2023 Heart Rate Monitors for Beginner Runners on a Budget

Are you new to running and looking for an affordable heart rate monitor that will hold up over time?  I’m always looking for quality products that won’t break the bank.  From experience and a lot of research, I’ve discovered the monitors that are the best value in both quality and price.

In general, the most affordable and recommended heart rate monitor is the Polar H10 chest-worn heart rate monitor.  This is a popular and highly accurate heart rate monitor which is compatible with most fitness apps and gym equipment.  While this is the best value monitor, there are other affordable monitors that may be a better value based on other needs.

There are three great options for beginner runners choosing a heart rate monitor on a budget.  Chest monitors, wrist-worn running watches, and wrist-worn fitness trackers all have good options based on your specific goals.  Read on for more information on each type of monitor to find the best monitor for you based on your goals and preferences.

Chest heart rate monitors are the best value for the most accurate readings

The most accurate and affordable monitor is a chest heart rate monitor.  They use electrical detection to pick up the electrical current of your heart which makes them accurate and reliable. 

They are worn just below the breast which keeps them out of the way.   Most monitors are waterproof, but not all so be sure to check the features listed before buying.

Chest monitors can take some getting used to, but many find the adjustable straps comfortable enough.  They have caused chaffing for some, including myself, but it can be prevented with a body glide or some other lubricant. See my article here for tips women should know about chest monitors.

Most can be paired with popular fitness apps, but not all.  At a minimum, you will need to download an app to see the readings of your monitor either during or after you run. 


Best Overall:

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The most popular chest heart rate monitor is the Polar H10.  I also have this heart rate monitor and my only disappointment was when I needed to replace the battery.  This is not the cheapest chest monitor, but it is the most popular and for good reason.


  • Accurate readings
  • Waterproof (you can swim with it)
  • Durable
  • Updatable software (you have more features as you progress)


  • Like other chest monitors must sync with an app
  • More expensive
  • Like most chest monitors, it may cause chaffing

Cheapest, but not as highly ranked:

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I was surprised to find a chest rate monitor as cheap as this one.  While it may not have as many features as others, if you are looking to get started as cheaply as possible this is the way to go.  You can always upgrade as your running progresses.


  • One of the most affordable heart monitors on the market
  • Reliable heart rate readings
  • LED light and buzzer to make it easy to operate


  • No GPS capabilities
  • Not waterproof, but is sweatproof (not recommended for swimming)
  • Complaints of short battery life

Fitness Trackers are the best value for the versatility of use

Fitness trackers have really progressed over the years.  They can do a lot more than just count your steps making them a great value for the money. 

This was my first choice when I began running and I was reasonably satisfied using it.  There are quite a few drawbacks to using them so it will depend upon your goals for using a heart rate monitor.

The fitness tracker does not give the most accurate readings and can vary widely depending on the make and model.  If your goal is to track your average heart rate for a run, then a fitness tracker can do a reasonable job.

If you are interested in tracking your heart rate more closely, this may not be the best option.  In addition, the touchscreens of most fitness trackers can be difficult to operate when running.


Best Overall for Women:

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Fitbit Inspire has a good reputation with a slim design which is often preferred by women.  I loved the sleep and step tracking features which supported my running goals. 

The Fitbit Inspire was my first heart rate monitor and served me well for a couple of years until it died.  I wore it all the time and was disappointed it didn’t last longer than 2 years. 

Although it is supposedly waterproof, I also found my device started to have issues swimming in the ocean a couple of times. 


  • Comfortable and lightweight
  • Easy to operate
  • Many features beyond tracking your heart rate
  • Overall good reputation and high reviews


  • Not as accurate heart rate readings
  • Difficult to see the display in full sun
  • Touchscreen which do not respond well with sweaty hands
  • More expensive than other brands
  • More water resistant than waterproof

Most Affordable Tracker:

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I have this fitness tracker currently and like the larger display over my Fitbit.  It generally has the same features as my Fitbit, but I’ve not had it as long to compare durability. 


  • Large and bright display
  • Very affordable
  • Easy to operate


  • Not as accurate heart rate readings
  • Touchscreen which does not respond well to sweaty hands
  • Not as comfortable to wear and some complain of skin irritation
  • Waterproof but cannot be used to track swim data

Wrist-worn heart rate monitors designed for runners are BEST overall

After trying a variety of heart rate monitors and models, I like the wrist-worn monitors specifically designed for running.  The best ones have buttons, a large display, and all the metrics runners are most interested in.

A monitor that is designed for runners like the Garmin Forerunner series has all the features specific to running.  The basic models shown below are easy to navigate and use while providing accurate readings for a wrist-worn monitor.

I have found that touchscreens are the hardest to use when running.  They often fail to detect motions when your hand is wet and can be difficult to select the correct icons.  Buttons are much easier to navigate and work with wet and dry hands.

The screens are easier to see even on sunny days due to the brightness and size of the display.  They also have more display options for metrics runners are more interested in such as cadence.  


Best Overall:

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The Garmin Forerunner series tends to be one of the best lines of running watches on the market.  The Forerunner 45 and 45(s) may not have all the features of the more expensive models, but they are great for most runners.

I have the Garmin 45(s) and it has been a game-changer in my running workouts.  I love it and wish I had invested in one from the very beginning!  The 45s I bought was only $20 more than the Forerunner 35 so I feel like the additional money was worth it.


  • Very accurate readings (extremely close to my chest monitor readings 99% of the time)
  • Waterproof (you can swim with it, but does not analyze strokes)
  • 12 activity profiles
  • 200+ hours of data storage
  • Additional features such as stress monitoring, emergency signal, and more


  • More expense
  • Due to its larger display it may not be ideal for sleeping
  • It does not have a music feature

Cheaper with fewer features but still highly ranked:

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The Garmin Forerunner 35 is probably the most affordable, high-quality running watch you buy.  You won’t get all the features of a 45, but you definitely have a solid watch and monitor that most beginners will be very happy with.


  • Cost
  • Reliable heart rate readings
  • Easy to operate


  • Fewer buttons to navigate through the screens
  • Screen is not as clear as the 45
  • Not as many features (best for running and cycling)

Comparisons and other options for the budget runner

Deciding on which type of heart rate monitor will suit your needs best is the first step.  I favor the Garmin Forerunner series as they are designed with runners in mind.  For more information on heart rate monitors for new runners see my article here.

The Garmin Forerunner series have more advanced running metrics, like your average cadence, that really sets them apart from the others.  I also like that you can use the monitor while you are running with no fuss and easy-to-see metrics.  To me, after having used a variety of monitors, the Garmin Forerunner series is the clear winner and worth the investment.

2023 ComparisonChest Monitor: Polar H10Fitness Tracker: Fitbit Inspire 2 or 3Running Watch:   Garmin Forerunner 35 or 45(s)
Price*$80$60 – $100$100-$150
Heart Rate AccuracyExcellentGood/FairVery Good
Built in GPSYesNoYes
Water ResistantYesYesYes
Sleep TrackingNoYesYes (35 more limited)
Ease of use while runningGood/FairExcellent
Basic running metricsYesYesYes
Cadence metricNoNoYes
Other FeaturesNoneManyLimited
*Prices are averages as of March/April 2023

If the above monitors are still out of your budget, no need to worry.   Good monitors can be picked up secondhand which attests to the quality of the brands listed above. 

Below are some options for purchasing a secondhand monitor at a more affordable price.  Most can be bought locally allowing you the opportunity to thoroughly inspect the item before purchase.

  • Craigslist
  • Offer Up
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Swappa.com

Swappa.com is a site to buy and sell gently used tech products.  It is accredited by the better business bureau and has a reputation for being a safe place to buy and sell items.  I had a friend recommend the site as she usually buys her cell phones on this website. 

For more money saving tips on running gear see my article here.

Key Takeaways

There are a lot of options for tracking your heart rate while running.  Advances in technology have continued to improve the quality while reducing the price making them affordable for most people.

Devices with the heart rate monitor feature are more expensive, but they provide a lot of benefits.  Finding the right type of monitor by a reputable brand is worth the investment and you will thank yourself in the future!

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