The Athletes Guide to the Best Triathlon Watch

Triathlons are no longer just an Olympic event. Off road, mud, half and even beginner triathlons are offered all over the world. Before you jump into a triathlon, you need to be in tip top shape. Running, Swimming and Biking are all intensive sports individually. Together it is a grueling physical fitness test. Finding the best triathlon watch can make the difference in your training.

Why You Need to Find the Best Triathlon Watch

Best Triathlon Watch

What does your watch do, keep time? That is not enough. Not anymore. Their is a reason athletes of all back grounds are jumping on the fitness tech trend. Data. Pure data is the difference between knowing if you are progressing as an athlete or staying stagnant. Progress is not just about numbers, but the right watch can track everything – from elevation to weather patterns when training.

The biggest misconception of aspiring triathletes is that your time only matters during a triathlon. This can’t be further from the truth. It is far more important to track your training. The best triathlon watch will track several metrics to help you improve your training.

Benefits of the a Good Triathlon Watch

  • Built in GPS
  • Running Metric Analysis (Stride Length, Performance Condition, Pace, etc)
  • Built in Fitness Level Analysis
  • Accurate Activity Tracking
  • Improved Physical Performance
  • Accurate Health Tracking (Heart Rate, Physiology, etc)

This list can go on for ages. If you find the best triathlon watch for your needs, you can accurately track running, swimming and cycling. Most smart watches at most track running or walking. This is what sets a triathlon watch apart from your general fitness technology.

The second stand out feature is an extremely accurate GPS, even when going off road. When training for a triathlon you prepare for various weather conditions and elevations. When you go off road, must common fitness devices, like a fitbit, will not accurately track how far you run. My every day fitness watch, a Samsung, is horrible at giving accurate distance and step numbers. Fitbit’s are even worse.

If you plan on actually finishing a triathlon a regular fitness watch will not cut it. I am going to ignore the fact other fitness technology can’t track cycling. And recording swimming in a regular smart watch or fitbit is a joke. Most are not even water resistant, let alone water proof.

How We Determined the Best Triathlon Watches

We looked at each activity individually. Running, swimming and cycling. All three are sports in there own right, and have specific needs. Generally speaking, the distance and endurance features on a running watch can be used for cycling, but swimming has it’s own set of required features.

Running Requirements:

  • Built In GPS
  • Stride Length
  • Timer
  • GPS Mapping
  • Heart Rate Monitor

Cycling Requirements: 

  • Built In GPS
  • Mapping Feature
  • Heart Rate Monitor
  • Altitude Sensor

Swimming Requirements:

  • At least 10M Water Resistance
  • Pool Lap Count
  • Heart Rate Monitor
  • Easy Water Friendly Timer

All watches had to check these boxes. Some nice features, like a step counter or music, we preferable, but not a requirement. The reason is we wanted something which performed well. But, we found just about all our favorite watches had built in music and often a pay program so we would not need to carry an ipod or wallet with us while cycling / running.

The Three Best Triathlon Watches

We narrowed down our list of watches from dozens tested down to three. All three checked our ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ boxes. Price was a huge concern. Most watches were hundreds of dollars. But everything less than that lacked key components which made most of the watches just running watches, even if advertised as a triathlon watch. We are going to review the watches in reverse order. Number one is the ‘worst’ of all those we reviewed. Number three is the hands down best.

#1 Garmin Vívoactive in Black

This is our first recommendation because it is, after all, a smart watch. It has all the features you want in a smart watch, but it also has a wide variety of sport tracking. It is also the least expensive watch that met our requirements.

Typical Smart Watch Features:

  • Customization of Widgets
  • Smart Phone Syncing
  • Bluetooth Enabled
  • Display Text Messages and Phone Calls
  • Customization of Watch Face

Triathlon Watch Features:

  • Swimming Interval Tracking
  • Pool Lap Tracking
  • GPS Enabled Cycling App (Tracks Speed and Distance)
  • GPS Enabled Running App (Distance and Stride)
  • Walking App (Distance and Steps

Every check box for a good smart watch are checked. The negatives are the off road GPS can use some improvement, and it can do better in the waterproof department. I would call this water resistant. But it is a fantastic smart watch with all the triathlon watch requirements we have.

#2 Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire – Slate Gray with Black Band

This is a clear step up in quality from the last watch, but has a price jump to go with it. This watch does everything you want in a smart watch and a triathlon watch, but frankly does the job better. A huge step up over a fitness tracker and a smart watch.

Amazing Smart Watch Features:

  • Built in Wifi
  • Smart Phone Syncing
  • Scratch Proof Face
  • Long Charge Time (Weeks)
  • Multiple Face and Band Options
  • Stainless Steel Construction

Triathlon Watch Features:

  • 100M Waterproof
  • Built in Altimeter
  • Built in Barometer
  • Topographic Maps
  • Cycling Maps
  • + Every Other Triathlon Watch Feature

This watch is impressive. If it were not for watch number three, this would be the hands down best triathlon watch. It barely loses out on the top mark as well. Out the box it is functional. What impresses me the most is the accuracy. It is extremely accurate. The running and cycling accuracy and miles beyond a regular smart watch or fitness tracker. That is why this clearly made the cut, no matter the price. Even the swimming functionality is surprisingly accurate. No real negatives to mention.

#3 Garmin Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit (Black)

This is the only ‘true’ triathlon watch we would recommend. It is designed with a triathlon feature to track running, swimming and cycling sequentially. No fidgeting with settings or apps. You can seamlessly go from swimming to cycling with this watch. This is by far the most impressive in the category.

Smart Watch Features:

  • Smart Phone Syncing
  • Long Battery Life (Up to Two Weeks)
  • Compatible with Windows, Apple and Samsung Devices
  • Multiple Apps (Like Uber)
  • Functional Display (Text Messages and Phone Calls)

Triathlon Watch Features:

  • Running Technique Analysis
  • Built in Accurate GPS
  • Performance, Training and Recovery Tracking
  • Multiple Swimming Apps (Pool and Open Water)
  • Built in Barometer and Altimeter

This is an impressive watch. Hands down the best triathlon watch. Not as impressive as number two, but it is remarkably close. What it lacks in typical smart watch features it makes up for in triathlon features. This is the only watch in the triathlon class that does the job well. This watch also does an excellent job as a swimming smart watch replacement.

The Best Triathlon Watch

Hands down, the best triathlon watch is the Garmin Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit (Black). It is hands down the best pure triathlon watch you can find. A close second is the Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire – Slate Gray with Black Band. The Forerunner does a better job tracking sequential triathlon activity, while the Fenix does a better job individually tracking and being more resistant over all.

I prefer the Fenix. I like a watch does is superior at the individual aspects of a triathlon. This is because when training, I more often spend the day either running, cycling, or swimming. I do not often do all three in the same day. Fenix also is rugged. Scratch resistant and stainless steel design make it an optimal watch for those of us who are rough when training.



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