The Best Garmin GPS Running Watches

·7 min read
Photo credit: Staff
Photo credit: Staff

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While there are plenty of companies making great GPS running watches—including Apple, Polar, and Coros—Garmin remains the dominant brand in the category. It’s basically the Kleenex of GPS running watches. The company has been making wrist-based run trackers since 2003, when it launched the Forerunner 101, a giant pill-shaped watch that did little more than track your distance, time, and pace. In the two decades since, it’s built out an entire lineup with models for every kind of runner.

Best Garmin GPS Running Watches

Beyond Running

Modern GPS watches, even the most affordable models, do far more than that old 101. In most cases, you get run tracking, but most watches also come with some sort of smartwatch functionality—think showing your notifications without you having to pull your phone out of your pocket. But, as the price of the watch goes up, you tend to get more advanced features, some of which you may never even use.

Fitness Features

Watches at the top end of the spectrum, like the Fenix 7 Series, are packed with altimeters, barometers, and maps to help you navigate trails and off-the-grid destinations. If, however, you find yourself primarily on dawn patrol around your neighborhood loop, you may want to save some cash and pick a model that gives you more roadie-specific metrics and personalized workouts.

How We Tested

Our staff of experienced test editors has used each of these watches for several months. We evaluate the devices based on features, accuracy, battery life, connectivity, and what they’re like to use on our daily runs. Award-winning watches satisfied our data-tracking needs and delighted us with intuitive user experiences and additional apps and features.

Here are the best Garmin watches and why you might want to choose one model over the others. Looking for something not made by Garmin? Check out our roundup of the best GPS running watches.

Garmin Forerunner 255 Music

Quick Take: An update to a tried-and-true GPS running watch, the 255 has dual-frequency reception for better accuracy plus now tracks triathlons.

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi | Battery Life: Up to 30 hours

If you’ve been a devoted fan of the Garmin Forerunner 200 series, this is an upgrade worth making. The Forerunner 255 now comes in two sizes (41mm and 46mm) as well as versions that play music or don’t. Regardless what flavor you choose, the 255 is still one of the most fully featured GPS running watches making it one of the best values. The price has risen $50 this year, but we think it’s a fair price given the 255 supports triathletes for the first time—triathlon mode automatically adjusts your displays to show you the right metrics for your activity, plus tracks transition times. The biggest new feature, however, is the multi-band reception, which allows the watch to receive two signals from a satellite simultaneously to filter out any inaccurate data points. We find this watch tracks as accurate as any other model available.

Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar

Quick Take: This top-of-the-line watch has highly accurate tracking, a huge battery with solar charging, and mapping.

Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, Wi-Fi | Battery Life: Up to 122 hours

The Fenix has always been a rugged, indestructible timepiece for the backcountry that we’ve used for trail running and, well, everyday running as well. The biggest reason is because of the watch’s never-ending battery—it’ll last 89 hours with just GPS active but still go for 16 hours if you’re streaming music. We find that we have to charge it only about once a week with regular use. It also has one of the biggest screens you’ll find on a GPS running watch, one that’s capable of showing you up to seven different metrics on a single display. The biggest change for this version, however, is the introduction of dual-frequency reception, which Garmin calls “multi-band.” In our testing, we’ve found the resulting maps after our runs to be completely snapped to the actual course we ran—no more errant zig-zagging as the watch loses signal. A bonus feature on the 7X model, which seems insignificant until you actually use it, is a flashlight. Whether your headlamp battery expires before you do, or you’re just navigating your dark house on your way to bed, you’ll find it helpful.

Garmin Forerunner 55

Quick Take: A “beginners” watch in name only.

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, USB | Battery Life: 20 hours

When I first started running more than 30 years ago, I’d log every run in a paper journal, measuring distance with a car and keeping track of duration by looking at my parents’ microwave clock before and after the run. I graduated to a fancy Timex Ironman that could remember 50 splits. The Forerunner 55 is lightyears ahead of that, even though it’s touted as a “basic” or “beginners” watch. The 55 is slightly smaller than the other Forerunner models but still packs a respectable battery life that will get you through a week of runs between charges, a wrist-based heart rate monitor, and smartwatch functionality. But, to save money, you’re giving up advanced sensors like pulse oximeter and barometer, plus advanced training analytics like virtual partner, live segments, and running dynamics—stride length, for example. Then again, I can’t tell you the last time I used any of those features on the Fenix, so maybe this is as much watch as any of us truly needs.

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar

Quick Take: Every training tool a runner or triathlete could want

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, Wi-Fi | Battery life: Up to 49 hours (with solar)

The Garmin Forerunner 955 has been updated to be more accurate than ever, thanks to multi-band reception. This allows the watch to receive two signals from a satellite and filter out any that may have bounced or is inaccurate. It leads to better pace estimates on your run and cleaner maps when you upload to your favorite digital training platform. Another great new feature to this triathlon-friendly watch is a solar panel built in to the watch face, which can give you an extra seven hours of run time—assuming you’re outside in the sun for three hours a day. The color maps, also available on the Forerunner 945 and Fenix models, are another handy feature. Displayed on the watch, they help you find your way around new cities without getting lost. You can even generate round-trip courses on the fly, no computer required.

Garmin Venu Sq

Quick Take: Style not commonly found on a sports watch that can still keep up with your daily jog.

Connectivity: Bluetooth | Battery Life: 14 hours in GPS mode; 6 days in watch mode

Most cheap sports watches look like, well, cheap sports watches. Or at least, they used to. But we’re seeing more stylish and versatile options—no doubt spurred by the crossover success of the Apple Watch—including affordable models like the Venu Sq. As a running watch, it ticks a lot of boxes. You get accurate GPS tracking, along with most of the same basic run-tracking features you find in the Forerunner 45—cadence, optical HR, customizable data pages, VO2 max estimates, and the ability to mark laps automatically or manually. But it’s a step above the 45 and even comes with a Pulse Ox sensor, which measures your blood oxygen levels. It doesn’t have an interval-training option, however, nor will the basic version store music; that will cost you an extra $50.

Garmin Enduro

Quick Take: Buy this if every percentage of battery life is vital.

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+ | Battery Life: 70 hours; up to 200 hours in extended run mode

Simply put, buy this watch only if you’re into multi-day adventures and don’t have any opportunity to recharge your watch along the way. The Enduro is basically a Fenix with some functionality stripped away to extend battery life. RW video producer Pat Heine wore it on his FKT of Pennsylvania’s Mid State Trail, charging it just once (for three hours) during the 327-mile run. That’s mighty impressive given the watch was recording Pat’s GPS position every second—extended settings reduce the frequency of those samplings to save battery life. To make that run time so impressive, Garmin did away with things like mapping, music, and Wi-Fi sync, which may be a deal breaker for some of us.

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