The Best Fitness Trackers: Staff Picks

Hit your performance goals with our 6 favorite wearables.

REI Staff|Updated January 13, 2022

An athlete checks their GPS watch while on a hike.

Fitness trackers and GPS watches do so much more now than count steps and calculate your distance, time and pace. From measuring sleep patterns to analyzing your performance, today's wearables let you unlock as much data as you want. They're wrist-based training partners and cheerleaders.

Whether you're navigating a backcountry trail or tracking oxygen output and heart rate, find the perfect device for your needs. These fitness trackers and GPS watches are our favorites for running, hiking, ultrarunning, multisport activities and more.

Staff Picks

Find our quick recommendations here, or read on to discover our staff and members' favorite fitness trackers.

Hikers crave long battery life because it frees them up to venture farther without worrying about plugging in. And this version of the Garmin Instinct is solar-powered, so the never-ending charge can easily outlast other devices in our lineup. Garmin claims the battery lasts up to 24 days—or roughly twice as long with solar charging, though keep in mind that battery life will depend on light conditions (brighter is better) and use.

As for its hiking-specific features, the Instinct is loaded. It boasts a basic altimeter, barometer, pulse oximeter and compass (ABC) functions, as well as the best-in-class navigation trio of GPS, GLONASS and Galileo. When you pair it with a compatible Garmin InReach device, you can use the wristwatch to remotely control your satellite messenger. The breadcrumb-trail feature allows you to follow the same route back to your starting point, and you can create a route with waypoints at home using the Garmin Connect™ app, then send it to the watch for backcountry use. The Instinct is also waterproof to 30 meters. Buy here.

You don't need a GPS watch to go for a run. But if you're a runner wanting to track distance, pace, cadence, heart rate and more, the lightweight COROS PACE 2 hits those marks. It also costs less than other GPS devices, making it an attractive pick for budget-savvy runners and triathletes of all levels. The PACE 2 comes with preloaded workouts and supports 18 activities, including indoor and track runs (though not trail runs) as well as pool and open swim. Trade-off: Though this watch works with GPS, GLONASS and BDS satellite systems, it doesn't allow you to upload maps or leave a breadcrumb trail, which might be handy on trail runs. (If you're seeking those features, look at the Garmin Instinct Solar or the Suunto 9 Peak.)

At a scant 29 grams, the PACE 2 is among the lightest GPS watches on the market, and its impressive battery life means you can get by with occasionally forgetting to charge it in between runs. It's also waterproof to 50 meters (5 ATM), compatible with Bluetooth™ and ANT+ fitness accessories (not included) and features a customizable LCD screen that even less-tech-savvy paws can figure out. Buy here.

Ultra athletes on the hunt for a svelte wearable to accompany them on training runs and races should take a gander at the Suunto 9 Peak. This is the thinnest watch Suunto makes at just 10.6 mm from base plate to watch face (the 9 Baro is a good 6 mm thicker). But don't let the 9 Peak's ability to slide stealthily beneath your sleeve fool you. This is a rugged tool built to support training for upwards of 80 sports, and its 25-hour battery life in GPS mode is plenty for most ultrarunners to record a fully detailed track on long training days.

And yes, a premium watch like this does promise premium features. In addition to tracking heart rate, training load and more, the 9 Peak has a blood-oxygen sensor that shows how you're acclimating to high altitudes and a storm alarm that detects a major drop in barometric pressure and alerts you to nasty weather. The watch learns your habits (in a good, not-creepy way), providing you with the best times to plug in and recharge. Add to this the 9 Peak's water resistance to 100 meters, and compatibility with platforms like Strava, TrainingPeaks and more, and you'll see why this wearable demands its steep price. For those wanting to go all out, the 9 Peak Titanium shaves off 10 grams for $130 more. Buy here.

The Garmin fenix 6 Sapphire is the ultimate multi-tool for your outdoor adventures. Pick a sport and this GPS watch has a feature to please: best-in-class GPS functionality for hikers and trail runners, oximeter and altimeter for mountain climbers, waterproofing up to 100 meters for swimmers and real-time pacing for runners. As with Garmin watches, the size and scope of the Garmin app store open possibilities to customize your watch for your specific activity needs. "You can create exactly the watch and data fields for what it is you want to do," says Brad Stenger, an REI sales associate in Rochester, New York.

But what sets the fenix 6 Sapphire apart on this list is its GPS functionality. It uses 1:100,000 preloaded topo maps based on data from GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellites, giving it the best coverage of any watch here. (Attention, powder hounds: It also comes preloaded with maps for 2,000 ski resorts, so you'll never wonder where you are on the hill again.)

You'd think all those activity-specific features and GPS capabilities would make the fenix 6 the size of a tennis ball, but it's slim and sleek (much like a regular wristwatch). It's good-looking enough to wear daily (swap out wrist bands for more style options) yet rugged enough that you needn't worry about playing too hard. Buy here.

Simplify your life with this more affordable wearable which still does a lot. Beyond the new full color touchscreen and basic features like step-counting and sleep tracking, this tiny-yet-mighty device boasts a 3-axis accelerometer to capture every direction or physical movement you might choose to take and route tracking with both GPS and GLONASS.

The fifth iteration of the Charge from Fitbit also has dual sensors to monitor your body's oxygen levels and track your resting and active heat exertion. The result? Powerful data that help you better understand environmental factors affecting your stress, sleep and workout effectiveness. With a premium subscription (free for the first 6 months), you'll get a daily score that lets you know when to work out and to prioritize recovery.

That might sound like lots of bells and whistles, but the best part is that the Charge 5 still features little things that make life easier like Bluetooth™ connectivity and contactless payments. Buy here.

The latest version of the Polar Vantage M series brings a few new features to the table but keeps the price at a fraction of the fully loaded V series. Like its competitors, the Vantage M2 offers training plans and tips for strength conditioning, running and more. Our staffers swear by the new FuelWise™ feature, which provides reminders about how to fuel and hydrate on longer efforts, and Energy Source, which lets you see how your body uses energy sources as you train. Another clever feature, Nightly Recharge™, tracks sleep, and a built-in guided breathing exercise promotes relaxation and recovery.

As with other watches, some of the best things about the Vantage M2 are the simplest: Easy Bluetooth™ integration means you listen to music and receive notifications without getting sucked into your phone. And the M2's battery lasts a full 40 hours in GPS mode, meaning you'll have all the support you need for farflung efforts. Buy here.

Shop All Fitness Trackers

Buying Advice

When choosing a fitness tracker or GPS watch, consider the following factors.

How Do You Plan to Use It?

Identify your specific fitness and training goals so you can narrow your choices. Which features do you absolutely need, and which can you live without? If you're training for a marathon, triathlon or other competition, you may want a watch with lots of data and training tools such as the COROS PACE 2, Suunto 9 Peak or the Polar Vantage M2. A hiker or backpacker might appreciate the navigation tools and solar-charging capability of the Garmin Instinct Solar GPS Watch. If your goal is to simply stay active, you could probably get by with a slightly more affordable tracker like the Fitbit Charge 5.

Durability is a key factor for recreationists who spend a lot of time in rugged environments; the Garmin Instinct Solar GPS Watch and Suunto 9 Peak are good picks for folks who treat their gear a little rougher.

Most of the brands mentioned in this guide require the use of a proprietary app to take full advantage of the wearable's features. Many also allow you to connect to third-party apps. Your experience with the app may influence how happy you are with a particular device's features. It's worth checking out the apps on your phone before buying.

Style and Comfort

Looks and comfort do matter, particularly if you plan to wear your watch on a regular basis. Some fitness trackers and watches with larger display screens make it easier to use but can overwhelm smaller wrists. The display screen of the Suunto 9 Peak is the largest in this lineup, while the Fitbit Charge 5 is smallest.


Fitness trackers can get expensive, fast. Higher-end GPS watches come loaded with features, some of which you may never use. If you're not thru-hiking a section of a long trail, you may not need your watch to last up to 24 days at a time. Again, consider your needs.

Our process

We asked our REI Co-op sales associates and staff for their favorite fitness trackers and watches that are on shelves at the co-op. They reported back with their top picks.

Article written by Cameron L. Martindell. Cameron is a freelance adventure travel and expedition writer who is Off Yonder. He has adventured on all seven continents, has a decade of mountain search and rescue experience, has been an Australian bush firefighter, has competed in sailing regattas and has guided Oregon rafting trips. Now, based in Boulder, Colorado, with two little kids, he's focused on exposing them to adventure. REI member since 2002.