Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

If you're struggling to pick the right GPS sports watch, let us guide you
Which Garmin watch is right for you?

The stable of Garmin running watches continues to grow making that challenge of choosing the best one all the more difficult. With watches aimed at beginner runners to performance triathletes it's all too easy to overspend for features you don't really need.

Choosing the right running watch is all about zeroing in on your own personal fitness goals and matching a watch to those needs. We already have a 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.

Essential reading: Essential Garmin Connect IQ guide

Read on for a run-down of the best Garmin sports watches for every type of user.

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

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

It might not be quite as cheap as the Forerunner 25, but the Forerunner 35 is aimed at the lower end of the runner's market. Ideal for new runners, 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 activity 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 they've gone.

Buy it for: GPS distance, pace, calories, activity tracking

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 35 review

From $199.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Get a fitness band hybrid

Garmin Vivosmart HR+

Our Fitness Tracker of the Year is a great alternative to the company's line up of watches. The thinner form factor still houses an optical HR sensor and has GPS to track running and gym work, as well as delivering notifications and keeping tabs on your resting heart rate.

Essential reading: Why Garmin is the fitness tracker king

If you're looking for a Garmin device that you can wear all day, yet still act as a powerful sport tracker, the Vivosmart HR+ is a great option. Alternatively, if you don't want GPS, you can pick up the original Vivosmart HR for a decent discount.

Buy it for: GPS, good battery life, decent activity tracking

In-depth: Our full Garmin Vivosmart HR+ review

$219.99, garmin.com | Amazon

The PB-chaser's choice

If you've gone from recreational running and you're now eyeing up your first marathon or a faster 10km time then this next set of Garmins are likely to be more your thing. These mid-range, mid-price trackers start to 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 running.

Garmin Forerunner 630

The Forerunner 630 is the daddy of the new Garmin running watches and it's going big on the range of running metrics you can view during and after your running session.

There's stride length, lactate threshold ratings and performance condition scores to help aid recovery. You can even monitor vertical ratio, which is useful for boosting your running efficiency.

Add in the strong smartwatch notification features and great music player controls and if you are a hardcore runner, this is the Garmin watch for you.

Buy it for: Advanced running metrics, GPS distance, heart rate monitor-based data, smartwatch notification support, Connect IQ app support, great battery life.

In-depth: Check out our full Garmin Forerunner 630 review

$399.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 235

The Forerunner 235 is the successor to the Forerunner 225, one of our running watch favourites.

Much like the Forerunner 630, the 235 comes with a sleeker, new look and 24/7 activity tracking. But it's the running features 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.

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 235 review

$329.99, 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. Of course, the lack of built-in HRM saves a little money too, but it still boasts great notifications and all-day health tracking.

In-depth: Check out our full Garmin Forerunner 230 review

$199.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Best Garmin watch for triathletes

The 910XT and it's new, upgraded younger compadre the 920 XT, are the watches you want to go for if you love being on two-wheels and in a wetsuit as much as you do pounding out the miles on the road. The best Garmin tool for triathletes, wannabe Ironman and everyone who splits their time between the water, wheels and feet.

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Brand new for triathletes is the Garmin Forerunner 735XT, which comes in along side its bigger brother the 920XT (below). It features the same advanced running and swimming metrics as its brother, 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.

The main differences between the 735XT and the 920XT? It features the new Garmin shape, is smaller and lighter, but battery life is decimated. We called it "Garmin's most compact multi-sport watch yet". Just the 24 hours of low power GPS and 14 hours of advanced tracking.

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 735XT review

$449.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 920 XT

As we mentioned above, the Forerunner 920XT will appeal to those where big battery life is essential. It essentially has many of the same features and is priced similarly too. Like the 735XT, it'll track swimming, cycling along with 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 Vivofit or Vivosmart HR.

Buy it for: Advanced running dynamics: cadence, ground contact time, vertical oscillation and VO2 Max. Swimming and cycle tracking including pairing with external sensors. Great battery life.

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 920XT review

From $449.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Best Garmin watches for work/sport types

Garmin Vivoactive HR

The Vivoactive HR take a lot of the capabilities of Garmin's huge range of dedicated sports wearables and rolls them all into one.

While it doesn't offer the running depth of the Forerunner 630 or the adventure skills of the Fenix 3 but does attempt to offer a 'serious enough' sports watch that's also a good everyday wearable. In terms of running smarts, there are enough of the essentials to keep a lot of people happy, including the optical heart rate monitor on the rear.

What marks it out from the other devices on this list is the fact that the Vivoactive pairs with your smartphone to hoover up texts, calls, WhatsApp, tweets and Uber alerts – basically anything from your smartphone goes to the wrist. It has as much in common with and Android Wear device as it does your standard sport specific GPS watch.

Buy it for: GPS tracking with pace, distance, time. Heart rate monitoring, cadence and VO2 Max. Sleep tracking, step counting and smartphone notifications.

In-depth: Check out our full Garmin Vivoactive HR review

$249.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Best Garmin for multisport

Garmin Fenix 3 HR

When it comes to sports tracking, things don't get more action packed than the Fenix 3. If the Forerunner is for the weekend jogger, then this is for people who like to get their bpm racing by taking on challenges that are a little more extreme. In running terms this is best suited for ultra runners, fast packers and adventure races.

In the same bracket as the Suunto Ambit 3 and new Spartan watch range, it's capable of tracking hiking, climbing, cross country skiing, train running, running, cycling, swimming, open water swimming, skiing, indoor workouts and triathlon. In short, the Fenix 3 is Action Man's wrist-based companion. Think more Bear Grylls than Mo Farah.

It's running capabilities far exceed the lower end devices but that doesn't mean it's the best running watch. In fact unless you're likely to be taking on the Dragon's Back, the Marathon des Sables or an Atacama crossing, you won't need the power that's in this mega-tracker.

Garmin has also recently introduced the Fenix 3 Chronos, which gives the Fenix 3 HR a luxury makeover and is worth checking out for those after a more suit-friendly design.

Buy it for: Multi-sport, long battery life, compass, heart rate, VO2 Max, recovery, as well as cadence and vertical oscillation.

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Fenix 3 HR review

From $599, garmin.com | Amazon

Or ditch it all for a dose of style

Garmin Vivomove

The Garmin Vivomove enables you to count steps, estimate calorie burn and monitor sleep patterns using the built-in accelerometer, all in the package of an analogue watch. There's no sign of a heart rate sensor, which is a slight disappointment but with a year of battery life from the coin cell inside, you can't complain too much. It's available in Sport, Classic and Premium versions to cover the bases on the looks front.

Buy it for: Great design, long battery life, good indoor workout tracking

In-depth: Check out our full Garmin Vivomove review

Starting at $149.99, garmin.com | Amazon


Shop for recommended running watches on Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 235
Garmin Forerunner 235
$329.99
TomTom Spark 3
TomTom Spark 3
$225.00
Polar M600
Polar M600
$251.08
Fitbit Surge
Fitbit Surge
$249.95

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21 Comments

  • M_Rcus_Atb says:

    thank you i finally can stop here looking around for reviews to find out what suits my needs

  • thesandman says:

    This is a great site, I have spent the last few hours researching smartwatches and fitness trackers.  I'm trying my best to find my son a great all around wearable piece of tech.  I would have to say, I'm having a hard time trying to find the perfect fit.  Although it would be nice if there was that perfect watch/fitness tracker in a reasonable price range.

    One of the things that I'm trying to research is which watch other than the Garmin Fenix 3 is going to be durable enough for him.  I worry about paying a lot of money for a watch that might break during one of his competitions.  He is in the JROTC Raider program at his school.  Just to give you an overview of what a normal Saturday might look like for him, here is a little summary of the activities that he might be putting a watch or fitness tracker through.

    Starting a 6 in the morning:  Army physical fitness test (2min timed sit-ups, push-ups, 1 or 2 mile timed run), 30min break then right into a team 10k, that is then followed by 4 or 5 obstacle course activities.  These could be anything from: 1 mile ruck run, gauntlet (1/2 to 1 mile run through low crawls, 8' wall, balance beams, rope swings, 25' rope climb, the list goes on), 1/2 to 1 mile biathlon.  They will also make a one rope bridge as a team, this could be over dry land but it usually isn't.  This is just a taste of some of the things he might be putting this piece of tech through.

    If anyone could help with ideas on a really rugged build, that would do everything a normal runners watch would do.  He really likes the thought of being able to track his pace and whether he is running faster or slower on his run.  He also likes the idea of being able to track the course he just ran.

    Again, this is a great site!

    Thank you for putting in the hard work, time and dedication for this site.

    Danny 

    • jjjegrt2 says:

      Perhaps wait out for the casio smart watch. It is durable (to military standards) but doesn't have heart rate (which isn't too accurate on the wrist at present) and the worst part: no GPS. Nothing kills the Fenix 3 but you sure are paying for it. I don't know of any other watches with GPS that could withstand submersion in mud and water other than the Fenix 3 or Suunto equivalent

      • Mferen says:

        Hi jjegrt2,

        Polar M400 survived with me many OCR races where mud, water, electricity was all involved. I believe most of watches could do the same which has decent waterproof qualification. 

  • Maria_Suzeth says:

    Very Informative. Now I know what suits my need. I have decided already.

    I finally have a peace of mind buying and not waste my money.

    THANKS A LOT! More power to the team.

  • ChrisSheppard says:

    I am looking for a watch for my 88 year old father who sometimes wonders off.

    Do you have a watch that would link to my watch and would say beep when the distance between the two watches is greater than say 1/4 mile?

    I would be very interested in a tracking type device that would help me keep track of him even if I had to use my computer to locate him.

    His watch would have to be very simple and long battery life or very easily charged (induction or magnetic say) but must have a large display with just the time on it.

    The more complicated it is to use the less he will want to use it.

    Any recommendations welcome.

    Thanks Chris

  • Omari says:

    Garmin Watch i suggest this watch, great price for this quality and functionality

  • Isaline says:

    What about THE new Garmin vivoactive Hr. It looks so great .

    I wonder why to have a gram in 235 with all features on this one?

  • techfree says:

    Quote:"In the same bracket as the Suunto Ambit 3, it's capable of tracking hiking, climbing, cross country skiing, train running, running, cycling, swimming, open water swimming, skiing, indoor workouts and triathlon."

    I didn't know there was such a sport as "train running".  Sounds like a limb-loser.

  • Shobhit says:

    Can you  suggest  a watch which gives calories  burnt while  doing  exercise  at one place like yoga suryanamasskars  etc or dips free standing  exercise 

  • fb90 says:

    Hi , great post. i have a question. Between vivoactive and Forerunner 230 ( both with separatley puchased chest heart rate monitors), which one is better ? I am looking for running + cycling ? the price difference is only a few dollars but looks like fore runner doesnt have cycling but does have advanced running metrics where as vivoactive is the other way around... whats your opinion ? thanks in advance 

  • lsbarton says:

    Help!  I am an RN who must have an analog watch with sweep second hand for vitals. I also want an activity tracker built in.  Any suggestions for a watch for a WOMAN?  I like the Timex Metropolitan but it is really masculine and HUGE!

  • TugofWar84 says:

    Is there a Garmin/TomTom/Fitbit watch that is waterproof, has built in heart rate monitor, will accurately measure output/calories etc during cycling, battle ropes and has GPS???

  • Kayzee says:

    I wish there were a watch that can do what my 12 year old Garmin Forerunner can do. Set up interval training, put down breadcrumbs, pace alerts, like real stuff? I don't care about the silly bells and whistles. I'd just like a little better satellite tracking which is my only complaint with my ancient trusty 201.  We've done a lot of miles together. 

  • Na3 says:

    I am looking to buy a fitness tracker for my boyfriend. He is training for a half marathon and is also a serious biker. I am wondering whether to get him the vivoactive HR or forerunner 235. He would want to track his heart rate. He uses Strava to track his running activity so also wanted to check if these are compatible with Strava.

    Thanks!

  • Kimmy says:

    I need help!  I've been looking at reviews for different trackers for two weeks and I'm so confused. This is what I'm looking for.    

    Must tell the time

    Must count steps

    Must be waterproof as swimming is the only sport my bad back will allow me to do

    Must have a heart rate monitor 

    Must be able to sink to my iPad 

    Must be able to tell me the distance I've swam and time it

    Must be able to tell me the cals I've burned.

    Must not be huge as I have small wrists and a huge watch face would just look wrong.

    Please please can someone help me.

    Thankyou 

  • PhoebeBee says:

    Hi, good day. I need help.

    i would like to know what is the difference between a Garmin Forerunner and a Garmin Foreathlete? I am currently in Japan, and it seems that Garmin watches here are "Foreathlete". Please can someone enlighten me? Thank you.

  • PhoebeBee says:

    Hi, Good day!

    Please help. i want to know if there is any difference between a Garmin Forerunner and a Garmin Foreathlete? I'm currently in Japan and Garmin watches here are "fForeathlete". Can someone enlighten me? Thank you.

  • martha45 says:

    which watch is most suitable for a golf user

  • mf65 says:

    What would be best option for my son who does gym work, some running and general sports 

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