Best Garmin Fitness Tracker 2016 – Cycling, Running and More
Garmin, the well-known juggernaut of GPS technology and literally the name behind the best Garmin fitness tracker goes as far back as 1989. Then, it was known as ProNav. Their first product was a $2,500 GPS unit.
Later, the two founders, Gary Burrell and Min Kao, combined their names to form the Garmin brand we know so well today. With the US Army as their first client, the company was poised for success. By 1995, they had achieved sales of $105 million and by 2006, the figure had risen to an astronomical $1.77 billion.
Especially popular are the Garmin fitness trackers ranging from dedicated heart rate sensors to multisport trackers. A quick look on their website shows that there are more than a dozen Garmin fitness trackers.
How do you choose from all those? Well, we are here to help. We have broken down Garmin’s fitness trackers into categories, choosing the best wearable for each category. This should make it easier for you to pick the best Garmin wearable for your activity.
Note that some of the devices will appear in multiple categories. For instance, most running trackers tend to have multisport features hence can also be used in cycling and swimming.
Garmin Fitness Tracker Types
Before we start, it is important that we take a look at each Garmin fitness tracker category. The easiest way to identify the various types of activity trackers is to look at their individual use and function.
- Heart rate monitors – these are used to track and measure the heart rate. Various technologies are used by different heart rate sensors, resulting in varying levels of accuracy.
- Running trackers – these are designed to help professional and enthusiast runners train better. They are equipped with various sensors including a pedometer, heart rate sensor and GPS.
- Cycling trackers – they are designed specifically for those who would like to improve their training in cycling. They have most of the features that you can find in a Garmin fitness tracker for runners, though some features are dedicated specifically to cycling.
- Swimming trackers – the most important part about these trackers is that they have to be able to function under water. This calls for a waterproof rating of at least IPX7. In addition, the tracker has to measure aspects such as speed, stroke count and duration.
- Multisport trackers – multisport trackers are designed for use with more than one fitness activity. Most combine cycling, running and swimming. Others will add tracking capabilities for other activities such as golfing, skiing and yoga.
Best Garmin Heart Rate Monitor
Some of Garmin’s fitness trackers come with their own heart rate sensors. But in cases where accuracy is of extreme importance, you may prefer to use a dedicated heart rate sensor, especially one that straps on the chest, instead of relying on data from a general Garmin fitness tracker.
We could only find two dedicated Garmin heart rate sensors.
1. Soft Strap Premium Heart Rate Monitor
This monitor straps comfortably around your chest, accurately picking out your heartbeat. The measured heart rate is then transmitted wirelessly to a compatible device such as your Smartphone or wrist-worn fitness tracker.
The sensor has a range of 3M and can last over 4 years based on a 1 hour per day usage. While it is rated as waterproof (up to a depth of 30 meters or 98.7 feet) it will not be able to transmit heart rate when you are swimming.
2. Heart Rate Monitor
Just like the Soft Strap Premium Heart Rate Monitor, it consists of a small plastic-encased module with a comfortable strap that goes around the back of your chest. The measured heart rate can be transmitted to any compatible device.
The main difference between the two monitors is that this one has a 10-meter waterproof depth. Otherwise, they are pretty much the same.
The Soft Strap Premium Heart Rate Monitor edges out the Heart Rate Monitor because of its added waterproof capabilities (max depth of 30 meters). But this does not help much because you still cannot transmit heart rate readings when under water. While the first chest strap wins, we would heartily recommend either of the above.
Best Garmin Fitness Tracker for Running
Due to the number of metrics that need to be tracked, running trackers tend to be quite complicated in terms of build and technology. Garmin has especially prevailed in creating virtual training partners for better training performance by athletes. This, combined with powerful GPS capabilities and in-built heart trackers ensures that Garmin running trackers are some of the best in the market.
Here are the top five Garmin running trackers with our final verdict further below.
1. vívosmart HR+
The vívosmart HR+ Garmin fitness tracker combines heart rate readings with a range of other metrics to create a comprehensive tracking experience for your daily runs. The heart rate sensor does not just work when you are hitting the track; it monitors your heart rate 24/7. This helps you stay aware of your fitness throughout the day.
It also measures your speed, distance, pace and calories. It constantly syncs to your Smartphone and automatically uploads collected data through Garmin Connect. The smart connectivity feature allows for push notification from your Smartphone.
While the vívosmart HR+ has been designed for running, it can also be used in a variety of other activities though in a limited manner. You can use it for indoor activities, swimming and biking. Even more impressively, it can automatically detect when you change from one activity to another.
The vívosmart HR+ sells at $220.
2. vivoactive HR
vivoactive HR uses the same wrist based technology to track and measure your heart rate throughout the day. Like the vívosmart HR+, it is equipped with various sensors – pedometer, accelerometer and GPS – for a comprehensive measure of your running performance.
In addition to these, it includes Auto Lap and Auto Pause features to boost your training. After your run, it will display tracked metrics including calories burned, distance run, pace, intensity and speed. When connected to your phone, you will receive notifications directly on your vivoactive HR.
It can also be used in other sports such as swimming, biking, skiing and golfing though with limited capabilities.
The vivoactive HR sells at $250.
3. Fenix 3 HR
For $600, the Fenix 3 HR is quite a pricey buy but one worth your money. Starting with the design, the Fenix 3 HR takes on a very stylish shape, resembling an official watch. This is a watch you can use on and off the track.
To ensure maximum performance even in fairly remote areas, it is equipped with both GPS and GLONASS (the Russian version of GPS). This allows for quicker and more stable satellite connections. If you are going to train somewhere remote, the watch includes various navigational features such as an altimeter, compass and barometer. Battery life is 40 hours and is waterproof rated at 100 meters.
Some of the running metric it tracks include oxygen levels and usage (VO2 Max), vertical oscillation, cadence, stride length, ground contact time, stress score and lactate threshold among others.
This is a trainer made for the serious athlete. It combines numerous metrics and stunning performance to enhance your training experience.
4. Forerunner 235
For $330, the Forerunner 235 brings in a few additional features. Like the vivoctive HR and vivosmart HR+, it measures basic metrics of speed, calories, distance, pace and heart rate. Some of the additional features brought in include Live Tracking (where friends and family can track your run), social media sharing, smart notifications and audio prompts to enhance your training.
5. Garmin Forerunner 735XT
Includes GPS tracking, wrist-based heart rate sensor and a 2-month free trial of Strava Premium. Running dynamics include ground contact time, stride length, VO2 Max, race predictor, recovery advisor, speed, pace and distance. Smart notifications are available when connected to your Smartphone.
The Forerunner 735XT Garmin fitness tracker costs $450.
Fenix 3 HR easily takes the prize in this category thanks to a combination of stylish design, hardy build and a wide range of running metrics.
Best Garmin Tracker for Cycling
Cycling shares most metrics with running. In fact, most running trackers can also be used in cycling. That being said, it is recommended that you get trackers designed specifically for cycling to ensure the best training performance. Here is a look at the top 3 and our winning verdict.
1. Edge Explore 1000
The Edge Explore 1000 combines biking and adventure to create a tracker that works well for both professional athletes and enthusiast bikers. Basic preloaded maps allow you to plan your routes, both on road and off road.
For training, the Edge Explore 1000 includes metrics such as speed, distance, calories and temperature. For additional metrics, the device is compatible with ANT+ power meters. You will also need to connect it to a chest or wrist-based heart rate monitor to get heart rate readings, VO2 Max and calories burned.
Like most other Garmin trackers, you can easily get smart notifications when connected to your Smartphone. The Edge Explore costs $450.
2. Edge 520
One of the best features of the Edge 520 is the ability to download and use third party maps. This allows you to plan your routes more precisely and almost anywhere in the world. Another great feature is Strava Live Segments, where riders can compete against each other on certain segments.
Other training features include speed, distance and duration. When connected to other ANT+ devices such as a power meter and heart rate monitor, you can get additional metrics such as V02 Max, calories and cycling power.
Like the Edge Explore 1000, you can get smart notifications and calls directly from your connected Smartphone. The Edge 520 goes for $300.
3. Edge 820
This is one of the newest releases from Garmin. The Edge 820 bike computer includes most of the features form Edge 520, including the beloved Strava Live, while making some strategic additions. Some of the new features include GroupTrack (for riding packs), incident detection and a much more improved high resolution touch screen. The Edge 820 costs $400.
The Edge 520 is our winner in this category. While the newer 820 has a few more features, the 520 provides the best value for your money.
Best Garmin Tracker for Swimming
The Fenix 3 and vivosmart HR+, already discussed in the running section, also work wonderfully in swimming. We would like to add just two more Garmin devices to the list of contenders for best Garmin swimming tracker.
1. Garmin Swim
This is one of the few watches made specifically for swimming; most of the others are multisport. To start off, the Garmin Swim watch can withstand water up to a depth of 50 meters, more than any other Garmin tracker.
It collects a number of swimming metrics including stroke count, SWOLF, stroke time, duration and speed. You can then upload the data on Garmin Connect, view full analytics of your training and share it with friends.
2. Garmin vivoactive
This is one of the cheaper multisport wearables from Garmin. In swimming, it covers metrics such as stroke rate, stroke length, stroke count, laps, calories burned and distance. It includes Garmin Connect, which allows you to receive smart notifications from your connected Smartphone.
Garmin Swim is the obvious winner in the Swim category. Just the fact that it is designed specifically for swimming is enough to make it our top choice. If swimming is your passion and livelihood, this is for you.
Best Garmin Multisport Tracker
We have already mentioned the top multisport trackers from Garmin. The ones we love most include Fenix 3 HR Garmin fitness tracker, Forerunner 735XT and vivoactive HR. Our top pick is the Fenix 3 HR thanks to its powerful features and capabilities that stretch from running and cycling to swimming. It can also be used in golfing, yoga and skiing.
Best Garmin Fitness Tracker – In Conclusion
It is obvious that Garmin excels in the art of creating amazing devices. It even becomes difficult to choose among the so many great options available.
Here is a helpful tip; consider what activities you engage in most when buying a Garmin tracker. If you spend your days flying like a fish in the water, something like the Garmin Swim is perfect for you.
If you wake up in the morning thinking of nothing but your bike, a Garmin fitness tracker dedicated to cycling is your best choice.
For triathlon athletes or people who do a little bit of everything, the best option is a multisport tracker.
Which of our top choices above is for you? If you are already using one of them, what is your experience? Leave your comments below.
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