What to Look for When Shopping for a Running Watch


Whether you’re a long-distance runner, or a newbie just starting out, a running watch is a great way to get motivation and improve performance. There are a lot of different makes and models available and each of the different models have various features that you may or may not find useful. Because there are so many different choices, we wanted to put together a helpful guide about what to look for when shopping for a running watch.


GPS Watches or Fitness Trackers

A fitness tracker will keep track of things like how many steps you take, how many calories you burn, the distance you travel throughout the day etc. Fitness trackers are a bit less expensive than GPS watches, but GPS watches also have a lot more features.


A GPS watch will keep track of the distance you run and do all of the other things that a fitness tracker can do, but it will do so much more accurately. A fitness tracker uses an accelerometer to keep track of how fast you’re moving and calculate how far you’ve gone or how many steps you’ve taken. A GPS watch uses satellites to track exactly where you are at any given time and gives you more accurate measurements of how fast you’re going and how far you’ve gone.


The downside of a GPS watch is that when you activate the GPS, you will be draining the battery of your watch more rapidly. To help save on battery life, GPS watches will usually offer different modes. For example, you can put the watch in standby mode and turn off the GPS to save the batteries.

To give you an example of how much activating the GPS feature drains the battery, there are some models of GPS watches that can last for months on a single charge if you use them only as a watch. Once you activate the GPS, you may get about five hours of use from that very same watch.


Heart Rate Monitors

Having a heart rate monitor is a great feature for a running watch if you want to try to stay in a certain target heart rate zone. There are some GPS watches available that have optical heart rate monitors built-in. These watches are more expensive but they give you additional data and they are more convenient.


If you buy a less expensive running watch that does not have a heart rate monitor built-in, many models have the ability to be paired with a chest strap that has a heart rate monitor on it. Of course that comes at an extra cost of $40 to $80.


An Altimeter

Some people like to hike or go running on mountain trails. Other people like to train at altitude for the additional challenge. If you’re using a GPS running watch, the device will give you your position three dimensionally. This means that you’ll not only know your longitude and latitude, but also your altitude. However, there are some running watches available with a built-in barometric altimeter that will tell you your elevation even more accurately than a GPS unit.


A barometric altimeter measures changes in elevation by measuring barometric pressure. Using this information along with the GPS data will give you very accurate information about how high you climb during your run, hike, or bicycle trip.


Virtual Trainers and Custom Workouts

Running watches with these features built-in can give you the motivation you need to push yourself a little further and get a better workout. Your running watch can give you an audible beep or a vibrating alert to let you know when you’ve completed a mile or reached one of your other goals.


If you’re able to customize your workout, you can set goals for yourself and use your running watch to make sure you achieve those goals during your workout. You can also use your running watch to track, download, and share your data after a workout. Sharing your workout data on social media will keep you accountable and give you more motivation to reach your goals.


Data Collection

Every running watch will give you real-time information about your pase, your distance traveled, the time it took to complete your run etc. Some watches will upload this data to your computer for you so you can review it later.

Most devices will have their own proprietary data management systems, but most devices will also let you upload your data to other management platforms.


Consider Your Budget

Generally speaking, the more fancy features your running watch has, the more expensive it’s going to be. You can get a good running watch for about $100. You can also get high-end, very fancy running watches that are loaded with features for $500 or more. On this page we’ve shared with you some of the more popular features that are available on today’s running watches, so you’ll have to determine which features are most important to you and whether those features are worth the extra money.


Doing some comparison shopping online allows you to look at a number of different makes and models very quickly. Most websites will also allow you to sort by price so you can look at running watches that are in a price range that you’re comfortable with and then find the watch in your price range that has the best features.

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