The Best GPS Running Watch

The Best GPS Running Watch

Our pick

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

The best GPS running watch

Feature-loaded, a joy to wear and use, and accurate when measuring heart rate from the wrist, this model offers everything most runners want in a GPS watch.

Buying Options

$286* from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $450.

The sleek and slim Garmin Forerunner 645 Music was our testers’ favorite GPS watch in almost every way. In particular, its exceptionally accurate wrist-based heart-rate tracking makes it the only watch we feel confident using for heart-rate-based training without a separate strap. Its button-powered interface is easy to use, and it’s highly customizable (you can modify any aspect of the display, from the watch face and the widgets to the activity profiles and the running-data screens). Its excellent all-day activity tracking, detailed sleep tracking, and nice-to-have smartwatch notifications and apps make it useful enough to wear 24/7. Equally important is that it’s comfortable and attractive enough that you’d actually want to wear it all day. Our one concern with this watch, apart from the hefty price, is GPS inaccuracy, which we experienced on some runs in New York City. However, since our experts caution against relying on GPS to assess your exact pace while you’re running, we don’t see this issue as a dealbreaker.

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Runner-up

Garmin Forerunner 245

Garmin Forerunner 245

Dependable on-the-run data, less-reliable heart-rate monitoring

This watch is highly similar to our top pick, but it has less-accurate heart-rate monitoring and pokier GPS acquisition times.

Buying Options

$300 from Best Buy
$285 from Amazon

A sibling of our top pick, the Garmin Forerunner 245 is likewise a runner’s running watch. Light and comfortable, it offers comparable activity tracking to the Forerunner 645 and convenient smartphone features (notifications, the ability to sync to a calendar, local weather) that make it appealing to wear all day. It’s customizable, from on-the-run data screens to watch faces; its buttons are situated identically to those of our top pick; and its interface is similarly easy to navigate. The Forerunner 245 did not perform as well as the Forerunner 645 in our heart-rate tests, struggling to respond to peaks and valleys during run/walk intervals and steady-state efforts. (A separate chest strap can help bolster precision.) The 245’s median GPS acquisition time was slower than that of many of the watches we tested, including our top pick, though it has displayed quicker moments post-testing. This model’s GPS accuracy was prone to the mercurial ways of GPS signals, tracing routes accurately on some runs and bobbing and weaving on others, but we experienced several runs with less than a 1% deviation from the control or measured distance. The Forerunner 245 is available in a version that offers onboard music capabilities (the Forerunner 645 now has music capabilities included).

Budget pick

Garmin Forerunner 45

Garmin Forerunner 45

A basic choice with an upgraded feel

This comparably pared-down watch delivers solid running and activity tracking, albeit with a slightly less-robust slate of features than in our top and runner-up picks.

Buying Options

$200 from Garmin
$175 $140 from Buydig (refurbished)

You save $35 (20%)

We recommend the Garmin Forerunner 45 for runners who want a watch to track workouts and all-day activity for less than half the cost of the Forerunner 645, our top pick. The Forerunner 45 features activity tracking, including step count and automatic activity detection, though it has fewer activity modes than the 645 and no swim tracking. The Forerunner 45’s median GPS acquisition time (18.9 seconds) fell within the bottom half of those of other models we tested, but it was speedier than those of our top and runner-up picks. Its heart-rate monitoring performed serviceably during steady-state efforts but jumped around significantly on run/walk intervals. The Forerunner 45 has upgrade-feel features like a color display, advanced sleep tracking (using heart-rate and movement-based data), and stress monitoring (using heart-rate variability), all of which its more expensive siblings also have.

Display size Total weight Median GPS acquisition time Distance tracking
(percent off 1.42-mile measured run test)
Heart-rate tracking
(number of readings +/- 5 bpm from control)
On-board music Swim tracking Color options
Forerunner 645 1.2 inches 42.2 grams 28 seconds 0.0% 30 of 32 4
Forerunner 245 1.2 inches 38.5 grams 44 seconds 0.0% 17 of 32 ✅  (available on Forerunner 245 Music) 2
Forerunner 45 1.04 inches 32 grams (39 mm size); 36 grams (42 mm size) 18.9 seconds 0.70% 16 of 32 5

Distance and heart-rate results based on 2020 testing (outdoors only).

Everything we recommend

Our pick

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

The best GPS running watch

Feature-loaded, a joy to wear and use, and accurate when measuring heart rate from the wrist, this model offers everything most runners want in a GPS watch.

Buying Options

$286* from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $450.

Runner-up

Garmin Forerunner 245

Garmin Forerunner 245

Dependable on-the-run data, less-reliable heart-rate monitoring

This watch is highly similar to our top pick, but it has less-accurate heart-rate monitoring and pokier GPS acquisition times.

Buying Options

$300 from Best Buy
$285 from Amazon

Budget pick

Garmin Forerunner 45

Garmin Forerunner 45

A basic choice with an upgraded feel

This comparably pared-down watch delivers solid running and activity tracking, albeit with a slightly less-robust slate of features than in our top and runner-up picks.

Buying Options

$200 from Garmin
$175 $140 from Buydig (refurbished)

You save $35 (20%)

Source: NY Times – Wirecutter

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