The best heart rate monitors are the ones that allow you to accurately track your heart rate. We’re going to look at a list of the best heart rate monitors in 2021, but first, we’re going to explain what you should be looking out for.
What to look for in a heart rate monitor?
Look out for devices that have Bluetooth and/or ANT+. In fact, most devices on the market have both. You need this to connect your other devices like your smartphone to it.
As a minimum, GPS devices tend to support ANT+ or Bluetooth, again with most having both. If you’re on a budget, a tip is to find a device that does one of the things (whichever offers most convenient for you) and go for that.
If you’re a cyclist looking to connect a computer during your outdoor rides, you should download training apps like TrainerRoad or Zwift and think about getting a dual-band sensor. These heart rate monitors offer ANT+ connectivity so you can connect to a laptop, smartphone, desktop or tablet without needing an additional dongle or sensor.
A final consideration is that some Bluetooth heart rate monitors can only talk to one device at a time, whereas some offer multiple connections simultaneously. ANT+, however, can connect to an unlimited number of other devices. So if you use Zwift, for example, you can record that ride using your watch or head unit if you like.
LED or ECG?
Traditional heart rate straps use sensors that measure electrical activity in your muscles and heart (ECG). Others may use an LED to shine light through your skin to measure the blood flow variance.
Even today with the advances in technology that we’ve seen, an ECG is still the more accurate of the two, by a long way.
Optical sensors must have constant contact with the skin to maintain an accurate reading. However, things like jumping, bumps and even the muscles’ tension from gripping your handlebars can affect the sensor. As contact is needed, there are some rigid instructions for fitting them. Things like poor road surfaces or sun cream on your skin can make it slide, impacting the accuracy.
If you’re into triathlons, or your sessions tend to include a mix of running, swimming and cycling, then there are some specific heart rate monitors that will be better for you than others. Specifically, ones that offer vertical oscillation and cadence for running whilst being waterproof so you can wear it in the pool.
If you’re here because you’re looking for a heart rate monitor with a strap, you should know they all require a level of maintenance. Typically, the sensor will clip to the strap, and that clip is prone to wear, thanks to regularly being exposed to sweat. Therefore, they do corrode eventually. You can extend the life of your heart rate strap by merely ensuring you wash it regularly. You can look out for machine washable ones. All you need to do for those that aren’t is dab on some dielectric grease to repel the sweat.
Another thing to be aware of is that a lot of straps loosen over time. Garmin tends to be the most reliable when it comes to this issue as they’re easily adjustable if needed.
Which are the best heart rate monitors?
The best heart rate monitors are the ones that are so comfy you forget you’ve got one on. This will help you in your training by offering reliable and accurate heart rate information. Before heart rate monitors, power meters were the tool of choice for cyclists because they showed training effort and recovery data. And these are still important metrics used today by athletes of all abilities. What seems like such a basic thing, the heart rate can tell us about exertion, fatigue and training effort.
Heart rate monitors have been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until Polar released the first wireless version of the heart rate monitor in the 1970s. Now, the best heart rate monitors are lightweight chest-based straps with optical monitors based on your wrist or forearm, wrist-based pulse monitors and let’s not forget the emergence of fitness trackers and smartwatches.
On a slight tangent, here we reviewed the best smartwatches for cycling.
Heart rate monitors range from a simple strap that will talk to your cycling computer to dual-band sensors that are a little more advanced. These come with built-in memory, and some can control your music. Either can monitor data like heart rate variability, work out data, and some can measure cadence.
So, now you know a little about heart rate monitors and a few tips on buying them, let’s look at our list of the best heart rate monitors in 2021.
The single most accurate heart rate monitor on the market
As we mentioned, Polar made the first wireless HRM and later claimed their H10 strap was the most accurate in the world. Adding a third electrode to the strap and silicone grippers to stop it from moving, plus a better algorithm means this version is accurate to plus or minus one millisecond.
The H10 is also totally waterproof, so you can wear it swimming. It’ll record your heart rate variability if you use it in conjunction with a Polar smartwatch. Unlike both Wahoo and Garmin straps, you can connect two devices at the same time via Bluetooth.
- New materials for better wear
- Improved algorithm for better accuracy
Garmin HRM Pro
This the best HRM for triathletes.
The Garmin HRM Pro is the top of the range not only for Garmin but on the market. It’s ANT+ and Bluetooth compatible. It has built-in memory for things like swimming data. What’s cool is that it will immediately push the information to your device when it’s within range. It will track running metrics like stride length and contact time with the ground. If you then go for a cycle, it’ll pair smoothly with a Garmin cycling computer or Zwift.
The battery, like most on this list, is a coin battery and Garmin boast 365 hours from one battery.
- Various sports data
- Built-in memory
Garmin HRM Dual
A simple dual-band heart rate strap with a long battery life.
Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+
Battery type: Coin cell
When you see ANT+ everywhere, it’s worth noting that Garmin coined this protocol and eventually opened up to Bluetooth. This dual-band HRM is a stripped back monitor that solely measures your heart rate. That’s it. There is no on-board memory, music control or advanced data.
However, for some, that’s a benefit. Without bells and whistles, it’s cost-accessible, and Garmin tells us the battery will last 3 years. So if you’re a beginner, this is perfect.
- 3 year battery life
- A well-trusted brand
A lightweight option for those who don’t want to think about what they’re wearing.
The Wahoo Tickr is another dual-band HRM with ANT+ and Bluetooth. Compared to its predecessors, it’s much smaller and therefore a better fit. The battery life has had a 50% boost and Wahoo say this will last for 500 hours on one battery.
It’s user-friendly, too. Meaning you can connect 3 devices at once, which is useful for those with Zwift.
It also has an IPX7 dust and water-resistance rating, meaning it will survive in water up to 5 feet deep.
- Lightweight and slimline fit
- Status light
Wahoo Tickr X
This is the best offering for those who like to run and cycle.
Take the Tickr and add some features and you reach the Tickr X. This HRM can also handle three simultaneous Bluetooth connections and has some more extras that please those into and not so into cycling.
For one, it comes with built-in memory that can save around 50 hours of heart rate and calorie burn information. The Tickr X gives you freedom from your other devices, too, so you can go out without your cycling computer or smartphone. As well as your HR and calorie information, the Tickr X provides analytics for running and cycling, thanks to built-in accelerometers offering information like cadence.
What’s more, there’s also music control which is cool. Well, this is cool when the weather is warm, so you’re not wearing too many layers and can therefore easily get to it. Not so useful when it’s cold out.
It’s slimmer than its predecessor, with improvements to the comfort without taking away from the device’s durability.
- Sleek, unobtrusive device
- Status light
- Built-in memory
- Double-tap controls
Lifeline Heart Rate Monitor
Heart rate monitors can be alarmingly expensive, so we’ve recommended a more budget-friendly one.
Granted, this is a basic chest trap, but it does support both ANT+ and Bluetooth connections. The transmitter itself is removable, and the strap is, thankfully, machine washable. The antenna pod looks like a lot of others on the market, so we think you’re getting a decent device for a reasonable price, so long as you don’t mind a brand you’ve probably not heard about.
- ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity
- Rechargeable battery
- Connecting can be intermittent
Wahoo Tickr Fit HR Armband
A simple, user-friendly optical heart rate band
Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+
Battery type: Rechargeable
A final device from Wahoo here. The Tickr Fit is an optical HRM made for wear on the arm rather than the chest. It uses LED lights to detect the blood flow happening beneath your skin. Ideally, this should be placed on the forearm. In the box, you’ll find two straps, so most, if not all arms are catered for.
There’s a cool status light on the underside. If you see it flashing blue, that means everything is working fine. If it goes red, something’s wrong, for example, the sensor not being in the right position.
You can pair the Tickr Fit HR Armband with a Tickr chest strap. In fact, it pairs smoothly with a range of other devices. It has a convenient USB charging port.
- Ditch the chest strap
- Isn’t as accurate as a chest strap
- Difficult to use if you have long sleeves on
Scosche Rhythm 24
An optical HR band with a long life.
The Scosche Rhythm is a both Bluetooth and ANT+ compatible. The best thing about it is how it is compatible with pretty much every app and device you’ll ever need. There’s also built-in memory which can keep up to 16 hours of data. What’s more, the battery will last 33 hours before it even starts to run out.
Scosche as a brand offers a lot when it comes to band options so this is the one to go for if style is on your list of requirements. Match your kit together!
- Ditch the chest strap
- Excellent battery life
- Not as accurate as a chest strap
We hope our list of the best heart rate monitors has helped you decide which one is right for you!
If you think you might be ready to try a fitness-based smartwatch instead, we recommend you read our review of the Coros Apex Pro, which you can find here.
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