Best Garmin watch: Choosing the right device for your needs

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?

Garmin has an impossibly large selection of running watches, but how can you choose which is best for you? With watches aimed at beginner runners to performance triathletes it's all too easy to overspend for features you don't really need.

Essential reading: Essential Garmin Connect IQ guide

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.

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 15

The Garmin Forerunner 15 costs a fraction of the price of its peers, and is firmly 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 heart rate (with a strap accessory). 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, basic step tracking.

Read more: Garmin Forerunner 15 review

From $169.99, | Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 10

The cheapest and lightest running watch on Garmin's roster, the Forerunner 10 is much like the Forerunner 15 but you don't get the heart rate monitoring and activity tracking. Designed for new runners and people who like to keep it simple, the important stats are covered including total time, distance, pace, average pace and calories burned. But there are some clever features too.

For instance there's a special Run/walk mode that helps improve new runners by slowly increasing distances run and the reducing time spent walking. It'll also keep tabs and alert you when you've hit a new personal record, adding some extra motivation for those starting out a running journey. You can also race yourself using the Virtual Pacer to push yourself to those new running records.

Buy it for: GPS distance, real-time pace, Virtual Pacer, keeping tabs on personal bests, following a run/walk programme.

$129.99, | Amazon

The PB-chasers 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, | Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 220

Aside from a fetching high resolution colour display, the main bonus you get when you step up to the Forerunner 220 is access to a full range of Garmin Connect training tools. Of course you still get the expected distance, pace and heart rate tracking (chest strap) and these tracking smarts combine with things like off the shelf half and full marathon training plans to take your running to the next level.

If you're at the stage where you're comfortable to control your own training plans then the 220 offers that too. You can create customised training schedules, single workouts, and interval sessions and sync them wirelessly to your watch. Indoor treadmill and track runs are covered too thanks to a built-in accelerometer and you can also let friends and family follow you live, like they might do during an official marathon with a the Live Tracking feature that plots your runs on a web-based map in real time.

Buy it for: GPS distance, real-time pace, heart rate tracking, live tracking, automated social sharing. Plus marathon training plans, wireless data syncing with Garmin Connect and auto-sharing with Strava.

From $199.99, | 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, | 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 920 XT

If all you do is run, then the Forerunner 920XT is going to be too much watch for your needs. However if you're all about mixing up you disciplines then this higher end Garmin tracks seven different activities including bike, indoor bike, run, indoor run, outdoor swim, indoor swim, triathlon, all of this with ease, accuracy and a level of detail that's almost impossible to beat.

Not only is it packed with enough single discipline smarts to keep any runner, cyclist or swimmer happy, it's also got some killer tech features, like Live Tracking, autosync and smartphone notifications on the watch. 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.

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

From $449.99, | Amazon

Best Garmin watches for work/sport types

Garmin Vivoactive

Arguably Garmin's first smartwatch, the Vivoactive take a lot of the capabilities of Garmin's huge range of dedicated sports wearables and rolls them all into one, albeit with a slightly paired back approach to the available features.

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.

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.

There's also an updated Vivoactive HR model on the way too, which surprise, surprise, adds a heart rate monitor into the mix.

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 review

From $219.99, | Amazon

Best Garmin for multisport

Garmin Fenix 3 and Fenix 3 Sapphire

When it comes to sports tracking, things don't get more action packed than the Fenix 3. If the Forerunner 10 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, 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 a new Fenix 3 adding heart rate and some more suit-friendly designs.

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 review

From $499.99, | Amazon


  • 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.


    • 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

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