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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Best Garmin watches for work/sport types
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.
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