Garmin 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
Who It's For
The runner who wants basic GPS tracking without any fuss.
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 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.
Garmin Forerunner 45
Who It's For
New runners, runners on a budget or advanced runners who only track distance, pace and time
Garmin developed the Forerunner 45 to replace the outgoing Forerunner 35, but it's the same, easy-to-use running watch as its predecessor.
Designers gave the 45 a simple interface that lets you navigate easily between its array of screens: heart rate, activity tracking, health stats and weekly totals are just a click or two away.
Switching into GPS mode for your run is just as easy as finding everything else—press the top right button once to choose your activity, then press it again to start finding a satellite signal. Once you're connected, tap it a third time to start your workout.
Fleet Feet testers loved the streamlined operation of the Forerunner 45. In our Garmin Forerunner 45 review, our tester says the watch was perfect for him because it tracks pace, distance and time—the only things he really needs to run better.
The 45 has a new round watch face, a departure from the square face on the Forerunner 35. Garmin also added improved safety and tracking features, including automatic incident detection, and included access to its Garmin Coach training plans.
Overall, the Garmin Forerunner 45 is an easy going GPS running watch that will do everything most runners will ever need and then some.
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.
Garmin Forerunner 245 and Forerunner 245 Music
The Garmin Forerunner 245 and Forerunner 245 Music are the newest additions to the Garmin watch family.
Garmin designed the 245 to replace the Forerunner 235, which has been on the market for four years, but they made some significant upgrades to make it even better.
One of the biggest additions to the new 245 is Garmin's Running Awareness features. The safety feature allows you to share your exact location with a list of trusted contacts, so you can notify them of your whereabouts if you get injured or lost. It also has an automatic incident detection feature that will notify your friends and family if it senses something wrong.
Garmin says the watch will get up to a week in plain smartwatch mode, 24 hours in GPS mode and six hours of use if you're using GPS and listening to music at the same time. In our review of the Garmin Forerunner 245, we found that the battery lasted long enough for 80-mile training weeks with only a short charge in the middle.
With the same quick-swapping silicone band as the more expensive Forerunner 645 Music, the 245 is lightweight and comfortable. Our tester says, “This is hands down the most comfortable watch I have ever worn. I’ve run in it, showered in it and slept in it every day for the past two weeks."
But even with other added features, like more advanced running metrics, Garmin training plans and tracking for swimming laps in a pool, the overall functionality remains the same as other Garmin watches. Three buttons on the left side of the face and two on the right control the screen, backlight and GPS functions. Plus, you can customize which details you want to see on the home screen—steps, miles, battery, time, date and plenty more.
At only $300 for the base model and $350 for the added music and Wi-Fi capabilities, the Forerunner 245 and Forerunner 245 Music are affordable GPS running watches that do everything most runners will need.
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.
Garmin Forerunner 945
Who It's For
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is the ideal GPS watch for triathletes, trail runners and anyone who needs more advanced mapping
Garmin engineered the Forerunner 945 to complement your hardest efforts. With accurate GPS tracking via GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellite systems, wrist-based heart rate monitoring and a beefy battery life, the 945 will go the distance.
The new watch replaces the Forerunner 935 in the Garmin watch lineup. Garmin included a Pulse Ox sensor, full-color topographical maps and training load estimates. (It also comes preloaded with 41,000 golf courses around the world so you can measure your distance to the dogleg on 13.)
Paired with the Garmin Forerunner 945 Tri Bundle, you can also monitor your heart rate while swimming to dial in your effort.
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.
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.