Home Gear Ultimate Guide to Top Triathlon Watches in 2020

Ultimate Guide to Top Triathlon Watches in 2020

by Joe Obringer

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Finding your next triathlon watch is a big deal. It’s a piece of equipment that is on every practice run, bike, and swim, and it’s one of the most important race day device for tracking your pace. That is why finding the best triathlon watch is one of the most important decisions and investments you can make. A solid triathlon watch will last years and produce accurate training and race records.

Important Considerations When Choosing a Triathlon Watch

Battery Life

Battery life is one of the most important considerations when choosing a triathlon watch. Depending on the length of our race, you’ll want a watch that can last for the whole race. There’s nothing worse than having your watch die halfway through your run.

There are multiple factors that go in to a triathlon watches battery life. The size and composition of the battery itself is the most important. You can check the expected battery life in the product details. Another to consider is the use of GPS. GPS drains batteries substantially and considering you are likely using GPS for your training and races, this is one of the most important numbers to consider.

Everyday Usage

It’s also important to consider how you’re going to use the watch on a daily basis. Are you going to wear the watch all day or just during your trainings? Some triathlon watches are more suitable for everyday usage and include features such as music, payment, and resting heart rate, while other watches are more utilitarian without the features you may use everyday.

Types of Activities

Every watch on this list tracks runs and cycling via GPS, but only a few track open water swimming via GPS. If that’s important then you’ll want to make sure that box is checked when you’re buying a new triathlon watch. Outside of the basic swim, cycle, run, some watches track other activities such as weight lifting and even snowboarding. Our reviews contain listings of all activities tracked by the watch, so it’s important to know which activities you plan to do and make sure your watch can support it.

Budget and Cost

Triathlon watches are a big investment. Outside of the bike, the watch is one of the most expensive pieces of equipment a triathlete owns. Keep in mind that a solid triathlon watch will last you years, and thousands of miles on the pavement and in the water. It’s not the place to go cheap, so if you can afford to spend a little extra for a watch with all the features you need it will be well worth the additional investment. Your budget will likely dictate what kind of watch you can buy, as costs range from around $100 to well over $600. Figuring out how much you can afford is the first starting point when choosing a new watch.

Apps and Metrics

Different watch brands have different apps and metrics. Garmin is one of the most popular watch brands and has a solid app that all of its watches use. The Garmin Connect app is one of the best activity tracking apps on the market so that automatically gives Garmin watches the edge. Other software apps, such as the Fitbit Connect, are also serviceable services for tracking your training.

Another important consideration is metrics. Understanding which metrics are available in each app, such as VO2 Max for Garmin Devices, will help differentiate watches and help you understand what you need.

Top Triathlon Watches for 2020

1. Garmin Forerunner 935 ($389.99) – Best Overall Triathlon Watch

Garmin 010-01746-00 Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit (Black)

This is the watch that I personally use and is the best triathlon watch on the market. It can easily track most sports, including the most important running, cycling, and open water swimming. One of the biggest pros to this watch is it’s battery life which should last for any Ironman race. This watch does not only delivery during races, but is great for ongoing training and tracking. The Connect IQ app for iPhone and Android easily tracks workouts, heart rate, VO2, and many other metrics. In addition to training, the watch tracks everyday metrics such as resting heart rate and sleep. That makes the Garmin Forerunner 935 the best all around triathlon watch.

Garmin Forerunner 935 Specs

Lens Material – chemically strengthened glass
Strap – Silicone
Size – 47 x 47 x 13.9 mm
Display Size – 1.2 inches in diameter
Water Rating – 50 Meters, Swimming
Battery Life – Smartwatch Up to 2 weeks, GPS/HR mode: Up to 24 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate
Connectivity – Bluetooth® Smart, ANT+®, Wi-Fi®
App Software – Connect IQ
Heart Rate and RHR – Yes, taken every second
Activity Profiles – Indoor Rowing, Strength Training and Cardio Training, Running, Indoor Running, Trail Running, Hiking, Climbing, Skiing, Snowboarding, XC Skiing, Stand Up Paddleboarding, Rowing, Jumpmaster, Tactical, Biking, Indoor Biking, Mountain Biking, Pool Swimming, Open Water Swimming

Download the Forerunner 935 Manual Here

garmin forerunner 935 on a wrist
garmin connect iq screenshot

Garmin Connect Software and App

One of the places where Garmin watches really shine is their software and app. When you complete a workout it’s automatically uploaded to the Garmin Connect app on your phone or on the web. From here you can track your training and workouts. The app contains a ton of useful information like stress level, heart rate, intensity minutes, and some other unique metrics such a VO2 Max and Training Load.

VO2 Max and Training Load Explained

One of my favorite features of the Garmin watch is the ability to track VO2 Max and training load. VO2 Max is a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can use during exercise. It’s a great measurement both of heart health and of athletic endurance. You can track this via the app and see the improvement.

The next metric is training load. Training load measures the amount of training and level of exertion during a rolling 7 day average. It will tell you if your in recovery, maintaining, productive, peaking, or overreaching in your training and also give you optimal recovery time after each exercise.

2. Garmin Forerunner 945 ($520.00) – Most Advanced Triathlon Watch

Garmin 010-02063-00 Forerunner 945, Premium GPS Running/Triathlon Smartwatch with Music, Black

The Garmin 945 is by far the most advanced triathlon watch, containing many features of the 935 with the addition of more everyday applications for music, maps, and payment.

Difference Between the Garmin 935 and Garmin 945

In general the two watches have the same features for triathletes, but the Garmin 945 is more of a lifestyle watch plus triathlon watch. The main difference is the 945 contains music, maps, and payment abilities in addition to the normal activity features of the 935. Another difference most people notice is the price difference between the two – on Amazon the Garmin 935 is $389.99 while the Garmin 945 is $520.00.

Garmin Forerunner 945 Specs

Lens Material – Corning® Gorilla® Glass DX
Strap – Silicone
Size – 47 x 47 x 13.7 mm
Display Size – 1.2 inches in diameter
Water Rating – 50 Meters, Swimming
Battery Life – Smartwatch Mode: Up to 2 weeks, GPS mode with music: Up to 10 hours, GPS mode without music: Up to 36 hours
Connectivity – Bluetooth® Smart, ANT+®, Wi-Fi®
App Software – Connect IQ
Heart Rate and RHR – Yes, taken every second
Activity Profiles – Indoor Rowing, Strength Training and Cardio Training, Running, Indoor Running, Trail Running, Hiking, Climbing, Skiing, Snowboarding, XC Skiing, Stand Up Paddleboarding, Rowing, Jumpmaster, Tactical, Biking, Indoor Biking, Mountain Biking, Pool Swimming, Open Water Swimming

Download the Garmin Forerunner 945

3. Fitbit Versa 2 ($178.95) – Best Smartwatch and Triathlon Watch

Fitbit Versa 2 Health and Fitness Smartwatch with Heart Rate, Music, Alexa Built-In, Sleep and Swim Tracking, Black/Carbon, One Size (S and L Bands Included)

The Fitbit Versa 2 is a watch that I have owned for many years and is one of the best smartwatch and triathlon watch. The easy to use interface is perfect for the beginner triathlete or Sprint/Olympic triathletes. This is the perfect watch if you want a mix of easy to use smartwatch and solid activity tracker for swimming, cycling, and running. One of the weaknesses of this watch is the battery life with GPS, which potentially could go out during a longer Ironman. Another weakness is the inability to track open water swimming. The watch does a great job of tracking laps in a pool, but is unable to use GPS to track swimming in open water.

Fitbit Versa 2 Specs

Lens Material – Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3
Strap – Woven band made from polyester
Size – 1.56 x 1.59 x 0.47 inches
Display Size – 1.57 inches in diameter
Water Rating – 50 Meters, Swimming
Battery Life – Smartwatch 4+ Days (much less if GPS is being used)
Connectivity – Bluetooth®
App Software – Fitbit Connect
Heart Rate and RHR – Yes
Activity Profiles – Run, Bike, Swim, Weights, Interval Workout, Workout, Spinning, Golf, Hike, Tennis, Stairclimber, Pilates, Circuit Training, Bootcamp, Yoga, Elliptical, Walk, Martial Arts, Kickboxing

Download the FitBit Versa 2 Manual

fitbit iconin watch on wrist

Fitbit Connect Software and App

The Fitbit Connect app and website is an easy to use activity tracker where you can check on things like heart rate, steps, and activities. Although the tracking is accurate and easy to use, it is a very basic platform and only has very specific information.

4. Garmin Fenix 6X Pro ($634.70) – Best Watch for Extreme Triathlons

Garmin 010-02157-00 Fenix 6X Pro, Premium Multisport GPS Watch, features Mapping, Music, Grade-Adjusted Pace Guidance and Pulse Ox Sensors, Black

If you’re planning on using your watch for some extreme hiking, mountain climbing, or skiiing, then this watch is the one for you. That is why we are ranking the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro the best watch for activites beyond triathlons. It contains all of the features of the 935 above, but is a bit larger, made with more durable material, and lasts longer due to solar charging. You hear that right, the watch has an option for solar charging in case you’re on a long hike. This extends the battery life substantially in regular mode, but only for an hour in GPS mode.

Another big differentiation is the ability to load maps (trail maps, climbing routes, and ski maps) on to the watch. This can be useful when training for extreme triathlons in mountains or remote trails.

garmin fenix 6x watch faces

Germin Fenix 6X Pro Specs

Lens Material – Corning® Gorilla® Glass DX or Sapphire Crystal
Strap – Silicone, Leather, Titanium or Nylon
Size – 51 x 51 x 14.9 mm
Display Size – 1.4 inches in diameter
Water Rating – 100 Meters
Battery Life – Smartwatch: Up to 21 days
Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 80 days
GPS: Up to 60 hours
GPS + Music: Up to 15 hours
Max Battery GPS Mode:Up to 120 hours
Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 46 days
Connectivity – Bluetooth® Smart, ANT+®, Wi-Fi®
App Software – Connect IQ
Heart Rate and RHR – Yes, taken every second
Activity Profiles – Strength, Cardio and Elliptical Training, Stair Stepping, Floor Climbing, Indoor Rowing, Pilates and Yoga, Running, Treadmill Running, Indoor Track Running, Trail Running, Virtual Running, Hiking, Indoor Climbing, Bouldering, Climbing, Mountain Biking, Skiing, Snowboarding, XC Skiing, Stand Up Paddleboarding, Rowing, Kayaking, Surfing, Jumpmaster, Tactical, Biking, Indoor Biking, Mountain Biking, Triathlon, Pool Swimming, Open Water Swimming, Swimming/Running

5. Polar Ignite ($229.95) – Best Budget Triathlon Watch

POLAR IGNITE - Advanced Waterproof Fitness Watch (Includes Polar Precision Heart Rate Integrated GPS and Sleep Plus Tracking)

The Polar Ignite is an intuitive feature filled triathlon watch that features a slimmer and lighter design than other watches on this list. This watch is a great starter triathlon watch in the $200 range and has all the features needed, including running, cycling, swimming, and a ton of other activities (see specs).

Polar Ignite vs Polar Vantage

The Polar Vantage is also a great multisport watch that is a bit of a higher price but arguably better for triathlon events. The battery life is higher (30 hours vs 17 hours with Ignite) and there are some addition metrics around things like cadence and stride. But overall we don’t feel the increase in price is worth the extra money for the Vantage over the Ignite.

Polar Ignite Specs

Lens Material – Dragontrail glass lens
Strap – TPU plastic, stainless steel buckle
Size – 43 x 43 x 8.5 mm
Display Size
Water Rating – 30 Meters, Swimming
Battery Life – 17 Hours Training Time
Connectivity – Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
App Software – Polar Flow
Heart Rate and RHR – Yes
Activity Profiles – Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Beach volley, Bootcamp, Boxing, Canoeing, Circuit training, Climbing (indoor), Cricket, Cross-trainer, High-intensity interval training, Cycling, Cycling, Indoor cycling, Mountain biking, Road cycling, Dancing, Ballet, Ballroom, Dancing, Fitness dancing, Jazz, Latin, Modern, Show, Street, Disc golf, Downhill skiing, Backcountry skiing, Downhill skiing, Telemark skiing, Duathlon, Duathlon, Off-road duathlon, Field hockey, Finnish baseball, Fitness martial arts, Floorball, Football, Functional training, Futsal, Golf, Group exercise, Aerobics, Aqua fitness, Group exercise, Spinning, Step workout, Gymnastics, Handball, Ice hockey, Jogging, Judo, Kayaking, Kickboxing, Kitesurfing, Orienteering, Mountain bike orienteering, Orienteering, Ski orienteering, Other indoor, Other outdoor, Riding, Rowing, Indoor rowing, Rowing, Rugby, Running, Jogging, Road running, Running, Track&field running, Trail running, Treadmill running, Ultra running, Sailing, Skating, Ice skating, Inline skating, Roller skating, Skating, Skiing, Biathlon, Classic XC skiing, Classic roller skiing, Freestyle XC skiing, Freestyle roller skiing, Skiing, Snowboarding, Soccer, Squash, Strength training, Surfing, Swimming, Pool swimming, Open water swimming, Swimming, Table tennis, Tennis, Triathlon, Off-road triathlon, Triathlon, Trotting, Volleyball, Walking, Hiking, Nordic walking, Snowshoe trekking, Walking, Wheelchair racing, Windsurfing, Wakeboarding, Water skiing, Windsurfing, Yoga, Body&Mind, Core, Mobility (dynamic), Mobility (static), Pilates, Stretching, Yoga

Triathlon Watch FAQs

Can you use the new Apple Watch as a triathlon watch?

Technically yes – the Apple Watch contains all of the features needed for triathlon activities, including open water swimming, cycling GPS, and running GPS. The main problem is battery life, which would barely last you through an Olympic Triathlon. So in general the watch could be an option for training and shorter triathlons, but not a good option for any serious triathlons.

Do I need a triathlon watch?

If you’re just getting started and training for a Sprint or Olympic distance then you probably could go without a watch. The amount of time training and racing don’t really warrant the additional features that many nice triathlon watches have. Anything over a Half Ironman, a triathlon watch is probably a top priority. You’ll want to track your runs, bikes, and swims and also have a watch that helps you pace during the race. Triathlon watches are meant for heavy duty training that comes with training

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