As fitness trackers have become ubiquitous in recent years, determining which will be right for your running and fitness needs proves more and more challenging with each new release. While having more choices is rarely a bad thing, perusing the myriad great devices can feel overwhelming, and differentiating between brands often seems a daunting task. Of course, one essential trait is waterproofing (or at least water-resistance). Even if you’re simply running on a trail or treadmill, sweat is inevitable, and your fitness tracker is worthless if a little moisture renders it unusable. The watches and bands below will withstand anything from rainy runs and swimming laps to that post-run ice bath or shower.
So Much More Than a Step Counter
As the industry bar for fitness trackers continues to rise, standard features have evolved from basic functions like counting calories burned and steps taken to more advanced capabilities such as GPS tracking and heart rate monitoring. Some of these devices can can even assess your VO2 max, estimated recovery time, heart rate variability (HRV), and sleep quality or provide you with an ECG reading right from your wrist. Triathletes will appreciate trackers that automatically detect when you switch from an open-water swim to your bike, and those who love to cross train will find countless workout modes to log a heavy lifting session or yoga class. Some of these can even evaluate your golf swing, and most fitness trackers are now compatible with both iOS and Android.
How We Chose
Preferences vary amongst individuals, so we scoured every corner of tech retail on the internet, sifting through the latest versions of the usual suspects, as well as inspecting newer brands. Considering comfort, cost, and features to durability, appearance, and accuracy, we compared devices, read the fine print, and familiarized ourselves with the minutiae for dozens of waterproof fitness trackers. Our staff of experienced test editors has used many of them personally to track their long runs, strength workouts, daily stress, and REM sleep, not to mention stream music and podcasts through hours of sweat and rain. Some devices—the ones that satisfied our data tracking needs and delighted us with intuitive user experiences and additional apps and features—we’ve written about in-depth in the past. We provided links to full reviews of those trackers where we have them.
—BEST GUIDED TRAINING FEATURES—
Other Hearst Subscriptions
Battery life: 40 hours in training mode (30 hours with GPS), 5 days with 24/7 tracking
With a simple, yet contemporary design, the Other Hearst Subscriptions watch looks as smooth as it operates. After you plug in your basic information like age, height, and weight, the watch generates a basic training plan for the week, broken down into workouts and rest days. In Personal Training mode, you can view your prescribed workouts, which will vary from day-to-day. And, based on data like estimated VO2 max and resting heart rate, the Other Hearst Subscriptions will revise your plan as needed to keep your Fitness Level climbing, whether that be by upping the intensity of your next session or scheduling in a rest day on a Saturday when you needed some extra sleep more than an early morning jog. We especially liked the ease of scrolling through the watch’s Logbook that stores the details of your workouts—from the basics like time and distance to estimated recovery time—without needing to open the accompanying mobile app.
Garmin Forerunner 945
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, ANT+, Wi-Fi
Battery life: 2 weeks in smartwatch mode, 36 hours in GPS mode (10 hours with music)
As one of Garmin’s top products, this Forerunner boasts more than just an aesthetic improvement. With storage space for 1,000 songs, menstrual cycle tracking, a virtual payment option, and a barometric altimeter, this smartwatch has a whole lot packed inside. The comprehensive training mode adjusts to specific factors such as altitude, heat, acclimation status, recovery time, and aerobic and anaerobic training effects.
It weighs only 50 grams, so you’ll hardly feel the weight of this fully featured tracker. The battery will last 36 hours in GPS mode (if you’re not using the Forerunner to play music), ideal for long weekend camping trips. If you’re not up for paying over half a grand, aim for the Forerunner 45, which offers many of the same features at a third of the price.
—MOST USER-FRIENDLY DESIGN—
Garmin Venu Sq
Zac Howard and The Runners World Editors+
Battery life: 14 hours in GPS mode, 6 days in watch mode
Most cheap sports watches look like, well, cheap sports watches. Or at least, they used to. But we’re seeing more stylish and versatile options crop up (no doubt spurred by the crossover success of the Apple Watch), including affordable models like the Venu Sq.
As a running watch, it ticks a lot of boxes. You get accurate GPS tracking, along with a slew of basic run-tracking features—cadence, optical HR, customizable data pages, VO2 max estimates, and the ability to mark laps automatically or manually. It even comes with a Pulse Ox sensor, which measures your blood oxygen levels. It doesn’t have an interval option, however, nor will the basic version store music; that will cost you an extra $50.
Fitbit Inspire 2
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2
Battery life: Up to 10 days
While the Inspire from Fitbit is far from a premium tracker, you would be hard-pressed a higher quality device for under $100. Modest in appearance and cost, the Inspire still provides sleep cycle information and menstrual health tracking capabilities. Plug in what you ate for calorie analysis or pick a favorite workout from a selection of more than 20 goal-based exercise modes. Sit too long in a Zoom meeting and the Inspire will prompt you get up and move around. Once you decide to workout, Fitbit’s SmartTrack technology will recognize the type of workout you chose and adjust its reported numbers accordingly.
—BEST FOR TRACKING POWER—
Coros Pace 2
Battery life: 30 hours in GPS mode, 20 days in watch mode
One advanced feature that the Pace 2 includes is “Running Power.” It’s uncommon for a wrist-based device to measure power directly, and unheard of at this price. Typically you need an external pod like the shoe-mounted Stryd or Garmin’s Running Dynamics Pod, which is worn on your waistband. (Polar’s $500 Vantage V was the first GPS watch to have a power meter built-in, and the new $430 Grit X got one, too.) While cyclists already know this metric well, power has been making strides in the running space. It’s basically a measure of how much energy you’re exerting while running. A neat reason to use it is that you can maintain a consistent training effort over varying courses. For example, if you can’t do mile repeats on a track, you could dial in your “watts” that equate to the mile pace you’d hit on a flat surface. Then, when on the road, you keep an eye on the watch as you maintain the same power measure—even when the roads slants up or down—to ensure you’re putting in the right workload.
Fitbit Charge 4
Battery life: 5 hours in GPS mode, 7 days in standard mode
The new Charge still boasts all the 24-hour activity- and sleep-tracking features previous generations of the watch are known for. But the all-new GPS is surprisingly accurate, and the touchscreen is responsive, even when your hands are sweaty. You won’t confuse it with a high-powered running watch, but if all you want to do is get reliable pace readings while out on your run, the Charge delivers. However, you can still get a read on your VO2 max and compare stats, graphs, and maps of workouts in the accompanying Fitbit app. Bear in mind: The battery is touted to last up to seven days, but GPS will drain it in just several hours.
—MOST IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS—
Whoop Strap 3.0
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2
Battery life: Up to 5 days
The Whoop band is an activity tracker for people who subscribe to the theory that what gets measured gets managed. It isn’t a watch, just a wrist band that tracks and quantifies your sleep, stress, activity, and training load to help you better manage and maximize performance. Over the course of the day, Whoop measures your activity, counting up calories burned and measuring your movement and activities to generate a daily stress score on a scale of 1 to 21. The higher the number, the higher the strain. It’s a way of collecting everything from the day—recovery or lack thereof, life and job stresses—into one coherent and easy-to-comprehend number. Plus, this latest version’s battery now has enough juice to last you a full work week on a single charge. Since it doesn’t have a screen, you can’t review your workout on the device itself, but the summary is no less reliable—or thorough.
—BEST FOR TRIATHLETES—
Polar Vantage V2
Battery life: Up to 40 hours in GPS mode, 7 days in watch mode
Runners who want a top-shelf product, look no further. Flaunting its Polar Flow training platform as the best in the business, the Vantage provides running power on the wrist, a “Hill Splitter” feature that breaks down your climb and descent stats (great for hill reps), turn-by-turn navigation, and two new tests to improve your training. In the “Running Performance Test,” you’ll run for 20 minutes, guided by the watch to gradually increase your pace until you hit your limit. Afterward, the V2 reveals your estimated VO2 Max, your maximum heart rate, and your important training threshold zones. The “Leg Recovery Test” reveals if your muscles are as recovered as you think they are, from just three standing jumps. Plus, the updated design comes in 14 grams lighter than the V, making it more comfortable to wear 24/7. (That’s essential for maximizing the detailed sleep and recovery tracking.) The Vantage will automatically sync your training data to Strava, TrainingPeaks, and other online sports communities, so everyone can know when you’re approaching beast mode.
—BEST FOR MUSIC AND PODCASTS—
Apple Watch Series 6
SMALLEST AND LIGHTEST
Battery life: Up to 18 hours
On its surface, the 6 isn’t a huge leap forward from the 5: The watch still comes in two sizes—40mm and 44mm—along with the expanded, easier-to-read screen that debuted on the Series 4. It keeps the fall detection and EKG features that have been around for a couple of years now, and runners in particular will still like the always-on display to easily check their splits. But now, the screen is 2.5 times brighter and the performance has improved thanks to the new S6 chip, which allows apps to launch 20 percent faster without negatively affecting battery life. It adds has a blood oxygen sensor, which can be especially useful if you live at sea level but are going to spend time at a higher elevation, since it can tell you how you’re adapting to the altitude change.
—SMALLEST AND LIGHTEST—
Battery life: Up to 7 days
If you love the data but hate the look of a fitness tracker, the Oura ring might appeal to you. This sleek, featherweight titanium band uses infrared sensors to capture your heart and respiration rates, an NTC sensor to monitor your body temperature, and a built-in 3D accelerometer to track your daily steps, calories burned, and training volume. While you snooze, it keeps tabs on your HRV and time spent in light, deep, and REM sleep to help you plan an ideal bedtime. Combined with the companion app, it will generate three simple scores each day (Sleep, Activity, and Readiness) to guide your training and recovery while keeping your wrists free if a traditional bracelet or watch is more your style. It’s comfortable and won’t weigh your hand down despite all the technology packed inside—it weighs even less than a conventional ring, at only about five grams—and can store up to six weeks of data between syncs.
—BEST FOR KIDS—
Garmin Vívofit Jr. 2
Battery life: Up to 1 year
Could there possibly be a better way to encourage kids to stay active than a swanky piece of wearable technology with a superhero or princess theme engraved on the band? Incentivizing physical exercise, the Vívofit Jr. allows parents to explain to their kids how the body works by showing them real-time results from their day. There are even features for chore management and reward tools on the parent-controlled app. Incentives include adventure games and icons for Marvel’s Spider-Man. Once set up, the tracker will prompt kids with reminders for various tasks, such as homework and instrument practice.