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.
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.
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 25
The Garmin Forerunner 25 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.
However, there’s a new face in town: the Garmin Forerunner 35, natural successor to the 25. If you can wait a while longer, it’ll be out later this year, but starting at $$199.99, you’ll have to pay a little more for it.
Buy it for: GPS distance, pace, calories, basic step tracking.
Get a fitness band hybrid
Garmin Vivosmart HR+
Garmin’s just updated the Vivosmart HR to include GPS, which actually makes it a great alternative to the company’s line up of watches. The thinner form factor still houses an optical HR sensor and will track running and gym work, as well as delivering notifications and keeping tabs on your resting heart rate. 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Or ditch it all for a dose of style
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