and there were many races where I was glad of its comforting conformation. Remember that using the navigation features of these watches will dramatically reduce their battery life.

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