Welcome to my best Garmin Forerunner watches review.
I’ve been a devotee of the Church of Garmin since 2015.
Over the last 5+ years I’ve run, biked, and swum tens of thousands of kilometers with 10 different watches.
The cool thing about Garmin is that they literally have the perfect watch for every type of runner or athlete. And some of their best models cost less than $200.
In this review, I’ll break down my favorites according to running level, value, price, and functionality.
Ready to find your dream watch? Let’s get to it…
NOTE: This is a Garmin Forerunner review, but I take it you’re looking for the best Garmin watch overall. Since my goal is to make sure you get a fair and accurate recommendation, I’ve included one non-Forerunner model since that’s what I truly believe is the best value overall. Don’t kill me!
The Best Garmin Forerunner Watches Overview
In a rush?
Here are my top recommendations at a glance:
- The Best Overall: Fenix 6 (Perfect for high-level runners and multi-sport athletes with a mid-range budget).
- The Best for Beginners: Forerunner 45 (The best entry-level sports watch on the market. This is the Ford Model T of running watches.
- The Best Cheap Garmin Watch: Forerunner 35 (If you absolutely need the cheapest watch that won’t break on the first day)
- The Best for Runners: Forerunner 245 (Best mix of value and features for runners)
- Best Elite Watch: Forerunner 945 (Easily the best watch I’ve ever owned)
#1) Fenix 6 - The Best Overall
Why I Love it
- Multi-Sport Profiles: Extra profiles for skiing and mountain biking
- Granular Metrics and Data: Stress levels, sleep, heart rate variability, heat-adjusted VO2 max, and recovery advisor. I used it to train for Triathlons, that’s how detailed it is.
- Recovery Insight: Automatically calculates optimal recovery time based on workout, stress, and other factors so you don’t have to guess and hope for the best.
- Pace Guidance: First of its kind pace guidance tells you when to speed up and slow down for max performance. I usually ignore it, but it’s still cool to have.
- Added Accuracy: The heart rate monitor and GPS are a big step up from cheaper models like the 245, and way more accurate than entry-level models like the 45.
Why You Might Not Love it
- Price: Definitely not cheap by any means, and a big investment for new runners. If you’re on a budget or new to running, then this watch is overkill. You won’t get any value from the high-end features.
- Long learning curve: Most Garmin watches are cut and dry - 4 buttons, a few metrics, and just a handful of sports profiles. Not this one. It took me a while to get the hang of it.
- Not stylish: I love the design. It looks badass. But for some reason, a lot of negative reviews online focus on the “military style” look. I think it looks awesome though.
The Garmin Fenix 6 is one of, if not the best, sports watch money can buy. I’m actually wearing it right now.
It’s got everything runners love about Forerunner models like the 245, plus tons of extra upgrades that no Forerunner can match (besides the 945...more on that later).
I think this is hands down the best watch out there for serious athletes, triathletes, advanced runners and bikers, and even enthusiasts looking for the best value for money.
The best way for me to sum it up for you is this:
The Fenix is like a high-level running watch, plus high-level multi-sport watch, a built-in running coach, and exercise analytics program in a single watch.
So not only is it accurate in terms of heart rate, GPS, and in-workout exertion, it also includes extra sport profiles, animated instructions for different exercises, accurate advanced analytics such as recovery and heat-adjust VO2 max, instant pace adjustment, and even body hydration stats. And it does it all on a large, 260 x 260 screen that clearly displays all your valuable metrics in one place.
I don’t want to sound like I’m overselling it, but it’s really incredible to see what Garmin has fit into this watch:
- Extra sport profiles: Skiing, rowing, mountainbiking_Garmin added a ton more profiles into this watch you can’t find in other models. They even add golf for Christ’s sake.
- Advanced analytics: The Fenix tells you how much water to drink, how well you’re sleeping, how fast or slow to go, and how long to wait to exercise again.
- Accurate workout recommendations: Rather than decide for yourself, the Fenix 6 recommends a personalized workout plan for you based on your previous exertion. I question how accurate it is, but it’s definitely nice to have a suggestion as a baseline.
- Cool extras that I don’t use: It’s cool to know my watch will make surfing videos for me if I ever decide to rid the waves. I definitely won’t, but it’s cool to know.
The only real downsides to the watch are the price and the sheer onslaught of data. I know advanced runners that returned the watch just because it gave them a headache taking all the data into account. But hey, if you really want to reach your peak, you need every ounce of data you can get.
If you’re an outdoor athlete looking for the pinnacle of Garmin watches, this is it. If you need something cheaper, keep reading.
#2) The Garmin Forerunner 45 - The best for Beginners
Why I Love it
- Perfect for New Runners: The 45 has everything a new runner needs and nothing they don’t. You get all the key metrics (calories, distance, heart rate, etc.), sport profiles, some advanced metrics, and Garmin coach, and 0 of the confusing, expensive extras.
- Beautiful Display: The screen is large, clear, and colorful, plus it displays all the key metrics in one place without requiring you to press a button mid run. That’s my biggest pet peeve about the 35.
- Added Safety Features: The 45 automatically alerts an emergency contact if it detects something fishy. The peace of mind alone is worth upgrading from the 35.
- Light and Comfortable: At 36 grams, you might forget you’re wearing it.
Why You Might Not Love it
- Only Beginner to Intermediate: The lack of profiles, advanced metrics, and other features limits your ceiling. It’s great for getting in shape or doing a couch to 5k, but not for serious athletes.
- Limited Features: The 45 is a big step up from the 35, but still very limited in what it can do.
- Questionable HRM: The heart rate monitor is a little janky. I’m not sure it’s as accurate as Garmin claims.
Next up is the best entry-level watch on the market. The Garmin 45 is perfect for new runners, cyclists, or gym goers that want a cheap, simple, and clear watch that’s still reliable.
If this is your first time buying a sports watch, then there’s no reason not to start here.
The 45 tracks all the key beginner metrics you need to progress quickly, and they’re all available in one place. Nothing is every more than a click or two away. You can view everything you need even in mid-run with a quick glance without stopping and switching views.
And it does it all on a very sharp, clear screen without all the confusing numbers you get with more advanced models. So even though it’s limited in what it can do, that’s actually a plus for beginners since it doesn’t overwhelm you with data you can’t use.
I upgraded from the 45 a while ago but my girlfriend still uses it and loves it. Plus it connects to Garmin Coach, which connects you to personalized coaching and extends most of the limited features of the watch.
That’s what’s cool about it actually. It grows as you grow. Then, when you outgrow it, you can just trade it in and upgrade to the 245 or Fenix 6 when you’re ready.
If you’re a beginner or just try to do a couch-to-5k challenge, this is the Garmin watch for you.
#3) The Garmin Forerunner 35 - The Best Cheap Garmin watch
Why I Love it
- Cheap and Easy: You won’t find a cheaper sports watch that actually does anything worthwhile. The 35 manages to at least help a little bit, and it does it for super cheap. Anything below this model is just a timepiece.
- Long Battery Life: No advanced features means no drain on the battery.
Why You Might Not Love it
- It Doesn’t Do Much: Plain and simple. You get calories, distance, and time plus heart-rate (chest strap though). That’s about it.
- Ugly Design: I’m not a fan of the 1984 Apple Home Computer look. It won’t affect your run at all, though.
If gas station ramen noodles make up 85% of your calorie intake, the Garmin Forerunner 35 will help you burn all those carbs for less than $100.
It’s the only cheap watch I recommend at that price. If you’re absolutely on a budget or just want a cheap gift for your friend, child, or family member that’s into fitness, then why not?
OK, joking aside. When the 35 came out years ago, it was THE BIG DEAL in the entry-level sports watch market. Since then, it’s come way down in price and been blown away by all of Garmin’s upgrades. Even the 45 is a major step up.
However, if you just need a basic sports watch for evening runs or gym sessions, you can find a second-hand 35 for under $100, which is nothing for a sports watch.
The 35 is only for running or cycling. If you plan to do anything else, you need to upgrade. If you want to just run for an hour at the gym or in your neighborhood it’s fine and you’ll save $100.
#4) The Garmin Forerunner 245 - The Best Value for Runners
Why I Love it
- The Best Running Location Features: Compass, super accurate GPS, maps, routes_it’s made with distance runners in mind. With the 245, you can go anywhere.
- Great Value: I don’t know how this watch costs as little as it does. It’s really a steal. It’s about half the price of the Fenix 6.
- Detailed Running Training Reports: Tracks improvements, goals, blood oxygenation, and tons more granular metrics to help you get every ounce of juice from your workouts.
- Extra Running Features: Recovery time, pacing plan, race time prediction mechanism_Not sure how reliable all this stuff is but it’s nice to have.
Why You Might Not Love it
- HRM Issues: The HRM is fairly accurate in my experience, but the resting heart rate always felt a bit off to me. Not super important though.
- Not the Best for Other Sports: I don’t recommend the 245 unless you want it solely for running and maybe cycling.
The 245 is hands down the best watch for runners. I don’t think I could have ever run a marathon if it weren’t for this watch.
Imagine a lightweight, high-resolution watch that measures everything from heartbeat to blood oxygenation levels. Now imagine that the watch also has a compass, detailed route tracking, activity reports, and music streaming.
I loved waking up for my morning run, uploading my map, setting a goal, and binging my 80’s metal playlist. I credit the Garmin 245 for helping break through plateaus and keeping me dedicated to my routine every day.
The 245 is basically the 45 plus:
- Higher resolution
- Detailed training reports, including whether you improved from last time or not (I find this very motivating)
- Recovery time
- Race prediction stats
- Automated pacing plan
- Longer battery life
- Better tracking (Maps, compass, accurate GPS, routes)
This watch was designed for runners. I’m mostly a distance runner, but I dabble in cross-training, sprints, and triathlons. I’ve moved on to the Fenix 6 now for the most part because my goals have changed, but if I were to get back to doing solely distance running, I’d wear the 245.
It’s the only running watch you’ll ever need. You’ll pay a few hundred bucks and most likely never buy another running watch again.
#5) The Garmin Forerunner 945 - The Best High-End Watch
Why I Love it
- The Maserati of Sports Watches: The 945 comes with all standard exercise features plus an altitude meter, training load focus, brick workouts, and a lot of other flashy features you don’t find anywhere else.
- The Best Multi-Sport Watch: the 945 supports open water swimming, golf, and more sport profiles than any other watch. It even has built-in functionality for multi-sport training. You can set it to brick workout and it auto-adjusts for real-time switching between sports mid workout. For example, if you want to switch from running to cycling.
- It Has a Goddamn Gyroscope: Seriously, is it a watch or an aircraft? The gyroscope improves rotation sensing, thereby improving gym rep counting and movement for greater distance and exertion accuracy.
- That Special Sauce: No other way to describe it. There’s a lot of incredible extra sauce outside of exercise functionality.. 1,000 song storage capacity, contactless payments, SP02 reading_that’s just the beginning.
Why You Might Not Like it
- The Design is Lacking: I’m not sure why they made the design so “meh”, but the 945 is basically a sports car on the inside that looks like standard government limo on the outside.
- Price: This special sauce doesn’t come cheap. It’s worth every penny, but it will cost a lot of pennies.
What do you get when you combine the world’s best sports watch, a multi-sport analytics machine, an iPod, and smartphone-app functionality?
Yeah, the 945.
There’s a reason most people call this the best sports watch on the market. Garmin basically went fantasy movie hero on this and poured all of its magic into one weapon to create the world’s best running watch.
I’m not trying to oversell this to you. It really has nearly everything Garmin has ever made, just in a lighter, more wearable frame than the more expensive models.
There are some serious upgrades here:
- Workout analysis: The watch breaks down your previous 4 weeks according to aerobic, high aerobic, and low aerobic, then tells you if you’re striking the right balance.
- Auto acclimation: The watch auto adjusts for heat and altitude to accurately reflect how much you’re exerting. Personally, I was always annoyed when my other watches showed the same exertion for running on hills as running on flat ground.
- Granular data: Stress, training load focus, sleep, respiration rate, pulse ox, recovery, body battery_it tracks just about everything.
- Greater accuracy: Everything from the GPS (USA, Russian, European) to Race Prediction (5k, 10k, half-marathon, full-marathon) are far more accurate than previous models. That includes the heart monitor too.
- Sports tracking: The watch ATTEMPTS to count your reps and laps depending on the sport you’re performing. It’s not perfect but it’s better than any other watch I’ve tried. You can always go into Garmin Connect and edit yourself for inaccuracies.
This is the type of watch you get if you’re an elite athlete and need the absolute top training metrics and tracking available.