The best fitness watches in 2024

These impressive fitness watches will allow you to better track your workout metrics, heart rate, sleep cycles and more.

Best Overall

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 fitness watch against a white background

Apple Watch Ultra 2

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Best for running

The Garmin Forerunner 965 on a wrist showing a map with a forest and trail in the background

Garmin Forerunner 965

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Best budget

The Coros Pace 2 fitness watch product shot against a white background

COROS Pace 2

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If you lead an active lifestyle, are training for competition, or simply want to keep better track of your health, a fitness watch is a necessary addition to your everyday wear. These devices help you focus on what you’ve set out to do, whether running, cycling, swimming, or hiking. Some even allow you to download your favorite songs to onboard storage or take control of smartphone apps like Spotify. You can gain insight into where to maximize your efforts with detailed monitoring of your distance, steps, calories burned, heart rate, and more. Most wearables even provide data you can use to improve your sleep and offer specific training suggestions. No matter your goals, the best fitness watches will help you keep progressing.  

How we chose the best fitness watches

As fitness enthusiasts and long-time athletes, we have used our fair share of fitness trackers. We used our personal experience, editorial reviews, and user feedback to select this guide. When considering the wide array of options available, we looked at what sensors and tech each watch used and what each watch did with all that data in terms of insights and suggestions. Accurate on-wrist heart rate monitoring, SpO2 measurements, and GPS were essential. Usability was a key consideration, as was durability. We prioritized watches that provide free access to your information instead of paid subscription models. 

The best fitness watches: Reviews & Recommendations

With so many brands and products available, there is bound to be a watch that aligns perfectly with your wants and needs. The good news is that you might not have to choose only one must-have feature since most smartwatches run the gamut of fitness-tracking features—though some handle particular needs, like running or sleep tracking, better than others. 

Best overall: Apple Watch Ultra 2

Best overall

Apple Watch Ultra 2

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Specs

  • Battery life: 36 hours (70 with low power mode)
  • Display type: Always-on OLED Retina 
  • Water resistance: 328 feet
  • Materials: Titanium case
  • Size: 49mm case
  • Weight: 2.16 ounces

Pros

  • Available in three different band styles with multiple colors
  • 3000 nit display more easily viewable in bright sun
  • Made of recycled materials
  • Support for third-party training apps
  • Improved cycling features

Cons

  • Battery life still lags behind other watches
  • Recovery metrics are limited

While the Apple Watch Ultra 2 may be a splurge purchase compared to other fitness watches on this list, its top-shelf feature set makes it worth the cash. Thanks to its (optional) cellular connection, it is the best connected smartwatch for most, meaning you can leave the phone behind. You can listen to music without your phone (just use headphones or earbuds with situational awareness features, please). And you can send and receive messages or calls even if you are trail running (as long as you have service). That’s a great safety feature for fitness watches since you never know when you may twist that ankle and need a ride home. 

The Ultra 2 is highly capable when it comes to insights. The wearable measures your blood oxygen levels and takes electrocardiograms right from your wrist to keep extremely close tabs on your cardiovascular health. Of course, it’ll do the basics, like track your daily activity and measure your workouts, even if they include swimming.

The second iteration of the Apple Watch Ultra brings new cycling features to the table, including the ability to connect Bluetooth power meters, speed, and cadence sensors. It also estimates cycling power and power zones (when using a power meter). Another benefit of the Ultra 2 is that you can connect third-party training apps, such as TrainingPeaks. 

Unfortunately, the battery life of the Ultra 2, while better than the standard Series 9, is still pretty lackluster compared to the competition. And, of course, you’ll only be able to take advantage of all the features we’ve listed with an iPhone. But, the well-rounded features make this the best option for most people looking for a fitness watch. 

Best for the backcountry: Garmin epix Pro (Gen. 2) Sapphire Edition 

Best for the backcountry

Garmin epix Pro (Gen 2) Sapphire Edition

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Specs

  • Battery life: Up to 10 days in smartwatch mode (42mm case), 
  • Display type: AMOLED 
  • Water resistance: 10 ATM
  • Materials: Sapphire glass lens with steel bezel
  • Size: 42mm, 47mm, or 51mm case
  • Weight: 2.2 ounces (42mm 

Pros

  • Flashlight is powerful and extremely useful
  • Available in three sizes to fit your wrist best
  • Advanced training metrics and suggestions
  • Features topographic maps and weather overlays

Cons

  • Expensive

If you like to hit the trail less traveled, the Garmin epix Pro (Gen. 2) is the best fitness watch you can get. The watch comes in two configurations (Pro Standard or Pro Sapphire) and three sizes, so you can dial in what you want and need. We particularly like the Pro Sapphire for backcountry use since the Sapphire lens is incredibly durable and scratch-resistant. In fact, it’s the only screen I’ve not managed to scratch, even after using and abusing it. Plus, Garmin tested the watch to U.S. military standards for thermal, shock, and water resistance, so you can trust it will hold up on even the most rugged adventures.

Beyond durability, the epix Pro (Gen. 2) has a built-in LED flashlight on the front side of the watch case. It is surprisingly handy, and I find myself utilizing it almost every day, but it would be especially nice if you are trying to navigate off a trail after dark. You’ll also have access to multi-band GPS ​​for accurate location information, which enables navigation via the topographical maps. I especially like that the map tells you the distance to the next fork to prevent missing a turn—one of several reasons it tops our best hiking watches. Garmin also added weather overlays so you can keep an eye on any storms that may be headed your way, which I have found extremely useful even when just grabbing a beer on the patio of a local brewery.

As with just about any Garmin smartwatch, you’ll have access to a robust list of sensors, activity recording, and insights. The epix Pro (Gen. 2) tracks your heart rate and blood oxygen levels all day and your HRV status while you sleep. It provides a Morning Report so you can get a picture of your sleep, training outlook, and even the weather. The watch will provide daily suggested workouts and even offers animated workouts for you to follow along. It can predict your race times, help you plan race-day strategies, and more. It’s essentially a helpful coach right on your wrist at all times.

The 42mm epix Pro (Gen. 2) offers 10 days of battery life in smartwatch mode or up to 20 hours in GPS mode. The 42mm case size is ideal for my small wrists, but you can also opt for the 47mm or 51mm sizes and will see a boost to battery life in the larger versions. For example, the 51mm Pro Sapphire provides up to 31 days in smartwatch mode or 62 hours in GPS mode, which is a substantial difference. 

The weather map overlay displayed on the Garmin epix Pro on a wrist resting on a table
The weather map overlays are very useful on the epix Pro (Gen. 2), even when just hanging out on the patio of a brewery. Abby Ferguson

Best fitness tracker: Fitbit Sense 2

Best fitness tracker

Fitbit Sense 2

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Specs

  • Battery life: 6 days
  • Display type: AMOLED
  • Water resistance: 164 feet
  • Materials: Aluminum case
  • Size: 1.5 x 1.5 x 0.45 inches
  • Weight: 0.8 ounces

Pros

  • Slim, minimal design and size
  • Plenty of sensors for health tracking
  • Bright and responsive touchscreen
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • No third-party app support
  • Subscription required to access all features and insights

The watches we’ve included here can be overkill for many people, which is where a fitness tracker comes in. The Fitbit Sense 2 is essentially a paired-down fitness watch. Though don’t let that fool you, it is still highly capable of helping you track your fitness and health. It is packed full of sensors, including a multi-path optical heart rate sensor, cEDA sensor, SpO2 sensor, skin temperature sensor, built-in GPS and GLONASS, ambient light sensor, and more. 

All of those sensors combine to give you useful health stats. It keeps an eye on your heart rate and alerts you if there is anything abnormal. You can track your sleep and stress levels. It automatically tracks exercises and can guide you on when it’s time to rest or workout. And as a smartwatch, you’ll get notifications right on your wrist. 

The lower price of the Sense 2 does mean there are some compromises. For example, if you want to take advantage of some features, such as the Daily Readiness Score or in-depth sleep information, you’ll need to pay for a Premium Fitbit subscription. And even then, it doesn’t provide as thorough performance and health insights as Garmin or Apple options. It also doesn’t support any third-party apps, so you’re stuck with Fitbit Pay, Google Wallet, and Google Maps. And there are no music controls or storage. But if you just want a basic device to help you stay active, the Fitbit Sense 2 is a great option.

Best for running: Garmin Forerunner 965

Best for running

Garmin Forerunner 965

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Specs

  • Battery life: Up to 23 days in smartwatch mode, 31 hours in GPS mode
  • Display type: AMOLED
  • Water resistance: 5 ATM
  • Materials: Corning Gorilla Glass 3 DX, titanium
  • Size: 1.8 x 1.8 x 0.5 inches
  • Weight: 1.9 ounces

Pros

  • Bright and colorful AMOLED display
  • Lots of customization options
  • Highly accurate GPS and heart rate
  • Lots of training metrics

Cons

  • Pricey
  • A bit large on small wrists

For runners and triathletes, it’s hard to beat the Forerunner 965 (or any Forerunner, in my opinion). Though all of the fitness watches here offer plenty of running features, this Garmin watch is clearly purpose-built to help you truly improve your running performance. Considering the bright and colorful AMOLED display, it offers impressive battery life. Even with daily runs and the always-on display enabled, you should be able to get nearly a week of life out of your watch. And it charges quickly if you need to top it off before going out for a run. 

Garmin hits its training features out of the park, which is no different on the Forerunner 965. The Training Readiness feature looks at your sleep, recovery, training load, and more to better guide your workouts. And the daily suggested workouts can help you when you’re stuck. Garmin will even build training plans based on your races for truly fine-tuned suggestions. And the Training Status feature helps you understand your overall fitness at a glance. 

The Forerunner 965 can track a wide range of workouts, including multisport profiles for triathlons, duathlons, brick workouts, and swimruns. It’s an ideal tool for those focused on multiple disciplines. You can easily customize what you see on your watch for each activity, putting the information that you rely on front and center. The heart rate data is accurate, though wrist-based heart rate monitors don’t work well during swimming activities, so you will want to invest in that accessory if you’re a triathlete.

Beyond workouts, you can get turn-by-turn directions on courses you find or create in the Garmin Connect app or third-party platforms. Or, you can enter your desired distance for suggested routes, which is helpful when running in new areas. I also love the safety features of the Forerunner 965, which allow you to send a message with your live location right from the watch. It can even sense when an incident occurs and send a message automatically. You have to have your phone on you to use those, but it gives me some peace of mind when I’m out running.

Best budget: COROS Pace 2

Best budget

COROS Pace 2

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Specs

  • Battery life: 20 days of regular use, 30 hours of activity tracking
  • Display type: LCD
  • Water resistance: 5 ATM
  • Materials: 
  • Size: 1.2 inch
  • Weight: 1.05 ounces

Pros

  • Excellent battery life
  • Available with silicone or nylon straps
  • Very lightweight and low-profile
  • Accurate GPS and heart rate

Cons

  • No music controls or contactless payment options

The COROS Pace 2 is a generation behind the current model, but it’s still an impressive watch, especially for the price. One of the best features of this fitness watch is the battery life. COROS promises up to 20 days of regular use, which includes tracking daily activity and sleep. It also offers up to 30 hours of full GPS battery life, which can last for serious ultramarathon runs. 

Another big advantage of the Pace 2 is how small it is. The watch weighs only 1.05 ounces (with the band) and is very low profile on the wrist. Despite the slim form factor, it is packed with plenty of sensors, including GPS, heart rate monitor, barometric altimeter, accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, and thermometer. You’ll be able to gather plenty of data to guide your training and monitor your health. The display isn’t as bright or beautiful as more expensive watches, and you won’t have access to music controls or contactless payments, but those are minor details for many.

From a training standpoint, the Pace 2 is highly capable. It offers activity tracking for a wide range of spots, including jump rope, swimming, rowing, weight training, and more. The navigation tools make it easy to find your way on runs or hikes. Like Garmin watches, it gives insight into your training status, training load, and recovery time to manage fatigue and prevent injuries. You’ll even have access to pre-designed workouts and plans or one-on-one support from a team of qualified coaches.

What to consider when shopping for the best fitness watch 

Whether you prefer running outside, spinning, or playing group sports like baseball, purchasing a fitness watch can be a great addition to your accessory collection. With sleek and customizable styles, you can wear your watch daily, no matter your activity. But before you buy a wearable designed to help you prioritize your health, you’ll need to prioritize the features that are your must-haves. 

Activity tracking and preferences

While many fitness watches are fitness omnivores—monitoring workouts of all stripes—some watches will specialize in certain activities. For example, Garmin tailored its Forerunner series of watches to runners with running-specific activity tracking, performance metrics, and more. If you focus on cycling or strength training, such metrics may be irrelevant to you. Also, if you opt for a specialized device that differs from your preferred workout type, you may not be able to track what you need due to limited sports profiles. As a result, it’s important to put some thought into what you most frequently participate in and look at what each fitness watch offers in terms of tracking and insights for that activity.

Battery life

A fitness watch doesn’t do much good if you need to constantly take it off in order to charge the battery. You’ll want to keep an eye on the promised battery life from the manufacturer, but remember to take that with a grain of salt. Individual usage and conditions can impact battery life significantly. For example, if you enable an always-on display and use the most precise level of GPS for long activities on a daily basis, you will burn through the battery much faster than someone who performs short workouts without the display on at all times.

Battery life is especially important for those who participate in long-lasting activities, such as hours-long trail runs or bike rides. For serious athletes, look for a model that offers 20 to 30 hours (or more) of battery life in GPS mode. If you are a more casual user but still hate needing to charge your device frequently, focus on fitness watches with days or even weeks-long battery life in smartwatch mode.

Performance metrics & training features

Some of us need a nudge to push workouts to the next level. Many devices offer lots of training tools to help you understand your current performance level and what you need to do to improve it. Some may feature built-in workout suggestions to specifically guide you. Others include access to fitness communities that put you in touch with both peers and professional coaches, both of which can offer inspiration or exercise routines to keep you motivated or mix up your routine if you get bored. 

Phone connectivity

The line between smartwatch and fitness watch has become incredibly blurry, with the two essentially being synonymous at this point. That said, there are varying levels of phone connectivity options in fitness watches that may impact what is best for you. 

Cheaper fitness trackers typically won’t offer built-in GPS, instead relying on your phone for connected GPS. That means you must have your phone on you for mapping, distance, and pace information. Pricier fitness watches all feature built-in GPS so that you can track your workouts without your phone. Some models will also provide on-board storage to save music or podcasts, meaning you can keep yourself entertained without having your phone on hand. Others may allow you to control your music, but you will need your phone on you to actually listen. 

Lastly, most fitness watches do not have a cellular connection, so you won’t be able to send or make calls on the watch itself. And you won’t be able to receive notifications if you don’t have your phone nearby. Look at the Apple Watch or Samsung Watch LTE versions if you want a device that can do it all. 

Sleep tracking

There are some days when you wake up ready to greet the day and others where you just want to pull the covers back over your head. It can be hard to know the difference between a good night’s sleep and a rough one, but fitness watches with sleep-tracking capabilities can help you get to the bottom of it. Most fitness watches monitor your heart rate and movement, which is closely related to sleep cycles. Once the device’s algorithmic smarts crunch all that information, it’ll help you understand why and when you are waking up. Then, you can take action to resolve the issue. Some watches even come with built-in meditation apps like Breath or Calm to help you wind down before bed. 

Advanced health metrics 

More health-conscious individuals may want a watch that tracks their fitness activity and offers a deeper understanding of their health beyond heart rates and calorie burns. Most Garmin watches, as well as the Apple Watch, include sensors to track your cardiovascular health by measuring your blood oxygen levels and taking electrocardiograms. This provides a better picture of your overall health, which can be very useful. 

FAQs

Q: Should I get a fitness tracker or a smartwatch?

Whether you should get a fitness tracker or smartwatch depends on your goals, preferences, and budget. The two device styles overlap more these days, making the line between them quite blurry. Most fitness trackers will connect with your phone and provide notifications like smartwatches. But there are still some important differences.

The main differences between fitness trackers and smartwatches are their size, cost, and features. Fitness trackers are typically smaller and more minimal in design. That means fewer health sensors and generally a lack of built-in GPS. They are also more affordable. Smartwatches generally pack more tech inside and, as a result, are larger and more expensive. But they are also more capable for serious fitness tracking. 

If you want a basic, affordable device to keep track of your activity level, a fitness tracker is the way to go. If you want more robust fitness and health monitoring options, a smartwatch with fitness features will be worth the money.

Q: Is it worth getting a fitness watch? 

A fitness watch brings together the best of a fitness tracker with the connectivity of a smartwatch. It can track important information in real-time—such as calories burned, steps taken, distance covered, and sleep cycles—and motivate you to maximize your workouts. With the numbers and details provided, you can track your progress and make the necessary changes to improve your health and ensure you get the best workout. If you are serious about your training, a fitness watch is a key tool in helping you progress and is absolutely worth it. 

Q: What is the best budget fitness tracker? 

The best budget fitness tracker is the Amazfit Band 7. However, it is very basic and won’t be the best option for those serious about their fitness. If you want a step up without spending a fortune, the COROS Pace 2 is the best budget fitness watch.

Final thoughts on the best fitness watch

The best fitness watch will track your activity metrics and provide insight as to where improvements can be made. These devices are full of advanced technology to help you progress and monitor your fitness and health while preventing you from overtraining. They can also be used as smartwatches, so you are always connected, even when hitting the gym. The best option for you depends on your goals, priorities, and budget, but with so many options available, you’re sure to find the right fit. 

Why trust us

Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.

Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.

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Alexandra was born in NYC and still resides there with her fiance and border collie mix, Layla. She studied Psychology at Binghamton University and the American University of Rome. In her spare time, she enjoys baking, reading, traveling, and going to the movies.