Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

Whether it's running, cycling or swimming, we help you pick the perfect GPS partner

The number of Garmin running 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 this: Understanding your running watch stats

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

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

Unveiled late last year, the headline act of the Garmin smartwatch range is without doubt the Vivoactive 3.

Like its main rivals, the Apple Watch Series 3 and Fitbit Ionic, this is a device that's aiming to bring more than just fitness smarts to your wrist. With the Vivoactive 3, 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 it's also being used to launch Garmin's pay system, Garmin Pay.

Handily, 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, you're getting many of the same features for a lower price.

Buy it for: GPS, notifications, Garmin Pay, heart rate monitoring, battery life

In-depth: Our full Garmin Vivoactive 3 review

From $269.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Best Garmin watch for music

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

Similar to the Vivoactive 3 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 is also the first Garmin device that allows for music streaming directly from the wrist. The company states that there's enough storage to load 500 songs, while offline playlists can be accessed from the likes of Deezer and iHeartRadio.

Buy it for: GPS, music, Garmin Pay, heart rate monitoring, battery life

In-depth: Our full Garmin Forerunner 645 Music review

$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

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 35 review

From $139.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Get a fitness band hybrid

Garmin Vivosport

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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

In-depth: Our full Garmin Vivosport review

$199.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Garmin Vivofit 4

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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

In depth: Our full Garmin Vivofit 4 review

$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 630

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

The Forerunner 630 is the cornerstone of Garmin running watches and it goes 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

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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 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

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 235 review

$299.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 230

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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.

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

$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

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

Natural successor to the Forerunner 735XT and our Sports Watch of the Year for 2017, the Forerunner 935 is essentially the 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

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 935 review

$499.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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.

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

$349.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 920XT

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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

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

From $449.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Best Garmin for golfers

Garmin X40

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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

In-depth: Check out our in-depth Garmin Approach X40 review

$249.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Best Garmin for multi-sport

Garmin Fenix 5

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

The Garmin Fenix 5 is one of the most powerful multi-sport watches available. If you're the type that loves 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 afternoon at the links, 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 likely can. Bear Grylls might be advertising the Gear S3 right now, but we reckon this is the watch he slips on when the cameras stop rolling.

While the Fenix 5 is a good for a lot of that hardcore tracking, it comes apart a little as a running watch, largely because it just doesn't track heart rate all that accurately when you're really going for it.

Compared to the Fenix 3, the Fenix 5 doesn't have too many more bells and whistles (no, there wasn't a Fenix 4). The biggest area of improvement over the older device is how much smaller it is. The Fenix 5 is still big at 47mm, but it's much more manageable and easy to wear compared to its bigger, older brother. It also does come with some additional metric support, like anaerobic activity.

If you're after the same tech in a slimmer body, you can also check out the Fenix 5S, which features a 42mm watch body as opposed to the Fenix 5's 47mm design. If you've got money to burn, there's also the Fenix 5X, which offers full colour maps to help you navigate outdoor terrain.

Buy it for: Multi-sport, long battery life, compass, VO2 Max, recovery, cadence, vertical oscillation

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Fenix 5 review

From $549.99, garmin.com | Amazon

Best Garmin watch for style

Garmin Vivomove HR

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

The Garmin Vivomove HR goes way beyond what the impressive Vivomove was 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

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

Starting at $199.99, garmin.com | Amazon


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25 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

  • 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.

    • andlor81 says:

      Hi PhoebeBee, I can help you because I'm living current in Japan. Foreathlete is Japan localized version of Forerunner and better know as APAC version. Foreathlete have QZSS (MICHIBIKI) as addition for a better GPS signal and Japanese language (English is on board too). But it have a disadvantage that software updates came much later than on original global Forerunner version (around 4 weeks later).

  • 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 

  • wokkawokka1 says:

    I think Polar is the most reliable when it comes to HR sensors. They are the pioneers of "smart fitness watches" and are more about reliability than looks. I have been reviewing these fitness watches for over a month and keep coming back to the Polar M200.... Everyone cant deny how accurate it is.

  • Lesley7 says:

    hi 

    I am planning to do the coast to coast walk from st bees on the west coast to robin hoods bay on the east coast a distance of 190 miles, which of the garmin watches would be most suitable to use, I am planning to train to improve my walking times over the next year before doing the walk in August 2018

  • Lkng4ultrawtch says:

    great battery life - WTF does that even mean? I thought this was a legit review. The way the battery life comment is laid out there makes me realize this is paid review.

    • c.allison says:

      Hi Lkng4ultrawtch,

      We've tested all of the devices on this list and detailed the battery life in each review - this is something we stand by. 

  • MM2 says:

    Finally!! Someone has provided a breakdown of the Garmin watches. Thank you for your input.

    However, I did not see a desrcipton of a Garmin Smartwatch/fitness tracker that would fit my needs.

    Please provide insight/recommendation as to which Garmin product would provide the following features and track the following activites but not break the bank:

    1. I am a swimmer(amatuer) and want a smartwatch/fitness tracker with an ATM rating high enough to be classified as waterproof.

    2. Track my walking either outside or on the treadmill. Also, Elliptical workout.

    3. Weight lifting

    4. Jump roping

    5. Bike riding

    6. Text message notification and response

    7. Phone call notification

    8. GPS

    9. Sleep tracking

    10. Coaching

    11. Heart rate monitor

    Thank you in advance for your assistance.

    P.S.

    If you think another brand would work best for me I am open to suggestions.

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