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What's the best Garmin running watch? Check out our 4 favorites
Garmin has a long history in the running watch space, dating all the way back to the Forerunner 101. Choosing the right Garmin running watch comes down to a few basic questions:
- How advanced of a running companion do you need?
- How much route guidance do you want from your device?
- Are there any smart features you are hoping to utilize?
- Beyond running, what activities do you plan to use your device for?
We’ve reviewed the most popular wearables on the market to narrow down users’ choices. Keep reading to see our finds for the best Garmin running watch you can buy in 2022.
The Garmin Forerunner 955 is the best Garmin running watch available
The Forerunner 955 is Garmin’s top-of-the-line running watch. Launched in June 2022, it’s the most luxurious running-focused device from the company yet. Most importantly, it’s packed to the brim with features and tools. In fact, while reviewing it, we determined that it might be more watch than most users even need. However, if the price isn’t a concern and you want the best of the best, you will not be disappointed by this purchase.
First and foremost, the Forerunner 955 utilizes a Power Glass solar charging lens to provide users with up to 49 hours of battery life in GPS mode, (or 20 days of use in smartwatch mode). This isn’t the first or only Garmin watch to offer solar charging, but it is the first running-focused one. You’ll need to spend roughly three hours in the sun to capture solar charge, which we managed pretty easily during our review period. Likewise, we were able to eke out just about 20-days of use while putting the device through its paces.
The Forerunner 955 and 955 Solar might be overkill for some athletes, but for those interested in Garmin's most advanced tracking features and activity modes, they're the top of the line.
The flagship Forerunner also now features an always-on, full-color touchscreen display so if touch interaction is your personal preference, you’re in luck. If not, you can still utilize Garmin’s traditional button-based navigation. Plus, the overall case build is high quality with an elevated design. It does only come in one size though and might be a bit bulky for some wrists. It’s also only available in two color options, black or whitestone, so if a funky look is your goal you’ll want to invest in third-party bands to add some flavor.
Under the hood, the device is a show-stopper. Out on the road, it equips runners with multi-band GPS, built-in maps, and new real-time stamina insights to track your output while your run. We found its location tracking excellent even when mapping training sessions among tall buildings. You can also download detailed maps to navigate your runs or outdoor bike rides. Our reviewer found this especially helpful for using the watch while traveling to a new city. The Topo Active maps populate with points of interest and navigation suggestions to help you get the most out of your run when in an unfamiliar place.
Running also isn’t all this watch is built to track. Users can utilize 30 tracking types, including everything from walking and biking to bouldering and pickleball. In testing, our team dove into hiking, golf, and bouldering (in addition to running) and was impressed by the accuracy of each. If you are a golfer, you’ll also be blown away by the more than 42,000 courses you can also download right to your watch.
Other highlights include training readiness to help you determine which workout you are best prepared for each day, a morning report, and a new race day widget. Morning report in particular taps into the device’s fourth-generation Elevate heart rate sensor to help users learn the most about their sleep, recovery, and training potential.
Likewise, the Forerunner 955 provides Garmin’s useful Body Battery metrics to help athletes determine their energy levels. Body Battery recharges overnight depending on your sleep quality and drains throughout the day, depending on your activity. It is presented on a scale of one to 100. This is different from Training Readiness, which relies on your recovery stats, HRV data, and data from your previous workouts to rate your training potential on a scale from Detraining to Overreaching.
We found Training Readiness to be slightly more useful for training prep but only because Body Battery doesn’t offer much follow-up information beyond a basic score. Both of these features are in addition to all the best Garmin has to offer in terms of advanced training and running metrics as well as all of the most popular Garmin health and wellness tools.
As mentioned, the Forerunner 955 only comes in one size option. However, we found that the 1.3-inch display is the perfect size to follow turn-by-turn directions on long runs or rides and to utilize all of the device’s smart features. Smart features include notifications as well as music controls, storage for over 2,00o songs, and NFC support for Garmin Pay. Forget running with a wallet or phone, this device puts everything you need right on your wrist.
In short, this is the most feature-packed running watch you’ll find from Garmin, and it’s easily our top pick. However, it does come at a cost. If you are looking for a powerful GPS watch without a premium price, the Forerunner 255 offers many of the same sport modes and features. You’ll just have to sacrifice solar charging, a touchscreen, and onboard mapping. Meanwhile, If you’re a dedicated runner looking for the best tool you can get, the Forerunner 955 is well worth its price.
What makes it stand out
- Solar charging: For a watch that runs as long as you do, this device grabs energy from the sun to supplement its already extensive battery life.
- Holds nothing back: The Forerunner 955 is an all-inclusive package including upgraded sensors, loads of advanced features, and storage for over 2,000 songs baked right into the base model.
- Activities for days: If you do ever burn out on running, you’ll find plenty more activities to track on the Forerunner 955, including great choices for cross-training and other fun niche sports.
- Garmin Pay: No one wants to pocket their phones for a ride or run and with this watch, you won’t need to pack your wallet either.
- Downloadable directions: Clock miles on routes new and old with maps you can download right to your wrist. These extra navigation tools are great for long-distance training and marathoners.
Best of the rest: 3 other Garmin running watches worthy of your consideration
If money is no object, the Garmin Forerunner 955 is our top recommendation. It’s the brand’s most feature-packed running watch available and offers a touchscreen display plus solar charging. However, if budget is a concern, or if you don’t need something quite so extensive, Garmin has plenty of other options worth strapping on for a run.
- Garmin Forerunner 255: The best mid-tier Garmin running watch is the Forerunner 255 due to its all-around solid feature set and slightly lower price point.
- Garmin Forerunner 55: Garmin’s Forerunner 55 is the company’s best cheap running watch. It packs onboard GPS, a two-week battery life, and even more running features for under $200.
- Garmin Fenix 7: Garmin’s everything but the kitchen sink watch, the Fenix 7 series is the best rugged option for runners who plan to off-road.
The Garmin Forerunner 255 is the best mid-tier Garmin running watch
At a more approachable price point sits the mid-level Garmin Forerunner 255. Launched in June 2022, it brought some much-needed updates to the fan-favorite Forerunner 245 including music support and additional case sizes. It’s the perfect device for anyone who is serious about running but doesn’t need the absolute top-of-the-line.
Starting with its design, the Forerunner 255 offers shoppers options. Runners with petite wrists can opt for the 41mm Forerunner 255S, while the standard model measures in at 46mm. The former comes in Light Pink or Powder Gray and the latter comes in Tidal Blue or Slate Gray. You can also opt for a Music option in either size in Whitestone or black colorways. We tested the Forerunner 255 Music and found it comfortable for all-day wear as well as for sleep tracking.
All models offer impressive battery life and, like most devices in the Forerunner lineup, the 255 series boasts a notably accurate GPS. Our reviewer was able to track about two weeks’ worth of training sessions without needing a charge and recorded ten different routes. The watch had no issues tracking his location, even in heavy tree coverage. Plus, the added barometric altimeter and gyroscope offer more accurate details than ever before for data such as elevation.
Read also: The best running watches you can buy
We were further impressed by the watch’s heart rate accuracy which is recorded by the same fourth-generation Elevate heart rate sensor as Garmin’s more expensive offerings above. In testing, our reviewer’s data averaged within 0.01 bpm of his Polar H10 chest strap. This is a substantial upgrade compared to the nearly three-year-old sensor on the previous generation.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before you can worry about accuracy, you just want a watch that can track your favorite activities. Here again, this device delivers. The Forerunner 255 offers more than 30 sport profiles as well as Garmin’s triathlon feature. If you are training for a multi-sport event you can switch activities with a single button push without a blip in your recording.
You will also find useful training and recovery tools on this watch including Body Battery and Morning Report. Using raw HRV data from the aforementioned Elevate heart rate sensor, Garmin helps you determine the best workout for your body on a given day. Our reviewer found it adjusted well to his needed rest days, modifying his planned training schedule based on his rest and performance.
We couldn’t find much to complain about when testing this device. The five-button navigation can be overwhelming for anyone new to Garmin, but even our reviewer got used to it by the end of his testing period. The weight of the watch also takes a little getting used to at 49g or 39g, (depending on which size you choose). But if neither of these minor adjustments sounds daunting, this is a great pick. In short, if you are hoping for many of the best tracking features of the Forerunner 955 at a lower price tag, this is the pick.
What makes it stand out
- Plenty of options: The Garmin Forerunner 255 is more versatile than ever with multiple case sizes, colors, and optional Music features.
- New and updated sensors: Compared to its predecessor, the watch offers a much better heart rate accuracy, plus a gyroscope and barometric altimeter.
- Grab a snack mid-run: With new NFC support for Garmin Pay, the Forerunner lets you leave your phone and wallet behind, even if you plan to make a pitstop.
The Garmin Forerunner 55 is the best cheap Garmin running watch
The best cheap option, the Garmin Forerunner 55 builds on its predecessor, the outgoing Forerunner 45 series. It won’t offer the full range of Garmin’s toolbox, but it is the perfect watch if you’re looking for something compact and affordable. To cut down costs, the device simply focuses on Garmin’s core features.
Most importantly, runners will find all the essentials on the Forerunner 55. This includes a standalone GPS so you don’t have to pack your phone out on the route, plus tracking for common health metrics and VO2 max estimates. GPS accuracy is excellent and kept up nicely with similarly-priced competition in testing. It isn’t quite as accurate as say, the Forerunner 955, but that’s to be expected at such a lower cost. Likewise, the watch’s Elevate heart rate sensor also performs well compared to the Coros Pace 2. It won’t take readings as often as pricier devices but we found few significant variables between the 55 and an Apple Watch or even a chest strap. In other words, this is an older generation sensor than those of the other devices on this list, but it still provides great data.
The Forerunner 55 also extends battery life to two weeks, a marked upgrade from the Forerunner 45 which only offered seven days. The design also saw an upgrade and is now similar to that of the Forerunner 245. We were very pleased to see Garmin adopt its quick-release bands for the line so you no longer need any tools to swap out your look. The display can be a bit blotchy at times but nothing we found completely deterring.
Running-orientated features include the usual suspects plus cadence alerts, Race predictor, and PacePro. As far as smartwatch features, you’ll find notifications plus safety features. There isn’t any music storage on this option but there are music controls. Admittedly, this is a device that’s light on smarts, so if those are a priority, we’d suggest looking at the Apple Watch SE. Of course, that idea is a bust if you are set on ample battery life.
In that same vein, compared to the competition at this price range the Forerunner 55 does offer more advanced sleep tracking, including overnight respiration tracking. Unfortunately, we found it struggled to totally nail our data during testing. For a more accurate device in the sleep tracking arena, we’d direct shoppers to the Fitbit Versa 3.
Other than those few shortcomings, this is a great pick at a great price. The Garmin ecosystem is extensive and the well of data runners can access with this device is quite deep. If you are particularly interested in diving into the Garmin-specific running features available to runners, this is the best way to dip a toe in the pool.
What makes it stand out
- Value, period: At $200 this device is a home run. It’s a reliable running companion and a great entry point into Garmin’s ecosystem.
- Accuracy (even at a good price): Garmin’s GPS accuracy can’t be overstated and that applies to even its cheaper devices. Adding built-in GPS to the Forerunner 55 brings so much to this lineup.
- It keeps going and going and going: With about double the battery life of its predecessor, the Forerunner 55 will keep up with any training schedule. Two weeks of juice is a great stat at this price point, especially with advanced sensors running in the background.
The Garmin Fenix 7 Pro is the Garmin running watch for off-roading
If you find yourself on the trails just as much as the track, you might consider the Garmin Fenix 7 Pro. Garmin’s multisport Fenix 7 lineup packs Garmin’s most popular running metrics and capabilities but has even more features for hikers and general outdoor enthusiasts. It also offers solar charging though, it’s worth noting that you’ll need a certain lifestyle to get the most out of its solar capabilities. Our initial review took place in a cold, Illinois winter where harnessing three hours of sunlight proved tricky.
The Fenix 7 also boasts the first touchscreen display to be found on the Fenix line. We found it very responsive and especially useful for scrolling through long menus and data sets. Garmin also had the foresight to mitigate accidental screen presses so the watch automatically disables touchscreen support during activities. You can also manually disable it with a long press of the top right and bottom left buttons.
In general, the design of this watch is intentional and durable. It’s a rugged device for active users who don’t want to worry about a cracked screen or scratches. Our only real complaint while testing was that its heart rate sensor sometimes struggled, especially in cold weather. GPS accuracy, however, is right on target. With multi-band GNSS, the Fenix 7 series can access multiple satellite frequencies at one time so you always have the most accurate location tracking available. During testing on a long, partially obstructed hike, it outperformed both the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Garmin Venu 2.
Also read: The best tactical watch you can buy
Battery life is also commendable. With all the device’s extra sensors turned on for testing, we still reached about 20 days of usage (just short of Garmin’s 22-day claim). If you’re able to tap into solar charging you’ll be able to recover even more. Note though, that there are a lot of sensors you can and may enjoy tapping into. In addition to tracking dozens of sport modes, daily metrics, sleep, and SpO2, the Fenix 7 also offers plenty of advanced running and training features including real-time stamina and Garmin’s useful Up-Ahead feature. You’ll also find familiar favorites such as Fitness Age as well as Body Battery and Health Snapshot.
While the device may be big on features, the line is actually available in small(ish) sizes, so there should be a good fit for every athlete. We mentioned above that the Forerunner 255 offers shoppers options. The Fenix 7 series takes this sentiment to the extreme. Available in three sizes, plus specialty models in each size, flexibility abounds in this lineup. The three available sizes are the Fenix 7S (small), Fenix 7 (large), and Fenix 7X (extra large). All three models are available with solar charging capabilities, though you’ll only get a flashlight on the Fenix 7X.
The Fenix 7 series is expensive. It’s Garmin’s everything-you-ever-wanted watch and that comes at a price. If you want the Fenix experience at a lower price point, the Fenix 6 series is still a great lineup. Garmin does well to roll back many of its best features to older generations.
What makes it stand out
- More than you can imagine: This is the watch for runners who take training beyond the pavement. It is absolutely packed with features and sport profiles and is built for all terrain.
- Excellent fitness and health tracking: Garmin’s top-of-the-line offerings include the company’s most accurate health and fitness tracking sensors, and its entire suite of features and tools. If there’s a metric to be tracked, this watch probably tracks it.
- Something for everyone: With three different sizes to choose from plus multiple solar and sapphire solar models, there’s a watch for everyone in this lineup no matter your wrist size.
What to look for in a Garmin running watch
Shopping for your first Garmin running watch can be a bit overwhelming. To start, many of the options share a core set of great features. GPS and battery life should be obvious priorities, but you’ll also want to determine what your interests are in terms of extra tools and specs. Do you need dedicated route guidance? What about smart features such as voice assistance? Consider the following:
Type of GPS matters
Built-in GPS is a no-brainer for runners. If you settle for a device with connected GPS, you need to pocket your phone out on the road or trail. Relying on your phone will also likely mean less accuracy. Since GPS is a specialty of Garmin, it’s worth grabbing a device with Garmin’s powerful capabilities baked in.
Route guidance is helpful but not a dealbreaker
Higher-end running watches offer additional navigational features such as built-in maps and route guidance. These can be important tools for triathlon runners or anyone regularly training for long-distance events. However, forgoing these features might help shoppers save some cash. If you are someone who typically runs the same few favorite routes, you may decide to pass.
Think through cross-training
On the other hand, don’t overlook sport mode variety. If you are interested in tracking more workouts beyond running, a full library of trackable activities might be of higher importance.
Battery life is a big-ticket item
The last thing you want is a watch that runs out of juice before you do. Extensive battery life is key, especially for long-distance runners. Now Garmin even offers a few options with Solar charging in the Forerunner 955, Fenix 7, and the Instinct 2 series.
Heart rate data and other health features
For the best training and recovery data, choose a device with an optical heart rate sensor. Accurate heart rate data can help you maximize your performance while keeping cardio health a priority.
Find the best buy for your budget
You don’t have to spend a fortune to own a powerful device. On the other hand, you can find plenty of specialty features on Garmin’s top watches if money isn’t a concern.
Why you should trust us & how we test
Android Authority has a long history with wearable devices, spanning back at least as far as the Pebble in 2013. Since then, we’ve reviewed hundreds of wearables and learned a lot along the way. Our team of dedicated health and fitness experts tests dozens of new wearables and fitness trackers every year, but only the very best make it onto recommendation lists like the one you are reading. How do we determine what’s worthy? When testing we have two main focuses in mind: user experience and accuracy. To that end, we start by utilizing the device as a daily driver:
- We wear the product 24/7, (except for charging time), to evaluate its day-to-day performance, capabilities, and comfort.
- We note everything from strap materials and display brightness to navigation and battery life.
- We tap into as many features as possible, leaving no stone set unturned.
- We set alarms, chat with voice assistants, and fire off texts, follow breathing exercises, sweat through workouts, and much more.
- We test sleep tracking accuracy and wear the watch to bed and compared its data to other products well-regarded for their sleep analysis.
- We test SpO2 sensors against other wearables or a pulse oximeter.
- For heart rate monitoring, we equip chest straps to test the device’s accuracy and push the sensor through interval training workouts.
- We also test GPS accuracy on outdoor runs and rides wearing the device, along with a notably accurate GPS device, to see how the review unit performs.
- When possible, we strap on a comparable device from the current market to analyze how the review subject stands up to similarly-priced competition.
- We dig into the companion app. We look to see how the data is organized and analyzed and evaluate the ease of use.
As you can see, we don’t mess around! There is a ton of variety in smartwatches and trackers, and reviewing each product is quite nuanced. A Garmin Fenix 7 review looks a lot different from a Xiaomi Mi Band review, for example. So, we also determine the wearable’s place in the market in terms of form factor, target audience, and budget. Then, we check to see if the device is missing anything important that users might expect to see and verify that it lives up to its brand’s (measurable) claims.
You can trust that our experts put every device through its paces. Typically, our review period lasts about a week, but we can sometimes extend it to weeks or months for especially feature-packed devices. We also revisit watches and trackers regularly to ensure they still hold up through the test of time.
Yes. All of the devices listed above are compatible with Android and iOS smartphones.
While no device is completely waterproof, most Garmin watches are water resistant up to 5ATM, including those on this list.