Cheap running watches: 10 of the best available in 2023
The best cheap running watches from popular brands including Garmin, Fitbit, and Polar to help you smash that personal best.
Investing in a running watch is one of the best things you can do to take your training to the next level. Measuring popular metrics such as pace per mile, calories burnt, and distance covered, you’re sure to fall in love with your new digital running partner.
If you’re new to running, it can be difficult to justify spending hundreds of pounds on a running watch, and that’s completely understandable. However, there are plenty of cheap running watches out there with more than enough functions and measurable metrics to get you started.
This article will highlight our top ten cheap running watches, followed up with a few extra details on the technology, and finishing with a short FAQ.
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1. Garmin Forerunner 35 cheap GPS running watch
Best all-around cheap running watch
- At-wrist heart rate monitoring
- Measures popular running metrics
- Smartphone notifications
- All-day activity tracking (and sleep)
- Connected features (text messages, music controls, & more)
- Easy to use & uncomplicated design
- Sleep and step counter can be inaccurate
This simple to use running watch is a great option for beginners and those on a budget.
The Garmin Forerunner 35 provides popular metrics such as pace per mile, distance covered, cadence, and calories burnt.
As well as this, the Forerunner 35 also contains an at-wrist heart rate monitor – a super convenient feature ideal for beginner’s looking to improve.
However, you won’t receive some of the higher-end features of more expensive watches, such as advanced running dynamics and lactate threshold estimates as seen on models including the Forerunner 245.
Although, the Forerunner 35 is one of the cheaper options on the market, delivering a surprising number of features for its relatively low price tag.
2. Fitbit Charge 4 advanced fitness tracker
- At-wrist heart rate monitoring
- Smartphone notifications
- Built-in GPS
- Water-resistant up to 50m
- Sleep tracking
- Fitbit premium membership is free for 90 days when purchased
- GPS could be more accurate
- Better options available for serious runners
The Fitbit Charge 4 is an impressive upgrade from the previous model, the Fitbit Charge 3.
For starters, this cheap running watch now includes a built-in GPS, Spotify music control, Fitbit pay and other smart features.
Also, just like the previous model, you can monitor sleep quality, set up bedtime reminders, take incoming calls, and keep track of your daily step count.
Although, the upgrade to a built-in GPS is a huge advance for the Fitbit, allowing this watch to compete with other high-end running watches.
Nonetheless, some runners may still prefer a more ‘traditional running watch’ over a Fitbit, and that’s completely fine.
3. Polar M200 GPS – cheap running watch
Cheapest running watch on our list
- At-wrist heart rate monitoring
- Measures basic running metrics
- Seamless connectivity with your smartphone
- GPS is accurate once a signal is acquired
- Monitor your sleep performance & recovery
- Battery life is not the best
- Some runners reported the heart rate to “lag” a little
As the Polar M200 is more of a budget GPS watch, there are no advanced features.
But it’s still an excellent fitness tracker and watch for beginners. There’s just no shiny bells and whistles.
It will stick track steps, sleep quality, and basic running metrics such as pace per mile, however, for more advanced features you’ll want to consider either the Garmin Forerunner 245 or 55.
Some runners also reported a “lag” in the built-in heart rate monitor – just something to take note of.
When it comes to cheap running watches though, it’s difficult to beat on value.
4. Polar M430 GPS running watch
Used by Olympic runners
- Measures basic running metrics (pace per mile, distance covered, calories burnt, and cadence)
- At-wrist heart rate monitoring
- GPS predictability
- Choice of 3 colours: black, white or orange
- Polar tailored running program & fitness test
- Compatible with the Polar fitness app
- The design may not be for everyone
- Some issues syncing with your smartphone and the Polar app
The Polar M430 is one of the more popular brands of running watches.
Well, this watch does not disappoint either – it contains various advanced training features, alongside regular running metrics.
You’ll also benefit from the Polar fitness test and personalised running program – especially great for new runners.
The personalised Polar fitness program is similar to the coaching features on the Forerunner 245 and 45S.
Another nice addition is GPS predictability – improving your signal strength when the GPS is weak.
Despite this, some users have reported issues syncing their smartphones with the Polar app. Also, the design may not be for everyone – it’s a little on the chunky side.
5. Garmin Forerunner 245 GPS running watch
Most advanced cheap running watch
- Sends location to your contacts in an emergency
- Personalised coach for training advice
- Built-in heart rate monitor
- GPS tracking is very accurate
- Music integration
- Navigation from apps such as Strava is immersive and accurate
- Battery life is only 6 hours in GPS mode (7 days in watch mode)
- More expensive than other options on this list
The Garmin Forerunner 245 contains strong GPS tracking, music integration, and fluid navigation from third-party apps, including Strava.
You also benefit from a personalised coach, providing you with recovery time estimates, performance goals, and a helping hand on those gruelling workouts.
Similar to the Garmin 45S (number eight on our list), this watch also has incident detection.
This feature works similar to the fall detection feature on Apple watches – sending a notification to your emergency contacts if you’ve had an impact and have not responded.
Despite these benefits, the battery life is only six hours in GPS mode. If you’re looking for a cheap running watch with longer battery life, then we’d recommend either the Garmin Forerunner 45S or Forerunner 55.
6. Garmin Vivoactive 4
Health & fitness meets running
- All-day health monitoring metrics
- Easy-to-follow animated workouts
- Built-in heart rate monitoring
- GPS signal is accurate and connects quickly
- Can detect strength workouts and movements such as squats & benchpress
- Control your music from the watch
- The sleep tracker could be better
- Battery is okay, but not fantastic
- Not the cheapest watch out there
Next up, we have the Vivoactive 4 running watch from Garmin – an impressive upgrade from the previous model, keeping all the features we previously loved, but adding a few extras.
For example, there are now animated follow-along workouts, a more accurate GPS signal, automatic detection for strength workouts, and much more.
Just like before, the watch face is fully customisable. This allows you to provide a personalised look to make you feel at home with your budding training partner.
It should be noted that it’s not the cheapest watch out there. But it does combine running with loads of other sports, making it an excellent choice for those interested in general health & fitness.
7. Fitbit Versa 3 health & fitness smartwatch
Best budget running watch with music controls
- 24/7 heart rate tracking
- Sleep tracking and sleep scores
- Built-in GPS for accurate data
- Fast charging battery
- Heart rate zones to see how hard you’re working
- Alexa voice assistant
- Heart rate monitoring detection is slow
- Some runners reported dropouts with their phones
Another upgrade from the previous model, the Fitbit Versa 3 is a welcomed improvement from the Versa 2.
The previous Fitbit Versa 2 did not have GPS tracking, whereas this one does. And it’s great.
There’s also fast-charging, improved heart rate zones to dial in your training, and the familiar assistant of Amazon’s Alexa for quick news, weather updates & timers.
It’s safe to say the Fitbit has transformed more into a cheap running watch as opposed to a funky fitness tracker.
Although, some runners reported dropouts with their phones – just something to keep in mind. But it seems more of a software glitch that will be/already has been fixed.
8. Garmin Forerunner 55 cheap running watch
- Suggested & personalised workouts
- GPS pace guidance partner
- Various useful training tools
- 2 weeks battery life and 20-hours in GPS mode
- Connect to the IQ store and personalise the face of your watch
- Stress management and body battery features could be better
If you’re looking for a cheap running watch with a battery life that won’t let you down, then this is the one for you.
The Garmin Forerunner 55 is the ultimate training partner for those on a budget.
Connect to the IQ store to personalise your watch and interface, similar to other Forerunner models. You can also access various helpful training tools for insights and motivation – helping you break those personal bests.
One of the only potential downsides is the effectiveness of the stress management and body batter features. But this is still a new feature on all Garmin watches – so expect it to be improved shortly.
9. Garmin Forerunner 45S GPS running watch
Smaller watch face & design
- Smaller sized lightweight running watch
- Wrist-based heart rate monitoring
- Incident-detection feature
- Up to 7 days of battery life (14 hours in GPS mode)
- Smart coaching features
- Music controls at the flick of your wrist
- The smaller size may not be suited for everybody
The Garmin Forerunner 45s is one of the more affordable cheap running watches on our list, available in a choice of four fun colours: purple, black, white, and red.
At a smaller size (39mm) compared to many other watches, it’s less intrusive – it’s almost like it’s not there.
For some runners, this is a blessing. But for others, the smaller size may not suit them. It’s down to personal preference.
Anyways, with smart coaching features, music controls, and an impressive seven days battery, it’s difficult to find a fault.
Well, unless you’re looking for a bigger watch face and more features. But hey, it does the job at a cost that’s challenging to beat.
10. Garmin Instinct outdoor GPS running watch
The most durable running watch on a budget
- Military standard toughness
- Solid & accurate GPS signal in the toughest of environments
- Solar power
- Thermal, shock & water-resistant (100m)
- Pulse Ox2 sensor for accurate sleep monitoring & altitude acclimatization
- Health monitoring features
- Open water swimming tracking can be a little glitchy
Finally, we have the most durable running watch on a budget – but it will cost (a little more than others).
The Garmin instinct outdoor GPS running watch is engineered to military standard toughness – it also works on solar power.
You’ll benefit from many advanced features such as thermal shock & water resistance (up to 100m), a pulse Ox2 sensor, and various other health features.
If you’re looking for the most durable watch or you consider yourself a multi-sport, outdoor enthusiast, then this very well could be the watch for you.
Why should I invest in a GPS running watch?
Investing in a running watch is an investment in your running potential and fitness. A good GPS running watch is essentially a training partner, a smart one at that.
This ‘training partner’, so to say, will measure your pace per mile, distance covered, and calories burnt at a bare minimum.
Some GPS watches will also measure popular metrics such as heart rate, steps per minute, elevation, and provide custom workouts.
Do all cheap running watches measure heart rate?
Unfortunately not. Many popular running watches can be paired with a chest heart rate monitor.
But, these are often not included and must be purchased as an extra.
Despite this, most new running watches contain at-wrist heart-rate monitors – a popular choice for beginner runners.
Besides, the majority of the watches included in this article include wrist-based heart rate monitoring.
So, which is better a chest heart rate monitor or a wrist-based one?
Generally speaking, chest heart rate monitors are more accurate. But, GPS running watches measuring heart rate at the wrist is much more convenient and still reliable enough to train via heart rate.
These also allow you to monitor your sleep quality based on average and resting heart rate.
Related: The importance of sleep as a runner.
GPS running watches FAQ
Is a GPS running watch necessary?
No, however, if you want to take your running to the next level a GPS running watch is certainly a piece of kit you should look to invest in!
Are GPS watches more accurate than iPhone or smartphone?
GPS watches are much more accurate than your standard smartphone GPS. If they weren’t they’d be little need for GPS watches in the first place!
Can you link a Garmin watch to Strava?
Yes. Garmin watches can be directly linked to Strava. Alternatively, you can also upload the file manually after downloading the activity on a computer. This is often useful if for some reason the syncing between Strava and your GPS watch is not working.
Are smartwatches worth the money?
If you’re looking to ramp up your fitness or hang with the elite runners then smartwatches are definitely worth it. You’ll benefit from a wide range of measurements and GPS data to take your fitness to the next level.
Matthew is an avid runner, freelance writer, Durham University graduate, and the founder of Running101.