There are many reasons to monitor your heart rate. But the old fashioned way, using a chest strap, can feel clunky and cumbersome. Not only are they more uncomfortable to wear for long periods, but they can be finicky to adjust and get fitted correctly.
Thankfully, there are lots of heart rate monitors without chest straps. These are usually wrist-worn fitness watches that track heart rate through your wrist. A sensor on the back of the tracker presses against your skin and uses pulses of light to determine your heart rate.
While we review a few that only track heart rate, many also perform double-duty by monitoring steps, sleep, and various fitness goals. Some, like the Apple Watch, blend in with your phone for a unique experience. Others, like Garmin’s GPS watches, can be used for walking, running, and cycling.
Below we’ve provided a collection of excellent heart rate monitors without chest straps.
Let’s get started!
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Best Stand Alone Heart Rate Monitor
1. Polar OH1
Unlike other fitness tracker devices, this is a wristband specifically designed for monitoring heart rate. It features an optical heart rate sensor that is much easier to use compared to traditional chest straps; this is its primary benefit and major focus.
It can be paired with different smartphones or other fitness training devices to review heart rate data. With 200 hours of data memory, you won’t have to worry about the band running out of space.
This heart rate monitor is also rechargeable, with a battery that provides 12 hours of use before it needs to be plugged in. Firmware is constantly updated so you never have to worry about the band becoming obsolete.
All in all, it’s a simple but effective heart rate monitor that provides consistent and reliable tracking of what matters most.
- Lots of memory
- Very simple/affordable
- Comfortable for most
- Easy to update/pair with devices
- No extra features like smartwatches
- Battery life isn’t the best
Top Wearable Heart Rate Monitor
2. Apple Watch Series 5
This wearable heart rate monitor has one of the best screens for fitness trackers on the market. The screen is about 30% larger than most other fitness watches or similar monitors. Plus, there’s an “Always On” retina display; this is notable because it doesn’t drain the battery and doesn’t require you to actually turn the watch on to see critical data.
This advanced watch has tons of extra features to make it worth your while, as well. These include GPS and cellular signal reception and a built-in compass. All of these can make navigating unfamiliar terrain all the easier, so it’s a great companion band for runners or hikers.
But it’s heart rate monitoring capabilities are also second to none. It has a special ECG app for monitoring your heart rate, which is bolstered by both electrical and optical heart sensors. The fact that it has two ways of monitoring makes it more reliable and ensure that it provides accurate data when you need it most.
The final emergency SOS feature incorporated into the watch is a perfect final bonus for those worried about their heart giving out or running into trouble. This SOS feature might be of critical importance for medical response times. All in all, it’s a phenomenal smartwatch all around and one of the best heart rate monitors on the market.
- Has a large screen
- “Always On” screen
- Has two heart rate sensors
- Has to be used with iPhone
- Lens can be scratched
- More expensive than other HRMs
Best Heart Rate Monitor for Triathletes
3. Garmin Forerunner 945
Triathletes need top-tier gear, so we’d recommend this smartwatch. It’s perfectly designed as a companion watch to accompany you on all of your practice sessions and fitness routines. Just check out the music playing capability designed into the watch; it even easy to download your favorite tunes from popular music providers, which is always a nice plus.
But it also features an impressive suite of performance monitoring applications. These are perfect for fitness aficionados or training triathletes; they include performance monitoring for your recovery time, aerobic and anaerobic efforts, altitude acclimation, and can even provide advice so you can adjust your activity depending on heart rate or body heat.
Needless to say, this watch also features an excellent heart rate monitor. Thanks to the above fitness applications, you can even provide you with smart tips to keep your heart rate within safety limits or show you your progress over time. Either of these features will be valuable to a person who wants to improve their fitness as much as possible.
- Can easily play music
- Provides exercise tips
- Good battery life
- Excellent GPS feature
- Some buttons are finicky
- Have to use a 3rd party app for many features
Best Heart Rate Monitor with GPS
4. Garmin vivoactive 4
This is a smartwatch that features an amazing heart rate monitor powered by a battery that can last for up to eight days without recharging so long as you don’t use all of the included applications. That makes it one of the longest-lasting heart rate monitors on the market, bar none, so its value is undisputed.
It also features many other sensors to keep track of your energy levels or measure the other physical attributes you want to keep an eye on. As an example, you can use this smartwatch to examine your respiratory rates, sleep cycles, hydration levels, and even more. All of these features make this a great smartwatch for fitness-focused folks.
Its GPS mode is particularly notable. While it does lower the battery life down to six hours before needing a recharge, it’s one of the most accurate and powerful GPS watches around. This makes it potentially a great choice for runners that like to explore different terrain while getting their heart rate going.
But GPS functionality can also be helpful if you get lost and need to find your way back to familiar territory. All in all, this smartwatch and heart rate monitor offers amazing versatility for people of all types and experience levels.
- Great GPS functionality
- Tracks lots of attributes
- Very long battery life
- Works in water
- Screen isn’t that bright
- Touch screen could be better
Top Value Fitness Tracker with Heart Rate Monitor
5. Fitbit Inspire HR
This affordable fitness tracker includes many of the staples that you would expect from a device of this type, including calorie burn trackers and activity trackers to help you nail down a perfect exercise routine and ensure that you are as active as needed throughout the day.
The included heart rate monitor is also superb, and it enjoys a long battery life of about five days without needing to be recharged. This can be very helpful for individuals who need to gather a lot of heart rate data to decide on an exercise routine or simply monitor their overall health.
Its other advantages include water resistance, so you can take this on a rainy day run or keep tracking your heart rate in the pool, and a Bluetooth 4.0 receiver so you can wirelessly connect it to other devices for data transferring or for music playing. Overall, this heart rate monitor and fitness tracker is a phenomenal piece of equipment for its affordability, making it an attractive choice if you want to balance your budget with a host of great features.
- Can be used with water
- Long battery life
- Strong Bluetooth connectivity
- Single size is comfortable for most
- Can accidentally mistrack steps
- Display light time is low
Best Fitbit with Heart Rate Monitor
6. Fitbit Versa 2
Fitbit fitness trackers are certainly amazing devices, but the quality of their heart rate monitors can vary from band to band. The Versa 2 features the best heart rate monitor incorporated into this line of fitness trackers.
This is partly because of the sophisticated sensors that cannot only track your heart rate level but also your REM sleep cycles, restlessness, and other physical characteristics or attributes. It’s all-around a wonderful fitness tracker for keeping an eye on how your body is performing and adjusting your exercise or daily habits accordingly.
It also has a selection of extra features to help you track the calories you burn or integrate with your smartphone application features. Using this innovation, you can control your phone from your Fitbit, which lots of runners or other exercise enthusiasts will love because of its simplicity and ease of use.
Finally, the Amazon Alexa function built into the Versa 2 drastically increases its value for money. This feature is helpful since it can easily answer questions you might have about your heart rate or provide advice. In worst-case scenarios, it can help you get assistance in an emergency. Overall, the Versa 2 is both a great all-around fitness tracker and heart rate monitor.
- Lots of great fitness features
- Alexa built-in
- Long battery life
- Great sleep tracker, too
- Some connectivity issues
- No inherent GPS
Best Budget Watch with Heart Rate Monitor
7. Amazfit Bip Smartwatch
Many heart rate monitors or fitness trackers are quite pricy, but not the Amazfit Bip. It uses optical heart rate monitoring to keep track of your current biological systems and progress toward your fitness goals; this is bolstered by a set of four different sports modes, so it’s another great choice for fitness-focused people.
But it also comes with an astounding 30-day battery life, even though it only needs to charge for 2.5 hours. This extra-long battery life is an amazing feat, especially when you consider the affordable asking price for the watch. This can be really helpful if you want to consistently track your heart rate over a single month, providing lots of data that many other fitness trackers can’t without necessary interruptions for recharging.
Of course, it has lots of other benefits to make it worthwhile. These include its ability to connect to your smartphone to take incoming phone calls or alerts and a built-in GPS functionality to track your daily steps. Like with many other fitness trackers, all of these features can help you better maintain your exercise goals and let you understand the heart rate data you receive.
The Always On display is a nice final bonus, which is likely part of why it has such an excellent battery life.
- Very affordable
- Best battery life around
- Always On display
- Connects quickly to other devices
- Default watch face is bland
- Colors aren’t very vibrant
Lightest Weight Heart Rate Monitor
8. Garmin vivosmart 4
Some fitness trackers or heart rate monitors are uncomfortable on the hand, but the vivosmart 4 is astonishingly lightweight, weighing just 0.64 ounces in total. It also features a slim shape that will go well with most sportswear or can be worn unobtrusively with just about any outfit. Those who want to keep track of their heart rate data even at work or social events will appreciate its small size and lack of flair.
This fitness tracker has other features to make it quiet and subdued, like vibration alerts for various notifications or phone calls. It has a selection of different activity timers for various exercises and the health monitoring tools are bolstered by stress trackers or relaxation monitors. These can pair well with the main heart rate tracker to provide context for the data you receive or just help you hit fitness goals.
The enhanced sleep monitoring suite is another excellent touch. With a seven-day battery life and waterproof functionality (so you can continue monitoring your heart rate in the shower or during a swim), this fitness tracker is easily one of the top choices on the market even with its small size and light weight.
- Feels great to wear
- Slim, unobtrusive design
- Vibrates for alerts well
- Good battery life
- Touch screen has issues
- Step tracker could be better
Top Polar Heart Rate Monitor
9. Polar A370
The Polar line of heart rate monitors are known to be great choices, but the A370 represents the best of their efforts. It has one of the best continual heart rate monitors integrated into the watch’s frame, which can expertly keep track of how fast your heart is beating even as you change activities or activity levels.
It also features an excellent GPS connectivity function where it can integrate with your smartphone and track your speed or distance. Of course, this also allows it to connect to the other features of your phone, lending it additional functionality and versatility for everyday use. This is a great fitness tracker to be worn day in and day out because of this ability.
But even more importantly, this fitness tracker can broadcast your heart rate to different fitness applications on your phone or computer. It features excellent third-party compatibility so you’ll be able to parse or analyze your heart rate data with greater precision and depth than you can with many other fitness devices. In short, it’s a great heart rate monitor for fitness enthusiasts who want to get into the nitty-gritty details of their current heart rate levels and what it all means.
- Good GPS function
- Can send heart data to other apps
- Great continual heart rate monitoring
- Works with most other 3rd party devices
- No home screen customization
- Wristband options aren’t the best
Best Basic Heart Rate Monitor
10. Wahoo TICKR Fit
Some folks are more comfortable with a more basic heart rate monitoring tool rather than a smartwatch with lots of bells and whistles. This watch offers just that functionality, with a simple heart rate monitoring sensor that can capably track your real-time heart rate as well as estimate the number of calories you’ve burned.
This main function is accompanied by several other excellent benefits, such as its ability to integrate with Bluetooth-capable devices. This can allow you to transfer your data to these devices for further analysis or cataloging, which can be helpful for your own goal setting or for bringing your data to a doctor. All in all, it works with over 50 smartphone fitness apps.
There’s also a proprietary fitness app that lets you automatically upload your heart rate data to different training platforms. In essence, this simplistic heart rate monitor is a great choice for serious exercisers who want to streamline their fitness routine and don’t want to bother with distractions like smartphone app integration or phone call reception. This heart rate monitor does exactly what it’s designed to do, no more and no less, and you can get it for one of the best-asking prices on the market.
- Simplistic design
- Easy to integrate with other devices
- Records lots of data
- Works with most smartphone apps
- No exercise assistant features
- Strap isn’t the most durable
FAQ and Buyer’s Guide
How Accurate are Wrist-Based Heart Rate Monitors?
Strictly speaking, wrist-based heart rate monitors are usually not as perfectly accurate as monitors with a chest strap. This is because they measure your pulse from the blood flow in your wrist. A few models also monitor electrical signals, though most use the former method of monitoring.
Wrist-based heart rate monitors can often slip to become off by a few beats per minute, particularly if you rapidly change activity levels. However, this only truly matters if you are aiming for a workout with an especially narrow heart rate target. For all other uses, wrist-based monitors should be fine.
How Tight Should I Wear a Wrist-Based Heart Rate Monitor?
When wearing a wrist-based heart rate monitor, you don’t want to make things too tight as this can close off blood flow and provide inaccurate readings. Instead, wear your heart rate monitor about 2 fingers’ widths above your wrist bone.
In terms of tightness, make sure that the sensor itself is in contact with your skin but that it doesn’t feel uncomfortable. It shouldn’t move around on your wrist, but it also shouldn’t be so tight it leaves deep marks when you take it off.
How Do They Work?
Most wrist-based heart rate monitors work by shining lights onto your wrist, where they measure the changes in blood volume from your blood vessels. In this way, they can estimate changes in your heartbeat.
Does it Matter Which Wrist I Wear it On?
You might find slight changes in reported heart rate depending on which wrist you wear your monitor on. But these are not usually very noticeable. Generally, it doesn’t matter; use whichever wrist is most comfortable for you.
Which is Better: Wrist Heart Rate or Chest Band?
It depends on what you need. Wrist-based heart rate monitors are better for general comfort and for accompanying you on daily exercise activities.
However, chest band monitors will provide more precise measurements of your heart rate and may be more valuable to dedicated exercisers or those with serious heart conditions.