Many experts recommend budgeting at least $1,000 for a quality treadmill, especially if you plan to do a lot of running. If you prefer walking or light jogging, you can get by with spending less. According to a recent ConsumerReports.org poll of more than 1,400 subscribers, the majority of those who own treadmills are happy with their purchase and use the machine at least as much as they had originally planned.
Manual treadmills, which have no motor and must be powered by the user's walking motion, usually cost less than $200 and are at the bottom of the satisfaction list. Small walking belts, short warranties and serious durability problems are common in this category, but some consumers are willing to overlook these issues in exchange for a lightweight, portable machine that can be stored almost anywhere. Manual treadmills are set at a constant incline, which makes it easier to press the belt back with every step. Users must grasp the handlebars during use, both for leverage and to keep from sliding off the back.
Motorized treadmills around the $600 mark are best for walking and limited jogging, because of their light weight and low-horsepower motors. Once you pass the $1,000 price point you'll find stronger motors, larger running belts, more stable frames and longer, more comprehensive warranties.
Some treadmills come with novel features like iFit Live, which allows you to map out virtual-reality courses with Google Maps; the unit adjusts its incline to match the simulated terrain. That said, serious runners put a treadmill's sturdiness, power and controls ahead of showy features. The rare treadmills that can adjust to a negative incline are an exception to this rule because they offer a more realistic experience; we include two such units in this report.
Reviews from four expert sources -- ConsumerReports.org, TreadmillDoctor.com, Treadmill-Ratings-Reviews.com and Runner's World magazine -- are key in identifying the best models, along with hundreds of candid comments treadmill owners post to retail websites like Amazon.com.