The Best Garmin Running Watches in 2018
Every runner has different needs to take their runs to the next level. Whether you like to run marathons, like to stick to a budget, need something specific, or a little of everything, Garmin has vowed that they have a watch to fit your needs.
We’ll review only the best Garmin watches in their respective classes, providing all the details regarding features and comfort all to give you the confidence you need.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
1. Garmin Fenix 5X Plus – Best for All Activities
While Garmin’s Fenix 5X has been praised for being the brands most serious adventuring watch, it would prove difficult to top that title. With the 5X plus, Garmin managed to do just that. The Fenix 5X plus stays ahead of the competition by adding an array of features, features like Garmin Pay, music support and a pulse ox acclimation setting that keeps track of your blood-oxygen level.
The first thing that stands out about this watch is the look. Garmin watches seem to love industrial styles, and this watch is no exception to the rule. It’s also big, sporting an impressive 240 X 240 resolution display.
Despite the nice size of the screen, it does not come with touch screen capabilities which can be a blessing or a curse dependent on the user. The buttons on the sides do well to compensate for this, making the features on the watch easy to access and employ.
As with the standard Fenix 5X, this watch tracks almost every imaginable outdoor sport and activity with the ability to create customized activities when necessary. Where the plus makes a statement in this watch line is the preinstalled Worldwide DEM Basemap, which displays information regarding major roads, topographical information, cities, and so on.
This information can help hikers figure out their exact location and plan routes accordingly.
- A hard-working fitness watch with a lot of features.
- Worldwide DEM Basemap makes hiking trips easier.
- Lots of functional buttons to access different apps.
- Large Display
- The watch runs big and some users with smaller wrists may not get the right fit
2. Garmin Forerunner 935 – Best Multisport Watch
The Forerunner 935 is the top of its line for multi-sport use, providing features that can take your running routine to the next level. It features an extended battery life designed for long marathon runs, a long list of physical activities that can be tracked, and a sleek design that functions well in any occasion.
Staying true to Garmin fashion, the Forerunner still carries hints of the rugged industrial look but incorporates a sleek, modern element unlike the Fenix 5. The 240 X 240-resolution display is visible even in direct sunlight, and its settings can be accessed from the metal buttons surrounding the display.
On the back of the Forerunner 935 is a small protrusion that helps monitor your heart rate. It is barely noticeable unless you remove your watch.
However, the size isn’t overwhelming, sitting comfortably on the wrist, without sacrificing the size of the display where you can view four screens simultaneously. That means you can view your heart rate, your speed, the length of your run, and the time that the sun sets all at once.
- Extended battery life.
- Sleek and comfortable design.
- Able to view four screens simultaneously.
- Expensive compared to some similar products
3. Garmin Forerunner 645 – Best Running Watch with Music
Another Forerunner model that made this list, taking the lead for music integration. It’s no surprise that music and running go hand-in-hand and Garmin took advantage of this fact by releasing the Forerunner 645 with music streaming capabilities.
Once paired with your Bluetooth headphones, it’s easy to get started listening to music on your watch. Currently, it supports iHeartRadio, local music stations, and music you can install to the watch directly.
Garmin claims that the watch supports both MP3 and AAC formatted music files, making it easy to run to your favorite tracks. The Forerunner 645 offers robust music controls, allowing you to play, pause, skip tracks, organize your playlist, and change music sources all from your watch.
However, this model isn’t only valued for its availability for music. The Forerunner 645 is a capable fitness watch that has a noticeably sleek design. Unlike earlier models, the 645 is light-weight, smaller and has a soft, flexible rubber band that’s comfortable to wear.
With any good fitness watch, it features step counting, sleep tracking, and smartphone notifications that help you keep track of your goals all day. Not only that, but the Forerunner also gives you elevation information, exact heart rate monitoring, and VO2 max readouts. The watch also recommends how long of a recovery time you should take while advising how hard you should push yourself on the next run to maximize your workout.
- Can sync up with Bluetooth compatible headsets.
- Easy controls for music.
- Streams local radio and iHeartRadio.
- Some consumers reported difficulty getting their watch to recognize MP3 files.
- Runners noticed that Bluetooth could get cut off if they move their wrist wrong.
4. Garmin Forerunner 735XT – Top Budget Triathlon Watch
As far as the Forerunner line goes, this watch is one of the better versions if you’re on a budget. It features a sleek design with an easy to read screen and feels feather-light on your wrist. Despite how light this watch is, it’s heavy with tech that keeps yours on track for your workout. The data screens can be customized to your needs, so you can check on key features without breaking stride in your gait.
The 735XT comes in two colors, black and frost blue. The straps are rubberized but easy and wide enough to fasten quickly. The resolution is nothing to be envied, but it stays legible in all conditions which make it ideal when training for longer runs. The best part is that you don’t have to raise your wrist to read it, designed with a transflective screen to utilize available light for visibility.
Some reasons that this watch is so great for the price is how accurate the GPS is, responsive times rivaled the Garmin Forerunner 935, and the battery life doesn’t suffer from consistent GPS use. Alongside the excellent GPS features that these watches sport, the 765XT offers virtual pacing, lap/pace/heart rate alerts that are customized to your needs, and the ability to add your training plans into the watch from the web.
- Convenient display.
- Customizable training.
- Comfortable and light.
- Limited color options
5. Garmin Vivoactive 3 – Best Smartwatch for Running
The Vivoactive 3 is everything that you could want in sports tech, providing features such as a heart rate sensor, GPS tracking and a variety of apps that keep track of a good range of sports activities. Despite all the great features for active-play, the Vivoactive also utilizes Garmin Pay, sleep tracking and even tracks stress levels.
One difference that stands out with the Vivoactive 3 versus other fitness watches, is the design. It’s one of the few that Garmin designed to look more like a standard watch, tossing out the bulky, rugged look for a more sleek and modern design. This model is a more affordable option to the pricey Fenix 5X, but still comes with a large batch of features that keep it efficient.
The Vivoactive 3 sports features that make your run more focused, such as glare counteraction, a secure-feeling strap that’s easy to get on, and a 1.2-inch diameter screen with 240 X 240-pixel display. Regardless of how you wear your watch, you can change the direction of where you want the settings button during setup which makes it convenient for runners who wish to have more customized ease of access.
The heart rate monitor pin that’s present in most models can be found on the back of the Vivoactive 3, sitting flush against the skin so you can’t feel it. This watch is waterproof up to 50 meters, wear it t in the shower or the pool and it will still function perfectly. The screen is fashioned out of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 to really make this watch durable and ready to take on whatever you throw at it.
- Good display.
- Corning Gorilla Glass makes it durable.
- Affordable without compromising efficiency.
- iOS users can’t respond to texts.
6. Garmin Forerunner 235 – Top Running Watch with Wrist Heart Rate
If you’re looking for a top-notch watch that maximizes activity tracking for your run, then look no further than the Garmin Forerunner 235. As with others with its namesake, the 235 brings advanced monitoring features to the table, especially features specified to run.
The Forerunner 235 is lightweight and comfortable no matter when it’s worn. These facts make it surprising that this watch can fit features like an accelerometer, GPS, audio, rechargeable battery, and vibration motor all inside without altering the weight of the watch.
The band is made with light silicon that helps keep its comfortable feel, and as an added plus, the silicon helps keep runners cool. Its sleek design provides a nice contradiction to other models presented by Garmin which have a tendency to be clunky and robust.
As far as accuracy is concerned, the Forerunner 235 seemed to keep up without much of a hitch. It tracks distance; duration, steps, and heart rate without falter which helps keep you in touch with the details of your workout session. With the addition of syncing your watch with the Garmin Connect app, data is automatically uploaded when near a device with the app installed.
- Resting heart rate insights.
- Lightweight design.
- Good Value.
- Some consumers noted that the sleep tracking might need more work.
7. Garmin Forerunner 35 – Best Basic Watch with Wrist Heart Rate
When all the gadgets and features of the newer watches don’t catch your interests and you look for something more fundamental, the Forerunner 35 is for you. This watch has GPS, a built-in heart rate monitor, tracks your activities all day, and will offer basic smartphone notification features, perfect for individuals who only need the core basics.
The design of the Forerunner 35 closer resembles an Apple watch, having strayed from the standard circular design of other Forerunners and instead adopted a square-shaped display. The display features 128 X 128-pixel resolution, easy to read and brighter than other models that are a similar price.
There are two buttons on either side of the display, one for starting a workout while the other scrolls through the menu. Various types of Cardio are available for tracking on this watch; these include walking, running indoors and outdoors, and biking. However, the GPS is accurate, precisely charting whichever route you decide to take.
It may not be as flashy as other Forerunner models, but the 35 allows you to receive smartphone notifications from your watch. You can read texts, see who is calling and have the ability to accept or deny each call without lifting your phone. While it doesn’t come with a lot of phone features, those are the most essential.
- Design versatile for most social occasions.
- Accurate GPS readings.
- Limited phone features.
8. Garmin Forerunner 230 – Best Budget Running Watch
Garmin’s Forerunner 230 is an excellent budget-friendly watch that offers features to help bring out the best in their runners, especially ones that are looking to increase their 10k score. With the ability to create custom workouts and training plans for free from Garmin’s Connect desktop app, this watch may be just what you need to give your next marathon the edge it needs.
While the Forerunner 230 isn’t equipped with a heart rate monitor, it can pair up with chest-strapped heart rate monitors. The 230 does have a recovery advisor implemented that provides real-time assessments of your recovery within the first few minutes.
Garmin’s Training Effects feature will lay out an easy to understand five-point scale of your work out that gives you a comprehensive look at where your strengths and weaknesses are. Personal Records helps keep you motivated by alerting you when you’ve achieved a new personal best so you can always strive to go farther with every workout.
- The screen is 44 percent larger than 225 models.
- VO2 Max Estimates.
- Essential running data.
- No wrist heart rate sensor.
9. Garmin Forerunner 25 – Best Simple Watch
When all you need is a simple running watch, then the Forerunner 25 is a perfect fit for you. The design of the watch is more simplistic, straying from the round-shaped displays of others in their line and instead opting for a square shape. The screen carries a 128 X 128-pixel black and white display that considered an upgrade from the Forerunner 15’s monitor.
There are four color varieties when it comes to this watch, black and blue, black and red, white and pink, and black and purple. Both the black and blue, and black and red colors come with larger watch faces and come with longer battery lives than the other two options. These watches were rated to withstand up to five atmospheres, meaning you can swim with it, or shower with it.
This watch can connect and sync to the Garmin Connect Mobile app via Bluetooth, entering your height, weight, and a birth date upon the first time set up. The Forerunner 25 uses this information to estimate the number of calories burned during each workout. There’s a feature that will vibrate when you’ve remained inactive for too long to remind you to move about, pushing you to walk at least 250 steps.
- Easy to use.
- No sleep tracking.
- No heart rate monitor.