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 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 as well as some due to release soon.

Quick check: Best Garmin sports watches

CategoryProduct namePrice
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

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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.

Read this: How to get Spotify on the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

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

Wareable verdicts: Garmin Fenix 5 Plus review |Garmin Fenix 5S Plus review | Garmin Fenix 5X Plus review

Fenix 5 Plus: $699.99 | Amazon

Fenix 5S Plus: $699.99, | Amazon

Fenix 5X Plus: $849.99, | Amazon

Or try...

Garmin Instinct

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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.

Buy it for: GPS, rugged design, GPX routes, TrackBack, notifications.

$299.99, | Amazon

Best budget Garmin

Garmin Forerunner 235

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 235 review

$299.99, | Amazon

Or try...

Garmin Forerunner 25

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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.

$110.00, | Amazon

Best Garmin sporty smartwatch

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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

In-depth: Our full Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music review

From $299.99, | Amazon

Best Garmin for music

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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 ‚Äď 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

In-depth: Our full Garmin Forerunner 645 Music review

$399.99, | Amazon

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

Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 35 review

From $139.99, | 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 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, | 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 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+ ‚Äď or perhaps the newer Vivofit 4 ‚Äď is worth considering.

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

In-depth: Our full Garmin Vivosport review

$199.99, | Amazon

Garmin Vivosmart 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 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 ‚Äď 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, strength training, and swimming.

Buy it for: Battery life, heart rate monitor, basic activity tracking, MoveIQ support, simple design

In depth: Our full Garmin Vivosmart 4 review

$129.99, | 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 women 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 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

In-depth: Read our full Garmin Forerunner 935 review

$499.99, | 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 it's 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, | Amazon

Best Garmin golf watches

Garmin Approach X10/S10Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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 ‚Äď but not exclusive to ‚Äď ladies, who might not watch the larger watch-style device.

The Approach S10, on the other hand, is a classic-looking golf watch ‚Äď 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.

In-depth: Garmin Approach X10 review | Garmin Approach S10 review

Approach X10$169, | Amazon

Approach S10: $149.99, | Amazon

Garmin Approach 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, | Amazon

Hot sports watch deals

Garmin Forerunner 35 - 40% off
Garmin Forerunner 35 - 40% off
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR - save $179
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR - save $179
Garmin Forerunner 235 - save $50
Garmin Forerunner 235 - save $50
Fitbit Versa - 25% off
Fitbit Versa - 25% off

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  • M_Rcus_Atb·

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

  • thesandman·

    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.


    • jjjegrt2·

      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·

        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·

    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·

    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·

    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·

    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·

    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·

    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·

    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·

    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·

    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·

    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.


  • Kimmy·

    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.


  • PhoebeBee·

    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·

      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·

    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·

    which watch is most suitable for a golf user

  • mf65·

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

  • wokkawokka1·

    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·


    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·

    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·

      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·

    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.


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