Whether it’s running, cycling or swimming, we help you pick the perfect GPS partner
The number of Garmin running watches and sports watches continues to grow, 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 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, as well as some due to release soon.
Best Garmin 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 3 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. 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
From $299.99, garmin.com
Best Garmin watch 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 allows for music streaming directly from the wrist. There’s enough storage to load 500 songs, while offline playlists can be accessed from the likes of Deezer and iHeartRadio.
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
$399.99, garmin.com | Amazon
Best Garmin watches for beginners
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 recently introduced 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
From $139.99, garmin.com | Amazon
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 3 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
$199.99, garmin.com | Amazon
Garmin Vivofit 4
Garmin has been on a roll with its fitness trackers in the past year, and the Vivofit 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 – an entire year of battery life with an always-on colour display. There’s no charging cable, you just simply switch out the SR43 batteries when things have run down.
Be aware that there are also omissions, so there’s no GPS or heart rate monitor – this is a basic fitness tracker which will give you all the essentials but not much more. That means you can track all the basics – steps, distance, calories – and Move IQ will detect activities like running, biking and swimming.
Buy it for: Battery life, basic activity tracking, MoveIQ support, simple design
$79.99, garmin.com | Amazon
The PB-chaser’s choice
If you’ve advanced from recreational running and you’re now eyeing up your first marathon or a faster 10km time, this next set of Garmin devices are likely to be more your thing. These mid-range, mid-price trackers offer more detailed stats, more coaching and more control over your own training. They’re all about running and perfect for PB chasers and those who are starting to get a little more serious about their pavement pounding.
Garmin Forerunner 235
The Forerunner 235 is the successor to the Forerunner 225, one of our running watch favourites.
It comes with a sleek new look and 24/7 activity tracking. But 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 now 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 distance, comfortable design, activity tracking, advanced running metrics, Garmin IQ app support
$299.99, garmin.com | Amazon
Garmin Forerunner 230
Almost identical to the Forerunner 235, the 230 dispenses with the built-in optical heart rate monitor. It’s still compatible with ANT+ chest straps to gain the same workout data, though. Of course, the lack of built-in HRM saves a little money too, but it still boasts great notifications and all-day health tracking.
$249.99, garmin.com | Amazon
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 everyone 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 Yearfor 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
$499.99, garmin.com | Amazon
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
The Garmin Forerunner 735XT misses out on some of the new sensors included in the Forerunner 935 but is still a solid option for triathletes.
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.
$349.99, garmin.com | Amazon
Garmin Forerunner 920XT
It’s getting a bit on the old side, but the Forerunner 920XT will appeal to those who need big battery life. Like the 735XT and 930, it’ll track swimming, cycling and running, serving up a whole host of metrics to analyse performance.
It also includes smartphone notification support to give you a buzz on the watch when someone is trying to get in touch. If that’s not enough, it’ll track your general movement, just like a Garmin fitness tracker.
Buy it for: Advanced running dynamics: cadence, ground contact time, vertical oscillation and VO2 Max, swimming and cycling tracking, pairing with external sensors, great battery life
From $449.99, garmin.com | Amazon
Best Garmin for golfers – Garmin 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
$249.99, garmin.com | Amazon
Best Garmin for multi-sport – Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series
In 2017, Garmin introduced its Fenix 5 series of watches. That included the Fenix 5, the Fenix 5S (the smallest Fenix) and the hulking Fenix 5X. Now all of those models have been upgraded in the shape of the Fenix 5 Plus series.
They remain some of the most powerful multi-sport watches available, so if you love to head out on the trail for some rock climbing one day, then take your talents to the golf course the next, then top it all off with a nice swim at the pool, this is the smartwatch for you.
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.
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, too, and there’s a broader choice of designs – 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 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: Multi-sport, topographic maps, Garmin Pay, music player support, long battery life, compass, VO2 Max, recovery, cadence, vertical oscillation
From $799.99, garmin.com | Amazon
Best Garmin watch for style – Garmin Vivomove HR
The Garmin Vivomove HR goes way beyond what the impressive Vivomovewas capable of and rightfully earns the accolade of being our Hybrid Watch of the Year.
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 the 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
Starting at $199.99, garmin.com | Amazon