Garmin has a reputation for building dependable products for outdoor adventures. Many Garmin fans find the products are particularly noteworthy for their reliable GPS navigation. Whether your primary activity is running, hiking, or something else, Garmin offers a wide range of GPS watches to help you keep track along the way. You’ll find everything from fitness and activity trackers with all the essentials you need to get started, along with more advanced Garmin GPS watches with running metrics for serious training.
Since most Garmin watches come with the same general basics, including calories burned and distance covered, you can start to narrow down your search based on your budget along with the intended purpose of the watch and your preferred features. Activity trackers are ideal for covering the basics and can be used for a wide range of activities. Some watches have more advanced metrics that cater to serious training and competitions. If you frequently find yourself off the beaten path, a watch with TOPO mapping, a compass and other features could be a worthwhile investment.
GPS mode can be draining on a battery. If you plan on using yours a lot, consider a watch with a longer battery life. Some watches last just a few hours in GPS mode, while others will go for several hours per charge. A few models come with a battery-saving feature, which is especially useful if you plan on taking your Garmin GPS watch out for extended periods of time.
1. Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
The Forerunner 645 Music is the first Garmin watch to also include music. You can download up to 500 of your favorite songs onto the watch, then listen to them by connecting a pair of Bluetooth-enabled headphones. Offline listening is also an option, as you can sync music from certain music streaming services. Another convenient feature is the inclusion of Garmin Pay, which allows you to make payments straight from your watch. As with other Garmin running watches, this one provides crucial information such as your stride length, cadence and more to give you an in-depth look at your training. When paired with a compatible smartphone, you can also use the watch to check emails as well as receive and respond to text messages.
- Can hold up to 500 songs
- Offline listening available
- Built-in activity profiles for various sports
- Bluetooth headphones sold separately
- Some wish it was compatible with a wider range of music services
- Subpar battery life when using GPS
2.Garmin vívoactive 3
The Garmin vívoactive 3 comes with several pre-loaded sports apps so that you can keep track of your workout and fitness whether you’re running, swimming, doing yoga or another activity. Built-in GPS records your location, distance and pace for each activity. The battery lasts up to 13 hours when using GPS, and up to seven days when used as a traditional smartwatch. After a workout, the information is automatically uploaded to Garmin Connect.
- Includes several sports apps
- Built-in GPS records pace, distance and location
- Workout information automatically uploaded to Garmin Connect
- Some note occasional software glitches
- Limited Garmin Pay options
- Basic smart watch features
3. Garmin Forerunner 235
If you’re looking for a smaller and more basic watch, consider the Garmin Forerunner 235. The watch tracks heart rate, time, distance and pace during workouts. It also provides 24/7 heart rate monitoring. A built-in accelerometer tracks distance and pace whether you’re running on the roads or on your favorite trails. Other features include audio and movement prompts, smart notifications and live tracking. Battery life is approximately 11 hours in training mode and to nine days in smartwatch mode.
Price: $249.99 (24 percent off MSRP)
- Ideal for road and trail running
- 24/7 heart rate monitoring
- Compact size
- Can’t remove pre-installed sports apps
- Doesn’t have a virtual pacer
- Some complain of periodic connectivity issues
4. Garmin Fenix 3
The fēnix 3 is a rugged watch that can be used for training as well as competition. Despite its numerous available features, the watch remains lightweight and as slim as possible. Advanced fitness metrics such as VO2 max, running speed and heart beats per minute make the watch a valuable training tool for runners. If you want even more information, you can pair the watch with the Garmin running heart monitor to see your ground contact time, cadence and other running dynamics. Aside from running, the watch is designed for swimming, skiing and snowboarding. Battery life will vary based on settings, but can last up to 16 hours when using GPS, 50 hours in battery-saving mode and nearly three months in general watch mode.
- Rugged design
- Advanced running metrics
- Lightweight and slim design
- No automatic activity detection
- Requires additional equipment for some features
- Screen could be brighter
5. Garmin vívofit 4
The vívofit 4 is a wearable activity tracker that can be used for a variety of activities, and has a prolonged battery life of up to a year. Activity detection technology determines when you start running, so that you don’t have to press a button to begin recording. The tracker also automatically identifies activities such as swimming, walking and elliptical workouts. Distance covered and calories burned are tracked throughout the day and during activities, along with total steps taken. You can also use the watch to monitor your sleep.
- Sleep tracking
- Long battery life
- Automatic activity detection
- Some complain of syncing issues
- Doesn’t monitor heart rate
- Small display
6. Garmin Forerunner 735XT
The Garmin Forerunner 735XT is a lightweight yet fully capable multi-sport watch with numerous built-in activities. You can use the watch for running as well as cycling, swimming, paddle sports, hiking and other indoor and outdoor workouts. Highlights include 24/7 wrist-based heart rate monitoring and connected features such as smart notifications and live tracking. Data is automatically uploaded to Garmin Connect to help you keep track of your workouts. Advanced dynamics are available for running, swimming and cycling, including stride length, lactate threshold, VO2 max estimate and more. A recovery advisor ensures a smoother and more personalized recovery.
Price: $299.99 (14 percent off MSRP)
- Multi-sport watch
- Advanced dynamics for running, swimming and cycling
- 24/7 wrist-based heart rate monitoring
- Some wish it wasn’t made of plastic
- Battery life could be better
- Occasional syncing issues
7. Garmin Fenix Chronos
If you don’t want to sacrifice style for performance, consider the Garmin Fenix Chronos. In a departure from the typical rugged design of other Garmin watches, the Chronos is made with a premium grade metal housing and a scratch-resistant sapphire lens. You can use it for everyday fitness with features such as wrist-based heart rate monitoring and daily activity tracking. Components such as a barometric altimeter and a three-axis compass also make the watch a capable companion for hiking and rugged adventures. Battery life is roughly 13 hours in GPS mode, up to 25 hours in battery saver mode and just over a week in smartwatch mode. Advanced running dynamics include stride length, vertical ratio and oscillation, cadence and more. In addition to running, the watch is geared towards swimming, rowing, skiing and snowboarding, paddle sports and golf.
- Stylish design
- Scratch-resistant sapphire lens
- Advanced running dynamics
- Some note inaccurate heart rate readings
- Heart rate bundle costs extra
8. Garmin vívosport
The Garmin vívosport is a well-rounded activity tracker that can be used to track various indoor and outdoor activities. Highlights include a built-in GPS to more accurately track your favorite outdoor activities, and an always-on display that keeps your data accessible at all times. There’s even an all-day stress tracking function to keep you in tune with potential stressors. Aside from 24/7 wrist-based heart rate monitoring, tools such as VO2 max and fitness age can help you keep track of your current fitness and make improvements going forward. The battery lasts up to eight hours in GPS mode and up to a week in smartwatch mode.
- Slim and lightweight
- 24/7 wrist-based heart rate monitoring
- Stress tracking function
- GPS only for outdoor activities
- A few had issues with the clasp breaking over time
- Screen can be hard to see in bright light
9. Garmin Tactix Charlie
The Garmin Tactix Charlie is a rugged multisport watch geared towards outdoor recreation and tactical activity. Specific features include dual-position GPS, built-in navigation sensors, barometer, altimeter and three-axis compass. Wrist-based heart rate monitoring makes it easier to keep track of your fitness. The display is bright enough to be easily read during the day. This watch is also compatible with night vision goggles for use at night. Built-in navigation and mapping keeps you on course once you head off the beaten path.
- Built-in navigation sensors
- Compatible with night vision goggles
- Ideal for outdoor recreation and tactical use
- Only comes in one size
- Can’t respond to messages or alerts
10. Garmin Fenix 5X
Garmin Fenix 5X is similar in many ways to the Tactix Charlie. Both watches offer TOPO mapping along with built-in navigation sensors and other outdoor tools such as a gyroscope and barometric altimeter. However, this watch has cycling maps and is not compatible with night vision goggles. Built-in activity profiles and wrist-based heart rate monitoring make the watch a practical choice for runners. LED backlighting makes the screen more visible in bright sun as well as in dimmer lighting. WiFi capability means you can connect to your personal network and upload your workout information to Garmin Connect.
- Has cycling maps
- WiFi connectivity
- LED backlighting
- Limited apps
- May be a bit bulky on those with smaller wrists
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