After 35+ hours of research and reviewing more than 25 watches, we’ve found the best triathlon watches in 2020. Our picks include a variety of brands, prices, and features making it easy to choose one that covers your needs and budget.
The best triathlon watches on the market are typically bulging at the seams with bells and whistles. These watches also tend to be on the high-end of the price scale. With so many features jammed inside, they require a longer learning curve to use properly. So we’ve included a few less expensive options that are easier to operate.
For any new triathletes, you might be wondering how a running watch differs from a triathlon watch. A triathlon watch does everything a running watch can do – plus it tracks bike rides and swimming. It also has a few features made for competitions. We’ll cover this in more depth at the end of the article.
TOP 3 BEST AND FAVORITES
GARMIN FORERUNNER 945
Top Triathlon Watch in 2020
1. Garmin Forerunner 945
Garmin continues to lead the way for triathletes looking for the best GPS watch to use during training and triathlons. Their latest watch, the Forerunner 945, is thin and lightweight, packed with features, and has a long-lasting battery.
Building off the 935 foundation, the Forerunner 945 continues to track swimming, cycling, and running – with loads of related activity data. But the 945 now has an improved battery – plus music storage, Garmin Pay, and real street and topo maps.
The 945 tracks pool and open water swims. It counts lengths (in the pool), distance, pace, and stroke count. It’s able to detect the type of swim stroke (freestyle, back, etc) and calculate swim efficiency. If you buy Garmin’s Tri and Swim heart rate monitors, the 945 records heart rate while swimming.
During bike rides, the Forerunner 945 records time, speed, and distance and works with a variety of bike accessories like power meters and Garmin’s Varia safety system. New preloaded maps mean you can upload routes to the watch for improved navigation.
For runners, the watch tracks distance, pace, and time. Use a chest strap HRM or the built-in wrist HRM to monitor heart rate. If you wear Garmin’s Running Pod (or one of the Tri-specific chest strap HRMs), the 945 records cadence, vertical “bounce”, and ground contact – metrics that can help to improve running form.
The multisport button switches between activities in the same track, allowing you to change screens and metrics when you transition from swimming to biking and biking to running. With the quick-release kit, you can quickly move the Forerunner 945 from the wrist strap to a bike mount for easier viewing during rides.
Other data features include training status and aerobic and anaerobic training effect. These give you a good idea how your fitness is improving with each workout. Training load provides a broader fitness picture by looking at your weekly activity stats and comparing it to prior weeks.
Music lovers can store up to 1000 songs on the watch. Control playback directly on the watch. And if you use Spotify, Garmin has an exclusive deal to stream Spotify, either with a phone or by uploading playlists to the 945.
The Forerunner 945 has a couple of new safety features. If you need help, a button push sends an email and text to select friends and family notifying them of your location. Auto-incident detection does the same thing if you crash on your bike.
- Best tri watch available today
- Tracks runs, swims, rides, and a bunch of other activites
- Awesome battery life
- Music playback
- New safety features
- No real-time heart rate while swimming (only during rest breaks)
Best Triathlon Watch in 2020 – Deja Vu Version
2. Garmin fenix 6
It would be a mistake not mention the Garmin fenix 6 as another great multisport option. The fenix 6 is basically the same watch as the Forerunner 945. Both watches boast the main features you want in a tri watch: swim, bike, run tracking, multisport, quick-release kit, long battery life.
They both have wrist heart rate, Garmin Pay, real street and topo maps, and the ability to track tons of other non-tri activities like skiing and paddling sports.
We like the Forereunner 945 over the fenix 6 for triathletes because the 945 is lighter and a tad thinner. The fenix is a clunkier watch for triathlon training and the T1 transition.
The fenix 6 is also missing some cycling features. These are small but nice to have. They include cycle-specific route creation on street maps and Vector support. And while some versions of the fenix 6 support music playback – these are more expensive than the 945.
But if you want a stylish watch that’s office-appropriate – and has all the best features of Garmin’s top triathlon watch – then the fenix 6 is a good choice.
- Just like the 945 in features/price
- Tracks many activities
- Great battery
- Large, hi-res screen
- Garmin Connect app sync wirelessly
- Missing some small features found on the 945
- Bulky and heavy
The Runner-Up – Second Best in 2020
3. Garmin Forerunner 735XT
We’re going with another Garmin as the runner-up. The Forerunner 735XT is very comparable to the 935 – it’s missing a few “add-ons” like golf support and the barometric altimeter sensor. But it’s thin, lightweight, has key triathlete features including multisport, open water and pool swim tracking, and supports power-meter and cadence accessories for cycling.
The key feature it’s lacking for triathletes is a quick-release mount. So you either keep it on your wrist while cycling or get the foam attachment to strap around your handlebars. This may not be a deal breaker for some people but it’s enough to keep it from being our top triathlon watch.
Battery-life is decent with 14 hours of use in GPS mode. You can create custom workouts. It tracks run metrics like cadence and stride length. Swim tracking includes distance, speed, lap counters (in the pool) and swim stroke tracking. We’ve already mentioned power-meter and cadence support – but it also lets you compete against courses you’ve created and prior activities. PLUS – live Strava segments!
- Tri features: swim tracking, multisport, lightweight
- Less expensive than Forerunner 935
- Decent battery
- Color display
- No quick-release kit
Best Value Triathlon Watch
4. COROS APEX
The COROS APEX is a new GPS watch on the market. Its amazing battery, tri-specific features, and great value make it a nice option for runners and multi-sport athletes.
The APEX comes in three colors and two sizes. A black/silver bezel 46mm version and a black/black bezel and white/white bezel 42mm size. The watches function identically except the 46mm version has a slightly better battery.
Two major benefits stand out with the APEX. First, it has an awesome battery life – up to 35 hours in GPS mode and 30 days in standard mode (for the 46mm version – it’s 25 hours/24 days for the smaller model).
Second, the APEX is a great value. In terms of features and battery, it’s similar to Garmin’s Forerunner 935 but costs about 25% less.
As a running and triathlon watch, the APEX ticks off all the boxes you expect from today’s GPS watches. It tracks time, pace, distance, cadence, calories, elevation, wrist heart rate, along with training intensity and suggested recovery time. For triathletes, it records pool and open water swims plus multi-sport mode to transition between activities.
A barometer provides accurate elevation data. There is also a built-in thermometer to gauge temperature.
Using the watch is simple and intuitive. There are two buttons, one with a crown dial to scroll through menus. When you are ready to work out, choose your activity, any special settings (interval workout, pace/HR alerts, custom brick workouts, etc.). The APEX beeps when it finds GPS. Hit start and you’re ready to go.
When finished, the workout syncs wirelessly to COROS’ app on your phone. This happens as soon as you save the activity and near your phone.
The APEX has some added features that are common to many watches. It doubles as a fitness tracker to count steps (and flights of stairs you climb). It displays phone alerts like texts, reminders, and other notifications. The screen is big and easy to read. It’s a color screen. The watch face and activity screens can be customized with what it displays and how it looks.
You can buy additional watch bands in a handful of colors. These quickly swap out by pushing a small button where it clasps into the watch.
While COROS doesn’t have a full-blown software ecosystem to track your activities, it works with Strava and other 3rd party apps instead.
Overall, we really like the APEX. It’s got a phenomenal battery for long events like an Ironman. It’s got plenty of features to track and monitor your runs, rides, and swims. And it’s a great value compared to Garmin and other triathlon watches.
- Awesome battery
- Best value tri watch
- Quickly finds GPS
- Simple to use interface
- Data syncs to phone – no software upload
- No quick-release kit
Check Price on Amazon
Best Suunto Multisport Watch
5. Suunto 9
The Suunto 9 is a lot like Garmin’s fenix series: it’s a big, hefty watch packed with features. It tracks virtually any outdoor activity.
But where it really stands out is with its battery life. Depending on the setting, it can last from 25 up to 120 hours! Even better, if the battery is running low mid-workout, the 9 suggests changing the setting on the fly to preserve power.
While running, the Suunto 9 combines motion sensor information (like a Fitbit) with GPS to conserve power while still providing accurate distance tracking.
For triathletes, the Suunto 9 tracks pool and open water swims. It supports various cycling accessories. And it allows for one-button multisport switching between activities.
The Suunto 9 comes in two options: the 9 Baro and the 9. The Baro version includes a barometer for accurate elevation tracking.
What holds this watch back from being our top choice are two things. First, it’s very expensive. Much more than the Garmin 935. It’s also a big, bulky watch. You’ll feel this watch on your wrist. It could be a beast to strip a wet suit over it.
But if you don’t mind a bulky watch, and want the best battery life available, this is the watch to buy.
- Great battery life and charge-saving features
- Records lots of activities
- Large screen
- Heavy and bulky
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Best Budget Triathlon Watch
6. Suunto Spartan Sport
The Spartan Sport sits in the middle of Suunto’s new line-up of multisport GPS watches. It’s got enough oomph to satisfy most triathletes without the crazy price tag of the Suunto 9.
Like Garmin’s Forerunner 735XT, it has wrist heart rate, multisport, and pool and open water swim tracking. The Spartan Sport comes pre-programmed with over 80 other types of activities for when you want to cross-train. Each of these sports (including running, cycling, and swimming) can be programmed with interval workouts and racing modes.
Similar to Garmin’s watches, the Spartan Sport tracks your training load and lets you see long term analysis for training and heart rate trends. You can also save how you feel post-workout and monitor that trend long term.
Heart rate is recorded through the wrist; however, you can purchase a separate chest strap HRM for more accurate heart rate and for tracking heart rate while swimming.
Battery-life isn’t as long as we’d like – it averages about 10 hours per charge in GPS mode. If you are doing full Ironman distances, you might want a different watch. But it’s fine for shorter triathlons and general triathlon training.
Finally, the Spartan Sport comes in a range of band and bezel colors. There is no quick-release mount, but you can use a rubber attachment to hold the watch to your handlebars.
If you’d like to see more of our recommended budget GPS watches, read this article.
- Good value
- Ticks off major tri features
- Tracks heart rate while swimming
- Average battery life
- No quick-release
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Best Polar Multisport Watch
7. Vantage 5
The Polar Vantage 5 combines Polar’s heart rate data with built-in Smart coaching features to provide a powerful, data-driven multisport GPS watch.
Two features make this watch stand out. It has the latest Polar wrist heart rate technology for the most accurate wrist heart rate data.
And the Vantage 5 tracks running power without an additional accessory pod like Garmin’s watches. Combined with heart rate data, running power provides the clearest measure of how hard you are working out for instant analysis.
Polar uses all the data it tracks to provide rest, sleep, and recovery times so you can train at top performance. You’ll receive instant feedback post-workout to see how beneficial it was.
Like the other watches on our list, the Vantage 5 tracks pool and open water swimming. It supports cycling activities and has multisport to transition between activities.
Battery power is good with up to 40 hours in GPS and heart rate mode. The watch is also thin and lightweight – perfect for getting a wet suit off.
- Has tri features
- Tracks running power without an accessory pod
- Useful heart rate metrics
Check Price on Amazon
Best Non-GPS Triathlon Watch
8. Timex Ironman Sleek 150
It’s not surprising we’d choose the Timex Ironman Sleek 150 for our top non-gps triathlon watch.
More than 30 years old, the Timex Ironman used to be the leading watch for triathletes until GPS watches started dominating the market. But the latest Ironman still offers some great features for a fraction of the cost of a GPS watch.
Like the other watches we’ve covered, the Ironman Sleek 150 is thin and lightweight and waterproof to 100 meters. It also has a large, easy-to-read display. While it can’t track speed/pace and distance, it does have advanced timing features.
As its name denotes, it has enough memory to track 150 laps. It also has touch-screen technology – a simple tap on watch face triggers a new lap.
Target times programmed in the watch allows you to track your pace during a race or workout. What this means is that if you want to run an 8:30 min/pace, the Ironman watch beeps every 8 min 30 seconds. Compare this to mile markers and you’ll have a good idea how far ahead or behind you are. Similarly, you can program hydration and nutrition alerts that audibly remind you to eat/drink at specific times.
Timed intervals can also be programmed on the Sleek 150. This can be used for speed work – or a run/walk program.
If you choose a non-GPS watch, you do lose quite a few features found in our other picks, but you gain a simpler (i.e. less confusing) interface at a wallet-friendly price.
- Good, basic watch
- Counts laps
- No GPS or tri-features
- No heart rate tracking
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Best Discontinued Triathlon Watch
9. Garmin Forerunner 935
The Forerunner 935 is one of Garmin’s most feature-heavy watches ever released. It’s thin, lightweight, has an awesome battery life (up to 24 hours in GPS/activity mode), and is packed with features to help you train, race, and analyze workouts.
The Forerunner 935 can track swimming (stroke count, distance/speed in pool and water), running (distance, pace plus cadence), and other sports including golf, paddling, skiing, and, of course, cycling. The Forerunner 935 accurately records elevation with a barometric altimeter, tracks heart rate on the wrist (it’s also compatible with a chest-strap HRM), and can auto-upload workouts via Wi-Fi with the Garmin Connect app.
It includes the multisport feature and is compatible with a variety of cycling accessories. It’s light and thin making it easy when removing a wet suit. And you can buy a quick-release kit to move the watch from wrist to bike.
The Forerunner 935 is also an activity tracking, meaning it will count steps, set daily goals similar to a Fitbit. It’s got great navigational features. The Forerunner 935 sports new training and recovery tools to help you evaluate your workouts and fitness ability.
Finally, Garmin has added a couple of 3rd party apps to the watch for fun and function. For Strava users, activities auto-upload after you sync the watch with Garmin Connect. You can also view Segments in real time including alerts for segment starts and finishes. And for Training Peak customers, you can receive your daily workout directly on the watch.
- Best mix of tri features, price, lightweight
- Multisport transition, quick-release kit
- Great battery life
- Thin design
- High res screen
- May not be as durable as other watches with plastic casing
Best Cheap-ish Watch for Heart Rate Tracking
10. Polar V800
The Polar V800 is a few years old now – so it’s not the newest and shiniest watch on the block. But it’s still a top choice if you’re after accurate heart data and some nice tools to analyze your triathlon training.
The Polar V800 has the features we like in a triathlon watch: multisport, pool and open water swim tracking, cycling accessory support, and a thin design. One feature that’s missing is a quick-release kit.
Like other triathlon watches in this price range, the V800 has activity tracking and smart notifications (when paired with a smartphone). But what sets it apart is the heart rate monitor. Polar has long been known for its accurate heart rate data (and this is an old-school chest strap – the most accurate method out there). The V800 lets you see your heart rate in real-time while swimming – a feature only found in Polar watches.
And with this heart rate data, Polar’s software can analyze your overall fitness, how well you’re recovering, and how much of a workload each training session is putting on your body.
Polar lists the V800 at an MSRP of $499.95; however, because it’s a few years old, it can easily be found on Amazon for 20-25% less.
- Nice value
- Has quick-release, multisport, waterproof
- Bulky and thick watch
- No wrist heart rate
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How to Choose a Triathlon Watch
Triathlon watches are able to track swimming, cycling, running (and often many other!) activities. They differ from running and swimming watches by including several tri-specific features.
You don’t need every single one of these features when buying a triathlon watch. But the more the watch includes, the more you’ll get out of the watch. And you’ll have an easier time during your race or workout, allowing you to focus more on triathlon training/racing than fiddling with your watch.
The key feature we want in a triathlon watch is multisport. This simplifies making transitions from one sport to another. With a single button push, you can switch from swimming to cycling to running, etc. This allows you to do two things.
First, it marks a split time at the transition, helpful for reviewing later on. Second, it changes the information displayed on the screen to that specific sport (i.e. speed changes from miles/hour to min/mile when switching from cycling to running).
There are workarounds for watches that don’t have this feature. You can simply stop the activity, change the settings, and start a new timer at each transition. Besides being time-consuming and cumbersome, you also lose the ability to review the workout as a single activity post-race.
A couple of these watches also have a quick-release system that easily moves the watch from your wrist to a handlebar mount. This is almost a must-have if you typically ride with aerobars.
If you don’t mind looking at the watch on your wrist while you ride, this feature isn’t a big deal. Another option is to buy one of these foam handlebar mounts and manually strap it on. It just takes a little longer and is more of a hassle than the quick-release kit.
The best triathlon watches are also compatible with common cycling accessories including cadence trackers and power-meters. These allow more data to be tracked while cycling.
Every triathlon watch needs to be waterproof – that’s obvious. But what’s helpful are watches that can track distance, stroke count, and additional swimming metrics. Typically, watches with swimming features track distance in open-water swims and in the pool. They’ll track pool laps, stroke count, and can sometimes automatically figure out which stroke you are using. And this is while you wear the watch on your wrist.
The way to track swims with a GPS watch that do not have swim features is to put the watch under your bathing cap. This keeps the watch above water enough to maintain a GPS signal. The problem with wearing it on your wrist is the watch loses the GPS signal when it’s submerged in more than an inch of water.
If you plan on competing in longer events like the full Ironman, consider the battery life of the GPS watch. Depending on your fitness level, the watch might not last the entire race. Even the better GPS watches like the Garmin Forerunner 735XT and Suunto Spartan Sport have batteries that last in the 10-14 hour range. This might cut it close for some athletes in long triathlons.
Finally, a good triathlon watch should be fairly thin. This just makes it easier getting a wetsuit off at the first race transition.