Cheap running watches: 8 of the best available in 2021

We’ve gathered together eight of the best cheap running watches from popular brands including Garmin, Polar, and Fitbit. 

8 of the best cheap running watches in 2021

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 eight 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

Garmin forerunner 35 cheap GPS running watch

Key features:

  • At-wrist heart rate monitoring 
  • Measures pace per mile, distance covered, calories burnt, and cadence
  • Smartphone notifications
  • All-day activity tracking (and sleep)
  • Music control

This simple to use running watch is a great option for beginners and those on a budget. The Garmin forerunner 35 provides tracking for 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 runners looking to improve.

With this being said, 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 630. Despite this, the forerunner 35 is one of the cheaper options on the market, delivering a surprising number of features for its relatively low price tag.

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2. Fitbit charge 4 advanced fitness tracker

Fitbit charge 4 fitness tracker with built in GPS

Key features: 

  • 50m water resistant
  • At-wrist heart rate monitoring
  • Sleep tracking 
  • Smartphone notifications
  • Built-in GPS

The Fitbit Charge 4 is an impressive upgrade from the previous model, the Fitbit Charge 3. For example, this cheap running watch now includes a built-in GPS, Spotify music control, Fitbit pay and various other smart features.

Also, just like with the previous model, you can monitor sleep quality, set up bedtime reminders, take incoming calls, and keep track of your daily step count. However, in particular, 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.

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3. Polar M200 GPS (cheap running watch)

Polar M200 GPS running watch (cheap)

Key features:

  • At-wrist heart rate monitoring
  • Measures pace per mile, distance covered, calories burnt, and cadence
  • Tracks sleep
  • Measures altitude

Also utilising an optical heart rate monitor at the wrist, the Polar M200 tracks steps, activity, sleep quality, and calories burnt continuously throughout the day. The M200 also measures standard metrics, including pace per mile, distance covered, and even altitude through the use of GPS tracking (like the majority of running watches).

While this is more of a budget GPS running watch, there are no advanced features. At the very basics, it’s an excellent fitness tracker and watch for beginners on a budget, but that’s about it. If you are looking for a running watch with better features, consider the Garmin forerunner 235 or forerunner 45.

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4. Polar M430 GPS running watch

Polar M430 gps running watch

Key features:

  • Tailored running programme and Polar fitness test
  • Measures pace per mile, distance covered, calories burnt, and cadence
  • At-wrist heart rate monitoring
  • Tracks sleep
  • Compatible with the Polar fitness app
  • GPS predictability

Being one of the most popular brands of running watch, the Polar M430 contains enhanced training features alongside standard training metrics. This includes the Polar fitness test with a personalised running programme, somewhat similar to the personalized coaching feature available on the Garmin forerunner 45.

Alongside its enhanced features, this watch also offers measured heart rate at the wrist, integrated GPS and GPS predictability for when the signal is weak, tracks sleep quality, and connects to the Polar app to review each and every run. However, the sleep quality tracker is not the best, and because the watch is chunkier than others, some runners may find it uncomfortable to sleep with it on their wrist.

Other than this, beginner runners will massively benefit from the tailored training programme, providing structure to their runs and workouts with ease.

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5. Garmin forerunner 235 GPS running watch

Garmin forerunner 235 running watchKey features:

  • Wrist-based heart rate monitoring 
  • Smart notifications 
  • Records popular metrics such as pace per mile, steps, distance, and duration
  • Long battery life 

As you may have already discovered, the Garmin forerunner 235 is an improved version of the popular forerunner 230 (and previous models). Therefore, you can expect similar features to the previous model, plus a few extras and additional improvements – as you would anticipate with a newer model.

For starters,  you can expect the classic forerunner design, complemented by popular metrics including pace per mile, steps, duration, and distance. However, a key difference between the 230 and the newer model, is the built-in wrist-based heart rate monitoring. For most runners, this is a welcomed and much-needed addition, adding convenience, especially for all-day tracking. If you prefer chest-based heart rate monitoring (as this is typically more accurate) then you needn’t worry, as you can still pair your heart rate monitor for more accurate results.

It is worth noting that the price is slightly more expensive than other cheap running watches on our list, but it’s definitely still great value for money. Also, some runners reported the music controls to be not the best. So, if you’re purchasing for the built-in music controls, perhaps consider a different watch.

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6. Garmin Vivoactive 3 cheap running watch

Key features:

  • High-resolution colour touchscreen design
  • At-wrist heart rate monitoring
  • Measures popular metrics
  • VO2 max estimate
  • Smart notifications & sleep tracking
  • Multiple sport tracking 

Despite the higher price tag, the Vivoactive 3 houses a beautiful high-resolution colour touchscreen design while providing many top-of-the-line features, a much-needed upgrade from the Vivoactive 2.

These features include your standard popular metrics (distanced covered and pace per mile etc.), alongside the addition of smart notifications, at-wrist heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, a VO2 max estimate and multiple sports tracking, including cycling, paddle boarding, and swimming.

The watch face is also fully customizable, allowing you to add or remove widgets, designing your watch to be the best for you. With this being said, some runners mentioned how the sleep tracker was sometimes a little inaccurate and also for sports such as weight lifting, the watch struggled to count reps.

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7. Fitbit Versa 2 health & fitness smartwatch

Fitbit versa 2 health and fitness smartwatchKey features: 

  • Built-in Amazon Alexa for quick news, weather updates, bedtime reminders and more 
  •  24/7 at-wrist heart rate monitoring 
  • Smart notifications (e.g. text and email alerts)
  • 5-day battery life 

The Fitbit Versa 2 is more of a health and fitness watch than a running watch. However, this does not take away from its popularity and universal design and features. For example, like most popular and advanced running watches, the Fitbit Versa 2 contains all-day at-wrist heart rate monitoring, allowing you to pick apart your training sessions, taking your workout to the next level.

Unlike other health and fitness or other cheap running watches, you also benefit from the built-in Amazon Alexa, providing you with the tools to ask for daily updates, to set reminders, and many, many other fun and convenient features. The smart notifications are also a welcomed addition, allowing you to read texts and emails on your wrist, whether out of the office or awaiting an important text or phone call.

The battery life is not as strong as other running watches, such as the Garmin forerunner 45 (as seen below). However, five days of battery life is more than enough, requiring at most, one charge per week. Moreover, one major downside that makes this watch perhaps not the best for runners is that it does not contain GPS. Therefore, your runs are instead based on steps and duration, with estimates calculated for pace and distanced covered.

Also, some users reported the activity detection automation to not work for some sports, such as weight lifting. This is something to take note of if you intend to use the Fitbit Versa 2 for multiple sports, perhaps in the gym cross-training, running, and maybe even cycling.

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8. Garmin forerunner 45 GPS running watch

Garmin forerunner 45 GPS running watch

Key features:

  • 13-hour battery life in run mode and a further 7 days in regular watch mode 
  • Safety features 
  • Personalised coach for training advice
  • Various and even advanced metrics 
  • Wrist-based heart rate monitoring 

Finally, we have the Garmin forerunner 45 GPS running watch. The forerunner 45 is very similar to the forerunner 35, as seen at number one in our list. Also containing wrist-based heart rate monitoring, the forerunner 45 contains an impressive thirteen-hour battery life in run mode and a further seven days in regular watch mode.

In comparison to other watches, however, including the forerunner 35, the forerunner 45 includes popular safety features. Mainly, in the event of an emergency, this sends your live location to your contacts. This is an especially useful feature for those who enjoy fell or trail running, as typically it is more dangerous than regular road running.

You will also benefit from a personalised coach, similar to previous built-in coaches from other watches, but better, with advanced recovery time estimates and further training advice to help you maximize your potential.

Despite this, although the watch faces can be customized (which is a great feature) some of these can quickly become crammed, making it difficult to read the watch. Also, depending on your location, the watch may sometimes struggle to obtain GPS, taking a few minutes to acquire.

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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 also allow for custom workouts to be created and performed on the watch itself.

Related: What are the 8 different types of running workouts? 

Do all cheap running watches measure heart rate?

Unfortunately not. Many popular running watches can be paired with a chest heart rate monitor. However, these are often not included and must be purchased as an extra. Newer, more advanced running watches now contain heart rate monitors at the wrist – a popular choice for beginner runners. The majority of the watches included in this article will 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. However, GPS running watches measuring heart rate at the wrist is much more convenient and still reliable enough to train via heart rate. These will also allow you to monitor your sleep quality based on an 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.

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