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Polar Vantage V running smartwatch

The best smartwatches and fitness trackers for runners in 2023

It's time to pick up a fitness tracker or smartwatch that goes the extra mile no matter at what level you train.

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With the weather improving and gyms starting to open now that the pandemic is easing up, now is the ideal time to start running outdoors again – and for that, you're going to want a fitness tracker or running watch. These high-tech wearables aren't just for humble-bragging about your latest 5k time on social media; they can track your health in real-time, set goals, and help you improve your fitness levels while acting as a regular smartwatch.

Speaking of smartwatches, obvious candidates like the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch aren't included in this article. Instead, we have decided to focus on dedicated fitness trackers and smartwatches designed primarily for running. These come from manufacturers like Garmin, Polar, and Coros.

Here are some top running watches and fitness trackers to consider in 2023:

Garmin Forerunner 965

A photo of three Garmin Forerunner 965 smartwatchesThe Garmin Forerunner 965 has a claimed 23-day battery life Garmin

This a feature-packed running watch with a price tag to match. At $600, it is more expensive than the Apple Watch but justifies the cost by having a battery life of up to 23 days. It is designed specifically for running and triathlons, monitors Vo2 max, and logs your fitness while considering the heat, altitude, training load, and recovery time.

The watch can also evaluate your recent exercise history and performance indicators to let you know if you are training productively, peaking, or overreaching. It also provides feedback on your aerobic and anaerobic training while your training history is sorted based on activity structure and intensity. There are full-color maps onboard, plus music streaming capabilities, GPS, and Garmin Pay for contactless payments.

Apple Watch 8 Ultra

a photo of Apple Watch Ultra on a man's wrist.The New Apple Watch Ultra Apple

We have to include the new Apple Watch Ultra, part of the Apple Watch 8 series. The Apple Watch Ultra is a rugged and capable smartwatch that is designed for extreme environments, elevations, and temperatures. It features a robust titanium case, precision dual-frequency GPS, up to 36 hours of battery life, the freedom of cellular, and three specialized bands for athletes and adventurers like "ultra-marathoners.".

Other key features of the Apple Watch Ultra include water-resistant up to 60 meters, dust resistance, and MIL-STD 810H certification.

The Apple Watch Ultra is a great choice for athletes and adventurers looking for a smartwatch that can withstand extreme conditions. It is also a good option for people who need a smartwatch with long battery life and cellular connectivity. However, it's not cheap. It starts at $799 and will go higher when you add a cellular plan to the watch.

Buy Apple Watch Ultra at Best Buy

Garmin Fenix 7S Pro Solar Edition

a photo of a group of Garmin Fenix 7S Pro Solar Edition smartwatchesGarmin Fenix 7S Pro Solar EditionGarmin

If you are a runner who likes to go off-road or take on challenging trails, then take a look at the Garmin Fenix 7S Pro Solar Edition smartwatch. This Garmin device is a premium multisport GPS smartwatch that is designed for smaller wrists. It features a 1.2-inch solar-charged display, a stainless steel bezel, and a rear cover made of titanium. The watch is water-resistant, up to 100 meters, and has a battery life of up to 14 days in smartwatch mode and up to 46 hours in GPS mode with solar charging.

The Garmin Fenix 7S Pro Solar Edition comes with a variety of features, including:

  • GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo navigation
  • Heart rate monitoring
  • Pulse Ox sensor
  • Body battery energy monitoring
  • Sleep tracking
  • Training load tracking
  • PacePro pacing
  • ClimbPro ascent planning
  • TopoActive maps
  • Music storage
  • Garmin Pay contactless payments

The Garmin Fenix 7S Pro Solar Edition is a great choice for athletes and outdoor enthusiasts looking for a high-end smartwatch with long battery life and various features to help with their training.

Garmin Forerunner 745

a photo of Garmin Forerunner 745 smartwatchesGarmin Forerunner 745 Garmin

If you are looking for a more affordable running watch, then we recommend sticking with the Garmin Forerunner range but switching to the 245 Music. This watch is currently priced at $339, making it almost half the price of the flagship 945. This GPS watch is still packed with health and fitness features, including training status data to help tell you if you are underperforming or pushing yourself too hard and free adaptive training plans from the Garmin coach.

The watch also provides advanced running data, including ground contact time, stride length, and vertical ratio. An incident-detection system sends your location to an emergency contact if you have an accident while exercising, and Garmin says the battery life lasts up to seven days. The 'Music' in its name refers to there being internal storage, so save your running playlist and stream it to Bluetooth earphones.

Polar Pacer Pro

a photo of Polar Pacer ProPolar Pacer ProPolar

Even more affordable are the new Polar Pacer and the Pacer Pro smartwatches. These two models currently sell for around $230 for the Pacer and $330 for the Pacer Pro. It has a battery life of up to 30 hours with GPS enabled and active (around double that of an Apple Watch), and provides a comprehensive view of your training. The Pacer series has GPS and a heart rate monitor, and it can be used to track swimming as well as running, with automatic detection of your swimming style, distance, pace, strokes, and rest time, in both pools and open water.

The Pacer Pro is 2x faster and smarter than the Polar Vantage M which we recommended last year,. The battery life is up to 7 days on a single charge and connects with a ton of apps to help with your training. It's also available in four colors: gold dust, carbon gray, snow white, and autumn maroon.

Coros Pace Apex 2/2Pro

a photo of Coros Pace Apex 2/2 Pro Coros Pace Apex 2/2 Pro smartwatchesCoros

The Coros Apex 2 and Pro are premium GPS smartwatches designed for outdoor enthusiasts looking for long battery life and a variety of features to help with their outdoor training. The Apex 2 features a 1.2-inch always-on LCD touchscreen display while the 2 Pro comes with. a1.3-inch display. Both of these smartwatches have a heart rate sensor, GPS, and a variety of outdoor-specific features, such as topographical maps, weather forecasts, and sunrise/sunset times. Also, these new Coros Apex smartwatches are lightweight (42-53g).

Where do they differ? Besides the size difference in the touchscreen, the Apex 2 Pro also has a larger battery, with a maximum battery life of 75 hours in GPS mode, compared to 45 hours for the Apex 2. The Apex 2 Pro also has a few additional features, such as multi-band GPS, music storage, and WiFi connectivity. Also, they vary in price. The Apex 2 costs $349 while the Apex 2 Pro starts at $449, $100 more expensive.

Ultimately, your best choice will depend on your needs and budget. If you are looking for a premium smartwatch with long battery life and a variety of features, the Coros Apex 2 Pro is a great option. However, if you are on a budget or don't need all of the extra features, the Coros Apex 2 is also a great option.

Coros Pace 2

Coros Pace 2 running watchCoros Pace 2 running watchCoros

A great budget option from last year that is still good for runners this year is the Coros Pace 2, which costs $200 and has a 30-hour battery life with GPS enabled. It is available in four different colors and has industry-standard lug bars, so any regular watch strap can easily be fitted. Weighing just 29g, the Pace 2 was claimed to be the lightest GPS watch on the market when it launched.

The Pace 2 tracks running, cycling, swimming, cardio, strength training, and water sports and have heart rate monitors, plus sleep, step, and calorie tracking. Other extra features include nutrition and hydration alerts, an AI trainer that estimates when you will be fully recovered from each training session, and an app that uses the watch's barometer to alert you about local weather changes.

Buy on Amazon - $199.99

Fitbit Charge 5

 a photo of Fitbit Charge 5Fitbit Charge 5Fitbit

Moving away from running watches and towards fitness trackers, we have the Charge 5 from Google-owned Fitbit. This tracker is priced at around $150, is available in three colors, and has a battery life of up to seven days. There is also a color touchscreen, built-in GPS, Menstrual health tracking, a heart rate monitor, waterproofing up to 50 meters, and pace data for running, rides, and hiking.

The Charge 5 also comes with 90 days of free access to Fitbit Premium, which combines fitness tracking, sleep data, and even stress levels. Although not a fully-fledged smartwatch, the Charge 5 can handle calls, smartphone notifications, and music streaming from Spotify and Fitbit Pay.

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To find other smartwatches that meet your needs, use The GearBrain, our compatibility find engine. It will help you find, buy and connect the perfect smartwatch or fitness tracker that fits your training needs.

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