Best Garmin Running Watches of 2021


Article Contents

Introduction
Featured Functions
Watch vs. Phone: which makes the best running companion?
Skip to the Review!
Garmin Forerunner 35
Garmin Forerunner 45
Garmin Vivoactive 3
Garmin Forerunner 235
Garmin Instinct Rugged
FAQ

Introduction

Running is a terrific form of exercise for two reasons. The first reason: running confers a whole host of health and fitness benefits – such as a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and many different cancers. The second reason: it’s probably the most inexpensive form of exercise we can do; if you’ve got a pair of trainers, tights and a tee and a stretch of open road you’re good to go.


For the puritanical practitioner who enjoys running for the exercise and feel-good factor, the basics will more than suffice to satisfy their running requirements.


However, for those who like to get a bit scientific in their training, or those who perhaps harbour a predilection for statistics and analytics, you can add a technological element to your run sessions.


The contemporary running watch is a super-advanced technological training tool that could open up a new dimension to your run sessions. It’s no exaggeration to say that they are like running with a scientific laboratory strapped to your writs (a scientific laboratory of the 1960s).


In addition to counting calories, monitoring heart rate, tracking distance and pacing, which is all standard stuff, a running watch can also act as a performance coach. For example, all of the Garmin watches reviewed below feature a performance monitoring function which records previous running routes and, when you come to run the route again, will prompt you to advance on your previous time.


Featured Functions

But so far I have offered merely a brief overview of the functions running watches feature. Below is a comprehensive list of the primary functions including explanations of what each function does and how it could help improve running performance.

GPS (Global Positioning System)

A GPS provides you with near instant positioning feedback while also recording elevation, speed and distance travelled. This is a handy function for the runner who regularly changes their route or enjoys the occasional long-distant jaunt.


Heart rate monitor (HRM)

The HRM is a helpful function for those runners who use training zones and gauge intensity off their heart rate. But the heart rate monitor also enables us to track and measure cardiovascular function: such as if all that additional running training has lowered our resting heart rate and the time it takes our heart rate to normalise after a training sessions – otherwise known as recovery.


Smart connectivity

This function enables you to pair your Garmin to a compatible smartphone which further extends the applications available. For example, you will be able to access smart notifications which provides you with training prompts and performance metrics.


In addition, once paired to your smartphone, your Garmin will automatically upload your runs and store it on a database which then converts the data into performance analytics: how far you ran in weeks/months/years; your average speed; the average distance of each run; etc.


Of course, this information – or data – can be used to improve your running performance. An insight into training frequency can open up opportunities to improve running consistency thus improving participation.


Fitness tracker

The fitness tracker function, which all modern sports watches should come equipped with, records steps taken, distance travelled and (estimated) calories consumed. These are handy readings to know as they provide you with an insight into your daily levels of activity while also giving your something to compete against.



Watch vs. Phone: which makes the best running companion?

There’s no denying it, phones are becoming increasingly popular amongst runners and are starting to rival the watch as the runner’s technological gadget of choice. This encroachment is a consequence of the functions and apps that phones feature, most of which replicate those of the running watch.


However, though phones feature some of the functions of a running watch, such as GPS, speed and distance tracking, they fail to provide biometric feedback (heart rate) and are overly cumbersome. Unlike their sleek, highly specialised competitor, phones are bulky and intrusive and often require an additional attachment to hold them securely in place.


The running watch, by contrast, is constructed from lightweight composite plastics making them not only light but durable – the Garmin Instinct Rugged, for example, is built to military standards and is thermal, shock and water resistance.


Another feather in the cap of the running watch is their superior battery life. The battery capacity of most phones is, to put it candidly, poor. Thus, if you forget to charge your phone pre-run it’ll probably quit long before you do. Highly irritating if you like to record your distances and document performance outcomes. This is a potential probable that you won’t have to worry about with a watch strapped to your wrist.



Review: Best Garmin Running Watches of 2021



1: Garmin Forerunner 35 GPS Running Watch (£89.99)


Special Features (click image for availability)

  • Lightweight and easy-to-use running watch with high-resolution display and built-in GPS.

  • Tracks heart rate at the wrist day or night which provides the wearer with an accurate assessment of calories consumed.

  • Connected features include smart notifications, music control, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect and the ability to track your runs with LiveTrack software.

  • All-day activity tracking counts steps and intensity minutes and reminds you when to move.

  • Fitness tracker function enables you to meet your fitness goals by building an activity profile, which alerts you to move more.


The Forerunner 35 of course comes with a fully-integrate GPS which tracks the route of your run while also monitoring speed, distance and elevation.


In addition, the wrist-based heart rate monitor provides you with continuous readings and an accurate estimation of the number of calories consumed either after each training session or across an entire day. This feature is especially handy for people trying to lose weight as the data can be used to compare calories in and calories out.


Another feature of note is the sedentary alert. In conjunction with counting steps, calories and distance travelled throughout the day, the sedentary alert vibrates to bring your attention to the fact that you have been inactive for too long.


Also, if you want to increase the standard features, the Forerunner 35 can be paired with smartphone which enables you to access functions such smart notifications, LiveTrack and automatic uploads to the Garmin Connect database.


It come preprogramed with a comprehensive range of sport profiles. These allow you to ‘meet your fitness goals’ with motivational functions that send you alerts to keep active and prompt you to compete against pre-established PBs.


Nearly 5 stars with over 5000 reviews!


2: Garmin Forerunner 45 (£115.00)


Special Features (click image for availability)

  • Lightweight and easy-to-use running watch with high-resolution display and built-in GPS.

  • Tracks heart rate at the wrist day or night which provides the wearer with an accurate assessment of calories consumed.

  • Connected features include smart notifications, music control, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect and the ability to track your runs with LiveTrack software.

  • All-day activity tracking counts steps and intensity minutes and reminds you when to move.

  • Fitness tracker function enables you to meet your fitness goals by building an activity profile, which alerts you to move more.

  • Connected features include smart notifications for incoming texts and calls, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect, live tracking and controls for the music playing on your phone.

  • Safety and tracking features include incident detection (during select activities) and assistance, which both send your real-time location to emergency contacts.

  • Activity tracking and sports apps for running, cycling, indoor track, treadmill, elliptical, cardio, yoga and more.


The Forerunner 45 is a step-up from its counterpart. Alongside the fully-integrate GPS the Forerunner 45 works with the Garmin Coach programme which provides you with training plans. Garmin liken this programme to having a personal coach strapped to your wrist.


In addition, the wrist-based heart rate monitor provides you with continuous readings and an accurate estimation of the number of calories consumed either after each training session or across an entire day. In conjunction with counting steps, calories and distance travelled throughout the day, the sedentary alert vibrates to bring your attention to the fact that you have been inactive for too long.


As with the Forerunner 35 the 45 can be paired with smartphone which enables you to access functions such smart notifications, LiveTrack and automatic uploads to the Garmin Connect database. This function also enables you to receive text and call notifications. It also includes a safety feature such as incident detection (during select activities) which allows you to send your real-time location to emergency contacts.


The Forerunner 45 comes preprogramed with a comprehensive range of activity modes. These allow you to ‘meet your fitness goals’ with motivational functions that send you alerts to keep active and prompt you to compete against pre-established PBs.


A hair’s breadth off 5 stars with over 2900 reviews.


3: Garmin Vivoactive 3 GPS Smartwatch with Built-In Sports Apps and Wrist Heart Rate (£149.99)


Special Features (click image for availability)

  • High-resolution colour touchscreen display for enhanced readability in all light and side swipe interface to scroll through widgets and menus.

  • Includes fitness monitoring, such as VO2 max and fitness age estimate, plus all-day stress tracking and relaxation-based breathing timer.

  • Lightweight and easy-to-use running watch with high-resolution display and built-in GPS.

  • Tracks heart rate at the wrist day or night which provides the wearer with an accurate assessment of calories consumed.

  • Connected features include smart notifications, music control, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect and the ability to track your runs with LiveTrack software.

  • All-day activity tracking counts steps and intensity minutes and reminds you when to move.

  • Fitness tracker function enables you to meet your fitness goals by building an activity profile, which alerts you to move more.


The Vivoactive 3 comes with all of the features of the Forerunner 35 and 45: fully integrated GPS tracker, Garmin Coach programme, heart rate monitor and a whole host of training programmes.


However, where the vivoactive 3 differs is in the variety of pre-loaded sports apps. It comes with more than 15 each of which has been designed to track the details of your chosen activity – whether that be running, gym training, Yoga or even golf.


There’s also the ‘keep active’ function which enables you to keep your workout schedule fresh and invigorating. It does this by allowing you to create custom running, cycling, cardio or strength workouts, which can then be download to your watch. Then, just like a personal trainer, the vívoactive 3 smartwatch will keep track of the exercises, reps, sets and rest time for you.


Another feature of note is the daily fitness and stress monitoring function. The vivoactive 3 comes equipped with the Elevate™ wrist-based heart rate technology which ‘lets you monitor key aspects of your fitness and stress to show how your body responds under various circumstances.’


It’s also able to estimate your VO2 max and fitness age while tracking your heart rate variability (HRV), ‘which is used to calculate and track your stress level.’ Based off this the vívoactive 3 can ‘make you aware when physical or emotional sources cause your stress level to rise so you can find a way to relieve the pressure.’


4.5 stars with nearly 20,000 reviews!


4: Garmin Forerunner 235 GPS Running Watch with Elevate (£198.99)


Special Features (click image for availability)

  • Tracks heart rate, VO2 max estimate and recovery advisor through ‘Elevate Wrist Heart Rate’ technology.

  • Automatic uploads to Garmin Connect, live tracking, audio prompts, smart notifications, social media sharing and music control.

  • Customised training plans from Garmin Connect on your watch for real-time coaching.

  • Lightweight and easy-to-use running watch with high-resolution display and built-in GPS.

  • Tracks heart rate at the wrist day or night which provides the wearer with an accurate assessment of calories consumed.

  • Connected features include smart notifications, music control, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect and the ability to track your runs with LiveTrack software.

  • All-day activity tracking counts steps and intensity minutes and reminds you when to move.

  • Fitness tracker function enables you to meet your fitness goals by building an activity profile, which alerts you to move more.


The Forerunner 235 comes equipped with advanced running dynamics and performance monitoring tracking technology. This function provides you with information of your running technique and performance such as ground contact time, balance, stride length, vertical ratio and more. The 235 also evaluates your training and recovery, bringing you metrics of your training status.


In addition to tracking training dynamics, the Forerunner 235 features an advanced workouts function. This allows you to download free workouts straight from Garmin’s expansive database of training programmes. However, Garmin recognises that no two runners are alike, thus you can also develop and/or customise your own sessions as well.


And then there’s the race-specific programme. If you’ve got a goal in mind for your next running race – whether it by 5k or a full marathon – the Garmin Coach has you covered. This feature ‘lets you select from free training plans that adapt to your goals and provide expert coaching every step of the way.’


4.5 stars with over 4000 reviews.


5: Garmin Instinct Rugged Outdoor Smartwatch (£229.50)


Special Features (click image for availability)

  • Rugged GPS watch is water-rated to 100 metres and constructed to MIL-STD-810G for thermal, shock and water resistance.

  • Built-in 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter plus multiple global navigation satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS and Galileo) track in more challenging environments than GPS alone.

  • Monitor your heart rate, activity and stress, and train with preloaded activity profiles such as running, biking, swimming, hiking and more

  • The TracBack feature enables you to navigate the same route back to your starting point – which is handy when running new routes or in a new environment.

  • Lightweight and easy-to-use running watch with high-resolution display and built-in GPS.

  • Tracks heart rate at the wrist day or night which provides the wearer with an accurate assessment of calories consumed.

  • Connected features include smart notifications, music control, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect and the ability to track your runs with LiveTrack software.

  • All-day activity tracking counts steps and intensity minutes and reminds you when to move.

  • Fitness tracker function enables you to meet your fitness goals by building an activity profile, which alerts you to move more.


The Rugged lives up to its name. Built to military standard this watch is nothing short of bomb proof. It has been created for endurance athletes and adventure seekers. The Rugged houses a built-in 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter making it the perfect companion for hikers and trail runners.


Whereas most GPS watches connect to a single satellite the Rugged connects to multiple (GPS, GLONASS and Galileo) which enables you to track your position even in the most challenging and remote environments. Something that a standard GPS does not offer.


In addition, the Rugged comes equipped with a heart rate monitor, smart notifications and a plethora of preloaded training modes. Plus, you can access ‘Garmin Explore’, a route planning platform that allows you plan routes and download them to your watch. Thus, the Rugged will become your personal guide leaving you to explore and enjoy new environments.


4.5 stars with a whopping 10,000 reviews!


FAQ


Which devices can the Garmin GPS watches be paired with?

All of the watches that feature in this review can be paired with the following devices: Android: 4.4 OS or Later & Bluetooth 4.0 or Later. Apple: iOS 9.0 or Later. Display Size: 23.5 x 23.4 mm


Are the Garmin watches solely for runners or can they be used for other exercise disciplines?

Yes. All of the watches featured in this review can be used for multiple sports – such as cycling, swimming, triathlon, hiking, Alpine walking, Yoga, gym-based training and more.



(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)



Blog Author

Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.

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