Founded in the late 1980s by Gary Burrell and Min Kao, Kansas-based Garmin specializes in GPS-based devices that aid navigation in cars, planes, shipping and much more. Their products are ultra-tough, built for professionals working in the most rugged and demanding situations, and trusted in every corner of the world.
Garmin’s running offerings are characterized by the same durability, reliability and intuitive interfaces that have made their products such winners for decades. Today’s connectivity options are many, and while GPS remains at the core of Garmin’s running watches, they’ve also incorporated Glonass and Galileo geopositioning to assist GPS, as well as Bluetooth, cellular, WiFi and ANT+. Not every model connects the same way, so use the buying guide below to help find the model that does what you want and need it to.
As far as fitness tracking goes, Garmin hangs tough with Casio, Apple, Samsung, FitBit and all the other big players, and there’s really nothing missing on a Garmin running watch when compared to other brands. You’ll also robust features, such as Pulse Ox which measures your blood oxygen levels (a boon for those competing and training at varying altitudes), V02 Max readings and standard readings such as heart rate, distances, steps and so on. All Garmin’s running watches are waterproof, so the triathletes and swimmers among us can dive in without a worry, and the general durability of Garmin watches is truly unrivaled.
Below is our guide to the entire current lineup of Garmin running watches. While there are a few models that we haven’t covered that could substitute as running watches, it is these core lines — the Fenix, the Forerunner and the Vivosport — that Garmin has tailored to the endurance athlete. Whether you’re a casual jogger or an international marathon competitor, you’ll find a watch that’ll take your workouts into the 21st century with elaborate data streams, both in real-time and then charted after the fact for deep analysis.
Fenix Plus 5X
At the top of the Garmin lineup of running watches is the Fenix Plus 5 series. There are three models, the 5S, 5 and 5X. They measure 42mm, 47mm, and 51mm, respectively. Made from titanium and sapphire, housing three-axis location sensors, GPS-enabled topographic maps, streaming music and Garmin Pay, you can go out for a run with just this watch and lack nothing but a cellular connection (see the Vivo series below for that). Bluetooth connectivity assures that you can download and analyze the elaborate fitness tracking data in lush graphs that help you make your training as accurate and beneficial as possible. For those venturing outside GPS broadcast zones, Glonass and Galileo networks will pick up where GPS left off. Those working in variable altitudes will want to opt for the Pulse Ox upgrade (select at checkout), which reads your blood oxygen saturation level, an essential data point for anyone exerting themselves at high altitudes. Pulse Ox offers insight previously only available to elite athletes with large budgets, but now anyone serious about monitoring proper recovery after endurance events (even when altitude remains the same) can alter their efforts for the win.
Battery Life: 12 days smartwatch / 18 hours GPS / 8 hours GPS + Music
Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Key Features: GPS, Glonass & Galileo navigation, compass, gyroscope, altimeter 3-axis location sensors, heart rate monitor, streaming music, Garmin Pay, Pulse Ox oxygen saturation monitoring (5X only).
Made from resin polymers and Gorilla Glass (as used on smartphones), the Forerunner 945 takes a slightly more economical approach than the Fenix lineup while offering all of the Fenix’s features, including the three-axis sensors, GPS, Glonass and Galileo network connections and all the heart rate and blood oxygen level monitoring you’ll need to train to compete at your highest level. Music is available over streaming services or you can store up to 1,000 songs right on the watch for your off-the-grid workouts. UltraTrac mode uses GPS sparingly to save battery and allows this watch to run for up to 60 hours while still offering accurate location mapping.
Battery Life: 2 weeks in smartwatch mode, 10 hours in GPS mode with music or up to 60 hours in UltraTrac™ mode.
Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Key Features: Menstrual cycle tracking, GPS, Glonass & Galileo navigation, compass, gyroscope, altimeter 3-axis location sensors, heart rate monitor, streaming music, Garmin Pay, Pulse Ox oxygen saturation monitoring.
Add a stainless steel bezel and drop the Pulse Ox blood oxygen sensing, and you’ve got the Forerunner 645, which comes in at a very attractive price point for a watch that still retains all of the major features of Garmin’s running devices. The GPS tracking is backed up by Glonass and Galileo networks and the three-axis sensors will make sure all location data is spot-on accurate. Pay a little more at checkout to include music streaming and the 1,000-song storage capacity for those moments when you’re running outside data networks. At 42.5mm across, this watch is going to fit most wrists comfortably.
Battery Life: 14 days, 7 days GPS mode
Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Key Features: Menstrual cycle tracking, GPS, Glonass & Galileo navigation, compass, gyroscope, altimeter 3-axis location sensors, heart rate monitor, streaming music (optional), Garmin Pay
Don’t let the lower price tag lead you to believe there are too few features with the 245, as this model offers more than the bare essentials: three-axis location sensors, smartphone connectivity, Garmin Pay, step monitoring and more. V02 Max levels — along with many other exertion insights based on temperature and elevation — are easily tracked through the onboard apps and then analyzed on your smartphone after your workout. Music is an upgrade at checkout.
Battery Life: 7 days, up to 24 hours in GPS mode
Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+ (no Wifi)
Key Features: Menstrual cycle tracking, GPS, Glonass & Galileo navigation, compass, gyroscope, altimeter 3-axis location sensors, heart rate monitor, streaming music, Garmin Pay
Of all Garmin’s running watches, this one behaves most like a “smartwatch.” Indeed, if you require cellular connectivity on your running watch, then the Vivoactive is the way to go. You’ll need to use Verizon, however, and you’ll need to go to the Verizon store to set up your plan. But once you do, this watch will give you text messaging and a whole host of other cellular-based features, including Spotify for your running jams, downloadable watch faces to satisfy your finicky inner aesthete and a bevy of training apps. All that functionality eats at the battery life, so this might not be the watch to take on that 24-hour endurance run across Nepalese mountains. But if staying close and connected matters to you, the Vivoactive 3 has you covered.
Battery Life: 5 days, up to 4 hours in GPS mode with music
Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, Verizon 4G LTE
Key Features: Elaborate fitness tracking on the watch and via smartphone apps, two sizes available, Garmin Coach training plan compatible, heart rate monitor.
To sum this one up, it’s small, affordable and loaded with features. Onboard GPS tracks your running distances, V02 Max monitoring looks inside your body and smartphone connectivity enables elaborate graphing of all that data. It’s also able to play your inspiring running playlists. The Vivosport clearly goes beyond the bare essentials. Its sleek form is available in two sizes.