Best Fitness Trackers 2022 | GPS Smart Watches for Runners – runnersworld.com

best fitness trackers for runners

Staff, Courtesy of Garmin

Today’s fitness trackers aren’t just narrow silicone bands that count your steps and estimate how much time you’ve spent sleeping or walking—many pack all the health metrics and connectivity of a high-end smart watch. In fact, as trackers add new smart functions and take on a more traditional watch-shaped profile, the line between the two categories has become blurred. Both types include sport-specific features like activity tracking and GPS workout modes, as well as sensors to monitor everything from your active heart rate to your overnight blood-oxygen levels. These features can track your health, help you achieve your fitness goals, or just encourage you to spend more time in motion.

From daily active minutes to advanced sleep metrics and period tracking, there’s a wide range in the functionality and price of fitness trackers, which makes shopping for the best one such an individual pursuit. In this guide, we cover the best fitness trackers—and fitness-tracking smart watches—along with tips and advice for finding the best one for you.

Best Fitness Trackers

    The Expert: I’ve been testing, reviewing, and writing about running and cycling gear for more than a decade; in that time, I’ve had the chance to test dozens of fitness trackers and smart watches. I’m also something of a data nerd, with a year-round tan line from wearing my Fitbit or Garmin for everything from GPS tracking ultramarathons to counting dance steps on my wedding day. As a product reviewer, my work has appeared in Runner’s World, Bicycling, Popular Mechanics, Wirecutter, Baby Center, and more.

    What to Consider When Choosing a Fitness Tracker

    Health and Fitness Features

    Step-counting accuracy is one of the most important features a fitness tracker can have, but most trackers have reliable accelerometers that can be further recalibrated to track your steps, stride length, and distance with more accuracy if needed. Even the most basic fitness trackers can also calculate your basal metabolic rate, or the rate at which you burn calories, using your “active minutes” and activity data; however, this number is greatly aided by a heart rate sensor, which also makes it easier to grab sleep data. The most advanced health trackers, like the Oura Ring, will even take your body temperature to calculate more data, like your expected cycle date.

    Run-Specific Metrics

    Runners who want to track their sleep, steps, general activity, and 24/7 heart rate—as well as their dedicated workouts—will likely want a watch or tracker with accurate, built-in GPS. Some, like the Garmin Forerunner 945, will even track your running metrics in depth and build custom workouts for you, as well as generate maps and routes on the fly. These features can be as fun and useful for your training as they can be unnecessary and exhaustive, depending on your intended use of the tracker. If you want a cheaper tracker to track your runs and sync to Strava but don’t need all that functionality, look for any base-level model with built-in GPS.

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    Social Features and More

    Some smart watches put both a fitness tracker and the functionality of a full computer at your wrist. These bonus features include app access, message and calendar notifications, and music streaming and storage—as well as virtual payments through Garmin or Apple Pay. If you want a tracker that offers these functions, you can find most of them available through an Apple Watch, Garmin, or some Fitbits; for a more streamlined health and fitness tracking experience, look to the Fitbit Inspire 2 or Oura Ring Gen 3.

    How We Selected These Fitness Trackers

    I chose the fitness trackers and smart watches here based on my personal experience with many of them, in addition to test input from the extended Runner’s World team. I also reached out to fellow data-obsessed runners and fitness nuts in my social media circles, and scoured reviews online. The resulting recommendations are designed to take into account the range of features and uses that people are seeking from their trackers. These are the best 10 models I’ve found based on accuracy, user experience, features, and value.

    Best Smartwatch Bargain

    Apple Watch SE

    Apple

    Now 18% off

    • GPS
    • Heart rate
    • Can send and receive calls
    • Apps apps apps
    • Requires a service plan
    • Low battery life

    Key Specs

    • Battery Life: 18 hours
    • GPS: Built-in
    • Heart Rate: Yes
    • Sleep Tracking: Yes
    • Water Resistance: Up to 50m

    This smartwatch is priced far below Apple’s other watches but still offers a feature-packed tracking experience, with all your activity stats displayed through a simplified version of Apple’s Fitness app. The watch has GPS tracking, maps, music, and health metrics. It has the ability to send and receive calls and measure heart rate and sleep metrics. It also has a bright colorful display with an easy-to-use interface that will feel familiar to Apple users. The biggest drawbacks to the SE as compared to the Apple Watch 7 (below) are that the SE has a smaller display, doesn’t charge or process as fast, and has a heart rate sensor that is one generation behind, among a few other small differences—but for basic tracking with all the GPS and social perks of an Apple Watch, it’s a great bargain.

    Best Smartwatch-Fitness Tracker Hybrid

    Fitbit Charge 5

    Fitbit

    Now 14% off

    • Built-in GPS
    • Accurate tracking
    • Bright touchscreen
    • Good battery life
    • Some GPS glitchiness

    Key Specs

    • Battery Life: 7 days (5 hours in GPS mode)
    • GPS: Built-in
    • Heart Rate: Yes
    • Sleep Tracking: Yes
    • Water Resistance: Up to 50m

    More smartwatch than mere tracker band, the latest Fitbit Charge is excellent at cataloging all your daily activities with good accuracy, including steps, activity through built-in GPS, sleep, and heart rate. The color display touchscreen is bright and clear, even in daylight—with up to a seven-day battery lifespan. The watch has a few smartwatch-level perks, like Fitbit Pay and Spotify Control, so you can control your playlist from your wrist. You can also customize the display screen to choose your app notifications, and even respond to Android messages with pre-selected responses. And the brand’s associated app is among the best, too—it’s fun and intuitive to use, and cleanly designed to clearly display all your relevant data.

    Best Budget Fitness Tracker

    Fitbit Inspire 2

    Fitbit

    Now 30% off

    • Heart rate
    • Sleep monitoring
    • Comes with one year of Fitbit Premium
    • No built-in GPS

    Key Specs

    • Battery Life: Up to 10 days
    • GPS: Connected, not built-in
    • Heart Rate: Yes
    • Sleep Tracking: Yes
    • Water Resistance: Up to 50m

    The Inspire 2 is more of a traditional fitness tracker, with a narrow band and clear greyscale screen that displays the time, steps, calories burned, heart rate, and more. It has an unbeatable 10-day battery life and syncs with the easy-to-use Fitbit app. The biggest downside of the device are that it doesn’t have built-in GPS tracking—you have to do that through the phone app if you want to record distance and speed of your activities using GPS. But for basic tracking of your steps, sleep, and heart rate, it’s a solid bargain—and an excellent way to monitor all your health stats.

    Best Everyday Garmin

    Garmin Venu 2

    Garmin

    Now 20% off

    • Long battery life
    • Smart notifications
    • Holds up to 650 songs
    • Missing some recovery metrics

    Key Specs

    • Battery Life: Up to 11 days
    • GPS: Built-in
    • Heart Rate: Yes
    • Sleep Tracking: Yes
    • Water Resistance: Up to 50m

    The Venu sits somewhere between the Garmin Forerunner 945 and the Garmin Vivomove HR in our lineup here—it’s a little more casual-looking than a traditional GPS watch but not quite as classy as the Vivomove, which has watch hands and a leather band. That said, if you want a sleek watch that can go from office to the gym without looking out of place, this is the Garmin for you. It has all the functionality of a high-end smartwatch, including a heart rate sensor, full activity and tracking metrics, built-in GPS, smart notifications, virtual payments, and storage space for up to 650 songs. It can connect to apps and stream music. Plus, it has a long battery life and bright, easy-to-read color display—a solid choice for runners who don’t need the exhaustive metrics and mapping of the 945.

    Most Stylish

    Garmin Vivomove HR

    Garmin

    Now 30% off

    • Full fitness monitoring hidden inside a classy traditional watch
    • Lots of customization options
    • No built-in GPS
    • Pricey for a fitness tracker alone

    Key Specs

    • Battery Life: Up to 5 days in “smart” mode, up to two weeks in regular watch mode
    • GPS: Not built-in
    • Heart Rate: Yes
    • Sleep Tracking: Yes
    • Water Resistance: Up to 50m

    If you like to wear your fitness tracker everywhere—to work, to the gym, to a fancy gala—the Vivomove HR is the undercover smartwatch for you. On the surface, it appears to be a traditional watch with a stainless-steel face, moving hands, and options to add a sporty silicone or classy leather band. But the watch operates in stealth mode as a fitness tracker, with a light-up digital screen in the background that can display your steps, heart rate, calories, and distance—as well as other smart features like music controls, message notifications, and calendar alerts. It doesn’t have built-in GPS, but you can measure pace and distance of activities using the watch and the GPS Connect app.

    Best Non-Wrist Tracker

    Oura Ring Gen 3

    • Charges in 20 to 80 minutes
    • Water-resistant to 100m
    • Doesn’t tie up your wrist
    • Accurate sleep sensing

    Key Specs

    • Battery Life: 4 to 7 days
    • GPS: No
    • Heart Rate: Yes
    • Sleep Tracking: Yes
    • Water Resistance: Up to 100m

    The Oura Ring is best known as a sleep tracker, and though the brand has continued to add more daytime health-tracking functionality, the compact, titanium device remains one of the most accurate trackers of overall slumber, according to this 2021 comparison of eight commercial trackers published in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep. To collect your stats, the Oura sits on your finger like a traditional ring and uses temperature, heart rate, and other “body signals and daily habits” streamed to the brand’s app to calculate your health metrics. It then makes suggestions on how you can improve sleep and mental recovery—and predictions about your menstrual cycle based on the app’s period tracking. The ring will also measure overall activity level and assign you an overall score based on your whole-body activity and step count. It’s accurate and unobtrusive, so if you’re looking for an overall health tracker and not something more akin to a GPS watch, this is the tool to try.

    Best All-Around Fitbit

    Fitbit Versa 3

    Fitbit

    Now 28% off

    • Fast charging speed
    • Cheaper than the Fitbit Sense while also offering most of the same functionality
    • Doesn’t offer built-in ECG and EDA scan apps or wrist-based skin temperature monitoring like the Sense

    Key Specs

    • Battery Life: 6 Days (12 hours in GPS mode)
    • GPS: Built-in
    • Heart Rate: Yes
    • Sleep Tracking: Yes
    • Water Resistance: Up to 50m

    The Versa 3 edges out its brethren as our favorite Fitbit model due to its wealth of premium features—including on-board GPS—at a relatively low price compared to other smart watches. The watch monitors all your fitness metrics through 24/7 health and activity tracking, with over 20 workout modes, and also features Spotify streaming, Voice Assistant controls, and other standard smartwatch functions. The watch’s touchscreen is intuitive and easy to use, as is Fitbit’s app. Best of all, the watch has a stellar battery life of up to six days in “normal” mode and 12 hours in GPS—and it charges quickly when you need a fast re-up.

    Exhaustive Running Metrics

    Garmin Forerunner 945

    • Triathlon sport modes
    • Long battery life
    • Virtual pay

    Key Specs

    • Battery Life: Up to two weeks in smartwatch mode, 10 hours in GPS mode
    • GPS: Built-in
    • Heart Rate: Yes
    • Sleep Tracking: Yes
    • Water Resistance: Up to 50m

    For data-obsessed runners, the Forerunner 945 has the most exhaustive feature list ever, including virtual pay and the ability to access color maps and create round-trip courses on the fly. The watch houses up to 1,000 songs, so you can play your own MP3 collection or stream through Spotify while you’re running. In addition, you also get all the traditional metrics, like step-counting, heart rate, sleep stats, VO2 max, and many more; plus, the watch will accurately measure your swimming, cycling, and running accurately through GPS. And the battery life is excellent—the watch holds a charge for up to two weeks in smartwatch mode or 10 hours in GPS mode.

    Best Fitness Tracker for Kids

    Fitbit Ace 3

    Fitbit

    Now 15% off

    • Battery life of eight days
    • Waterproof
    • Clear screen
    • Fitbit app is great
    • No heart rate
    • No GPS

    Key Specs

    • Battery Life: 8 days
    • GPS: No
    • Heart Rate: No
    • Sleep Tracking: Yes
    • Water Resistance: Up to 50m

    For kids over 6 who want to track all their fitness metrics—or just try to increase their overall activity level—the Ace 3 is a fun tool. The clear greyscale screen is easy to read and displays all their daily stats, like step number, movement per hour (with move reminders), active minutes, sleep time, and sleep quality—and then rewards kids with virtual badges and animated celebrations for achieving goals. Using the Fitbit app, users can also set up step challenges with family and friends, or send messages. (The tracker’s display will show call notification, but not calls.) The tracker is waterproof down to 50 meters, so you don’t have to worry about your kid jumping into the pool with it on. The tracker band is available in lots of different kid-friendly colors and themes.

    Most Versatile Smartwatch

    Apple Watch 7

    Apple

    Now 14% off

    • “Always on” screen stays on without gestures
    • Recharges quickly
    • GPS accuracy is as good as every other watch here
    • Battery has to be charged daily

    Key Specs

    • Battery Life: Up to 18 hours
    • GPS: Built-in
    • Heart Rate: Yes
    • Sleep Tracking: Yes
    • Water Resistance: Up to 50m

    Apple’s biggest update to its beloved smartwatch is in the watch face itself—the Series 7’s display is larger and easier to read on the run, with a lighter, thinner casing. When you’re mid-run or mid-walk, the watch also now has audio updates on your pace and distance per mile, and will hound you if you’re falling short of your set goal pace, distance, calories, or time. As for health tracking, the Series 7 does everything you’d expect from a device that connects to Apple Fitness+ and the Activity app, like guide you through workouts and track your steps, heart rate, activities, sleep—and even blood oxygen reading and ECG measurements. It’s essentially a personal trainer, smart tracker, and computer strapped to your wrist. And while the battery life isn’t stellar, the watch charges at lightning speed—the battery level will go from 0 to 80 percent in about 45 minutes.

    Read the Full Review

    Our Expert Caitlin Giddings on the Nuances of Fitness Trackers and Why Built-In GPS Is the Way to Go

    RW: What’s the difference between a smart watch and a fitness tracker?

    C.G.: Traditionally a fitness tracker has consisted of a band that measures your steps and other health stats, while a smart watch has tracked your fitness while also providing social notifications, calendar reminders, and other app-connected features. However, recently the line has started to blur and “fitness trackers” have taken on more watch-like appearances and functions. I included both here as a nod to the significant overlap—if you’re looking for the most traditional fitness tracker experience, check out the Fitbit Inspire 2.

    RW: What’s the difference between built-in and connected GPS?

    C.G.: Built-in GPS means you can track your pace and distance with great accuracy directly from your tracker or watch without having your phone with you while you’re running, cycling, or swimming. Connected GPS means you can track through the tracker or watch only while it’s synced with a nearby phone. Having experienced both, I would recommend built-in GPS if you have any plans to use the GPS functionality of your tracker—however, it’s also worth noting that on-board GPS will generally add to the size and cost of the device.

    RW: What does “water-resistance up to 50 meters” mean?

    C.G.: Technically this means the watch or tracker can withstand five bars of pressure, or 50 meters of water pressure. However, more practically speaking, this just means the watch can handle swimming in the pool or taking a shower. It’s not even recommended that you dive into a body of water with a tracker of this resistance rating due to the pressure of entering the water—and it’s certainly not safe to scuba down 50 meters deep with one.

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