Want To Give A Running Watch For Christmas? Here’s What You Need To Know

Person sitting on sofa wearing tracksuit and running watch, wrapped gifts in background
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Some runners love looking at – and talking about – their post-run stats almost as much as they love running. If you’ve heard them complain about an old or inaccurate device, giving them a shiny new running watch is sure to go down well. 

To really hit a home run with your gift, however, there are some things you need to know about running watches. It can be hard to figure out what the best one is, especially if you’re not a runner yourself.

Thankfully, we know this topic inside out having reviewed all the options from the top brands to maintain this list of the best running watches. You can, of course, refer to that round-up, but it’s for runners so it makes assumptions about your prior knowledge which may be frustrating. That’s why we’ve written this guide to cover some of the basics and recommend the best watches for a range of budgets, as well as flagging some excellent discounts on older watches that have fallen out of our best of list but remain top-notch devices. As with all good gifts for runners, you need to start with the recipient.

Where To Start

Start by asking these two questions.

Do they already have a running watch? If they do and love it, it’s wise to stick to the same brand because they’ll be used to the ecosystem and will probably be loath to jettison their running history.

Do they like big chunky watches? Let’s hope so because most of the top watches get quite large. If they don’t, Garmin offers smaller sizes of its more recent watches (look for the S after the number in the name).

From there keep in mind the type of running they do as you look through this feature list, since this will help you decide what watch to get them.

Running Watch Features

The first two things to look for on a running watch are built-in GPS, which is needed to track outdoor runs accurately, and an optical heart rate monitor to record heart rate during runs. Most watches even in the budget bracket have these features, but it’s still worth confirming. The cheapest Fitbit bands don’t have built-in GPS, for instance, and Fitbits in general aren’t great for runners.

Other things to consider include:

Battery life: Most watches will be fine for casual runners, but if buying one for an ultramarathon runner, or a first-time marathon runner who may need the watch to last up to six hours, you’ll need it to have a long GPS battery life (which is different from the battery life).

Training analysis: Stat-loving runners will enjoy watches that provide detailed analysis of their training, along with recommendations on whether they’re optimising their training so they get fitter without overdoing it.

Guided training plans: These can be a very useful feature for new runners in particular. The watch will provide a full training plan with workouts to follow on your wrist. Every current device from Garmin, Polar and Coros offers this.

Music storage: Offered by most smartwatches with activity tracking, and many sports watches as well, this allows runners to train to music without also carrying a phone. Some runners will prefer to carry their phone all the time, though, so it’s a superfluous feature for them.

Smartwatch features: Many sports watches now have notifications and contactless payments, but only true smartwatches have full app stores.

Maps and navigation: This is one stand-out reason to spend more on a top watch and it can be especially useful for trail runners, although anyone who gets bored running around the same park will benefit. The better mid-range watches offer breadcrumb trails where you follow a pointer along a line on a dark background, but Garmin’s most expensive watches place the route on colour maps. If you can afford it, it is well worth the money. 

Beginner Running Watches Under $140/£130

You can get great entry-level running watches with accurate tracking and some useful features like guided training plans for around $110/£100 to $140/£130, with stand-out picks being the Garmin Forerunner 55 or older Garmin Forerunner 45. These will satisfy the vast majority of runners, especially newer ones.

If you want to spend less for an occasional runner, cheaper devices from Huawei (UK only) or Amazfit will suffice. 

Mid-Range Running Watches Up To $400/£400

Mid-range watches usually offer upgrades like longer battery life, breadcrumb navigation, a multisport mode for triathlons and more extensive training analysis. They cost $200/£180 to $400/£380. 

Our top picks for this budget include the Coros Pace 2, the Garmin Forerunner 245 which is a fantastic bargain, and the latest-generation Garmin Forerunner 255 (which is currently available at a reduced price in the UK).

In this bracket you’ll also find some of the best sport smartwatches like the Apple Watch Series 8. Bargain hunters should see if they can spot a deal on the Series 7 since its software and running-related hardware are the same.

High-End Running Watches

Welcome to the luxury sports watch end of the market. These are very expensive, but pretty much any runner will be delighted to unwrap one of these.

Our top picks are the Garmin Forerunner 955, Garmin Epix 2 and Garmin Fenix 7. These all offer outstanding sports tracking, plus best-in-class maps and training analysis. There is also the Apple Watch Ultra to consider for those who want a smartwatch. 

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.