Kids love fitness trackers for the same reasons adults do—they encourage movement and activity in a way that feels rewarding and fun. It’s not always easy to get kids to meet physical activity guidelines, particularly during the winter months. Sometimes we all need an external motivator to reframe exercise in more playful terms. Kids fitness trackers gameify the experience of developing healthier habits by counting steps, recording active fitness, and tracking sleep time, and then converting those metrics into virtual badges and rewards. For kids who respond to that additional encouragement—or can enjoy some friendly family competition—those rewards can be a great motivator to get outside and get moving.
What to Consider
Kids‘ fitness trackers have come a long way since I first encountered them as “pedometers” while working at a comic store in the early ’00s. At that time, the trackers offered little more than a step count that was being monitored by anxious parents trying to encourage their kids to be more active; to game the system, crafty tweens would sit in my store playing collectible card games all day while rhythmically shaking the little machines to drive up manufactured movement numbers.
While step-counting is still a big component of today’s fitness trackers, new models are far more accurate and actually make it fun to be active with goals, rewards, milestones, competitions, and little digital celebrations. They also tally up more than just steps—and often record fitness activities, send movement reminders, track sleep patterns, and more.
But whether that functionality is available to you on the watch face or the tracker’s Bluetooth-paired app depends on your preferred model. Some fitness trackers look like a simple band with a small screen to show stats; others look more like a GPS watch with a larger face and more information displayed on screen. The size of your kid’s wrist will also be a factor; Garmin’s model is designed to fit 130- to 175-millimeter-sized wrists, whereas Fitbit’s band goes all the way down to 116 millimeters to fit kids as young as four or five.
Of course, you’ll also want to factor in battery life (Garmin’s trackers stay charged up to a year), waterproof rating so your kid can swim or bathe with the tracker on (a WR50 rating, for example, means the tracker is waterproof down to 50 meters), heart rate monitoring, and GPS capabilities. Some fitness trackers can even send and receive messages, and most can display “in case of emergency” information like emergency contacts and allergens. Read on for a deeper dive into all the similarities and differences between the top trackers for kids.
How We Selected
I have a bit of an obsession with fitness trackers (check the glaring wristband tan line in my wedding photos for evidence)—and have had the chance to test out dozens of them over the course of a decade of reviewing and writing about fitness gear for Runner’s World, Bicycling, and other outlets. Because my own kiddo is too young for a tracker, I used some of my own test experience to find the best models here, as well as input from the active kids in my life who own fitness trackers. I also scoured online reviews for pros and cons, with a critical eye toward cheap models with suspicious and potentially counterfeit positive reviews. Below are my recommendations for the best kids fitness trackers—there’s something for every kid here, whether you’re looking for a simple and inexpensive step and sleep counter with some fun digital rewards, or a GPS-enabled running watch with parent-controlled security features.