Best Triathlon Watch 2017 | Top 10 | – Review & Recommendations

Best Triathlon Watch 2017

This is a summary of recommendations and analysis of the Best Triathlon Watch of 2017, with many detailed “the5krunner product reviews”  linked to throughout these recommendations. If you want LOTS more detail behind your decision then please read the linked reviews. Many of the reviews link to discounted watches with my UK, EU and USA partners.

Up-to-date to 5 Oct 2017.

 

Suunto Spartan Ultra - best triathlon watch ?

Suunto Spartan ULTRA – Cool-looking huh?

The Best Triathlon Watch

What do YOU mean by BEST TRIATHLON WATCH? Most often it is taken as ‘most features’. In 2017, the summer announced Garmin 935 wins 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: Top Running Watches for 2017

ESSENTIAL READING: Top cycling Watches / Computers for 2017

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 from pre-2017 and the Garmin 935/Fenix 5 & Suunto SPARTANs from 2017 are broadly on par with each other:

Best Triathlon Watch ? STRYD: Garmin 920XT, Suunto AMBIT 3 SPORT, Polar V800

Garmin 920XT, Suunto AMBIT 3 SPORT, Polar V800

So 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.

Best Triathlon Watch ?

L-to-R Suunto Spartan, 935, 5s, Epson 810

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.

Best Triathlon Watch ? Garmin Forerunner 920XT Review vs Garmin Forerunner 735XT Review ComparisonI 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 any of 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 ? Fenix 5x

Garmin Fenix 5X

Best Triathlon Watch – Garmin?

The elephant in the room

If you’ve already got a lower-end Garmin and 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 are very likely to announce an entirely new range of improved FENIX 5 devices in November 2017 (to purchase in Q1.2018). If you want the latest, greatest Fenix watch then it’s best to hold fire for a month or two for the FENIX 5 PLUS RANGE. This MAY NOT affect the 935.

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.

Garmin Fenix 5X 5 5S Forerunner 935 ReviewIF 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 (5, 5s, 5x and 935 are all the variants of the same theme). 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.

Suunto Spartan Ultra vs Garmin Fenix3

Suunto Spartan Ultra vs Garmin Fenix3

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.

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.

Is it as round and pretty as the Suunto Spartan SPORT (below)? Probably not.

suunto Spartan Ultra - Polar V800 - Garmin 920XT

Polar V800 -Suunto Spartan Ultra – Garmin 920XT

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 or Suunto?

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.

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. On the other hand, if you already have a power meter then you are likely to be tech-savvy and you will know which manufacturers that 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.

best triathlon watch ? Polar-V800

Polar-V800

Considering the most useful features, the Polar V800 is essentially as good as Garmin’s 920XT and 735XT and now has proper, native STRYD support.

The Suunto AMBIT3 Sport and Suunto Spartan ULTRA/SPORT 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 AMBIT 3 or the Suunto Spartan Ultra/Sport. I’m not sure why, just seems to be the way it is from what I’ve seen – quality of construction and the AMBIT’s general lack of bugs, perhaps?

The old Suunto AMBIT 2 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.

As of 10th August Suunto now have the SPARTAN TRAINER WHR to add to their range. This is probably the cheapest watch that is designed as a triathlon watch. For 90% of people it will do the job.

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. The Vivoactive HR is already announced and on sale it’s a bit big for a ‘band’ though.

Again, on the “consecutive single sports” point, you could also go for the new and highly competent TomTom Runner 3 / Spark 3 – But, yet again, watches like this are not really triathlon watches but do have some usefulness – there are many more of these types of running watches that have additional and rudimentary standalone CYCLING and standalone SWIMMING modes.

best triathlon watch suunto spartan sport whr valencell

Suunto SPARTAN Sport WHR

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 Polar M400 for £100 or its nice replacement the M430.

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.

Garmin 735XT

Guess below, you might win a kudos prize.

If you want the latest-greatest thing for pure triathlon pose-value then you will get the 920XT REPLACEMENT ie the  Forerunner 935 …but will it be bug-free?

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?

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 LAST YEAR”.

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. They are both SPECIFICALLY triathlon/duathlon watches nad they 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 sans HR strap IF you are very lucky. For the lowest possible priced ‘triathlon’ watch you will need to go for a rather dated but functional TomTom Multisport CARDIO which has an early incarnation of optical HR.

ESSENTIAL READING: Detailed review of Garmin 910XT

ESSENTIAL READING: Detailed review of Garmin 310XT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also have a look at

best triathlon watch ? Suunto Spartan Sport (+Ultra)

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.

Go on, be different. Here are a selection of watches that, in some way or other, could be classed as the best triathlon watch:

  • Garmin Forerunner 935 / Fenix 5 (5s, 5X, 5) – They are basically the same. They have the most features. On that basis they are the ‘best’ tri watch. They do have proper triathlon features. The 935 has a quick-release kit and plastic shell. Note those branded as ‘Fenix 5’ will be superceded SOON with ‘Fenix 5 plus’ models
  • Garmin Forerunner 735XT – Very many features, not necessarily all useful! No quick release kit. Good aesthetics and great for small wrists. Lots of features.
  • Garmin 920XT – Feature-full, not necessarily all useful! A bit ugly. No direct replacement – although it’s part-replaced by the 935. I use this for races, less so for training.
  • Polar V800 – All the relevant features. If priced less than the AMBIT3 – buy it. Good looking. Accurate GPS. Replacement due Q2.2018. 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 will go on to be the best seller.
  • Suunto Spartan SPORT/ULTRA – Clever holistically featured ecosystem around a beautiful watch. This continues to improve monthly.
  • Suunto SPARTAN Sport WHR (wrist optical HR) – Nice. Like many optical HR offereings may or may not be good on you. Great GPS though. I use this in training.
  • 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 Refurbished Garmin 310XT cheapest that I’d vaguely recommend
  • Garmin 910XT the cheap option I’d personally go for if money WAS an issue AND it looks alright.
  • 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.
  • 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 are the best in this regard as they have a long battery life.

 

power meter city

Clicks through to Fenix 5 at PMC – 10% Discount with code the5krunner10 on many products, 10% store credit on Garmin

If you want to help support this blog I’d really appreciate it. Anything you buy from the Amazon links or PowerMeterCity (10% discount code – the5krunner10 on most products or 10% store credit) supports what I do – you either get the same price or a discount (PMC). And this blog all takes a huge amount of time. Thank you

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s turn it around –  best triathlon watch by characteristic

  • Garmin Forerunner 735XTMost pro-tri solution: Garmin 935
  • Most ugly: Garmin 920XT
  • Prettiest: Suunto SPARTAN SPORT (+/- WHR)
  • Great value techniness: Ambit 3 Sport and Polar V800
  • For thin wrists: Garmin 735XT, Fenix 5s, Suunto Spartan Trainer WHR
  • Old Model/Budget: Garmin 310XT and Garmin 910XT
  • First Tri: Any old waterproof sports watch
  • Biker turns tri: Garmin Edge 820 + a running watch!
  • Runner turns tri: Garmin 935
  • Best 2017 investment for the future: Suunto SPARTAN
  • Best with maps: Fenix 5x
  • Ironman Racing – Garmin 935
  • Other distance racing – Garmin 920XT
  • Most accurate GPS: Polar V800, Suunto AMBIT3, Suunto SPARTAN SPORT or SPARTAN TRAINER
  • ‘Budget’ tri-watch in a current model – Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER

If you want to know what I have then unfortunately my answer has only just recently moved on from the first image of this post – I have a Suunto A3, Garmin 920XT, FENIX 5X, 935 and a Polar V800.!! I borrow other devices from friends or PRs from time to time. On loan I currently have: a Suunto Spartan ULTRA; a Spartan SPORT; a Suunto Spartan SPORT WHR; and a Spartan TRAINER WHR. But 2017 will VERY likely see my preferred devices change. (Indeed I’m erring towards a good WAHOO bike computer plus a Suunto Spartan Sport WHR for Swim+Run training but a Garmin 935 for racing in a duathlon/triathlon…I’m almost convinced to switch for racing to the 935)

I’ve bought the Fenix 5x and the Forerunner 935 in Q1.2017 but am not overwhelmed (review here)

Similarly the 935 lets me down with accuracy and with VERY OCCASIONAL occassional sensor dropouts

 

!!! EXTRAS !!!

If you want accurate actionable data fromthe best triathlon watch you also need this lot (sigh…more expense)

ESSENTIAL READING: Top Running Watches at Christmas 2017

power meter city

Clicks through to Fenix 5 at PMC – 10% Discount with code the5krunner10 on many products, 10% store credit on Garmin

If you want to help support this blog I’d really appreciate it. Anything you buy from the Amazon links or  PowerMeterCity (10% discount code – the5krunner10 on most products or 10% store credit) supports what I do – you either get  the same price or a discount (PMC). And this blog all takes a huge amount of time. Thank you

 

 

 

 

 

34 thoughts on “Best Triathlon Watch 2017 | Top 10 | – Review & Recommendations

  1. you ask for 2016 so my bet: Ambit4, solar powered (if sun goes down the licensed Seiko cinetic drive takes over), POD less (everything comes from the watch or the super smart sensor II) and Sundays it will make French toast, for Boris: it will have a step counter as well 🙂

  2. I am not a triathlete but enjoy jogging and swimming, I am terrible at counting laps or distance and would like a watch preferably to tell me what stroke and how many laps and how far I have run (even on a circle track). Can anyone suggest a good watch? I was looking at Tom Tom Multi-sport watch but was recently told it no longer available.

    • I have the Garmin Vivoactive, which is perfect for lap swimming and running. And it’s not crazy expensive like many of the others. The newest version has the built-in HR monitor.

        • Hi the5krunner, I recently bought a Garmin Vivoactive HR & I can confirm after I used already now more than 2 months: it’s an awesome smart watch! Totally worth the price, I use for cycling & running, had a Half Marathon already with that watch, GPS tracking + HR is really accurate both in this little smart watch. At the beginning I used with my good old Garmin Edge 500 to compare the stats, data of my cycling & running & yep, the Vivoactive HR is pretty accurate, I really enjoy to use. 🙂

  3. Good review, thanks.
    One thing that matters to me is how easy it is to get the data from the watch to my chosen training diary. I use Sport Tracks and with Polar devices I have to first upload to Polar Flow then export to computer then import to Sport Tracks. Quite long winded! With my Garmin the file automatically transfers to my computer via Ant making it a single step import to Sport Tracks.

  4. I currently have last year’s Garmin VivoActive, but it doesn’t have an integrated HR monitor (like the new one), which I definitely want/need. Having a wrist-based monitor is most important for me. And I would love to upgrade to a true multisport watch for training and tri’s, but one that doesn’t break the bank! I’m super interested to hear what’s announced in the coming months, since it seems like Garmin is going mostly wrist-based, and I’m sure others will follow if they haven’t already.

  5. I am interested in this comment: “FWIW 1: For a xmas present for 2016 PERSONALLY I would want a Suunto Spartan ULTRA (not sport).” I am aware you have test copies of both devices. Is this to do with battery life?

    • ty firechimp for the question, I was hoping to get away without that one coming!!. Sad to say it’s solely because it’s very, very slightly prettier in the all black ULTRA!! The SPORT has a shiny metal bezel. Having said that, and trying to come up with a more professional answer (ahem), I think the purchaser has to see SPARTAN as a longer term investment in the development of the SPARTAN platform. It’s likely that the firmware differences in the two may become more apparent as firmware is rolled out over the coming few years. Personally I see myself doing more non-tri things in the coming years so ULTRA will most likely be the best fit.

      • Thanks for the answer.

        “Pretty” is a rare descriptor for many of the sports watches of recent years so this has to be seen as good thing (see new copper version… bit early?))! Especially so, with the increase in competition from less historically sporting brands and blurring of the lines with the smartwatch segment.

        I am aware of some of the issues and comments around the Spartan platform being quite erm “raw” to say the least. Even on Suunto’s own site it only has 2 stars which cannot be good for consumer confidence in the product. I personally hope they make a success of it, as numerous true sports brands as competitors must be better for driving the correct innovations. However we will see with passing of time.

        Keep up the good work!

  6. I bought my Polar V800 November 2014. After a while the battery charging area was swollen due to corrosion. Apparently a 1sr. gen problem. Polar immediately, and in a very friendly manner, swapped the watch. No problem at all since then! I wear the watch 24/7, swim-bike-run 10h weekly, and so far not a heartbeat missed. After heavy and daily use the watch still looks like new. I am very pleased with the meaningful updates and at the same time the features accommodate my needs. With all this positive it brings me to one single point of improvement. I am bridging my PM Ant+ data with a Viiiiva HRM, which perhaps offset the recovery recommendations because not using the Polar HR belt? Polar – please include Ant+ going forward! But wait! – why not buy another watch? No, I like the look and the build quality (and the brand).
    Then a word off appreciation for this site. In my opinion it hits the “nerve” what these “gadgets” are all about for the majority of us (and apparently many pro´s also).
    5Krunner – thanks for a great site!

  7. Hi there, I am looking for a triathlon watch – and the Suunto Ambit Sport 3 is calling to me – mainly because of the price! The main functions I am interested in are :

    1. swimming metrics , hr , laps , etc in a 33 m pool.
    2. Ultras/marathon running – I use a run/walk method (dodgy knees) – will the watch still work fine in gps + hr + interval mode for 8-10 hours?
    3. easy triathlon mode
    4. open water swims with good gps accuracy – so I know where I am going off course and how many extra meters I end of swimming.
    5. Swim-cycle-run brick sessions.
    6. (possibly calories from weight training, boxing?? or Am I asking for too much!)

    I feel given the £150-200 price of the Suunto HR in comparison to Polar V800 HRM (£250+), Garmin being out of my price range, Suunto would be the best option here. I have gone through all your reviews and Suunto seems to be my best option.

    Any advice appreciated!

  8. I read somewhere that there will be some news coming from Suunto in the end of March 2017. If this rumour is true, could it be the Suunto Spartan Sport WHR that will be released? This since there have been several improvements in the Suunto Spartan software recently in regards to 24/7 tracking?

      • Thanks for a great review – after much study and soul searching I have just purchased a Garmin 935.
        Which very neatly proves your point that the slowest swimmer in the swim squad will be wearing the most expensive sports watch…sad but true.

        Thanks again for all the hard work!!

  9. You mention “Stryd (& EPOC, don’t know what that is)” support on the Ambit’s in a way that makes it sound like a feature not on the V800, however the V800 also supports Stryd, has for awhile in some limited fashion, and fully as of this spring/summer updates. Your picture caption seems to clearly indicate it (one of the 3 mentioned with “Stryd:”), but the text seems to imply that it doesn’t compared to the Ambit’s. Just pointing out a little clarity item there.

    • thanks Chris.
      i’ll have a look at that.
      this post is fairly old but has been updated. it’s quite long and likely I overlooked a few bits.
      yes I have done various pieces on stryd+various devices, including v800 when the compatibility was first announced.

  10. Enjoyed your take. Although I prefer the Stryd Foot Pod over the Pioneer. Tried them both. Sometimes changing the battery in the Pioneer screwed up the electronics. Then went to the foot pod which has its own USB charger. When you buy an Ambit3 Sport ( not RUN ), you get a chest strap HRM comes with it. For me the cheapest way to go was thru Ebay. Reconditioned Ambit3 Sport and 920XT. Along with the Stryd Foot Pod. HR – Power – Cadence

    • yep I liked the pioneer at the time but the footpod has won me over.
      ebay – yep, often cheap.
      amazon is weird sometimes really expensive from 3rd parties but once amazon have bought too much stock of their own then super cheap. sigh
      reconditioned – no, I definitely wouldn’t do that. they were originally sent back for a reason (isent back maybe 5? 6? 920xts over a few years)

      • Well, I have been lucky so far. But I do not use them for swimming.
        Also, I do not own a Smart Phone. So, no Apps for me to deal with.
        And, I do not let them discharge to under about 50%. Keep them on their
        chargers when not in use. I do not know if that has any problems with
        their lifespan. I have only been using the watches for about 18 months now
        with no failures. Sometimes one of my 910XTs becomes squirrely. But
        I turn it off and back on to clear it.

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