Q3.2021’s Best Triathlon Watch – isn’t it obvious ? Garmin, Polar, Apple & more

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The Best Triathlon Watch for 2021 | Other Multisports too

The Best Triathlon Watch for 2021 is the Garmin Forerunner 945, it’s obvious…kinda.

Updated 22nd August 2021

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. If you have tighter budget constraints and intrigued by running with power, the Polar Vantage M2 more to your liking.

Best Triathlon Watch
Garmin Forerunner 945 935

So there is a different ‘Best Triathlon Watch‘ for each kind of triathlete and it’s NOT OBVIOUS which is the best triathlon watch for everyone. So, I’ll separately cover ALL TYPES of triathletes and I’m sure you fit into one or more of those categories.

FORM Swim Goggles Review Specifications

The basics: 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…ever; 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 – Winner

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 kind 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 Triathlon Watch

 

Best Triathlon Watch Garmin 945 Sigma id.TRI Polar Vantage
Sigma iD.TRI

 

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 Garmin 945 Sigma id.TRI Polar Vantage
Spartan Trainer, Stratos, 935 – no winners here

Best Garmin Triathlon Watch

The absolute best Garmin Triathlon Watch is the Garmin MARQ ATHLETE which is effectively 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 a battery-eating feature or two for your Ironman race and all will be fine. I sold my 945 and re-bought a 935 which I now just use solely for sports but prefer my Apple Watch for more general smart usage (non-sports). (Must Read: Apple Watch 6 Critical Review)

 

Best Triathlon Watch Coros PAce 2

Best Triathlon Watch – by Price Band

Here are lists of the best for each price category.

 

Best Triathlon Watch Garmin Enduro
Off-road multisport options: Enduro, Vertix & Suunto 9

Best Polar Triathlon Watch

#Tricky.

The new Polar Vantage V2 has advanced structured workouts that support running power (Garmin doesn’t), 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 how it presents and summarises our activity data…Garmin Connect is catching up tho.

MY best Polar Triathlon Watch is the slightly thinner Vantage M2 but if you are looking for recovery analysis and a more premium finish then go for the Vantage V2.

Best Triathlon Watch Garmin 945 Sigma id.TRI Polar Vantage

 

Best Triathlon Watch Polar Vantage V2

Best Suunto Triathlon Watch

#Tricky

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 apps that include 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 9 Peak from 2021 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 9 Peak…Personally, I prefer the larger Suunto 9 Baro and for me the Suunto 5’s screen is a bit dim and small.

Links to partners in your country, some offer discounts – especially with the loyalty schemes linked to from here with REI and Wiggle

 

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 decent watchOS apps for a triathlon that will 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. You’ll be able to use it all the rest of the time too!

The Best optical Heart Rate Monitor in a Triathlon Watch is the Apple Watch 6, choose your triathlon app wisely

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Best Triathlon Watch transition triathlon app apple watch ios
Apple Watch SE Nike Edition & Transition app – geo-automated transitions…cool!

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 smaller case. Garmin also support features for women like menstrual cycle tracking and includes other features like music support and safety alerting. The 945 has those 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 more robust case 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. For the best-looking, small format tri watch that you would wear for 24×7 usage consider the Suunto 9 Peak.

Suunto 9 Peak removig straps pins Review

 

Garmin Forerunner 745
745 vs 945…same, huh?

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 to know 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

Polar Vantage V2 Review Specifications
Polar Vantage V2

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. It’s good for life!

 

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buy Wahoo Elemnt RIVAL review specifications

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 in 2021. Wait. If you want a future-proof watch with leading-edge tech then we WILL see more as 2021 winds to a close, almost certainly from Garmin and Apple.

You will be waiting to see what a Garmin Forerunner 955LTE or Apple Watch 7 turns out to be. Maybe even Polar & Suunto will surprise us?

The Best Triathlon Watch for the Future is the ‘Wait and see in Sep-Oct2021’

 

Jabra Elite Active 75t Review | Jabra Elite 75t Review

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.

The Polar Vantage V2 can control music on your phone and the Coros Vertix 2 can store and play MP3 music files.

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.

A Review of the Garmin EnduroYour 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…

buy Wahoo Elemnt RIVAL review specifications

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)

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%
92%

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9 thoughts on “Q3.2021’s Best Triathlon Watch – isn’t it obvious ? Garmin, Polar, Apple & more

  1. Hey, thanks a lot for a great breakdown, but why Fenix 6S Pro is better option for women if they like music over FR745? They both have music and battery life is exactly the same for both of them.
    (I agree with sturdiness part)

    1. I’d choose F6SPro (61g) if you want full maps, FR745 (52g) if you want lighter weight. Otherwise feature set is nearly identical. I find lighter weight equals better comfort, and they are all impressively durable.

  2. Hi, great overview as usual! Still in the presented taxonomy the category “best for running/cycling with power” is not there: which one would be the winner? (A better place to post this would have been in the “2021-best-running-watch…” article, but it seems not possible to post comments there…which watch would win in the “best for running with Stryd” category?)

    1. that’s a good question.
      it’s of interest to me but i think it’s fairly niche. I think i covered it in my best running watch
      anyway, to answer your question.
      garmin – non-native power is a massive downside
      Suunto – don’t have enough power features
      coros is very good, perhaps it could be argued to be the best. but the app lets it down for me.
      Wahoo – need to add structured power workouts then I’ll think about it some more.
      so
      Polar wins. the only downside for me with polar and running power is that if your stryd battery runs out then you will have some inflated on-the-wrist power stats to deal with. sounds minor but it annoys me, I have asked them for the ability to be able to disable wrist-power. then there’s the issue of getting the data out of flow in just the way i want it. I would use polar devices MUCH more if they natively supported dropbox. I’ve asked for that too.
      Apple watch is pretty cool. but you’re using the stryd app (other apps work with stryd data too). i cant say this wins if I’ve just criticised garmin for non-native power.

      basically: in 99% of cases people have the watch before they buy the stryd so it’s a moot recommendation.

  3. Hello,
    EIther you’ve leaked a future fw update or you’ve fumbled, but the Suunto9 does NOT have Strava live segments 🙂
    Thanks for the overview of all the key actors.
    You should emphasize a bit more on the “(features-list) size does not matter” aspect for these watches 🙂

  4. Hi guys. I am willing to purchase a new triathlon watch. Music storage is a must.
    Should I go for the 945 or wait a few months for a new release from Garmin or Suunto?

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