The Best Triathlon Watch for you – Sorted
The Best Triathlon Watch for 2020 is the Garmin Forerunner 945, it’s obvious. Yes, there ARE better options if you have specific needs like music, thin wrists, great aesthetics, lasting for a full Ironman distance race or supporting all your sports sensors. Older watches like a Garmin Fenix 5S Plus or Forerunner 935 have the same core triathlon features as the relatively new 945, with both selling for considerably lower prices. Someone with tighter budget constraints and intrigued by running with power might find the new Polar Vantage M more to their liking.
Anyway, you get the idea; there is a different ‘Best Triathlon Watch‘ for different kinds of people and it’s NOT OBVIOUS which is the best triathlon watch for those people. So, I’ll cover ALL TYPES of triathletes and I’m sure you’ll fit into one or more categories.
The basic thing you need to know is that a Triathlon Watch has a single mode that seamlessly permits the recording of a swim followed by a bike followed by a run, with appropriate data displayed for each sport.
Each category below includes a link to my detailed reviews of every single tri watch; my recommendations; a link to the best prices for you from my partners in your country like REI, Wiggle, Amazon and PMC. I really have trained with ALL of them.
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Best Overall Triathlon Watch
All things considered, the best overall triathlon watch is the Garmin Forerunner 945. It can do almost everything tri-related and more besides.
Sure, it’s expensive and perhaps a larger screen area with stronger glass and QuickFit bands might be desirable but you will be able to live with that. Rest assured that virtually EVERY triathlon-related feature and kinds of connectivity are included. To justify the price tag there are also many smart features including maps, contactless payments and music. Plus, don’t worry, it absolutely will see you through to the end of an Ironman.
- Detailed Review: Garmin Forerunner 945
Best Garmin Triathlon Watch
The absolute best Garmin Triathlon Watch is the Garmin MARQ ATHLETE which is the same as a Forerunner 945 but in a premium casing.
Both the MARQ Athlete and the Forerunner 945 have ALMOST EVERY triathlon feature and a good battery to get you through KONA. You can follow training plans, link to Training Peaks or STRAVA, connect to obscure Muscle Oxygen sensors, bluetooth or ANT+ power meters, lots of Firstbeat Physiological insights, connected smartphone features galore, play music, show you maps and make you a mean flat white Americano (one of those wasn’t true 😉 ).
However, the older Garmin Forerunner 935 still represents the best bang for your Garmin pro-tri buck, turn off some of the battery-eating features for your Ironman and all will be fine. I sold my 935 for a 945 but now regret it in some ways as I don’t really need the ‘smarts’ of the 945.
- Detailed Review: Garmin Forerunner 945
Best Budget Triathlon Watch
The Best Budget Triathlon Watch is the Sigma id.TRI at below $/£150
Sorry that you’ve never heard of it. You will be seriously amazed by the wealth of techy features and connectivity of this small-format watch. It has the features that most recreational triathletes will want it to do but you might not like its looks for 24×7 usage.
Best Triathlon Watch – by Price Band
Here are lists of the best for each price category.
- ‘Luxury’ Watch – MARQ ATHLETE
- Premium Price – Best Garmin Forerunner 945, Forerunner 935, Fenix 5S Plus or Polar Vantage V (Titan) – Next Best Garmin Fenix 6 SERIES, then the Fenix 5 PLUS series, Garmin Forerunner 920XT or Suunto 9
- Mid-Price – Best Polar Vantage M, next best Suunto 5, next best Garmin 735XT and maybe the COROS Pace or Apex
- Low-Price – Best Sigma iD.TRI (see also iD.FREE), The Amazfit Stratos 3 is the best, cheap tri watch which still has lots of smart features – like music support but its onboard sensors are a bit rubbish.
- Detailed Review: Garmin Forerunner 945
- Detailed Review: Polar Vantage M
- Detailed Review: Sigma iD.TRI (see also iD.FREE)
- Detailed Review: Suunto 5
- Detailed Review: COROS APEX
Best Polar Triathlon Watch
The old Polar V800 has bucket-loads of features and is the joint-most accurate GPS watch…ever. The new Polar Vantage V has lost only a few features compared to the V800 but gained beauty as well as several other NEW features like optical HR. The new Polar Vantage M is cheaper and lighter than the Vantage V and I HAVE delighted in using it for most of my 2019 races alongside STRYD and the Polar H10 chest strap.
MY Best Polar Triathlon Watch is the Vantage M but if you are looking for recovery analysis and a more premium finish then go for the Vantage V.
Best Suunto Triathlon Watch
The Suunto Triathlon Watches have beauty in my eyes and have the best quality of construction of any of the watches covered here. Suunto’s thing is ‘a long-life battery in a shell that’s built for the rugged outdoors‘.
My personal favourite is the Suunto 9 Baro and its clever power management features and STRAVA Live Segments and yet the old Ambit 3 could sneak in as the joint-most accurate (ever). On the other hand, you will get the best triathlon feature+price combo from the Suunto 5.
The best Suunto Triathlon Watch is the Suunto 5…Personally, I prefer the Suunto 9 as teh 5’s screen is a bit dim and small.
Best Triathlon Watch – with optical Heart Rate
The jury is still out on this due to the vagaries of oHR accuracy. The best optical heart rate monitor in a triathlon watch might be found in the Polar Vantage M or Polar Vantage V it just depends on how you use the technology and on your physiology. Garmin’s Elevate HR has improved with the 2019 models (MARQ, 945 and Fenix 6) and they would be my recommendation if you wanted the best chance to get accurate oHR.
The Best optical Heart Rate Monitor in a Triathlon Watch is from watches with the latest Garmin ELEVATE sensor
Best Multisport Watch – for Thin Wrists
Best Triathlon Watch – for Women
Apologies for the assumption that only women have thin wrists…I HAVE THIN WRISTS
Without a doubt, this is the Garmin Fenix 6S (Pro+Sapphire) which maintains the same size screen as earlier Fenix watches but packs everything into a more compact case. Garmin also support features for women like menstrual cycle tracking and includes other features like music support and safety alerting. The 945 has the same female-specific features…obviously.
The Best Triathlon Watch for Thin Wrists is the Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Sapphire. If that’s too expensive consider the Vantage M or Fenix 5 s Plus and for the cheapest option we return to the Sigma iD.Tri.
Best Triathlon Watch – for Techiness & Features
The geeky amongst you will buy the Garmin Forerunner 945 or similarly any of the Garmin Fenix 6 range or 5 Plus range. The Best Triathlon Watch for Techniness is the Garmin Forerunner 945 (again). Perhaps worthy of note in this category is the Coros Apex Pro which has lots of on-watch features but whose smartphone app stops me heartily recommending it – but if you throw your data straight into STRAVA or Training Peaks then what does an app matter?
Best Triathlon Watch – for Ironman
Simply put, the battery has to last until the end of the race and the watch will probably also need to support your bike power meter, perhaps STRYD too. With the old 935’s battery life fading as it ages the best option here is the uber-batteried Forerunner 945. Naturally, it will support all the ANT+/BLE sensors you could dream of and the delivery of infeasibly large amounts of Firstbeat insights as well as linking to your coach via Training Peaks. You want last lap normalized power on display? You got it. You want the weather? You got it. You want an app store full of Garmin sporty goodness? Yep…you got that too.
The Best Triathlon Watch for Ironman is the Garmin Forerunner 945
Best Multisport Watch for Beginners
The best triathlon watch for beginners is either “The Practice” or “The Training“. A watch is one more thing to worry about and your current waterproof watch will be perfectly fine.
Do you want to spend some money? Oh alright then. Go for the Polar Vantage M, it’s superficially straightforward but, as time passes, you will find a lot of clever stuff lies hidden away for you to discover both on the watch and in the excellent Polar Flow ecosystem; it’s pretty and it should be a good future-proof solution as your interest in the sport develops.
A newcomer here in late 2020 is the Wahoo ELEMNT Rival which I expect to be a serious contender in 2021. It is very easy to setup up and use for newbies, much more so than Garmin watches which have very complicated menus.
The Best Triathlon Watch for Beginners is the Polar Vantage M, it does all you will ever NEED anyway.
Best Triathlon Watch – with Maps
With the introduction of maps onto the Forerunner 945 then this clearly makes the 945 the winner in this category. No other vendor competes properly in this segment. A word of warning though, a small watch format is not great for viewing maps and to follow routes all you really need is a watch that supports breadcrumb routes and the competition all do well with those kinds of courses. My recommendation here is to think more closely about your true mapping needs and REALLY consider a dedicated bike computer. Also perhaps consider the Fenix 6 Series, which have a slightly larger screen area.
Best Multisport Watch – for the Future
2018/2019 was the time to invest for the future, not now. Wait. If you want a future-proof watch with leading-edge tech then we WILL see more in 2021 potentially from all the key players – Garmin, Polar, Suunto and Apple.
You will be waiting to see what a Garmin Forerunner 955 LTE or Polar Vantage M Gen 2 or Suunto 9 Gen 2 turns out to be. It’s VERY unlikely any other company like Coros, Wahoo, Garmin, Apple or Sigma will come out with a full-featured, all-singing, all-dancing competitor to the market leaders…there’s just too much catching up to do. That said, any of those companies could bring out a niche triathlon watch to target certain kinds of triathletes. Don’t hold your breath.
The Best Triathlon Watch for the Future is the ‘Wait and see in Q2.2021’
Best Triathlon Watch – with Music
You can’t listen to music while you race, but you can while you train, and only Garmin seem to have this well under control and are able to support multiple online music providers AND with triathlon functionality. The 945 is the winner of best triathlon watch with music but you can equally consider the Fenix 5 Plus or Fenix 6 as all Garmin-s music-enabled watches support podcasts, on-watch MP3 playback, Deezer, Spotify and Amazon Music. I doubt Apple Music will be added to Garmin and Google might be too busy moving Play Music to YouTube Music to bother with Garmin support for now.
The next best choice here compared to a Garmin would be one of the low-end watches like the Amazfit Stratos Gen 3 (even Gen 1 supports music playback). The Stratos looks AWESOME (I have one) but it’s really just an interesting toy to play with and if you plan to take triathlon seriously at some point in the future you will buy something else later. But for well less than $/£150 in might just fall in the ‘toy’ category for some of you to buy on a whim now.
The Best Triathlon Watch with Music AGAIN is the Garmin Forerunner 945.
Your Votes for the Best Multisport Watch
Over 1500 of you have voted here for your favourite multisport watch. That’s a good sample size but the results may have been skewed slightly by an overzealous marketing manager cc’ing everyone in the company to vote for a certain product. What do you think?
Detailed Review Links & Buy Links
Still not convinced? I know I’ve skirted over many of the issues in this ‘best of’ post. However, if you have a few hours to spare you can read all the detailed content I’ve written that backs these recommendations and buy at the prices at your local retailer (the link goes to retailers in your country – about 10 retailers in the USA including the discounters)
- Best Price : Review: Garmin Forerunner 935
- Best Price : Review : Garmin Forerunner 945
- Best Price : Review : Garmin Fenix 6 Series
- Best Price : Review: Garmin Fenix 5X
- Best Price : Review: Garmin Fenix 5X Plus
- Best Price : Review: Garmin Fenix 5S Plus
- Best Price : Review: Polar Vantage M
- Best Price : Review: Polar Vantage V
- Best Price : Review: Sigma iD.TRI (see also iD.FREE)
- Best Price : Review: Suunto 9
- Best Price : Review: Suunto 7
- Best Price : Review: Suunto 5
- Best Price : Review: Garmin Forerunner 735XT
- Best Price : Review: Suunto SPARTAN SPORT
- Best Price : Review: Suunto SPARTAN ULTRA /SPORT
- Best Price : Review: Suunto SPARTAN SPORT WHR
- Best Price : Review: Polar V800
- Best Price : Review: Garmin Fenix 3/HR
- Best Price : Review: Garmin 920Xt
- Best Price : Review: Suunto AMBIT3/ AMBIT3 SPORT
- Best Price : Review: Garmin Fenix 5
- Best Price : Review: Garmin Fenix 5S
- Best Price : Review: Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER WHR
- Best Price : Review: Amazfit STRATOS
- Best Price : Review: Garmin 910XT
- Best Price : Review: Refurbished Garmin 310XT
- Best Price : Review: COROS PACE
- Best Price : Review: COROS APEX
- Best Price : Review: COROS APEX Pro
- Best Price : Review: COROS VERTIX
- Garmin MARQ ATHLETE – no links
- Best Price : Review: Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL
- Timex Ironman – Cheap, no review
Here is the summary again and remember massive amounts of detail are in the reviews if you need to do more research