How to Choose the Best Pedometer

Pedometers and Fitness Trackers
Pedometers and Fitness Trackers. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Wearing a pedometer or fitness tracker and recording your daily steps and distance is a great motivating tool. You can wear a pedometer all day, every day and record total steps. Or you can wear it just when you go out for a walking workout.

What Kind of Pedometer is Best?

All pedometers count steps, but use different sensors. Accelerometer chips are used in app-linked pedometers and fitness bands such as Fitbit.

The old-school pedometers you wear on your waistband have a variety of mechanisms, some more accurate than others. In general order of accuracy, these are accelerometer chip, accelerometer, coiled spring mechanism, and hairspring mechanism. Free pedometers given away in health promotions are often the notoriously inaccurate hairspring models. Start with a good pedometer to have the best results.

How Will You Wear Your Pedometer?

  • Waistband and Pocket Pedometers: The old-style spring mechanisms required a pedometer to be worn in a perfect vertical position to count accurately. Depending on your body shape, a waistband pedometer might be tilted and not able to count steps accurately. But 2-axis and 3-axis accelerometer mechanisms can count steps accurately when tilted, carried in a pocket or on a lanyard. Choose a pocket pedometer or wear-anywhere model to have a choice of where to wear it. Top Picks for Pocket Pedometers

If you wear your pedometer to count total daily steps, choose one that is small enough and comfortable enough for all-day wear.

Add a pedometer safety leash or a wristband security belt for good measure so they don't fall off and get lost. The display should be easy to read without removing the pedometer from your waistband. If the pedometer has a reset button, it should be configured so you can't accidentally reset it.

What Do You Want Your Pedometer to Do?

Total Daily Steps: The simplest pedometers only count your steps and display steps and/or distance. This may be all you need to track to keep yourself motivated towards a goal of 6000 steps per day for health, or 10,000 steps per day for weight loss. However, some pedometers (or pedometer functions of other devices) are built for using only during workouts rather than running all day.

Workout Tracking: If you want to use your pedometer primarily to track dedicated walking workouts, you will want one with a workout feature or the ability to reset it. Some pedometers reset themselves at midnight and you can't use them only for specific workouts. But many advanced models are able to both count total daily steps and to track specific workouts.

Beyond the Count: Many pedometer models have more features. You should note which ones are most important to you when comparing models.

  • Distance estimate.
  • Calories burned estimate
  • Ability to time and track specific workouts
  • Memory: review past days
  • Clock
  • Stopwatch/exercise timer
  • Alarm
  • Speed or pace estimate
  • Goal setting and progress towards daily goal
  • Upload to computer or cell phone app
  • Pulse monitor

Pedometer Distance Accuracy

Accuracy starts with the mechanism. Accelerometers are more accurate than spring models.

Count off 100 steps and see what the count is on the pedometer. If it is off by more than a few steps, adjust where you are wearing it. You may have to experiment with where to wear it. Sometimes moving it just an inch or two makes a big difference. For fitness bands, it makes a difference if you wear it on your dominant wrist.

The accuracy of the distance estimate depends on measuring your stride length and setting your stride length correctly. Some models just ask for your height and use a standard formula. If this isn't accurate for you, you may have to set it with a different height to get more accurate distance readings.

You can check the accuracy of the pedometer's distance estimate using a known distance. Use a mapping app to draw and measure a walking route and check it against your pedometer reading.

Walking Speedometers/Odometers

You can use Timex, Garmin, and cell phone apps that use GPS sensors to track your speed and distance continuously -- but only outdoors -- and they won't work on a treadmill. Other devices may use an accelerometer sensor in/on your shoe to measure this data. These accelerometer devices need to be calibrated for the best accuracy. They work indoors as well as outdoors and can be used on a treadmill.

Pedometers that Upload and Display Your Data

For data junkies, what could be better than a pedometer that uploaded your walking data to a computer or cell phone app and showed you graphs and charts of your activity? Some require plugging into a USB port of a computer and they may also have a mobile app. Others only communicate with mobile apps, so you will need to have a mobile device.

Pedometer Apps

You may not need a separate pedometer. The iPod nano (as of the 5th generation) includes a pedometer app. Pedometer apps for cell phones use the phone's built-in accelerometer to count steps, or may use the phone's GPS. They vary as to whether you can use them to track total daily steps or can only be used during dedicated workouts. Using the GPS function drains the battery faster and won't work for treadmill walking or indoor walking. Some apps let you share your achievements with friends via social media or email.

Pedometer Walking Programs

Keeping records of your steps and/or distance can keep you on track. You can record your daily totals in any log, or get your pedometer and log through one of the pedometer walking programs offered.

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