Garmin The Best running watches models explained: Our pick of the best Garmin sports watches you can buy
Think of Garmin and you’ll almost certainly think of Best Running watches. The fact that the US giant is synonymous with fitness wearables is no mean feat considering that it’s been around for nearly 30 years and also specialises in technology for land, sea and air vehicles.
Still, it’s sports watches, especially running watches, that have really stuck – and it’s no wonder. The company’s products are known for delivering the things athletes care about: durability, accuracy and heaps of stats.
Even paired with the company’s most basic Forerunner 30 watch, the Garmin Connect app will give you insights on average pace, average moving pace, best pace, maximum speed, moving time, elapsed time, average heart rate, max heart rate, average cadence, maximum cadence, average stride length, elevation gain, elevation loss, minimum elevation, maximum elevation and calories burned, among other stats.
Consider that Garmin Connect also interfaces with Strava and MyFitnessPal and for fitness nerds, this is about as good as it gets.
The trouble is that the company has an awful lot of products and it’s not clear to a novice what does what and how much you actually need to spend. In this guide, we’ll explain the key features of each, while giving you an idea of how much you need to spend to get everything you want.
Garmin watch models explained: Decoding the brands
Broadly speaking, Garmin watches can be divided into six categories. Technically, there are more than six, but for most punters, Garmin’s range includes the Fenix, Forerunner, Vivoactive, Vivosport, Vivosmart and Vivofit Junior brands.
In truth, there’s an awful lot of crossover in features and design, with nearly all of Garmin’s watches for adults offering basic fitness features such as step counting and sleep monitoring, along with smartphone notifications. But there are some differences, too.
For starters, if the name has “Vivo” in it, chances are you’re looking at a fitness tracker, rather than a specialist sports watch. Of these, only some contain built-in GPS (the Vivosport and Vivoactive), so be sure to check or you might end up having to piggyback location data from your phone to get accurate workout stats.
The Vivoactive is the main exception to this rule because it’s a smartwatch, rather than a fitness band. As such, it offers most of the same insights, albeit on a bigger screen.
The Forerunner range is a bit easier to explain: the brand is chiefly aimed at runners, although you can increasingly use the watches to track a multitude of sports. They all pack GPS, so you can go ahead and leave your phone at home and run without bulk. They cost from around £100 all the way up to £520 for the Forerunner 945.
Further up the Garmin totem pole is the Fenix range, which has all of the features you could want in a more rugged, outdoorsy frame. They’re premium watches with premium prices to match, though they fall short of the truly astronomical prices you’ll see in Garmin’s Marq range, which starts at £1,400 for the Marq Athlete and tops out at £2,250 for the Marq Driver.
1. Garmin watch models explained: The best Running watches for Garmin
With so much choice, it’s quite hard to pick out a definitive “best Garmin watch”, but these are the wearables we feel offer the right balance between price and features.
Garmin’s budget running watches used to be simple devices, but the Forerunner 45 boasts an impressive array of features, especially considering its small size and price tag. It does all the basics superbly, with accurate GPS and heart rate tracking, and packs in 13 hours of GPS — but the Forerunner 45 goes well beyond the basics.
You can sync a Garmin Coach training plan with the watch for events like a 5K or half marathon, and it will guide you through runs from your wrist to prepare you for the race. You can also create and follow your own structured workouts, a feature once restricted to mid-range or premium watches, and it will even estimate your VO2 max.
Key specs – Screen size: 1.04in; Weight: 36g; GPS? Yes; ANT+ support? Yes; Waterproof? 5ATM; Battery life: 7 days smart mode, 13 hours GPS
2. Garmin Fenix 6 Pro: Best Garmin watch if money is no object
The Garmin Fenix 6 range is full of incredible watches, and there is a case for saying that the 6X Pro Solar is the one to go for if money truly is no object, since it adds the ability to extend its formidable battery life though solar power on top of all the features of the Fenix 6 Pro. However, the Fenix 6 Pro is a lot cheaper than the 6X Pro Solar, which starts at £850, and it still has a massive battery life, so we’re going to stick with our pick.
Garmin has packed pretty much everything into the 6 Pro, which has best-in-class sports tracking and training analysis, plus space for music (and the ability to sync wirelessly with Spotify Premium accounts), on-board colour maps and NFC payments through Garmin Pay. The watch also introduces Garmin’s new PacePro feature, which can help you pace a race perfectly using a split-by-split breakdown that adjusts the target pace of each kilometre (or mile) based on your overall goal time and the elevation of that kilometre.
The battery life is also immense at 36 hours of GPS, and although it’s still a chunky device, Garmin even managed to reduce the weight of the Fenix 6 Pro by 3g compared with the previous model – the Fenix 5 Plus.
Key specs – Screen size: 1.3in; Weight: 83g; GPS? Yes; ANT+ support? Yes; Waterproof? 10ATM; Battery life: 14 days smart mode, 36 hours GPS, 10 hours GPS and music
3. Garmin Vivoactive 4: Best Garmin watch for all-rounders
The Vivoactive 4 offers Garmin’s excellent sports and everyday activity tracking in an attractive package that will have more appeal outside the running and triathlon community, with a bright touchscreen and smart features like music and Garmin Pay. The latest Vivoactive is also especially good for beginner runners and those new to the gym, with training plans for the former and a series of pre-made guided workouts including on-screen animations for the latter.
While it doesn’t have as much depth when it comes to sports tracking as something like the Forerunner 245, the Vivoactive 4 has all of Garmin’s best everyday activity tracking features, including Body Battery, which provides a snapshot of your overall energy ratings throughout the day via a simple score out of 100.
Key specs – Screen size: 1.3in; Weight: 50.5g; GPS? Yes; ANT+ support? Yes; Waterproof? 5ATM; Battery life: 8 days smart mode, 6 hours GPS and music.
4. Garmin Vivosport: Best Garmin fitness band
If you want something a little more discrete, the Garmin Vivosport fitness band is for you. It manages to pack in the vast majority of watch features into a slim package with a teeny-tiny touchscreen. In fact, the screen is so small that the sausage-fingered may want to pass.
Still, runners and cyclists with a pianist’s fingers will find a lot to love. It has an always-on colour display, as well as providing GPS, heart rate tracking and smart notifications. You can also track your progress with VO2 max, fitness age and stress-tracking – not bad for a wearable that’ll last seven days between charges. Note that, although you can keep it on in the pool, there’s no swim tracking.
Key specs – Screen size: 0.38 x 0.76in; Weight: 27g; GPS? Yes; ANT+ support? Yes; Waterproof? Swimproof; Battery life: 7 days smart mode, 8 hours GPS.
5. Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: The best Garmin running watch
Garmin took its time in updating the massively-popular Forerunner 235, which was the go-to watch for many runners, but when the Forerunner 245 did arrive it certainly didn’t disappoint. Garmin has added music storage to the watch, which can also sync wirelessly with Spotify Premium accounts. It’s also beefed up the feedback you get on your training, including info on whether your load is productive and how much recovery time you need after a session.
That’s on top of the stellar run tracking offered by the 245, which is reliably accurate when it comes to distance and heart rate. It provides all your key stats at a glance plus live feedback on your running technique when paired with a footpod. The 245 also connects to Garmin Coach, a feature in the Garmin Connect app through which you can set up training plans for running events, which sync to the watch so you can follow workouts from your wrist.
Of course, runners don’t just run, and you can rest assured that the Forerunner 245 also tracks an array of other sports, including cycling, swimming and pretty much everything else you can think of.
Key specs – Screen size: 1.2in; Weight: 38.5g; GPS? Yes; ANT+ support? Yes; Waterproof? 5ATM; Battery life: Seven days smart mode, 24 hours GPS, six hours GPS with music
6. Garmin Forerunner 945: The best Garmin watch for triathletes
The Forerunner 945 is the most advanced watch in the Forerunner line-up and makes a pretty fair case for being the best watch that Garmin makes full stop. It’s certainly the option keen runners and triathletes should opt for, with all of the premium features of the very expensive Marq Athlete packed into a slighter plastic frame that’s more comfortable to wear during exercise.
Those features include the most advanced training load analysis we’ve come across on any wearable, including details on how balanced your train is between anaerobic and aerobic work, and how well you’re acclimating to altitude or heat. Triathletes will also welcome the open water and multisport modes that are absent on Forerunners lower down the range.
On top of its sports tracking features, the 945 also has colour maps and the ability to create routes on the go, NFC payments through Garmin Pay, and music storage and syncing with streaming services like Spotify.
It does more or less everything, then, while still being a slim, comfortable watch with a long battery life. Unless you prefer the premium design of the Fenix 5 Plus Series, this is the best sports watch you can get.
Key specs – Screen size: 1.2in; Weight: 50g; GPS? Yes; ANT+ support? Yes; Waterproof? 5ATM; Battery life: 14 days smart mode, 36 hours GPS, 10 hours GPS with music
7. Garmin Venu: Best Garmin smartwatch
In terms of software the Venu is more or less exactly the same as the Vivoactive 4, but what sets it apart as the best Garmin smartwatch is the AMOLED screen it boasts, which means it can stand as a genuine rival to the likes of the Apple Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Watch, with their gorgeous displays.
The Venu’s vivid screen hasn’t come at the cost of completely killing its battery life, either. It might not last as long as the Vivoactive 4, but it will still get you through two or three days even if you’re regularly using it to track outdoor activities using the GPS. It also has music, Garmin Pay, and the great sports tracking you get on any Garmin watch.
In the future we expect to see the Venu’s screen crop up on other Garmin devices, but right now it’s the only watch the company does with an AMOLED screen, and it’s a belter. However, if you’re not convinced of the merits of a fancier screen on your smartwatch, then opt for the Vivoactive 4, which is cheaper and has a longer battery life.
Key specs – Screen size: 1.2in; Weight: 46.3g; GPS? Yes; ANT+ support? Yes; Waterproof? 5ATM; Battery life: 5 days smart mode, 16 hours GPS, 6 hours GPS and music.
8. Garmin Instinct Solar: Best Garmin for battery life
The rugged, plastic design of the Instinct range demonstrates its purpose as a watch built for the great outdoors, and the addition of solar panels to the Instinct Solar only enhances its appeal for the adventurous, because the battery life is substantially increased in sunny weather.
That battery life is impressive even under clouds at 24 days or 30 hours of GPS, and it grows to 54 days and 38 hours of GPS with enough sun. Furthermore, in expedition mode, which turns off some features, the Instinct Solar can last indefinitely if there’s enough sun.
The watch has a fairly small screen compared to other Garmins, but still tracks all your sporting endeavours with accuracy, and it offers breadcrumb navigation and customisable workouts. It lacks the detailed training analysis you get on devices like the Forerunner 245, but for many that will be a fair trade in order to get the huge solar-powered battery life.
Key specs – Screen size: 0.9in; Weight: 53g; GPS? Yes; ANT+ support? Yes; Waterproof? 10ATM; Battery life: 24 days/54 days with solar, 30 hours GPS, 38 hours GPS with solar