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The Best Garmin Running Watches in 2021

 

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 do a Garmin watch comparison. Plus, we’ll explore who these watches are designed for as well as their best features.

man running with garmin watch

 

Top 3 Best and Favorites

 

Forerunner 745

 

  • Tracks tons of running metrics
  • Lightweight
  • Stores and plays music
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Forerunner 945

 

  • Long battery
  • Tracks runs, bike rides, swims
  • Tracks running form
Check Price

 

Forerunner 45 & 45S

 

  • Large screen
  • Wrist heart rate
  • Good battery
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Best Garmin for Running

1. Garmin Forerunner 745

So technically this is a multisport watch, built to be the kid brother to the Forerunner 945. But it’s honestly a pretty awesome straight-up running watch, too – a nice upgrade from the 645, Garmin’s older high-end running watch.

The Forerunner 745 features a sleek design with an easy to read screen and feels light on your wrist. It’s got all the running features you need, plus music storage and swim and cycling, if you do any cross-training.

The 745 comes in four colors: black, red, frost blue, and white. The straps are rubberized but easy and wide enough to fasten quickly. The resolution is great and the watch weighs less than earlier versions.

The Forerunner 745 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 745 can be paired with various cycling accessories.

You might be wondering how this watch differs from the 945. First, the battery isn’t as strong. Expect up to 16 hours in GPS mode vs. 36 hours on the 945 (this is with GPS on, but not music – the battery will vary depending on how you use it).

It lacks the map and navigation features found on the 945. It also has half of the music storage capabilities of the 945. If you like to golf, the 945 has golf features, although we’re not sure how important that is to most runners and triathletes.

But at $100 less than the 945, it’s a great option for runners or triathletes who want a less expensive watch.

PROS:

  • Big display
  • Less expensive than the FR 945
  • Customizable training modes
  • Comfortable and light

CONS:

  • Less battery compared to the 945
 

Top Garmin for Triathlons

2. Garmin Forerunner 945

Garmin’s latest top-of-the-line multisport and triathlon GPS watch builds off the already impressive Forerunner 935 and adds an improved battery, music storage, and new features to make your training runs more accurate and safer.

The Forerunner 945 is a lightweight watch with a 35-hour battery (using GPS, but not music). It tracks runs, bike rides, swimming (pool and open water) and includes the multisport function to record each of these activities in one file for brick workouts and triathlons. A new Galileo sensor improves GPS tracking and accuracy.

The full-color screen includes real city street maps and trail maps to help you navigate wherever you are running. New in the 945 are Garmin Pay – which lets you buy stuff on the go, a la an iWatch – and music storage. You can store songs and control them directly on the watch for listening on the go. Or you can stream music with Spotify (you’ll need a phone with you for this).

While older Garmin’s have been able to monitor training load (an overall stat of hard you are working out) plus training status (how effective your workouts are) – the 945 takes that to another level by incorporating heat and altitude into these training metrics.

Also new are safety features that allow select family and friends to be made aware of your location during a workout. If you need help or assistance, a button press shares your location to chosen friends and family members. Automatic incident detection can be turned out – this is used mostly for cycling in case you have a crash.

The Running Dynamics Pod can be purchased separately and paired with the 945. This helps monitor running form and improves the cadence metric that all Garmin watches track.

While the updates to the Forerunner 945 aren’t huge, Garmin continues to tweak and improve its best tri GPS watch.

PROS:

  • Great battery
  • Lightweight
  • Tracks tons of activities including running, cycling, and swimming
  • Music storage and playback
  • Real maps

CONS:

  • Expensive
  • Feature bloat – does it do too much?
 

Best Value Garmin GPS Watch

2. Garmin Forerunner 45 and 45S

Garmin has upped the game again with their beginner-friendly, basic GPS watch. The Forerunner 45 tracks runs with GPS, but also doubles as an activity tracker and monitors heart rate with a wrist sensor.

The Forerunner 45 comes in two sizes – the 45 and slightly smaller and lighter 45S. There is some genderization going on here as the 45S comes in purple and white colors while the 45 comes in black and red.

But both versions now come with a color screen that has a higher resolution than both the Forerunner 35 and 25. Battery-life remains about the same with 13 hours GPS mode.

New to the Forerunner 45 are safety features. If you need help during a workout, an assistance button will send a text and email to friends and family alerting them of your location. And if you are riding a bike, the incident detection does the same thing if you crash.

While these watches don’t store or stream music, they can control music playback on an Android phone. This eliminates the need to pull out your phone whenever you need to fiddle with the music.

The Forerunner 35 added interval workouts to Garmin’s basic watch. The Forerunner 45 builds off that and allows you to add advanced workouts. These are basically customizable workouts that can be dreamed up in any manner you (or your coach) can think of.

The Forerunner 45 is a great, basic watch. We’d call it no-frills compared to more expensive models. But it actually does have a few frills that make it a nice option at a reasonable price.

Read our full review of the Forerunner 45 and 45S here

PROS:

  • Easy to read, color screen
  • Comes in two size options
  • Small and lightweight
  • Does the basics really, really well
  • New safety features

CONS:

  • Still expensive for Garmin’s most basic watch
  • Genderized colors
 

Top Garmin for All Activities

4. Garmin fenix 6X Pro

The fenix 6X Pro 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 280 X 280 resolution.

The fenix 6X Pro comes with color street and topo maps that can be 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 like past versions, the 6X Pro has Garmin Pay – pay for things directly with your watch. It can also store music (up to 2000 songs) and one of the few watches that syncs Spotify playlists.

For running, the fenix 6X Pro 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 pretty awesome. You’ll get 21 days in regular watch mode. Up to 60 hours in GPS mode and 15 hours with GPS and music. But new to the fenix 6X is Power Manager. This shows you how different features impact battery life. Customize the watch to use your favorite features, disable the ones you don’t need, and save battery power. You can even adjust these on the fly during your run.

Watch bands and the watch face can be customized quickly and easily.

PROS:

  • Tons of running features
  • On-screen topo and street maps
  • Large display
  • Great battery and power management
  • Music storage and Garmin Pay

CONS:

  • The watch runs big and some users with smaller wrists may not get the right fit
  • Very expensive
 

Best Smartwatch for Running

5. Garmin vivoactive 4 and 4S

The vivoactive 4/4S is Garmin’s version of a smartwatch. It’s made for everyday wear, but has GPS tracking that makes it well suited for running.

Unlike the vivoactive 3, the latest version comes in 2 sizes: the 4 and 4S. The 4 is a bit bigger than the vivoactive 3, while the 4S is smaller, ideal for runners with thin wrists.

Like most of Garmin’s watches, the vivoactive 4/4S has wrist heart rate, doubles as a fitness tracker, and provides phone notifications on the watch face.

But the vivoactive 4 has some added features for casual wear. You can download multiple watch faces and apps for a customized display. It has Garmin Pay for on-the-go payments. And it combines a touch screen with a single button to control the watch. For lefties, you can flip the phone upside down to move the button to the opposite side.

The vivoactive 4/4S comes in a sleek design. It’s one of the few that Garmin made 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 6, but still comes with a large batch of features for running and working out.

In addition to tracking time, pace, and distance, the vivoactive 4 and 4S have auto-pause, advanced workouts, and downloadable training plans. LiveTrack is available – this feature allows friends and family to track your location on a map in real-time, great for trying to find you in big races.

The vivoactive 4/4S has a secure strap that’s easy to get on and a 1.3-inch diameter screen with 260 X 260-pixel display. The watch is waterproof up to 50 meters, wear it in the shower or the pool. The screen is fashioned out of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 to really make this watch durable.

The vivoactive 4/4S comes with built-in music storage and playback. It has room for about 500 songs (including downloadable Spotify playlists) or bring your phone and control music from the watch.

New in the vivoactive 4/4S are added safety features. An emergency button sends out an email/text to friends and family with your current location. Auto-crash detection does the same thing automatically if you crash on your bike.

PROS:

  • Good display
  • Affordable without compromising features or looks
  • Comes in two sizes
  • Built-in music
  • Nice battery life

CONS:

  • iOS users can’t respond to texts
  • Lacks some of the robust running features found on other Garmin’s
 

Garmin Venu 2

Similar to the vivoactive 4/4S, the Venu 2 is basically the same watch with three exceptions.

Most notably, the AMOLED display is clear, crisp, and colorful. It’s probably the best and sharpest display Garmin has on any watch. And you have a choice of two shapes: circular or square.

Battery life is also a little better – 11 days in smartwatch mode vs 8 days on the vivoactive 4. And 8 hours in GPS vs 6 hours GPS on the vivoactive.

But you’ll  pay a bit more for this version. That’s the main trade-off.

 

Top Mid-priced Running Watch

6. Garmin Forerunner 245

There’s nothing explicitly new in the Forerunner 245. Instead, you have a lot of trickle-down features that were only available in more expensive Garmin watches in the past. So for either $300 or $350 (for the music version), you get some nice high-end features not found on the Forerunner 235, the older version of this watch.

Weight and the physical size of the watch decreased… but the display resolution is better with practically the same size screen. Combined with an improved battery (24 hours with GPS vs. 11 hours GPS on the Forerunner 235), and you’ve got a smaller, lighter watch that’s easier to read with a better battery.

The Forerunner 245 has greater compatibility with accessories, too, including Garmin’s Running Pod. This little device provides better and more intrinsic data on your running form. It does this by tracking cadence, vertical oscillation (how much you bounce up and down), and ground contact (how long your feet touch the ground each stride. Combined, you get a much better picture of your running form than without the pod.

For cyclists the Forerunner 245 works with Varia, Garmin’s cycling safety devices that make you aware of nearby vehicles while allowing them to better see you.

Also new on the safety front – this Garmin comes with an Assistance button. If you need help, pushing the button alerts select friends and family by text and email of your current location. Incident detection takes this one step further by automatically notifying friends and family if you crash on a bike ride.

Navigation and mapping now include a real-time breadcrumb map along with point-to-point navigation. While not as good as the city and topo maps found on the fenix 5+, breadcrumb maps do give you a sense of where you are and how far you need to go. It also includes TracBack which points you back to your original starting point if you get lost.

For swimmers, the 245 tracks open water and pool swims. But even though it can track bike rides, there is no multisport that allows you to switch between activities in the same workout.

Lastly, like the vivoactive 3, the Forerunner 245 comes in music and non-music versions. The music version costs $50 more and allows you to store songs on the watch. You can also stream music (if you have your phone with you) and pause, skip, and control the volume from the watch.

Carryover features from the 235 include activity tracking, smartphone notifications, and standard GPS run tracking (time, distance, pace, auto-pause, auto-lap, etc.).

PROS:

  • Better screen, better battery
  • Safety notifications
  • Music storage option
  • Improved mapping and accessory compatibility

CONS:

  • Tracks swimming but no multisport for triathletes
  • No real-life maps
  • Costs extra for music version (could be a pro if you don’t want music and aren’t forced to pay for it)
 

Top Solar Garmin Watch

7. Garmin Instinct Solar

A solar watch could be a convenient option for those who spend a lot of time outside in the sun, such as trail runners, hikers, or even just avid runners who live in warm places.

This Garmin is built to be durable and withstand outdoor use. The watch is scratch-resistant, fiber-reinforced, and chemically-strengthened. It’s robust in both looks and functionality.

The battery life is an impressive 30 hours in GPS mode, with the addition of 8 hours of battery life with solar charging. An altimeter, barometer, compass, weather function, and TracBack routing make it a well-rounded contender for the outdoors.

It’s versatile too, with multiple sports profiles, heart rate monitoring, pulse oximeter, stress tracking, and Garmin’s Body Battery monitor.

The Instinct Solar is available in a few different versions, including the Tactical Edition, the Surf Edition, the Esports Edition, and the Camo Edition. It also comes in various colors so you can choose one that best suits you and your personality.

PROS:

  • Tough and durable design
  • Long battery extended with solar power
  • Pairs with a phone for alerts and notifications
  • Wrist-based heart rate monitor and pulse ox

CONS:

  • GPS not as accurate as other Garmin watches
 

Best Fitness Tracker for Running

8. Garmin vivosmart 4

If you are just getting started running – or prefer to have a fitness tracker that can also help you track your runs – the vivosmart 4 is Garmin’s best option.

The watch is primarily for tracking steps, sleep, and general working out. But it has sync to your phone’s GPS to accurately track your runs. It also has wrist heart rate for all-day heart rate monitoring.

It’s a slim, lightweight design. Good battery life with up to 7 days before recharging. It can’t store music. But you can control music from your phone directly on the watch with its nice, clear touchscreen display.

We wouldn’t recommend this watch for experienced runners. But if you have a basic fitness routine that includes outdoor running, the vivosmart is a good option when paired with your phone.

PROS:

  • Lightweight, easy to use
  • Sleek design
  • Good battery life
  • Good value

CONS:

  • No advanced running features
  • Small-ish display
 

Best Discontinued Garmin Watches

When Garmin releases a new watch, the model it replaces is often still available and will be marked down from its original price. Often, the differences between the new and older versions are fairly minor.

So if you are in the market for a GPS watch and want a deal, you can find it with older Garmins. There are, however, a few downsides.

Common trade-offs with older versions of watches are: shorter battery use between charges, thicker, sometimes heavier watches, and fewer features. The other main trade-off is likely losing Garmin support in terms of firmware updates. New watches are updated frequently, either to add new features or to solve bugs that weren’t detected during testing.

But if you are fine with these and just want a decent watch to track your activities and fitness, older models work just fine.

Here are our top picks…

Top Value Discontinued Watch

9. Garmin Forerunner 35

Garmin’s Forerunner 35 is a basic GPS watch with wrist heart rate. It’s been replaced by the Forerunner 45; however, this watch is still a nice option and has been heavily discounted.

The design of the Forerunner 35 resembles an Apple watch. It has a black and white, square-shaped display. The display features 128 X 128-pixel resolution, easy to read and brighter than other models that are a similar price. A pretty good battery with up to 13 hours in GPS mode.

The watch tracks time, pace, and distance with GPS for outdoor runs. But it also has profiles to track indoor runs, cardio, walking, and biking. You can program intervals on the watch. Or for beginner runners, you can program run/walk intervals (i.e. 60 sec run / 60 sec walk).

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.

PROS:

  • Lightweight
  • Nice design and look
  • Good battery life

CONS:

  • No advanced running features
 

Best Discontinued Multi-sport Watch

10. Garmin Forerunner 935

The Forerunner 935 had been the top of the line watch for triathletes until Garmin released the Forerunner 945. The good news is that it’s still a great multisport watch – but now it’s on sale.

Like the fenix 6X Pro, 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. 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, you 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.

PROS:

  • Extended battery life
  • Sleek and comfortable design
  • Able to view four screens simultaneously

CONS:

  • Battery not as good as Forerunner 945
 

Top Discontinued Running Watch with Music

11. Garmin Forerunner 645

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.

PROS:

  • Can sync up with Bluetooth compatible headsets
  • Easy controls for music
  • Lots of detailed running metrics

CONS:

  • Some consumers reported difficulty getting their watch to recognize MP3 files
  • Poor battery life when listening to music
 

Best Discontinued Smartwatch

12. Garmin vivoactive 3

The last Garmin watch on our list made a big splash when originally released. It was Garmin’s first watch that combined the practicality of an everyday watch with the features of a running and swimming GPS watch.

While the vivoactive 3 has been upgraded to version 4 (which we mentioned above), the vivoactive is a still a nice watch if you are not quite ready to pay the higher price tag for the latest model.

Besides tracking running metrics, it also tracks cycling, swimming, and golf. You won’t find any of the high-end features, but it monitors distance, time, and pace. You can use it outdoors or it will track indoor runs on a track or treadmill.

It will also monitor steps and sleep, like a fitness tracker. Useful for wearing around when you’re not out for a run.

The vivoactive 3 has Garmin Pay, allowing you to make contactless payments. There is also a version with music storage, to listen on the go. The vivoactive has a touch screen and a single button on the side. A neat little feature is that you can switch the watch from your left or right wrist and the screen adjusts to keep the button faced away from your wrist.

The watch has a clear, high-res color screen. And a battery life of 5 days without GPS. It does drain quickly, though, with GPS and music. Expect only 4 or so hours in this mode.

PROS:

  • Fitness tracking and running features
  • Can buy with music storage
  • Looks great, nice clear screen

CONS:

  • Poor battery life
  • Only does basic GPS tracking
 
The Wired Runner