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The Best Garmin Watches: Which One is Right for You?

Garmin smart watches are designed to help track running, swimming, hiking and golf. Here's how to choose the best model for you.
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In the world of fitness trackers and health wearables, Garmin watches have a reputation as being among the most reliable, high-quality watches on the market. While other smartwatches have added fitness tracking features, Garmin is a highly-accurate fitness tracker first, with some models adding smartwatch features.

However, choosing the right watch can feel overwhelming, as Garmin sells watches for a variety of training needs, and it’s important to choose the watch that works best for you.

Whether you’re looking for a fitness tracker that can answer calls and stream music to your headphones, or a highly-accurate GPS watch to wear when you golf, Garmin has a watch for you.

In this guide, we’ll share our picks for the best Garmin watch for any goal, to help you choose the perfect watch for your training.

Our Picks for the Best Garmin Watch:

Best Garmin Running Watch: Garmin Forerunner 955

garmin forerunner 955

Key Features:

  • Price: $499
  • Heart rate monitor: Yes
  • GPS: Yes
  • Water resistant: 50 meters
  • Display: 1.3-inch display screen
  • Sleep tracking: Yes
  • Battery life: 20 hours in smartwatch mode, 49 hours in GPS mode without music

For serious running enthusiasts, it’s hard to imagine a better watch than the Garmin Forerunner 955.

Its brightly-lit color display features easy-to-read maps, and you can easily swipe between screens to look at various running stats in real time. It’s a very lightweight watch, and tracks all sorts of running metrics, including running power, stamina, stride length, cadence, training readiness, tempo, pacing and much more.

You can also download up to 2,000 songs with Spotify, Deezer or Amazon music, and have hours of music to keep you company on your training runs once paired with compatible wireless headphones.

Lightweight, with good battery life and all sorts of metrics that runners want to see, this running watch is a no-brainer for any serious runners. For an extra $100, you can upgrade to the solar-charging model, to get even better battery life on your runs.

Pros:

  • Lightweight, with a bright display and advanced running metrics

Cons:

  • It’s a little on the pricey side, especially if you want the solar charging

Purchase Garmin Forerunner 955


Best Garmin Watch for Women: Garmin Venu 2S

garmin venu

Key Features:

  • Price: $399
  • GPS: Yes
  • Water resistant: 50 meters
  • Display: 1.1-inch display screen
  • Sleep tracking: Yes
  • Battery life/charging time: Up to 10 days in smartwatch mode

If you want a watch that’s designed for a smaller wrist, but still has plenty of tech features, the Garmin Venu 2S is a great fit. With a 40mm case size, this watch isn’t as big as many others, for a more petite profile that won’t look too bulky on smaller wrists.

The Venu 2S is packed with smartwatch features, such as the ability to download up to 650 songs, Garmin pay so you can purchase items with a tap of the wrist, smartphone integrations and notifications and animated workouts you can follow along with on your wrist.

The Venu 2S doesn’t track quite as many running metrics as the Forerunner, but unless you’re a hardcore runner, this will be more than enough. This multisport watch comes preloaded with 25 different types of activities you can track, and even tracks your menstrual cycle, hydration, body battery and true fitness age.

Pros:

  • Small profile and packed with smart features

Cons:

  • Using some of the smart features will impact battery life, and it doesn’t have the advanced metrics found in other watches

Purchase Garmin Venu 2S 


Best Garmin Watch for Cycling: Garmin Forerunner 745

Garmin Forerunner 745

Key Features:

  • Price: $499
  • Heart-rate monitor: Yes
  • GPS: Yes
  • Water resistant: 50 meters
  • Display: 1.2-inch display screen
  • Sleep tracking: Yes
  • Battery life: Up to seven days in smartwatch mode

For fitness enthusiasts who want more advanced metrics than the Venu 2S offers, the Forerunner 745 is a durable, well-constructed option that suits a wide variety of activities.

The Forerunner 745 was designed for advanced GPS running and triathlon tracking, so if you’re a cyclist, this is the watch for you.

You can connect your watch with a Garmin power meter (sold separately) to track your cycling power and functional threshold power in real-time. The screen isn’t quite as bright as a watch like the Venu 2, and this watch is clearly designed for fitness and durability over smart features, with a more rugged design.

Pros:

  • Rugged design, and designed for triathletes

Cons:

  • Not the longest battery life, and it’s a more rugged design, vs the sleeker Venu 2S

Purchase Garmin Forerunner 745


Best Garmin Watch for Golf: Garmin Approach S62

garmin approach

Key Features:

  • Price: $549
  • Heart-rate monitor: Yes
  • GPS: Yes
  • Water resistant: 50 meters
  • Display: 1.3-inch display screen
  • Sleep tracking: Yes
  • Battery life: Up to seven days in smartwatch mode

If you’re a golfer who wants to take your game to the next level, look no further than the Garmin Approach S62, designed specifically for serious golfers.

Along with the standard Garmin metrics (heart rate, step count, calories burned, etc.), this sleek-looking watch will track all sorts of golf-specific metrics while looking stylish with any outfit.

Featuring a full-color screen and GPS, this watch has 41,000 pre-loaded golf courses with full mapping, and acts like a caddie on your wrist, telling you how hard to hit and where to aim. The built-in Approach CT10 sensors will track each swing, and you can check wind speed and direction, see each green’s true shape, check out course hazards and more.

This watch looks good, can be easily seen in the sunlight and is an excellent accessory for golf enthusiasts.

Pros:

  • All kinds of advanced golf-specific features, like the virtual caddie and swing tracking

Cons:

  • This is really made specifically for golf, and wouldn’t work too well as a general fitness watch

Purchase Garmin Approach S62 


Best Garmin Watch for Hiking: Instinct 2 Solar

Garmin instinct

Key Features:

  • Price: $449
  • Heart-rate monitor: Yes
  • GPS: Yes
  • Water resistant: 100 meters
  • Display: Custom two-window design, 0.9-inch x 0.9-inch
  • Sleep tracking: Yes
  • Battery life/charging time: Up to 28 days in smartwatch mode, more with solar charging

If you’re an outdoors enthusiast who regularly goes on extended hikes and camping trips and spends days on end outdoors, this is the watch for you.

The Instinct 2 Solar has a rugged exterior design to handle any activity you throw at it, and features an incredible battery life that constantly recharges in the sunlight. If you spend most of your time outside, you’ll have unlimited battery life.

A black and white display screen conserves even more battery life, and more importantly, this watch will make sure you never get lost on a long hike. The watch supports multiple satellite location services, including GPS tracking, GLONASS and Galileo. An altimeter measures your elevation changes, a compass keeps you on track and you can set your car, campsite or anywhere else as a reference point, so the watch can guide you home.

It may not be the prettiest watch, but if you’re hiking, skiing or on any other sort of adventure in the wild, this watch will make sure you’re safe, and can always find your way home.

Pros:

  • Long battery life that recharges itself in the sun

Cons:

  • Black and white display and a rugged design mean this isn’t the prettiest watch

Purchase Garmin Instinct 2 Solar


Best Garmin Watch for Kids: Garmin vivofit Jr. 3

garmin vivofit jr

Key Features:

  • Price: $89.99
  • Heart rate monitor: No
  • GPS: No
  • Water resistant: 50 meters
  • Display: 0.56-inch x 0.56-inch display screen
  • Sleep tracking: Yes
  • Battery life: Replaceable battery lasts up to one year

It’s never too early to build healthy habits with your kids, and if you have a young one running around, they’ll love the vivofit jr. 3.

This is a smaller watch, and comes in all kinds of fun case options, including Marvel, Star Wars and Disney themes. It’s swim-proof and designed to make fitness fun. When paired with a smartphone, your child can use their vivofit jr. to complete Avengers missions and challenges, and parents can even assign chores and tasks.

The smartphone companion app includes all sorts of fun games and challenges, many of which can only be unlocked by completing more activities, adding a fun incentive for your child to exercise more.

Pros:

  • Kid-friendly watch that includes all sorts of games and challenges to encourage physical activity

Cons:

  • It tracks steps and sleep, but doesn’t have any more smartwatch features

Purchase Garmin vivofit jr. 3


Best Garmin Watch for Swimming: Garmin Swim 2

garmin swim 2

Key Features:

  • Price: $249
  • Heart-rate monitor: Yes
  • GPS: Yes
  • Water resistant: 50 meters
  • Display: 1.04-inch display screen
  • Sleep tracking: Yes
  • Battery life/charging time: Up to seven days in smartwatch mode

Swimmers will love the Garmin Swim 2, which is lightweight and packed with features designed to improve your workouts any time you’re in the water.

You can choose between open water swimming or pool swimming, log swimming drills and use the built-in critical swim speed monitor to make sure you’re swimming at the appropriate pace. The watch tracks your distance, pace, stroke count, stroke type and SWOLF, which measures your swimming efficiency.

Outside of the water, this watch also tracks your step count, heart rate and workouts.

It doesn’t have as many non-swimming features as other watches, as it’s designed primarily for swimming—luckily, the lower price point reflects this. If you’re doing all sorts of exercise, you may want a more balanced watch, but those who primarily focus on swimming will love the Garmin Swim 2.

Pros:

  • Full of useful swimming features

Cons:

  • It’s not great for activities outside of the pool, beyond step tracking and calories burned

Purchase Garmin Swim 2


How to Use a Garmin Watch

When using your Garmin watch, take some time to figure out all of the different settings and features before you start training.

Different watch models have different features, from music playback and phone connectivity to tracking advanced metrics while hiking or swimming. You’ll also find interval timers, heart rate monitors and everything in between.

You don’t want to be figuring out the different features on the fly, so take some time to get familiar with the various features on your watch. There may be a small learning curve, so it’s well worth your time to get to know your watch ahead of time.

What Is Garmin Connect?

The Garmin Connect app is a tool to track your workouts and activity on your phone or web browser, and comes packed with features.

You’ll be able to find your daily step count, calories burned and detailed breakdowns and maps of your runs, and you can join the monthly Garmin challenges to earn badges.

With Garmin Connect, you can also download custom training plans to follow, find a community and challenge your friends and share your progress. This app is packed with features, and takes a high-quality fitness watch to the next level.

What to Look for in a Garmin Watch

Training features

First and foremost, figure out what sort of features you’re looking for in a watch. If you plan on simply running, taking a fitness class or hitting the gym, you likely won’t need any advanced features.

However, if you swim, golf, go on extended hikes or take your running seriously, different models will have specific features and functions that meet your needs.

Smartwatch features

Many, though not all Garmin watches include smartwatch features. You can stream music, check phone messages, use a GPS to guide your runs or even use Garmin pay to make purchases with certain models.

With the Garmin IQ store, you can download specific apps to your watch, like the Starbucks app. Keep in mind, while these smart apps and features add useful functions to your phone, they may drain the battery a little faster, something to keep in mind if you plan on multi-day trips without being able to charge your phone.

Music compatibility

Do you want to listen to music, without needing to carry your phone?

If so, many Garmin watches allow you to connect the watch to your computer and load your favorite music, which you can then listen to with Bluetooth headphones. Note that you can’t stream the music over the internet, it needs to be loaded onto your watch ahead of time.

Battery life

This is a major benefit to most Garmin watches—the battery life tends to be significantly longer than most other smartwatches, and some watches include solar charging, so as long as you’re outdoors, your watch won’t die.

The battery life will depend on use, so if you’re playing music, using GPS features and pairing with your phone, you may only get a few days of battery life between charges. However, with minimal use, perhaps simply worn as a watch that tracks your steps, many Garmin watches will last up to a week between charges, if not longer.

Size

Some of the more powerful Garmin watches tend to be on the bigger side, and have a rugged, clunky look to them.

If you’re wearing your watch on your outdoor adventures, you likely don’t care about the look, and the bigger watch is fine. However, many users do tend to wear their watches all day long— running errands, at work, etc… and in those cases, a smaller, more discreet watch may look better, especially in professional settings.

Cost

The cost may be the most important factor, as Garmin watches range from $199 on the entry-level side, to $1,900 for Garmin’s luxury watch. Many of the watches on our list fall in the $199—$499 range, comparable to many other smartwatches.

If money is tight, know that even the lower-cost Garmin watches are still very high-quality and built to last, so you can’t go wrong sticking to your budget.

How Garmin Watches Compare to Fitbits

While Fitbits are fantastic tracking tools, they’re generally a bit more basic than Garmin watches.

Many Fitbits are primarily designed for tracking basic fitness stats, like your step count, heart rate and calories burned. Because of this, Fitbits often have a small profile and may look like a bracelet, though some models have bigger screens.

Garmin watches track all of the same things, and include, such as GPS maps, elevation changes, blood oxygen, and more.

General fitness enthusiasts will likely do just fine with a Fitbit, but hardcore athletes and those who want to track all the data will likely want to stick with Garmin.

How Garmin Watches Compare to the Apple Watch

Apple Watches are smartwatches first and foremost, designed to seamlessly pair with iPhones, and have added more health and fitness features over the years. Garmin watches are fitness watches first, with smartwatch features on select models.

So which is better? Well, if you want all the smartwatch features of the Apple Watch, or want to add a data plan for streaming music, calls, and texts, stick with the Apple Watch. If you’re looking for a fitness watch first and foremost, and don’t need smartwatch features, Garmin may be the better choice.

For fitness enthusiasts who want all the data, Garmin generally tracks more things. Elevation, pace changes, oxygen levels, and many other advanced metrics. Newer Apple Watches are adding similar features, but some testers claim that Garmin watches have better accuracy.

Garmin watches also tend to have better fitness features and much longer battery life, as Apple Watches usually need to be charged daily.

Some triathletes who train for very long periods of time find that Apple Watch batteries can’t make it through the entire event when using some of the tracking or streaming features. For example, if you plan on streaming music during an entire marathon, you might drain your Apple Watch battery before the race is over, so be careful to mind your battery levels with an Apple Watch.

FAQs

Can you text on a Garmin watch?

If you have an Android phone, you can answer texts. iPhone users can only view texts, not respond to them.

What is the most expensive Garmin watch?

At the time of writing, the most expensive Garmin watch is the MARQ Gen 2, which costs between $1,900-$,2400 depending on the model.

How many years will a Garmin watch last?

Many users report that Garmin watches can easily last five to seven years, if not more. The main concern is the battery life, which can begin to diminish after around 500 charge cycles. Your lifespan may vary, with many runners opting to upgrade their watch every two to four years.

Does the Garmin watch work without a phone?

Absolutely, you don’t need your phone to use a Garmin watch.

Does Garmin replace broken watches?

Garmin includes a one-year warranty that covers defects from regular use. Damage due to dropping, cracking, accidental damage or improper use is not covered.

Prices are accurate and items in stock as of publish time.