Best Triathlon Watches in 2018
After 35+ hours of research and reviewing more than 25 watches, we’ve found the best triathlon watches in 2018. 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.
Triathlon Watch Comparison
Top Triathlon Watch in 2018. Period.
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 925 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.
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 members, you can now 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 Triathlon Watch in 2018 – Deja Vu Version
Garmin fenix 5
We’d be remiss to not mention that the new Garmin fenix 5 (click here for our full review). The fenix 5 is basically the same watch as the Forerunner 935. Feature-wise, they are nearly identical. We like the Forereunner 935 over the fenix 5 for triathletes because the 935 it’s lighter and thinner. The fenix 5 is a tad clunkier for training and the T1 transition.
The fenix 5 also costs $100 more, mostly because of its more durable outer casing. The 935 is made of plastic (which is why it’s so thin and light).
But if you want a stylish watch that’s office-appropriate – and has all the great features of Garmin’s best triathlon watch – then the fenix 5 is your best bet.
The Runner-Up – Second Best in 2018
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.
$100 $150 (price drop as of Nov 2017!!) cheaper than the 935!
They 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; and 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!
Best Suunto Multisport Watch
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 $800+ price tag of the Spartan Ultra.
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 let’s 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 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.
Best Budget Triathlon Watch
TomTom Spark 3
The TomTom Spark 3 checks off a couple of our triathlon features – swim, cycling, and run tracking – and costs just $129.99 for the base model (without wrist-based heart rate).
While it’s got a nice, thin, easy to use design, it does lack in some other features. It’s missing multisport mode, so you’ll have to scroll through some menus and start a new activity when transitioning sports. There’s no quick-release functionality. And it’s not compatible with cycling power-meters (cadence, yes).
But the Spark 3 tracks pool swims (no open water) and measures distance, stroke count, and laps. It tracks cycling workouts, both indoor and outdoor. And running works outside with GPS and indoors using an accelerometer.
The Spark 3 has additional features that aren’t tri-specific, but add a nice touch for a relatively inexpensive GPS watch. There’s a breadcrumb map that helps with navigation. Activity tracking to count steps and track sleep. And decent battery life of up to 11 hours in GPS mode. Interval workouts can be programmed. And the watch supports wireless syncing to upload workouts.
Upgraded version of the Spark 3 also include music and bluetooth headphone support (that is, you can actually download music to listen to while working out). And there are versions that include a wrist-based heart rate monitor.
If you’d like to see more of our recommended budget GPS watches, read this article.
Best for Heart Rate Tracking
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 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.
Best Non-GPS Triathlon Watch
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’s 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 can be programmed in the watch allowing you to track your pace during a race or workout. What this means is that if you want to run a 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 wallet-friendly price.
Best Discontinued Triathlon Watch
Garmin Forerunner 920XT
The Garmin Forerunner 920XT could also be our winner in the budget category. Now that it’s been replaced by the Forerunner 935, it’s not hard to find the watch on sale. The downside is that once they are all sold, they won’t be coming back.
But if you’re able to find one (and there are plenty on Amazon right now), you get a great watch with many of the tri-specific features found on the 935.
The 920XT has multisport, a quick-release kit, thin-ish design, open water and pool swim tracking, compatibility with cycling accessories. It’s a bit heavier than the 935 but not by a huge amount.
The biggest difference is that the 935 has a wrist-based heart rate monitor. You’ll need an old-fashioned chest strap with the 920XT. It’s also missing some added functions to analyze workouts including training load and status. These are basically numerical numbers designed to give you an idea of your workout progress based on past training.
You lose the ability to upload via wi-fi (bluetooth is still supported) and golf support is gone (but will it really be missed??).
Overall, the 920XT is still a great watch. It’s got awesome tri-features, good battery life, and because it’s been discontinued, it currently costs about 25% less than its original price.
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 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 two things. First, it marks a split time at the transition, helpful for reviewing later on. It also 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 like the Tom Tom Spark 3 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.