Steps used to be the one single way fitness trackers assessed their daily health goals, but times have changed. It’s all about the heart rate now, and monitors need to be accurate to give you a good picture of your health goals.
Our favorite monitor is the Polar H10 for it’s easy to use interface, long battery life, and versatility, but we’ve got some spectacular alternatives as well. Whether you’re a swimmer (hello, Garmin!), an Apple fanatic, or someone who changes operating systems regularly, we have an option to provide consistent, reliable results. Let’s take a look.
- Best Overall: Polar H10
- Best Standalone Chest Tracker: Shanren Beat
- Best Watch: Fitbit Versa
- Best Arm Strap: Polar OH1
- Best For Water Athletes: Garmin HR Swim
- Best Premium Choice: Apple Watch Series 5
- Best Budget Choice: cooSpo Tracker
The Polar H10 uses a comfortable and easy to place chest strap style to provide one of the most accurate heart rate readings available. It’s suitable for more extreme sports when a watch may not be appropriate and offers over 400 hours of battery life.
It’s compatible with a variety of devices across the iOS and Android spectrum and is also GoPro compatible with overlaying your heart rate on an extreme video. It’s an updated version of Polar’s popular H7, a gold standard monitor in the running world. The Polar H10 has enough memory for one session, so you don’t have to wear a watch or keep your device handy. It uses BlueTooth only, is waterproof up to nearly 100 feet, and you can toss the chest strap right into the wash.
For those of you who prefer to leave all your devices at home, the Shanren offers memory for up to 100 training sessions. You capture what you need and download the information later — clean and straightforward.
The Shanren Beat uses a highly accurate chest strap that begins recording as soon as you get it placed. Set the alarm for max HR and feel the vibration when you reach it to prevent overtraining. It records heart rate, calories, and cadence with a long-lasting battery — more than 200 hours on a single charge. It’s waterproof to 30 meters or so and has a machine-washable strap. Plus, it’s both BlueTooth and ANT+ compatible.
Fitbit Versa 2 is a smart watch-style heart rate monitor that does so much more. It allows you to set alarms, check the weather, control music, and make requests of your smart home compatible gear. It even analyzes your sleep patterns. The watch face is easy to read and displays heart rate, steps, calories, distance, floors climbed, and active time. The Fitbit Versa 2 provides up to six days of battery life and can even connect with your phone to receive notifications when in range (Android only).
If you can’t stand the feeling of a chest monitor, but you don’t want to switch over to a watch, Polar OH1+ offers one of the better choices in the armband category. It’s both upper and lower arm compatible and provides an impressive 12 hours of battery life. It stores up to 200 hours of training within the tracker itself, relieving you of the need to carry your device with you. Waterproof to 30 meters and a washable strap, it also offers compatibility with many third-party fitness apps through Bluetooth. The Polar OH1+ even comes with a dongle for connecting directly to your computer.
Heart rates are tricky in water, giving swimmers and triathletes trouble since forever. Garmin’s heart rate tracker is explicitly built for water sports, providing a sticky, nonslip wrist strap that won’t move around even as you’re gliding through waves.
It stores up to 20 hours of heart rate data plus intervals and beams your heart rate to a compatible device when you break the surface. The battery lasts up to 18 months in a variety of water environments, including saltwater, and the battery is user-replaceable. Regular heart rate monitors have trouble staying in place in a water environment, shifting during push-off or in high waves. They’re also susceptible to damage in different types of water environments, showing wear and tear much more quickly. The Garmin HRM Swim considers these unusual circumstances, giving you a tracker built specifically for you.
Apple Watch just about does it all. It tracks heart rate, sleep, calories, distance, controls Siri, plays music, and acts as a watch or even a stand-alone Apple device. It’s customizable and has an always-on watch face for tracking what’s important. You can check both your heart rate and rhythm, recording patterns in the iHealth app and providing a clearer picture of how it all fits together. It’s water-resistant to 50 meters and provides advanced workout tracking. If you aren’t part of the Apple Ecosystem, the Apple Watch Series 5 isn’t the right option for you. Apple enthusiasts, however, will be glad to have the integrated features and always-on tracking screen. Since Apple is always working on its software, you’ll have the latest updates handled automatically if you choose that in your settings.
You’re a fitness fanatic, but you don’t have the budget for a fancy heart rate monitor. Good news! You don’t have to sacrifice accuracy for your wallet. The CooSpo supports both BlueTooth and ANT+ with a sleek, easy-to-position chest strap that you can throw in the wash.
It features a user-removable battery with up to 12 months of life. Simple indicators, including a short beep when it’s working, a green light for disconnection, and a blue light for Bluetooth connection, give you enough to know you’ve gotten it sorted before you start. It’s compatible with most third-party apps, a few smart devices, and provides GPS for tracking your mileage. With no need to sacrifice your cash for your health, the CooSpo Chest Tracker provides a good, entry-level heart tracker with highly accurate readings.
Here’s what to keep in mind when you’re choosing the right heart rate monitor for your fitness needs.
- Strap width — If you’re choosing a chest or arm strap, you need the right size. Too loose, and it’ll come off during a heavy workout, losing valuable health data in the process. Too tight, and you can’t move freely. Measure your chest or arm to ensure that the band will fit comfortably.
- Metrics — What do you want to track? Maybe you only need your heart rate, and fancier, more expensive trackers are just a waste. On the other hand, you could want more features as your workouts evolve, leaving you to upgrade later. Make sure you consider what metrics interest you and go from there.
- Battery life — You don’t want to have to change the battery constantly or lose working information because your device died at an inopportune time. Go for the longest battery life you can find among wearables that have the features you need.
- Memory — If you carry your device with you all the time, memory may not be as crucial because you can beam those stats directly and in real time. If you prefer to leave your device at home, you’ll need a lot of potential memory. Look for things that store several hours of data, if not weeks, and at least five workouts in case you forget.
- Design — One of the most critical aspects of your tracker is that it’s comfortable to wear. Otherwise, you’ll never use it. Whether it’s a watch, a chest strap, or something else, choose something that doesn’t get in your way and is easy for you to position correctly.
What are the best heart rate monitors for runners?
Chest monitors tend to be the most accurate, but unless you’re sweating buckets and jumping in lakes to cool off, a wrist monitor or an armband can work well too. You’ll want something that stays in place and that you can potentially set to alert you if your heart rate stays too high.
What are the best heart rate monitors for swimmers?
Water is tricky. If you swim a lot, you know that it’s traditionally challenging to track heart rate because the monitor slips continuously, and water environments are hard on traditional devices. However, it’s even an even more important metric for swimmers.
Choose a heart rate monitor specifically for swimmers. The strap should stay in place without fail (a wrist strap may be the best bet here). Casings should be able to withstand exposure to chlorine from pools, gunk from freshwater, and salt in saltwater environments.
The tracker should ideally be able to store a lot of information until you’re ready to upload the results, or it should beam directly to your device during periods of rest. That way, you’ve always got the info you need without having to stop your workout just to upload stats.
What is the best heart rate monitor?
Chest monitors typically provide the most accurate results because they rest directly on your heart itself. There’s less chance that the tracker will slip off and be unable to detect your pulse. That said, they can be uncomfortable and take a bit of time to learn to position both correctly and comfortably.
Wrist trackers are the most convenient, and many of our wearable devices now do have heart rate monitors embedded in the device. However, if your device is too loose or you tend to move it around a lot, you could lose valuable data. They are getting better, however.
Arm trackers are also useful, but these require careful positioning to be able to detect your pulse. There’s a lot of room for error here, but if you use them correctly, they’re typically more accurate than a wrist monitor.
Why should I monitor heart rate and not just steps?
Steps are an excellent way to gauge if you’re remaining active throughout the day, but our knowledge of body fitness has changed since basic step trackers. Heart rate is a better indicator of how much you’ve pushed the body during a workout and can be more useful when you’re exercising for different benefits. It’s also a useful indicator of overall health.
Are electric or optical monitors more accurate?
Electric monitors read the small electrical signals your body sends out, giving you a highly accurate reading of your heart rate. Optical sensors use light that is sent out and bounces back for a reading.
One reason chest monitors tend to be more accurate is that they’re electric. Optical sensor technology is getting better and is used in several of our picks, including the Fitbit and Apple, providing accurate results for most situations. If accuracy is your first priority over anything else, electric is the way to go.
Electric chest straps are also a crucial part of understanding your heart rate recovery. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter down to the beat about accuracy, 58 versus 60, for example. One area where accuracy does matter is if your heart rate is wildly out of line with standard healthy cases or if you’re looking to understand your recovery better.
Optical monitors have a slight lag that could affect the overall data about how quickly your heart recovers after intense activity. If you’re a fitness buff or in professional training, a chest monitor will provide far more accurate recovery data.
What is the best heart rate monitor for heart patients?
If you need to be connected to your heart rate monitor at all times, a watch is going to be the way to go. Newer fitness watches are accurate enough to help your health care professional in tracking your vital signs, but they’re easier to position and use than a chest or arm monitor. Plus, they’re comfortable and perform other functions.
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