Best Garmin GPS Watches
For fitness and sports enthusiasts, or anyone who loves a great adventure, there are few devices that are as convenient as a GPS watch. Although GPS watches can have various capabilities and functions, they are best for providing you with GPS coordinates and access to certain destinations and general information. Nothing quite beats heading out on a run or hike knowing that you have everything you need for directions and fitness tracking on the wrist of your hand. And you may notice that as you begin to look for a GPS watch, there is one main superstar who seems to stand out above the rest.
Who might this superstar in GPS watches be? The answer is Garmin. There may not be a more dominant brand than Garmin. With this in mind, through a series of particular criteria and consumer feedback, for your consideration, we have constructed the best Garmin GPS watches in the world. Simply read through this list, and by the end, you will have a very good idea of which GPS watch can work best for you.
- FENIX 3
- FORERUNNER 920XT
- Lock feature
- Sensitive sensors
- FORERUNNER 230
- Great activity tracker
- Garmin connect compatible
10 Best Garmin GPS Watches
Fenix 3 GPS
It is sported with an omnidirectional steel EXO antenna and paired with EPO and GLONASS, provides an insanely faster fix and position for GPS. Plus, built-in sensors will inform you of elevation, heading, and weather changes. Finally, you can make locations, campsites, checkpoints, or vehicles.
While not perfect, the Chroma display is 1.2” wide with sunlight-visibility and a high-resolution.
The battery life is absolutely superb and it is rechargeable. When in GPS mode, on one charge, it will last up to 20 hours. However, in UltraTrac or watch mode it will last up to 50 hours and six weeks, respectively.
Color and Design Options
Quite a few selections are available which includes, just to name a few, silver and red, titanium, sapphire and leather, and gray and black.
For an enhanced durability and visual appeal, this watch features a protective stainless steel bezel and buttons. Plus, reinforced housing adds even more toughness. Also, to make it suitable for swimming, it is water rated for up to 100 meters.
Garmin may try, but it will be tough to top their Fenix 3. The software capabilities, battery life and impeccable design more than makeup for any minor deficiencies present.
- You can automatically sync your data with Garmin Connect
- When used with a heart rate monitor, can calculate running speed, beats per minute and heart rate variability
- Water proof for up to 100 meters
- The fonts on the interface are small and narrow
- It is a rather big watch and may be too bulky for some
Sports and fitness junkies can receive all the metrics that matter including speed, grade, ascent/descent and distance. In addition, when paired with the HRM-RunTM monitor and ANT+ compatible sensors it can provide feedback on your running form and measure heart rate and cadence, respectively.
For viewing purposes, it boasts a high-resolution color display that will leave no question on what you are looking at.
There is an included lithium-ion battery and the battery life is phenomenal. With the satellite turned on, it will last up to two weeks before dying.
Color and Design Options
Only two color options are available and they include black and blue and white and red.
Using Bluetooth, you can sync and compatible smartphone with this watch to see incoming calendar reminders, text messages, call alerts, and various other notifications.
Truthfully, it is difficult to find many issues with this GPS watch. Even if there are some minor issues, there is too much done right with this device to justify a pass.
- It comes bundled with an HRM-Run heart rate monitor
- It is compatible with speed, cadence and heart rate sensors to provide advanced capabilities
- The GPS quickly locks-on during runs
- The notifications can be more of a hindrance than an asset at times
- The interface can be messy at times
Being a GPS watch with various smart features implemented, it can track heart rate, time, pace, and distance. With a built-in accelerometer, this can even be achieved when GPS is not available. When your actives have seized for the afternoon, it can act as a tracker; keeping track of your calories and steps throughout the day.
As compared to the Forerunner 220, the display is 44 percent larger but remains the same physical size.
When in simple training mode, this watch will last up to 16 hours. Then, if simply used as a regular watch, it will last up to five weeks.
Color and Design Options
There are three distinct color options for you to choose from including force yellow, purple strike, and black and white.
From your synced smartphone, you can receive audio prompts and smart notifications. This can include incoming emails, text messages, calendar reminders, lap times and call alerts.
The Forerunner 230 has a lot of good going for it. In fact, the only reason it sits lower on this list is a few issues that may concern you. Past those, it is an excellent choice.
- A 44 percent larger screen than the Forerunner 220
- Can double as an activity tracker and analyze your steps and calories throughout the day
- Is compatible with Garmin Connect
- The brightness of the display leaves a lot to be desired
- The GPS can take a while before it is ready, sometimes up to 20 minutes
The Foretrex 401 features a high-sensitivity GPS receiver with HotFix to provide enhanced performance when isolated under heavy trees or deep canyons. In addition, it keeps track of routes, tracks and waypoints. When paired with a heart rate monitor, it can also display heart rate. For added convenience, it also will retrace your steps on the display.
The LCD display is fairly large and is very easy-to-read no matter the weather outside.
Unlike standard GPS watches or devices, this GPS device will require two AAA batteries. While the battery life is not amazing, depending on the brand of batteries you use, it may last up to eight hours.
Color and Design Options
With the Foretrex 401, what you see is what you get. There are no additional color options for you to select from.
Besides GPS capabilities, this also features hunting and fishing information, an electronic compass, barometric altimeter, sunrise and sunset times, and a trip computer.
As a GPS, it is hard to go wrong with the Foretrex 401. As it will strap properly to your wrist, you can utilize it as a watch. However, it does not feature the traditional features of a watch.
- It keeps track of your path and displays it as a dotted trail on the screen
- You can both send data wirelessly and through a USB cable
- Allows you to store routes of any place you choose
- Even with high-end batteries, the battery life is not the best
- It can be a little bulky when used as a wristwatch
Using GPS, the 235 measures essential running data such as heart rate, pace and distance. For added convenience, it also includes a built-in accelerometer. This comes in handy in instances where you are running on a treadmill and when GPS is not available where you are (such as covered by something above).
To make it simpler to interpret what you are looking at on the screen, the 235 has a color display with a high-resolution. Not to mention, the screen on this version is larger than the original (Forerunner 220).
When simply using the watch for non-GPS capabilities, it will last up to nine days. But, if you use the GPS straight without stopping it will last up to roughly nine hours.
Color and Design Options
This watch comes in various color options depending on where you buy it from.
Not only can this watch automatically upload all your data to Garmin Connect without access to a computer, it also features audible and vibration alerts. Furthermore, you can customize these alerts depending on your needs.
While this did not make the top spot on this list, it very well could have. Its simple yet eloquent design and superb capabilities make this as good a GPS watch from Garmin as any.
The screen on this version is also larger to provide you with better visibility.
- Great battery life lasting six weeks in watch mode
- Alerts you when you achieve a personal record
- High-resolution color display with a lightweight design
- Some had troubles with charging
This is a golfer’s dreams as this GPS watch provides precise yardages to the back, middle and front of the green. In addition, you can view dogleg and layup distances for specific holes. Also, it can measure your individual shot distances. For a wide number of courses around the world, there are over 30,000 preloaded courses and free lifetime course updates when the alterations are made.
While there is nothing overly fancy about the display, it gets the job done and shows you all the information you need.
When used as a GPS, it will last up to eight hours. If used in watch mode, it can last up to three weeks.
Color and Design Options
A few color options make their way on the Approach S2 including black and green, black and red, white and gray, and purple and white.
While mostly intended for golf purposes, it is water-resistant for up to 10 meters; in case you fall into the pond while shooting!
Non-golfing enthusiasts may want to pass on this one, but if you are a golfer you need to have this on your wrist. The assistance and helpful information that this provides are irreplaceable for a golfer.
- It is preloaded with over 30,000 courses around the world
- Without a subscription, included are free lifetime course updates when courses change
- A high-sensitivity GPS receiver provides information even while under heavy trees
- At times, when playing more than 18 holes, it can have a hard time keeping up with the course
- The battery life is not amazing, can maybe get you through two rounds of golf
The built-in navigation sensors include GLONASS and GPS capability that provides enhanced performance than just a GPS alone. At your fingertips, you can put key stats on the widget including your training status. In addition, also implemented is a 3-axis compass, barometric altimeter, and gyroscope.
The Fenix 5X is equipped with a stellar high-resolution, full-color Chroma display with LED backlighting.
If used in GPS mode, it can last up to 20 hours; while it can last up to 12 days when strictly in smartwatch mode.
Color and Design Options
A strong selection of colors includes silver and black, rose sapphire and white, black, and champagne.
Having smart capabilities, it can automatically upload content and data to Garmin Connect. In addition, you can receive smart notifications from a compatible device.
Even though this is a little lower on the list, that is more a product of how great Garmin is. Although there are some issues present, you really can’t go wrong here.
- Watch is rated up to 100 meters underwater
- Features a protective PVD-coated stainless steel bezel and buttons
- LED backlighting with a high-resolution, full-color display
- The band for the watch is very short
- The golfing capabilities are not good and the AutoShot feature only works about half of the time
Throughout the entirety of your day, this watch will keep a tally of your steps and calories. When it is time to get moving again, it will alert you to do so. However, when you are outside, it will also utilize GPS technology to accurately record your distance, time, and pace. If you are inside, you can pair it with an optional foot pod to track your data on a treadmill.
While the display size is adequate, the display itself is as basic as it gets. It gets the job done, but there is no color.
On a long day of strictly using the GPS mode, the Forerunner 15 will last up to eight hours. If not and used as an activity tracker, it should last you up to five weeks on one charge.
Color and Design Options
There are a decent amount of color options including black and blue, black and green, red and black, violet and white, and teal and white.
Past running, it is also rated to be waterproof for up to 50 meters. Not only can you use it while swimming but rain and sweat will not affect the watch.
Do not be confused, this is a great GPS watch. But, if you are looking for advanced and extra-stylish technology this may not fit your desires.
- Has an auto-lap function that will alert you when you finish a mile
- Battery will last up to five weeks in activity mode
- Can also record your heart rate when paired with a proper strap
- No wireless updates are available and you must do so with access to a computer
- It claims to last up to eight hours on GPS mode, but expect about four to six
There is a built-in sports app which includes biking, golfing, swimming and GPS-enabled running. Plus, with an included accelerometer eliminates the need for you to buy a separate foot pod when running indoors. Finally, you can view your stats even while away from your phone and receive vibration alerts for walk intervals, pace, and heart rate.
An ultra-thin, color and high-resolution touchscreen display ensure an easy viewing (most of the time).
It will last up to 10 hours while using GPS and up to three weeks when used as an activity tracker.
Color and Design Options
Just a few choices are available including a jet-black design and one with a white band.
With Bluetooth technology, it can pair with your smartphone and display notifications for you. Anything from incoming calls to calendar reminders.
From the looks of it, it seems this is as good as it gets. Unfortunately, there is a deal breaker that may render everything great about this watch useless.
- Can be synced with Garmin Connect for additional features
- It features built-in sports apps that make it perfect for cycling, swimming, golfing and running
- For proper protection against swimming, rain and sweat it has a 5 ATM water rating
- The band is not constructed very well. Stock up on extra bands as you can expect it to last around four to six months before breaking
- The display is fantastic in daylight, but not so much on bright days or at night. With the backlight on, the battery will drain faster
When on the golf course, there is an AutoShot feature that will analyze your shot distances, an auto-recording for post-round analysis with your Garmin Connect account and distance displays for your next shot. When not used on the course, it will display your steps, calories burned and time of day.
The display is not going to blow you away, but it will adequately display the information that you need. But, it is a non-color display.
When the activity tracking and Bluetooth are turned off, you can expect around 30 percent of the battery to be consumed per 18 holes.
Color and Design Options
Not a bad selection here with black, white, midnight teal and slate colors available.
You can sync any Bluetooth-enabled device with this watch to receive smart notifications.
For every golfer around the world, this is a watch that you should consider. While not Garmin’s best, it will more than suffice for your next round of golf.
- Fully-hinged and sleek watchband design that provides a comfortable fit
- The CourseView feature will automatically update courses for free
- Is Bluetooth-enabled and can be synched to receive smart notifications
- There are times where it will struggle to locate the course you are at
- It could do better at mapping hazards, as bunkers and water traps sometimes are not parallel to the course
Criteria for Evaluation
Software and GPS Capabilities
Technology devices live and die by their software and GPS watches are no different. Thankfully, their software does not need to be as complex as the kind you will find installed on smartphones and computers. Thus, GPS watches with basic software can still suffice. But, when you are talking about GPS watches, the main criteria should be their GPS capabilities. That is, how well they utilize the technology to track essential running data such as speed, pace, distance, and ascent/descent? Any with high-sensitivity or pairing with EPO and GLONASS are a good way to go. However, all these specific watches from Garmin do that very well but keep a special eye out for the variations that include an accelerometer.
With this included, you will not need a separate foot pod to track data when you are running indoors or in any situation where GPS is not available. Besides this, look past the GPS capabilities and see what other kinds of conveniences they offer. This includes if it can be used as an activity tracker throughout the day, such as golf, or if they keep calories and steps for each day. For golfers, in specific, you could prioritize the models that are specifically designed for golf.
Because they are watches, you must accept the fact that the display is not going to be enormous. Honestly, if it was, it would be a hindrance as it would be too bulky on your wrist. But, this small size actually enhances the importance of the display. As the screen is already small in size, it is naturally more difficult for your eyes to interpret what they are looking at. So, the display should have, if nothing else, a fairly high-resolution so you can easily see the data.
However, there are other factors that you can look for in the display. For starters, if the font is color-coated or black and white. Obviously, the former provides a more colorful interface and may be better to the eyes. With black font, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate the information you are viewing. Also, consider if you want a touchscreen display. Much like a computer or smartphone, this is a matter of personal preference. In the modern world, most technology has adapted to the touchscreen interface. Finally, some watches have an issue of brightness in low-light visibility. Without a backlight, some can be downright impossible to see in darkness or low-light.
Yes, these types of watches are going to die after a certain amount of use. Their design mandates for them to use a lot of energy to work properly. But, much like with the display, this can also be a matter of user-preference. It all comes down to this simple question: where are you intending on using your GPS watch and how long will you use it before you have access to a charger? First, let’s address the where in this question.
Simply, where do you intend to go with this type of watch? If you are going for a short run, to do a quick nine holes or a swim in your local pool, you may not need to worry about battery life too much. But, on a camping trip or in the woods while going for a hike, it may be more of an issue. Then, there is the issue of how long you intend to use it. If you know, for a fact, that you will want to use the GPS mode for long instances without having access to a charger, then look for a long battery life.
Typically, there are two forms of battery life with a GPS watch, using GPS and not using. When you are not using it, most on this list will last for weeks before needing a charge. It is when you use GPS that the battery will drain quickly. Keep a special eye on how long they will last when using this technology, as it can be a deal breaker.
This is pretty self-explanatory and as watches are apparel that you wear, you may want a certain style or color. No matter how excellent the functions of a watch are, you may be uninterested to wear one with a purple interface and white band. Watches work the exact same, when it comes to style, as shorts, hats, shirts, and coats. Do not be ashamed if this is a high criterion for you!
The main function of a GPS watch is their GPS capabilities and how well they track and analyze essential running data. But, that does not mean there are not additional features that you can look for. With Garmin GPS’s, there are two huge ones. This includes their waterproof capability and if it has Bluetooth.
As many swimmers, will want to utilize GPS watches, they need to be water rated for a certain amount. If you are a casual swimmer and do not workout in deep water, say in a pool, as long as it is water rated for up to a few meters you will be fine. In the rare instances where they fall off your wrist, a further water rating could come in handy. As far as Bluetooth goes, this gives you access to other devices. Just like other smart watches, this could allow you to sync to your smartphone to have notifications go off on your watch.
Q: Do GPS Running Watches Work Everywhere in the World?
A: First off, this is not a stupid question so do not think it is if you were wondering. This answer to this question becomes clear when you realize how GPS works. Basically, there are satellites in space and they provide the means for GPS’s to work properly on any sort of device. Thus, it does not matter where you are in the world, GPS will function properly. With some devices, you will need to have specific maps to realistically use them in different countries. But, with GPS watches you do not typically run into that issue.
However, do know that when you travel to another country it may take more time than usual for the GPS to triangulate your position (as they have to locate the satellites from scratch). In short, GPS devices will work wherever you have a direct view of the sky above you.
Q: Will Tracking Steps Throughout the Day Kill the Battery?
A: Throughout this list, you probably noticed a trend with the battery life of each model. While the battery life itself will vary from brand to brand, Garmin tends to split the battery life into separate categories. The first is when the watch has the GPS mode enabled, which can be turned on and off. No matter the brand, the battery life will always be lower in this mode. It makes no difference how you slice it, utilizing GPS technology drains the battery very quickly as opposed to when it is off.
When it is off, which is known as watch or activity mode, it is enhanced. In specific, when a GPS watch tracks your steps throughout the day it does not need GPS to do so. Thus, this activity will not kill your battery life and will fall under the “watch mode” battery life (which is generally up to several weeks on one charge).
Q: Can You Use a GPS Golf Watch Outside the Course?
A: Before this question is answered, just be aware that if you have no interest to use a watch for golf do not invest in one that is designed to do so. But, there may be instances where you want to use a GPS watch beyond its intended use. So, can you do this? Technically, the answer to this question could be a yes. However, there are not too many capabilities that Garmin GPS golf watches possess when not on the golf course.
Obviously, you can always use it as a standard watch to be aware of the current time (if they possess the capability). Past this, if there is an odometer function, you would still be able to utilize that; which is simply an instrument to measure the distance traveled by a vehicle.
Q: When Golfing, Will it Automatically Advance to the Next Hole?
A: Note, this is intended for the GPS watches that are designed for golfers. There are general Garmin GPS devices that can be used for golf, but their capabilities will be significantly less than the variations designed for golfing. With these types of devices, you will not want to constantly program the GPS to advance to the next hole. Thankfully, most of the time they will automatically advance to the next hole.
Unfortunately, this cannot be guaranteed to happen every single time. There will be times where you come across the situation where the GPS will become confused and not advance to the next hole. Technology is not perfect and mistakes will happen, but it usually is kept to a minimum. However, most of the time, once you select your golf course the watch will do the rest and you can sit back and enjoy a day of golf.
Q: Does a GPS Watch Work on a Treadmill?
A: Although this has been addressed in this guide, it is a common question so let’s ensure that you are 100 percent clear on this matter. As mentioned earlier, GPS uses satellites in the sky to properly triangulate your position. Most of the time, a treadmill is located indoors. Well, GPS does not work well, or at all, indoors as the signal is hindered by roofs and walls. But, there are two ways to ensure that you can still use a GPS watch while on a treadmill.
Firstly, if the watch has a built-in accelerometer then it will function as normal when on a treadmill. Without this, you will need to invest in a foot pod. A foot pod is a device that is used to track measurements such as distance, pace, and speed (which is what the GPS watch will do outdoors). When using a treadmill, the foot pod goes directly on your foot and must be compatible with the GPS Garmin watch that you have.
Q: Does the GPS Work Correctly When Covered by a Long Sleeve Shirt or Jacket?
A: You already are aware that GPS technology can be hindered indoors thanks to the walls and roofs. So, what if it is a cold afternoon and you are wearing a jacket that is covering your watch? Will it still function as it was designed to do so? Thankfully, although it is not perfect, the signal that is given from satellites is pretty strong. A small piece of cloth or material is not going to hinder the performance. So, if you have a piece of clothing covering the watch, the GPS functionality will not be altered.
If you think about it this way, GPS devices will work in your car and your car has a roof on it. Some objects will block the signal, but clothing is not one of them.
When it comes to GPS watches, Garmin is as terrific a manufacturer as you will find. All ten of the above GPS watches are worth your investment and it is up to you to decide which one best fits your needs.