Best Triathlon Watch 2018
This is a summary of recommendations and analysis of the Best Triathlon Watch of 2018, with many detailed “the5krunner product reviews” linked to throughout these tri watch recommendations. If you want LOTS more detail behind your decision then please read those linked reviews. Many of the reviews link to discounted deals with my UK, EU and USA partners.
The totally new Tri-watch I still hope for in 2018 is a Garmin Forerunner 745XT (tri lite)
The newest traithlon watch you can buy for the 2018 triathlon season is one of the Polar Vantage series.
Updated 13 September 2018
The Best Triathlon Watch
What do YOU mean by BEST TRIATHLON WATCH? Most often it is taken as a watch having the ‘most features’. Back in 2017, the summer-announced Garmin 935 won on the ‘most tri features‘ front. But do YOU really need to know what your Vertical Oscillation Ratio is when you run? Do YOU really need to know what a Connect IQ data field can estimate your W’bal to be during those hard hill reps?…thought not!
- ESSENTIAL READING: Best Power Meter
- ESSENTIAL READING: Best Running Watches
- ESSENTIAL READING: Best Cycling Watch & Best Cycling Computers
So if you count the best-BUT-ACTUALLY-USEFUL features ON A WATCH YOU CAN CURRENTLY BUY AND USE then these Suunto, Polar and Garmins in the picture below from pre-2016/7 and the Garmin 935 / Fenix 5 & Suunto SPARTANs from 2017/8 are broadly on par with each other and do the job:
What is best for YOU depends on your needs and budget. You’re an individual, not a number. Right?
All I would say, regarding whatever you end up buying, is: make sure that what you buy has Heart Rate and GPS recording abilities – simple ! The point of saying this is to exclude smartphone apps and basic watches which are NOT realistic alternatives.
Even when those uber-basic points are addressed you may go on to further complicate matters for yourself by including a list of features you will like – such as smartphone notification display, 24×7 activity tracking and 3rd party positional tracking of you. Maybe you want outdoorsy-features or mapping-features? Or to support sports other than triathlon? Adding some of those non-core, non-tri features to your wish list will probably help you narrow down your list.
I have chatted to a few elite triathletes and lots of very good ones. You’ll be very disappointed to learn that many don’t wear the watches you’ll be thinking of buying unless doing photo shoots or appeasing sponsors. Most of them don’t have as much money as you to spend on kit! You’ll also be disappointed to find that when you go swimming with your tri/masters club that there is almost an inverse correlation between cost of sports watch worn by the swimmer and the speed of swimmer! Think about it.
But that didn’t stop me spending lots of money on gadgets either 🙂 I’m just saying that it doesn’t REALLY matter that much what you buy.
Best Triathlon Watch – Garmin?
The elephant in the room
If you’ve already: got a Garmin; have invested money in ANT+ gadgets; and invested time in building up your Garmin Connect data, then you might as well go-Garmin when you upgrade, especially if you have an ANT+-only power meter.
IMPORTANT HEADS UP: Garmin announced an entirely new range of improved FENIX 5 devices, to purchase in Q2.2018, these address various EXISTING sensor issues. If you want the latest, greatest Fenix watch then you must buy from the FENIX 5 PLUS RANGE and NOT the previuos non-PLUS versions – DO NOT TOUCH THE NON-PLUS MODELS WITHOUT PROPER RESEARCH.
The almost-discontinued Garmin 310XT is more than fine as a tri watch and an old, but perfectly good enough, duathlon watch. If you’re a beginner swimmer it’s all you will need to count laps. The 910XT is a very competent tri watch and will also do the job; you might go for the 920XT, 735XT or 935 if you are a gadget nut and/or excellent swimmer.
IF you loved the Fenix 3 and wore it outside of sport then you can now get your hands on one of the many Fenix 5 models (the 5, 5s, 5x and 935 are all variants on very similar hardware+software). But really there is not too much to upgrade for going from the Fenix 3HR to the Fenix 5 unless you want the maps of the Fenix 5X or the smaller size of the Fenix 5S.
If you like circular watchfaces and you like Garmin. Then, instead of the Forerunner 735XT as a choice for the best triathlon watch, there is now the Forerunner 935 (which is a lightweight, aka plastic, version of the Fenix 5). The 935 has near-identical features to the Fenix 5 and a more race-worthy, lightweight form.
There’s also a more expensive, optical HR version of the Fenix 3 with the same features as the Fenix 3 but ALSO optical HR – called the Fenix 3HR. You might well consider the Fenix 3 to be a great choice over the Fenix 5…it is cheaper and has similar functionality.
The Garmin CHRONOS is a VERY expensive Fenix 3-cum-5. It’s really a dress watch with multi-sport features.
The 735XT is also round and pretty; it’s been built to be a lightweight populist run-cum-tri-watch but lacks a few professionally competitive features eg lack of bike mount. Great for small wrists though. Remember there might be a replacement 745XT this year.
Is the 735XT as round and pretty as the Suunto Spartan SPORT (below)? Probably not.
If you take offence at spending hundreds of pounds/dollars on an ugly watch then you will avoid the 310xt and 920xt (I have both).
If you still want to go-Garmin why not get a running watch and a cycling computer? THIS IS becoming an increasing popular choice.
After all you don’t look at a watch much at all when swimming and a cycling computer is potentially a LOT better for cycling than, ahem, a tri watch.
Best Triathlon Watch – Polar+Suunto Options?
Polar and Suunto offer MUCH prettier options, admittedly probably not in my blue colours shown in the image above. But hey! I like blue. No-one else does.
IMPORTANT HEADS UP: Polar have announced 2 proper tri watches the Vantage M and Vantage V.
Polar, Suunto and Garmin will all allow you to get data out of their environment and sent ‘somewhere’ else. Don’t worry about that – any watch classed as a ‘best triathlon watch’ would be able to do that. If you haven’t bought a power meter yet then buy a multi-band one (BTLE+ANT+) when you can. Most are now multi-band. On the other hand, if you already have a power meter then you are likely to be sufficiently tech-savvy to know which manufacturers your PM limits your tri-watch choice to!
Perhaps you have other accessories, like HRMs and footpods, don’t let those sway your choice of watch; minor accessory replacements are relatively cheap.
Considering the most useful tri-features, the Polar V800 and Polar Vantage are essentially as good as Garmin’s 935, 920XT and 735XT and now has proper, native STRYD running power support.
The Suunto AMBIT3 Sport, Suunto Spartan ULTRA/SPORT and Suunto 9 have a several unique and peripherally innovative features (EPOC and age group comparison on MOVESCOUNT); if you own Apple products then you’d probably buy the Suunto Spartan Ultra/Sport/9. I’m not sure why, just seems to be the way it is from what I’ve seen – perhaps it’s the aesthetics and quality of construction?
The older Suunto AMBIT 2 (two) is perfectly fine as is the old TomTom multisport. The Suunto AMBIT 2 has been replaced by the AMBIT3 then the SPARTAN but the TomTom will NOT be replaced with a new multisport model.
Other Contenders for Best Triathlon Watch
I’d probably NOT recommend ANY of these but here goes anyway…
- As of Q1 2018, Amazfit have the STRATOS . This is probably the cheapest watch that is designed as a triathlon watch although it’s lack of accuracy BUT awesome range of features makes it somewhat of a pretty and intriguing toy.
- 2017’s Suunto SPARTAN Trainer looks like the Ambit 3 it, sort of, replaced. This is at the cheaper end of competent devices to buy. The COROS Pace might sit alongside that space in the market in 2018/19
The Garmin Vivoactive HR is fine for beginners when used for “consecutive single sports” NB: this is not quite multi-sports/triathlon, it’s great for those who want a fairly nice-looking watch/band. Superseded by the Garmin Vivoactive 3 (review) .
Again, on the “consecutive single sports” point, you could also go for the competent TomTom Runner 3 / Spark 3 – Remember, watches like this are not triathlon watches – there are many more of these types of running watches that have additional and rudimentary standalone CYCLING and standalone SWIMMING modes.
I’d probably NOT go for the Garmin Fenix 2, there are better fish in the sea even if you get a good price.
The Timex IronMan watches seem to be worn by a select few people who are quite good but the watch is no big deal in itself. If you want to look like a pro, up until you start swimming, the Timex is the one to go for!!
Understatedness is king in Gadget-world!
For the one-off triathlon or duathlon you will also find that many running watches are waterproof enough for a race and have a rudimentary cycling mode eg the Polar M430 (Reviewed here).
But by the same token if you’re in it to finish then surely all you need is a timer and/or basic speed/hr info? Your current watch may well be OK for that.
If you want the latest-greatest thing for pure triathlon pose-value then you will get the 920XT REPLACEMENT ie the Forerunner 935
2018 has seen the arrival of the Amazfit STRATOS. It’s flawed but I like it and I like the Sub-£/$200 price tag for LOTS of features – it’s the ONY tri watch that supports music. Before you buy it you will need to understand if the flaws affect you.
Best Triathlon Watch – Detailed Review Links
Still not convinced? You can read lots more about these individual watches in the links.
- Review: Polar V800 (replacement due Sep/Oct 2018, Polar V900/V810/V850 )
- Review: Garmin Fenix 3 or Garmin 920Xt
- Review: Suunto AMBIT3 (replacement: is the Spartan TRAINER WHR)
- Review: Garmin Forerunner 735XT
- Review: Suunto SPARTAN SPORT
- Review: Suunto SPARTAN ULTRA (same as the SPARTAN SPORT with a bigger battery)
- Review: Suunto SPARTAN SPORT (wrist oHR, April 2017)
- Review: Garmin Fenix 5 series
- Review: Garmin Forerunner 935
- Review: Garmin Fenix 5X (April 2017)
- Review: Garmin Fenix 5S Plus (August 2018)
- Review: Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER WHR
- Review: Amazfit STRATOS
Suunto have some unusual, usage-specific variants of the AMBIT 3, such as the KAILISH and VERTICAL models. They are not really triathlon watches, ignore those.
PIE IN THE SKY PRICES?
You can spend somewhere near $/£/Eu1000 on the latest Garmin Fenix 5X Plus.
Let’s say this is all looking a little too expensive for you. Maybe you don’t want the best triathlon watch released this year and you might settle for what was considered to be “the best triathlon watch from a couple of years ago“.
There are some GREAT options for older models that are still being sold but which are otherwise, effectively, discontinued. The two best contenders are both from Garmin and are the 910XT and 310XT. I’d personally go for the former. I’ve used both and I used both the 910XT & 920XT for a couple of years each as my main workhorse. They are essentially bug free and as cheap as you will get at the right time of year. They are both SPECIFICALLY triathlon/duathlon watches and they each were the best triathlon watch in their day.
The 310XT lacks a bit on swimming functionality but can be used in water. If you are just starting out in triathlon or just training for one particular event (which could be your last!) then the 910XT is great. The prices on both of these change quite a lot and you can get them for as low as $/£100 without a HR strap IF you are very lucky. For the lowest possible priced ‘triathlon’ watch you will need to go for a peripheral brand like the Amazfit STRATOS.
- ESSENTIAL READING: Detailed review of Garmin 910XT
- ESSENTIAL READING: Detailed review of Garmin 310XT
- ESSENTIAL READING: Detailed Garmin 920XT Review
As we continue into 2018’s tri season, the 920XT can be a great deal at a sale price … sometimes. Check below for the latest Amazon price.
Best Triathlon watch – Recommendations
If you want lots and lots of features that you won’t use, it’s “Buy the most expensive Garmin you can afford”. That is a bit of a boring, expensive and rubbish recommendation IMO. But, hey, we all have a budget; and here’s how to spend it
- Premium – Best Garmin Forerunner 935 , Fenix 5S Plus or Polar Vantage V – Next Best Garmin Fenix 5 Plus SERIES, Garmin Forerunner 920XT or Polar V800
- Mid-Price – Best Suunto SPARTAN Trainer Polar Vantage M, Next Best Garmin 735XT and maybe the COROS Pace when they get the pricing right
- Low-Price – Best Amazfit STRATOS – Next Best “Sale/Refurb/Used Models”
The Best in some way, shape or form
Go on, be different. Here are a selection of triathlon watches that, in some way or other, could be classed as the best triathlon watch:
- Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Series – Reviewing now. Exactly same tri functionality as the original Fenix 5 but with EVEN more non-sport features. I’m going for the Fenix 5S Plus as it now has the same screen size and is the smallest/lightest of the 3 new ones effectively it has MORE functionality than the 935 and the same weight/size – only downside is a smaller battery.
- Garmin Forerunner 935 / / Fenix 5 (5s, 5X, 5) – They basically each have the same features. They have the most features compared to the competition. On that basis they are the ‘best’ tri watch. All Fenix 5 (Plus) do have ALL THE proper triathlon features. The 935 has a quick-release kit and plastic shell. Note those branded as ‘Fenix 5’ are superceded by ‘Fenix 5 plus’ models and, in any case, have sensor issues (935 does not have the ANT+ connection issues nor some of the potential further issues of oHR with the 5X – see the review for more details on that)
- Garmin Forerunner 735XT – Very many features, not necessarily all useful! No quick release kit. Good aesthetics and great for small wrists. Lots of features. This is Garmin’s tri-lite watch at a mid-price tier
- Garmin 920XT – Feature-full, not necessarily all useful! A bit ugly. No direct replacement – although it’s mostly superceded by the 935. This is Garmin’s older pro-tri watch.
- Polar Vantage V – Nearly all the features (some peripheral ones missing) but some nice unique ones as well including a great battery life and onboard power meter for running….no need to buy STRYD !! Great looking
- Polar Vantage M – Nearly all the features (some peripheral ones missing) and a sensible price. Great looking.
- Polar V800 – All the relevant features. If priced less than the AMBIT3 – buy it. Good looking. Accurate GPS. Replacement due Q3/4.2018. I use this in training.
- Suunto AMBIT3/ AMBIT3 SPORT – Best value for money at the higher end at the moment. Accurate GPS. Replaced by SPARTAN ULTRA/SPORT.
- Garmin Fenix 3 – Best selling of these. Mainly for non-tri reasons and outdoorsy/adventure reasons. Replaced by fenix 5, which is not that different. The Fenix 5 (Plus) will go on to be the best seller.
- Suunto Spartan SPORT/ULTRA – Clever holistically featured ecosystem around a beautiful watch. ULTRA has been superceded by the Suunto 9
- Suunto SPARTAN Sport WHR – Nice. Like many optical HR offerings – may or may not work well on you. Great GPS though. I use this in training.
- Suunto 9 – it’s basically the same as the SPARTAN SPORT/ULTRAs ie outdoorsy but does multisport
- Polar V800 replacement (V810/V900?) – A totally unknown quantity. Some thoughts on V900 functionality (here).
- Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER WHR doesn’t have the pro triathlon features but it likely has all the ones that 90% of you will need and it’s the cheapest watch designed specifically for triathlon. It’s Suunto’s tri-lite watch. My Coros Pace recommendation will rank similar to this but with ANT+
- Refurbished Garmin 310XT cheapest that I’d vaguely recommend
- Garmin 910XT the cheapest option I’d personally go for if money WAS an issue AND it looks alright.
- Amazfit STRATOS – it actually has more fuctionality that just about everything else here apart from the high-end Garmins. It even looks good. But…caveat emptor…read the review.
- COROS PACE – This is a solid triathlon watch. It’s aiming towards the purity of a sport watch rather than a smart watch per se…although it’s smart too. RRP is a tad overpriced but consider it when on sale.
- ACCURACY – If you want accuracy then Polar and Suunto generally have the best GPS accuracy.
- ACCURACY – If you want accuracy then you will not buy an optical HR device, although Polar’s Precision Prime MIGHT be the exception.
- DISTANCE – If you are doing an Ironman/very long race then you really need to consider BATTERY LIFE. Turning all these fancy features on will empty your battery before you get off your bike. 935/Fenix 5/5 Plus/Suunto ULTRA/Suunto 9/Polar Vantage V are the best for a long battery life.
Recommendations Looked at a Different Way
Let’s turn it around – best triathlon watch by characteristic
- Most pro-tri solution: easy! Garmin 935 Review, Polar Vantage V not far behind.
- Best triathlon watch for thin wrists: Fenix 5S Plus, Garmin 735XT, Suunto Spartan Trainer WHR
- Best triathlon watch at a midrange price in a current model – Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER WHR vs. Polar Vantage M.
- Best triathlon watch at a Budget Price – easy! Amazfit STRATOS
- Best triathlon watch ‘solution’ if money is no object: Garmin 935 Review, Garmin HRM-TRI review, STRYD review, Favero ASSIOMA Review (DUO)
- Best triathlon watch for ultimate techiness and smart features – Garmin Fenix 5 Plus SERIES (any)
- Best triathlon watch for budget techiness: Ambit 3 Sport and Polar V800
- Best triathlon watch on a budget with an old model: Garmin 310XT and Garmin 910XT
- Best triathlon watch with music – Garmin Fenix 5 Plus SERIES
- Best triathlon watch for a first Triathlon: Any old waterproof sports watch, Amazfit STRATOS if you want to.
- Best triathlon watch for a biker turning to triathlon: Garmin Edge 520 Plus + a running watch!
- Best triathlon watch for a runner turning to triathlon: Garmin 935 or Polar Vantage M or Fenix 5 Plus or Fenix 5S Plus
- Best investment for future developments: 2019’s new models from FW
- Best triathlon watch with maps: Fenix 5 Plus series (any)
- Best triathlon watch for Ironman Racing – Garmin 935 or Fenix 5X Plus, also consider Polar Vantage V and Suunto 9
- Best triathlon watch for those who complete an Ironman Racing – Garmin 935, either Polar Vantage and also consider Suunto 9
- Best triathlon watch with most accurate GPS: Polar V800, Suunto AMBIT3, Suunto SPARTAN SPORT or SPARTAN TRAINER (Polar Vantage is TBC as of 13Sep2018)
- Best triathlon watch for optical HR accuracy – None!! Different vendor solutions will work with different degrees of accuracy on different people. Suunto’s optical HR works in water. Garmin’s does not. I think it is likely that Polar Vantage will take this honour (13 Sep2018 – testing required)
- Best triathlon watch with proper & widespread power meter compatability – Garmin 935/Fenix 5 Plus/920XT
- Best triathlon watch to give a HR data for the full race – Polar V800 is the only device that will give LIVE HR underwater. Suunto and Garmin cache HR data but SPARTAN/9/935/Fenix/920XT all can retrieve cached HR swim data
- Best triathlon watch newcommer for 2018…easy Polar Vantage V
the5krunner’s Triathlon Watch
If you want to know what I have AND USE then, unfortunately, my answer has only recently moved on from the first images of this post and I now have a Forerunner 935, a Polar Vantage V and a Suunto 9.!! I borrow other devices from friends or PRs from time to time as I never quite have enough devices 😉
I bought the Forerunner 935 in Q1.2017 it’s undoubtedly the best pro triathlon watch
Pro Extras for Accuracy
If you want accurate actionable data from the best triathlon watch you also need this lot (sigh…more expense)
- Bike computer – Garmin Edge 520 Plus, WAHOO ELEMNT (BOLT) (discounted at PowerMeterCity)
- Power Meter – Favero Assioma (discounted at PowerMeterCity)
- Footpod – Milestone or Garmin footpod or the awesome and accurate STRYD (discounted at NewRunningGear)
- HRM-TRI – Garmin HRM (with caching) for all 3 events (or buy more cheaply as part of a bundle deal)
External Review Summaries
These are all clickable, ratings are from Amazon.com.
Remember: For your FIRST triathlon just use any waterproof watch you currently have, practice transitions, train appropriately and enjoy the race experience. You don’t NEED a watch.
The Garmin Forerunner 935 is the Best Triathlon Watch. If you are going to take triathlon super seriously then you would buy either that, a Fenix 5 Plus (5S Plus), the Polar Vantage V / M or the 920XT.
There are MANY scenarios I’ve covered where an alternative choice would also make sense if, for example, you have: a limited budget; thin wrists; a need for accuracy; or just simply a certain aesthetic desire.
Spend wisely and have great fun training and racing.
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