Buying a new sports watch is never easy because there are so many things to take into consideration, such as features, battery life, durability, price etc. Furthermore, sports watches are also relatively expensive and therefore it’s important that you buy a high-quality watch which satisfies your needs. If you have decided to buy one of the Garmin watches, you are on the right way. Garmin makes top-notch sports watches which offer many useful features and provide good durability. Garmin sports watches are, due to their features and quality, indeed a step ahead of the competition (at the time of posting).
However, Finnish Suunto is making great progress catching up and if you feel that Garmin doesn’t have the right product for your needs, there is a good chance that you will find a better match among Suunto watches. In the following we selected and reviewed the five best Garmin watches in 2020. To suit everyone’s needs we included watches in the price range of $100 to $800 which are suitable for various sports such as running, hiking, mountaineering, backpacking, biking, swimming and gym training.
1. Buying a Garmin Watch – What is important?
Features should match your activities:
You should buy a watch with features matching the activities you do. For example, if you are a runner, you should buy one of Garmin’s running watches (with GPS) while a less expensive watch without GPS will be adequate if you only do gym training. If you do more than one sport, you should go for one of Garmin’s multisport watches which can track and record multiple activities (running, swimming, biking etc.).
Most common features:
If you often do outdoor sports and activities, it is worth purchasing a GPS watch to track and record your activities via the GPS. Hereby you can easily analyze your workouts in the Garmin Connect app (available as web app and mobile app) and see detailed information about each workout. The Garmin Connect app also shows you how fit you are and if your fitness level is improving or deteriorating. Many GPS watches can also help you with navigation which comes in handy for hiking and backpacking. Check out our article What are GPS tracks to learn more about navigation with a watch.
Heart Rate Monitor:
A heart rate monitor allows you to measure the intensity of your exercise and is thus an essential feature when it comes to sports watches. Some Garmin watches are equipped with Elevate wrist heart rate monitors while others require a chest strap transmitter. Watches with wrist heart rate monitors are much better because they don’t require a chest strap which is often uncomfortable and annoying to wear. Instead, they simply measure your heart rate with an optical sensor which is located beneath the watch. The latest developments in optical heart rate monitors have made them as accurate as the chest strap transmitters. However, watches with wrist-based heart rate monitors are in general more expensive.
Support for External Speed and Cadence Sensors:
If you are into running or biking, it is a good idea to buy a Garmin watch that supports external sensors. For example, some Garmin watches support the Vector Power Meter which is very useful for biking; it measures total power, left/right balance, cadence and cycling dynamics. For runners, Garmin offers the Running Dynamics Pod which measures cadence, ground contact time, balance, stride length and more. These sensors connect to the watch wirelessly (via Bluetooth or ANT+).
ABC (Altimeter, Barometer, Compass)
Some Garmin watches are equipped with barometric altimeter, barometer and compass (the so-called ABC) which are very useful for navigation and weather prediction. The barometric altimeter, barometer and compass work even when the watch doesn’t have GPS signal (for example in narrow valleys) and therefore watches with ABC are great for backpackers, hikers, mountaineers and other outdoorsmen.
Garmin watches are not inexpensive, but we believe that purchasing one of the Garmin watches is ultimately a good investment due to their quality, performance and long lifespan. If you don’t have the biggest budget, you might have to drop some advanced features such as wrist-based heart rate monitor, support for external sensors and a Sapphire lens but for most people these features are not a must.
As watches are becoming more like smartphones and computers, they require regular updates, so the manufacturers can fix bugs and ensure support for software (like the Garmin Connect). Therefore, it’s not recommended to buy a very old watch as it might soon not be supported anymore.
We only list top-tier products. Read how our selections of best hiking products differ from others here.
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2. The Best Garmin Watches Review
The Best Garmin Watches – List
|Feature/Product||Garmin Forerunner 235||Garmin Fenix 5||Garmin Forerunner 25||Garmin Vívoactive 3||Garmin Vívosmart 3|
|Best for||Running||Multisport||Running||Multisport||Gym Training|
|Weight||0.8 oz.||3.03 oz.||1.4 oz.||1.5 oz. (L)||0.8 oz. (L)|
|Weight (Metric)||24 g||85 g||39 g (L)||43 g (L)||22 g (L)|
|Case Size||1.8 x 1.8 x 0.5 in.||1.9 x 1.9 x 0.6 in.||1.6 x 1.9 x 0.6 in||1.7 x 1.97 x 0.6 in (L)||0.7 x 0.4 x 8.5 in (L)|
|Case Size (Metric)||4.5 x 4.5 x 1.2 cm||4.7 x 4.7 x 1.6 cm||4.0 x 4.7 x 1.4 cm (L)||4.3 x 4.3 x 1.4 cm (L)||1.9 x 1 x 22 cm (L)|
|GPS||Yes + GLONASS||Yes + GLONASS||Yes||Yes + GLONASS||No|
|Heart Rate Monitor||Yes (including wrist HR)||Yes (including wrist HR)||Yes (chest strap transmitter required)||Yes (including wrist HR)||Yes (including wrist HR)|
|Support for External Sensors||Yes||Yes||Yes (only foot pod)||Yes||No|
|Lens Material||Mineral Crystal||Sapphire Glass or Mineral Crystal||Acrylic||Mineral Crystal||Mineral Crystal|
|Water Resistance||50 m||100 m||50 m||50 m||Swim|
|Battery||Rechargeable lithium-ion||Rechargeable lithium-ion||Rechargeable lithium-ion||Rechargeable lithium-ion||Rechargeable lithium-ion|
|Battery Life||9 days in time mode||4 weeks in time mode||10 weeks in time mode (L)||7 days in time mode||5 days|
|Mobile App||Yes (Garmin Connect)||Yes (Garmin Connect)||Yes (Garmin Connect)||Yes (Garmin Connect)||Yes (Garmin Connect)|
|Web App||Yes (Garmin Connect)||Yes (Garmin Connect)||Yes (Garmin Connect)||Yes (Garmin Connect)||Yes (Garmin Connect)|
1. Garmin Forerunner 235
- Everyday use
The Garmin Forerunner 235 watch is extremely popular among runners because it is sleek, light and equipped with many advanced features for running. It has GPS and GLONASS, wrist-based heart rate monitor and supports external sensors such as the Garmin Foot Pod. The Forerunner 235 watch also offers good functionality for cycling and outdoor recreation – it supports bike cadence sensors and provides navigation along pre-planned routes. The watch even has a back-to-start feature, meaning that it guides you back to the starting point if you get lost. However, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is primarily designed for running, so if you are looking for a multisport watch or a watch for outdoor adventures (hiking, backpacking etc.) you will probably be better off with the Garmin Fenix 5 watch below. The Forerunner 235 watch is made of durable plastic and comes with a silicone strap to be as light as possible. It has a color display and runs for 11 hours in GPS mode without recharging. This watch is a great option for runners who need a watch with many useful features for a reasonable price.
2. Garmin Fenix 5
- Outdoor Recreation
- Everyday use
The Garmin Fenix 5 is one of the most popular watches from the iconic American manufacturer. It is a multisport watch and in comparison to the Forerunner 235 above, it is made of more durable materials and has more features – especially when it comes to outdoor recreation, swimming, golfing and cycling. However, the Fenix 5 is also almost twice as expensive as the Forerunner 235. It has all the features of the Forerunner 235 and is additionally equipped with barometric altimeter, barometer (for weather prediction), compass and thermometer. The Fenix 5 watch is available in three different sizes and with a Sapphire lens for better scratch resistance. The 5X version also supports topographic maps for simple navigation. The Fenix 5 watch is best for hikers, backpackers, mountaineers and those who are engaged in more than one sport. If you are looking specifically for watch for outdoor recreation also check out our review of the Best Hiking Watches.
3. Garmin Forerunner 25
- Everyday use
The Garmin Forerunner 25 is a budget GPS watch which is perfect for those who need something like the Forerunner 235 but don’t really have the budget to purchase it. In comparison to the 235, the Garmin Forerunner 25 doesn’t support GLONASS or wrist-based heart rate monitor. It also doesn’t have the cycling or outdoor recreation functionality (support for cadence sensors, back to start navigation etc.). However, the Forerunner 25 costs only about a third of the Forerunner 235 and offers quite a lot for the money. It is equipped with Bluetooth and thus your workouts wirelessly sync with the Garmin Connect app. Furthermore, the Garmin Forerunner 25 also shows notifications from the phone and all sorts of data from your runs. As the watch doesn’t have wrist-based heart rate monitor, the chest strap transmitter has to be purchased separately. All in all, the Garmin Forerunner 25 is a great budget GPS watch for running.
4. Garmin Vívoactive 3
- Outdoor Recreation
- Everyday use
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is a great option for those who want a watch similar to the Garmin Fenix 5 but for a lower price. Vivoactive 3 is almost half the price of Fenix 5, but has comparable features. The Garmin Vivoactive 3 watch is equipped with wrist-based HR and supports GPS as well as GLONASS. The watch also has barometric altimeter, compass and thermometer. However, in comparison to the Garmin Fenix 5, it is made of less durable materials (also not available with Sapphire lens) and lacks some advanced features. The Vivoactive 3 watch also has a touchscreen which might be hard to use with sweaty hands or while wearing gloves. Apart from that, it is a great multisport watch which offers a lot for the price.
5. Garmin Vívosmart 3
- Activity tracker
- Gym training
The Garmin Vivosmart 3 is an activity tracker, meaning that it monitors your fitness and stress level throughout the day. However, it is also very useful for gym training as it monitors your heart rate (wrist-based HR) and has many gym-specific features. As it doesn’t have GPS, the Vivosmart is obviously not designed for outdoor sports. Nevertheless, if you need an inexpensive activity tracker, look no further. The Garmin Vivosmart 3 is equipped with barometric altimeter, accelerometer, light sensor and Bluetooth. Bluetooth allows you to pair the device with a Smartphone and sync it with the Garmin Connect app as well as receive notifications from your Smartphone directly to the watch. The Garmin Vivosmart 3 is a great option for those who want a light, sleek and powerful activity tracker for everyday use.