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Best Athletic Watches: Ready, Set, Count!

Best Athletic Watches
Rita Warfield
Written by Rita Warfield

A classy wristwatch can say a lot about someone’s personality and taste, but if you are also into any form of sporting activities you probably need something a bit more than just a timepiece. If you do fall into this category, then you are likely looking for the best athletic watches currently on the market so your watch won’t only be a showpiece, but a truly practical everyday accessory.

Sports watches have a whole list of benefits compared to their older relatives. They can tell you exactly how much time passed by the millisecond, help you memorize this information by laps, take this data and neatly arrange them into calendars, wake you up at the desired time and they often manage to do this (and much more for that matter) for several years on a single battery. On top of this, some of them are quite attractive so they will be perfectly fit to be worn for any other occasion.

Athletic Watch

However, picking the right one for your needs isn’t easy – and that is why we are going to show you what we believe are the most important technical aspects to look out for when planning to buy one! Then we are going to showcase some athletic wristwatches that could easily satisfy most people’s needs.

Our Top Picks

ProductScreen typeWater resistanceSmart connectionPrice
Skmei Men’s Sports MilitaryLED50 mNoCheck price on Amazon
Armitron WR330LCD100 mNoCheck price on Amazon
Skmei Men’s Digital LED SportsLED50 mNoCheck price on Amazon
Garmin Forerunner 735XTLCD50 mYesCheck price on Amazon
Casio Men’s W800H-1AVLCD100 mNoCheck price on Amazon
Timex MarathonLCD50 mNoCheck price on Amazon
Garmin Fenix 5 SapphireLCD50 mYesCheck price on Amazon
Palada Men’s Sports DigitalLED50 mNoCheck price on Amazon

Things to Consider Before Buying

Sports watches have a pretty serious history behind them and at one point everyone (probably) owned at least one during his lifetime. So you might have the impression that you know everything that needs to be known about them. But there are several things to look out for when searching for the best option and some of them might not be entirely obvious.

Let’s take a look at what we think are the most important aspects to look out for in 2017 and how much should these options influence you when you are gearing up for a purchase.

Screen Type

The screen type is an important aspect of any digital watch. This has a lot of influence on the battery life, visibility of the digits and characters and how reliable it will be in the long run. There are usually two different screen types a modern watch uses, LCD or LED.

Pedometer Watch Battery Life

LCD screens are easily the most battery friendly ones and they have a huge flexibility when it comes to resolution. Not only that, but the pricing is usually far friendlier as LCD panels are very cheap to manufacture by today’s standards. Color and contrast, on the other hand, might not be quite on the same level as in LED displays.

LED on the other hand has an amazing color palette and very sharp digit display. They are not always the most popular options in watches as they tend to be pricier and they also consume usually more battery life. But they are almost unbeatable if you are looking for high display clarity.

Backlight

This might be a standard today, but just a couple of years ago there were plenty of sports watches that had no backlighting whatsoever. Now, with LED backlighting this is (mostly) a thing of the past. This added option does manage to drain the battery faster, but it also became a necessity.

altimeter watch

Never the less, there are still some odd athletic wristwatches out there that come without any form of backlighting. They are advertised usually as models with incredibly long-lasting life but be vary if this is something that is a worthy trade-off for you and your needs. Even with fully functional backlights, most models can still easily pass the three-year working threshold.

Water Resistance

Yet another standardization that came to be in the current century, water resistance is a must for most sports equipment. Obviously, there is always one key difference to look out for, and that is if it is water resistance or waterproofing what you are looking for. This might be a bit tricky as many manufacturers use these two as synonyms.

A waterproof watch is needed if you want to use it for swimming activities, but for any other sporting activities, simple water resistance will be more than enough. But even water resistance standards are often de-facto waterproof until the watches are disassembled for some purpose (like changing the battery).

The meter or atmosphere standards are also a bit tricky and represent something that might fool you. Even if they are perfectly accurate pressure metrics, they might not be fully accurate when it comes to in-water usage. So if a 100 m (or 10 atm) metric means that it will survive a shower or a swim, it does not mean that you should rely on it while scuba diving. The tests are usually made during in-factory testing procedures and the amount of time they managed to withstand is rarely specified.

Built-in Functions

Every modern wristwatch has several built-in functionalities, and most often these are well taught-out options that are included, that you will more than likely use. Obviously, if there is any built-in motion sensing or data-gathering device in the watch, then that extra data can be used for even more complex functions.

Tactical Watch

The most popular options they include are things like alarm, chronograph, lap metrics, countdown timer or dual time measuring. Depending on what you need, these base options might be more than suitable. But if you need more complex offerings as well, you should check first with the manufacturer’s technical specification.

Shock Resistance

If you plan to use the watch during hard physical activities, then shock resistance might be a must. This could mean the difference of the watch being usable for a week or for five years, and at the same time if your warranty will be accepted or voided.

Watch Size

This usually guarantees the watch an extra level of sturdiness that will protect the fine mechanism (or electronic components) from physical harm when you knock it on something, if it falls out of your hand or if it receives any other mechanical shock (like slamming something into it).

Body Material

This is a highly debated aspect of a watch, as many people swear for one material or another. Most are made of plastic, carbon fiber and metal components but you can opt for things like rare metals or anti-allergic materials, the list could be endless.

Blue Watch on Desk

Obviously, the later materials add not only to the resistance of the watch itself but bump up the price as well. There are so many high-grade PVC types out there that in all honesty the huge prices some metallic models ask might not be warranted, as the expected lifetime of these models can be identical. They more than fit the bill and in some case (like water resistance) they might actually be the more sensible option from a manufacturing perspective.

Extra Options

Having extras is usually a good thing (except when modularity comes in the way of functionality or ergonomics). Today an athletic watch might receive these extra options in two major ways, as a software update (as we tend to see more and more watches becoming engulfed into the smart device craze) or as an accessory

Obviously, big-name brands usually do a better job of offering both but there are plenty of lesser-known brands that do a respectable job as well, or if they cannot offer them from their own factory, you might find a third party supplier for your needs, that creates universal ones.

Choose Your Watch

Again, if you do plan to future-proof your athletic watch, first make sure that the options on offer are good for you and that you actually need them. There is no need for you to over-invest into something that you might not necessarily need.

Best Products on Today’s Market

Now that we looked through all the important aspects that you should take into consideration before buying an athletic watch, let’s look at some of the models we believe would be more than worthy of anyone’s attention.

Skmei Men’s Sports Military Watch

Price: $10 – $15Skmei Men’s Sports Military Watch

Weight: 2.2 ounces

Dimensions: 1.77 x 0.8 inches

Specific features: Backlight, waterproof, shockproof, calendar, alarm clock, military time, silicone rubber band

Best use: Everyday wristwatch, running, general indoor and outdoor workout sessions

If you are looking for a reliable sports watch that is also suitable by nature for every other occasion, then the Skmei Men’s Sports Military Watch might just be the one for you. This backlit waterproof watch is not only affordable but also highly versatile.

It includes over half a dozen functionalities that are well-tuned for your workout needs and the case design makes it certain that it can be worn by both men and women. The design might be on the bulkier side, but with this, the build quality feels like it is a step above what we usually get for this price.

The screen is unfortunately somewhat dim during normal use, meaning that in somewhat extreme light conditions, reading the display might not be the easiest task to do. Luckily the built-in LED backlight does a good job, and by a simple button press, this issue will quickly disappear. The extra battery drain is minimal compared to the practical gain.

Waterproofing is also solid. Though not necessarily recommended for swimming, the waterproofing is good enough that a swimming session won’t break it, as long as you do not press the buttons while the watch is submerged.

PROS:

  • Affordable
  • Nice design
  • Good screen backlight
 CONS:

  • A bit bulky
  • Dim screen

Related: If you are going to change the band at one point, it might be a good idea to purchase the Mudder Spring Bar Tool. This handy strap pin replacement set is perfect for pretty much any watch including a total of five different watch strap sizes (16 mm, 18 mm, 20 mm, 22 mm and 24 mm). It also comes with four extra generic pins and an additional five pairs of fix strap pins, so you won’t have to look for those further on.

Check the price on Amazon

Armitron WR330 Sports Men’s Digital Watch

Price: $10 – $20Armitron WR330 Sports Men’s Digital Watch

Weight: 1.7 ounces

Dimensions: 1.22 x 0.5 inches

Specific features: Alarm, chronograph, lap timing, dual time, countdown timer, military time, water resistance

Best use: Running, general indoor and outdoor workout sessions, kids first watch, light swimming sessions

An athletic watch has to be first and foremost practical and that was probably the motto when the guys at Armitron developed the Armitron WR330 Sports Men’s Digital Watch. A sports watch that has a somewhat odd design but never the less manages to still present an attractive offer when taking into consideration everything it offers.

The water resistance is highly reliable and you will be able to take it with you into the swimming pool for several laps at a time. Even though diving is not recommended, the waterproofing is still good enough so you will be able to track just how much time your last lap took.

The design might seem somewhat questionable; the long-lasting nature of the watch, on the other hand, is not. This is a wristwatch that will probably last you several years, before even thinking of a battery change. The armband is also comfortable enough and made of fairly high-quality resin, so you won’t have to change it for a while.

One downside that we do want to mention is the build quality. Even though the watch itself is fairly sturdy (especially when you take into account the price) the outer casing seems to be made from lower quality plastic. This is again mostly an aesthetic issue that will likely won’t affect the overall build quality or the potential lifetime of the watch.

PROS:

  • Good screen quality
  • Reliable water resistance
  • Good battery life
 CONS:

  • Peculiar design
  • Questionable build quality

Related: If the armband is just too plain for your taste, you could choose a more modern look by buying a Seiko Rubber Watch Band. This is a nice, sports-like curved band that can be used for pretty much every watch that has a pin width of 22 mm. It is also built for heavy duty work (so it will last in time) and it includes the spring bars that are needed to attach it to the sports watch.

Check the price on Amazon

Skmei Men’s Digital LED Sports Watch

Price: $12 – $16Skmei Men’s Digital LED Sports Watch

Weight: 1.6 ounces

Dimensions: 1.85 x 0.47 inches

Specific features: Backlight, shock resistance, stopwatch, military time, alarm, auto date, water resistance

Best use: Universal wristwatch, running, general indoor and outdoor workout sessions, light swimming sessions

In case you want a good sports watch that you could potentially wear even with a nice suite, then the Skmei Men’s Digital LED Sports Watch might be a good model. This company usually pushes design to the forefront and that is also visible on this watch.

The build quality feels excellent, and because of this, the shock resistance actually feels like something that was included for more than just simply ticking out a marketing checkbox. The same is true about the very nice looking LED screen that manages to show you the time with a surprisingly good contrast and all of this at what could be considered a very low price.

Water resistance is also a given and this is backed by several athletic functions that will more than likely come in handy for anyone who is primarily looking at this as a sports equipment.

If there is anything that we could bring up as a negative aspect, that would be the soft user experience. Small things that might annoy you like the constant beeper that cannot be silenced or the somewhat convoluted settings that you will need some time to get accustomed to.

PROS:

  • Excellent backlight
  • Great design
  • Good functionality selection
 CONS:

  • Beeper functions all the time
  • A bit hard to set up

Related: If you are a fan of wrist watches (old or new) you should have a pin removal tool at hand, and the Barton Spring Bar Tool will stay with you for quite some time. This is an absolutely universal removal tool, so regardless of what watch you are buying now or in five years this might still come in handy. Not only does it have a highly visible integrated ruler but the body is made out of stainless steel, so you know this is a long-lasting investment.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 735XT Sports Watch

Price: $350 – $400Garmin Forerunner 735XT Sports Watch

Weight: 1.41 ounces

Dimensions: 1.75 x 0.47 inches

Specific features: Notification support, multisport data gathering, heart rate monitoring, water resistance

Best use: Universal wristwatch, running, general indoor and outdoor workout sessions, light swimming sessions, skiing, paddle sports

As a long-time player in the athletic watch industry, Garmin is a highly trusted brand and the Garmin Forerunner 735XT is a prime example of why this reputation grew on them over the years.

While being on the more expensive end of our spectrum, the Forerunner has a built-in heart rate monitor that will give you surprisingly accurate readings that will help you out no matter what workout routines you have planned.

Added to this are all the smartwatch functionalities that you won’t find in many other models. This means that it fully supports phone notifications and there are also several possibilities to upgrade the watch itself via the software route.

The accessories market is also thriving both from Garmin themselves and other third-party companies. This means that you have the option to expand the functionality arsenal of the watch, even more, managing to almost completely transform this watch.

The only downside (except the price) is the battery life. As most current generation smartwatches, the Forerunner simply cannot compete with a traditional watch. Depending on how much you use it, this can last from two days to two weeks, until it needs to be recharged. A far cry from the several years that other watches might offer.

PROS:

  • Great screen quality
  • Smart device connection
  • Built-in heart rate monitor
  • Large selection of add-ons
 CONS:

  • Expensive
  • Shorter battery life

Related: For an athletic watch that has such a nice screen, you should most definitely invest into a screen protector as well, and the ArmorSuit for Garmin Forerunner 753XT Screen Protector is one of the best bets. This well-known brand offers a truly clear and scratch resistant protector that also has so-called self-healing traits, which can actually clear smaller scratches on its own, without the need for a scratch-removing solution.

Check the price on Amazon

Casio Men’s W800H-1AV Classic Sport Watch

Price: $12 – $20Casio Men’s W800H-1AV Classic Sport Watch

Weight: 1.12 ounces

Dimensions: 1.45 x 0.5 inches

Specific features: Ten-year battery life, water resistance, backlight, alarm, dual time, stopwatch, auto calendar

Best use: Universal wristwatch, running, general indoor and outdoor workout sessions, kids first wristwatch

The Casio name is almost synonymous with high durability and impressive battery life, and the Casio Men’s W800H-1AV Classic Sport Watch is a prime example of both of these attributes.

At pretty much the first glance the “Casio look” becomes obvious. Love it or hate it, the old, rectangular design is present in this model as well. You might either become nostalgic or show a small grimace looking at it.

Regardless of where you stand the ten years of battery life that the company promises or the highly reliable water resistance will most definitely make many people give this wristwatch a chance.

It does not have a huge selection of functions, but what is there it can be used in an instant, as most of them are easily accessible and the learning curve is as minimal as it gets with digital watches. The backlight is also fairly impressive with the typical “afterglow” effect that helps to maintain a longer than expected battery life.

With the fair entry price and good quality electronic components, this model is also recommended for first-time owners, especially for kids. Just be certain that you have a spare wristband, as they tend to last less than the watch or battery itself.

PROS:

  • Amazing battery life
  • Good water resistance
  • Good calendar functionality
 CONS:

  • Unattractive design
  • Low-quality band

Related: Casio is well-known for their long-lasting batteries and watches, so if you plan to double your newly purchased watches lifetime you could choose a Casio ML2016 Solar Rechargeable Capacitor Battery. This a highly reliable lithium battery of 18 mAh that has a shelf life of roughly ten years. Combined with your newly bought device, this could add up to well over a decade of usage.

Check the price on Amazon

Timex Marathon Athletic Watch

Price: $15 – $23Timex Marathon Athletic Watch

Weight: 1.5 ounces

Dimensions: 1.37 x 0.5 inches

Specific features: Daily alarm settings, multiple time zone support, backlight, water resistance

Best use: Running, general indoor and outdoor workout sessions, recreational swimming, cycling

When it comes to old-school sports watch design, nothing really beats the Timex Marathon Mid-Size Watch. The elongated body with well-defined button spots are truly reminiscent of the 80’s but still manage to stand out and blend in perfectly at the same time even today.

The digits are highly-readable no matter what the lighting condition is, and if there is lack of light the reliable backlight will always be there to do his job. This is from top to bottom a Marathon piece, and that will be distinguishable from the start.

The water resistance level is more than enough for most water activities, except diving, if you make sure that you do not let it in water for a longer period of time, or if the water temperature does not go quickly from one extreme to the other (like going from a hot sauna to a cold shower).

Of course, there are some downsides for this watch as well. The screen and outer layer of the body tend to look pretty plastic, or downright cheap and the wristband is not 100% the same in size as the technical specifications might make you think (this is caused probably by the peculiar body shape).

Even so, when you take into consideration the pricing (and that the manufacturer actually respects the warranty conditions) and the vast options you get in color choice, this might be a perfect watch for personal use or as a gift for a loved one.

PROS:

  • Good build quality
  • Great screen contrast
 CONS:

  • Screen looks cheap
  • Unreliable water resistance
  • Wrist sizing is off

Related: If you often buy new watches, or simply have several of them to wear for different occasions, then a Glenor Co Watch Box could be a good match for you. This luxuriously looking watch case can hold up to a dozen watches and it also has a drawer for other items, like jewelry or sunglasses. This one should be a clear choice if you are somewhat of a collector, or simply love to have a tidy desk.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire Athletic Watch

Price: $600 – $850Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire Athletic Watch

Weight: 3 ounces

Dimensions: 1.85 x 0.6 inches

Specific features: Built-in GPS, built-in GLONASS, heart rate monitoring, gyroscope, barometric altimeter, notification support

Best use: Everyday use, running, general indoor and outdoor workout sessions, recreational swimming, cycling, skiing, paddle sports, long-range hiking

Yet another Garmin product on our list and this time around it is none other than the already popular Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire. Before even starting to discuss its technical aspects, let’s take a look at the white elephant in the room: the price.

Make no mistake, the Fenix is a premium product that asks a premium price, but what you get might be enough for you to plunge that amount of money on it. The design is top-notch and you get dozens of options when it comes to armbands. Silicone or titanium, no matter what material you might want, Garmin has you covered (for a price difference of course).

Then you also have several built-in smart sensors like a GPS, GLONASS, heart rate monitor, 3-axis compass with gyro and barometric altimeter, and on top of all these, you also have a full software ecosystem on hand if you connect it to a PC or a smartphone.

The watch itself is highly rugged and fully water resistant. You can swim with it, without being afraid that it will get broken, but you can take it with you to even more extreme sporting sessions like skiing, skydiving or surfing. This is a watch that is meant to be pushed to the extremes.

But it is not for everyone. The bulky design might be uncomfortable for some, the battery life is in the smartwatch range if used heavily and of course, the above-mentioned price tag is pretty significant. But if you like the specifications, this might be an unbeatable option.

PROS:

  • Great screen quality
  • Many functions included
  • Smart device connection
  • Several add-ons available
  • Built-in GPS and GLONAS sensors
 CONS:

  • Expensive
  • Fairly heavy
  • Short battery life

Related: The Fenix is one good looking watch, but if you want to spice up the looks even further, you could opt for an Ancool Band Easy Fit. There are dozens of available color options for you, no matter what you might like, Ancool probably has you covered. The silicone bands are also standardized 22 mm width, so you can use it with different watches as well. Best of all, the ergonomics feel as good as anything that Garmin might make.

Check the price on Amazon

Palada Men’s Sports Digital Watch

Price: $20 – $25Palada Men’s Sports Digital Watch

Weight: 2.1 ounces

Dimensions: 1.97 x 0.62 inches

Specific features: Backlight, water resistance, second chronograph, alarm, shock resistance, military time, calendar

Best use: Everyday use, running, general indoor and outdoor workout sessions, recreational swimming

If a reasonably-priced yet still stylish athletic watch is what you are looking for, you probably won’t go wrong with the Palada Men’s Sports Digital Watch. This fairly-heavy, sturdily built watch is both practical while running yet looks good enough that you could take it with you when going out for a party.

Even if the case is fairly bulky and on the heavier side, the band is comfortable enough that you won’t really feel it after a while. The screen is also highly readable no matter in what condition you are using it, and the backlight does a good job of illuminating the digits during night time.

The watch does come with some caveats. First, the water resistance is a bit hit and miss. Even though you should have no problems using it in the shower. And then there is the functionality selection that is available. It has substantially less at its disposal as other similar watches but it should still satisfy most needs.

This is all-in-all a very sturdy, well designed and highly affordable athletic watch that should be a good choice for you if swimming or multi-faceted athletic training are not things that you need it for all the time.

PROS:

  • Nice design
  • High-quality backlight
  • Highly audible alarm
  • Good shock resistance
 CONS:

  • Lower functionality selection
  • Unreliable water resistance

Related: No matter how hard you might try, scratching the screen of any watch is almost a given, so why not go ahead and buy a Polywatch Plastic Watch Crystal Scratch Remover? This solution easily and seamlessly removes most scratches from the screen and it will leave behind a clear and clean surface, that will almost look like new. The tube contains 5 ml solution a quantity that is enough for roughly ten uses, so you can get rid of scratches from all of your watches or even mobile phones.

Check the price on Amazon

Wrap Up

You might have noticed, the athletic watch market is a highly matured one with several big players having stakes in it. There are a whole lot of things to take into consideration when searching for one and especially if you are trying to be as price conscious as possible. With this article, we think we managed to open a clear window for you in this regards.

solar powered altimeter watch

Now you have the knowledge that is necessary to make a well-educated decision of what these watches offer, what is a sensible price depending on different needs and you also had the opportunity to browse through some of the contemporary models that easily stand on their own in this very crowded market.

But there are just so many out there. From the well-known and trusted Casio and Garmin to the lesser known but similarly good ones like Skmei there are just way too many great models to know them all. So if you think that we skipped an essential model that would be a must on this list, please feel free to tell us about it in the comment section below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rita Warfield

Rita Warfield

Fully passionate about the outdoors and totally committed to a life of exploration and learning, Rita is the perfect guide when it comes to choosing the right gear for your adventures. She gathered years of practical experience in testing her survival skills and knowledge in a wide range of difficult situations but she is also a passionate mountain climber. Even more, Rita loves hunting, she knows her way around a weapon, and she doesn’t back off in a difficult situation.