Garmin has long been a producer of quality, innovative GPS devices. As useful as these devices are for cars and at home, the decision by the company to add GPS features to its watches was truly beneficial to runners. Nearly all Garmin watches now come with GPS and many models include multiple satellite systems like Glonass and Galileo.
With so many watches to choose from, which Garmin GPS watch is best for your training and individual requirements?
The Garmin Tactix Delta Solar is one of the best GPS watches in the Garmin series. This watch features a wide array of GPS enhancements such as mapping and navigation, and GPS tracking performance metrics for a wide variety of activities. Glonass and Galileo also support military tracking on this watch.
This guide will serve to offer you a detailed survey of the best Garmin watches based on GPS navigation. Each watch has different features and levels of accessibility and comfort, therefore, a review of what fitness level each GPS watch is better suited for will also be included.
Read on to find out more about the best Garmin GPS watches and which model is the best overall.
Best Garmin Forerunner GPS Watches for Beginners
Most of Garmin’s GPS watches for beginners have limited GPS functionality. This certainly isn’t a downside if you only need a watch that has basic GPS data for minimal activity. Each of these models are great choices, and the GPS offered in each watch will give you at least, a minimum amount of navigational data and even performance tracking for pace, time, and distance can be found in all of these entry-level models.
If you are experienced with the Garmin line of fitness watches, the Forerunner 35 is likely not a watch that you think about anymore. But it bears repeating just how useful this watch is for fitness enthusiasts just starting out. It is also easy to read and has easy navigation through the few functions on the watch. There aren’t many additional features that you will find in the models towards the end of this guide but this watch is excellent for what it is.
It’s also an effective GPS watch if this is your first time buying a GPS watch.
Key GPS Features
The Garmin Forerunner 35 has basic GPS navigation. Because the GPS features are not very advanced, there are no Glonass or Galileo add-ons, it is best to chart your outdoor activity with a clear view of the sky. This will prevent the GPS tracker from lagging and struggling to find a proper signal.
Once you are running or jogging, the Forerunner 35 will chart your route effectively. The Forerunner 35 will also accurately measure your pace, timing, and overall distance. Apart from that, the GPS features do not proceed any further. But still, if you just want the most basic of Garmin running watches, with a decent GPS tracker, the Garmin Forerunner 35 is a safe and affordable choice.
- Interval training tracker. The Garmin Forerunner 35 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.
- Heart rate monitor. 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.
- Comfortable design. 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 35 uses silicone in the makeup of the band to completely resist sweat and moisture build-up around and underneath the wrist during your run.
- The inconvenience with notifications. The heart rate monitor and other notifications must be switched to during your fitness routine. This would have been much more convenient to be on the automatic display with other performance intervals.
There is nothing wrong with the Garmin Forerunner 35 that cannot be improved upon with the Forerunner 45, and that is exactly what the Garmin Forerunner 45 achieves. GPS tracking gets a major upgrade with this model, yet the features and ease of use are still simplistic enough to categorize it as a good option for beginner’s. The Forerunner 45 also comes with a major upgrade in available features.
Key GPS Features
Glonass and Galileo are global navigation systems that stretch distances far beyond basic, regional GPS. Teh Garmin Forerunner 45 still has a basic GPS system but those readings and distances are enhanced by a huge margin with satellite GPS. The Forerunner 45 is more geared towards reporting results with Glonass, which can report results much faster than traditional GPS technology.
The Galileo addition brings the pinpoint accuracy of GPS and Glonass to an even more impressive statistic. With all three of these GPS systems reporting results based on pace, time, and distance during your outdoor workout, this takes out any of the uncertainty that may have been reported with GPS alone.
- Gyroscope. The gyroscope technology allows you to measure movements and velocity among a wide array of customizable inputs. The Forerunner 45 can measure the movement in your arms, legs, thighs, or even your feet if you wish to know the workout potential of one body part in particular.
- V02 Max. This feature is useful for measuring the amount of oxygen you use during exercise. This is perfect for such a high-intensity activity as running as it gives you a performance recommendation as well as a health indicator.
- Accessible interface. With this watch, you can simply press one of five convenient buttons to see everything that you need to see during your fitness session, which makes the accessibility of the watch a standout.
- Frustrating accessibility. The heart rate monitor and other notifications must be switched to during your fitness routine. This would have been much more convenient to be on the automatic display with other performance intervals.
The Garmin Venu Sq is a bit like the Forerunner 35 but more stylish with more features. This small watch looks a bit like the Garmin Vivo series, with a rectangular shape that fits onto a small band. And much like the Vivo series, the Garmin Venu Sq packs in a lot of different performance tracking features that are all aligned with stellar GPS accuracy.
This watch is more of an intermediate-level watch but due to the small and comfortable design and simple lens display, it can also stand out as a high-end beginner’s level watch.
Key GPS Features
The Garmin Venu Sq has both Glonass and Galileo added into the regular GPS tracking system. This doesn’t make the watch stand out any different from other Garmin watches with both Glonass and Galileo, yet the Venu Sq has great accuracy. This is a highlight since the Venu Sq can track a very large swath of terrain for such a small model.
The GPS mapping is both accurate and seamless, which means you don’t get a lot of lag with this watch as you get with the Forerunner 35 or Forerunner 45. The only negative with the Venu Sq’s GPS features is the need for a warm-up period; the accuracy doesn’t really kick into high gear until a few minutes into your run or activity.
- Unique Design. The Venu Sq looks much more different than any other Garmin watch. The frame is square-shaped and features a decent enough 1.3″ display hidden under Corning Gorilla Glass 3 lens. The thick bezel is blended well with the display, making it feel like the screen is bigger than it really is. Thanks partially to the fiber-reinforced polymer case, the Garmin Venu Sq weighs only 37.6 grams and sports a silicone strap that’s comfortable to wear.
- New and improved usability. The Gamin Venu Sq benefits from being a Garmin watch and comes fully equipped with both casual and sport features. Apart from the usual fitness tracker stuff, the Garmin Venu Sq also tracks and scores stress levels based on respiration and heart rate as well as providing you with a ‘Body Battery’ score that is a visual representation of how much energy you have left each day.
- Only works well with running. One of the unfortunate missing features from the Garmin Venu Sq is the swimming mode technology that is a feature of many other brands of fitness smartwatches. This model is only truly compatible with software that tracks and displays results with running and jogging.
Best Garmin Forerunner GPS Watches for Intermediate Fitness
Garmin watches that are labeled for intermediate fitness can just as easily fall into the advanced category. Yet for a more detailed review, I will classify the following models as a useful bridge between the less feature-packed beginner models and the advanced and multisport models that throw in a ton of features. Each of these models also add some new features to performance tracking that relies on GPS accuracy.
The Garmin Forerunner 745 is a great way to introduce the inclusion of GPS tracked performance features. The Forerunner 745 packs in many useful features including suggested daily workouts that allows you to select many different types of workouts based on one activity, as well as a Pace Pro feature that tracks health statistics across just as many activities. All of this is complemented by superb GPS navigation.
Key GPS Features
GPS, Glonass, and Galileo are all contained in the Garmin Forerunner 745. What makes this model stand out in GPS protocols is the accuracy that is maintained across many different activity variances. For example, you can run, swim, or even hike with all 3 GPS systems running, and the Forerunner 745 will seamlessly report pinpoint accuracy based on the dynamics of each of those activities.
These variants are really served well when you use the Forerunner 745 for swimming. The precision is so sharp and accurate that even sharp turns or curves in the water are highlighted for you to review.
- Great for triathletes. The Garmin Forerunner 745 is designed with users in mind who want the knowledge that their smartwatch will be able to keep up with a wide range of performance statistics across a triathlon if need be. Through updated and improved features to measure cadence, ground contact time, stride lengths, and all of the capabilities that sync with accurate heart rate readings and performance statistics. See the Garmin range of triathlon watches here.
- V02 Max indicator. 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 the Forerunner 745 lists accurate variabilities with this in mind, and gives you an accurate reading.
- Battery. Many users report battery failure with the Forerunner 745. Since Garmin Forerunner watches utilize a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, the battery 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.
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is a popular Garmin watch across the board. Not only does this model include the long-sought after inclusion of music storage but the features are also outstanding.
Key GPS Features
With the Forerunner 945, you can now customize maps and routes with 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. The mapping technology is both colored and interactive, which allows you to receive even more detailed and visually attractive routes based on your location.
- Pulse oximetry data. A key feature of the Forerunner 945 is that it also analyzes heart rate 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 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 watch, particularly when syncing the protocols with GPS navigation, yet this feature can be easily remedied by being sure your watch is connected to Garmin Connect Mobile during your fitness session.
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is the best of Garmin’s smaller watches. Although small may not appeal to everyone, this watch is a true workhorse, and packs quite a punch for its small design. Features like body temperature tracking, Garmin Move IQ and contactless payments with Garmin Pay are all popular with the Vivoactive 3 but how is the GPS?
Key GPS Features
Vivoactive 3’s inclusion of Glonass and Galileo are well-structured to report accurate navigation in a smaller framework. You can think of this watch as a more souped-up version of the Venu Sq. Although the GPS is accurate and convenient with this watch, I have noticed that battery life takes a big hit when you run Glonass or Galileo. If you just want to use regular GPS, the battery will last but be aware of quick battery drain with satellite GPS on this watch.
- 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.
- Body temperature tracking. The Garmin Vivoactive 3 now allows for users to keep track of their body temperature. This can be incredibly important depending on the level of fitness users are experiencing. Additionally, if exercising outdoors, in either cold or hot temperatures, this feature can help you gauge when you are pushing yourself too hard or, if you are not pushing hard enough.
- Small size. The Vivoactive 3 may be too small for some users. If you are looking for a medium to large watch, this model in the Vivoactive series is not for you.
Best Garmin GPS Watches for Advanced Fitness and Rugged Use
Garmin watches that fall into an advanced category are the best of the best. Innovative performance tracking and overall technology, the best GPS navigation available from Garmin, and intricate design specs and usability.
One aspect about Garmin watches in the advanced line that is universal across these models is a high price tag. But that is to be expected for Garmin watches that include virtually everything you can imagine in a fitness watch.
The Fenix 6 Pro Solar can be used for all fitness types, yet the tone and functionality of the watch are more geared towards advanced runners and triathletes. This model is also one of three Fenix 6 models that are customizable in terms of size and lens type. Since the Fenix 6, Pro Solar uses solar charging for battery through a powerful Corning Gorilla Glass 3 lens, I consider this model to be a personal favorite.
Key GPS Features
In terms of GPS, the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (see on Amazon) uses the standard GPS, Glonass, and Galileo that make-up the GPS systems of most Garmin watches recently. The accuracy is precise and syncs well based on a variety of different sports and activities. Since the Fenix 6 Pro Solar uses a powerful solar-charging lens, the GPS readings are given a strong and quick boost when used outdoors.
- 3-axis compass, gyroscope, and barometric altimeter readings. The navigational capabilities of the Fenix 6 Pro Solar are given a superior upgrade with a three-tiered compass that complements the GPS functionality, as well as gyroscope for enhanced health readings and performance suggestions, and the inclusion of a barometric altimeter for elevated performance statistics.
- Innovative GPS. I said it before and it bears repeating, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar is an outstanding watch for navigational support. 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.
- Adaptive training. 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.
- Mapping technology. 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.
In keeping with the solar-charging seen in the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (this is a common inclusion in many advanced models), the biggest standout of the Garmin Instinct Solar is the inclusion of advanced performance tracking features through solar-powered GPS. Many of these, such as MGRS (military grid reference system), is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts who take adventures into rugged mountains or tough terrain.
When it comes to performance tracking capabilities, this smartwatch has features that could make any outdoor survivalist proud.
Key GPS Features
The Garmin Instinct Solar (see on Amazon) has standard GPS, Glonass, and Galileo. When combined with the solar charging lens of the watch, GPS accuracy and power are top-notch in this watch. The GPS also syncs seamlessly to other performance tracking features to present detailed data based on location for a variety of activities. Overall, the GPS of this watch is in line with most GPS watches designed for use in rugged terrain.
- Long-lasting battery performance. In addition to flawless GPS, one of the main features of the Instinct Solar is definitely the power of the battery. This model is designed for solar power charging capabilities, which are activated by UV rays with adequate outdoor experiences. You can now enjoy longer periods outdoors without having to worry about quickly finding a charging station to keep your watch running.
- Sturdy design and military-grade features. The lens combines the best of solar technology with powerful battery-saving performance. But perhaps the biggest standout of the Garmin Instinct Solar is the inclusion of advanced performance tracking features. Many of these, such as MGRS (military grid reference system), is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts who take adventures into rugged mountains or tough terrain.
- The battery needs a lot of sunlight. Although the new and improved solar technology lens is a standout feature, it can be a bit inconvenient. In order to reap the full benefits, the lens needs about 3 full hours of direct sunlight. Therefore, unless you plan on being in direct sunlight for hours, you won’t get the full benefits. This is not going to be a problem for fitness enthusiasts who spend a few hours outdoors each day.
The Garmin tactix Delta Solar takes what was great about the Garmin Instinct Solar and amplifies those features significantly. This watch is the quintessential Garmin watch for anyone who wants the maximum power and innovative features all in one package.
Key GPS Features
In addition to GPS, Glonass, and Galileo, the Tactix Delta Solar (see on Amazon) includes a comprehensive and impressive set of additional sensors that sync to the GPS systems. An elevated wrist heart rate monitor can track your heart rate across elevated terrain with GPS accuracy, and a barometric altimeter that can track your overall performance across the same high altitudes. The sensors have a rapid response rate based on location, time, and distance.
- Power glass solar charging lens. Building on the craftsmanship for solar power that was seen in the Instinct Solar, the Tactix Delta Solar Edition 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.
- 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 Tactix Delta Solar 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.
- Solar-powered battery booster. One of the standout features of a Garmin watch is the great detail that is put into creating batteries that can last for long periods in-between charges. The Garmin Tactix Delta Solar can hold a successful charge for up to 7 days between charges, which allows you to worry less when it comes to waiting for battery charges when you are ready to get out and run.
- Expensive. While there are some great new features with this watch, the price is quite substantial. The Garmin Tactix Delta Solar is not moderately expensive like some other models, it is downright expensive. This is to be expected with the addition of many new features, however, the price is likely to be a point of concern for some consumers for this model.
- Complicated map navigation. While this model does feature some great additions to GPS and navigation, the functionality may be confusing for some users. 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.
Any of these models will transmit useful GPS data. But if I have to pick the best of the best, it will have to be the Garmin Tactix Delta Solar (see on Amazon). This watch has the top 3 GPS systems that are available in the Garmin line: GPS, Glonass, and Galileo. These three navigational features are complemented by the inclusion of numerous topographic maps that are programmed with sensors to further increase performance metrics for activity in rugged terrain.
In my opinion, the Garmin Tactix Delta Solar is as good as it gets when it comes to navigational support in the Garmin line of watches.
The advanced satellite connectivity that enhances the multi-GNSS features is both innovative and efficient. This is best-suited when outdoors with a clear view of the sky. You can even share your data with others thanks to the convenient addition of Bluetooth connectivity. Plus, this watch is incredibly durable.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Garmin or Fitbit better?
Both Garmin and Fitbit are excellent watches for tracking fitness but there are some differences between the two models. Garmin is better for tracking a wide range of sports activities, including swimming, whereas Fitbit is better for beginners who only need minimal health and performance tracking features.
What is the most affordable Garmin GPS watch?
One of the most affordable Garmin watches that has minimal GPS tracking is the Garmin Forerunner 35. This small and compact watch allows basic navigational support that is built-in to the watch for convenience. The GPS is a bit outdated thanks to newer and more advanced models but this Garmin watch is the least expensive in terms of GPS.
How does GPS work on a Garmin watch?
The GPS protocols on Garmin watches work by transmitting data received by multiple satellite systems from above the Earth’s orbit. A Garmin watch picks up the signals from the satellites and transmits the data to the watch through triangulation. Some Garmin watches have more advanced GPS navigation such as Glonass and Galileo GPS systems.
Do you really need a GPS watch?
If you enjoy doing any kind of physical fitness outdoors, a GPS watch can certainly come in handy. More importantly, a GPS watch can provide exact calculations of pace and distance, as well as time measurements that can provide data on how well you are performing in a fitness activity. Using GPS on a watch may not be necessary for those only doing routine fitness, but GPS is very beneficial for athletes or those wanting detailed performance metrics.
How do I turn on GPS on my Garmin watch?
Most Garmin watches will have a basic GPS system already built-in to the watch. This will report back basic data from a variety of satellite systems. If you want to unlock the increased performance data that comes from Glonass or Galileo GPS, then you can simply pull up the menu and go to activity settings. You will see the icons for GPS as well as Glonass and Galileo, select the option for Glonass and Galileo.
As you have seen, there are many Garmin watches that have GPS; in fact, the real question should be, which Garmin watch doesn’t have GPS. Each of the models I have talked about has basic GPS built-in, yet there are many models that take this further by adding Glonass, Galileo, and even detailed maps and legends that can assist sports enthusiasts in the wilderness. As far as which Garmin GPS watch is the best, this depends on how much GPS detail you need.
I recommend the Garmin Tactix Delta Solar as the best over GPS model, yet you may find that all you need is basic performance tracking, which you can get from the Garmin Forerunner 35, Forerunner 45, or the Garmin Venu Sq.
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