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Best Garmin watch in 2021: Choose the right GPS tracker

Best Garmin watch
(Image credit: Garmin)

Finding the best Garmin watch depends on your needs and your budget. Some devices are a little more smartwatch than fitness tracker, while others are clearly designed with hardcore athletes and outdoors enthusiasts in mind. Garmin watches range from the $149 Forerunner 45 to the $1,149 fenix 6X Pro Solar Edition Titanium, so it’s important to know what you really want.

All Garmin watches track steps, sleep, and heart rate, and even the watches not specifically designed for swimming are water-resistant. Garmin watches all come with batteries that will last for days on a single charge and should get you through more than one workout when you’re connected to GPS. All watches also sync to Garmin Connect, which offers a detailed look at your health and wellness data, and link you to the global community of Garmin users.

Some Garmin watches have the features you’d expect from the best smartwatches, such as mobile payments, music storage, and color displays. But Garmin devices are better known for their fitness features, and many of them are among the best sports watches on the market. Our roundup of the best Garmin deals can help you find the one you want at a discount, too.

Read on to learn more about the best Garmin watches.

What is the best Garmin watch?

After much running, biking, and sweating with a variety of Garmin watches, we think the best overall is the Garmin Forerunner 245. It packs the best of Garmin’s sensors, training apps, and health trackers into a device that’s comfortable to wear all day and night. There’s also a Music edition that can store up to 500 songs to help power you through your workouts.

The Garmin Forerunner 45 is a stripped-down version of the Forerunner 245. The display is smaller, but the battery life is longer, and you still get access to Garmin’s coaching and training features. The Forerunner 45 is a good bet for anyone who’s new to running.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are some high-end Garmin watches for golfers, endurance athletes, and folks who may spend some time off the grid. Garmin also has watches for those who want most (but not all) of the company’s fitness functionality and prefer a more stylish smartwatch.

The best Garmin watches you can buy today

Best Garmin watch: Garmin Forerunner 245

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. Garmin Forerunner 245

The best all-around Garmin watch

Heart rate monitor: Yes | GPS : Yes | Water resistance: 50 meters | Display: 1.2-inch MIP | On-board music: Yes (Music edition) | Mobile payments: No | Sleep tracking: Yes | Battery life: 7 days/24 hours with GPS

Easy-to-read display
Many training metrics
Onboard music storage
Can be hard to navigate

The Forerunner 245 is Garmin’s best all-around watch. Along with an accurate GPS, a long-lasting battery, and the ability to track many types of workouts, the watch features the same fitness metrics as Garmin’s latest higher-end GPS watches: Training Status to track progress, Training Load to see workouts over a seven-day period, and Training Effect to measure anaerobic and aerobic. It also supports sleep, stress, blood oxygen saturation, and menstrual cycle tracking. When synced with your phone, the Forerunner 245 - along with many other Garmin watches - can send (and also cancel) emergency notifications at the push of a button.

The Garmin Forerunner 245 is small and light, so it won’t weigh down your wrist during workouts or feel uncomfortable during everyday wear or while you’re sleeping. It comes in five different colors along with interchangeable accessory bands, which will help match your personal style. The watch does fall short on smartwatch functionality - it doesn’t support mobile payments and won’t let you respond to notifications - but it’s a best-in-class health and fitness tracker.

Garmin also offers a Forerunner 245 Music edition, which comes with onboard storage for up to 500 songs and syncs with Spotify or Deezer accounts. You can change tracks using the buttons on the watch or through the controls on your headset. The watch maintains a steady connection to headphones throughout a workout, which is a critical feature for a watch built around music. The battery will last six hours in GPS mode with music playing.

Read our full Garmin Forerunner 245 review.

Best Garmin watch: Garmin Venu

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. Garmin Venu

The best Garmin smartwatch

Heart rate monitor: Yes | GPS : Yes | Water resistance: 50 meters | Display: 1.2-inch AMOLED | On-board music: Yes | Mobile payments: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes | Battery life: 5 days/20 hours with GPS

Onboard music storage
Battery life
Health monitoring
Limited features for iPhone users

Garmin watches aren’t just for serious athletes. The Venu is a stylish smartwatch on a par with the Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa 3 —- and it’s rugged enough for bike rides, strength workouts, and playtime with the kids. It’s also a step up from the Garmin vivoactive 4 with an AMOLED display and a stainless steel bezel.

The Garmin Venu blends the fitness- and health-tracking features you’d expect from a Garmin device with smartwatch features such as mobile payments, notifications, a touchscreen, and storage for up to 500 songs. The watch also boasts a much better battery life than most smartwatches, even with itsan AMOLED display. Our reviewer was able to wear the Garmin Venu for three days in between charges, compared to charging the Apple Watch every day.

Garmin also offers the Venu Sq, which offers many of the same features of the Venu in a square design, albeit with a plastic case and a large bezel that makes it look like a lower-end device and not a premium smartwatch.

Read our full Garmin Venu review.

Best Garmin watch: Garmin Forerunner 45

(Image credit: Garmin)

3. Garmin Forerunner 45

Garmin’s best entry-level running watch

Heart rate monitor: Yes | GPS : Yes | Water resistance: 50 meters | Display: 1.04-inch MIP | On-board music: No | Mobile payments: No | Sleep tracking: Yes | Battery life: 7 days/13 hours with GPS

Access to Garmin Coach
Accurate tracking
Easy navigation
Limited smartwatch features

If you’re starting to get into running, chances are you want a device that’s a step up from a basic fitness tracker but also won’t overwhelm you too many features. Among Garmin watches, the Forerunner 45 is the clear choice. 

At its core, the Garmin Forerunner 45 is an entry-level fitness watch. The device tracks your workouts and monitors your progress over time, which is a must-have for runners who are starting to get serious. The watch also offers access to Garmin Coach, which will help you develop a training plan and sync your new workouts directly to the watch. This is a differentiator from similarly priced watches such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active or the Fitbit Charge 4, which track workouts but don’t offer custom coaching plans. 

It’s worth noting that the Garmin Forerunner 45 doesn’t support music storage, mobile payments, or third-party apps. It also has a relatively small display, at just over 1 inch. If these are must-have features for your Garmin watch, you may want to consider a higher-end device. 

Read our full Garmin Forerunner 45 review.

Best Garmin watch: Garmin Approach S62

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. Garmin Approach S62

The best Garmin watch for golfers

Heart rate monitor: Yes | GPS : Yes | Water resistance: 50 meters | Display: 1.3-inch MIP | On-board music: No | Mobile payments: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes | Battery life: 14 days/20 hours with GPS

Accurate distances
Virtual caddie analysis
Battery life
Not for beginners

If golf is your game, then the Garmin Approach S62 is the watch for you. With a scratch-resistant ceramic bezel and silicone straps, it’s rugged enough for a round of 18 while stylish enough for the 19th hole in the clubhouse.

The Garmin Approach S62 comes with key golf features such as access to data on 41,000 courses worldwide, GPS readings on distance and hole hazards, and a shot-tracking function. There’s also a virtual caddie that recommends clubs based on distance to the pin. It may be a lot for a novice golfer (if that’s you, check out our Garmin S20 review,) but veteran golfers will appreciate the insight —- and may even leave the rangefinder at home.

Off the course, the watch tracks a variety of additional indoor and outdoor exercises, including swimming, along with heart rate, sleep, and Garmin’s “Body Battery” energy monitor. 

It also works well as a smartwatch, with Garmin Pay and customizable smartphone notifications.  

Read our full Garmin Approach S62 review

Best Garmin watch: Garmin Forerunner 945 GPS Watch

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

5. Garmin Forerunner 945

The best Garmin watch for triathletes

Heart rate monitor: Yes | GPS : Yes | Water resistance: 50 meters | Display: 1.2-inch MIP | On-board music: Yes | Mobile payments: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes | Battery life: 14 days/36 hours with GPS

Battery life
Heat and altitude tracking
Good for everyday wear

At the other end of the spectrum is the Garmin Forerunner 945, which is designed for triathletes, trail runners, and other endurance sport fanatics. The Forerunner 945 offers the same training and recovery metrics as the Forerunner 245 and 745 while adding metrics for tracking heat and altitude, which are important for determining the difficulty of a key workout. It also boasts a battery that should be long enough to support ultra marathon runners on race day.

While the Garmin Forerunner 945 packs quite the punch for athletes, it’s also suitable for everyday wear. Its silicone and plastic design keeps the watch’s weight to 1.76 ounces, which makes it significantly lighter than the watches in the Garmin fenix 6 series. The Forerunner 945 will also receive smartphone notifications. 

Read the full Garmin Forerunner 945 review.

Best Garmin watch: Garmin Forerunner 745

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

6. Garmin Forerunner 745

A solid Garmin watch for overall fitness tracking

Heart rate monitor: Yes | GPS : Yes | Water resistance: 50 meters | Display: 1.2-inch MIP | On-board music: Yes | Mobile payments: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes | Battery life: 7 days/16 hours with GPS

Easy to set up and use
Robust activity and training data
Limited smartwatch features
Battery life could be better

The Garmin Forerunner 745 is the best watch for athletes who want more functionality than the Forerunner 45 but don’t need all the bells and whistles of the Forerunner 945. While it’s not a robust smartwatch like the Garmun Venu, it does support mobile payments and music storage — two key features for anyone who works out regularly — and supports some third-party apps. You’ll also get step tracking and sleep tracking, though neither are front and center on the watch like they tend to be on lower-end fitness trackers.

The Garmin Forerunner 745 supports more than a dozen types of indoor and outdoor workouts, provides feedback on your training (including recommended workouts and recovery times), and picks up a GPS signal in a matter of seconds. The battery won’t last as long as the Forerunner 945, but 16 hours in GPS mode will still get most athletes through several workouts in between charges.

Read our full Garmin Forerunner 745 review.

Best Garmin watch: Garmin fenix 6

(Image credit: Garmin)

7. Garmin fenix 6 series

The best Garmin watch for the outdoors

Heart rate monitor: Yes | GPS : Yes | Water resistance: 100 meters | Display: 1.2-inch MIP | On-board music: Yes | Mobile payments: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes | Battery life: 14 days/72 hours with GPS

Battery can last for weeks
Packed with features
64MB of storage
Very large

The Garmin fenix 6 is a rugged watch for outdoor adventurers. The device supports everyday fitness activities such as running and swimming, and it comes with Garmin’s typical health-tracking features, but it’s really designed for anyone who gets an adrenaline rush from scuba diving, backcountry skiing, or a multi-day hike deep in the wilderness.

Make no mistake: With a weight that starts at 2 ounces for the standard fenix 6S, and tops out at 2.8 ounces for the 51mm fenix 6X Pro Solar Edition Titanium, this watch is a beast. But the trade-off is storage, battery life, and water resistance up to 100 meters (330 feet). It’s also easy to swap out bands — no small thing if you’ve just spent days in the woods without a shower.

The fenix 6 comes preloaded with more than 41,000 golf courses as well as more than 2,000 ski resorts, and it supports music storage. In addition, the battery on the standard fenix 6S will last up to 20 days in expedition GPS mode, which pings satellites less frequently than normal GPS mode, and up to 34 days in battery saver move. Splurge on the fenix 6X Pro Solar Edition and you get 46 days in expedition mode, plus another 10 days from the solar panel built into the display.

Read our full Garmin fenix 6 Series review

Best Garmin watch: Garmin Vivoactive 4

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

8. Garmin vivoactive 4

Garmin’s best fitness smartwatch

Heart rate monitor: Yes | GPS : Yes | Water resistance: 50 meters | Display: 1.3-inch MIP | On-board music: Yes | Mobile payments: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes | Battery life: 8 days/18 hours with GPS

East two-button navigation
Build-in exercises
No OLED screen

The Garmin vivoactive 4 toes the line nicely between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch,  though as you’d expect from a Garmin device, it’s a fitness tracker first. 

Unlike the Forerunner and fenix watches, the Garmin vivoactive 4 offers a touchscreen. It also comes in two sizes: 40mm and 45mm. In order to maintain battery life, though, the watch uses the LCD display that’s typical for Garmin watches. (If you want an OLED display, go for the Garmin Venu.) You can add a range of third-party apps through the Garmin Connect IQ store, though you won’t find the same selection as you would in the Apple Watch store. 

Where the Garmin vivoactive 4 shines — and beats the other smartwatches on the market — is in its fitness-tracking capabilities. Along with Garmin’s industry-leading features for tracking training and recovery, the vivoactive 4 comes with preloaded exercises, such as yoga and Pilates, which play as guided animations directly on the watch. 

Read our full Garmin vivoactive 4 review

Best Garmin watch: Garmin vivomove

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

9. Garmin vivomove series

Garmin’s most stylish watch

Heart rate monitor: Yes | GPS : No | Water resistance: 50 meters | Display: 0.35-inch OLED | On-board music: No | Mobile payments: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes | Battery life: 5 days

High-end design
Sharp, clean watchface
Limited workout features

The vivomove series is the most stylish of all the best Garmin watches. These models offer a sharp analog face, a stainless steel bezel, and optional color displays. There’s also no sub-dial to clutter the watchface with activity or notification data. You have to swipe on the OLED touchscreen to view this information - and while the display size is limited, the analog watchface always stays in view. 

The vivomove comes in three sizes and four models: 3S (which has a 39mm case and a silicone band), Luxe (which comes with 42mm gold/silver cases and leather/Milanese bands), Style (42mm aluminum case and nylon/silicone bands), and 3 (a 44mm case and silicone band). 

However, there’s a trade-off for the style: Garmin’s vivomove watches don’t come with a GPS sensor. You have to track workouts, as well as control music, by pairing the watch with a smartphone, and you’ll need to use the Garmin Connect app to view your workout data. That said, the Garmin vivomove will track indoor exercises such as strength training and yoga, and it also comes with Garmin’s health-monitoring sensors such as heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, and sleep.

Read our full Garmin vivomove review

How to choose the best Garmin watch for you

Because Garmin watches span a wide range of prices and features, it’s important to identify which are most important to you within your budget.

Battery Life
Most of Garmin’s watches have excellent battery life, but some are better than others. For example, the Forerunner 945 will last for 14 days in smartwatch mode and 36 hours in GPS mode, while the fenix 6 will last up to 20 days in expedition GPS mode. If you plan to spend extended periods of time outdoors, choose your watch accordingly.

Training features
Most of Garmin’s watches have excellent training features as well, but pay attention to the metrics that matter to you. In addition to standard metrics, some models like theGarmin Forerunner 945 also track heat and altitude, which are key for planning the impact of outdoor workouts. Others, like the Garmin Approach S62, offer in-depth golf training, too.

Garmin is known for its GPS technology, so it’s no surprise that nearly all of its watches have excellent GPS features. The watches in the vivomove series are the only Garmin watches without a GPS sensor. 

Smartwatch features
Some Garmin models have more smartwatch features than others. The Venu, for instance, has a touchscreen and an AMOLED display, which are both rare for Garmin devices, along with support for mobile payments, onboard music, and a stainless steel bezel. 

Onboard music
Not all Garmin watches support onboard music with built-in storage. For athletes who want to bring music on their go in their workouts, you’ll want a tracker that lets you leave your phone behind. Some Garmin series even offer a dedicated music variant, like the Forerunner 245 Music.

There’s a good range of Garmin watch prices for every budget. For under $150 the Forerunner 45 is a good value, as you get access to Garmin Coach and all of Garmin’s other training features. On the other hand, you can spend up to $1,149 fenix 6X Pro Solar Edition Titanium. Most models, however, fall between $200 and $500.

How we test Garmin watches

By wearing them, of course! When Garmin comes out with a new watch, we fully charge it up, then strap it on our wrist for about a week or so to test out all its features.

First and foremost: How does it feel? Some watches are pretty bulky, which means they won't fit comfortably on smaller wrists or make sense for all-day wear. Next, we look at fitness features such as heart rate monitor, GPS, and custom workout tracking. How accurate are the Garmin’s sensors, and how well does the watch track your exercise and your overall health? 

We also look at the other features of the Garmin, including sleep tracking, female health tracking, mobile payments, and smartphone notifications. 

We also look at Garmin’s battery life claims, and compare it to our actual use. Some sensors chew up juice faster than others, so if you've got the screen on constantly, or you’re always using the heart rate monitor or Pulse Ox sensor, your mileage may vary. We also check to see if battery-saving mode will still meet your workout-tracking expectations.