The 5 best Garmin watches to buy in 2023
Few brands are as synonymous with outdoor sports as Garmin. You’ll find these fitness trackers and smartwatches on dozens of wrists at any 5K, marathon, or Ironman. You’ll also find Garmin devotees among divers, thru-hikers, golfers, kiteboarders — you name it. But these devices aren’t just for athletes. The company’s made significant strides in its lifestyle offerings, so regardless of your fitness level, there’s a Garmin for everyone.
If you’re coming from a more traditional smartwatch, Garmin’s core strengths lie in fitness, GPS, adventuring, and durability. These are hardy devices that are meant to withstand the elements and last weeks on a single charge. Several models come with offline maps, advanced navigational features, and more training metrics than any other platform. And although many wearable companies have begun rolling out subscriptions, Garmin has publicly stated it has no intention of charging its users extra. That’s a good thing since Garmin devices tend to be on the pricier side.
Garmins aren’t too shabby on smarts, either. While more fitness-focused than anything from Apple, Google, or Samsung, there’s enough to get you the basics like notifications and then some. For example, most Garmins have fall detection and safety features, and the Venu 2 Plus recently got an FDA-cleared EKG feature. (You’ll need a phone on hand, however, as only one Garmin model has cellular connectivity.) Many Garmin devices also support offline music playback and come with a small third-party app ecosystem.
There are a lot of Garmin watches to choose from. No, seriously, there are six major lineups, and each has a multitude of models. But no worries — I test several Garmins every year and can help point you in the right direction.
The best Garmin for runners
Sizes: 42mm w/ 18mm straps, 46mm w/ 22mm straps / Weight: 39g (42mm), 47g (46mm) / Battery life: up to 15 days (42mm), 13 days (46mm) in smartwatch mode / Display type: OLED touchscreen / GPS: All-systems GNSS and dual-frequency GPS / Connectivity: Bluetooth, Ant Plus, Wi-Fi / Water resistance: 5ATM / Music storage: 8GB
Garmin has many running watches, and a lot of them are great. But the Forerunner 265 or 265S (if you have petite wrists) strikes an excellent balance between price, feature set, battery life, and a vibrant OLED display.
That said, the Forerunner 265 / 265S is a bit of an odd duck. It comes a mere nine months after its predecessor, the Forerunner 255, and is, in many ways, pretty much the same watch. The main difference is the 265 has an OLED display compared to the 255’s memory-in-pixel screen. Usually, that means worse battery life, but in this case, we got about a week on a single charge with the always-on display enabled. Without it, you can get up to 15 days. Given that OLED is easier to read and just, well, looks nicer, that gives the 265 lineup an edge over the 255.
The 265 also has dual-frequency GPS (also known as multi-band). The gist is you get much more accurate maps in challenging environments like cities and dense forests because you can access both the L1 and L5 satellite frequencies. And even with dual-frequency GPS enabled, you still don’t lose a whole lot of battery life. I wore it during a half marathon with that and the AOD enabled, and I still had over 80 percent battery by the time I got home. This is also an excellent price, as the majority of multi-band GPS watches cost well over $600.
It doesn’t have all of Garmin’s training features, but it’s got what you’ll need to run anything from a 5K to a full marathon. That includes a Race Predictor, which gives you an estimate of what your best time would be based on your actual training. You can also use PacePro to figure out your pacing strategy for a race. You also get Garmin’s Training Readiness feature to help gauge load and recovery, Garmin Coach plans, and a host of running form metrics. It also supports offline music and safety features like fall detection.
The only thing the Forerunner 265 / 265S “lacks” is advanced mapping. (It still has trackback, point-to-point navigation, and real-time breadcrumb trail support, however.) If you frequently hike or run trails, you may want to consider the next step up with the Forerunner 965. The 255 is also an option if you’d like to save an extra $100 and don’t mind a less fancy screen.
And while the Forerunner 265 / 265 is geared toward runners, it’s a capable training watch for triathletes, cyclists, hikers — really anyone who wants a feature-rich, lightweight, and durable multisport watch without paying top-of-the-line prices.
The best Garmin for endurance sports
Sizes: 7S: 42mm w/20mm straps, 7: 47mm w/22mm straps, 7X: 51mm w/26mm straps / Weight: 7: 79g (Standard, Solar), 73g (Sapphire Solar) 7S: 63g (Standard, Solar), 58g (Sapphire Solar) 7X: 89g (Solar and Sapphire Solar) / Battery life: 7: up to 18 days, 22 w/solar 7S: up to 11 days, 14 w/ Solar, 7X: up to 28 days, 37 w/solar / Display type: MIP touchscreen / GPS: All-systems GNSS and dual-frequency GPS on Sapphire Solar editions / Connectivity: Bluetooth, Ant Plus, Wi-Fi / Water resistance: 10ATM / Music storage: up to 32GB
As Garmin’s main flagship, the Fenix 7 lineup (starting at $699.99) will get you everything Garmin has to offer (except for an OLED display). Quick note: I’ll be referring to the lineup as a whole because there is a metric crapton of options that mostly differ in design and size than function.
Not only does the Fenix 7 come in three sizes (42mm, 47mm, 51mm), but it also comes in three editions (Standard, Solar, Sapphire Solar). The gist is the Solar and Sapphire Solar editions come in nicer materials (titanium and a sapphire display versus stainless steel) and support solar charging for extra long battery life.
We’ll be here until I’m 84 years old if we dive deep into everything the Fenix 7 can do, but trust me when I say you get all the fitness data you’ll be able to handle, including offline maps and navigational features. (You can peruse the extremely lengthy list of features here.)
As for what’s new, here are the cliff notes. With the Fenix 7 lineup, Garmin introduced real-time stamina tracking, touchscreen navigation in addition to buttons, and a new mapping feature called Up Ahead that gives you a heads-up to points of interest like aid stations. Every version has all-system GNSS support, while the Sapphire Solar Editions add on multi-band GPS. Unique to the 51mm 7X is a hands-free flashlight to help you see during nighttime hikes or training sessions.
Battery life will always depend on your individual usage and, in the case of the Fenix 7 lineup, whether or not you get models with solar charging. That said, the standard, smallest 7S has the shortest battery life, at 11 days on a single charge. Suffice to say, these are watches that don’t need frequent charging.
The reason you’d get the Fenix 7 over any other Garmin is that you want that stellar battery life along with all the bells and whistles Garmin has to offer, as well as offline mapping capability. Another benefit of the Fenix 7 lineup is that you can pick a version that best fits your wrist. You could opt for the $899.99 Garmin Epix 2, which is basically the same watch plus an OLED display. However, not only does it start at a higher price — it only comes in a single 47mm size.
The best Garmin on a budget
Sizes: 40mm w/20mm straps / Weight: 19g / Battery life: up to 5 days / Display type: “hidden” OLED touchscreen / GPS: Tethered GPS / Connectivity: Bluetooth, Ant Plus / Water resistance: 5ATM / Music storage: N/A
What I love most about the Vivomove Sport is it doesn’t look like what most people expect from a Garmin. It’s a hybrid smartwatch, which means it looks like a regular watch but can track fitness and deliver notifications. Garmin’s hybrids are also unique in that they all use an OLED display that stays hidden until you need it.
This is best suited for a casually active person who wants style and value in a lightweight package. Think wellness, more so than fitness. It gets you continuous heart rate monitoring and blood oxygen level monitoring and can even provide abnormal heart rate alerts. You also get access to more in-depth metrics like respiration rate, fitness age, stress, and Body Battery, which is Garmin’s tool for visualizing how well-rested you are. For smart features, you get all the basics, like notifications, alarms, and timers.
The Sport isn’t quite as full-featured as some other Garmins you’ll find on this list. For instance, you’re giving up built-in GPS in favor of tethered GPS through your phone. There are no contactless payments, nor is there a microphone or speaker for taking calls on the wrist. But this is a budget pick, and you get a lot considering this is an entry-level gadget that could pass for a Swatch at a glance.
I don’t love that the battery life is short for a hybrid at around three to four days. Even so, that’s still much better than what you’ll get on an Apple Watch or Wear OS 3 watch. If you’re willing to spend about $100 more, the $269.99 Vivomove Trend has more chic materials, gets you more screen real estate, and wireless Qi charging. Otherwise, this is a great lifestyle wearable that can serve as a classier alternative to your typical fitness band.
The best Garmin to replace a Fitbit
Sizes: 40mm w/20mm straps / Weight: 38g / Battery life: up to 11 days / Display type: OLED touchscreen / GPS: All-systems GNSS / Connectivity: Bluetooth, Ant Plus / Water resistance: 5ATM / Music storage: 4GB (for Music Edition)
If you were disappointed by the Fitbit Sense 2 and Versa 4, the Venu Sq 2 is the next best thing (and, in some ways, better).
At a glance, the Venu Sq 2 could easily be mistaken for an Apple Watch. On the wrist, you’ll notice it’s made of plastic, but it still looks quite chic and extremely lightweight. The screen is bright, easy to read, and looks better than any Versa or Sense ever did.
The feature set is also great for the price, with built-in GPS, a ton of watch faces, emergency safety features, and contactless payments. If you pay $50 more for the Music Edition, you’ll also get about 500 songs worth of storage, but we wouldn’t recommend it. This doesn’t have cellular connectivity and therefore isn’t truly standalone. You’ll most likely be carrying your phone with you anyway.
As for health features, the Venu Sq 2 basically has everything you’d get on a Versa or Sense smartwatch but with Garmin’s treasure trove of metrics as well. That includes heart rate tracking, blood oxygen tracking, intensity minutes (how much moderate exercise you get in a week), stress tracking, hydration tracking, respiratory rate, period tracking, and Garmin’s recovery feature, Body Battery. As far as fitness goes, you also get access to Garmin Coach, which provides free 5K, 10K, and half marathon training plans. You love to see it.
Another big leg-up Garmin has over Fitbit? None of these features or metrics are locked behind a paywall.
The best Garmin smartwatch
Sizes: 43mm w/20mm straps / Weight: 51g / Battery life: up to 9 days / Display type: OLED touchscreen / GPS: GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO / Connectivity: Bluetooth, Ant Plus, Wi-Fi / Water resistance: 5ATM / Music storage: 8GB
Garmin has shored up the smarts in its watches over the past few years, but none does this quite as well as the Venu 2 Plus.
The 43mm watch is the only one in Garmin’s arsenal that has voice capabilities thanks to a microphone and speaker. You can take calls directly from the wrist, as well as issue commands to your phone’s digital assistant via Bluetooth. It’s not the same as having Siri, Bixby, Amazon Alexa, or Google Assistant built directly into the watch, but it’s a clever workaround that works well for hands-free control. The Venu 2 Plus also supports safety features like fall detection and live tracking, as well as contactless payments.
Like other OLED Garmins, the Venu 2 Plus’ display is both vibrant and easy to read. As for health and fitness, you get a nice mix between basic and more advanced features and metrics. It leans a bit more on the wellness and health side of things, with intensity minutes, blood oxygen monitoring, sleep tracking, period tracking, abnormal heart rate alerts, and stress tracking. As for training, you still get built-in GPS, VO2 Max, heart rate zones, respiration rate, and downloadable training plans via Garmin Coach. The Venu 2 Plus also has the distinction of being the only Garmin to currently support FDA-cleared EKG readings for AFib detection.
This is a stacked feature set for the price, which isn’t that far off from the GPS-only 41mm Apple Watch Series 8. It’s much more polished than Fitbit’s smartwatches and offers more in-depth training capabilities than the Google Pixel Watch or Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5. It also outlasts all of the above when it comes to battery life, which is around a week on a single charge.
This is the Garmin if you want the platform’s in-depth training without sacrificing the productivity of a smartwatch. The main thing it’s lacking is a robust third-party app ecosystem, but it’s got Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer for offline listening. It’s also a good option if you’re fed up with MIP displays and want a smarter Garmin rather than a full-on smartwatch.