The Best Garmin Running Watches in 2018
Every runner has different needs when they run. Whether you run marathons, want to stick to a budget, prefer a multisport watch, or want a little of everything, Garmin has a watch to fit your needs.
Garmin has been at the forefront of GPS watches for years. It’s no accident they have the best running watches on the market. While Garmin’s watches are not inexpensive, you get a great watch that’s durable with terrific technical support and a one-year warranty.
We’ll review the best Garmin watches and explore who they are designed for as well as there best features.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
1. Garmin fenix 5X Plus – Best for All Activities
The fenix 5X Plus is Garmin’s most robust, featured-packed watch. It works great not just for running, but also cycling, swimming, hiking, skiing, paddle sports, plus a ton of other activities.
The first thing that stands out is that this is a big watch. Garmin watches seem to love industrial styles, and this watch is no exception to the rule. With its size comes a large screen with 240 X 240 resolution.
The fenix 5X Plus comes with color street and topo maps that can viewed right on the watch. This is a huge deal when navigating new routes or finding your way on the trails. It also comes with a barometer for elevation tracking. Garmin has built some nice climb and elevation tracking features into the watch.
Wrist heart rate monitoring is standard. And new to the Plus version is Garmin Pay – pay for things directly with your watch. It can also store music and one of the few watches that syncs Spotify playlists.
For running, the fenix 5X Plus can be programmed with workouts or use Garmin’s virtual training features to track pace. Advanced metrics are monitored like cadence, fitness level, and fitness recovery time.
Battery performance is still pretty good (not as good as older fenix watches). You’ll get 20 days in regular watch mode. 13 hours in GPS mode.
Watch bands and the watch face can be customized quickly and easily.
- Tons of running features
- On-screen topo and street maps
- Large display
- The watch runs big and some users with smaller wrists may not get the right fit
- Very expensive
2. Garmin Forerunner 935 – Best Multi-sport Watch
The Forerunner 935 is the top of the line watch for triathletes. Like the fenix 5X Plus, it has tons of features for runners, cyclists, and swimmers alike. It has an extended battery life designed for long workouts or races – up to 24 hours in GPS mode.
Like the fenix, it can track a long list of activities. In fact, the Forerunner 935 and fenix series are very similar. The biggest difference is the thinner and sleek design of the 935. It has a plastic casing, so it’s not quite as robust. But the thinner design makes it easier to peel off a wet suit during a tri.
For runners, get advanced metrics including training status and training load. These help evaluate your runs to ensure you don’t under or over train. It also helps with form when paired with Garmin’s Running Pod. This little device tracks cadence, foot strike, and how much you bounce up and down. Together, it will help improve the efficiency of your running form.
Like most of Garmin’s watches, the Forerunner 935 has wrist-based heart rate monitoring. But you can also wear a standard chest strap for more accurate tracking. The 935 can be purchased with stronger heart rate monitors to wear while open or pool swimming.
Triathletes can track open and pool swims. Transitions at triathlons are smooth with one-button switching between activities.
For Strava users, the Forerunner 935 syncs with Strava to let you know when you are starting and finishing a segment. It also lets you know when you’ve hit a new PR for that segment.
- 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
The Forerunner 645 is Garmin’s best running watch. It was also its first with music storage. Listen to music on the go while leaving your phone behind.
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 stored directly on the watch. The Forerunner 645 offers robust music controls, allowing you to play, pause, skip tracks, organize your playlist, and change music all from the watch.
The Forerunner 645 is also a robust running watch. It’s lightweight, small, and has a soft, flexible rubber band that’s comfortable to wear.
The Forerunner 645 also gives you elevation information, wrist 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.
Like many of Garmin’s watches, it doubles as a fitness tracker. It will count steps, track sleep, and provide smartphone notifications that help you keep track of your goals all day.
The battery life is pretty good… unless you are listening to music. Up to 14 hours in GPS mode. But only 5 hours when running with music.
- 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
- Poor battery life when listening to music
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 light on your wrist. Like the 935, this watch is geared towards triathletes. But it functions incredible well for running.
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 good although not as sharp as the 935.
The Forerunner 735XT can be programmed with running workouts. It also tracks advanced running form metrics with the Garmin Running Pod. It has a wrist heart rate monitor but can be paired with a traditional chest strap.
Multi-sport athletes will appreciate the swim tracking in pool and open water. Cycling tracking is also good – the 735XT can be paired with various cycling accessories.
You might be wondering how this watch differs from the 935. First, the battery isn’t as strong. Expect up to 14 hours in GPS mode vs. 24 on the 935.
It also lacks the breadcrumb map and navigation features found on the 935. It also lacks a barometer for accurate elevation data.
But at $150 less than the 935, it’s a great option for runners or triathletes who want a budget-friendly watch.
- Big display
- Budget friendly price
- Customizable training modes
- Comfortable and light
- Limited color options
- Less battery compared to the 935
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.