Whether you’re just starting out or an Ironman veteran, these watches will improve your training and help you shine on race day
Whatever distance triathlon you’re training for, from a short sprint event right up to a full Ironman, it takes an awful lot of training. Unless you’re fortunate enough to be a pro with a coach logging your training across the three sports, the best thing you can do to support your workouts is pick up a triathlon watch.
While it’s not going to make the many hours of training any easier, a quality triathlon watch will track all the key stats of your run, rides and swims so you can see how you’re progressing across the three sports, and help to ensure the work you’re doing is effective.
In this guide, you’ll find a rundown of the very best triathlon watches available right now, along with the key information you need to consider when choosing the right watch for you.
How to buy the best triathlon watch for you
How much do I need to spend?
Triathlon watches don’t come cheap, with even budget models costing between £150 and £200. If you can afford nearer £300 you’ll have your choice of several great watches that will do an excellent job of tracking your training and races while providing some useful analysis that will help you recover properly between sessions.
The very best triathlon watches cost considerably more, however, with flagship models generally setting you back £450-plus. For this you’ll get more detailed feedback on your training and sometimes smart features like maps and music.
What are the key features?
There are several essential features that triathletes need to look for in a watch, starting with the basics of a waterproof design, built-in GPS and optical heart-rate tracking. The watch also needs the ability to track open-water swimming and have a multisport mode to track two or three sports in one session.
When it comes to the multisport mode you’ll need a set mode for common events, like a standard triathlon, where the watch will also log your transition times between the different sports, as well as a customisable mode so you can set the sports you’re doing in any order. This means you can set it to align with your training session if you’re doing a bike-run workout, for example.
Other vital features are a long battery life – a minimum of 25 hours of GPS, if you don’t want to be charging the device every couple of days – and the ability to connect to a range of external sensors like chest strap heart rate monitors, cycling speed/cadence and power sensors, and running footpods. Some watches will only connect to sensors via either Bluetooth or ANT+ but Garmin watches in particular can connect via both.
What other features should I look out for?
Most triathlon watches will give you some kind of feedback on your training once you finish a session, estimating how it has improved your fitness and suggesting the length of time you should take to recover before another hard effort. The best watches will go further than this and suggest how you can tweak your training to be more effective, perhaps by stopping you from overdoing it in counterproductive fashion or by encouraging you to put in more effort if you’ve been slacking.
Another useful feature is structured workouts that you can load onto the watch for guidance. When you’re training for three different sports and regularly logging a couple of sessions a day, this can be invaluable, because it’s easier to follow the buzzes on your watch rather than having to remember exact work and rest intervals throughout your session.
What smart features can I get?
Maps and music are both useful, smart features. With maps onboard, you can create routes on the fly and follow them easily. Full maps are only available on Garmin’s top watches at the moment, but you at least want to look out for breadcrumb navigation, which is available from several brands, and provides a simple line and pointer to guide you along a route.
Music is obviously great for providing entertainment during the long hours of training, but it’s not an especially common feature on triathlon watches. Once again, you’re looking at Garmin’s best watches if you want music, though do be aware that using the feature will significantly shorten your battery life.
The best triathlon watches to buy
Coros Pace: Best budget triathlon watch
Price: £180 | Buy now from Amazon
The Pace is an easy-to-use triathlon watch that has a brilliant battery life – don’t just look at the 25 hours of GPS on offer; it’s the 30 days it lasts in watch mode that really stretches the time between charges. Basically, your battery percentage won’t drop until you go out and train.
There aren’t a whole load of features on the watch, and you don’t get the level of training and recovery analysis you’ll find on pricier devices, but it does a great job of tracking running, cycling, swimming and combinations of the three, and you can’t really argue with that for £180.
Key specs – Battery life: 25 hours (GPS), 30 days (watch mode); Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth (smartphone only) & ANT+ (accessories)
Polar Vantage M: Best triathlon watch for beginners
Price: £198 | Buy now from Amazon
Although the Vantage M has an RRP of £249, it’s usually available for around £200, and that low price is not the only reason it makes for a great triathlon watch for beginners. It’s easy to create and follow guided workouts with the Vantage M, and you can even load up entire training programmes for running events on the watch, with all the workouts on the plan based on heart rate so they’re suitable for all levels.
The Vantage M will also track how well you recover each night and advise how fit you are to train the next day, giving you quick feedback on whether it might be best to take it easy or if you’re all set to go hard.
Polar also has the cheaper Ignite watch in its line-up, but while it does track cycling, swimming and running individually, it doesn’t have a triathlon mode.
Key specs – Battery life: 30 hours (GPS), 5 days (watch mode); Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth
Coros Apex 46mm: Best Triathlon Watch For £300
Price: £300 | Buy now from Amazon
The Apex has a few extra tricks up its sleeve to make it worth considering upgrading from the Coros Pace, and that starts with its design, which is smarter and hardier than the Pace’s plastic build, with sapphire glass and a titanium alloy bezel.
If you opt for the 46mm model of the Apex over the 42mm, you also get a longer battery life than what’s available on the Pace, with a monster 35 hours of GPS use. All models of the Apex have breadcrumb navigation, too, so you can load routes onto the watch from the partner Coros app and the watch will show a pointer to keep you on track.
Key specs – Battery life: 35 hours (GPS), 30 days (watch mode); Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth (smartphone only) & ANT+ (accessories)
Polar Vantage V: Best triathlon watch for running power
Price: £322 | Buy now from Amazon
When first launched, the Vantage V underwhelmed, with Polar’s flagship watch lacking some basic features and being inaccurate when it came to both GPS and heart rate tracking. However, Polar has since brought several updates to the Vantage V that have fixed most of its problems, as well as adding features like breadcrumb navigation and sleep/recovery analysis. The GPS tracking has also been sorted, which is obviously key for triathletes logging a lot of outdoor activities.
With the basics fixed, we can finally focus on the unique feature of the Vantage V, which is that it tracks running power from your wrist. Triathletes who use power (via a power meter) to gauge their effort when cycling can use the Vantage V to do the same when running without having to use a footpod. It can take a little getting used to, but if you commit to using power to judge your runs it can help you avoid hitting the wall during races and tough workouts.
Key specs – Battery life: 40 hours (GPS), 7 days (watch mode); Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth
Garmin Forerunner 945: Best all-round triathlon watch
Price: £520 | Buy now from Garmin
The Forerunner 945 is a truly remarkable bit of kit, boasting a vast array of features in a slim, lightweight watch that you’ll barely notice you’re wearing. Alongside terrific sports tracking, the watch’s training analysis can tell you what kind of session you need to do more of to balance out your routine, whether it’s extra easy runs or some tough intervals to improve your anaerobic fitness.
Its smart features are also excellent, with full colour on-board maps, so you can create routes on the fly and find your way home if you’ve strayed off the beaten path. It also has music storage and the ability to link to Spotify Premium accounts from which you can wirelessly sync your playlists.
Key specs – Battery life: 36 hours (GPS), 10 hours (GPS plus music), 14 days (watch mode); Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth & ANT+
Garmin Fenix 6X Pro: Best Ironman triathlon watch
Price: £650 | Buy now from Garmin
All of the Fenix 6 range of watches are brilliant for triathletes, but it’s the 6X Pro that we’d recommend if you’re taking on an Ironman, simply because of the massive battery life. You get 60 hours of GPS, and even if you’re playing music from the watch during your workouts it’ll last 15 hours – enough to get through even the full Ironman distance.
The Pro range of Fenix 6 watches have all the same tracking and training analysis features that appear on the 945, as well as maps and music. Garmin has also introduced its new PacePro feature on the Fenix 6 range. This will help you pace running events to perfection with mile or kilometre split targets that take into account any hills in that section along with your overall target time. PacePro is due to come to other Garmins in time, including the 945, but for now its only on the Fenix 6 range.
Key specs – Battery life: 60 hours (GPS), 15 hours (GPS plus music), 21 days (watch mode); Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth & ANT+