A good fitness watch assures your workout is tracked and logged, providing data to help you reach your fitness goals. We tested the leading fitness trackers and GPS watches to find the best of 2022.
Fitness encompasses a host of activities: walking, running, golfing, climbing — all with different metrics to track. The best fitness watch or fitness tracker is one that supplements your workout regime, tracks the data, and fits with your lifestyle.
Beyond our own personal testing, our resident fitness coach reached out to the clients he trains and other athletes for their insights and spent hours reading online reviews. We read spec sheets and compared them across brands and models.
Below are the best fitness watches, GPS watches, and fitness trackers based on our testing. To help you find the best fitness watch for your unique needs, we’ve included a buyer’s guide, a frequently asked questions section, and a comparison chart.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended fitness watches or jump to the category you’re looking for:
- Best Overall Watch
- Best Budget Fitness Watch
- Best Gym Workout Watch
- Best Outdoor Watch
- Best Fitness Tracker
- Best Battery Life
- Best of the Rest
The Best Fitness Watches of 2022
Best Overall Watch: Garmin Forerunner 745
When it comes to swimming, biking, and running, Garmin is the undeniable winner. Garmin is the biggest sport-specific watch manufacturer and the second most popular smartwatch, only behind Apple. Over 85% of the runners and triathletes we polled use Garmin and highly recommended a Garmin watch.
The Garmin Forerunner 745 ($500) is one of Garmin’s best running and triathlon watches, pinned between the pricier Forerunner 955 and the less expensive Forerunner 255. In terms of design, the 745 finds a perfect balance of size, weight, and materials, and easily lands as the best fitness watch of 2022.
It’s sleek and light without feeling cheap. It’s less bulky than the pricier Forerunner 955 and fenix 7 and higher quality than the less expensive Forerunner 55 and 255. The 1.2-inch sunlight-visible, transflective, memory-in-pixel display is bright and easy to read in direct sunlight — the best of all the watches tested. Top that with crisp button action that makes navigating and viewing during your workout a breeze.
The 745 comes standard with all the features you would expect from an advanced GPS watch: built-in sport profiles with easy-to-scroll-through, customizable data fields; 16-hour battery life in continuous GPS tracking mode; pre-programmable workouts with customizable training zones; a wrist-based heart-rate monitor; and health tracking.
More advanced features you won’t find on most watches include phone notifications, a pulse ox sensor to measure blood oxygen saturation levels, 500-song music storage, auto pool swim stroke detection, and compatibility with Garmin cycling power meters.
You’ll also have access to Garmin training and coaching, which uses its health readings and workout data to give you actionable insights into recovery, training load, and performance readiness.
Our only dismay lies in the battery life — which is a little subpar for a watch of this price point at seven days in smartwatch mode and 16 hours in GPS mode. This will limit you to about one full day of GPS use in between charges, which without an easy-to-access outlet might mean bringing along a separate battery pack.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a do-it-all premium sports watch for swim, bike, and road running with some smartwatch capabilities, the Garmin Forerunner 745 is the clear winner.
- Size: 43.8 x 43.8 x 13.3 mm
- Weight: 47 g
- Battery life: Seven days in smartwatch mode, 16 hours in GPS mode, and up to 21 hours of GPS in battery-saver mode
- GPS enabled: GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS reception
- Health monitoring: Sleep tracking, 24/7 heart rate (active and resting), training load (cardio, muscle, perceived), blood oxygen saturation, stress, recovery
- Customizable one-button scrolling to view health and fitness data
- Programmable workouts for running, cycling, and swimming
- Bright display and crisp button action make it easy to use during activities
- No multi-band GNSS satellite reception
- Weak battery life for the price point
Best Budget Fitness Watch: Amazfit Band 7
With its “been there” shape and “done that” materials, the Amazfit Band 7 ($50) didn’t exactly make a strong first impression. But after a week of walking, biking, and workouts, this small bit of tech showed itself to be as useful as it is affordable.
The Band 7 retails for just under $50. For that price, you get sleep tracking, a heart rate sensor, blood oxygen monitoring, and stress measurements. Users will also be treated to a strong catalog of workouts, from strength training to cardio activities.
The Band’s screen is bright and well-made, and the interface is straightforward. If you can navigate a smartphone, you can find your way around Amazfit’s software with a few swipes and taps. The watch itself is similarly clean, with a low rise and a comfortable (if a bit short) strap.
While the GPS tracking and required Zepp app may not be as accurate as some options listed above, it’s perfectly acceptable for biking, long walks, or anything that takes you across the map instead of in circles. The audible cues routed through your earbuds (marking distance, time, and heart rate) also provide a nice touch of encouragement. Still, its 50 M water rating and svelte construction are more suited to in-town exercise as opposed to the wilderness.
This is the second smart device we’ve tested from Amazfit, the first being the outstanding T-REX2. And while it may be smaller than its full-size cousin, the Band 7 offers an incredible amount of function for the price. The screen lock can be a little touchy (especially when exposed to water drops), but for the most part, the Band 7 is as easy on the wrist as it is on the wallet.
Overall, we’re confident it’s the best fitness watch for the price.
- Size: 42.33 x 24.36 x 12.2 mm
- Weight: 28 g
- Battery life: 18 days typical, 28 days with battery saver
- GPS enabled: Connect to smartphone GPS
- Health monitoring: Sleep tracking, heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, stress
- Affordability, intuitive, and comfortable
- Accurate GPS for walking and biking
- Strong catalog of workouts
- Touchy screen lock
- Short band
- Not as rugged as other designs
Best Gym Workout Watch: Apple Watch Series 8
Apple is the best-selling smartwatch worldwide, and it’s clear why — it’s undeniably the best smartwatch (not GPS watch; I’ll get to that later) on the market. Everyone we spoke with who had one gave glowing reviews. “After literally decades of not trying a smartwatch, I recently bought an Apple Watch. I love it,” said one initial skeptic.
Its biggest strength comes in health tracking and smartwatch features. The new Series 8 watch ($399) is upgraded with a pulse ox that tracks blood oxygen levels. We question how useful this is for the average person, but it’s fun to track.
Probably a more useful — and potentially life-saving — feature is the watch’s heart rate monitor and ECG which can notify you of irregular heart rhythms and track heart rate variability, an indicator of overtraining.
As with all the watches tested, the Series 8 can track sleep, steps, and calories and puts it in an easy-to-understand format. But Apple added something new for this latest version — temperature tracking. Their website calls this “a breakthrough feature that provides deep insights into women’s health.”
In terms of making everyday life more streamlined, especially when your phone is out of reach, the Apple Watch rules the pack. Notifications are easy to read and respond to directly on the watch. The App Store offers more apps than any other brand.
Having coached many runners who wear an Apple Watch, our resident trainer can say two things with certainty: The GPS is not great, and it’s lacking the depth of features that more runner-focused watches have. Mainly lacking is the ability to track and set up speed sessions and interval workouts.
Still, if daily convenience and smartwatch features take precedence over a detailed fitness activity, the Apple Watch Series 8 is for you. One big caveat — it only works with iPhones. If you don’t have an iPhone, we suggest the Garmin Venu 2 or Samsung Galaxy Watch 5. Both are similarly focused on fitness tracking while offering a wide array of apps and smartwatch features.
If you’re looking for Apple Watch functionality, but need more GPS power under the hood, the newly-released Apple Watch Ultra ($799) does just that — incorporating L1 and L5 bands of the GPS satellite system for much more fidelity. And, battery power is much improved, jumping up to 36 hours of normal use.
- Size: 41 x 35 x 10.7 mm / 45 x 38 x 10.7 mm
- Weight: 41 mm: 42.3 g / 45 mm: 51.5 g
- Battery life: Up to 18 hours in smartwatch mode, up to 7 hours in GPS mode, 36 hours in low power mode
- GPS enabled: GPS reception
- Health monitoring: Sleep tracking, 24/7 heart rate (active and resting), fall detection, blood oxygen saturation, temperature sensing
- Depth of smartwatch features and downloadable apps
- Ease of answering calls and texts without a phone connection
- Advanced health monitoring
- Large, clear display
- Poor battery life
- Poor GPS accuracy
- Lack of detailed sports data and customizable fields
Best Outdoor Watch: Garmin fenix 7 Solar Multisport GPS Watch
You’d be hard-pressed to find a premium fitness watch with more outdoor-focused features than the Garmin fenix 7 Solar ($800). Its tough-as-nails design includes a crisp, easy-to-see 1.3-inch LCD display wrapped in your choice of stainless steel, titanium, or DLC-coated bezel that’s tested to U.S. military standards for thermal, shock, and water resistance.
It comes standard with over 35 different sport modes (trail and track running, swimming, running, biking, hiking, rowing, skiing, and golfing, to name a few) with unique data tracking for backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, and surfing.
Navigation is easy and intuitive, and we appreciated the widget layout. With the click of one button, you can quickly scroll through key data such as weather (including radar), downloaded music, past activities, training status, performance and health stats, and text and email notifications.
Its battery life is nothing short of impressive, especially with the addition of solar charging. Standard specs read up to 18 days in smartwatch mode (22 with solar), and 57 hours in GPS mode (73 with solar). This is a significant upgrade from the previous generation, which was already near the top of its class.
You can expect all the standard run, swim, cycle, and hike GPS watch features, and others, such as downloadable music of up to 2,000 songs (supports Spotify, Amazon, and Deezer) and Garmin Pay.
Some of the standout features we found particularly interesting include PacePro (grade-adjusted running pacing guidance), ClimbPro (shows upcoming ascent info and where you are on the climb), and warning of incoming storms using the barometric trend indicator.
Surfline Sessions captures short videos of rides in front of Surfline cameras, while ski and golf resort maps (maps of over 2,000 ski resorts and 41,000 golf courses) can be loaded. Auto swim offers stroke detection for pool swimming.
All of this tech comes at a weight penalty — to the tune of 79 g and nearly the heaviest in our review. For those who like a bit less footprint (but still many of the same features), the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is an easy pivot.
Still not capable enough for you? Garmin also offers a fenix 7S ($900) with sapphire glass and multi-band GNSS reception, plus their fenix 7X ($1,000) with sapphire and an even further elevated battery life. While these upgrades are worth the coin, the 7 Solar will meet the needs of almost every adventurer.
- Size: 47 x 47 x 14.5 mm
- Weight: 79 g
- Battery life: Eighteen days in smartwatch mode (22 with solar), 57 hours in GPS mode (73 with solar), up to 40 days in expedition GPS mode (74 days with solar)
- GPS enabled: GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS reception
- Health monitoring: Sleep tracking, 24/7 heart rate (active and resting), blood oxygen saturation, female health-tracking, hydration monitoring
- Outstanding battery life and solar charging
- Industry-leading depth of sport modes and reporting
- PacePro and ClimbPro features for runners
Best Fitness Tracker: Fitbit Charge 5
Adorning the wrists of workout enthusiasts everywhere, the Fitbit Charge 5 ($150) takes the crown for the best fitness tracker. The headline for the fifth iteration is the addition of a color AMOLED touchscreen, a huge upgrade over its predecessor.
Additionally, the Charge 5 is the first Fitbit to have no buttons whatsoever. Battery life lasts up to 7 days or 5 hours in continuous GPS mode.
An optical heart-rate monitor for 24/7 monitoring is standard and provides accurate calorie-burn calculations, sleep data, and heart-rate zones for working out. It tracks daily steps, calories burned, and active minutes to help you make informed health decisions based on hard data.
The Charge 5 has up to 20 different sport modes for tracking including running, walking, biking and swimming, HIIT, yoga, spin, and golf. If you’re looking for finer details such as cadence, power, or rep-counting for weight training, you’re out of luck, one of our most notable issues with the Fitbit. A built-in GPS tracker allows you to go without your smartphone during an outdoor workout.
A few bonus features not usually seen on trackers are the ability to get notifications (call, text, email, and calendar), control Spotify (but only with your phone in Bluetooth reach), and basic app downloads. If you don’t need these features and you’re OK carrying your phone during activities that require GPS (such as walking, running, and cycling), we suggest the cheaper Fitbit Luxe.
- Size: 36.7 x 22.7 x 11.2 mm
- Weight: 28 g
- Battery life: Seven days, 5 hours in GPS mode
- GPS enabled: GPS reception
- Health monitoring: Sleep tracking, 24/7 heart rate (active and resting), “Daily Readiness Score,” blood oxygen saturation, stress
- GPS tracking without phone connection
- Health-tracking metrics
- Ability to control music
- Very basic sports tracking
- Small screen
- Uncertain future due to Google acquisition
Best Battery Life: Garmin Instinct 2 Solar
Decked out with reception for the GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo satellite navigation systems, you’d think that the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar ($450) may well sprout an antenna array when in use. Couple that with its altimeter, barometer, and compass functionalities, and you have a wrist-bound information vacuum that we’d take on any remote adventure.
The newly updated Instinct 2 got an infusion of new activity-specific data tracking profiles, ranging from snowboarding to bouldering to hunting. And that’s not to mention the most exciting shift of all: a watch face that incorporates Garmin’s Power Glass and harvests solar energy and keeps you off the charging cord for longer.
Garmin claims a respectable 28 days of power when in smartwatch mode, which then becomes unlimited (!) when the solar panel is in play. Functionally this will greatly depend upon your time outside and under direct sunlight, but it’s a bold shift toward total off-grid use.
We greatly appreciated the bevy of smart fitness features that Garmin was able to pack into this device, going beyond simple data and into a synthesis of things like Body Battery Energy monitoring, or tracking intensity minutes across a day.
There are a few concessions to hit the price point, such as an unremovable strap and plastic watch body, but the styling is dialed as with most Garmin watches, and with a little more care we expect the Instinct 2 to last as long as the rest.
With many of the bells and whistles we enjoyed in the Garmin fenix 7 Solar, but in a smaller and cheaper package, the Instinct 2 Solar lives on our wrist when we’ve got a long and far day ahead of us.
Read our full review here.
- Size: 45 x 45 x 14.5 mm
- Weight: 53 g
- Battery life: 28 days in smartwatch mode (unlimited with solar), 30 hours in GPS mode (48 with solar), and up to 32 days in expedition GPS mode (unlimited days with solar)
- GPS enabled: GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo reception
- Health monitoring: Sleep tracking, 24/7 heart rate (active and resting), blood oxygen saturation, female health-tracking, hydration monitoring
- Utilizes multiple satellite navigation systems to offer pinpoint accuracy
- Solar watch face charges the watch as you work
- In-depth smart fitness features guide our workouts
- The strap is removable or replaceable
- Watch body is plastic
Best of the Rest
While it may not look much different on the outside, the Suunto 9 Peak Pro ($550) got a big upgrade in late 2022 when it comes to internal muscle. Compared to our previously reviewed Suunto 9 Baro, the Peak Pro leaps ahead in both tech and sustainability.
The first watch from Suunto to have its carbon footprint calculated — and compensated for — the Peak Pro is made with 100% renewable energy, and has the lowest footprint of any GPS watch on the market at 16.5 lbs CO2e. That’s the same as driving a car roughly 27 miles.
Our testers have had issues with older versions of the Suunto 9 lagging during operation, but the Peak Pro gains a new processor, microcontroller, and user interface that greatly improves the pep in its step. It isn’t flawless (we noticed a bit of a stumble watching the arrow icon while following a route), but it is a great step forward for Suunto.
The battery also got a shot of extra juice, increasing to 40 hours in high-fidelity mode (a 50% increase) and up to 70 hours in battery-saving GPS mode. Then there’s the classic quick charge from Suunto — providing 10 hours of operation in just 10 minutes of charging.
While this is the flagship watch in Suunto’s lineup currently, we were a bit let down to see that it doesn’t incorporate multi-band GNSS reception, something we’re seeing becoming standard in high-end fitness watches. The satellite reception is otherwise impressive — receiving information from GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS birds — just not the bleeding edge.
A killer option for those who want to keep their impact in check, the Suunto 9 Peak Pro is a greatly improved model that checks all the boxes we’re looking for in the best fitness watches.
- Size: 43 x 43 x 10.8 mm
- Weight: 64 g
- Battery life: 21 days in smartwatch mode, 40 hours in GPS mode, and up to 30 days in max battery-saver mode
- GPS enabled: GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS reception
- Health monitoring: Sleep tracking, 24/7 heart rate (active and resting), blood oxygen saturation, stress, recovery
- Vastly improved battery life
- New processor is much quicker than old version
- Not immune to a few lags here and there
- No multi-band GNSS reception in a flagship watch
After testing all the watches, the Vantage V2 ($499) was our preferred pick for running, even in a field dominated by Garmin. It’s not as jam-packed with features as most Garmins, but what it does offer it does very well — especially heart-rate monitoring.
A few key features highlight what’s been updated since its predecessor. You’ll now get everything offered on the Polar Grit X, Polar’s premium outdoor watch, including its popular Hill Splitter (detailed data for climbs/descents) and FuelWise (reminders for fueling and hydration).
In addition, the battery life has been extended to 40 hours in continuous GPS mode with the option of 100 hours in battery-saver mode.
Like all watches, you get training and recovery insights based on your unique physiological data to help you make more informed decisions about when to push and recover. It comes with built-in, step-by-step running and cycling performance tests to establish training zones via heart rate, speed, and power (meter required for cycling).
If you’re a Strava Segment-hunter, the watch will notify you as you approach your starred Segments and give real-time performance data so you can crush your Segment PRs.
Tester Cory Smith has been training by heart rate for over 20 years now. He has a uniquely low maximum heart rate confirmed by multiple lab tests, making it easy to identify irregular heart-rate reading spikes. Of all the wrist-based heart-rate watches, the Vantage V2 never spiked above his known max, something no other watch we tested can say.
Polar Precision Prime sensor fusion technology “combines optical heart-rate measurement with other sensor technologies to rule out involuntary movement that might disturb the heart-rate signal and produce unreliable readings.”
We weren’t, however, as impressed with the Polar Flow app that is used to sync your activities online — which is a bit simple and often has issues syncing data between the watch and your phone. Hopefully, this gets tweaked as time goes on.
Read our full review of the Polar Vantage V2 for more.
- Size: 47 x 47 x 13 mm
- Weight: 52 g
- Battery life: Seven days in smartwatch mode, 40 hours in GPS mode, and up to 100 hours of GPS in max battery-saver mode
- GPS enabled: GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and QZSS reception
- Health monitoring: Sleep, 24/7 heart rate (active and resting), training load (cardio, muscle, perceived), recovery
- Outstanding battery life
- Heart rate monitoring
- Strava Live Segments
- Weak and delayed button action
- Dull and simple app
Our minds have been spinning trying to keep track of all the features and capabilities of each watch, so the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL ($380) offered a breath of fresh air from the confusion. Wahoo advertises it as “a radically simplified multisport watch that delivers a seamless performance advantage.”
We agree. It’s super easy to understand and navigate, and it’s free of features 90% of us may never use.
For starters, it’s a good-looking watch — light and easy to read. Perhaps a tad on the larger side, but we didn’t mind it due to how light it was. The button action is smooth and crisp. Its functionality is really singularly focused on triathletes.
The standout features are touchless transitions and seamless connection to Wahoo’s suite of bike computers and components. All you’ll need to do is touch “start” when the race begins, and the watch will automatically record and track activity and transition time.
For a first version of a fitness watch, we’re impressed. It’s clear Wahoo has a solid team of technical folks working hard. We were a bit skeptical of the initial price of $380 for the feature set, but now that you can find it on sale for a good bit less, the Rival becomes a more attractive option.
If you’re a triathlete already using a Wahoo bike computer and want to stick with the brand, it’s probably the best fitness watch for you. Read our full review.
- Size: 46.5 x 46.5 x 15.3 mm
- Weight: 53 g
- Battery life: 14 days in smartwatch mode, 24 hours in GPS mode
- GPS enabled: GPS and GLONASS reception
- Health monitoring: Sleep tracking, heart rate variability, training load (cardio, muscle, perceived), blood oxygen saturation, recovery
- Simplistic design is extremely easy to use
- Touchless transition recording for triathletes
- Integration with Wahoo bike computers and components
- Somewhat pricey for its feature set
- Weak health and fitness insight and reporting
- Ability to track sports/activities outside of triathlon
You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a more feature-packed GPS watch at this price point. A line-by-line comparison of features to Garmin, Polar, or Suunto watches would suggest a $300 price point, so $200 for the Coros Pace 2 is a steal! There are some sacrifices you’ll make for such a stunning price point, but we’ll get to that later.
Running is by far its best-supported activity, followed by cycling and swimming. Its biggest standouts are battery life and power metrics. The Pace 2 offers an astonishing 30 hours of runtime in GPS mode, 60 in UltraMax mode, and 20 days of watch life.
It offers wrist-based running power and will pair with Stryd pods for enhanced readings. You can also create workouts based on power via the app.
Like the more expensive fitness watches, you’re getting all the typical tracking data (steps, sleep, calories burned, 24/7 heart-rate monitoring, workout time, and intensity). The app then uses this data to give training load and fitness insights. Within the app, you can also create and push workouts to your watch for running, biking, swimming, and strength training.
There are a few things we didn’t like about the Pace 2. It’s advertised as the “world’s lightest watch.” We found it so light it bordered on feeling cheap. And we’re not a fan of the fabric strap, and would suggest going with the silicone band.
Functionally, there are only two buttons: the primary turn-dial button and a smaller back button. Our tester found the turn-dial button very difficult to use to scroll through data field screens while running.
- Size: 42 × 42 × 11.7 mm
- Weight: 29 g with nylon strap, 35 g with silicone band
- Battery life: Twenty days in smartwatch mode, 30 hours in GPS mode, and up to 60 days in max battery-saver mode
- GPS enabled: GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS reception
- Health monitoring: Sleep tracking, 24/7 heart rate (active and resting), daily step count
- Outstanding battery life for the price
- Extremely well-priced
- Wrist-based running power and Stryd support
- Feels rather cheap
- Turn-dial button is difficult during activity
- Lack of training and coaching insight compared to rivals
|Watch||Price||Screen Size||Weight||Average/GPS Battery Life||GPS Enabled|
|Garmin Forerunner 745||$550||43.8 x 43.8 x 13.3 mm||47 g||Seven days in smartwatch mode, 16 hours in GPS mode, and up to 21 hours of GPS in battery-saver mode||GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS|
|Amazfit Band 7||$50||42.33 x 24.36 x 12.2 mm||28 g||8 days typical, 28 days with battery saver||Connect to smartphone GPS|
|Apple Watch Series 8||$399||41 x 35 x 10.7 mm / 45 x 38 x 10.7 mm||41 mm: 42.3 g / 45 mm: 51.5 g||Up to 18 hours in smartwatch mode, up to 7 hours in GPS mode, 36 hours in low power mode||GPS|
|Garmin fenix 7 Solar||$800||47 x 47 x 14.5 mm||79 g||Eighteen days in smartwatch mode (22 with solar), 57 hours in GPS mode (73 with solar), and up to 40 days in expedition GPS mode (74 days with solar)||GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS|
|Fitbit Charge 5||$150||36.7 x 22.7 x 11.2 mm||28 g||Seven days, 5 hours in GPS mode||GPS|
|Garmin Instinct 2 Solar||$450||45 x 45 x 14.5 mm||53 g||28 days in smartwatch mode (unlimited with solar), 30 hours in GPS mode (48 with solar), and up to 32 days in expedition GPS mode (unlimited days with solar)||GPS, GLONASS, Galileo|
|Suunto 9 Peak Pro||$550||43 x 43 x 10.8 mm||64 g||21 days in smartwatch mode, 40 hours in GPS mode, and up to 30 days in max battery-saver mode||GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS reception.|
|Polar Vantage V2||$450||47 x 47 x 13 mm||52 g||Seven days in smartwatch mode, 40 hours in GPS mode, and up to 100 hours of GPS in max battery-saver mode||GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS|
|Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL||$330||46.5 x 46.5 x 15.3 mm||53 g||14 days in smartwatch mode, 24 hours in GPS mode||GPS, GLONASS|
|Coros Pace 2||$200||42 × 42 × 11.7 mm||29 g with nylon strap, 35 g with silicone band||Twenty days in smartwatch mode, 30 hours in GPS mode, and up to 60 days in max battery-saver mode||GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS|
Why You Should Trust Us
GearJunkie knows fitness, and our testers know their watches. The team includes Cory Smith, an online running coach and freelance journalist with over twenty-five years of running and rock climbing experience. He’s an expert, from treadmills to shoes.
He’s joined by Staff Writer Austin Beck-Doss, a climber, hiker, and snowboarder with more than 250 product tests under his belt. His expertise ranges across a wide variety of outdoor accessories, and his work on our “Emerging Gear” series keeps him out on the cutting edge of wilderness tech.
Lastly, there’s Josh Wussow, who’s been reviewing watches for GearJunkie since 2017. As a late adopter of wearable tech, his experience with adventure-themed watches (and his sometimes unorthodox testing methods) brings a new and skeptical eye to the field.
But three variables aren’t enough to solve the Fitness Watch equation. Beyond their personal expertise, GearJunkie has solicited the opinions of fellow runners, hikers, and climbers. When the dust settled and the final grades came in, the list above represented the best fitness watches on the market.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Perfect Fitness Watch
The fitness watch market is vast. Selecting the best fitness watch to fit your needs requires a small investment of research and time. In this handy how-to-choose guide, we’ve compiled all of the essential information that you’ll need to make an informed purchase. From battery life to GPS accuracy, our guide covers all the bases.
Smartwatches, GPS Watches, and Fitness Trackers
There are three very distinct categories of watches, each with strengths and weaknesses. Smartwatches are basically small smartphones for your wrist where you can add apps and take calls without your phone.
The most popular smartwatches are Apple and Samsung Galaxy watches. Functionally, they’re geared toward convenience and health tracking, but they tend to fall short on battery life, GPS accuracy, and workout functionally.
GPS watches such as Garmin, Coros, Suunto, Polar, and Wahoo are designed primarily for workouts that require GPS functionality (running, cycling, hiking, swimming, etc.). They tend to have over triple the battery life of smartwatches and are very strong with workout features, metrics, and tracking.
While most will allow text and email messages, they’re limited in the scope of apps you can add and will not replace your smartphone.
Fitness trackers have the least functionality and only track health and fitness metrics such as resting and variable heart rate, sleep patterns, and steps. Most will need to stay connected to their phone for features like GPS tracking.
This is the most notable difference between smartwatches and GPS watches. On average, smartwatches need to be recharged every 24 to 48 hours, whereas GPS watches can last 5 to 15 days between charges. These times are ever-increasing, thanks to the integration of solar charging on some of the more premium models.
Charging time is relatively quick, with most offering a full charge in around 2 hours. If you’re like us and hate having to constantly charge yet another device, we would lean toward a GPS watch.
Perhaps as important as the fitness watch itself is the depth and strength of its ecosystem. An ecosystem is composed of the watch’s application, web portal, and supported third-party apps such as Strava and Spotify. To view your data, you’ll need to download an app on your phone.
As Garmin is the largest fitness watch company, it has the broadest and strongest sport-specific ecosystem. Garmin’s app and web portal, called Garmin Connect, displays just about all the performance and health metrics you need. Polar’s Flow app and web portal follow close behind Garmin, with Coros, Suunto, and Wahoo following Polar. Amazfit’s Zepp app is a bit of an outlier, though it shows function and promise.
Today’s fitness watches can track just about any activity imaginable, ranging from running to indoor rock climbing and even surfing. We’ve found that watches labeled as “outdoor” or “multisport” not only tend to be able to track the more obscure activities but also do so with more detail and granularity. As a result, this increased level of functionality tends to come with a higher price tag.
All the watches we tested tracked common activities such as walking, running (outdoor, trail, treadmill), outdoor and indoor cycling, yoga, elliptical, general strength, and cardio sessions. If there’s a less-common sport you’d like to track, we suggest taking a look at the watch’s spec sheet to see if it’s covered.
From notifications of an irregular heartbeat to alarms reminding you to hydrate, fitness watches have an astonishing number of features these days. To help you get a sense of features, we’ve listed a few below.
Based on our testing, budget watches and trackers under $100 have all the basic features and perhaps a few standard ones. Watches priced from $150 to $250 will have the basic features and most of the standard ones. Premium watches carry basic, standard, and more advanced features.
- Basic: Distance, pace, heart rate, steps
- Standard: Sleep, calories, VO2 max, stress, elevation gain/loss, training zones, cadence, power, notifications (call, text, email)
- Advanced: Music, Strava Live Segments, auto swim stroke detection, pulse oximeter, respiration rate, live activity tracking, incident detection, temperature sensing
Training and Coaching
As fitness watches have gotten better at tracking health and fitness data, companies have been able to use that data to give guidance on training. As a full-time running coach, our tester Cory Smith finds this particularly interesting.
The top reason he sees most runners struggle is because they overtrain or under-rest. Garmin and Polar seem to have the best training and coaching insights, with Coros right behind them.
Price can give you a good measuring stick of the breadth of features of a watch. Entry-level fitness watches tend to focus on basic sports and tracking and cost under $200 retail. Both the Garmin 35 and Polar Unite are two of our favorite entry-level watches.
Entry-level watches are perfect for someone interested in casual fitness. More serious fitness people should expect to spend over $200.
Moving up in price above $250 brings a huge difference in the look and feel of watches. Premium fitness watches fall in the $300-500 price range, with top-end watches above $500, such as the Garmin fenix 7 Solar.
Most GPS devices are accurate within 1-3%. In our testing, all GPS-focused brands (Garmin, Coros, Polar, Suunto, and Wahoo) performed equally in GPS connection and accuracy. Connection time varied from 10 seconds to a couple of minutes, while distance was within the 1-3% margin.
It’s important to keep in mind that location has a lot to do with GPS connection and accuracy. Accuracy depends on multiple satellites communicating with each other freely and reporting back to the watch.
Distractions such as buildings and clouds can affect the satellites’ ability to pinpoint the sensor in the watch. We suggest asking fellow athletes in the area where you’ll be working out to find out how their watch GPS performs.
GPS isn’t the only game in town when it comes to satellite navigation systems, and many new fitness watches are integrating other global systems to increase fidelity in their location technologies.
GLONASS is a Russian satellite navigation system that provides global positioning data in the same way that the GPS system does, and can provide more definition in high latitudes. Galileo is operated by the European Union and also offers full global coverage. The BeiDou Satellite Navigation System is operated by China and while originally only providing coverage to eastern Asia, went global in 2020. And finally, QZSS, a Japanese system, provides coverage over the Asia-Oceania regions.
Because different satellite systems have undergone multiple generations of satellites, each operates on a different frequency than the last. These older satellites are still functional and provide more data that leads to a much higher fidelity signal when combined with one another. This is multi-band GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) technology, and more and more fitness watches today are incorporating it into their builds.
Outdoor and multisport watches seem to be larger and heavier because of the sheer number of features, so much so that they can look too big and awkward on small wrists. If you prefer a smaller size, most brands (including Garmin, Coros, and Polar) offer smaller versions of flagship models.
How Does a Fitness Tracker Work?
A fitness tracker’s primary purpose is tracking health data such as heart rate, sleep, steps, and calories. It uses sensors in the band or watch to monitor. Most fitness trackers need to be connected to your smartphone to access the data.
Fitbit vs. Apple Watch; Which Is Better?
If you have an iPhone, we would recommend the Apple Watch. It’s the bestselling smartwatch, and everyone we spoke with absolutely loves it. If you don’t have an iPhone, the Apple Watch will not work.
Fitbit is a great choice, but with Google’s recent acquisition in limbo, the future of Fitbit as we know it today is in question.
What Fitness Watch Is the Most Accurate?
This is a tough question to answer. It depends on what features you’re talking about. In general, we found Apple watches to have the best health tracking, Garmin to have the best GPS tracking, and Polar to have the most accurate heart-rate monitor.
Have a favorite fitness watch? Let us know in the comments and we’ll check it out for future updates to this article.