Running Watches:
A Buying Guide

Garmin Forerunner 405Tech4o TraiLeader ProPolar RS300x-SDSuunto T4 Nordic SportsGarmin Forerunner 205

***Check out the 2017 Running Watch Buying Guide***

Running watches are so much more capable than they were just 5-10 years ago! A good watch now can offer so many training functions including those that track and record your distance, pace, heart rate, and lap times. Some are equipped with GPS, accelerometers, altimeters, and many other high-tech features...all strapped to your wrist.

This buyers guide lists many of the popular functions, what they are, and which ones are worth the extra money. So whether you’re looking for a GPS, a heart rate monitor, or just an all-around good training tool, here are the criteria that you’ll want to consider:

Distance Sensor: GPS or Accelerometer

The higher-end runner's watches are able to measure your running distance and convert it into pace information. There are two primary technologies that do this: GPS or accelerometers. GPS (Global Positioning System) uses satellites to update your position. This technology is very precise but can be expensive and can blank-out in wooded and areas with tall buildings. It also uses a lot of battery power and needs frequent recharging or battery changes. Accelerometers measure movement and are more reliable than pedometers, but need good stride length data for accuracy. They use less battery life and are more economical than GPS , but don't offer the precision of satellite location.

Heart Rate Monitor

One key element of training improvement is the ability to monitor and exercise in certain cardio zones. A heart rate monitor is a great way to track your heart's performance and workout in the desired heart rate zones. This was once a market dominated by Polar, but it is now a function of many good running watches. It works with a chest strap and wireless communication to the wrist watch. This is a very worthwhile function for the serious runner looking to measure, record, and improve their training and performance.


I like a watch that has a lot of information on the display, but is still large enough to read with sweat dripping in my eyes. Some watches have a great display are are able to do this quite nicely, others are smaller and have the need to toggle between screens on the go. So depending on what you're looking for, this feature may carry more or less weight. The display is more than the watch's's how it will function as your primary training tool. Check out the display of the watch and make sure it's showing you what you want to see.

Lap Timers / Chronograph Features

Every running watch from the low-end to the techno gadget have a chronograph. What separates some from the others are the ability to record laps, some offer a moving chronograph based on GPS or accelerometer motion, and some offer accuracy to a hundredth of a second for the Track & Field athletes and coaches out there. This has rarely been a deal-breaker factor for all watches I've worn satisfy my needs as a distance runner, but be sure to compare these feature if you have special time recording expectations.

Data Downloads

The high-end running watches have the ability to take your workout data and transfer it to your PC. Some can do this wirelessly while others can be connected via cable. And each manufacturer has their own software training log with different functionality and displays. This feature is really nice if you're used to the stopwatch and spreadsheet training I used to do. Now , when I put my gym bag into the den my workout is automatically downloaded onto the forgotten workout entries...this feature is worth every penny.

The table below compares some of the better running watches on the market and their primary features:

Watch GPS? HR
PC Link Battery
Fitbit Surge Yes Yes Bluetooth Recharge
Garmin Forerunner 405 Yes Yes ANT Stick Recharge
Garmin Forerunner 305 Yes Yes Cable Recharge
Garmin Forerunner 301 Yes Yes Cable Recharge
Garmin Forerunner 205 Yes No Cable Recharge
Garmin Forerunner 201 Yes No Cable Recharge
Polar RS300x-SD Yes Yes FlowLink
AA / Button
Polar FT80G1 Yes Yes FlowLink AA / Button
Timex Ironman T5E701 Yes No No 2-year lithium

Running Watch Reviews

Garmin Forerunner 405 Review
Garmin Forerunner 201 Review
Tech4o TraiLeader Pro Review
FitBit Surge - Product review                                                          Best Running Watch for 2017

Leave Running Watches & Return to Gifts for Runners

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