A fitness tracker on your wrist can tell you your current heart rate, how many calories you’ve burned, how far you’ve walked, and even how many steps it took you to get there. Some can measure how you sleep, sync with your phone, and let you share stats with friends and rivals online. The one thing it won’t do is make you any healthier. You have to do that. But knowledge is power: Applying the information a good fitness tracker provides to make a few healthy changes — like walking a little farther each day, or using the stairs instead of an elevator — can help you reach your fitness goals faster than you would without.
A good fitness tracker should offer easy access to all the information you need about your daily routine — and help you make informed decisions on ways to improve that routine. It’s that simple. So to find the best fitness trackers, we looked for the ones that made it as painless as possible without sacrificing statistical accuracy. The Fitbit Surge topped our list: It performed well in our accuracy tests across multiple types of exercises and body movements, and it was easy to use straight out of the box, with a just large-enough built-in display. It costs a not-cheap $250, but we think it’s worth it.
If you’re an endurance athlete looking to take your training to the next level — or a data nerd who loves to get dirty with stats — our runner-up, the Garmin Vivoactive HR (also $250), is your best choice. From heart-rate tracking to elevation changes, to all-day activity monitoring, the sheer volume of accurate data it pumps out will give you the most to work with to better your training, especially for activities like running and biking.
If you’re worried about information overload (or you plan on going swimming with your tracker) try the Mio Fuse, our budget pick. At $99, it’s the cheapest option of all our top picks — and the most basic — but it’s still accurate, dead simple to use, and completely waterproof.
How We Found the Best Fitness Tracker
We started with a list of 78 fitness trackers. (That’s every one we could find on the market.) Then we spoke with several fitness experts to determine the most important features for an effective fitness tracker, which helped us narrow down our list to seven to actually use and test.
We Dropped Trackers that Didn’t Wirelessly Sync with Mobile Devices
The best fitness trackers shouldn’t rely on a smartphone to capture the data you need — but mobile devices do come in handy when a tracker is paired with them. The screens are bigger and easier to see, which makes the fitness tracker’s software easier to navigate (and it’s less awkward to bring to the gym than a laptop). A wireless Bluetooth sync also allows your phone to collate and analyze raw data from the fitness tracker in real time, too, which allows you to compare your current workout to past ones mid-exercise to (theoretically) push your limits a little further each day. Smartphones also let you log your calorie intake throughout the day, allowing you to make more accurate assessments of how many calories you still need to burn to meet your goals. Most fitness trackers can do this — even weak ones — so if a tracker lacked Bluetooth-syncing capabilities for either iOS or Android devices, we cut it.
Our Pick for the Best Fitness Tracker
Fitbit Surge Accurate and comfortable, the Fitbit Surge is also extremely easy to use.
The Surge was one of the most accurate fitness trackers we tested, and at $250 was about average in price for high-end fitness trackers. Using its GPS-tracking feature, it measured the actual distance our testers traveled the best, tied for second in heart rate monitor accuracy, and ranked fourth overall in our step-counting test, behind our other two top picks.
That fourth-place step counting finish doesn’t sound so good, does it? It consistently undercounted our steps by about 10 to 15 paces from what our testers actually walked during each 100-step test. But honestly, we didn’t mind so much: It’s not a significant deviance from the exact number, and if anything, you’ll know you always walked a little extra to reach your goals. The Surge is also decent-looking and comfortable to wear, feeling more like a normal watch than a small computer strapped to your wrist. Our testers had no reservations or complaints about wearing it all day, and the battery lasted about seven days before needing to be recharged.
Fitbit is almost synonymous with the term fitness tracker at this point, but it turns out that it has that reputation for a reason. Fitbit’s software, especially its mobile app, was by far the best of any of the trackers we tested. It doesn’t gather quite as much different types of data as our other top pick, the Garmin Vivoactive HR, but Fitbit’s software does a much better job organizing that information. We were impressed by the common-sense, clean workout interface, and the Fitbit app is well-organized and inviting, analyzing and displaying information in digestible, usable ways. It was by far the easiest and most intuitive interface to get to know.
Fitbit’s app offers easy-to-read stats as well as challenges if you and your friends want to get competitive.
The selectable watch faces were also easy to navigate. You can choose from a number of workouts on the tracker itself; get text notifications; and easily check steps, mileage, and heart rate. All of our other finalists could perform these tasks, but the Fitbit’s interface was the most straightforward for each function. For example, one of the Fitbit’s watch face options (called “Flare”), elegantly shows your activity over an hour. Parts of the hour in which you’ve had a higher heart rate will display higher on the interface — a cool feature that allows you to keep tabs on your hourly activity without much effort, and isn’t available through any other fitness tracker.