The number of Garmin running watches and sports watches continues to grow by the year, making the task of choosing the best one for you all the more difficult. With watches aimed at everyone, from beginner runners and swimmers to performance triathletes, cyclists and ultra-marathon veterans, it’s all too easy to overspend for features you don’t really need or will probably never use.
Choosing the perfect running watch is all about zeroing in on your own personal fitness goals and matching a watch to those needs. We already have an in-depth guide to the best running watches that examines all top brands, but if you’re trying to make sense of Garmin’s selection, we’re here to help.
Read on for a run-down of the best Garmin sports watches for every type of user available to buy right now.
Got any questions about the Garmin wearables below? Let us know in the comments section below.
Quick check: Best Garmin sports watches
|Ultimate Garmin Watch||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus||$699 | Amazon|
|Best budget Garmin||Garmin Forerunner 235||$299 | Amazon|
|Top Garmin smartwatch||Garmin Vivoactive 3||$299.99 | Amazon|
|Best Garmin for music||Garmin Forerunner 645 Music||$399.99 | Amazon|
|Best for beginners||Garmin Forerunner 35||$139.99 | Amazon|
|Best for style||Garmin Vivomove||$199.99 | Amazon|
|Best fitness band||Garmin Vivosmart 4||$129.99 | Amazon|
|Best for triathlon||Garmin Forerunner 935||$499.99 | Amazon|
|Best for golf||Garmin Approach S10||$169 | Amazon|
Ultimate Garmin sports watch
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series
In 2017, Garmin introduced its Fenix 5 series of watches, but all of those models have been upgraded in the shape of the Fenix 5 Plus series.
It’s undoubtedly the ultimate Garmin sports watch, and features modes to track hiking, climbing, cross country skiing, regular skiing, cycling, swimming, open water swimming, running, train running, indoor workouts, triathlon, golf and more. If there’s something you want to track, the Fenix 5 Plus series watches likely can.
However, unlike the Garmin Vivoactive 3, which also does many of these sports, the Fenix 5 Plus takes tracked metrics to the extreme. Full insights for VO2 Max, race prediction, stress scores, Training Effect, Training Status: they’re all found here and they’re seriously meaningful.
So, what’s different on the Fenix 5 Plus? Garmin has now added topographic maps to all Fenix 5 Plus watches after the feature was only made available on the Fenix 5X. All models get Garmin Pay and music player support, which now includes support for Spotify offline playlists. There’s a broader choice of designs too – you can find variations that prioritise durability and weight, while the Fenix 5S Plus remains a good option for those with slimmer wrists.
The Fenix 5X Plus gets another exclusive feature in the shape of a pulse ox acclimation sensor, which is designed to aid hikers and climbers when they need to adjust to higher altitudes.
You can still buy the Fenix 5, 5S and 5X, which are in our opinion still great watches. But if you want the very latest, the Fenix 5 Plus series is where you’ll get Garmin’s most cutting-edge tech packed into a watch truly built for the great outdoors.
Buy it for: GPS, Multi-sport, topographic maps, Garmin Pay, music player support, long battery life, compass, VO2 Max, recovery, cadence, vertical oscillation
The Garmin Instinct is all about rugged exploration, but it also comes in at half the price of the Fenix 5 Plus. At $299.99 it’s not a budget watch by any stretch, but for outdoor adventurers it could woo those who can’t justify the premium models.
This is big on navigation, less on fitness. You get GPS, course navigation, GPX routes, elevation data, TrackBack (for following waypoints back to your starting location) and storm alerts. It also boasts military grade standards for thermal, shock and water resistance (up to 100m)
You get a heart rate monitor and Garmin’s typical lineup of activities to choose from too, but you miss out on VO2 Max, NFC or Connect IQ, but you do get smartphone alerts.
You also get up to 14 days of battery life in smartwatch mode, 16 hours in GPS mode and up to 40 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode.
In-depth: Read our full Garmin Instinct review
Buy it for: GPS, rugged design, GPX routes, TrackBack, notifications.
Best budget Garmin
Garmin Forerunner 235
The Forerunner 235 is the successor to the Forerunner 225, and while it might be a watch that’s been out for a few years now, it’s still one of our running watch favourites.
While we are fans of that slim look and 24/7 activity tracking, it’s the running features that we care about here. You still get all the great running stats, and, with the built-in heart rate monitor, you can see VO2 Max stats to give you a better idea about recovery between runs.
While the heart rate monitor might not be quite up to the task for high intensity sessions, you can still pair it with an ANT+ strap for more reliable heart-rate-zone-based training.
Buy it for: GPS, comfortable design, activity tracking, advanced running metrics, Garmin IQ app support
Garmin Forerunner 25
Despite being at the bottom of the pile when it comes to Garmin’s line-up, the Forerunner 25 does all the basics. While there’s no built-in optical heart rate sensor, you can still attach a chest strap to get BPM data in your post-workout analysis.
Of course, it’s all about running, but there’s also modes for treadmill, as well as indoor and outdoor cycling, too. Pace and distance are all accurately tracked, and you’ll get eight hours of GPS tracking,
It’s not the best looking watch, by any means, and you don’t get access to things like Connect IQ, but if you’re looking for a standard running watch, this serves most people’s needs.
Best Garmin sporty smartwatch
Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music
After launching the Vivoactive 3 last year, the headline act of the Garmin smartwatch range has been given an upgrade with one notable addition: it now has music player support.
Like its main rivals, the Apple Watch Series 4 and Fitbit Ionic, this is a watch that’s aiming to bring more than just fitness smarts to your wrist. With the Vivoactive 3 Music, Garmin is trying to push more into the realms of everyday design, too. There’s no doubt this is a better look than the Vivoactive HR, and there are some subtle, but welcome design changes from the Vivoactive 3.
It was the launch device for Garmin Pay and now it’s added music player support to make it a more well-rounded smartwatch. It doesn’t have that Spotify support the Fenix has just yet, but we imagine it’ll be on the way soon. Ultimately though, there’s also not a lot of compromise here. For those who don’t want to go all in on the likes of the Fenix 5 series, you’re getting many of the same features for a lower price.
You can still buy the Vivoactive 3 without music support, so if that feature isn’t a deal breaker, you can save some money and still get a great Garmin smartwatch.
Buy it for: GPS, notifications, Garmin Pay, built-in music player, heart rate monitoring, battery life
Best Garmin for music
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
Similar to the Vivoactive 3 Music above, the Forerunner 645 Music really does it all when it comes to tracking. Run, bike, pool swim, walk, row, ski, XC ski, run indoor, bike indoor, walk indoor and row indoor – it’s all going on with this sports watch.
If you’re serious about your running, you can tap into the likes of cadence, stride length, ground contact time and balance, vertical oscillation and vertical ratio. And no matter what kind of training you’re involved in, you can also access the Training Status, Training Effect and Training Load features for aiding recovery between workouts.
But crucially, while being a heavyweight in the tracking department, this was also the first Garmin that allowed for music streaming directly from the wrist. There’s enough storage to load 500 songs, while offline playlists can be accessed from Deezer, iHeartRadio and now Spotify.
Like the Vivoactive 3, Garmin does offer a Forerunner 645 sans music, and again it should save you some money if music isn’t an essential feature for you.
Buy it for: GPS, music, Garmin Pay, heart rate monitoring, battery life
Best Garmin watches for beginner runners
Garmin’s entry level watches are aimed at people who want to step up from phone-based app tracking and have a few more stats on their wrist where they can see them. Ideal for new runners on a budget, they’re the cheapest of the lot and they’re also a little more accessible when it comes to your running stats.
Garmin Forerunner 35
It might not be quite as cheap as the Forerunner 25, or the Forerunner 30 (more on that below), but the Forerunner 35 is aimed at the lower end of the runner’s market. Ideal for beginners, couch to 5k-ers and those who want a little more info on their regular runs without being overwhelmed by data, it also has activity tracking, bridging the divide between an inexpensive tracker and a serious sports watch.
It packs in all the bare essentials for runners: distance, pace, time, calories, splits and an optical heart rate monitor. Plus, it also delivers smartphone notifications to your wrist. Everything you need if you’re a recreational runner who just wants to keep tabs on how far and fast you’ve gone.
Buy it for: GPS, distance, pace, calories, activity tracking
Best Garmin watch for style
Garmin Vivomove HR
Now available in versions for men and women, the Vivomove HR has one killer feature that puts it above most other hybrids: a discreet digital display that really works. A simple tap dynamically moves the watch hands out of the way, letting you review pretty much the same raft of modes you’ll find on the Vivosport including activity tracking, heart rate monitoring and even rep counting in the gym. The only thing missing is GPS support.
As a result of the extra features, battery life has taken a hit, but it’ll still make it through around five days before you need to plug it into the charger. Bottom line, if you want a Garmin that looks like a normal watch but delivers on the smarts as well, this is without doubt your best option.
Buy it for: Great design, hidden screen, good activity tracking
Get a fitness band hybrid
The Vivosport is the feature-packed fitness tracker successor to the Vivosmart HR+, bringing back that all important built-in GPS so you can do all of your tracking from the wrist.
This time, it’s packaged into a slimmer design, albeit with a smaller screen than its predecessor and no physical buttons. What you do still get is the ability to tap into the onboard GPS for walking, running, cycling or cardio training, serving up all those metrics to Garmin’s improving Connect companion app.
It also brings the stress tracking features from the Vivosmart trackers to the fold and will count reps in the gym to add to its all-round tracking skills. We were a little critical of some of the design changes, so if you want that bigger display and button combo, we still think the Vivosmart HR+ – or perhaps the newer Vivofit 4 – is worth considering.
Buy it for: GPS, good battery life, activity tracking
In-depth: Our full Garmin Vivosport review
Garmin Vivosmart 4
Garmin has been on a roll with its fitness trackers in the past year, and the Vivosmart 4 is the latest to make its arrival known.
While it’s fair to say that most of Garmin’s activity bands look pretty much the same, this boasts something which we haven’t seen before from the company – a pulse oximeter sensor, which tracks your blood oxygen saturation. The sensor takes readings during the day and while you’re sleeping and could potentially be used to detect serious health conditions like sleep apnea.
There’s also a new ‘body battery’ energy feature that wants to give you a better insight into how well recovered your body is for your next workout session. There’s a heart rate monitor, but no GPS, but will support the ability to track running, walking and strength training
Buy it for: Battery life, heart rate monitor, basic activity tracking, MoveIQ support, simple design
In depth: Our full Garmin Vivosmart 4 review
Best Garmin watch for triathletes
The 935, 735XT and 920XT are the watches you want to go for if you love being on two wheels and in a wetsuit just as much as you do pounding out the miles on the road. The best Garmin tool for triathletes, wannabe Ironmen and women who splits their time between the water, wheels and feet.
Garmin Forerunner 935
Natural successor to the Forerunner 735XT and our Sports Watch of the Year for 2017, the Forerunner 935 is essentially a Fenix 5 but with all the same tech packed into smaller body.
So, on the running front, it’ll cover everything from the treadmill to trail running and provide plenty of metrics to pore over after your training session. It’s also compatible with Garmin’s new Running Pod, which adds additional data, including vertical oscillation, ground contact time, stride length and lactate threshold.
Add in stellar battery life, built-in heart rate monitoring (which has vastly improved from previous wrist HR tracking efforts from Garmin) and great training effect features to make sure you’re not overexerting yourself and it’s another top notch multi-sport GPS watch that makes a fine running companion for serious athletes.
Buy it for: Advanced running metrics, training effect data, GPS distance, heart rate monitor-based data, smartwatch notification support, Connect IQ app support, great battery life
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
It features many of the same advanced running, cycling and swimming metrics and is capable of automatically detecting the type of stroke and distance in the pool. Cyclists will need to pair it up with Garmin’s Vector cycling sensors.
It packs in plenty of battery life, activity tracking, Connect IQ support and training metrics into a small, compact body that means you can get away with wearing it as your everyday watch as well.
Garmin Approach X10/S10
Two completely different looking devices, these two golf GPS watches are offer the same thing depending on your taste.
The Garmin Approach X10 is a golf band, for those that prefer the fitness tracker style device. It’s aimed at – but not exclusive to – ladies, who might not watch the larger watch-style device.
The Approach S10, on the other hand, is a classic-looking golf watch – but packs in the same features: that’s support for 40,000 global golf courses, with distances to the green (front, middle and back), as well as hazards, dog-legs and the like.
These two devices keep things pretty simple, so shot tracking, swing analysis and green layout/pin selection all stay in the bag. You’ll need an Approach X40/S20 to access all that.
However, you can keep score on these two devices and at around $199 they don’t break the bank.
Garmin Approach X40
Like a mash-up between the Vivosmart, a Garmin running watch and a smartwatch, the X40 is built firmly with golfers in mind.
Essentially the ultimate fitness tracker for golfers, it blends GPS course data with a heart rate monitor. There’s a 1-inch display to view progress and support for 35,000 courses, pin position details, shot detection, hazards, shot measuring, fitness tracking and 24/7 heart rate.
It uses an AutoShot feature to register the location of your hacks around the course, which will be fed back to Garmin Connect after your round, and there’s also smart notification support to ping you when someone’s trying to get in touch while you’re out on the course.
Buy it for: Complete golf modes, plenty of course data, sports and activity tracking modes
We already have one new Garmin to look forward to in 2019 and it’s set to bring a pretty big new feature to the company’s wearable collection for the very first time. The Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music – Connected by Verizon (yes, that’s what it’s called), is the first Garmin to add LTE connectivity letting you use smart features without the need for your smartphone.
The extra connectivity unlocks the ability to receive texts, download music and access new safety features including assistance detection. That assistance detection is primed for outdoor explorers to raise the alarm if they get a little bit lost out on their travels. As the name suggests, this special LTE version of the Vivoactive 3 will only be of use to anyone on Verizon. Pricing and a release date has yet to be confirmed.