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The best Garmin watch 2021: find the right Garmin fitness tracker for you

Garmin
(Image credit: Garmin)

Choosing the best Garmin watch needn’t be hard, as we've rounded up the very best options for every user – whether you're a seasoned road runner, just getting into regular workouts, or love hitting the trails on the weekends. If you’re just starting out you might want to consider the Garmin Forerunner 30 for example, while serious athletes might opt for the Garmin Fenix 6.

There are many, many other great Garmin watches to consider, and for each of them we’ve included an overview, a specs list, and the main good and bad points, so you can easily narrow down the options.

Ultimately, you shouldn’t go too wrong with any of the Garmin watches below, but for a closer look at any, make sure to click through to our full reviews.

And if you’re not sold on any of Garmin’s output, head over to our best smartwatch or best running watch guides for other options. Oh, and check back regularly, because we’ll be updating all these guides whenever new contenders emerge. We've recently had our hands on the new Garmin Forerunner 745, and will be adding it to this roundup if we find it worthy in our long-term tests.

Garmin Fenix 6

(Image credit: Garmin)

1. Garmin Fenix 6

The best Garmin watch overall

Specifications
Screen size: 1.3-inch diameter
Touchscreen: No
Battery life using GPS: 36 hours
Battery life on standby: 14 days
Onboard storage: 64MB
Bluetooth connection: Yes
Smartwatch capabilities: Yes
Multisport: Loads of them
Reasons to buy
+Can't be beaten for outdoor tracking+Accurate activity tracking
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Not the most stylish of watches

The Garmin Fenix 6 is perhaps the ultimate multi-sport smartwatch, and certainly the ultimate one offered by Garmin. Or, well, the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar is anyway, but the entire Fenix 6 range is truly top-end as wearables go.

The Garmin Fenix 6 will track almost any outdoor activity you could possibly want, with GPS along with a heart rate monitor that even works underwater.

GPS locks on fast and works reliably in our experience, battery life is impressive, and the watch feels robust – if bulky.

The high price will put many people off and if you’re not sure you really need the Garmin Fenix 6 then, well, you probably don’t. In that case, consider one of the cheaper options elsewhere on this list, but for serious athletes and adventurers, particularly those who don’t stick to just one sport, the Fenix 6 comes highly recommended.

Read our full Garmin Fenix 6 review

Garmin Forerunner 35

2. Garmin Forerunner 35

The best cheap Garmin watch

Specifications
Screen size: 0.93-inch x 0.93-inch
Touchscreen: No
Battery life using GPS: 13 hours
Battery life on standby: 9 days
Onboard storage: 7 activities
Bluetooth connection: Yes
Smartwatch capabilities: Yes
Multisport: Cycling
Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Heart rate measured at the wrist+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-A touch overpriced-Confusingly replaced

Jumping up another price bracket now, and we’re faced with the Forerunner 35, a more fashion-conscious mid-range unit that's packing some powerful functions.

The most obvious difference between the 35 and all of the watches detailed above is the introduction of Garmin’s Elevate technology, which enables heart rate monitoring at the wrist.

This addition means you don’t have to go to the trouble of donning a chest strap before every run, and it also enables the unit to measure your heart rate throughout the day, building up a detailed profile.

While this is clearly of benefit, the wrist-based heart rate monitoring of this Garmin watch is not without its faults, particularly when it comes to tracking heart rate during interval sessions. 

When compared to the heart rate readings of a traditional chest-mounted monitor, the wrist-based version is a little slow to react to rapid rises and falls in heart rate, although it performs well on steadier runs.

Garmin Forerunner 945

(Image credit: Garmin)

3. Garmin Forerunner 945

The best Garmin watch for serious athletes

Specifications
Screen size: 1.2-inch diameter
Touchscreen: No
Battery life using GPS: 36 hours
Battery life on standby: 14 days
Onboard storage: 16GB for maps, 4GB for music
Bluetooth connection: Yes
Smartwatch capabilities: Yes
Multisport: Dozens
Reasons to buy
+Very accurate GPS and heart rate+Useful full-color maps
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Iffy swim tracking

The Garmin Forerunner 945 is the best of Garmin’s running-focused smartwatches. It’s not quite as feature-packed as the more multi-sport oriented Fenix 6, but if all you care about is running then this should have everything you’ll need and then some.

We found the GPS and heart rate monitor to both be exceedingly accurate in our review, and also praised the Forerunner 945’s full-color maps and up to two weeks of battery life.

And while this is a runner’s watch through and through, that’s not to say it can’t track other sports. In fact, there are tracking tools for over 30 different activities built-in.

But if you’re not primarily running – and at a high level – then you’ll probably be better off with a cheaper or more general-purpose Garmin watch, as this costs a lot, and goes deeper into what it tracks than most casual runners will want or need.

Read our full Garmin Forerunner 945 review

Garmin Forerunner 45

(Image credit: Garmin)

3. Garmin Forerunner 45

The best Garmin for new runners

Specifications
Screen size: 1.04-inch x 1.04-inch
Touchscreen: No
Battery life using GPS: 13 hours
Battery life on standby: 7 days
Onboard storage: 200 hours of data
Bluetooth connection: Yes
Smartwatch capabilities: Yes
Multisport: Cycling
Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Good value
Reasons to avoid
-Limited sport profiles-Plastic-heavy build

Then there's the Forerunner 45, which is a reworked version of the Forerunner 35 and was released in the first half of 2019. There are a few additional wellness features that make the Forerunner 45 stand out compared to the other devices you've read about above.

It comes with everything you'd expect in terms of a heart rate sensor, sleep tracking and a variety of smartwatch features, but the highlight here may be the new Body Battery functionality.

This is a metric that Garmin debuted on the Vivofit 4 and combines stats such as stress, heart rate variability and your general activity data to work out your overall energy levels so you can find the optimum time to train and ensure you're not pushing yourself too hard.

Overall, the Forerunner 45 isn't the most capable Garmin watch on this list but considering it isn't as expensive as some of the devices coming up on this list you may want to go for it.

Read the full Garmin Forerunner 45 review

Garmin Vivoactive 4S

(Image credit: Garmin)

5. Garmin Vivoactive 4S

The best Garmin watch for smaller wrists

Specifications
Screen size: 1.1-inch diameter
Touchscreen: Yes
Battery life using GPS: 5 hours
Battery life on standby: 7 days
Onboard storage: 4GB for music
Bluetooth connection: Yes
Smartwatch capabilities: Yes
Multisport: Dozens
Reasons to buy
+Full GPS for exercise tracking+On-watch music streaming
Reasons to avoid
-No training load monitoring-Spotify integration needs work

Some Garmin watches are pretty utilitarian in design, and even though the face of a Garmin Instinct Solar (below) isn't any larger than a typical smartwatch, its overall look can be overwhelming on a slimmer wrist. 

That's where the Garmin Vivoactive 4S comes in. At just 40 x 40 x 12.7mm, it's essentially a scaled-down version of the smart and versatile Vivoactive 4.

Like its larger counterpart, the Vivoactive 4S boasts excellent fitness tracking with on-board GPS that locks on in just a few seconds and gives an accurate record of your runs and rides, rather than smoothing out the route as some trackers do.

It's smart enough to wear all day, and with sleep tracking and an SPO2 sensor to monitor blood oxygen levels, you'll want to keep it on all night as well.

Garmin Instinct Solar

(Image credit: Garmin)

6. Garmin Instinct Solar

The best Garmin watch for battery life

Specifications
Screen size: 0.9-inch diameter dual display
Touchscreen: No
Battery life using GPS: 30 hours, or 38 with solar
Battery life on standby: 56 days, or unlimited with solar
Onboard storage: 16MB
Bluetooth connection: Yes
Smartwatch capabilities: No
Multisport: Dozens
Reasons to buy
+Remarkable battery life+Super robust design+Innovative dual screen
Reasons to avoid
-Very chunky design

The Garmin Instinct Solar isn't the only watch capable of receiving regular top-ups through its Power Glass screen, but it's definitely the most impressive when it comes to sheer longevity, and can theoretically last indefinitely between charges when in power-saving mode. In real-world use that's unlikely to happen, but a few hours of sunlight mean that even with GPS enabled, you'll be able to use the Instinct Solar for days rather than hours,

Another of the Garmin Instinct Solar's best features is its dual display, which shows contextual information in a small cut-out, making it far easier to navigate the watch's myriad settings and options. In our tests we found it extremely useful, particularly since the Instinct Solar has a frankly enormous number of activity tracking and fitness monitoring options.

The only downside is that it's nor particularly attractive, with a chunky design that would look out of place in the office, but this is a Garmin watch designed for the great outdoors and that robust build means it'll take more than a few knocks when you're hiking, trail running, kayaking, camping or hiking. Tough and extremely practical.

Read our full Garmin Instinct Solar review

Garmin Vivoactive 3

7. Garmin Vivoactive 3

The best Garmin for everyday wear

Specifications
Screen size: 1.2-inch
Touchscreen: : Yes
Battery life using GPS: 13 hours
Battery life on standby: 7 days in smartwatch mode
Onboard storage: 7 timed activities / 14 days activity tracking
Bluetooth connection: Yes
Smartwatch capabilities: Yes
Multisport: Yes
Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Great battery life+Stylish design
Reasons to avoid
-Garmin Pay yet to launch in the UK-Limited iOS integration

The versatile Garmin Vivoactive range offers super-detailed activity tracking capabilities complete with powerful GPS and heart rate sensors that make it suitable for everyday runners who also like to track general activity. 

The third edition, the Vivoactive 3, includes the new Garmin Pay contactless payments platform (UK launch pending) and access to loads of apps (Uber, Accuweather, etc.) and watch faces via the Connect IQ store, not to mention plenty of smartwatch connectivity. 

There are 15 preloaded sport apps and the 5ATM water resistance makes this Garmin watch a perfect swimming companion. With a 13-hour GPS battery life, it also offers far greater longevity than the Forerunner series, and the stainless steel bezels make it one of the more attractive fitness-themed smartwatches out there.

Read the Garmin Vivoactive 3 review

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

(Image credit: Garmin)

10. Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

The Forerunner that offers freedom from your phone

Specifications
Screen size: 1.2-inch
Touchscreen: No
Battery life using GPS: 5 hours
Battery life on standby: Smartwatch mode = 7 days
Onboard storage: 200 hours activities
Bluetooth connection: Yes
Smartwatch capabilities: : Yes
Multi-sport: Yes
Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Offline music storage+Prettiest Garmin yet
Reasons to avoid
-Poor battery life-Deezer / iHeartRadio not enabled

It's certainly not the only Garmin watch capable of playing your favorite tunes, but recent price drops mean the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music gives you the most bang for your buck if your soundtrack is the most important part of your workout. With room for 500 songs, either through offline playlist transfer or downloads, you can leave the phone at home. 

The main draw here is the stylish design, where the stainless steel bezel make this the most attractive (and lightweight) Garmin to strap to your wrist. It's also a very capable multi-sport model too, with only the lack of open-water swimming and triathlon mode missing.

However, we're not fans of this Garmin watch, and would go as far to say it's one of the weakest on the list, thanks to there not being an option to sync music from a streaming source. It was supposed to allow you to do this from Deezer or iHeartRadio but that's not materialized yet.

The battery life is also a bit short - it's fine when running, but as a connected device, it could be a lot better. The 935, which isn't that much more expensive, does nearly everything the 645 can (minus music playback) and wipes the floor with it in terms of battery performance.

Read our full Garmin Forerunner 645 Music review