How To Find The Best Fitness Tracker For Your Life

Tired of wasting money on fitness gadgets that initially seem awesome, only to later realize that they're just not for you? (Hey there, wristband tracker we haven't used since week one.) If you've abandoned a particular fit-gadget, you're not alone. And, you don't need to give up hope.
Fitness bands and smart watches are certainly in the spotlight these days, but they're not the only type of gadget that keeps tabs on your health stats. And, while there isn't a single, perfect, do-it-all device, there is one out there that's ideal for your specific needs. Read on for a guide on how to find the best tracker for you — no matter where you fall on the fitness spectrum.
Nobody wants to don 15 different devices before heading out for a quick run. Narrowing down your fitness goal is an important factor in determining which wearable is right for you.
First, start with your big-picture goal and break it down into actionable steps. Then, use those steps to determine what information will be most useful to you as you continue to monitor — and eventually totally crush — your goal. Want to shave five minutes off your 10K time? You need to track speed. Just starting to get into shape? Maybe you want to keep tabs on how often you hit the 10,000-steps-per-day mark.
It's easy to get lost among the fancy add-ons, but there's no need for information that isn't useful to you. Plus, those "upgrades" will likely drive up the gadget's price. By focusing on your goal and the data aligned with it, it's easier to determine what type of device (and what brand) best fits your needs.
Once you've defined your goal, you can determine what data is essential — from everyday tracking to training-specific info. Generally, lifestyle stats include step count, elevation, calories burned, and sleep quality, and will be beneficial for the light-to-moderately fit. If you want to take your workouts to the next level, you’ll want to monitor performance stats like speed, heart rate, distance, and intensity.
Tapping into data you can actually use is empowering. And, it's the secret to increasing your wearable's longevity. According to a poll conducted by the strategy consulting firm Endeavour Partners, about one-third of people abandon their tracker after just six months. Which makes sense: It's hard to stick with something when you don't understand what it's really doing for you.
Once you know what data you need, another element to consider is the ease with which you can access that data. Trackers that sync automatically are the simplest to use; the less you have to remember to do, the better.
Let's not kid ourselves; style is essential. If you don't like the look of the tracker, you aren't going to wear it — no matter how impressive the data. And, it won't be of any use if it's sitting on your nightstand.
If you’re leaning towards a general lifestyle device that monitors activity and sleep, you want it to seamlessly integrate into your day and attire. The best type of fitness tracker is the one that you wear — regularly. So, this means you need to take size and weight into consideration. (While weight may not matter much during the day, you don't want to be flailing a clunky bracelet around while you’re trying to fall asleep.)
If you're at your computer all day and find a wristband or watch to be annoying while typing, there are tracker options that are meant to be worn around your pants pocket or waistband (just remember to take it out before doing laundry), or even as a necklace. There are also water-resistant options that can be worn while showering.
Another factor to consider is when the device is designed for wear. Most fitness wristbands are meant to be worn throughout your entire day, meaning you’re constantly plugged in. However, some of the more innovative gadgets, such as new muscle-activation tracking apparel, are for workouts only. These devices keep tabs on stats such as calories burned, but also measure intensity.
Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston looked at 13 different monitors to see how effective these devices are at motivating you to stick with your training program. Their conclusion? The best device may not be the one with the most features, but rather the one with "fewer but more effective tools" that are tailored to individual needs. For example, the researchers note that the best device for a swimmer will be a waterproof monitor, which isn’t necessarily important for the average runner.
While most trackers are compatible across multiple devices, it's important to check that your smartphone or tablet is compatible with the gadget you're eyeing. For example, Jawbone's UP and UP24 works with iOS and Android, but the Samsung Gear Fit band currently pairs only with Galaxy devices. Most of this information is readily available online — just be sure to do your research before clicking "Buy."
Access to third-party apps is another key benefit; it allows you to seamlessly expand a gadget's current features without requiring a new purchase. Again, luckily, most devices will list this information on the product's website. For example, the Jawbone UP automatically syncs data logged through different apps, such as RunKeeper, eliminating the manual-data-input step.
It's also important to keep in mind that each device has its unique set of drawbacks. Earlier this year, researchers from Iowa State University found that while fitness bands are "reasonably accurate," the caloric-burn estimate has an error rating of between 10 and 15%. And, if you're a dedicated Spinner or outdoor-biking enthusiast, you've probably realized that wristband step counters won't cut it when it comes to logging your rides. That's because the devices's built-in accelerometers, which sense body movement, won't register on bikes — stationary or otherwise. While most app interfaces for these devices allow you to input this type of training session manually, it's an added step.
Additionally, when shopping for a fitness gadget, think about what gels best with your lifestyle; some devices have a shorter battery life requiring you to charge them more often. Others, while retailing at a cheaper price point, don’t include sleep data.

The Hardcore Runner
The Runner Cardio GPS watch from TomTom tracks your distance, time, pace, and speed, as well as your heart rate.

The Disinterested-But-Determined Exerciser
Pavlok is a tough-love wristband that provides an electrical shock when you skip a training session.

The Competitive Athlete
See your stats displayed in real time on the Nike Fuelband, and don't go to sleep until you’ve hit your daily goal.

The Style-Conscious Fit Fiend
Disguise your Fitbit Flex in a metal bracelet, necklace, or pebble-looking Misfit Shine which snaps into a variety of different pieces.

The Wear-It-&-Forget-It User
The Jawbone UP24 boasts a battery life of roughly 14 days.

The Android-Savant
Samsung Galaxy users will love the brand's line of fit gear, which integrates a fitness manager with constant connectivity to emails, texts, and calls.

The Personal Trainer In Training
Try the muscle-activation monitoring apparel, Athos, which will show you how to improve your form.

The Ride-Or-Die Spinner
Wristband trackers won't log your training session, so opt for a heart-rate monitor like the Polar FT4.

The Trendsetter
The new Apple Watch, of course.

The Wristband-Averse Athlete
The LG HRM Earphones serve as both headphones and a heart rate monitor, eliminating the need for multiple devices; the Fitbit One is a wear-at-the-hip tracker for activity and sleep.

The No-Frills Walker
If you're thinking "just give me the step count for crying out loud," try the SW 200 Yamax Digiwalker basic pedometer.

More from Fitness

R29 Original Series