Which Garmin Running Watch is Right For You?

A lineup of Garmin GPS running watches with lights

Garmin GPS Running Watch Comparison

For many runners, it’s hard to remember exactly what it felt like to run with a basic analog or digital watch. You either guessed at the distance, or you calculated your route by driving it, mapping it online or even walking it with a wheel. While some purists still argue that those were the good ol’ days, we’re thankful for the advent of the GPS running watch.

Modern GPS running watches make it easy to track everything from miles to steps, heart rate to sleep, and some can even pay for our groceries or that post-run beer.

Garmin running watches are some of the most popular smart timepieces on the market because they pack a huge number of features into a premium piece of equipment. From the vivoactive 3 to the fenix 5 Plus, Garmin's offerings come loaded with software to help you train smarter.

In this guide, you'll find a rundown of Garmin's GPS running watches and get a feel for which one is right for you and your training.

Garmin Forerunner 35 with blue wristband

Garmin forerunner 35

Who It's For
The runner who wants basic GPS tracking without any fuss.


GPS Tracking
The forerunner 35 is a basic GPS running watch that does exactly what you want it to do: track your run.

Tuned in to positioning satellites, the 35 lets you keep tabs on distance, pace and time. In our review of the Garmin forerunner 35, a tester said the watch found a signal quickly and tracked her distance accurately.

Low Profile, Comfy Fit
Garmin made the forerunner 35 to be a slim running watch that stays out of your way. The face is just smaller than a square inch, and the soft silicone strap is easy on your skin. With a 5 ATM waterproof rating, you don't have to worry about taking it off before hopping in the pool.

Shop Garmin forerunner 35
The Garmin vivoactive 3 in black

Garmin vívoactive 3

Who It's For
The runner who races distances from the 5K to marathon and wears her watch no matter what—whether she’s in running clothes or business attire.


For daily use, we love the low-profile design of the Garmin vivoactive 3. The entry level GPS running watch uses interchangeable straps and a classic round watch face so it makes a seamless transition from workouts to pretty much any other occasion we can think of.

The Vivoactive 3 also comes preloaded with 15 different indoor workout apps (more can be added) and has thousands of potential downloadable watch faces, widgets and apps from the Connect IQ store. If that’s not enough, it’s comfortable on the wrist whether worn on the left side or the right.

Ease of Use
We love the easy-to-use touch screen, swipe function and bright backlight for nighttime running. In fact, the display is easy to see no matter the time of day or weather. We wore it on nighttime runs, pre-dawn runs, blisteringly sunny days and even one run in a torrential downpour.

In addition to accurate GPS tracking, there are several key functions we found extra useful when it comes to training. Among them are the ability to monitor daily stress and how we handle it; heart rate monitoring (measured down to the second!) to better understand training and recovery; sleep patterns to monitor restful sleep, restless sleep and how many hours you were awake each night; and activity analytics like steps taken and floors climbed.

Outside of training, Garmin Pay makes pre- or post-run shopping easy while smart phone pairing keeps us connected and, on more than one occasion, helped us find our phone.

Garmin also made the vivoactive 3 waterproof. Rated to 5 ATM—it can withstand water pressure up to 50 meters deep—the vivoactive is great for swimming and can make it through the shower unscathed.


Garmin gave the vivoactive 3 enough juice to get you through your runs. The watch lasts up to a week in smartwatch mode, and it gets 13 hours in GPS mode.

The Garmin forerunner 645 Music with a red band

Garmin forerunner 645 Music

Who It's For
The multisport runner who wants their own personal concert each time they lace up.


Like all other Garmin GPS watches, the forerunner 645 Music keeps you informed about your distance and pace so you can dial in your training. When testers reviewed the Garmin forerunner 645 Music, they praised the intuitive interface and build quality that let them run in the dark, in the rain and any time in between.

In addition to the watch's standout performance, Garmin included the ability to download up to 500 songs directly to the device. Paired with Bluetooth headphones, you can leave your phone at home and still get all the tunes you want.

Shop Garmin forerunner 645 Music
The Garmin fenix 5 in black

Garmin fēnix 5 and fēnix 5 Plus

Who It's For
The multisport athlete and ultrarunner who needs a watch with a long battery life and advanced adventure features like a compass and barometric altimeter.


The Garmin fenix 5 and fenix 5 Plus have everything long-distance runners need. We mean everything.

First, there’s the three-axis compass with a gyroscope and barometric altimeter, not to mention near perfect location tracking thanks to a tie-in with the GPS and GLONASS satellite networks. Users can customize their workouts and personalize the watch face and apps through the Connect IQ store.

The fenix series of watches also comes with an interchangeable band, fitness tracking, wrist-based heart rate monitoring and automatic uploads through a smartphone connection.

You get the picture. This is the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink GPS running watch.

It’s a watch for adventure. The fenix 5 is built with chemically strengthened glass (or sapphire crystal in the upgraded model), a rugged stainless steel bezel and a fiber-reinforced polymer case.

Garmin's industrial design withstands the kind of beating that comes with long days in the wilderness whether we’re running, trekking, skiing, paddle boarding or playing golf.

Plus, the Garmin fenix 5 is waterproof. Garmin rates the watch at 10 ATM, which means it can withstand water pressures equivalent to a depth of 100 meters. So, it's suitable for swimming, showering and the worst rain Mother Nature can throw at you.

Battery Life
While we didn’t go on any extended treks, we love this watch would let us. The extended battery life should last 24 hours in GPS mode, 60 hours in “UltraTrac battery saver mode,” and two weeks in smartwatch mode.

The Garmin vivofit Jr. 2 with Captain America band

Garmin vívofit jr. 2

Who It's For
Kids who want to learn the value of physical activity and have fun doing it. For parents to track kids’ steps, sleep and daily exercise.


Rewards System and Motivational Apps
When parents sync the device to the app on their smartphone, the vivofit Jr. 2 can alert kids about upcoming chores and obligations. They then earn virtual coins for completing the tasks to be redeemed for rewards that parent's choose. Plus, apps like the “Adventure Trail” or "A Star Wars Story" offer incentives for new distances covered and even foster friendly competition.

We asked several families about their experience using the vivofit Jr. 2. Almost everyone said their kids wanted to spend more time outside while wearing the watch. We call that a major win.

The watch's band is interchangeable, and Garmin offers kid-friendly band designs from Marvel, Star Wars and Disney. The bands are durable, so we don’t think you’ll ever have to change them.

Parenting help
Using the compatible smartphone app, parents can easily see kids’ steps, sleep, daily tasks and rewards, and even invite more people to join.

Shop Garmin vivofit Jr. 2
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