Fitness trackers are incredibly personal. They have to be comfortable and attractive, sure, but they must also fit your lifestyle, as well as when and how you like to work out. Do you bike, row, or do strength training? Do you run on trails for hours at a time, or do you just want a reminder to get up every hour?
No matter what your needs are, there’s never been a better time to find a powerful, sophisticated tool that can help you optimize your workouts or jump-start your routine.
Best All-Around: Fitbit Charge 5
Even as Fitbit has faced stiff competition from other manufacturers—most notably, the Apple Watch—its trackers have always won me over. They hit a very specific sweet spot between attractiveness, affordability, accessibility, and ease of use. They're perfect for everyone who isn't an ultra-marathoner or a semipro powerlifter trying to hit a PR.
The Charge line has consistently reached the top of our rankings, and the Charge 5 is no exception. Last year's iteration introduced softer lines, a bright AMOLED screen, and almost every sensor you could want, from stress scans to electrocardiograms. Like the Apple Watch does with iPhones, the Charge 5 fast-pairs to Android phones and has both onboard and connected GPS so you can track outdoor workouts without a hitch.
It also now has an FDA-cleared feature to detect atrial fibrillation, via Fitbit's new Heart Rhythm Notifications feature. The major downside is that you do still have to pay $10 per month, or $80 per year, for a Fitbit Premium subscription to access most of Fitbit's best features. Fitbit is also now owned by Google, which might deter you. All in all, the hardware is still less expensive and easier to use than others on this list.
Runner-Up: Garmin Vívomove Sport
Picking a fitness tracker often means taking the proprietary software into consideration, as well as the hardware. Fitbit's app is really easy to use, but I also like Garmin's Connect, which I have found to be one of the most comprehensive digital health apps. If you discover that you like running, for example, it integrates easily with Strava. Unlike Fitbit, Garmin doesn't paywall most of its best features behind a premium subscription.
That makes Garmin's entry-level smartwatch my top pick for a first fitness tracker, especially since it doesn't look particularly sporty. It comes in a variety of colors and resembles an analog watch. Simply swipe along the bottom half of the touchscreen to log activities and check notifications.
Not only can you track workouts, but you can also monitor your sleep and heart rate and check a few other of Garmin's proprietary algorithms, like your Body Battery, or how ready you are for the day. It's worth noting that most people get a Garmin because it is GPS-enabled, and the Vivomove Sport only uses connected GPS from your phone.
Best If You Have an iPhone: Apple Series 8
People tend to hold on to their Apple Watches for years, and rightfully so—it is far and away the best fitness tracker if you have an iPhone. So if you want one, you're best off with the latest Series 8. We're still testing it, but this year's Series 8 comes with new body temperature sensors that are aimed at tracking menstrual cycles. It also has new safety features, such as Crash Detection.
In the event of a severe car accident, the Series 8 will use a powerful new accelerometer and gyroscope as well as the barometer, GPS, and microphone to detect a car crash and alert emergency services if the user has not responded within 10 seconds.
These come in conjunction with a whole host of health and fitness features in WatchOS 9, such as better workout views, more in-depth running metrics, medication logging, and better sleep tracking. In comparison, the new Apple Watch SE has the latest S8 chip and will have Crash Detection, but no wrist-based body temperature sensing, as well as no older features like the blood oxygen or ECG app.
Best Budget Tracker: Letsfit Fitness Tracker
Letsfit's smartwatch is a knockoff of the Fitbit Versa, right down to the typeface used on the watch face, but the differences are obvious to anyone who has used (and loved) a real Versa. The latch is made from cheap plastic, the tracked metrics on the watch face are rudimentary, and the VeryFitPro app is unattractive and not a joy to consult. However, the tracker is waterproof, and the pedometer is reasonably accurate.
The battery lasts about one week between charges, and the band is soft and comfortable. My real recommendation for a budget tracker is to look for older Garmin or Fitbit models that came out a year or two ago. Those regularly go on sale for well under $100. But if you're having a hard time finding one, this will do.
Best Running Watch: Coros Pace 2
For years, I was convinced that no running watch would ever beat a Garmin. That changed when I tried the Coros Pace 2, which is now my favorite. It's unbelievably light, and the battery lasts for weeks between charges, which is a feature you won't find in any other watch on this list. It also integrates with Strava for mapping your runs and rides, and it uses the same multi-system satellite positioning system as Garmin to trace your route.
On the minus side, it has a basic LCD screen, and EvoLab—Coros' analytics platform, meant to compete with Garmin's Connect—is still in its early stages. Accuracy can be iffy; a few of my outdoor runs were improperly tracked. But Coros also offers a ton of small, useful features, like a locking screen and simple two-button operation, at a very accessible price.
Best Ring: Oura Ring Gen3
I had complaints about Oura's Gen3 ring—namely, that the company was strongly encouraging its customers to commit and upgrade to the Gen3 and a new $6-per-month subscription long before any of the newest features were even available. However, in a sea of identical square and round watches, there really isn't any tracker like the Oura. It's extremely small and attractive, and this year's new onboard sensors are just as accurate as they were before.
New features are now appearing and will continue to arrive throughout 2022. With the membership, you can access guided meditations, personalized insights, and educational content; without it, you will only be able to access your three basic Oura scores, which are your Daily Readiness, Sleep, and Activity scores (essentially what you saw last year).
If you have trouble predicting your period, the ring is sensitive enough to pick up the half-degree temperature drop right before mine starts. Although the company has made no explicit statement about Roe v. Wade, it’s based in Finland and abides by the GDPR, and US-based
The Most Wearable: Whoop 4.0
The biggest problem with any fitness wearable of any kind is how often they get in the way of … working on your fitness. You can't wear the Oura ring while rock climbing, for example. That's why the cult fitness tracker company Whoop introduced a line of smart clothes this year. Right now, I'm wearing the tracker tucked into the Any-Wear bralette. I can't even feel it! Now I can track my runs with my Garmin!
Whoop is best suited for athletes who can independently interpret its somewhat arcane metrics. “Daily Strain” measures only cardiovascular load, so a day where I walked 3 miles to and fro is supposedly a harder day than when I lifted weights for an hour. The Whoop 4.0 is also smaller than last year's model, with a new battery, but I did experience charging issues with the new version.
You have to keep the app running at all times, lest it constantly warn you that it can't update right this second. At $30, the monthly subscription is the most expensive one here, and the line of proprietary clothing does not have extended sizing. Even with all those caveats, it's the only wearable I've ever forgotten I'm wearing.
Best Outdoor Watch: Garmin Fenix 7S Sapphire Solar
This year, Garmin released two high-end adventure watches: the Epix ($1,000) and this year's update to the Fenix series, the Fenix 7S Sapphire Solar. The Epix has a 47-mm case and a large, brilliant AMOLED screen; the Fenix has a memory-in-pixel (MIP) display. However, the Epix's case is huge, and the display eats up a lot of battery. I'd go with the Fenix instead.
This year's iteration has vastly improved battery life with solar charging—I got two weeks off one charge, with intermittent sunlight during a cloudy Oregon winter. Multiple GPS systems meant that it pinpointed my location with incredible speed and accuracy, even in the rain and under tree cover.
It can record every biometric for every sport under the sun. And honestly, maps on the MIP still look detailed and pretty great. The downside? It is still fairly spendy, and earlier iterations do go on sale pretty often.
Best for Weekend Warriors: Apple Watch Ultra
This year, Apple introduced a completely new type of Apple Watch: the Ultra, a rugged sports watch intended for endurance athletes. The 2.5-day battery life seems mediocre, but here is a secret that few runners, cyclists, or skiers will admit: Not all of us are Jenny Graham. Most of us are all too happy to enjoy a day out before coming home to a pork shoulder roast and a shower.
We haven't tested it yet, but if you have an iPhone and have access to an outlet, then the Apple Watch Ultra is probably the best outdoor watch for you. It's been certified to the MIL-STD-810H standard for military equipment, so it won't die when it gets too hot, cold, or dusty. It's made from aerospace-grade titanium with a flat sapphire crystal display, with a host of specialized navigation features, like a new hybrid analog-digital compass; Backtrack, to find your way back to the trail if you've become disoriented; and Waypoints, to track points of interest.
It has a precision dual-frequency GPS system to ensure your running stats are accurate in a crowded city marathon, and three built-in microphones with special wind-reduction algorithms so you can take work calls from the top of the lift. Not everyone can take off for a month and a half to run the Pacific Crest Trail. Getting an Ultra might be the next best thing.
Best Analog Watch Dupe: Withings ScanWatch
The Withings ScanWatch is unique for several reasons. Many other trackers, such as the Apple Watch Series 8, offer the ability to detect atrial fibrillation and measure blood oxygen levels through the SpO2 sensor. However, Withings obtained clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration before selling the ScanWatch in the US.
Most of the trackers on the list can go several days without charging, but the ScanWatch can go up to a month. You can access all the features on the Health Mate app without a subscription.
It's worth pointing out that most fitness trackers look like fitness trackers, but the ScanWatch looks like a normal analog watch. This is the best everyday fitness tracker for anyone who doesn't want to broadcast to the world that they count how many hours they sleep each night.
Most Attractive Watch: Garmin Lily
Garmin has a whole line of fashion watches, but they've always been wonky compared to their sporty counterparts. For example, the screen of this fashionable wearable didn't reliably turn on when I angled my wrist toward my face, and the touchscreen wouldn't reliably respond to my finger when I wanted to start an activity. However, the sport version of the Garmin Lily is undeniably gorgeous. The 34-mm case is small but still large enough to see incoming notifications and track activities with a swipe and a tap.
Sadly, the estimated battery life of five days shortens considerably with overnight pulse-oximeter sleep tracking. If you're not altitude-training or concerned that you might be sick (obligatory warning that this is not a medical device), you should probably turn that feature off.
Best for Android Owners: Samsung Galaxy Watch5
Samsung's new Galaxy Watch5 is the comfiest Wear OS smartwatch out there. It comes in 40- and 44-mm sizes and runs the latest version of Wear OS 3, meaning you get access to Google Maps' turn-by-turn navigation and Google Assistant, plus the best of Samsung's health features, including SpO2 measurements, auto-workout detection, sleep tracking, and an electrocardiogram. It's great for checking notifications and responding to them, too.
Like the Apple Watch, don't expect to go for days on a single charge. Unfortunately, this watch only works with Android phones, and ECG tracking is limited to Samsung phones (as is blood pressure monitoring, but that's not available in the US yet anyway).
If you want a bigger watch that's just a bit more rugged, try the pricey Galaxy Watch5 Pro ($500), which has better battery life, has GPX support, and is made of more durable materials. Alternatively, if you want to save some cash, you can snag last year's Galaxy Watch4, which is still a great watch.
My Favorite Watch: Garmin Instinct 2 Solar
Out of all these watches, the one I chose to come with me on a two-week beach adventure vacation was the Instinct 2 Solar. It's one of Garmin's most popular backcountry watches and combines a somewhat chunky, technical aesthetic (and fun colors!) with backcountry capability.
With the Instinct 2, you get access to Garmin's multiple satellite systems and navigational features, insane battery life, and the ability to track many sport-specific metrics … without blowing money on extras like a big light-up screen.
The main updates to this year's Instinct 2 are improved solar charging, a high-resolution display, and a petite 40-mm case size. That smaller size fits on my wrist and under my jacket sleeve much more easily, and the high-resolution display is easier to read. The battery also lasted for a mindblowing 21 days, with multiple tracked activities per day.
It also comes in a ton of different colors and sports-specific styles. For example, the popular Surf Edition—there are also Tactical and Esports versions—is compatible with the hugely popular surf forecasting company Surfline. You can see tide data and track your surfing. (It also has the best colors.)