One of the fun parts of being a new runner is stocking up on gear!
Once you’re set with the perfect pair of shoes, comfy shorts or tights, proper running socks, and hot or cold weather clothes (depending on where you are), the next step is picking a good entry-level watch to track your progress.
The benefits of using a running watch are many. Most have features like GPS to accurately track your distance and pace. You’ll also find a step counter, heart rate monitor, and sleep tracking. Some also have the ability to display notifications of texts or calls.
The features you need will depend on you, your goals, and your budget. We’ve chosen the Garmin Forerunner 45 (and 45S, the slightly smaller version) as our top choice. It’s a stylish-looking watch and offers functions such as free access to Garmin Coach, live tracking and incident detection, and other training features.
It’s certainly not the only good option out there, though! Keep reading to find out what we consider the top choices around today.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Garmin Forerunner 45 & 45S
Timex Ironman GPS
Garmin vivoactive 4 & 4S
1. Garmin Forerunner 45 & 45S
When it comes to running watches, you can’t beat Garmin. We’ve chosen their entry-level models, the Forerunner 45 and 45S, as our top pick.
This simple yet stylish watch has an accurate GPS that gives you pinpoint* information on distance, time, and pace. It’s great if you’re training for something specific and need to know how to adjust your pace to reach your goal. (*Garmin and other watch manufacturers are very clear about data accuracy. Garmin’s website specifies that the GPS function aims to have your location accurate within 10m about 80% of the time. Technology smooths out all the rest. They are also clear that performance metrics such as their HR monitors and PulseOx estimators are not medically devices and should not be taken as such).
In addition to the impressive GPS, the FR45 has a ton of built-in sports apps that track your activities and save your data in the cloud either through their mobile Connect app, or the Connect website.
Other useful functions include sleep tracking, step counting, period tracking for female runners, all-day stress monitoring, and a unique Body Battery monitor, which uses a variety of metrics to estimate your energy levels throughout the day. For most runners, this is all the data you will ever need.
Incident Detection is a big pro, and a safety feature we believe every fitness watch should have. Garmin Coach is also a big plus and gives you access to free training plans geared toward your specific goals.
The only difference between the 45 and the 45S is the size – the 45S is the slightly smaller version. We highly recommend this watch for beginners!
- Garmin coach
- Multiple built-in sports apps
- Fitness tracking
- Body Battery energy monitor
- Bit more expensive than other options on our list
2. Fitbit Charge 4
If you’d prefer something a little smaller on your wrist, the Fitbit Charge 4 could work for you.
Running watches have a certain look to them, and it’s not a look that prioritizes blending in with office wear or other stylish outfits – the devices can be big, clunky, and utilitarian-looking. If you’re looking for something that is more subtle in appearance, the Fitbit Charge 4 is small and easy to wear, with a thin face that makes it look more like a bracelet than anything.
If you like the sleek design, you’ll be happy to know it offers great features, too. GPS tracking monitors distance and pace even on indoor runs, and when you’re starting to feel fatigued, you can check out the workout intensity map for some insight into how you’re doing.
The watch tracks your activity throughout the day, and when you exercise you can choose from more than 20 modes. A nice feature is the automatic exercise recognition, so if you forget to push the button before you start, all is not lost.
Extra features include Fitbit Pay, Spotify compatibility, Active Zone Minutes to keep you moving, sleep tracking, and up to 5 hours of battery in full GPS mode.
- All-day activity tracking
- SmartTrack automatic exercise recognition
- 20+ goal-based exercise modes
- Real-time pace & distance using built-in GPS
- The initial setup can be difficult
Best Value GPS Watch
3. Timex Ironman GPS
This watch may look like nothing fancy, but it has a bunch of functions and features packed into that shell.
One major drawback of entry-level watches is battery life. Some modela only give you 4-5 hours in full GPS mode. The Timex Ironman GPS greatly exceeds that – the battery lasts up to 12 hours in full GPS mode, which makes it the perfect choice for long-distance runners. In non-GPS mode it should last up to a week, and a full day on race day.
The interface is fairly simple, as this watch is designed for beginners rather than seasoned pros. Distance, time, and pace are displayed so you can see them at a glance.
That’s not all, though. You’ll have hydration and movement alerts, multi-sport training settings, and advanced training assistance like interval timers.
You can’t beat the value this watch offers. It charges via micro-USB, and it’s also one of the lightest watches Timex has brought out.
- Multisport timing functionality and pace alerts
- TapScreen technology
- Hydration and pace alerts
- Fast and accurate GPS
- Some runners may not like the design
Top Watch with Music
4. Garmin vivoactive 4 & 4S
The vivoactive 4 and 4S are among Garmin’s latest offerings. Surprisingly, they are a bit more affordable than some other Garmin models, but have a multitude of features that earn them a big thumbs-up.
The only difference between the Garmin 4 and the 4S is the size. The 4 sports a watch face of 45mm across, while the 4S is 40mm.
In terms of features, there’s no shortage. To track your fitness, you can select one of 20 preloaded apps when you exercise. You can also create custom workouts, or get advice and workouts tailored to you in Garmin Coach.
Other functions that you’ll find useful include Garmin Pay, onboard music storage, on-screen workout animations, incident reporting, women’s health tracking, and a Body Battery energy monitor.
- Garmin Coach
- Custom workouts
- 20 preloaded GPS and indoor sports apps
- Safety and tracking features
- The battery won’t last very long when you use music and GPS together
Best for iPhone Users
5. Apple Watch SE
If you have an iPhone, an Apple Watch is a logical device to pair with it. The SE could be your new best friend in that regard. Its square screen is instantly recognizable as Apple, and you can choose from a range of colors.
It’s swim-proof, so you can run, bike, swim, and many more with this watch on your wrist. It will inform you of a high or low heartbeat, so you can begin to monitor yourself and know when you need to stay calm.
Tracking your daily workouts and activity in the app can help you to monitor progress. Other features include the ability to make calls and send messages without needing your phone, stream music or audiobooks directly to it, and make payments using Apple Pay.
- Health and workout trackers
- Call and texting capabilities
- Fall detection
- The screen goes blank and you need to touch it to bring it to life again
Most Durable GPS Watch
6. Suunto 3
Suunto is steadily gaining popularity against a sea of Garmin watches, and with good reason. If durability is important to you, then the Suunto 3 may be the watch for you. It looks pretty similar to a Garmin, and offers many of the same features.
Its durability begins with its design. Suunto has over 80 years’ experience crafting great watches, and they make sure to use high quality, durable materials.
With a weight of just 36 grams, you’ll barely remember it’s even there. You don’t have to worry about forgetting to take it off in the pool or shower, because it’s water-resistant up to 30 meters.
Whatever sport you play, be it cricket or curling, Suunto should have a setting for it, with over 70 pre-loaded modes.
The Adaptive Training Guidance function allows the watch to create a personalized 7-day training program for you, based on your statistics. It updates automatically as you go, so you never need to worry about creating your own fitness plan again!
- Adaptive training guidance
- Water-resistant up to 30 meters
- Track your sports activities
- 70 pre-installed sport modes
- Some customers have reported that the strap is far too tight for their wrist
Best Watch with Heart Rate Monitor
7. Polar Vantage M
Polar might be better known for their heart rate monitors, but they make fantastic watches as well. The Polar Vantage is budget-friendly and has one of the most accurate built-in heart rate monitors you can find on a watch. Their Precision Prime technology brings you the most accurate info possible, so you can track your health and wellness to a T.
In addition to the ability to monitor your heart rate supremely accurately, you’ll be able to choose from an astounding 130 different built-in sports modes.
Another useful feature is Training Load Pro, which tracks your training intensity and reports back to you to inform you of how your training is affecting your body.
- Precision Prime sensor fusion technology
- Training Load Pro
- Over 130 sports modes
- FitSpark daily training guide
- Can’t get phone notifications
Top Battery Life
8. Coros Pace 2
While Polar is known for their HRM, Coros is known for their battery life. And battery life can be one of the big compromises on an entry-level watch. Not the case with Coros.
You’ll get 20 days of use in non-GPS mode, 30 hours of use in full-GPS mode, and an astounding 60 hours in UltraMax GPS mode. You can’t beat that if a long-lasting battery is what you’re after! It approaches or exceeds all but the best batteries from Garmin.
The Pace 2 is also one of the lightest GPS watches around, weighing only 29 grams. Don’t think that it can’t fit any more value in, though!
A 50-meter waterproof rating, sleep monitoring, onboard compass, barometer and altimeter, intelligent Stride mode for keeping form, sunrise and sunset tracker, and an easy-to-use, one finger-operated digital dial are added bonuses.
- Impressive battery life
- Strength and Training modes
- Extremely lightweight
- Nutrition alerts
- The small dial on the side can rub against your wrist
Best Basic Chronograph Watch
9. Timex Sleek 150
Not too long ago, no one had GPS on their wrist. It’s easy to forget, given how accessible and affordable technology is, that effective training has always taken place without satellites telling you exactly where you ran. We used to just say, “Well, to the school and back is about three miles. Let’s see how long it takes today,” and then we’d start out stop watch.
Yes, stop watch, that nearly-forgotten, fool-proof device that simply tells you how long it took to get from here to there. There’s any number of reasons a new runner might be wary of investing in GPS technology right off the bat. Timex knows that just because you aren’t tracking the route of every run doesn’t mean you don’t want good timing data. If you’re looking for a watch and stopwatch combo with nothing too fancy, the Timex Sleek 150 is it.
This watch will not tell you how to long to recover before your next hard effort. Whle it will remind you to drink water, it will not estimate your BMI or VO2Max. It will not chart out a 4-month marathon plan for you. It will not guide you to pacing decisions. After all, all that can be done with knowledge instead of an expensive watch and apps. The Sleek 150 serves its pared-down purpose as a time-teller, and a lap-timer, with a 150-lap memory. A Lap Management system allows you to access previous training stats for comparison.
A nice feature it does have are hydration and nutrition alerts, to remind you to fuel up. It’s also water-resistant to 100 meters and uses an INDIGLO night light, although some have complained that the night light isn’t bright enough to be effective.
- Sport stopwatch featuring 150 lap memory
- Running pace alerts
- Hydration alerts
- Tapscreen technology
- The light feature may not be bright enough to illuminate the face at night
Top Budget Chronograph Watch
10. Casio WS-1000H-1AV
Casio has been making good, solid, basic watches for ages, and this one is no exception. It’s a simple, well-priced, effective chronograph watch that will suit you if that’s all you need it for.
Water-resistant to 100 meters and with an approximate battery life of 10 years(!), once you’ve got this watch, there’s no getting rid of it!
Although it’s fairly simple and to-the-point, you’ll also find functions like daylight savings time, a countdown timer, customizable alarms, and a calendar. A 60-lap memory and 1/100-second stopwatch will serve you well if you’re looking for a watch with those functions.
- 60 lap memory
- 100-meter water resistance
- Battery life of 10 years
- 1/100-second stopwatch
- It can be easy to accidentally switch modes, as the lap button is next to the start/stop button
If you still have questions about which is the best running watch for beginners, we’ve covered some of the most-asked things that may help you make a decision.
As A Beginner, What Main Features Do I Need In A Watch?
Every says to get into running because it’s inexpensive. But then come the running shoes. And the clothes. And the watch…oh god, the watch! How expensive can a watch be?! Don’t you just want to know how far you ran and how long it took?
Those who are new to running won’t need excessively fancy features. Even if you’re a tech geek, it’s not a great idea to go for the top-of-the-range watch upfront. There are really only a few functions that are “essential” for a beginner to track their stats. And we put that in quotes because even these features are negotiable.
Time and distance are the top data points, because everything else in running derives from this. You can certainly get distance data from non-watch sources, but GPS gives you nearly limitless freedom for where and how you run while maintaining accurate and instant distance data. Want to change up your pre-mapped course on the fly to add on an extra few minutes? No problem. GPS has you covered. Need to cut it short because it’s just not your day? Same.
Time and distance are key metrics for where you run. But what about tracking how you run? Fitness, after all, is about your body, not about the roads you take. Watches have really upped their game for fitness data in the last few years, and it can help you hit your goals. Data such as heart rate and heart rate zones tell you how hard you are working during your run (some days, that 8:00 mile feels easy; others, it’s a Herculean task), or whether you might be over trained. VO2Max helps you predict what performance you are capable of. Recovery times and sleep tracking can help guide you toward scheduling your hard workouts more effectively. And step counting is a great basic measure of physical activity.
Another important feature that’s often overlooked is water-resistance. Mind you, this is not the same as being water proof. If you’re serious about running, you need to know that you will be caught in the rain at some point! Or, splashed by a vehicle riding through a puddle. Or maybe you want to mix swimming in as cross training. Either way, you want a watch that’s water-resistant to these sorts of things.
What Else Do I Need To Consider?
Once you’ve made sure the watch has the features you need, there are a few other things to consider to make sure you’re getting the right watch for you.
Battery life is always a consideration. The best way to find accurate information is to read user reviews. You should be able to find battery info if you search for it, but it’s always a good idea to read up on some real-life experiences. It might not seem as if you will ever need 5 hours of GPS life to track a run. But maybe you want to track a day hike; 5 hours is likely not enough battery for that. Or maybe you run about 45 minutes daily, but don’t want to be recharging your watch every few days.
Of course, compatibility with whatever phone you have is also important. There’s no use having a great watch if it won’t connect to your device! Double-check this before buying, because you’ll be stuck with an almost useless fitness tracker if you can’t pair to your phone. Most can connect with Bluetooth, and almost all come with USB cords to plug straight into your computer to both charge and sync data.
If you use fitness apps like Strava or Map My Run, make sure the watch is compatible with those too. That way, you don’t have to lose all your data! Even if you opt for a super-simple chronograph, you can still get run data into apps…you just need to enter it manually. This might affect your ability to take part in group challenges and earn online awards.
Aesthetics is another consideration. The design, color, and strap material need to be something you like!
The last thing to consider is whether you get fitness plans, coaching, or any other specials from the website or brand when you buy the watch.
What Are The Differences Between A Chronograph Watch And A GPS Watch?
You may be wondering why a GPS watch is any better than a chronograph. Well, it does come down to personal preference in the end. But a GPS watch has some advantages.
Staying connected to your GPS means your distance and time are monitored in real-time, making it very easy to work out your pace as you go.
This is an invaluable tool for improving your fitness and reaching your goals, as you have something to measure yourself against every time you step onto the road, trail, or track.
With a chronograph, you’ll still be able to time your splits on the watch or measure the metrics of your exercise afterward in an app. But the real-time, in-detail data that a GPS watch offers will be lacking.
That doesn’t mean you won’t get value out of a chronograph watch! It all depends on your personal needs and preference.