Garmin has a dizzying array of sports watches, but what do you need and how much should you spend?
Think of Garmin and you’ll almost certainly think of sports watches. The fact that the US giant is synonymous with fitness wearables is no mean feat considering that it’s been around for nearly 30 years and also specialises in technology for land, sea and air vehicles.
Still, it’s sports watches, especially running watches, that have really stuck – and it’s no wonder. The company’s products are known for delivering the things athletes care about: durability, accuracy and heaps of stats.
Even paired with the company’s most basic Forerunner 30 watch, the Garmin Connect app will give you insights on average pace, average moving pace, best pace, maximum speed, moving time, elapsed time, average heart rate, max heart rate, average cadence, maximum cadence, average stride length, elevation gain, elevation loss, minimum elevation, maximum elevation and calories burned, among other stats.
Consider that Garmin Connect also interfaces with Strava and MyFitnessPal and for fitness nerds, this is about as good as it gets.
The trouble is that the company has an awful lot of products and it’s not clear to a novice what does what and how much you actually need to spend. In this guide, we’ll explain the key features of each, while giving you an idea of how much you need to spend to get everything you want.
Best Garmin watches: At a glance
Garmin watch models explained: Decoding the brands
Broadly speaking, Garmin watches can be divided into six categories. Technically, there are more than six, but for most punters, Garmin’s range includes the Fenix, Forerunner, Vivoactive, Vivosport, Vivosmart and Vivofit Junior brands.
In truth, there’s an awful lot of crossover in features and design, with nearly all of Garmin’s watches for adults offering basic fitness features such as step counting and sleep monitoring, along with smartphone notifications. But there are some differences, too.
For starters, if the name has “Vivo” in it, chances are you’re looking at a fitness tracker, rather than a specialist sports watch. Of these, only some contain built-in GPS (the Vivosport and Vivoactive), so be sure to check or you might end up having to piggyback location data from your phone to get accurate workout stats.
The Vivoactive is the main exception to this rule because it’s a smartwatch, rather than a fitness band. As such, it offers most of the same insights, albeit on a bigger screen.
The Forerunner range is a bit easier to explain: the brand is chiefly aimed at runners, although you can increasingly use the watches to track a multitude of sports. They all pack GPS, so you can go ahead and leave your phone at home and run without bulk. They cost from around £100 all the way up to £520 for the Forerunner 945.
Further up the Garmin totem pole is the Fenix range, which has all of the features you could want in a more rugged, outdoorsy frame. They’re premium watches with premium prices to match, though they fall short of the truly astronomical prices you’ll see in Garmin’s Marq range, which starts at £1,400 for the Marq Athlete and tops out at £2,250 for the Marq Driver.
Garmin watch models explained: The best Garmin watches
With so much choice, it’s quite hard to pick out a definitive “best Garmin watch”, but these are the wearables we feel offer the right balance between price and features.
1. Garmin Epix (gen 2): The best all-round Garmin sports watch
Price: £900 | Buy now from Goldsmiths
The Garmin Epix (gen 2) is a perfect hybrid of the Fenix 7 and the Venu 2 Plus, partnering the features and ruggedised design of the Fenix range with a bright AMOLED display. But even by Garmin’s standards, this watch is extremely expensive: at £900, it’s much pricier than the £600 Fenix 7.
The display is bright, colourful, sharp and lovely to look at. One major perk, as with the Fenix 7, is the Epix’s touchscreen, allowing you to interact far more easily with Garmin’s topographic maps from all over the world, which are now included at no extra cost. If you prefer to use buttons, the touch function can be disabled from the watch’s main menu. There’s a host of new fitness-related features, too, including more than 30 built-in sports apps and Garmin’s new Elevate gen 4 sensor.
Despite these strengths, the Epix does have one notable drawback: battery life. Garmin says the battery lasts a respectable 16 days in smart mode, but if you set the display to always-on, that drops to around 6 days, or even less if you use GPS extensively. If money is no object and you don’t mind having to charge your device relatively often, there’s no question that the Epix is the best multisport watch Garmin has ever made. However, if you’re a keen endurance athlete or on a strict budget, the Fenix range may be the better choice for you.
Read our full Garmin Epix (gen 2) review for more details
Key specs – Screen size: 1.3in; Weight: 76g; GPS: Yes; ANT+ support: Yes; Waterproof: 5ATM; Battery life: 16 days smart mode, 5 days GPS
2. Garmin Forerunner 55: The best Garmin watch on a budget
Price: £180 | Buy now from Argos
The entry-level option in Garmin’s Forerunner range is generally your best bet when it comes to finding a great, cheap sports watch, and the Forerunner 55 certainly lives up to that billing. It nails all the basics of sports tracking, with built-in GPS, accurate distance and heart rate tracking plus customisable workouts, and it offers 20 hours of GPS tracking from a single charge, which is impressive from such a small device.
However, the Forerunner 55 goes well beyond these basics, too, with features like daily suggested workouts, a recovery advisor, race time predictions and an estimation of your VO2 max. The 55 is a worthy improvement on previous models like the 35 and 45, but it’s worth also saying that if your budget doesn’t stretch to £180, then looking for those older models in sales will still net you a very solid running watch that has all the essential features.
Key specs – Screen size: 1.04in; Weight: 37g; GPS: Yes; ANT+ support: Yes; Waterproof: 5ATM; Battery life: 14 days smart mode, 20 hours GPS
3. Garmin Fenix 7: A great feature-packed Garmin watch
Price: £600 | Buy now from Amazon
It’s not the cheapest Garmin sports watch around, but the Fenix 7 offers a winning mix of features for exercise fanatics. Quite simply, it’s leagues ahead of the competition.
New features include a nifty touchscreen, a sleeker design than its predecessor and a longer battery life. The Fenix 7 uses the company’s latest optical sensor for more accurate monitoring of your blood oxygen level and heart rate, while GPS has also been improved. There are three sizes and lots of colours to pick from.
Most importantly, however, there’s tracking for pretty much every sport, as well as plenty of advice and features that will help you make the most of your workout. You’ll stay entertained too: the Fenix 7 lets you download tracks from Spotify, Deezer or Amazon Music straight to the device.
If you’re serious about sport and your budget allows it, the Fenix 7 is the best all-singing, all-dancing Garmin watch money can buy.
Read our full Garmin Fenix 7 review for more details
Key specs – Screen size: 1.3in; Weight: 79g; GPS: Yes; ANT+ support: Yes; Waterproof: 10ATM; Battery life: Up to 14 days (solar model), 37 hours GPS
4. Garmin Vivoactive 4: The best Garmin watch for all-rounders
Price: £180 | Buy now from Argos
The Vivoactive 4 offers Garmin’s excellent sports and everyday activity tracking in an attractive package that will have more appeal outside the running and triathlon community, with a bright touchscreen and smart features like music and Garmin Pay. The latest Vivoactive is also especially good for beginner runners and those new to the gym, with training plans for the former and a series of pre-made guided workouts including on-screen animations for the latter.
While it doesn’t have as much depth when it comes to sports tracking as something like the Forerunner 245, the Vivoactive 4 has all of Garmin’s best everyday activity tracking features, including Body Battery, which provides a snapshot of your overall energy ratings throughout the day via a simple score out of 100.
Key specs – Screen size: 1.3in; Weight: 50.5g; GPS: Yes; ANT+ support: Yes; Waterproof: 5ATM; Battery life: 8 days smart mode, 6 hours GPS and music
5. Garmin Vivosport: The best Garmin fitness band
Price: £144 | Buy now from Amazon
If you want something a little more discrete, the Garmin Vivosport fitness band is for you. It manages to pack in the vast majority of watch features into a slim package with a teeny-tiny touchscreen. In fact, the screen is so small that the sausage-fingered may want to pass.
Still, runners and cyclists with a pianist’s fingers will find a lot to love. It has an always-on colour display, as well as providing GPS, heart rate tracking and smart notifications. You can also track your progress with VO2 max, fitness age and stress-tracking – not bad for a wearable that’ll last seven days between charges. Note that, although you can keep it on in the pool, there’s no swim tracking.
Read our full Garmin Vivosport review for more details
Key specs – Screen size: 0.38 x 0.76in; Weight: 27g; GPS: Yes; ANT+ support: Yes; Waterproof: Swimproof; Battery life: 7 days smart mode, 8 hours GPS
6. Garmin Forerunner 255: The best mid-price Garmin running watch
Price: £300 | Buy now from GarminThe Forerunner 255 boasts more accurate and reliable tracking than its predecessor thanks to its new multi-band GPS, improved heart rate monitoring from its new Elevate V4 sensor – the same sensor used in the high-end Fenix 7 – as well as improved battery life, and the addition of a barometric altimeter, which allows you to measure your floors climbed alongside your distance covered.
Along with the now-standard extensive tracking and coaching features of other Forerunner watches, the Forerunner 255 also offers daily workout suggestions and fully-fledged triathlon support, and the screen, as ever, is highly readable in all conditions on the device’s transflective MIP display.
A first for the line, the Forerunner 255 is available in two sizes,equally priced 41mm and 46mm versions, and as with previous iterations, Garmin also offers a ‘Music’ version of the watch. While slightly more expensive, the Forerunner 255 Music comes with space to download and store music from your Spotify account, making listening to music while you run, cycle or swim a doddle.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 255 review for more details
Key specs – Screen size: 33mm; Weight: 49g; GPS: Multi-band; ANT+ support: Yes; Waterproof: Yes; Battery life: 30 hours (GPS), seven hours (GPS plus music), 14 days (smartwatch mode)
7. Garmin Forerunner 945: The best Garmin watch for triathletes
Price: £397 | Buy now from Amazon
The Forerunner 945 is the most advanced watch in the Forerunner line-up and makes a pretty fair case for being the best watch that Garmin makes full stop. It’s certainly the option keen runners and triathletes should opt for, with all of the premium features of the very expensive Marq Athlete packed into a slighter plastic frame that’s more comfortable to wear during exercise.
Those features include the most advanced training load analysis we’ve come across on any wearable, including details on how balanced your train is between anaerobic and aerobic work, and how well you’re acclimating to altitude or heat. Triathletes will also welcome the open water and multisport modes that are absent on Forerunners lower down the range.
On top of its sports tracking features, the 945 also has colour maps and the ability to create routes on the go, NFC payments through Garmin Pay, and music storage and syncing with streaming services like Spotify.
It does more or less everything, then, while still being a slim, comfortable watch with a long battery life. Unless you prefer the premium design of the Fenix 5 Plus Series, this is the best sports watch you can get.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 945 review for more details
Key specs – Screen size: 1.2in; Weight: 50g; GPS: Yes; ANT+ support: Yes; Waterproof: 5ATM; Battery life: 14 days smart mode, 36 hours GPS, 10 hours GPS with music
8. Garmin Venu 2 Plus: The best Garmin smartwatch
Price: £396 | Buy now from Amazon
The Venu 2 Plus is the successor to the excellent Venu 2, adding a microphone and speaker so you can now make phone calls and interact with your phone’s voice assistant from your wrist. This addition makes it a particularly strong rival to the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch ranges.
Unlike the Venu 2, which came in two different sizes (40mm and 45mm), the Venu 2 Plus has only one 43mm model, but it has the same 1.3in 416 x 416 AMOLED touchscreen display as its larger predecessor, so you’re unlikely to notice the difference. The display is a joy to look at and interact with, although the voice assistant isn’t quite as responsive as we’d like, and the lack of widespread support for Garmin Pay stops it from offering all you could possibly need from a sporty smartwatch.
That said, what the Venu 2 Plus loses in terms of smarts, it makes up for in terms of its sports-tracking abilities, with apps for running, swimming, HIIT and more. It also offers a host of health-tracking features including stress and sleep tracking and a pulse oximeter to check your blood oxygen saturation.
While the battery life suffers on the Venu 2 Plus owing to its large, vivid display, it’s still pretty solid at nine days in watch mode, compared with 11 for the Venu 2 (however, that number comes down quickly if you add in some outdoor sports tracking). If you can do without the speaker and microphone, you’ll find that the Venu 2 has dropped in price following the launch of its successor. Otherwise, the Venu 2 Plus is one of the very best Garmin smartwatches you can buy.
Read our full Garmin Venu 2 Plus review for more details
Key specs – Screen size: 1.3in; Weight: 51g; GPS: Yes; ANT+ support: Yes; Waterproof: 5ATM; Battery life: 9 days smart mode, 24 hours GPS
9. Garmin Instinct 2 Solar: The best Garmin for the great outdoors
Price: £390 | Buy now from Wiggle
The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar has an incredible trick up its sleeve, thanks to its light-sensitive bezel: a claimed unlimited battery life in smartwatch mode or 48 hours with GPS tracking switched on. Naturally, you’ll have to be outside in bright conditions to take advantage of those stellar lifespans, which might be tricky in the UK, but we did see a notable boost when wearing it outdoors.
Elsewhere, it offers all of the activity and fitness statistics you could ever need, including VO2 max and Garmin’s new mountain bike features, while its rugged design will survive the occasional knock. The display is also readable in any weather conditions and the classic, five-button layout makes it straightforward to navigate.
If you like to do your exercise outdoors, the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is an excellent choice with an astonishing battery life. If not, however, you might decide to go for the similarly impressive Garmin Instinct 2 instead, which is cheaper and doesn’t have the light-sensitive bezel.
Read our full Garmin Instinct 2 Solar review for more details
Key specs – Screen size: 0.9in; Weight: 52g; GPS: Yes; ANT+ support: Yes; Waterproof: 10ATM; Battery life: Unlimited with solar (in bright conditions), 48 hours GPS with solar
10. Garmin Enduro: The best Garmin for battery life
Price: £650 | Buy now from Garmin
The Enduro is built to last, both in terms of its durable, fibre-reinforced polymer case and the massive battery life it offers. With up to 80 hours of GPS in full tracking mode, and up to 300 hours in low-battery tracking modes, it offers more juice than any other watch we’ve tested. In our testing it lasted 23 days when running almost every day and logging over 100km a week, along with other indoor activities.
In many ways the Enduro is like the Fenix, being the same size and having a similar (though lighter) design as the Fenix 6X Pro while offering the same sports tracking and training analysis features. Unfortunately, the Enduro is also missing the colour maps that you do get on the Fenix Pro watches, and there’s also no music storage, which helps to increase its battery life.
The Enduro does still offer breadcrumb navigation and Garmin’s ClimbPro feature to give you guidance on the elevation of your courses. There’s also a back-to-start pointer if you do get lost when out on the trails, and you have the assurance of knowing there’s very little chance of the watch running out of battery before you do find your way home.
Key specs – Screen size: 1.4in; Weight: 71g (steel), 61g (titanium); GPS: Yes; ANT+ support: Yes; Waterproof: 10ATM; Battery life: 50 days/65 days with solar, 70 hours GPS, 80 hours GPS with solar
11. Garmin Venu SQ: The best budget Garmin smartwatch
Price: £180 | Buy now from Argos
There are two options in the Venu SQ range. The more expensive version costs £230 but brings a key feature to the table in the shape of music storage, including the ability to sync and store your Spotify playlists for offline playback.
Both versions of the Venu provide a good sports tracking experience, too, as you would expect from Garmin at any price, and it actually provides most of what you get from pricier smartwatches like the Vivoactive 4 and Venu. However, the design is inferior, especially when it comes to the TFT screen, which is far less bright and colourful than the OLED screen of the Venu. The Venu SQ is also missing an altimeter, which means it won’t track the floors you climb during the day – a fairly standard feature on Garmin watches these days.
The less impressive design is to be expected given that the Venu SQ is far cheaper than the Venu, though, and if you opt for the music edition you will be getting a very capable sports watch with added smarts at a good price.
Key specs – Screen size: 1.3in; Weight: 37.6g; GPS: Yes; ANT+ support: Yes; Waterproof: 5ATM; Battery life: 6 days, 14 hours GPS, 6 hours GPS plus music