It can be very challenging finding a heart rate monitor that fits your budget and your needs because there are thousands to choose from. I created a 7 step checklist you can follow to make the process MUCH easier. I also give you my top pick for a great heart rate monitor that doesn’t break your wallet.
1) Heart Rate Reading Should Be Easily Visible
Believe it or not, most heart rate monitors don’t make the heart rate reading easily visible on the display. I know, it’s crazy. Polar heart rate monitors, which are considered “best of breed” are notorious for making the heart rate reading extremely small and even worse, hard to find!
2) Heart Rate Monitor Should Be Easy to Use
I’ve never come across a monitor that was “user friendly”, just some that were less difficult to use, or not impossible to use. I don’t want to keep on bashing Polar, but you need to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to use most of their models. They have too many features and it’s difficult to figure out how to set your target heart rate, which is what’s really important.
3) Target Heart Rate Zone Functionality
I think other than seeing your heart rate, setting your heart rate target zone is the only feature you really need (unless you’re a triathlete, or serious runner/cyclist). In other words, you want to be able to set the monitor so that if your heart rate goes below a certain level, it beeps, and above a certain level it beeps. That’s really all most people need.
If you’re looking for more advanced features like tracking workouts, or runs with GPS, I would say go for a Garmin (such as Garmin 305), or a Polar which are expensive, but can be very useful.
4) Heart Rate Monitor Must Be Responsive
Some heart rate monitors will have a long delay in reporting the reading as you are working out. For example, if you start to increase the pace while you’re running, one minute you see your heart rate at 140 bpm, and the next thing you know it jumps from 140bpm to 180bpm. Ideally, the monitor should be able to continuously track your heart rate, so you don’t have these massive jumps up and down.
5) Heart Rate Monitor Must Be Accurate
Many of the heart rate monitors you get that don’t have a chest strap may not be accurate. Instead, they take your pulse under your wrist, or on your finger, and some you have to stop working out and put your thumb on a metal button. While I think these heart rate monitors are pretty accurate (despite what salespeople at the store might tell you), you should go with a chest strap for best accuracy and responsiveness. In addition, heart rate monitors with accompanying chest straps can be used seamlessly with most cardio equipment so the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike picks up your heart rate perfectly.
One issue with some heart rate monitors is that they can pick up signals from other heart rate monitors, which makes the heart rate reading go haywire. I’ve never had an issue before, but more expensive models $100+ use a coded transmission to ensure this problem doesn’t happen.
6) Comfortable Chest Strap
While I haven’t been so nice to Polar, they have very comfortable chest straps. Given that you have to wear your heart rate monitor against your bare skin and sweat with it, comfort is pretty important. An uncomfortable chest strep should not be a consideration. Expensive monitors ($100+) come with a soft, easily flexible chest strap, while most sub $100 monitors come with a plastic, inflexible shield.
7) Aesthetically Pleasing (Looks Cool)
I’m guessing you don’t want a heart rate monitor that looks like your grandma gave it to you, but a lot of monitors are plain ugly. On the other hand, some heart rate monitors are almost fashion items like the PUMA Unisex Monitor and MioPINK Motiva Monitor. Of course, appearance is a personal preference, so that’s up to you.
BuiltLean Top Pick
Timex T5G971 Heart Rate Monitor (affiliate link)
My take is you don’t need the bells and whistles in most high priced heart rate monitors. This Timex monitor probably has more features than you even need, and it’s easy to use, reliable, and it’s under $50. The one downside is that the chest strap is not as comfortable as a Polar, but I’ve never had a problem with it.
-Easily readable display
-Target zones and time in zone
-Activity time and average/peak heart rates
-Waterproof up to 50m
-Up to 2 year battery life
For now, I’m standing by my recommendation, but if you have a better heart rate monitor that’s a good value to recommend, leave a comment!