The Best Triathlon Watch for you | Other Multisports too
The Best Triathlon Watch for 2021 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. If the price is a major constraint, then 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 even tighter budget constraints and intrigued by running with power might find the Polar Vantage M2 more to their liking.
Clearly, 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 Power Meter City. I have trained a lot with ALL of these watches.
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 a 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.
Feature examples: proper custom multisport mode, FE-C support, ANT+/BLE PM support, running dynamics, STRYD support, daily workout suggestions, 3rd party plan support, complex structured workout execution support, custom interval mode, decent lightweight shell and battery life, every possible data metric on display, every key Firstbeat physiology insight, training peaks compatible, zwift compatible, strava compatible, fully triathlon compatible 😉
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 but heavier.
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 smart features of the 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 945/745, Forerunner 935, Fenix 5S Plus or Polar Vantage V2 – Next Best Garmin Fenix 6 SERIES, then the Fenix 5 PLUS series or Suunto 9
- Mid-Price – Best Polar Vantage M2, next best Suunto 5, and the COROS Pace2
- 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 rubbish.
- Detailed Review: Garmin Forerunner 945
- Detailed Review: Garmin Forerunner 745
- Detailed Review: Polar Vantage M2
- Detailed Review: Sigma iD.TRI (see also iD.FREE)
- Detailed Review: Suunto 5
- Detailed Review: COROS APEX
Best Polar Triathlon Watch
The new Polar Vantage V2 has structured workout support which even supports running power, it’s definitely the best Polar triathlon watch. Some athletes would trust its physiology feedback more than they would from a Garmin but I love the V2 for the quality of the case construction and aesthetic design appeal. The cheaper Polar Vantage M2 is almost nearly as feature-full but adds in a degree of race-worthiness with its thin and lightweight construction, again I’ve used these for racing just for that reason. Polar’s FLOW platform is good and, along with my partner, we both prefer it to all others for the immediately pre-and post-workout data fests…Garmin Connect is catching up tho.
MY best Polar Triathlon Watch is the Vantage M2 but if you are looking for recovery analysis and a more premium finish then go for the Vantage V2.
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 for the title of the best Suunto triathlon watch would be the Suunto 9 Baro and its clever power management and the wider SuuntoPlus featureset that includes STRAVA Relative Effort, Training Peaks integration and special automatic effort lap modes (hill, loop, sprint). 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 thinner-wristed amongst you will love the smaller-format Suunto 5 which packs in adaptive training plans, stress and sleep tracking over and above a decent set of battery-friendly triathlon features.
The best Suunto Triathlon Watch is the Suunto 5…Personally, I prefer the Suunto 9 as the 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 and how it varies from person to person and according to the environment & sport.
You will be surprised to know that the new oHR sensor in the Apple Watch 6 is the best I have experienced. *NOT* the Apple Watch SE, that’s different. The next best would be the Garmin Forerunner 745 and that did come close. However, after the 745 came the Garmin Enduro and the optical HR was back to ‘less than acceptable’ again, maybe it was the colder weather? So I just can’t trust Garmin to get this right and even Apple has off days. Get a chest strap!
Then you will tell me that the Apple Watch 6 is not a triathlon watch. I get where you are coming from but for a sprint or Olympic distance race, there are plenty of good Watch OS apps for a triathlon that will properly support you through the race. If you don’t fancy yourself as a Kona triathlete and have an iPhone then, hey, why not get the Apple Watch…it IS indisputably the best smartwatch and it can do shorter triathlons too.
The Best optical Heart Rate Monitor in a Triathlon Watch is the Apple Watch 6, choose your triathlon app wisely
Best Multisport Watch – for Thin Wrists
Apologies for the assumption that only women have thin wrists…I HAVE THIN WRISTS
Best Triathlon Watch – for Women
Without a doubt, the best triathlon watch for women is the Garmin Forerunner 745 which is basically a 945 packed 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 Forerunner 745 BUT if you also want music and a slightly sturdier shell then go for the Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Sapphire. If they are both too expensive consider the Vantage M2 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). The techiness you will love will lie in the connectivity with any kind of sensor, an awesome range of 3rd party CIQ apps/data fields and with full integration to all the key 3rd party data platforms. 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. Do you want last lap normalized power on display? You got it. Do you want the weather? You got it. Do 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-with-intent
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 Wahoo ELEMNT Rival, it’s superficially straightforward with all the configuration stuff squirrelled away onto the excellent app, this makes the watch itself simple to use unlike a Garmin whose watch menus are labyrinthine in their complexity. As time passes, you will discover really clever triathlon features, eg to automate transitions or cleverly working together with any other Wahoo equipment you might own. Many Garmin owners begrudge their watches but you will find that most Wahoo owners are advocates for their watches and bike computers. There is a reason for that…the Rival looks very much like a sturdy Garmin Fenix with bits of titanium prettiness thrown in for ruggedness and it should be a good future-proof solution as your interest in the sport develops.
The Best Triathlon Watch for Beginners is the Wahoo ELEMNT Rival, 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. So perhaps instead consider the Fenix 6X, which has a slightly larger screen area for that map and all the same features but it is a larger format watch.
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 as 2021 unfolds, 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 Gen 2 or Suunto 9 Gen 2 or Apple Watch 7 turns out to be.
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.
Best Multisport Watch – All terrains, other disciplines
Multisports can mean much more than simply the triathlon disciplines. If you start to introduce adventure multisport races then you might need support for custom multisport profiles to include Kayaking, canoeing, MTB riding, trail running and more. Only Garmin can do that properly. Then if you are looking for the ruggedness of the construction and a battery life that is verging on limitless you are again directed back to Garmin and, specifically the Garmin Enduro – complete with solar charging. The Enduro is a pro trail watch that just so happens to have all the Garmin multisport features…all of them. It can follow breadcrumb trails but does NOT otherwise have onboard maps.
Your Votes for the Best Multisport Watch
Over 2000 of you have voted here for your favourite multisport watch. Have your say or just check out the results…
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 Forerunner 745
- Best Price : Review: Garmin Enduro
- Best Price : Review: Apple Watch 6
- Best Price : Review: Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL
- 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 M2
- Best Price : Review: Polar Vantage V2
- 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 Pace 2
- Best Price : Review: COROS APEX
- Best Price : Review: COROS APEX Pro
- Best Price : Review: COROS VERTIX
- Garmin MARQ ATHLETE – no links
- 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
Best Triathlon Watch 2021 - Category Winners
Best Overall Triathlon Watch - Garmin Forerunner 945 - 94%94%
Best Garmin Triathlon Watch - Garmin Forerunner 945 - 94%94%
Best Budget Triathlon Watch - Sigma iD.Tri - 88%88%
Best Triathlon Watch – by Price Band (Luxury) - Garmin MARQ Athlete - 95%95%
Best Triathlon Watch – by Price Band (Premium) - Garmin 945 - 94%94%
Best Triathlon Watch – by Price Band (Mid Price) - Polar Vantage M2 - 89%89%
Best Triathlon Watch – by Price Band (Low Price) - Sigma iD.Tri - 88%88%
Best Triathlon Watch – for Women - Garmin Forerunner 745 - 93%93%
Best Triathlon Watch – for Techiness & Features - Garmin 945 - 94%94%
Best Triathlon Watch – for Ironman - Garmin 945 - 94%94%
Best Triathlon Watch for Beginners - Wahoo ELEMNT Rival - 89%89%
Best Triathlon Watch – with Maps - Garmin 945 - 94%94%
Best Triathlon Watch – with Music - Garmin 945 - 92%92%