Whether you’re a runner, a cyclist, a hiker or all three, the best Garmin watch is the perfect wrist companion. Packed with a host of features, these fitness trackers can provide useful feedback and insights to help elevate your training sessions, navigate your way in remote locations, and work flawlessly without charging for days on end.
But if you don’t know what you’re looking for, the sheer number of models Garmin has to offer can be overwhelming. At Live Science, we’ve tested and reviewed almost every watch in the Garmin line-up, to bring you our comprehensive guide to the perfect model for you.
There’s more stripped back, affordable options such as the Vivosmart 5 and Vivomove Sport, right up to the more premium Fenix 7 and Enduro 2. As a brand, Garmin creates some of the best fitness trackers around, and having put these watches through their paces, we can vouch for their quality and performance.
Best Garmin watches
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The Fenix 7 isn’t Garmin’s most expensive watch but it is the mainstream flagship model. If you want the encapsulation of what a Garmin watch is, you probably want a Garmin Fenix 7.
What does it offer over cheaper Garmin fitness watches? It has excellent on-watch maps and enough internal storage for huge amounts of data. No mobile internet required.
The Fenix 7 gets the latest generation of Elevate heart rate tech, introduced in the Venu 2. We were impressed by how well it keeps up with changes in exertion, and how closely it tracks with our benchmark chest strap band.
A Fenix 7 also provides deeper connections to outboard kit than, say, an Instinct 2. It can control a smart turbo trainer, for example.
We found it heavy and bulky for comfy sleep tracking, but there are solutions within the range. The Garmin Fenix 7S is a smaller version, or you can upgrade to the standard-size Fenix 7 with a titanium casing and Sapphire glass. It’s noticeably lighter.
The main point to think about here is whether a Fenix 7 will be overkill. Unless you’re a fitness fiend you may be as happy with a Venu 2 Plus. And aside from maps and a couple of connectivity extras, the Instinct 2 may do the trick.
- Read our full review of the Garmin Fenix 7 (opens in new tab)
Top Garmin watches have always been quite expensive. The Forerunner 255 is made for people who want the same core experience as those pricey watches, but it costs less than a latest-gen Apple Watch.
Those core elements include a neat memory-in-pixel display that only gets clearer outdoors, and is “always on” by design. The Forerunner 255 has the same GPS hardware as the headline Garmin watches, and the same heart rate array.
The Garmin Forerunner 265 was released in February 2023. We are currently in the process of testing it and will update this guide soon.
It also lasts up to two weeks off a charge, and spits out enthusiast stats like VO2 Max and Training Status. This is a serious training watch, at a relatively friendly price.
There are a few compromises and missing features. This is a “polymer” watch, lacking the metal accents seen in the more lifestyle-led Venu 2. It also lacks Garmin’s famously comprehensive golf mode, which offers layouts for courses across the world.
You only get on-watch music support if you buy one of the more expensive Forerunner 255 Music editions, and even then the storage is limited to 4GB. And no members of this family support downloadable maps, although you can see a basic breadcrumb trail of where you’ve been.
Some will miss these extras, but the Garmin Forerunner 255 will ultimately be just as effective an exercise and fitness tracker as the company’s far more expensive watches for a huge number of folks.
- Read our full Garmin Forerunner 255 review (opens in new tab)
For more than five years, the original Garmin Epix was the watch to buy for hikers who needed on-watch maps. You can now get great maps in other watches, so the Epix 2 is best described as a Fenix 7 with a lovely OLED screen.
It’s sharper, bolder and more colourful, and this helps how those maps look on-screen, too. However, after a few weeks of living with the Epix 2, we appreciated its OLED screen most when at home. It makes the Garmin Epix 2 a flashier-looking, more smartwatch-like watch than the Fenix 7. All the main features are the same, though. You get great depth and heart-rate accuracy and GPS that is fast to connect.
Where’s the catch? The Garmin Epix 2 is pricey, starting much higher than the base Fenix 7. Were they priced the same the Epix would be sitting at the top of this list.
One final thing: an OLED screen means the Epix 2 doesn’t last as long as the Fenix 7 in its always-on mode, where the screen stays lit. It lasts around six days between charges, not the two weeks and change you’ll see from the Fenix. Some will find this off-putting, but we review full smartwatches that last a day or so regularly. In that context just under a week of use doesn’t seem remotely off-putting.
- Read our full review of the Garmin Epix 2 (opens in new tab)
The Venu series sees Garmin branch out from its running watch roots to explore smartwatch-like designs. This watch is slimmer, lighter and — as a result — many folks will find it more comfortable than the flagship models. It’s more stylish and reserved than the Garmin norm too.
This watch has a sharp and punchy OLED screen, which looks far more vibrant than the transflective displays of the Forerunner, Fenix and Instinct series, particularly indoors.
Is it a slam dunk for smartwatch tech, then? Not quite. If you want the screen to stay lit all day, you’ll see the battery life halve from 7-9 days to around four days. Not bad for a smartwatch, but plenty of Garmin alternatives last longer.
The Garmin Venu 2 Plus also lacks the full on-watch maps of the Forerunner 955, which does not cost that much more. While you get maps of your runs and hikes in the Garmin Connect app on your phone after the fact, you can’t fully navigate on the watch itself.
It’s less of an adventuring watch as a result, but excels as a wearable to enjoy all through the day, and for exercise around your local area. The heart rate hardware is effectively the same as that of the more expensive Garmin watches, for example.
The Garmin Venu 2 Plus has a few special tricks too, like an on-board speaker and voice support for Google Assistant, Apple Siri and Samsung Bixby. It feels a bit clunkier than interacting with Siri on an Apple Watch, but is a first for Garmin. If those digital assistant smarts don’t appeal you may also want to consider the “non Plus” Venu 2. It’s a bit cheaper, perhaps looks a little less slick, but otherwise has a very similar set of features.
- Read our review of the Garmin Venu 2 Plus model (opens in new tab)
You can probably tell the Garmin Instinct 2 angle from a glance. This is a super-rugged, chunky outdoors wearable for those who don’t care if their watch looks a bit bulky.
In return, the Instinct 2 can last up to a month between charges and has 10ATM water resistance, double that of most other good wearables at the price. It’s hard to beat for long hiking weekends away from a charging point.
However, there are reasons the Instinct 2 only costs half as much as some flagship Garmin. The screen is relatively small and monochrome, although the little inverted porthole is a great way to highlight one particular stat, like your heart rate. We grew to love this little circle.
The Garmin Instinct 2 also lacks full maps support, which is a major bonus in an adventuring watch like this. You can see a “breadcrumb” trail of where you’ve been, but not the surrounding terrain and roads because the watch does not store its own mapping data. It can help you avoid getting hopelessly lost, but won’t let you map routes on-the-fly.
There’s no local music playback either, the Instinct 2 can only control music played on your phone.
We found several reasons to pick another model. But the Instinct 2’s tracking accuracy is great and the sheer low maintenance breeziness of a watch that seems to last forever between charges and is happy to truck on wherever you go should not be underestimated.
- Read our full Garmin Instinct 2S Solar review (opens in new tab)
If you’re set on Garmin as a brand but don’t want a big-faced watch, the Vivosmart 5 is a reliable and affordable band, making it suitable for people looking for something small, light and unobtrusive.
For a small watch, it’s got a lot of good features. It can record your heart rate and steps, and it estimates your stress and breathing rate. It also monitors your sleep overnight and it can look at your blood oxygenation.
However, it doesn’t have its own GPS so it can’t be used for phone-free runs. The screen’s top layer is plastic too, which is much softer than a good toughened glass and more likely to pick up scuffs and scrapes.
Our tester undertook a handful of long workouts with the Vivosmart 5 on one arm and the Garmin Enduro 2 on the other. Each time, both watches recorded the exact same maximum heart rate, and each time there was only a slight disparity in the average heart rate across the session, by a margin of 1-2 bpm. The Vivosmart 5’s step counts seemed fine and the stress tracking feature is good — although we found stress graphs are much better viewed in the Connect app on your phone than the band’s own tiny screen.
Overall? The Garmin Vivosmart 5 performs well for a casual fitness tracker and offers better tracking accuracy and more thoughtful software than the vast majority of trackers of this style.
- Read our full Garmin Vivosmart 5 review
The Garmin Vivomove Sport is a straightforward tracker. A lot of bells and whistles have been stripped out of this model, including in-built GPS. While this does mean that it’s less accurate for measuring distances, it also means that it’s a lot cheaper than the other watches in this list.
And as long as you have a smartphone to pair with the watch, you won’t miss that GPS. The watch can actually calculate distance on its own if you input your average step-to-km count. However, during our testing period, we didn’t find that method particularly accurate – so we’d recommend hooking it up to your phone on a run.
One of the biggest selling points of this watch is its aesthetics. Unlike most Garmin trackers, it doesn’t look out of place when you’re wearing it during working hours. It’s also fairly light at just 33.8g, so you can happily wear it throughout the day and evening without it feeling cumbersome.
It tracks a variety of workouts, including pool swimming and yoga. And unlike a lot of the models in this list, you’re not likely to feel overwhelmed by its features and functionality. As such, we’d recommend this model for anyone who needs a fairly lightweight bit of kit to track general workouts – but it’s probably not the best fit for endurance athletes and marathon runners.
A final note on battery life: while Garmin claims that the model can last for five or six days without charge, during our testing period we could only get it to last for four days max. While this is better than some trackers (like the Apple Watch 7) it’s disappointing when compared to the likes of the Enduro model, also in this list.
- Note: This model is currently being reviewed. When we've finished our testing, we'll update this guide accordingly.
The Forerunner 955 is the watch to check out if you want Garmin’s full-fat features set but can’t afford the more expensive Fenix 7 or Epix 2.
You can see the number one cost-saving measure from the outside. The Forerunner 955 is a plastic watch, or a “fibre-reinforced polymer” one to use Garmin’s own words. You can get many far cheaper watches that look more refined, and the 5ATM water resistance is only half that of the Fenix 7.
There are major benefits to this style, though. The Forerunner 955 is very light, and more comfy for 24/7 wear than the pricier models.
You also get 95% of the substance of those watches. The Forerunner 955 has the latest heart rate and GPS tech, it actually got Garmin’s HRV Status feature before any other model. You can download continents’ worth of map data to the 32GB storage, and use some of that space to store music.
The Garmin 955 is all about substance, and some will actually prefer its low-key style to the often more bullish models higher up the range.
We did notice a few quirks, though. Despite having the same heart rate hardware as the Fenix 7, we had more issues with high exertion reliability in the Forerunner 955. It also uses a weaker version of Garmin’s mapping software, which causes some headaches.
- Read our full Garmin Forerunner 955 review (opens in new tab)
No prizes for guessing what the Garmin Enduro 2 is all about. It’s a watch that lasts an extremely long time between charges, and is aimed at endurance athletes. But we don’t know any who would outlast this thing’s battery.
It's rated for 34 days of use in its "smartwatch" mode, or 46 days if you take use of its solar charging capabilitities. Garmin says it can last up to a year in the power mode that basically turns it into a normal watch.
This is a high-quality, rugged watch with a stainless steel or titanium bezel and a predictably large 51mm wide watch face. A maxed-out battery requires some space. 10ATM water resistance means you can happily use it in the water too.
You can trust its route-tracking stats, and the TrackBack feature lets you see your previous route — handy for trail running and hikers.
However, the Enduro 2 is not the best fit for everyone. For one, it costs a small fortune, just like the priciest Fenix models and the Garmin Epix 2. We find that hard to justify when the Forerunner 955 and base Fenix 7 can do the same things, and cost a lot less.
- Read our full Garmin Enduro 2 review.
Are Garmin watches waterproof?
Garmin applies a water rating to all of its devices, which indicates how water resistant or waterproof they are. An “ATM” is an international standard that shows you the number of “atmospheres” of pressure your device can handle when motionless under water.
The Garmin Forerunner 255 and Garmin Venu 2 Plus come with 5ATM water resistance. This means that they are water resistant to up to 50 meters in depth for 10 minutes, and suitable for shallow-water activities like swimming, snorkeling or diving into water.
More advanced models like the Instinct 2, Fenix 7 and Enduro 2 have 10ATM water resistance. This means they can survive up to depths of 100 meters., and are good for high-speed water sports.
Most of Garmin’s wearables have at least a 5ATM rating, but you can check the brand’s website (opens in new tab) for more information.
How we test Garmin watches
We tested each Garmin watch for its everyday features and fitness tracking capabilities before awarding a rating out of five stars. Features like GPS, smartphone and music compatibility, battery life, and water resistance were all rigorously tested – alongside any of the latest available apps – and every watch also underwent at least one workout to monitor health and fitness tracking stats – like heart rate, VO2 max, or stress testing. We rated each model for value for money and offered up a verdict on what you can expect for your hard-earned money.