Garmin GPS Watch Buyer’s Guide and Feature Comparison Charts

The Garmin Forerunner™ series is Garmin’s primary GPS watch product line for runners and triathletes and is considered the industry standard for running watches. I have been using Garmin watches since 2009, and I recommend them to my coaching clients.

While other watches exist and many do a great job, the following watches are among the best-running watches available.

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.”

Which running watch should I buy?

This is a common question I receive as a running coach. The correct answer is, “it depends”.

Choosing the right watch depends on what features you would like to have, how you plan to use the watch, and your budget.

Generally speaking, the average runner does not need a high-priced, high-end watch unless you are really into technology and data.  

Most entry-level and moderate-level running watches will do everything the average runner will ever need. And do it well. 

The best way to use this comparison guide is to determine your budget and look for a watch in that specific price range or just below it. Then look at the features you desire. If a watch does not have the specific feature you want, try looking at the next higher price range.

Most likely, you will find the feature you need without going straight to the top-end watch.

Do not assume you need a high-end running watch. A more expensive watch does not necessarily mean it is more accurate with distance and pace.

For example, Garmin’s Forerunner 45 is at the entry/mid-level price point. It has outperformed some of my older, high-end watches because the Garmin 45 has newer hardware and the latest heart rate sensors found only on their newest watches. I share my personal experiences with the Garmin 45 in the detailed review I published.

Here is another example of Garmin’s entry-level watches getting updated hardware and software.

The latest Garmin Forerunner 55 has the latest sensors and comes with many new features only found in previous versions of the advanced watches. I do a complete review of the Garmin Forerunner 55 here.

My feature comparison and product review process

Important: When I do ‘feature comparisons’, I compare watch features based on the information provided by the manufacturer. When I do a ‘review’ for a particular watch, I share my personal experience using the watch. If I have not used the watch, there is no review.

If I review a running watch, I purchase it with my own money. I am sharing my personal experience, and therefore, I am less likely to be influenced by free products from the manufacturer.

If you do not see a detailed review on a certain watch, I either haven’t gotten to it or have not personally purchased it.

Best entry level GPS running watches

There are three models in the Garmin Forerunner product line that best fit the category: beginner or entry-level running watch. They are the Garmin Forerunner 35, Garmin Forerunner 45, and Garmin 55.

The Garmin 55 is more of a crossover running watch hovering somewhere between an entry-level and intermediate-level running watch. I do a detailed review of the Garmin 55, here.

I have not had the time to come back yet and fully update this post with updated comparisons to the Garmin 55. I did however do a detailed review of the Garmin Forerunner 45 in case you are interested.

Each watch covers the basic features that most runners need. And they do it well.

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Comparing the Garmin 35 vs. Garmin 45

Main differences between the Garmin 35 and Garmin 45:

  • Design & Display. The main difference between Garmin 35 and Garmin 45 is a new design. The FR35 has a rectangular design with a square monochromic display. The FR 45 looks more modern with a circular face, a color sunlight-readable display, higher resolution, and five navigation buttons. The Forerunner 45 is also available in two sizes 39mm (the FR45S) and 42mm (the FR45). The FR 45 and FR45S are sleeker and lighter, more suitable for a smaller wrist.

  • Battery Life. Both Forerunner 35 and Forerunner 45 have a good battery life but there’s a slight difference. The FR35 lasts about 9 days due to its basic display. The FR45 lasts 7 days due to its modern display and advanced connectivity.

  • New Features and Functions.  With the Forerunner 45, you can record a wider range of sports activities, and store up to 200 hours of activity data. The FR45 also offers such features as goal setting, Garmin Coach, and  Firstbeat features, including fitness age, body battery energy, all-day stress tracking.

  • Safety & Incident Detection. Garmin Forerunner 45 takes care of your safety while you’re running. It has a built-in tracking/safety feature which allows sharing your real-time location and notifying your emergency contacts in case you have an accident or if you don´t feel safe.

    To send an alert notification and request assistance, all you have to do is to press the Light button for 5 seconds until the watch has vibrated 3 times. The watch also has the incident detection feature that automatically sends alert to your your emergency contacts in case the accident occurs.

Simularities between the Garmin 35 vs. Garmin 45:

  • Both watches have built-in GPS for accurate recording of speed, distance, and elevation.

  • Although the Forerunner 45 provides a wider array of sport profiles, with the Forerunner 35 you can choose profiles for outdoor running, indoor running, cycling, and cardio.

  • Both watches have smartphone notifications, vibration/audio alerts, 24×7 activity tracking, including a step counter, calorie tracking, and sleep monitoring.

  • The Forerunner 35 and Forerunner 45 have a wrist-based heart rate monitor which allows broadcasting of your HR over ANT+. 

  • Both watches have a live tracking feature. It allows your friends and family to track you when you pair your watch to the Garmin Connect Mobile App on your

  • Both the Garmin 35 and 45 are waterproof and rated 5ATM which means it is suitable for rain, snow, showering, or swimming, however, neither watch can track swim workouts

  • You can seamlessly upload your activity data to your Garmin Connect account and send data, such as training plans, from the Garmin Connect website to your smartphone or computer.

  • With Garmin Forerunner 35 and Forerunner 45, you can enjoy automatic synchronization to third party services like Strava, MyFitnessPal, TrainingPeaks, and many more.

Physical specifications of the Garmin 35 vs. Garmin 45:


Best mid level Garmin GPS running watches

If you are looking for a great mid-range quality option, you can’t go wrong with the Garmin 235 and 245 models. These running watches are the workhorses when it comes to GPS watches.                                      

I personally own a Forerunner 235 and it has been a great watch. Watches in this price range tend to have faster connection times to access the satellite and more advanced options and integrated training tools.

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Comparing the Garmin 235 vs Garmin 245

Main differences between the Garmin 235 vs. Garmin 245:

  • Design. The Garmin 245 is smaller, lighter, sleeker, and more comfortable to wear. It comes with a nice silicone strap, and you can easily change the watch bands without any tools. The FR245 is also available in more colors: Grey and Merlot (the standard FR 245), White, Black, and Aqua (the music edition of the FR245). 

  • Swimming Mode. The FR235 has different sport modes, including cycling. The FR245 is a better option for swimming. By using the Pool Swim app on FR235 you can track metrics like distance, time, stroke rate,  but with FR245 you can enjoy useful swim charts and metrics like SWOLF and stroke detection.

  • Battery Life. On GPS mode, the FR245 lasts 24 hours, while FR235 lasts only 11 hours. For a long ultra-endurance event, you can also turn on Ultratrac mode. It reduces the frequency of data collection and preserves the battery life, so your watch can get 10-24 hours of GPS on a single charge.

  • Incident Detection. The FR245 takes care more of your safety. If any incident occurs, it will notify your emergency contacts and share your current location. For this feature to work, you must be connected to the phone.

  • Body Battery & Stress Widget. Body battery basically tracks your energy levels, so you don’t overtrain and know when it’s time to rest. The stress widget helps monitor your stress levels, by indicating on the graphs periods of stress, rest, and when you were too active. So when your stress levels are high, you’ll receive a notification to slow down and relax. FR235 doesn’t provide similar features.

  • Music. When you purchase FR245, you can choose Forerunner 245 Music, which is a great option if you cannot imagine your running without energetic music. You can connect to Bluetooth headphones, download up to 500 songs and play your favorite music from your watch using Spotify Premium and Deezer.

  • Training Status, Training Effect & Training Load. These features evaluate your exercise history and let you know if you are on the right way of your training, if you’re training productively, and building endurance. 

  • Accurate Cardio Tracking. The FR235 identifies your heart rate zone and tracks beats per minute in real time, however, the FR245 has been improved and shows more accurate heart-rate data. It will notify you if your heart rate is too low or too high, and it measures the heart rate even underwater.

  • Pulse Ox Sensor. The FR245 is equipped with a Pulse Oximeter, which measures the saturation of oxygen in the blood. This is useful when training at the altitude, or if you like hiking. You can also use the FR245 to estimate oxygen levels during sleep. If your SpO2 is low, you probably don’t get enough recovery, and it may be a sign of sleep problem such as sleep apnea, which prevents you from having a restorative sleep and leaves feeling tired.

  • Training Plans. Both the FR235 and FR245 offer you standard Garmin training plans. However, with Forerunner 245, you can use  Garmin Coach adaptive training plans and stick to your running goals with the help of 3 coaches: Jeff Galloway, Greg McMillan, Amy Parkerson-Mitchell.

  • Navigation. The FR245 provides basic navigation features, that are not available in the FR235. These are breadcrumb trail maps, and a “return to start” feature if you get lost. Also, if you press and hold the Power button, you can easily access tools such as emergency assistance contact.

  • Bonus for Female Runners – Women’s Health Tracking. Older models of Garmin Forerunner watches, including Forerunner 235 do not support this feature. By using the Garmin Connect app, you can track your menstrual cycle or pregnancy. If you download Connect IQ™ app, you can get all the information on your wrist.

Simularities between the Garmin 235 vs. Garmin 245:

  • Screens. Both watches have circular screens with the same transflective display technology that supports strong visibility. 

  • Water Rating. The Forerunner 235 and Forerunner 245 have a 5ATM (up to 50 meters) waterproof rating so you can use them while swimming.

  • Oxygen Processing. Both watches provide heart rate monitoring and measure your VO2 Max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can utilize during exercise.

  • Basic Fitness Stats. The Forerunner 235 and Forerunner 245 track distance, pace, time, heart rate, step count, calories burned, and sleep.

  • Smart Connectivity & Notifications. Both watches have features such as live tracking, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect™, social media sharing, smart notifications. You can receive texts, calls, calendar reminders, and other notifications from your smartphone.

  • Audio Prompts. You can connect both the Forerunner 235 and Forerunner 245 to Garmin Connect Mobile app and set up motivational status announcements that will include, heart rate data, lap number, lap time, pace, or speed alerts.

Physical specifications of Garmin 235 vs. Garmin 245:


Best premium or multi-sport/triathlon GPS running watches

If you are working to become the next great runner and your cardio-intensive training goals require more than just an average GPS watch, Garmin FR 935, Garmin FR 945, Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire, Garmin Fenix Sapphire 6 Pro are currently the best GPS watches to choose from.

The premium Garmin GPS watches not only track your every move and position but provide in-depth fitness and health analysis. These are helpful and reliable running companions for marathon trainees and serious athletes.

Garmin Forerunner series

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Garmin Fenix series

The Fenix series is Garmin’s high-end sports watch. I own a Fenix 5 and it is amazing.

The Fenix series are sports watches that can be worn with work clothes and looks like a regular watch.  The Fenix 5 is an earlier model, but available about $200 cheaper than it was when the watch first came out. Compared to the 2xx-series watches, these are a little heavier so make sure you are OK with a slightly heavier watch.  

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API