Well-known as an innovator of GPS electronics, Garmin is a major player in wearable technology with its comprehensive lineup of fitness and outdoor GPS watches. Garmin watches are designed for all types of cardiovascular fitness and outdoor activities. They are loaded with useful athletic training and GPS tracking features and offer impressive battery life. Unlike most smartwatches they are not dependent on a smartphone for full functionality, but do offer smartphone connectivity and notifications via Bluetooth. Useful apps can be downloaded from Garmin’s Connect IQ store. While Garmin provides excellent descriptions and comparable specifications at the Garmin Online Store, it can still be overwhelming deciding which Garmin GPS watch to buy because there are so many models to choose from. We’ve tried to make that process easier by providing an overview of the best watches for specific sports and types of use. Here are the best Garmin GPS watches for 2016.
Best Entry-Level Garmin GPS Watch: Vivoactive
The Garmin Vivoactive is an ultra-thin (8mm) smartwatch with a sunlight-readable color touchscreen and 50-meter water resistance. Though it’s our pick as the best entry-level model for those new to Garmin watches, the Vivoactive still packs a wealth of fitness and GPS features.
The Vivoactive tracks data for a range of activities like running, walking, cycling, swimming, and golfing. It tracks and saves your data without the need for a smartphone connection. It can measure steps, distance, speed, cadence, heart rate (with optional monitor), and calories burned. There are dedicated apps for separate activities that clock more advanced metrics. For example, the swimming app tracks laps, strokes, total and interval distance, and interval and length speed. The golfing app connects to Garmin’s golf course database with over 38,000 course maps. The GPS tracker on board the Vivoactive measures exact shot distance and yardages for layup and dogleg distances.
The Vivoactive is a watch designed to suit all active lifestyles. An accelerometer and speed and cadence sensors measures activity indoors without the need for a separate foot pod. The activity tracking app keeps you on your toes and sends you alerts to get you moving after it detects about an hour of inactivity. Aside from being a multi-sport watch and a fitness tracker, the Vivoactive also functions well as a Bluetooth-connected smartwatch. It keeps you in touch through mail and social media notifications. With its Bluetooth connectivity, you can also control the music that is playing on your smartphone.
With its slim and lightweight fit, robust fitness tracking and outdoor features, and affordable price, the Vivoactive is our top pick for the best entry-level Garmin GPS watch. Retail list price is $219.99.
Recommended For: Those who want an affordable touchscreen smartwatch with fitness and GPS features.
Also Consider: The Fenix 3 offers more advanced fitness training and outdoor features (like altimeter/barometer/compass sensors) in a multi-sport GPS watch, but does not have a touchscreen.
Best Garmin GPS Watch for Multi-Sport Training and Outdoor Use: Fenix 3 Sapphire
The Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire is very rugged and designed to be your fitness command center. The 100-meter water-resistant GPS watch offers a distinct mode for many activities (walking, running, climbing, cycling, mountain biking, swimming, skiing, cross-country skiing, indoor workouts) and dishes out a staggering amount of data for each type of sport.
For outdoor exploring the Fenix 3 Sapphire is fitted with a digital compass that lets you mark locations, store track points, plot and follow courses, and track heading. The environmental sensors also track changes in altitude, barometric air pressure, and temperature. The GPS/GLONASS satellite reception offers superior tracking capability. The sapphire crystal provides extra protection against scratches. Other outdoor features include a hunting and fishing calendar and sun and moon information.
For serious runners, aside from counting steps and tracking distance, the Fenix 3 Sapphire provides the numbers for ground contact time, vertical oscillation, and cadence. The swim mode provides tracking for distance, number of strokes, and speed whether you are swimming in the pool or out in open water. The ski/board mode keeps tabs on your speed, distance, run, and vertical drop. Golfing features include measuring exact shot distance, yardage to (front, middle, back) of green, and a digital scorecard.
With an optional heart rate monitor, the Fenix 3 Sapphire gives you accurate data on your heart rate, its variations, and the amount of oxygen you are using up every minute. If you are training for competition, the watch doubles up as your coach. Expect an alert if the Fenix 3 detects a drop in your fitness level or finds you slacking compared to your earlier performances.
The numbers show up large and bright on the 1.2-inch “transreflective” Garmin Chroma Display that does not go dark under sunlight. You can also call up other data mid-run using the easy-to-press large buttons. There is an LED light for nighttime use.
Considering all of its fitness features and outdoor capabilities, the Fenix 3 Sapphire is surprisingly good-looking and displays smartphone notifications as well. Its versatility and durability make it the best Garmin GPS watch for all-around fitness training and outdoor use. The Fenix 3 Sapphire is available with a titanium band, metal band, or leather band. Retail list price is $599.99 and up.
Recommended For: The athlete or outdoorsman who wants a sturdy GPS watch with advanced features.
Best Garmin GPS Watch for Running and Cycling: Forerunner 630
The Garmin Forerunner 630 is a touchscreen GPS watch for the hardcore runner who is training to compete and tracking personal best milestones.
When paired with the HRM-Run heart rate monitor that comes bundled with some models, the Forerunner 630 tracks advanced running metrics like the number of strides in a minute, stride length, vertical oscillation, vertical ratio, and ground contact time.
The Forerunner 630 not only measures your heart rate but also crunches the numbers to give you statistics like VO2 max that indicates your athletic performance and lactate threshold. With these numbers, you can set up zones for your heart rate training and work on your cardiovascular performance.
The recovery advisor onboard alerts you on when you should stop after a workout while the performance condition number and the stress score gauge how you will perform on certain workouts. Pay heed to these numbers to prevent injuries and burnout.
The Wi-Fi-enabled Forerunner 630 uploads data to Garmin Connect and also lets you analyze and share your scores with your online community.
The watch has GPS tracking features and provides speed, altitude, and heart rate readings, which are useful for bicycling too. There is a separate cycling mode that can track both indoor and outdoor bike rides. The distinct mode ensures that your cycling data does not interfere with your running numbers and records. See the recommended Garmin accessories below for bike speed/cadence sensors and a bike mount.
Retail list price is $399.99 and $449.99 with HRM-Run heart rate monitor.
Recommended For: Serious runners and cyclists training to improve their performance.
Best Garmin GPS Watch for Walking and Beginning Runners: Forerunner 15
The sporty-looking Garmin Forerunner 15 GPS watch counts steps and records distance, time, and pace. When paired with a Garmin heart rate monitor, it also tracks heart rate and heart rate zones. The auto lap function keeps track of each mile you complete. After each session of walking or running, you get a comprehensive summary of your performance: how much distance you covered, your average speed, and the number of calories you burned. The Forerunner 15 will also notify you of personal records like fastest mile or longest run. Retail list price is $119.99.
Recommended For: Walkers and beginning runners who want an easy to use watch without being overwhelmed with advanced features.
Best Garmin GPS Watch for Hiking and Mapping Features: Epix
The Garmin Epix is a GPS/GLONASS watch, which means that it can connect with more satellites than a standard GPS watch. Positioning and fixing are fast courtesy of the sensitive EXO antenna and HotFix which connects to both GPS and GLONASS satellites.
Epix comes with worldwide shaded relief basemaps and 1-year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription. Some models come preloaded with TOPO U.S. 100K maps. The Epix also supports compatible maps like TOPO U.S. 24K, BlueChart g2, and Navigator while the 8GB memory ensures you can carry this data along with you on your hikes. These superior mapping features along with a user-friendly touchscreen make the Epix the ideal GPS watch for hiking.
The Garmin Epix has a host of navigation features to make getting around the trail easier. Along with the 3-axis electronic compass, features like track recording and navigation, waypoint and coordinate navigation, point-by-point routing, Sight ’n Go, and TracBack help you stay on course. The built-in altimeter and barometer sensors provide elevation data and help you gauge changes in the weather.
The Epix is not just a hiking watch and also provides running, cycling, and swimming metrics. Features like VO2 max estimate, recovery advisor, race predictor, and multiple bike profiles let you enjoy all your favorite outdoor sports without changing watches. The chunky and rugged-looking Epix with its PVD-coated surfaces inspires confidence that it will stand up to the rigors of the outdoors. The watch has a water resistance rating of 50 meters, making it suitable for any environment.
The Epix also functions as a Bluetooth-connected smartwatch and displays smartphone notifications. The display is a 1.4 inch high-resolution touchscreen that is easy to read in both bright- and low-light conditions.
Retail list price is $549.99 and $599.99 with TOPO U.S. 100K maps.
Recommended For: Hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers who want superior mapping capabilities.
Best Garmin GPS Watch for Golfing: Approach S6
The lightweight (46.6 grams) and ultrathin Garmin Approach S6 provides features designed to assist both golfing enthusiasts and seasoned pros perfect their swing, navigate courses, and keep tabs on their performance.
The Approach S6 connects to Garmin’s extensive database of about 39,000 courses all over the world. With a tap on the screen (operable with gloves on) or a push of a button, you get the full low-down on front, middle and back distances and previews of bunkers, lay-up areas, doglegs, and water hazards. An automatic zoom function lets you pull up enlarged views. The maps and stats show up crystal clear on the color touchscreen that is readable in bright sunlight.
The Garmin Approach S6 not only saves you the effort of finding your way around the course or range but also tracks individual holes, handicaps, and stroke play. Besides displaying the layout and shape of the course, the Green View feature helps you find the precise yardage to the hole by letting you zoom in and figure out the exact location of the pin (which can be re-positioned manually). Touch Targeting lets you find out the distance to any spot on the course that you point to on the map. The PinPointer feature guides you if you have to fire a blind approach shot by showing the yardage and pointing to the direction of the green.
The SwingTempo and SwingStrength trackers (exclusive to the Approach S6) help you find the ideal upswing and downswing ratio for the perfect stroke. These metrics are also useful when you want to find the right timing and force to execute a less-than-full swing. The ability to track swing metrics makes the Approach S6 useful on the driving range as well as the course. The TempoTraining feature uses audio tones to help you synchronize your swing.
The Approach S6 also acts as a smartwatch. Bluetooth connectivity lets you tune into your smartphone notifications with ease.
The Approach S6 has a retail list price of $349.99.
Recommended For: Serious golfers who want precise course and shot information and swing metrics.
Best Garmin GPS Watch for Triathletes: Forerunner 920XT
The Garmin Forerunner 920XT is designed for the dedicated triathlete and provides advanced metrics for running, cycling and swimming.
When paired with Garmin HRM-Run monitor, the Garmin Forerunner 920XT tracks advanced running metrics like cadence, vertical oscillation, and ground contact time.
Get valuable insights into your cycling workouts with the power metrics when synced with ANT+ compatible power meters or the Garmin Vector single or dual-sensing pedal meters. Besides calculating average power at specific time intervals, some other statistics the Vector power meters record are Training Stress Score, Intensity Factor, and Normalized Power. The dual-sensing Vector system additionally tracks the balance of power applied on both pedals, where you are applying the power, how long you sat and stood, Pedal Smoothness, and Torque Effectiveness. The swimming metrics tracked by the Forerunner 920XT include distance covered, stroke count and stroke rate, speed, and SWOLF. You can additionally keep track of your drill routines and kick sets.
As a triathlete in training you can keep track of how your body is responding to aerobic workouts with statistics like VO2 max estimate, race predictor, recovery time, and recovery status. Pair your Forerunner 920XT with a heart rate monitor and a power meter to obtain the numbers for your cycling routines or strap on the HRM-Tri or the HRM-Swim heart rate monitors before you plunge into the pool.
Compared to the Forerunner 630, the Forerunner 920XT has these additional features: compatible with optional Vector pedal-based power meters, multiple bike profiles, multi-sport mode change with 1 button press, power meter compatible with ANT+ enabled power meters, and swimming tracking features.
The Garmin Forerunner 920XT is slim, lightweight, shock-resistant, and has watch and activity modes to keep time and track your daily activity. It is wet suit-friendly while the high-resolution color display ensures you can read the screen in bright and low-light conditions.
Retail list price is $449.99 and $499.99 with HRM-Run heart monitor.
Best Garmin GPS Watch for Tactical & Military Use: Tactix Bravo
The rugged Garmin Tactix Bravo contains an impressive suite of tactical, navigational, fitness and activity tracking features and is also a smartwatch.
The Tactix Bravo sports a tough look that is designed to withstand demanding outdoor conditions. The metal parts are coated with a scratch-resistant, non-reflective diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating and protected by a glass fiber-reinforced casing. The watch is water-resistant up to 100 meters.
The built-in EXO omni-directional antenna has GPS and GLONASS support to provide superior location-tracking abilities. The onboard ABC sensors (altimeter, barometer, and compass) record additional metrics to help you find your bearing and predict weather changes. The TracBack feature creates a “bread crumb trail” by marking and storing up to 1,000 way-points to guide you back to where you started from. You can store targets, drop zones, check points, RV’s, or ERV’s to create a map of sorts of an unknown territory.
The Tactix Bravo comes with sophisticated software to guide you during terrestrial and aerial missions. The Jumpmaster feature supports multiple parachuting techniques.
The data recorded by the Tactix Bravo shows up on the high-resolution color Chroma display with LED backlight. You can read the numbers clearly even in bright daylight or dim or dark conditions. The “night vision mode” lets you view screen wearing night vision goggles.
Because it is designed to perform outdoors for long periods of tactical use, the Tactix Bravo has superior battery life of up to 50 hours in the UltraTrac battery-saver mode and 20 hours in GPS mode. For fitness use, the Tactix Bravo also has a host of running and cycling features.
Compared to the standard Garmin Tactix tactical GPS watch, the Tactix Bravo has these additional features: higher-resolution color display with sapphire lens, 100-meter water resistance (versus 50-meter), advanced running metrics and training features, swimming features, golfing features, and activity tracking features.
The Garmin Tactix Bravo is available with silicon band or nylon strap. Retail list price is $699.99.
Recommended For: Those who want a very rugged GPS watch with tactical features.
Best Garmin GPS Watch for Boating and Fishing: Quatix
The Garmin Quatix is a powerful blend of a marine watch and a GPS navigator. It is designed to help the avid mariner navigate the seas and guide the passionate angler to a prized catch.
The Quatix takes the strain out of charting courses with its set of advanced navigational features. It can record your course and mark way-points to help you return to where you started or guide you to your favorite fishing spots without a chartplotter. With the sight and go feature, you can specify a point and have the Quatix guide you to it so you never veer off-course.
The solar and lunar fishing calendars help you determine the best times when the fish will be feeding. When paired with a Garmin GNTTM 10 NMEA Transreceiver, the Quatix gives you access to real-time information like wind speed and direction and water temperature and depth. The built-in barometer helps you gauge changes in air pressure while the tide tables cover tide conditions in about 3,400 locations, so you can determine if you should head deep or stay in shallow waters.
With an extensive suite of sailing features, the Garmin Quatix gives you a competitive edge in regattas. Features like the Virtual Starting Line, Start Countdown Timer, and Tack Assist Mode let you control your sailing experience while maintaining efficiency and speed.
Retail list price is $249.99.
Recommended For: Boaters, fishermen, sailors, kayakers.
Best Garmin Watch for Swimmers: Garmin Swim
The Garmin Swim is not a GPS watch but is a dedicated swimming watch that offers a wide array of metrics to help the serious swimmer in training. The ergonomically-designed, lightweight Garmin Swim does not get in the way of swimming strokes. The swim metrics include stroke type and count, total distance covered, total swimming time, the time you take to cover 100 meters, interval distance, and calories burned. The watch then calculates an efficiency score or SWOLF based off your time and the number of strokes per lap. You can view these numbers for a length, an interval, or a whole workout routine. You can even record and store drills with the Garmin Swim. The Garmin Swim is water-resistant up to 50 meters and has six easy to use buttons around the bezel. Retail list price is $149.99.
Recommended Garmin GPS Watch Accessories
(Click links or images for Amazon product page)
Heart rate monitor with a soft chest strap transmits data wirelessly to your Garming GPS watch.
Garmin Forerunner Bicycle Mount Kit
Mount your Garmin watch in an easy to view location on your bicycle or mountain bike. Also works with other models like Fenix 3 and Epix.
Garmin Bike Speed Sensor and Cadence Sensor
Easy to install sensors for accurate bike speed and cadence tracking.