With 2021 right around the corner, Garmin GPS running watches now fit nicely inside of a large library of selections to choose from. Garmin’s running watches span all fitness levels, from beginner, intermediate, advanced, and even tactical oriented models.
With each type of Garmin watch geared towards many different fitness levels, consumers can rest assured that innovative displays, performance tracking, and GPS navigation are included in whatever model you choose.
This detailed buyers guide will explore the best Garmin GPS running watches throughout all of these fitness categories. I have personally had the advantage of trying or testing all of these models, therefore, I will provide all of the details for each model from design and comfort to the complete breakdown of the best features of each watch.
Read on to find out which watch can best meet your needs.
What is the Best Garmin GPS Watch for Running in 2021?
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro features a wide array of useful features such as mapping and navigation, tracking performance metrics for a wide variety of activities, and more. The standout feature is the inclusion of a power glass, solar charging lens that provides superior battery longevity.
It wasn’t easy dwindling down this final choice but I have found that the Fenix 6 Pro is filled with so many useful tracking features that it is hard to find an overall better choice. The design is crisp, sleek, and comfortable, with a state-of-the-art lens that provides a pristine, translucent display.
The Fenix 6 Pro is all about improving upon past exclusions in the Garmin Fenix 6 line. With this in mind, this makes this model a great investment as this will likely turn out to be the only Fenix model that you will ever need considering that the long-awaited ability to harness the power of the sun into battery performance is fully realized with this model.
This model is a complete evolutionary upgrade in the Fenix 6 line. This means that some previous concerns with other models have been improved upon for your convenience. Such as the inclusion of various types of sports and fitness performance dynamics as opposed to just running or jogging, as well as more map integration in clear and vibrant lens display and the inclusion of music storage that was missing from the previous Fenix 6 models.
As well as a music upgrade, the inclusion of pulse oximetry data for more comprehensive and dynamic performance readings is also here.
The technology is improved upon, which goes beyond simple velocity to even pinpoint performance targets in various areas of the body as opposed to just an overall assessment. The watch is comfortable and lightweight, therefore, you can rest assured that this model is definitely worth the purchase.
But there is so much more to offer when it comes to Garmin running watches. The Fenix 6 Pro may be overkill for some users who just want a comfortable beginner’s watch. There are also many other Garmin running watches that target intermediate level runners and tactical performance features as well.
Let’s explore some of these unique watches in more detail based on the running specific category.
Best Garmin Watches for Beginners Watches / Basic
When you are just starting out with running, you are probably looking for a smartwatch that is stripped down to its basics. You won’t need a ton of performance tracking and GPS features when you are just starting out.
Comfort is also a plus for runners in the beginning stages; wearing a running watch that is large or distracting may not be ideal. Consider choosing one of the following 3 models for the perfect running watch that sticks to the basics.
- Interval training tracker. The Garmin Forerunner 35 is a standard model in the popular Forerunner line that allows you to track your intervals with accurate and real-time notifications. This is incredibly helpful if you will be tracking the number of steps or runs you will be taking either daily or during a fitness session. Additionally, the timer allows you to see exactly how long you have spent on an activity, which can also be tailored to specific movements.
- Expert heart rate monitoring. Many watches that are fashioned for runners and joggers promise technology that can monitor your heart rate, yet this can be an inconvenience in most models. With the Garmin Forerunner 35, the smart technology keeps in sync with your heart rate through your wrist, which displays on the screen for easy monitoring.
- Poor activity planning for workouts. This is more because the Forerunner 35 is one of the earlier Garmin running watches but having a calendar for planning workouts seems like the stone age when compared to the Garmin running watches that would come after the Forerunner 35.
- Perfect for beginners. The Garmin Forerunner 45 is an ideal watch for runners and joggers. The watch is fashioned in a sleek design that contains a range of features that monitor heart rate with innovative features such as an accelerometer and Gyroscope cadence tracker to show additional running and jogging maneuvers.
- Banded in silicone. Have you ever gone for a run only to return home with a sore and sensitive rash around your wrist? This is a common problem with runners due to the material that encloses the band of a wristwatch. The Garmin Forerunner 45 uses silicone in the makeup of the band to completely resist sweat and moisture build-up around and underneath the wrist during your run.
- Improved design and size variations. As a second-generation Forerunner model, the Forerunner 45 is completely changed in its design scheme from a more square-shaped design to a circular shape, which is more in line with traditional wristwatches. What is also great about this model is the two available sizes that you can choose from, 42mm or 39mm. Not all runners wish to have a large and bulky wristwatch, even though the display screen is the same size.
- Not interchangeable. Some users may not like the silicone-based band of the watch, which is also not interchangeable if you wish to port the watch to a different kind of band. It is great that the band is working against causing wrist irritation that can occur with long runs, yet this is a feature that not all users are going to appreciate, you are stuck with this band and have no other options.
Best Garmin Watches for Intermediate Runners
If you feel like you have moved past the basic features that go well with beginner running watches, Garmin has some great mid-level running watches to offer. These intermediate watches bridge the gap between entry-level fitness and a safe zone that doesn’t quite reach into advanced features.
- Small and light. Both the Forerunner 245 and it’s slightly pricier Garmin Forerunner 245 Music option is that these watches are more streamlined and lightweight than other previous Forerunner models. This model is available in a 42mm grey polymer case and is customized to fit snugly against the wrist with silicon to avoid irritating rashes and discomfort after a fitness routine. This adds increased comfort if you wish to use the Forerunner 245/245 Music as a sleep monitoring device overnight.
- Music storage. The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music storage works by allowing you to download music from a device or from one of the supported app syncs, like Spotify and Deezer. Once you are inside the Garmin app, there are protocols that allow you to sync music to your watch which is then available for up to 500 songs.
- Battery life. Unfortunately, the Forerunner 245 Music just doesn’t do well with battery life capabilities, especially compared to other models in the series. This can be expected though due to the increased amount of superior features that have been added to the Forerunner 245 Music, which is more than capable of holding a charge for about 6 hours; still, this is less than other models.
- V02 Max. When you are training hard, you sometimes have technology that can give accurate readings that account for variables outside of your control. Wind, altitude, and outside heat and cold temperature variations can all collide to give a slightly skewed performance reading but the V02 Max indicator in both the Vivoactive 4 and the smaller Vivoactive 4S lists accurate variabilities with this in mind, and gives you an accurate reading.
- Innovative performance condition technology. Like most models in the Garmin Vivoactive series, the Vivoactive 4 and 4S also analyze heart rate monitor tracking, heart performance conditioning, and heart rate variability based on a wide range of different performance types to give real-time assessments of how you are faring during your workout and how long you can continue before you reach various thresholds.
- Multiple GNSS navigation protocols. Both the Vivoactive 4 and 4S are equipped with both Glonass and Galileo GPS protocols which allow it to track in a wider range of environments and terrain than what can be achieved with traditional GPS technology.
- Smaller option. If you want to receive all of the benefits of the Vivoactive 4 without the large band, you can opt for the smaller-framed Vivoactive 4S.
- Quick battery drain. Both the Vivoactive 4 and the Vivoactive 4S use a large number of features that can quickly drain down the battery life, especially when used in GPS mode.
Best Garmin Watches for Advanced Runners
Garmin running watches for beginners and intermediate level runners provide all the necessary features for tracking important metrics and navigation tactics. Yet there are many Garmin running watches that take these basic features to a more advanced level. These advanced running watches prioritize running as a sport and reflect many useful features that help you get the best out of your running sessions.
- Garmin Coach Train Smarter Portal. The Garmin 645 Music is a great way to kick off the advanced models and the inclusion of a Garmin Coach feature that recommends status, effect, and insight dynamics into your workout history is a standout feature of this watch. This feature corresponds to any new goals you wish to reach, as well as insights into future recommendations that can then be broken down into distinct categories to ensure that you are dedicating the proper amount of time to each fitness session.
- Enhanced music storage and smartphone notifications. The Forerunner 645 Music lives up the last word in its title with enhanced music features that move beyond the basic sync capabilities of earlier Garmin models that begin to offer music. This model will allow you to control the music playback from your phone in addition to providing space for up to 500 songs or audio data of your choosing.
- Price. The Forerunner 645 Music is one of the pricier of the Forerunner models.
- Garmin Move IQ. This feature can automatically detect the type of fitness routine you are performing. Based on this detection, you can view the saved event in your Garmin Connect timelines to let you know the metrics achieved even if you didn’t plan on recording the activity.
- Design Accessibility. The Vivoactive 3 is a popular Garmin smartwatch for its accessibility. You can change the band dynamics based on the activity you are using the watch for. This increased level of comfort makes this watch a favorite for its sleek and customizable design.
- Small watches aren’t for everyone. The Vivoactive 3 may be too small for some users. If you are looking for a medium to large watch, this model in the Forerunner series is not for you.
- Advanced health statistics. The Garmin Vivoactive 4 is filled to the brim with new and exciting features, making this one of the most app-friendly models in all the many Garmin lines. With this model, you can now keep up with new respirations tracking during your fitness session. Additionally, you can take advantage of the new underwater optical heart rate monitor.
- On-screen animations. The most exciting new feature of the Garmin Vivoactive 4 is the inclusion of pre-loaded animation workouts. Now you can look at your watch to see a wide range of workout movements that you may be unfamiliar with. The animations are crisp and clear and feature easy to understand commands that are timed to the animations.
- Battery life. Unfortunately, the Vivoactive 4 just doesn’t do well with battery life capabilities, especially compared to other models in the series. This can be expected though due to the increased amount of superior features that have been added to the Vivoactive 4.
Best Garmin Activity Tracker for Running
Garmin smartwatches for running consistently do an excellent job of tracking performance. Yet there is one model in the crowd that stands out for its innovative and streamlined ability to track running variables, aerobic activities, and even sleep.
- Slim and comfortable. The Garmin Vivosmart 4 looks much different from a standard running watch. The design is ultra-thin and fits comfortably around the wrist almost like a rubber band.
- Advanced tracking features. What wins the Vivosmart 4 high praise is its tracking features over a wide range of activities. This watch packs a ton of tracking features into a small and non-obtrusive design.
- No GPS. The Vivosmart 4 is great for performance tracking, yet there is no GPS navigation which is a major con when compared to so many other Garmin watches that have advanced GPS features.
- Outdated screen display. The Vivosmart 4 has a tiny screen which means you will have a lot of basic font showing up on the display without much flair or color.
Best Garmin Multisport Watches – Triathletes and Outdoor Use
Using a Garmin watch for running is certainly going to provide for an overall better and useful fitness experience. Yet there are also numerous Garmin running watches that can cover metrics for cycling, swimming, and many more fitness activities. Here is a rundown of the best Garmin running watches for multisports and triathletes.
- Triathlon ready. If you enjoy complementing your run with cycling, you can now use the convenient cycling power meter of the Forerunner 745 to log and display your performance specifics and health targets when you are bicycling. If you want swimming mode, this model now has a fully integrated swimming mode performance meter to record your underwater movements and suggest ways to improve to reach targeted goals.
- Battery. Many users report battery failure with the Forerunner 745. Since Garmin Forerunner watches utilize a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, the battery life of the Forerunner 745 cannot be replaced. Be advised that battery failure is not always indicative of a dead battery, there could be inconsistencies in a missed software update, which can be launched through the Garmin Express app.
- Pulse oximetry data. A key feature of the Garmin Forerunner 945 is that it also analyzes heart rate monitor protocols like most other models, heart performance conditioning, and heart rate with oximetry data. This provides variability based on a wide range of different performance types to give real-time assessments of how you are faring during your workout and how long you can continue before you reach various thresholds.
- Full map navigation. The Garmin Forerunner 945 uses Glonass and Galileo with the added benefit of showing these GPS features on a full-scale map which allows you to save your location for future reference and easily find your way back home. This is an ideal feature for outdoor runners.
- Frustrating calibration. Some users report difficulty in properly calibrating the new and improved altitude acclimation protocols of the Garmin Forerunner 945, yet this feature can be easily remedied by being sure your watch is connected to Garmin Connect Mobile during your fitness session.
- Power glass solar charging lens. Building on the craftsmanship of solar power, the Garmin Instinct Solar contains a power glass lens material that covers the display screen of the watch. This new and improved panel increases the ability of the lens to absorb UV and transfer this power to the battery pack. You can now have a full solar charge to the battery that limits charging time.
- Great for hiking and mountain jogging. Garmin designed the Instinct Solar to appeal to the rugged outdoor enthusiast, this means that this watch goes far beyond just running for a more advanced and tactical experience.
- Solar charging can be an inconvenience. It may not be a great idea to purchase the Garmin Instinct Solar if you do not plan on being outdoors a lot. The lens needs about 3 full hours of direct sunlight to adequately hold a substantial charge for normal battery life.
- GPS overload. There are far too many instances where multiple buttons need to be pressed to navigate properly. If you need to zoom in on a location to see the terrain, you will have to navigate a slew of buttons. Manual entry can be convenient for smartwatches, but this is an instance that would be great for a touchscreen.
- Advanced satellite connectivity. The Garmin Tactix Delta Series line of watches is designed to connect to all available satellites both quickly and efficiently when outdoors. This is best suited for locations with a clear view of the sky. You can even share your data with others thanks to the convenient addition of Bluetooth connectivity.
- Personalized workouts. For some of Garmin’s most select watch models, adaptive training plans through a Garmin coach of your choice are available to help guide you through your run. The Tactix Delta series is a line of Garmin watches that includes this convenient coaching, which works well to help you reach your goals on those days when running or any fitness regime seems like a chore.
- Confusing. There are far too many instances where multiple buttons need to be pressed to navigate properly. If you need to zoom in on a location to see the terrain, you will have to navigate a slew of buttons. Manual entry can be convenient for smartwatches, but this is an instance that would be great for a touchscreen.
- Improved GPS, Glonass, and Galileo. One of the many things to appreciate about a treadmill is the convenience of your distance stats on a monitor right in front of you. With the Fenix 5 Plus, you can now have all of these great GPS features like pace, distance ran, and customizable intervals that light up with frequency during your run. Gone are the inconveniences of having to keep a mental note of your distance running.
- New and improved adaptive training plans. For some of Garmin’s most select watch models, adaptive training plans through a Garmin coach of your choice are available to help guide you through your run. The Fenix 5 Plus is one of the watches that includes this convenient coaching, which works well to help you reach your goals on those days when running or any fitness regime seems like a chore.
- Advanced tactical features. One of the other standout features of the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is the new editions to the tactical performance tracking features. You can now sync your watch with enhancements such as night visions, which syncs to a pair of compatible goggles. The Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) is also convenient for advanced tracking of longitude and latitude coordinates.
- A tsunami of notifications. It is hard to call any of the state-of-the-art new features that come with the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus a con. With this said, sometimes the number of notifications for all the features can be overwhelming. Even if you choose to limit the notifications coming in, the data from the features will still sync consistently to provide notifications. This can become annoying if you have many features running at once.
- The GPS features can be confusing. While this model does feature some great addition to GPS and navigation, the design is flawed. There are far too many instances where multiple buttons need to be pressed to navigate properly. If you need to zoom in on a location to see the terrain, you will have to navigate a slew of buttons. Manual entry can be convenient for smartwatches, but this is an instance that would be great for a touchscreen.
- Stellar GPS. One of the many things to appreciate about a treadmill is the convenience of your distance stats on a monitor right in front of you. With the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, you can now have all of these great GPS features like pace, distance ran, and customizable intervals that light up with frequency during your run. Gone are the inconveniences of having to keep a mental note of your distance running.
- Pace Pro feature. For some of Garmin’s most select watch models, adaptive training plans through a Garmin coach of your choice are available to help guide you through your run. The Fenix 6 Pro is one of the watches that includes this convenient coaching, which works well to help you reach your goals on those days when running or any fitness regime seems like a chore.
- Complicated map navigation. While this model does feature some great addition to GPS and navigation, the design is flawed. There are far too many instances where multiple buttons need to be pressed to navigate properly. If you need to zoom in on a location to see the terrain, you will have to navigate a slew of buttons. Manual entry can be convenient for smartwatches, but this is an instance that would be great for a touchscreen.
How to choose the best Garmin running watch for you
Keep these key details in mind when shopping for the best Garmin running watch:
- Fitness level. Garmin tailors it’s running watches for beginners, intermediate level, and advanced levels of running and multisport activities. For example, you will not need a tactical series watch if you are just starting a daily running routine and vice versa. Be sure to check what fitness level the watch is designed for. There is no need for paying for features you won’t need for a while.
- Comfort. You may not normally think of a watch as an uncomfortable accessory, yet this can and does change when you are doing intense exercise like running. Most Garmin watches are designed with silicone bands as not to cause skin discomfort during perspiration, yet there are some models that use leather or even metal. Be sure to get the right watch that suits your level of comfort.
- Features. It is true that most any Garmin running watch you decide on will have a basic level of performance and GPS tracking features. GPS protocols like GLONASS and Galileo can be incredibly useful when running outdoors and especially if running in the wilderness. Heart rate monitors are industry standards for fitness-oriented smartwatches. Make sure you check the specs of each watch to ensure it has what you want.
- Price. Garmin smartwatches are some of the best in the industry for fitness tracking. The price points can also vary widely across all of the different series and models. Beginners running watches will typically be on the lower end of expense, whereas more advanced and feature-packed models can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars. Know what fitness level you are at and make the best decision based upon what you need the watch for.
- The numerous Garmin categories. Garmin’s smartwatches have so many different models and names that it can become very confusing to know the difference between all the models. Any model with an ‘S’ is usually going to be a smaller Garmin watch. ‘Plus,’ ‘X,’ and ‘Pro,’ are typically more advanced models inside of a series, such as Fenix, Venu, Forerunner, etc.
Do I really need a Garmin GPS watch for running?
Having a GPS watch will help keep track of running performance, health statistics, and navigational support for outdoor fitness. The Garmin line of GPS running watches has innovative features and comfortable bands to support runners in a variety of useful ways.
What’s the best running watch for beginners?
When you start out running, you will need a watch that can measure distance, time, and basic performance tracking metrics. The Garmin Forerunner 35 can track jogging, running, cycling, and basic cardio exercise with helpful GPS tracking features.
What’s the best Garmin budget running watch?
The best running watch on a budget will have an affordable price with useful performance tracking features. The Garmin Forerunner 45 is a superb budget watch that tracks a wide array of sports and fitness activities with a basic and easy-to-use design tailored for comfort.
How many years does a Garmin watch last?
A Garmin smartwatch can typically last for upwards of 5 years if well the watch is properly maintained. The battery life of each model varies but you can typically get several hours of battery in GPS mode and upwards of a week on one charge outside of GPS mode.
Is a Garmin watch safe to wear?
Garmin watches are safe to wear with only minimal, non-alarming safety concerns that pose no major concerns with proper and responsible use. A smartwatch does give off a small amount of radiation–but no more than an average cell phone. Privacy and data concerns are always possible with any smart device but securing your phone and only using it for its proper use can remedy any concerns in this area.
What is the smallest Garmin watch?
Some of the smaller Garmin watches will have an ‘S’ in the title, which stands for small. The Garmin Forerunner 45S and the Garmin Venu Sq are two such models that have a smaller screen and a more compact and lighter wrist band.
Does Garmin use Google Maps?
Garmin running watches do have the ability to port Google Maps. All you need to do is plot your course into Google Maps and then send the URL link to the MAPStoGPX feature in Garmin Connect and hit ‘Let’s Go.’
Does Garmin watch work without a phone?
Yes, you can use your Garmin watch without a phone, and the best way to do this is with Bluetooth compatibility, which may be needed for some of the older Garmin watches. You can still get all of your health and performance tracking metrics and simply sync the data to Garmin Connect at a later time.
What does Garmin Connect do?
Garmin Connect is the app that saves and shares all of your performance tracking and health metrics for you to view anytime on your phone or PC. This is also the main app for any Garmin watch and is the point of interest for all of your uses from the features on your Garmin watch.
Do you need a Garmin device to use Garmin Connect?
You can access Garmin Connect without a connected device but using Garmin Connect is part of the experience of using a Garmin device. Pairing your device to Garmin Connect is easy once you download the app. Bluetooth handles all of the pairings and you only need to open the app and select your device to read all of your data.
Garmin or Apple Watch for running?
Apple fitness watches are popular for music capabilities and holding an overall stable connection. However, Garmin running watches are ideal for those who are completely interested in their performance metrics when they are running. See our Garmin vs Apple article for more info.
I recommend the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro as the overall best Garmin running watch 2021. With this in mind, there are also many other Garmin running watches that stand out.
If you are a beginner, The Garmin Forerunner 35 is certainly one of the better running watches when starting out. If you are an advanced runner, the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music or the Garmin Instinct Solar are also solid choices.
I hope this detailed guide has helped you narrow down the choices to make the best decision for your running status and needs.