Sports watches are smartwatches but they have some specialisms - notably, they tend to have GPS so you can track fitness activity as you go.
Familiar names persist: Garmin and Polar offer some of the best sports watches, adding the connectivity to give you more from your smartphone, more analysis of your data and better presentation.
There are decisions to be made - do you want the accuracy of a heart rate chest strap or the convenience of wrist-based HR? Do you have a preference for the platform the data will sync to? Are you interested in a wider ecosystem?
Buying a running watch is a very personal thing, so here's a rundown of the best watches on the market starting with our top running watch.
Our top recommendation ... the best running watch available to buy today
Here's our recommendation for the best all round sports watch on the market.
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is an outstanding sports device, with enough intelligence to compete in the smartwatch category too. It offers a substantial build, a range of sports metrics and a genuine two week battery life.
It's not cheap and you'll find some of its features on other Garmin sportswatches for less money, but whether you're training for a 5K, about to finish your third Ironman or are on a multi-day adventure race, the Fenix has something for you in terms of functions.
It's impossible not to applaud a device as comprehensively impressive as the Fenix 6. As multi-functional sports-focused smartwatches go there's no equal.
Top running watches: The best of the rest
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro isn't for everyone though, especially considering its price, but there are plenty of other great sports watches to consider whatever budget you are on. Here are the ones that you should also look at:
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music is a wonderful running watch. It doesn't offer all the metrics you get with the Forerunner 935 (below) or the Fenix 6 Pro - but it supports Garmin Pay and offline music, including Spotify while also offering smartphone notifications and customisations.
This sports watch has a lovely compact design that is comfortable to wear, excellent sports and activity tracking, and it sits on a platform that doesn't just track that activity but it excels in delivering your stats too.
Garmin Pay isn't hugely supported as yet and the battery life of the Forerunner 645 Music could be better but overall this is a fantastic running device.
Polar Vantage V
The Polar Vantage V is a flagship device that will track and monitor your daily activity, sleep, sport-specific training and give you feedback. There are great metrics for runners particularly, along with great running training programmes and you'll find plenty of support for other sports too.
The wrist-based heart rate monitor isn't the best in the market - offering slightly dubious results at times - and a lot of the great data requires the Polar website, but the Vantage V is comfortable and the Polar Flow system has some great elements.
Garmin Forerunner 935
The Garmin Forerunner 935 is Garmin's top watch for runners and triathletes, updating the ageing 925XT and giving things a fresh new look. This has all the skills of the older Fenix 5, but in a package that's more affordable, which is a win in our books.
The data that the Forerunner 935 gathers is comprehensive, not only taking those basic running metrics like your heart rate and GPS location - both fantastically accurate, but also altitude data, training status, your stress levels and estimations for things like VO2 Max and your power to weight ratio. Pair is with Garmin's latest heart rate straps and you'll get even more data to fine-tune your running style.
It's also fully compatible with a wide-range of accessories from Garmin. It works with sensors old and new, so whether you're looking for cadence data from your bike or stats from your golf swing, you're fully covered. Beyond that, it's a lovely watch to wear, offers a battery that will see you through a full week easily, as well as giving you tracking for events over 24 hours and support for a full range of sports and activities.
As a watch it can be customised, feeds you notifications from your smartphone and can control your music. About the only downside - apart from the premium price - is the lack of onboard storage for music on the move.
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
The Garmin Forerunner 735XT is a fully-featured multi-sport watch, offering much the same feature set as the 935, but there are some key things it misses out on. The design and looks aren't as sophisticated and the display isn't as sharp or as luscious as the 935, but the performance in terms of GPS and heart rate is just as good.
That makes it an impressive option, because it also supports a range of sports and accessories, with the option to use a heart rate strap if you prefer, or stick to the wrist-based option. It also offers a range of customisations and smartphone alerts, but the menu system isn't quite as logical as the newer 935.
Still, those are almost acceptable compromises for the lower price. Make no mistake, this is an accomplished sports watch.
Polar has traditionally been a brand focused on heart rate. With the V800, the company integrated GPS while sticking to chest strap connected heart rate monitoring. Although the V800 has been around for a few years, it's still a great performer.
This model is better looking than any Polar device before it, with a metal finish and buttons plus a super comfortable strap. It offers GPS, a chest HR strap, barometer, motion sensors and it's compatible with Polar's other sensors to track additional metrics.
The V800 also has added smart notifications as well as activity tracking. The metallic finish looks like a day-to-day wearable and the battery life is decent at 13 hours of training time and a month in activity tracking mode. This also tracks sleep and offers inactivity alerts.
The Polar Flow app pulls all the data together in a large community where you can be competitive.
Garmin Vivoactive 3
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 offers great multi-sport tracking at a sensible price point. It is a versatile smart fitness watch that offers a long-lasting battery life, lightweight design and it tracks multiple activities, not just running so it's a great option if you like to mix it up every once in a while.
It's screen isn't as impressive as the likes of the Apple Watch or Fitbit Ionic but the Garmin Vivoactive 3 still offers great GPS and heart rate tracking and it delivers plenty of detail through the Garmin Connect app.
You also get a couple of extra features on this device compared to some others on this list including Garmin Pay and the ability to reply to messages if you're an Android users. Not all banks are supported by Garmin Pay however so be sure to check if that's one of the main reasons you opt for this device.
Polar Vantage M
The Polar Vantage M has a lot to admire if you're looking for a sports-first smartwatch. It's comfortable to wear, there is plenty of support for sports and there are some great training programmes too.
There's no on board music storage or payments and the heart rate sensor can be a little hit and miss, but the Polar Flow environment is great and the Polar Vantage M will do everything most users will want, even if it isn't as accomplished as the Vantage V.
It's about deciding exactly what you want from your wearable. If it's training first and you don't mind not having music support, then the Vantage M is a great device.
TomTom Spark 3/Runner 3
The TomTom Spark 3, or Runner 3 (two names, one watch) is focused on fitness. It doesn't have an altimeter like Tom Tom's Adventurer, but if you're a runner then that's fine.
The Spark 3 still offers excellent wrist-based HR tracking and GPS performance. New in this model over older Spark models is the inclusion of route tracking, meaning you can find your way back to where you came from simply and easily.
There's no smartphone notifications but you can have all-day activity tracking with all your data syncing to TomTom Sports. It's a little more basic than some of the functions you'll get from Polar or Garmin, but if you buy the right model, you can at least hook-up your Bluetooth headphones and listen to your music with no need for your phone, which those other models don't all offer.
There are a number of different models, so make sure you buy the one that does what you need: expect to pay around £175 for heart rate and music.
The Fitbit Ionic is the fitness brand's attempt at creating a smartwatch that's as savvy with fitness as it is with its connectivity. It's a no brainer for those looking for a more advanced device who are already in the Fitbit ecosystem, a great upgrade for someone who finds that an older device just doesn't give them enough information.
Importantly, the Ionic covers major sports - running, cycling, swimming - rather well, with integrated GPS and heart rate tracking. But it's all wrapped in a light and compact design that's less bulky than a lot of the watches on this list. From a runner's point of view the presentation of the information isn't as customisable as you'll get from Garmin and the Fitbit app is more geared towards lifestyle tracking than running performance, but for casual runners, that might be what you need.
The attempt to be a smartwatch brings some other benefits, such as Fitbit Pay for payment on the move, as well as smartphone notifications. The display is also lovely, vibrant and far from boring, but the cost is that it only really offers four days of battery life.
Garmin Forerunner 35
If you're after a Garmin but want something a little more basic, then the Forerunner 35 is a good starting place. It cuts away a lot of the additional features of the watches higher up the family and focuses on just the information you need.
You get wrist-based heart rate tracking and GPS as well as the accelerometer to take care of your daily step tracking. You get all your information with a leaning toward the beginner runner. Importantly, however, this is a slim and compact device, so it won't weigh you down like some other models.
You still get lots of information too, syncing through to Garmin Connect as well as the option for smartphone notifications on your wrist. The price is more pocket-friendly too.
And if you're looking for a smartwatch...
If the temptation of a smartwatch is clouding your judgement and you really want a wearable that will do everything, but still deliver a reasonable sports experience, then there are a couple of choices. In general, the running watches above have the advantage of offering better battery life, but the following devices give you a lot more features outside of sport.
Apple Watch Nike+
If you're an Apple iPhone user, then the Apple Watch delivers a first class smartwatch experience. The Nike+ version of the watch has been designed for runners, although the only real unique options are the strap and the watch faces from the Nike Running app. Otherwise, the Apple Watch supplies you with wrist-based heart rate tracking and GPS, returning accurate results.
The running metrics aren't as full as you'll get from the other devices on this list, but if it's only basic run tracking that you're after then the Apple Watch will do that for you, while also giving you the advantage of a full smartwatch experience.
The latest Nike+ Apple Watch is the Series 5, so there's a bigger screen than previous models and an additional electrical heart rate sensor on the crown. There is also the option of wireless connectivity too so you'll be able to stay connected without your phone when you're out of the house. That means you can stream music without a phone, or send messages to stop people worrying when you're on an epically long run.
The Apple Watch will only work with the iPhone, however, it's not compatible with Android devices.
The Polar M600 is a Wear OS smartwatch that's been built for runners on top of the full Android experience. As such, it offers a better experience for runners than the Apple Watch Nike+ edition, as there's more information that's better presented.
With integrated heart rate and GPS the Polar M600 offers great tracking of your activities, syncing all your data to Polar Flow, which is a great diagnostic app, providing plenty of feedback on the effectiveness of your exercise.
The downside against as a regular running watch is battery life. Where you'll get a week from the running watches on this list, smartwatches will struggle to make it through two days. But you get a fully connected Android experience, making this a great companion for an Android smartphone user. This will also work with the iPhone too, although Android users get the better experience.