Best heart rate monitors and HRM watches

Best heart rate monitors and HRM watches

Want to get fit, fast and strong? Just listen to your heart
Best heart rate monitors

Strapping on a good heart rate monitor is an easy way to supercharge your training. It not only makes your stats more accurate, but it also enables you to start heart rate training in specific zones, which can make your regime more efficient.

Increasingly, companies are starting to add heart rate monitors into running watches and fitness trackers, which use optical sensors to detect the blood racing through your veins. But as we've recently found out at Wareable, while these new optical sensors are a great way to ditch the chest strap and get beginners thinking about their heart rate, if you're serious about accuracy, you need to stick to the chest strap for the foreseeable future.

Essential reading: Optical heart rate accuracy, the experts speak

The bottom line is this: if you want pinpoint accuracy, get a chest strap. If you're just after more colour in your workout, and aren't interested in spending your sessions at specific bpms, a wrist-based monitor will do.

Read on for our recommendations.

Best heart rate training chest straps

MyZone MZ-3

The MyZone MZ-3 offers a whole lot more than simple bpm (beats per minute) recordings. You get your heart going with the strap on – whether that be running, rowing, swimming, cycling or a session in the gym – and earn points based on your bpm. Rather than simply scoring highly based on a big heart rate reading, the MyZone studies your effort over time and handicaps your levels.

Like the Tickr X, the MZ-3 has storage for 16 hours of data, so you don't always have to carry your smartphone while exercising.

$149.99, myzone.com

Wahoo Tickr X

While we've seen the chest strap take a back seat in recent months, making way for more tech-filled watches and fitness bands, Wahoo knows it's not dead yet. And the Tickr X is the highest scoring heart rate monitoring device on Wareable right now with a very impressive four and a half stars out of five in our review.

The Wahoo Tickr X has internal memory that'll store 16 hours of your heart rate data and additional motion analytics that track your cycles too. You can workout without your smartphone, and then transfer all the data back when you're home and showered.

$99.99, wahoofitness.com | Amazon

Garmin HRM Tri

best heart rate monitor strap

A real pro tool for Triathletes, this ultra-small and light (a mere 49g) heart rate strap adds considerable bike and running smarts to some of the pool functions of the HRM Swim.

With an built-in accelerometer that'll deliver cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time data (like Garmin's HRM Run) while on two legs, and HR stat storage while actually underwater, this is one of the most rounded tools for the three disciplines there is out there. Garmin has also ensured there are no exposed seams and all edges are soft and rounded to prevent rubbing or any wetsuit-doffing difficulties.

$130, garmin.com | Amazon

Suunto Smart Sensor

best heart rate monitors

Suunto claims the Smart Sensor is the world's smallest Bluetooth Smart heart rate monitor, and it's probably right; it's unfeasibly tiny. The size of a quarter, this little marvel has tiny studs that clip into Suunto's colour-coded belts, as well as compatible Movesense clothing. It'll store heart rate data underwater, but won't send updates in real time, while on land it'll track heart rate and calories burned.

It's Bluetooth Smart, so it'll pair direct with Suunto's Movescount app on your Android or iOS phone, as well as with Ambit devices. At 40g, it's no heavyweight, and it's waterproof to 30m.

$79, suunto.com | Amazon

Best running watches with built-in HRM

TomTom Spark

best heart rate monitor

The TomTom Spark follows a series of well-received HR and sports trackers from TomTom, adding an integrated music player into the mix. The 3GB storage gives you more than 500 power ballads at your disposal and there's even a super-charged 'Running Trax' option, a bespoke mix of dance anthems via the Ministry of Sound.

The built-in heart rate monitor means there's no need for a traditional HR strap, and combines with GPS and activity tracking tools to make this an all-in-one fitness device par-excellence. The Spark is available now in a series of bundles including Bluetooth headphones.

$200, tomtom.com | Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 235

The 235 is the Garmin watch with its own bespoke optical HR tech built in. It features full GPS tracking tech, a water resistant build and, more importantly, the brilliantly detailed and useful Garmin Connect software. While the HR feedback from running isn't exactly bang on the money, the data is usable for steady run sessions. What's more, the Forerunner 235 will keep track of your resting heart rate and steps when worn all day, making it a great companion for hardcore fitness types.

Check out our full Garmin Forerunner 225 review.

$299.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Mio Alpha 2

Best heart rate monitor and HRM watches

The Mio Alpha 2 takes an EKG-accurate heart rate reading right from your wrist. Heart rate zones can be configurable, with an LED flashing light alerting you to your current zone, and it works with lots of different fitness apps. The onboard memory can hold 25 hours of workout data, with all the distance, pace, speed and calories data coming from the accelerometer.

One big caveat – the Mio does heart rate tracking well, but in our Alpha 2 review we found that it isn't enough of an all-rounder for the price.

$199.99, mioglobal.com | Amazon

Fitbit Surge

Best heart rate monitor and HRM watches

Fitbit's Surge boasts an optical heart rate sensor and PurePulse tech that'll automatically monitor your stats every few seconds, using the data to maximise your training and accurately track calorie burn.

You can set a target heart rate zone, ensuring you're pushing yourself enough but not overtraining, and then beam all the data back to the fantastic companion apps. These apps have a nifty trick up their sleeve too – the ability to plot all of your heart rate readings on a graph and review all the data from many weeks in one go. In our Fitbit Surge review, though, what we didn't like was the price, the uninspiring design and display and the very basic smartphone notifications.

$249, fitbit.com | Amazon


Best fitness trackers with HRM

Garmin Vivosmart HR

With HR on the wrist, the Garmin Vivosmart HR is a little less intrusive that wearing one of the companies GPS watches all day long – and with top 24/7 HR monitoring, all day wear is advised. However, there are some problems. There's no GPS built in, which makes it far less appealing to runners, accuracy dwindles at high intensity and excessive wrist flex during weight sessions.

Take a look out our full Garmin Vivosmart HR review.

$149.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Fitbit Blaze

Like any wrist-based HR monitor, the Blaze suffers big problems at high intensity where it succumbs to a fairly hefty lag time and motion noise. However, it's still good enough to colour workouts in the gym and on the road if you're not too worried about pinpoint accuracy? On the plus side, the resting heart rate tracking is up there with the best, and if you're put off by the technical graphs of its competitors, Fitbit's app is one of the most accessible ways to track your workouts.

$249.99, fitbit.com | Amazon

Jawbone UP3 and UP4

The UP3 and UP4 are almost identical apart from the NFC payment feature available on the UP4. Advance bioimpedance sensors on both bands automatically keep an eye on your resting heart rate, using the data to let you know how to take better care of yourself. A new update adds passive heart rate monitoring too.

The band can determine what activity you're doing and automatically adjust, while the Smart Coach is like a personal trainer on your wrist, giving you encouragement when you need it most. Take a look at our Jawbone UP3 review.

$179.99, jawbone.com | Amazon

Headphones with heart rate monitoring

Jabra Sport Pulse

Best heart rate monitor and HRM watches

The Pulse takes a rather unique approach, taking your heart rate from your ears instead. These wireless in-ear headphones banish the need for chest straps or watches, taking the reading from your lug holes and sending that data to your smartphone via Bluetooth, with spoken feedback as you go.

Another high scorer in its Wareable review, we gave the Sport Pulse four stars for its features, comfortable fit and neat audio options. That said, some heart rate readings were dubious and again, it is an expensive wearable.

$199.99, jabra.com | Amazon

62 Comments

  • lopkiol says:

    Do any of these monitors actually show your heartbeat in real time? I bought the Polar H7 and I was quite disappointed since compared to my old Geonaute it does not even show when the actual individual heartbeats are detected.

    Also, are any of these able to stream?

    It's your own heartbeat data, so I was just wondering why one should not be entitled to have full ownership on it (given that Apple Health and Google Fit seem to already take every single bit of your health data).

    • the5krunner says:

      The H7 shows instantaneous/permanently on HR. You just need the correct receiving device - which could be an app on your smartphone or a watch.

    • Marc-Theodore says:

      If you are looking for a more obvious and instantanious feedback, have a look at Cardiglow. It makes your whole chest glow and visualizes your pulse in a color, associated witih your current heart rate. It also works together with most of the apps and wearables that use the BLE 4.0 HRM protocol.

  • jdiv says:

    So the Polar H7, at $49.99, "isn't exactly cheap compared to the likes of the Garmin Soft Strap", which is $69.99. Am I missing something?

    • lisazur says:

      My Polar H7 is a wonderful device when it's working. When it's working is the key piece of that sentence. I have had to send mine back to Polar twice and, once again, it's not working. This device is the WORST HR device I have owned in 7 years. It will be going in the trash.

      • the5krunner says:

        the Polar H7 strap is generally VERY reliable and is used for medical and sports science purposes. You must have had a bad one - or maybe you mean the watch that it came with was not so good ?

        • nycgrrl says:

          It is my strap that needs the work.

        • dbowman2 says:

          love my h7 when it is working as well - which is most of the time.  gotta remember to get that chest band damp before you put it on.  unfortunately, there are no battery strength indicators or bluetooth pairing indicators on either the strap or the watch, so when the watch isnt displaying the proper hr (or picking up any hr at all) it is not possible to isolate the weak link. i have noticed that the watch and strap will "work" with low batteries but the data sent/recv'd gets whacky.  i end up spending almost 2x on batteries because i switch out both every time because there is no way to tell which is dead/dying. also quite frustrating when batteries croak mid-run and i wish both devices used the same type of battery.  one of them is harder to find than the other.  for what its worth, my polar links up pretty well with map my run.  i've had to update map my run a few times over the last year when the link between devices goes awry, but outside of that, it all seems to work well together.  maybe it wont be long before we see sub-skin hrms - like a pierced ear or small implant - as it seems skin is the common barrier for the hrm accuracy problems.

        • heavengold says:

          Hi, I have polar H7. It's working perfectly with android samsung s5. Now i want to buy fenix 3 or forerunner 630. I am confused that garmin watch will support polar H7 as polar uses Bluetooth and garmin uses ANT+. I don't know whether garmin watches support both bluetooth and ANT+. Please if anybody tried this than help. Thanks

        • Jerapah says:

          My H7 is also very unreliable. It is great, WHEN it is working. It is the battery connection in the disc that is the weak link in my case, and, from what I have read elsewhere, I am not alone.

          • NomiMo says:

            I have had 3 H7 sensors in the past year. My latest one started to fail after 2 months. Polar customer service is also terrible. Really need to get myself an alternative, any ideas?

        • Jerapah says:

          I really just want a heart rate tracker that works consistently and accurately during HIIT / sprinting sessions. That seems very difficult to find right now. The wrist sensors are not accurate and/or move around too much. 

          A chest strap seems a more likely solution. The H7 should be great, and it is, when it works, but the battery connection seems very iffy on my one.

          Does anyone have a recommendation for a reliable / accurate chest strap that works in an HITT environment (sweaty/bouncy/rapid movements) and that  Ican download to an iPhone/Mac?

      • nycgrrl says:

        OMG! I'm so glad I read this. Mine worked for one month and then stopped. It is a piece of junk. I'm very disappointed. I have a Garmin that has worked for over 10 years but the HR only works when I am outdoors (an old GPS version). Time for something new.

      • Ob7896 says:

        What has been your best device? 

    • the5krunner says:

      they're both pretty similar quality and functionality. The Polar is most likely to pair with a smartphone app using bluetooth whereas the garmin HRM will work mainly with the very many garmin watches that are out there using ANT+ communicatins

  • vab423 says:

    How is something on the "best of" when it hasn't been tested? ("We haven't tested the Forerunner 225 but we've got high hopes for it.")

    • j.stables says:

      As it used Mio technology (which we have tested) we were confident enough to put it in the list – but just wanted to add the caveat that a full verdict was TBC. If you check the link, it is now fully reviewed! 

      • the5krunner says:

        I believe you only had a hands-on with the Spark at the IFA in Berlin :-) Still that's more than me so I bow to your better knowledge

  • get1fiT says:

    Are there any fitness trackers that offer both optical HR for continues 24/7 monitoring on normal day activities but also that can connect to a chest strap (like to Wahoo) for exercise activities?

    • j.stables says:

      That's a good question. So the Garmin Forerunner 225 has built in HRM and activity tracking and you can connect a chest strap via ANT+, I believe. It's a chunky old watch to wear every day though.

      Of course, you could just get a Fitbit Charge HR and then workout with Wahoo, like you say. But that means taking your phone for workouts. :

  • Eya says:

    Hello!

    I have been looking for a wearable HRM watch not for fitness training but just for daily/normal activities like normal (walking, moving around, sitting). But I don't know what to get because nearly everything (HRM) I come across seems to be made for training/exercise/jogging/running. So are there anything you would recommend for me for normal activities? Your response is well appreciated.

    • the5krunner says:

      Microsoft band .....probably the V2 later this year.

  • thihaz says:

    Which watch doesn't need chest band to measure the heart rate monitor on the fly while i am working out?

    Thanks.

    • j.stables says:

      225, Surge, Basis Peak...there's loads and a growing number

      • the5krunner says:

        yes and if you got a HRM on your wrist/arm like yu can with MIO and SCOSCHE then you have more options (or indeed with the JABRA HRM EARBUDS)

  • Alleykat says:

    So do any of these GPS HRMs give you a heart rate reading WITHOUT GPS being turned on? Sometimes I just want to use the HR feature and so save the battery life by not using GPS.

    • the5krunner says:

      they're NOT all GPS. Those that have GPS and HR functionality usually have some way of at least turning off the GPS for the reason you say. For just HR you have lots of options.

  • tank says:

    What watch is Accurate and Monitors the Heart for 24 hrs. Mio seems to be the most accurate but only monitoring your Hr while working out. The fit Bits don't really work once you start using your arms. They blank out. Can you help

    • leebwa says:

      I would be interested in knowing the answer to this also.  Thanks :)

      • Kawhy says:

        omg someone please answer this important question! 

    • j.stables says:

      It's Fitbit vs Garmin Vivosmart HR really. The latter is the most accurate so far for 24/7 tracking, but still suffers issues with noise when running. There isn't a perfect answer in this field...yet.

      • gadalfi says:

        i think all the ones that have Mio sensors and the own Garmin HRM seem to be the best, i heared mixed reviews about the Fitibt concerning HR monitoring during workouts.

        basically technology is not advanced enough yet, saw couple of reviews on dcrainmakers website, check out if you want an in deepth review of the bult-in HR Monitors. unfortunatelyfor me its not yet where i want it to be :(, seems if you do intense workouts especially cycling the HRM has some issues, still i think for the majority it would probably be fine. but for me i need exact HR monitoring and that means i ll have to wait for a bit.

  • Davidian says:

    So I am looking for a watch with built in HRM (no strap)
    It needs GPS for anything outstide
    It needs to be able to track laps in a pool (and also be waterproof)
    I would like to to connect with a fitness app, preferabley run keeper but whatever will do
    If it can work out what you are doing too (or ask you, eg weights, squash, badminton, swimming, general walking etc) this would also be great.
    I'd also like one with an active heart rate monitor that gives you up to date to the beat real time information instead of the delayed results I have had from some HRMs... 


    Nice to haves would be

    Built in storage for MP3's and Bluetooth with aptx technology for my headphones
    Max Heart rate setting and the "perfect" training heart rate, with alerts to signify when you are below or above that.

    If you have any reviews that suit my needs I would be happy to read, and will of course use your affiliate links to the products.

    Thank you for your time.

    • Sergey says:

      Thank you for the question. It matches my requirements. So I am also waiting for an answer.

    • the5krunner says:

      Epson SF-810 meets most of the criteria

    • Strider says:

      I believe the Tomtom Multisport Cardio does all this except the MP3 storage. Check it out. I personally use a Mio Link with my Garmin Forerunner 310 XT, which works well for me.

    • Marc-Theodore says:

      Concerning your need for a device, that shows you if you are working out with the "perfect" heart rate, I found a device, that translates your heart rate into colors. Cardiglow It is a strap, that lights up in predefined colors (e.g. red for max, green for prefect..). Looks pretty fancy too... Check out Cardiglow.com

    • JamesN says:

      I'll add my nice to haves... one that also tracks sleep (the current HR/sleep are the most two important things to me in a tracker) A slient alarm that tells you when your HR is out of your cardio or fat burning zone based on your age (and the ability to set those items before the workout.)  One that could track O2 and body temperature would be a true winner for me.  The app it comes with plus the apps it can sync with are just as important.

  • the5krunner says:

    I largely agree with the article. My comments would be

    1. You missed the MS Band which is very good IMO. I know you debate its comfort; we're all different.
    2. The 4iiii Viiiiva should be on your list yet and shows further promise with some exciting things to come. It is innovative as-is with ANT+/BTLE bridging (like the MIO Velo but it works)
    3. Not sure you can say that the MIO sensor on the 225 will work the same as it does on the MIO bands without specifically testing the accuracy of the HRM with the hardware integration yourself. For example the 225 has a light/water seal around the sensor that IS different to the MIO link even though the lights and sensors themselves are the same (apparently). It probably will be good tho !!
    4. By the same token the jury is out on the TomTom who are doing the optical in-house I believe having ditched the MIO/Phillips unit.
    5. You missed the Scosche RHTYHM+ HRM which really is THE most accurate optical HRM I've TESTED.
    6. Also the Epson SF-810 deserves a mention. Awesome running watch with built in optical and super-accurate GPS. Should be a higher profile sports brand in the UK than it is.
    7. Calling the JAWBONE a HRM is being very generous to it and might give some the impression it does more than it actually does!

    keep up the excellent work.

  • Throk89 says:

    I have owned my Fitbit Charge HR for about a week now and to be honest I can't believe they released a product that is so bad at tracking heart rate.

    The only time it can track my HR is either when I am inactive, or walking. After jogging for about 10 minutes, It is unable to track anything accurately. Says my HR is in the 110-120 range and cannot read anything past 150.

    I know for a fact my HR averages is around 165-180 while doing a higher tempo jog and it has never read anything passed 150, or it will just completely stop working.

    On top of that When I wake up after I have slept with it on, it says I have some how taken 3,000 steps and burned 1,000+ calories. I have no idea why it is doing that, unless unbeknownst to me, I am having seizures throughout the night. Also After a two mile run It says I have magically ran 4-5 miles.

    Another thing that I dislike, but is more of a personal issue is that it does not play nice with the Run Keeper app on my phone. With the other downside of being one of the only devices that does not connect directly to Run Keeper app.

    Would love to know if fitbit in general is just horrible, or should I trade it in for a Surge. Otherwise i'm giving up on all bands and going back to my trusty chest strap.

  • remidogue says:

    All the new devices have their pros and cons.  I like simplicity.  The surge fits the bill without being overly complicated, also you can get a ID tag to slide on the band.   Simple.  No more multiple bands, not more extra tan lines.  Found mine at www.thefitid.com .cheap too

  • Nkolsen says:

    Could there be a test of these smartwatches' HR monitors? Because I would like to know how many of them that could actually measure my HR while running. Im not interested in my HR when im not active......

  • Igor says:

    Which of the HRM watches can make a sound which each heart-beat? I want to hear my heart-beats while doing different things.

  • WeissInPhoenix says:

    I have the Wahoo strap monitor but I can't find an app to get what I want from it: the ability to set a min and max hr goal for a run and have it notify me if I am outside my envelope.

  • kae says:

    I have a 12y/o girl and a 16y/o boy whom were both recently diagnosed with HCM. Their cardiologist has released them to continue with their sports....but with some restrictions. Both are to wear an HRM that shows in real time. Both should have the chest bands, but would like the watches also. Don't need the other stuff (caller ID, etc) but don't mind it either. Any suggestions? He's a goalie (ice hockey) and she's a power base (cheer) and a catcher (softball).

    Thanks! Kae

    • stachall says:

      Did you ever get a response to this?  I had a cardiac event and need to track my heart rate continuously.  Was wondering if you found anything you could recommend?

  • TimCD says:

    Both the Fitbit Charge and Mio Fuse are excellent, but in very different ways. The Fuse is great for more intensive activities and training, while the Fitbit is great at all-day activity level monitoring.

    I'll be very interested to see what the BLOCKS team finally produce. The world's first modular smartwatch. Just about to finish on Kickstarter at about 600% of their target. #chooseblocks

  • Igor says:

    Which of the Apps (plus some HR-belt) like Polar) or which of the HRM watches can make a sound which each heart-beat? I want to hear my heart-beats while doing different things.

  • Carol says:

    Are there any that will detect irregular heart beats yet? afib? skip beat?

    • TAslinger says:

      Following

  • n119jl says:

    I have just been diagnosed with cardiac AFIB. I need to monitor my HR most of my waking hours. I do not want a chest strap, as I have used them before when running and don't want to wear them doing my daily activities..I want it to be a watch also. Don't need GPS or MP3 or other bells and whistles. 

    • sudburykid says:

      I am very interested in your response to this same question.

      Not really interested in a whole lot of GPS, MP3 * other bells & whistles either!

  • Kelllaxt says:

    How does the Vivosmart HR fit into the discussion on best fitness tracking bands with HRM?

    • j.stables says:

      We've just published our review and are now going back to retest the Fitbit Charge HR (after its recent updates) and add it into this list. The Vivosmart HR is very strong as a fitness tracker, but it doesn't have the accuracy to be a complete heart rate training companion for those looking to stay within zones etc.

  • dublrr says:

    So the Sony claims it can monitor my heart rate 24 hours per day, yet it has to be charged for an hour and a half every 10 hours. See a problem here?

  • roadster says:

    Thanks for the excellent reviews.  Its not clear to me that any of the options offer the degree of accuracy in measuring heart rate that I need.  There must be a fair number of folks like me  coming off of cardiac surgery and needing to keep their heart rate within strict limits.  My cardiologist says that at this point I can take it up to 141, but became concerned when I peaked at 147, so there is not a lot of room for error here. Even 90% accuracy is not going to be all that helpful.

  • Catskillguy says:

    I am on my third Fitbit Charge HR. First one had a bad battery and would not sync. Second one started reading double the HR and I was told it was defective and to return it. This is my third one and about 30% of the time it's reading 20 beats higher than my actual rate. Is there any one of these trackers that can give me the accuracy I seek? I use the Polar H7 for workouts but it's not practical to wear 24/7. I am recovering from heart surgery and having a tracker that reads double or an extra 20% is not helping my peace of mind. Fitbit support cannot explain the errors and they are occurring while at rest (not engaged in any activity that may introduce errors).

  • Petercra says:

    Folks - watch out for watches with no straps.  I have used Garmin for years, swapped to Tom Tom and the data is just a joke - utterly laughable.  My last 1/2 marathon gave data half way through the run - still doing 7 min miles at 84 bpm....I wish!!   I have done all the resets / software updates etc that Tomtom support could give me - nothing works...  i will be going back to Garmin - with a strap unless someone is sure -and will let me test a non-strap watch before i buy....

    • Jerapah says:

      readings from the wrist are all over the place - they are for casual users at best. Im also looking for an accurate / reliable chest strap that works in athletic conditions. Did you find one yet?

  • koinflipper says:

    OK folks.   I need accurate HRM (continuous) with very large display..  After cataract surgery,  I need reading glasses to see most anything closeup.   Almost all watches have numbers I cannot read.   C'mon folks.   I cannot walk outdoors for fitness with reading glasses.   Don't need GPS,  sleep quality monitoring.   I just need a fitness device that monitors my HRM and my workouts.  

  • Harrie says:

    I'm more interested in real actual HR during sports and not an overfiltered averaged HR in order to have smooth graphs. The Zephyr Hxm is the best belt available compared to a true ECG.

  • Wally says:

    .my lg watch r does heartrate fine. The thing that is like pulling teeth is finding an integrated app that doesn't depends that i wear another piece of equipment.  The watch can check my heart rate throughout the day, so i know android wear and Google fit can track and log this (google fit does  but doesn't display heartrate) ,  I have a standalone app called cinch that does it quite well but it doesn't work with any apps . I'm trying to find something integrate  my Withings scale and running/biking and GPS and Maps, and will let  me know when my Heartrate gets too high. NONE of the major apps (endomodo, moves, runkeeper, the list goes on) does this. So frustrating! 

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