Eletiofe7 Best Garmin Watches (2024): Which Is Best for...

7 Best Garmin Watches (2024): Which Is Best for Running, Cycling, and More

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The Best for Most People

Garmin Vivomove Trend

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A Basic Fitness Tracker

Garmin Vivosmart 5

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Your Apple Watch Dupe

Garmin Venu 3

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The Best Outdoor Watch

Garmin Epix Pro (Gen 2)

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In certain circles, the word “Garmin” is less a brand name than a category definer, like Q-Tip or Band-Aid. From casual hikers to nationally ranked professional athletes, anyone who loves outdoor sports can glean useful information from the bevy of sensors, safety features, and sophisticated software that come with every Garmin watch. A few other fitness trackers have come close to replicating Garmin’s durability, wearability, and reliability, but the company remains the industry standard. Unlike, say, an Apple Watch, Garmins also work with both iPhones and Android phones. (Also unlike an Apple Watch, Garmin watches still have a blood oxygen sensor.)

Many features that only recently debuted on other fitness trackers, like sleep tracking, blood oxygen measurements, and fall detection, have been on Garmin watches for years. Over a half-dozen years, the WIRED team has tested dozens of Garmin watches. Let us help you decide which Garmin is best for you.

Once you’re set up with your Garmin, check out our other buying guides, like the Best Barefoot Shoes, the Best Workout Headphones, and the Best Hiking Gear.

Updated April 2024: We added the Forerunner 165, the Lily 2, and the Index S2 and added more information about Garmin Connect and the Apple Watch. We also updated links and pricing throughout.

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  • Photograph: Garmin

    The Best for Most People

    Garmin Vivomove Trend

    Are you just starting out on your Garmin journey? Then you probably want one of the entry-level watches from the Vivomove line, which pack most of the Garmin functionality into a stylish smartwatch. This year’s addition to the lineup was the Vivomove Trend (8/10, WIRED Recommends), which introduced wireless charging for the first time. No more rattling around your desk for your proprietary Garmin charger before you go on vacation!

    With the notable exception of onboard GPS—you do have to take out your phone and open the app every time you want to GPS-track an activity—the Vivomove Trend has most of Garmin’s full suite of athletic and health functions. Garmin recently updated the Connect app to be easier to navigate, so that you can more easily check your Body Battery, or the feature that takes into account your sleep, heart rate, heart rate variability, and activity data to gauge your energy levels throughout the day. It has a barometer, accelerometer, altimeter, and Move IQ to auto-detect activities that are as short as a three-minute dash to the doctor’s office. It can track sleep and measure your SpO2, or the level of oxygen in your blood, and it also has incident detection during activity tracking, which means that if you’re working out alone, it can alert your emergency contact if something happens to you.

    ★ An Affordable Alternative: Is $270 is a little too rich for your blood? You can still find the Vivomove Sport ($177) in stock in many places, which has the same good looks and most of the same functions. If you’re anywhere near as absent-minded as I am, though, you may be making up that price difference in replacing your Garmin charging cables when you travel.

  • Photograph: Garmin

    A Basic Fitness Tracker

    Garmin Vivosmart 5

    Would you prefer a Garmin that doesn’t look like a watch at all? The Vivosmart 5 (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is Garmin’s basic fitness tracker whose direct competitor is probably Fitbit’s flagship Charge 6 (7/10, WIRED Recommends). Garmin updated it in 2022, four years after its last iteration. It’s now a much more capable tracker with a host of small but necessary improvements.

    Probably the biggest change is that it now has connected GPS, with a roomier screen that makes it easier to manipulate the touchscreen display. Like the Vivomove Trend, it also shows you your Body Battery and your SpO2 and has Move IQ to auto-detect activities. Unlike the Charge 6, it also has incident detection.

  • Photograph: Garmin

    Your Apple Watch Dupe

    Garmin Venu 3

    The Venu line is very similar to the Vivoactive line in that it’s made to track holistic health stats, but it has a slightly nicer build quality with a full-screen AMOLED, a stainless steel bezel, Corning Gorilla Glass for the lens, and a fantastic two weeks of battery life. You also get upgraded software features. I particularly like waking up to Morning Report, which gives you the day’s information—your Body Battery, the weather, et cetera—and a new sleep coach with nap detection.

    Health-wise, it has Pulse Ox blood oxygen monitoring. You can opt for either spot-checking or continuous checks. It also has Garmin’s FDA-cleared and clinically validated ECG app, which is one of the few ECG wearable apps that actually works on me. (I am fine! No atrial fibrillation here!) Workout-wise, it has GPS, Glonass, and Galileo satellite capabilities, a barometric altimeter, a gyroscope, and an accelerometer for finely tuned workout tracking. You can also now take calls with an onboard speaker and microphone, which is just OK. It sounds low and tinny, and on the other side, my spouse says it sounds like I’m sitting inside a can. However, it works! This is the watch to get if you have an Android phone and want better battery life and a slightly more extensive set of health features than a Pixel Watch 2 (7/10, WIRED Recommends). It still doesn’t have built-in body temperature sensing, though. (You’ll need the optional $40 Tempe sensor for that.)

  • Photograph: Garmin

    The Best Outdoor Watch

    Garmin Epix Pro (Gen 2)

    Every year, Garmin releases updates to its excellent outdoor sports watch lineups, the Epix series and the Fenix series. We have historically loved the Fenix series, but as their price points converge and the Epix’s battery life has improved, I’ve decided that for your money, you might as well get the Epix’s nicer screen.

    We tested the Epix Pro (Gen 2) (8/10, WIRED Recommends), which has a huge AMOLED screen and a titanium bezel, which I still managed to bang up while rock climbing. Even powering this enormous screen, looking up offline maps, finding the nearest coffee shops, paying for my coffee with Garmin Pay, and tracking activities, I still got a whopping two weeks of battery life—a huge improvement over last year’s barely three days. (The Fenix has a solar charging edition, which would extend the battery life even more.) There’s also new software for outdoor sports, including a hill score for showing you how fit you are to tackle hills and an endurance score, which takes into account your running and hiking workouts to see how good you are at covering long distances.

    Finally, there’s also a one-button flashlight, which I liked more than I meant to; the angle and placement is just much more convenient than the usual wrist wearable flashlight that makes you awkwardly angle your wrist to see anything to see anything in a dark tent.

  • Photograph: REI

    Garmin Forerunner 165

    I could probably write a whole separate article on Garmin Forerunners alone. The line is one of Garmin’s oldest and goes all the way from the bare-bones Forerunner 55 ($200) to the spendy Forerunner 965 ($600). They all have different graduated specs and features; for example, the less expensive ones have cheaper displays and no blood oxygen sensors. However, all have access to multiple satellite systems for accurate positioning, as well as access to Garmin’s proprietary training algorithms. Garmin’s suggested workouts are flexible.

    None of the Forerunners are duds, especially if you can find last season’s on sale. However, I think the Forerunner 165 (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is a good compromise for most people. It’s on the more affordable end of the spectrum, but it has everything you need, including a bright AMOLED display, an altimeter for more accurate mileage, and a blood oxygen sensor. I found the sleep and workout tracking to be pretty accurate, the battery life is decent, and I really like Garmin’s Morning Report, which wakes you up with a summary of last night’s stats—how well you slept, the weather, and how ready you are to take on the day. The Music version costs an extra $50 and may be more trouble than it’s worth, but other than that it’s a pretty solid option for even more advanced runners.

  • Photograph: Adrienne So

    The Prettiest Garmin

    Garmin Lily 2

    One factor that makes trackers like the Withings ScanWatch 2 (7/10, WIRED Recommends) and the Google Pixel Watch 2 (7/10, WIRED Recommends) stand out above the crowd is how beautiful they are. Unfortunately, most of the time, chunky, technical Garmin watches just look like, well, chunky, technical Garmin watches. The Lily 2, on the other hand, is very pretty.

    This is the first update to the Lily line that we’ve seen in a few years. It comes in two forms, the Lily 2 and the Lily 2 Classic, the upgraded version which looks more like an analog watch and has Garmin Pay and a nylon or leather band. It’s one of the smallest Garmins and has a pretty short battery life; I got 3 to 4 days of wear out of it. But it also has a Pulse Ox sensor, a pretty beautiful Corning Gorilla Glass lens, a metal bezel, and standard Garmin features like Body Battery and fall detection. It’s the seamlessly functioning Garmin tester that I referenced in my review of the Amazfit Balance.

  • Photograph: Garmin

    My Favorite Garmin Watch

    Garmin Instinct 2 Solar

    When Garmin first debuted the Instinct, I thought no one would want it. I was wrong; it’s now one of Garmin’s most popular trackers because it has excellent backcountry functionality at a much more reasonable price point than the high-end Fenix line. The Instinct has your basic necessary outdoor sensors—the ABC, or an internal altimeter, barometer, and compass with automatic calibration—but it is cheaper, mainly because instead of a gorgeous AMOLED with mapping capabilities, it has a much more basic-looking MIP (memory-in-pixel) display.

    This is the watch I would wear if my job did not force me to keep switching my watch. I love its compact size and advanced functionality that belies its chunky, Tron-like looks. The latest Instinct 2 (9/10, WIRED Recommends), is updated with more colors, a smaller 40-mm bezel, and an updated high-resolution display. If you’re an outdoorsperson, the main reason to get the Instinct is the battery life. Unlike almost every other high-end Garmin, the solar charging panel increases the battery life by about 50 percent. When I tested it, I didn’t have to charge it for three weeks. I was also able to keep myself oriented while snorkeling and not drift off to sea, Open Water-style, so that was nice.

  • Photograph: Garmin

    The Best Bike Computer

    Garmin Edge 840 Solar

    The Edge 840 Solar (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is one of the most powerful cycling computers around—in a package that’s about the size of a deck of cards. It has multiband GNSS support for accurate wayfinding and 32 GB of internal memory for your cycling routes. It also has Garmin’s Power Glass, which extends the battery life up to 60 hours with battery saver on.

    Our writer Steph Pearson noted that this year, the Edge 840 Solar came with a new series of software training features that (with a power meter and a heart rate monitor) basically make it a coach that you can take with you anywhere. Real-Time Stamina gauges your output before you bonk. Cycling Ability maps your output to the course you’re riding. Garmin’s navigation features let you map out routes to and from nearby coffee shops, all without interfering with your ride data. Adaptive Training will even give you personalized custom workouts for the day. In fact, Pearson says the only downside is that it’s so compact it’s sometimes a little hard to see all your maps and data.

  • Photograph: Garmin

    The Best Messenger for Backpacking

    Garmin inReach Mini 2

    No, this isn’t a watch, but it may be handy. Not everyone needs a satellite messenger—and having one does not mean you can call Search and Rescue if you’re scared you won’t make it back before dark. However, if you’re an experienced backpacker or mountaineer, or you frequently hike alone, you probably have an inReach Mini dangling from your backpack. I tested the inReach Mini several years ago and am excited to see an update.

    The inReach Mini 2 is still tiny and light, weighing only 3.5 ounces. It does all the same things the old one did, like two-way text messaging off the grid; calling emergency services; and storing waypoints and maps. However, it now tracks your route automatically, so you can engage TracBack at any time to find your way back to the trailhead. It now utilizes four satellite systems, instead of just three, to find your position even faster than before. As with any satellite messenger, you will have to subscribe to a safety plan to initiate an SOS call, in addition to buying the device itself.

    ★ Alternative: Do you want to be able to send texts and initiate an SOS rescue, but you don’t necessarily need a device small enough to carry for miles? In that case, consider the inReach satellite messenger ($300), which does most of the same things, but is cheaper and a little larger (but not by much!) for your #vanlife. You will still need an inReach subscription plan. If you only go on one or two big trips a year, you might want to consider a personal locator beacon (PLB) instead.

  • Photograph: Garmin

    The Best Smart Scale

    Garmin Index S2

    Yes, Garmin makes all sorts of wearables—but the company also makes a smart scale as well! The Index S2 first came out several years ago, but it’s still the only smart scale that Garmin makes. A color display walks you through six body metrics for up to 16 users, and you can see your weight trend over time on the display. It also connects directly to Wi-Fi and to Garmin Connect.

    Our reviewer Christopher Null is currently updating our guide to the Best Smart Scales, but he found navigating the scale through Garmin Connect to be a little difficult. That may have changed, since the app has been updated. We will update our advice once we have tested again.

  • Photograph: Garmin

    Can’t Find a Watch for Your Sport?

    Other Garmins We Like

    The best part about Garmin sports watches is that they are iterative, they all look basically the same, and they last forever. I have an Instinct from 2018 that still works; slightly older Forerunners and Fenixes are also great. There are also a ton of sports that I haven’t covered. We have a dearth of fly fishermen and divers on staff, but here are a few other options.

    • The Approach S62 for $500: Garmin also has a golf-specific line that I haven’t tested.
    • The Vívofit Jr. 3 for $90:  They also offer a kid-specific line that I haven’t been able to convince my now 8-year-old to wear. (She prefers an Apple Watch instead.)
    • HRM-Pro Plus Strap for $130: A heart rate monitor that you strap around your chest will always be more accurate than a wrist-based one that jiggles around as you run, bike, climb, and fall. This one syncs via ANT+ and Bluetooth to whichever Garmin device you choose. Check out our guide to the Best Heart Rate Monitors for more.
  • Photograph: Garmin

    How to Use a GPS Watch

    Or, Why Is My Run 0.1 Miles Shorter?

    People buy Garmin watches because they want accuracy in their exercise tracking and get very disappointed when it looks like their data is off. However, I give satellite-enabled watches a little leeway for a few reasons. Before you chuck your watch out the window, keep a few things in mind:

    • Is there a lot of tree cover? As counterintuitive as it may sound, watches that pinpoint your location by pinging the location off a satellites (which, may I remind you, are in space) have trouble when there’s stuff in the way. That includes everything from tall buildings in a city, to trails with lots of trees. This is also a reason why your watch might have trouble connecting when you start an activity—step out from under your porch or out from under the power lines.
    • Does the watch have an altimeter? The hypotenuse on a triangle is longer than the bottom side. If your watch does not have an altimeter (for example, the entry-level Forerunner 245 does not), your distance measurements may be slightly off.
    • Did you pause? You might have different distance measurements than someone you were running with because no person runs the exact same way or stands in the exact same spot. Did you pee in the bushes? Did someone walk out farther to check out the view? Unless you paused your route in the exact same place at the exact same time, the reading won’t be exactly alike.

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