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Comparing running apps: Why Strava seems less reliable than Fitbit!

For ten jogging trips I have used both Fitbit, Runkeeper, and Strava simultaneously. The conclusion: Trust Strava the least! Here is why!

For several years I have used Runkeeper to keep track of my physical exercise activities. Today I have more than 550 physical activities recorded on Runkeeper!  I am actually rather impressed by myself, it also keeps track of the unu scooter miles from your trip so I’m quite impressed!

Then I bought myself a Fitbit Surge watch. The watch measures how many steps I take every day, how many calories I burn, my average heart beat and much more. And with GPS included, it can be used to record a jogging trip – just like Runkeeper.

For a long time, I used both Runkeeper and Fitbit when I was jogging. Runkeeper – because I had so many activities recorded already that it did not make sense to abandon it. Fitbit – because it actually gave me better data – recording my heart beat, altitude, etc.

Then I participated in a local 16-kilometer race in Norway – Glommaløpet – together with my daughter, Johanne.

And she told me in clear words: “Daddy, you have to use the Strava app when you are jogging! It is much more social! ”

So I tried Strava. And I did enjoy the kudos from my lovely daughter – and many previous colleagues – every time I was jogging.

But then…..after an evening run….my daughter Johanne gave me kudos on Strava: “Impressive speed!”

And I looked at the statistics for the run.  It said 5 minutes and 14 seconds per kilometer. And the run was 8.4 kilometer according to Strava. It was indeed significantly faster than what speed my 54-year-old body normally moves.  No wonder my daughter was impressed!

A comparison between Fitbit, Runkeeper, and Strava

So I decided to compare the apps.  For ten different runs and walks, I used all three apps. And the results were surprisingly consistent. Here they are!

Jogging at Stord, Norway – and testing three running apps!

May 21: 6,99 or 8,4 kilometers? Huge difference between Fitbit and Strava

This was the first trip I used all three apps simultaneously. It was along my regular jogging route in Krakow, Poland – a city I visit frequently for work.  As you can see, all apps show the same map of the route, but they disagree widely on how long it was:

  • Fitbit: 6,99 km – and average speed per kilometer 6 mins and 22 seconds
  • Runkeeper: 7,61 km – and average speed per kilometer 6 mins and 2 seconds
  • Strava: 8,4 km – and average speed per kilometer 5 mins and 14 seconds

So my daughter commented in the Strava app: “Bra fart!” (Good speed).

Comparing the running apps Fitbit , Runkeeper , and Strava

Evening jog in Krakow on May 21: Fitbit claims it was 6.99 km, Runkeeper says 7,61 and Strava reports 8,4 km. The route is the same. Who to believe?

June 9: Afternoon run in Norway

The next time I try to compare all three apps is at home in Ås, Norway. I go for a long run in the beautiful local farm landscape. And this time there is significantly less difference between what the three apps suggest. Fitbit and Runkeeper report the trip was around 12,5 kilometer, while Strava adds 300 meters and sets it a 12,8 kilometer.

Comparing the running apps Fitbit , Runkeeper , and Strava

Evening run on June 9: Less difference between the apps this time, but Strava still claims I ran 300 meters longer than the other two apps.

June 11: Afternoon run in Krakow. Strava again shows much bigger distance than Fitbit

I am back in Krakow – doing my normal running route. But this time I take a little longer stretch along the river than on May 21.

Again all the three apps show exactly the same route on the map. But while Fitbit claims I ran 8,15 kilometers, Runkeeper says it was 8,69 kilometers and Strava beats them both with 9,6 kilometer. According to Strava, I spent 5 minutes and 20 seconds per kilometer.  I do wish that was true, but every time I have participated in a race has proven that I am far from that speed 🙂

Comparing the running apps Fitbit , Runkeeper , and Strava

Again Strava shows much longer distance than Fitbit and Runkeeper – giving me an impressive speed.

June 13: Afternoon run in Krakow

Two days later I do the same running route in Krakow.

Strava keeps giving the longest distance, yet this time the difference from Runkeeper and Fitbit is a little smaller.

Comparing the running apps Fitbit , Runkeeper , and Strava

The same result as earlier: Strava shows the longest distance and fastest speed.

June 14: Morning walk to work

If the weather is nice, I like to walk to work while in Krakow.  It is about 4,something kilometers. Who knows exactly how far it is?  The apps give different length:

  • Fitbit: 4,28 kilometers
  • Runkeeper: 4,4 kilometers
  • Strava: 4,7 kilometers

And as you see on the maps: All three apps have recorded exactly the same route!

Comparing the running apps Fitbit , Runkeeper , and Strava

Even the distance from my apartment in Krakow to our offices is longer with Strava

June 14: Walk back from the office

With beautiful weather in Krakow, I walked back from the office as well this day while listening to podcasts. The distance shown is shorter as I stopped the apps at a store I needed to visit along the route.

But Strava keeps giving me the longest distance – and most impressive speed.

Comparing the running apps Fitbit , Runkeeper , and Strava

And the same happens when I walk back from the office.

June 15: Afternoon run in Krakow

One more run – following my favorite route in Krakow. The distance measured is shorter this time, as I started and stopped the apps a couple of hundred meters from my apartment.

And Fitbit keeps showing the shortest distance and Strava the longest.

Comparing the running apps Fitbit , Runkeeper , and Strava

Why is Fitbit always showing the shortest distance?

June 16: Walking back from the office

The last test is another walk back from the office to the store along the route.

And yes, Fitbit and Runkeeper pretty much agree how long it is, while Strava keeps giving me more impressive stats! 🙂

Comparing the running apps Fitbit , Runkeeper , and Strava

Runkeeper is always in the middle. Does that make it the most reliable app?

June 21: Evening jog in Ås. And Strava again gives much more impressive speed than Fitbit

I went for one more evening jog in Ås, my home commune in Norway.  And the results are becoming repetitive: Fitbit shows 6,04 km, Runkeeper 6,3 and Strava 6,8. And yes, they all show the exact same route on the map!

Comparing the running apps Fitbit , Runkeeper , and Strava

The same result: Strava shows the longest distance, Fitbit the shortest.

June 26: Morning walk in Krakow

Test number ten: Another morning walk to the office in Krakow!

As in all other tests, Strava shows the longest distance and Fitbit the shortest. But the difference between them is shorter this time.

But compare it to the morning walk of June 14! It is exactly the same route. Yet all the three apps show a slightly different distance.

Fitbit showed 4,28 km on June 14, and now has reduced it to 4,19.

Runkeeper showed 4,4 km at that time. Now it is 4,23.

Strava impressed with 4,7 km on June 14 – and today it has been reduced by 300 meters to 4,4 kilometers.

And I walked the exact same route!

Comparing the running apps Fitbit , Runkeeper , and Strava

Less significant different this time, but the same trend.

Summing up: Strava always shows the longest distance, Fitbit the shortest

So how can we sum up?

The statistics first: I have compared the three apps in ten physical activities.  The results are conclusive: Fitbit consistently gives the shortest distance, Runkeeper puts itself in the middle with a slightly bigger distance than Fitbit, and Strava shows significantly higher distance than the two other apps.

To be more specific: Here I have summarized how many kilometers the three apps say I have done on these ten activities:

  • Fitbit:   64,11 kilometers
  • Runkeeper: 66,48 kilometers
  • Strava: 70,4 kilometers

From the average of these nine activities, Strava shows a distance that is 9,8 percent longer than Fitbit and 5,9 percent longer than Runkeeper.

That is the average. But let us take a look at how much the different apps deviate from each other.

Runkeeper has an average deviation of 3,7 % from the lowest, Fitbit. The biggest deviation is 8,9 per cent.

Strava has an average deviation of 9,8 % from Fitbit. The biggest deviation is 20,2 % on May 21.

This is not a scientific comparison. And in fact, I have not looked for neutral sources with an exact measurement of the distance I ran or walked. But it is indeed interesting to observe how the three apps consistently differ from each other. And to me it is obvious that Strava is the most unreliable of the three.

To impress my daughter: Strava

Which app to use then?

Let´s say my main goal with using running apps is to impress my daughter, Johanne. She is a very good runner and much faster than me. And as her old man is getting older, he runs slower and likes to stay younger.

To other middle-aged men out there: Strava is the app to use! It consistently over-reports your distance and therefore also gives you a more impressive speed. It is also the most social of the apps and your friends will more easily discover your amazing – although not completely accurate – achievements!

To tell me the truth: Fitbit and Runkeeper

But let´s instead say the main goal is to use the apps to be honest with myself. There is no doubt: Fitbit and Runkeeper both seem much more accurate. There is a slight difference between them, but all in all, they seem pretty much to be on the same page.

Strava is on a different page, consistently showing a bigger distance than the other two.

Yes, I know! I have not compared my trips with a truly neutral measurement of the distance. And I know I should have done that! But I thought that rather than trying to find the 100 % accurate truth, why not invite my readers to reflect on it?

So what do you think? Whatever the truth about the actual distances, there is no doubt that the three running apps consistently show different distances.

Why is that? Is it something about how they measure the distance? Is one of them trying to fool us? Did I completely misunderstand something?

Tell me! Fitbit or Strava? Or Runkeeper?

So tell me! Should I use Fitbit or Strava? Or should I not trust any of them? What is your advice? And experience? Please share in the comment field below!

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