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So, you’ve got your eyes on a brand but are not sure which of their running watches to get.
Garmin is one of the foremost retailers of running watches and smartwatches, so it’s no surprise that they have a dizzying selection of products to sift through.
Fortunately for you, we’ve done the hard work for you by listing our favorites and backing up our decisions with lists of the products’ pros and cons.
We’ve also included a buyers’ guide so that you can learn all there is to know about running watches. This way you can better discern how one running watch is superior to another for future purchases, whether they’re in the Garmin brand or not.
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Why is it our top pick?
Want the best sports watch right now? If you prefer your online purchases to be fast like your running, then we have our top performer right here.
We chose the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro. It is expensive but hey, you asked for the best. If it isn’t for you then we’ve listed four others below that come from the whole pricing spectrum, so don’t worry.
See what made the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro stand out below:
- Advanced training via the PacePro gives pace guidance and adjusts for your environment with the help of a built-in three-axis compass, gyroscope, and barometric altimeter. Uses Pulse Ox to track blood oxygen levels, great for high altitudes.
- Navigates with preloaded TOPO maps that have global GPS support. Includes 2k ski resort maps and other attractions. Packed with useful amenity features like Garmin Pay and premium streaming service music storage to make your day to day more convenient.
- Is easy to read thanks to its always-on and sunlight-readable 1.3-inch display, which stays on through its extremely variable 10 hour to 48-day battery life, depending on what mode the watch is set to.
Best Garmin Running Watch - Comparison Table
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Best Garmin Running Watch - Reviews
The first product on our list is the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Multisport GPS Watch, a technological marvel that is way more than your typical timepiece. Buying this watch won’t only net you a high-end sports watch but will give you access to advanced training features like PacePro which can guide you during your activities, even adjusting to your environment when need be.
It navigates using preloaded TOPO maps and has global satellite nav system support. It keeps map information in such detail that it includes 2,000 ski resort maps for those of you who are into boarding as well as running.
It has a sensor at the wrist which estimates your heart rate, and also features a Pulse Ox monitor. Pulse Ox monitors the oxygen levels in your blood, which works well for the purposes of sleep monitoring or altitude acclimation.
How does it monitor altitude? This impressive watch not only has a three-axis compass, but also has a gyroscope and barometric altimeter so that it can keep you covered in every direction, dimension, and elevation.
As for some of this watch’s amenities, it has Garmin Pay for making contactless payments and is capable of music storage when synced with premium streaming services. With both features you’ll need to be sure that your bank is a supported one, and that your streaming service will allow you to sync, which they may only allow if you have paid subscription to them.
The watch itself is great to look at and easy to read thanks to its 1.3-inch sunlight-readable display, which is kept in place by a bezel made of stainless steel, titanium or diamond-like carbon depending on which model you go for.
For how powerful the watch is, it gets a respectable 10 hours with full use. The real accomplishment here, however, is the fact that with less-powered modes like expedition or battery saver mode, the battery life can last approximately 28 and 48 days respectively.
The second product on this list is a less expensive, but still moderately high-end model, the Garmin Vivoactive 4S Smartwatch makes up for it in an expanded list of features.
Let’s get the exercise themed features out of the way first, since they’re what you’ll be most interested in. This watch tracks many different health factors that can affect your workouts, such as your energy levels, respiration, hydration and even your sleep if worn at night. It also features the standard heart rate monitor, but also has the Pulse Ox monitor which keeps an eye on your blood’s oxygen levels.
It also benefits from the Garmin Coach app, which provides training plans for your running so that you can better achieve your fitness goals. Running isn’t the only thing this watch helps with though, since it has 20 preloaded apps for corresponding exercise activities like yoga and swimming. There are even animated workouts that are easy to follow if you’re a beginner.
If something were to go wrong during certain exercise activities, this watch is programmed to recognize when disaster strikes and will send out your location to emergency contacts.
On the more leisurely side of this product’s features, it can connect to compatible devices like smartphones and receive smart notifications for calls and texts. It can also download songs to your watch, including playlists from Spotify and Deezer, and it also works with Garmin Pay so you can use contactless payment where it is applicable.
The third product on this list is the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music Running Watch. There is also the non-music version that retails for a lower price if you want this model with some reduced functionality to fit your budget, but we’re putting forward the music version since it’s the better option in terms of features.
The music version is capable of downloading up to 500 songs which, when matched with your own Bluetooth headphones, make for easy run listening. You don’t even have to download the songs since the watch can sync music from streaming services, though you may require a subscription to those services depending on their policies.
It can also provide advanced running dynamics such as your stride length or ground contact time, but some of these features are dependent on whether you have accessory Garmin products like HRM Run or Tri Monitor, which can accumulate into a hefty investment. Without those the watch makes estimates at your heart rate through wrist sensors and uses the data to monitor your performance and help improve training practices.
This watch can be used with Garmin Pay, meaning you can pay for contactless purchases with this watch depending on whether your card and banking establishment is supported.
The watch itself is rated to 5 ATM, which means it can last 50 meters worth of underwater pressure on paper, but in practice this means it should be able to withstand more than enough of the water it’ll encounter in your day to day.
The next is one of the more basic Garmin watches, the Forerunner 45 GPS Watch. This is a quintessential Garmin running watch that benefits from the supportive training and functionality of the Garmin Coach smartphone app.
This watch estimates your heart rate while tracking your movements with a GPS so that you can see your own data and learn from it. As said, it estimates your heart rate but on the product page you’ll see that a bundle is available for heart rate monitors if you want actual readings. You can also choose between 39mm and 42mm sizes.
The Forerunner 45 is also able to connect to your smartphone to receive notifications for texts and phone calls, and there’s even an emergency incident detection system that can alert contacts if you need it, capable of detecting such things as bicycle crashes.
The battery isn’t the best, lasting about 14 hours when in active GPS mode, but even this number gets reduced the more you use it which can leave you charging it nightly.
Here comes our budget Garmin running watch with the Garmin Forerunner 35, the predecessor to the previous Forerunner 45 entry. There are a lot of models in Garmin’s Forerunner series, but this one is Amazon’s Choice for when that phrase is searched. Fortunately for you, it happens to be one of the cheaper options of the series. The fact it's Amazon’s choice means that there’s a wealth of reviews and answered questions about this product on the product page, but we’ll add our two cents onto that pile.
Being one of Garmin’s cheaper offerings, the Forerunner 35 has all of the boilerplate features that you’ll see in the more expensive models, such as the fitness-oriented GPS that tracks not only your location but the distance and speed at which you can run. It does this by connecting to iPhone or Android phones via its app and is also capable of 24/7 heart monitoring too.
It’s rated as waterproof to 5 ATM, so it’s able to linger in water without getting damaged to any significant degree. There’s also some color variety, coming in neutral black and white that are bound to appeal to most, and pastel green and blue for those who want to add some color.
The corresponding app that you use with this running watch can be considered intrusive by some since it always runs in the background. This can slow down your smartphone, especially if your memory is scarce. You probably have many apps on your phone right now that are running in the background though, so it’s not too much of a problem for most. This watch is a great budget option, which may make up for the fact that it’s light on features in your eyes.
Best Garmin Running Watch - Buyers Guide
How to find the best running watch
With Garmin being an established brand in the smartwatch market, this buyers’ guide will be focusing more generally on what to look for in a quality running watch, whether they’re Garmin or not.
Garmin has a decent collection of fitness smartwatch technology as seen above, but anything we could say about their features can also be translated to the market as a whole.
There’s a wealth of features that make a running watch stand above any old smartwatch, and in this section, we’ll explore some of them. We’ll talk about GPS capability, heart rate monitoring, incident detection, downloadable content, built-in compasses and other measurement devices, and the ever-important battery life.
You’ll find GPS capability in pretty much any decent running watch you’ll find nowadays. The difference here is whether it’s a basic GPS that tracks your location, or whether the GPS (and the connected app) does its homework. By this we mean studying your route, your running speed, etc. and giving you quantitative metrics by which you can plan and measure your improvement at running or other sport activities that involve covering ground fast.
Heart Rate and Blood Oxygen Monitoring
Heart rate monitoring is also fairly standard, most running watches electing to do it via wrist sensors. These are described as estimations because they can be inaccurate, so periphery gear can be used with running watches for more accurate measurements. There are also blood-oxygen measurers, which are ideal for sleep studying or when you find yourself at high altitude, but these aren’t necessary if you don’t plan on those things, and are found in the more high-end models. Measuring blood pressure is also a topic among watch designers.
Emergency Incident Detection
Incident detection is something that kicks in during certain activities, like bicycling, and uses your biological data as well as the detection of any sudden stops or unusual stillness in order to raise an alarm. That alarm comes in the form of calling emergency contacts that you can set until one of them picks up, and yes, this can be set to your local emergency services. We’d recommend models with this feature if you plan on any extreme activities or have underlying health conditions you’re concerned about when exercising.
Downloadable content, which can come preloaded in higher-end models, can consist of anything from fitness support apps and topographic maps of pretty much the entire globe, to the ability to download music or enjoy the convenience of contactless payments. The former is obviously geared to those who are beginners or are interested in rugged multisport, which may not be you, but a decent watch will usually at least have the latter two to make your running life a little easier.
Built-in Measurement Devices
Speaking of multisport, most watches will have compasses of some sort if they have GPS systems, but the detail of those compasses differs between brands and the products in those brands. The real interest to multisport enthusiasts will be the gyroscope and barometric altimeter that high-end watches like our number one have. If you’re a rock-climber, snowboarder, or anything involving extreme sport and high-altitudes, these features are nice to have.
The thing to remember about battery life is that it depends on how often the watch gets used. Even the mightiest watches can become half day tap-outs if you use them hard enough. That’s why, on any product page for most given smartwatches, they’ll have variable modes. Not all will, of course, but we’d recommend staying away from those. Even many low to mid-range running watches will have different power modes if you’re buying from the right brands.
If you’re smart enough to want a watch with different power settings, you’ll find that a lot of the higher-end ones justify their prices with the fact that their batteries have more longevity.
There seems to be a slump in mid-range smartwatches where they have higher-end features but not the battery power to exercise those features for more than a few hours at a time. It isn’t a problem that hits lower-range watches as much, so if you want a watch that keeps its power throughout the day, look to the high and low-end running watches.