Best Garmin Watches for Trail running?

Trail running is popular among outdoor enthusiasts as it offers a unique challenge and sense of adventure. To get the most out of trail running, you need to have the right gear, including a high-quality GPS watch.

Garmin, Coros, Suunto, Casio, and Polar dominate the outdoor wearable niche, offering a wide selection of watches. However, Garmin is the clear leader when it comes to running watches, the American-based company has named an entire series to it (Forerunner lineup).

Garmin offers a wide range of running watches, from basic models to feature-packed solar watches. In this post, we’ll take a look at the best Garmin watches for trail running, based on our extensive research. As there is a huge overlap of features, this list looks similar to our guide for best Garmins for hiking

There are many different factors to consider when shopping around for a trail running watch including a budget, durability,  battery life, and features. Let’s discuss them in detail.

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Best Garmin Watches for Trail running?

  1. Garmin Fenix 7: Best for Advanced runners
  2. Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE: Best Overall
  3. Garmin Vivoactive 3: Best Entry Level

GARMIN FENIX 7 SERIES: Best For Advanced Trail Runners

FENIX 7

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  • Release Date: Jan 2022
  • Price: $700-$900
  • Size(s): 42mm, 47mm, 51mm
  • Straps: Interchangeable
  • ABC Sensors: Yes
  • Builtin GPS: Yes
  • Water Resistance: 10 ATM ( up to 100 m in water)
  • Battery Performance: 18 to 57 days

From Fenix 3 to Fenix 7, trail running has been consistently added as an activity profile over all these years. The latest Fenix 7 offers improved battery performance, a more accurate ELEVATE heart rate sensor, and better looks. But when it comes to trail running, the watch has little to add to what its predecessor can offer.

The watch is available for almost all wrist sizes, and its SOLAR models have one beast of battery performance. No matter what variant your pick, the bulky look, and ruggedness would remain the same (It is shock and water resistance and is highly suitable for muddy trails). However, Fenix 7 is the first in the lineup to feature a touchscreen. 

The watch covers the basics like pace, time, and distance as well as advanced metrics like vertical oscillation, vertical ratio, ground contact time, stride length, and more. Some advanced metrics can only be accessed when you attach external sensors to the watch via ANT+ or Bluetooth. 

Fenix 7 features full-color TOPO maps preloaded on the device. You can set your routes beforehand and add waypoints to find your way on challenging trails. With its trackback feature, you can easily find your way back to safety. 

Also, it allows you to share your progress with a trail running community via Garmin Connect. You can export your data to Strava and other popular apps if that is your preferred platform to interact with trail runners.

Let’s delve deeper into the sensors onboard. It has a barometric altimeter, a powerful GPS (with multi GNSS capabilities), a compass, and a thermometer. As far as accuracy is concerned, Fenix 7 set the gold standard for not only the Garmin watches but also for the market leaders like Apple, Samsung, Polar, and Suunto. 

Trail running being an endurance sport takes a heavy toll on your body. Here, the Fenix 7 would be your coach by offering you insights into your calories burned, stress, sleep, recovery time, and body battery when you are off the field. While running, it monitors your performance in heart rate zones and tells you important metrics like VO2 max, training load, heart rate variation, and more. 

However, all is not good in Fenix 7. First and foremost, it is expensive, way more expensive than its other siblings. It weighs heavier than Forerunner Series due obviously to its rugged build. And lastly, its features are a bit of an overkill for a person looking for an entry-level running watch for trails. 

Pros
  • New accurate Heart Rate Sensor
  • Rugged Design
  • Multi sports watch
  • Touch Screen for easy navigation
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Heavy

Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE: Best Overall

Forerunner 945 LTE

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  • Release Date: April 2019
  • Price: about $450-600
  • Size(s): 47mm
  • Straps: Interchangeable
  • ABC Sensors: Yes
  • Built-in GPS: Yes
  • Water Resistance: 5 ATM ( up to 50 m in water)
  • Battery Performance: up to 2 weeks

Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE is suitable for all types of running be it trails, treadmills,s or roads. The watch is lightweight but packs a ton of features that are more or less the same as you find in the Fenix 7. The two major missings are a touchscreen and the latest Elevate Heart Rate sensor in this watch if compared to the latest Fenix watch.

The watch has music storage for offline listening, plus you can download playlists from Spotify, Amazon Music, and more. Fenix 7 offers the same but with more storage.

The watch has trail running as a preloaded activity that tracks your heart rate, pace, time distance, and duration. And if you add a foot pod and an external heart rate sensor via ANT+ or Bluetooth, advanced running dynamics are instantly available on your wrist (Pacepro, stride length, vertical ratio, Lactate Threshold, etc). 

It also tracks performance metrics like training load, status, focus, recovery time, stress level, and more. The watch doubles as a fitness tracker where it monitors your heart rate, sleep, and blood oxygen. 

The LTE variant allows the watch to send messages to emergency contacts whenever the need arises. The watch has an incident detection sensor to trigger the feature automatically. Trail running is full of hazards and in case you don’t take your smartphone with you, Forerunner 945 would be your only savior.

The watch supports full-color mapping, and you can upload GPX maps on the watch. However, the small screen and a big bezel restrict the navigation on the FR945.

The battery performance lasts for 2 weeks on a single charge but is reduced to 10 hours if you are running GPS continuously. There is no Solar model of the watch which is not an issue for trail runners but if you are into ultra running or marathons, this can be a deal-breaker.

Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Ideal for running
  • Decent battery performance
Cons
  • A little expensive
  • Doesn’t fullfil the ruggedness criteria for trail running

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music: Best Entry Level

Vivoactive 3 Music

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  • Release Date: September 2017
  • Price: Around $150
  • Size(s): 42mm
  • Straps: Interchangeable
  • ABC Sensors: Yes
  • Built-in GPS: Yes
  • Water Resistance: 5 ATM ( up to 50 m in water)
  • Battery Performance: up to 7 days

Initially, we were in favor of Garmin Forerunner 245 Music, as the watch has a dedicated mode for trail running, but as soon as we found out that it lacks a dedicated barometer, we ditched it in favor of Garmin Vivoactive 3. Both are low-end models, but vivoactive comes at a considerably low price and is one of the cheapest Garmin on the market. 

There is no dedicated mode for trail running on the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music, and the watch is underpowered in many aspects, but it does the job. You can download apps on the ConnectIQ store for this or create a custom activity on the watch itself. 

The activity tracking that includes pace, distance, and time is pretty much accurate. The elevation data (ascent and descent) is good enough but not at par with Fenix and Forerunner’s elite watches. Advanced metrics are absent and it is understandable why. 

The watch also lacks the performance metrics like training status/effect, training load, recovery advisor, and race predictor. You get all of them in Forerunner 245 Music, but still, elevation tracking is missing in the latter. 

Fortunately, this watch has built a waypoints feature, so you can set a specific route next time you run on trails. However, the TOPO maps are absent which is an excellent feature to have for hikers and trail runners. 

Vivoactive 3 Music comes with almost 2 weeks of battery performance on a single charge. However, the performance takes a hit as soon as you turn on the GPS and listen to music. 

Pros
  • Come packed with Barometric altimeter
  • Budget Friendly
  • Covers all essential running features
  • Waypoints
Cons
  • Lacks dedicated Trail running mode
  • Advanced running metrics are absent

What to look for in a Garmin watch for trail running?

These days, there are tons of different Garmin watches on the market catering to all sorts of athletes and outdoor enthusiasts. But if you’re primarily interested in trail running, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep an eye out for:

Budget: You don’t need to spend a fortune on a Garmin watch, but you do need to make sure it has the features you want. Typically, a  Garmin watch for trail running will cost you between $250 and $350. And some advanced watches can go up to $1000, so you need to be really picky about this.

Durability: The watch needs to be durable enough to withstand the rigors of the sport. So, look for a model with a tough case and straps that can take a beating. Also, make sure the display is protected by Gorilla Glass or another type of scratch-resistant material. Moreover, it should be water resistant to a fair degree.

Running Features: While all Garmin watches for runners offer features like pace, distance, time, and cadence, there is only a handful of them that takes it to the next level. The Fenix and Forerunner Series have watches that can connect with external heart rate and foot pod sensors to offer you advanced metrics like Ground Contact Time, vertical ratio, and Balance. Most of these features are not a great help for trail runners, but good news for those on a budget.

Navigation and Elevation Metrics: Your Garmin must have GPS/GLONASS support for accurate location tracking and route mapping capabilities. Additionally, trail running can take you up steep mountain climbs and down rocky descents. A trail-specific watch should have at least a barometric altimeter for detailed elevation tracking. Plus, it should have mapping or TOPO maps, so you can easily track your progress and find the best routes.

Performance Metrics:   A trail runner needs more than distance, pace, and time to assess their performance. That’s where trail-specific watches come in handy. Your Garmin should have sensors that can track data like heart rate zones, VO2 max, recovery time, training effect, and more. All of these metrics can be used to improve your running technique and overall performance.

Safety Features: LiveTrack, Group LiveTrack, and Incident detection are some of the most important safety features to look forward to. A watch with LTE connectivity (Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE) should be preferred as it allows you to make use of these features even when your phone is not around.

Battery Performance:  Your trail running watch should last for at least 8 hours or more on a single charge with GPS running in the background. Some Garmin watches even have up to 24-hour battery life (Mostly the SOLAR variants), which is great if you don’t watch to charge it every now and then.

Final Verdict: Best Garmin Watch for Trail Running

Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE checks all the boxes in terms of trail running features. With its robust design, long battery life, and advanced metrics tracking, it is the best Garmin trail running watch on the market to date.

Apart from this, its price point makes it a great value for money option as well. However, if you are looking for better accuracy, a touch screen, and reliable battery performance, Garmin Fenix 7 Series is the way to go. 

FAQs:

Which Garmin Watches have a Trail running mode?

WatchesTrail Running Activity ProfileGPS onboardWaterProofingBattery Performance
Garmin Fenix 7YesYes10 ATM18 to 57 days
Garmin Fenix 6YesYes10 ATM14 to 48 days
Garmin Fenix 5YesYes10 ATM9 days
Garmin Intinct 2/2SYesYes10 ATM28 to 65 days
Forerunner 945/ 945 LTEYesYes5 ATMupto 2 weeks
Forerunner 935YesYes5 ATMupto 2 weeks
Forerunner 745YesYes5 ATMupto 1 week
Forerunner 245/245 musicYesYes5 ATMupto 1 week

Best trail running app for Garmin?

Here is a list of best data fields and apps for trail or ultra running on the Garmin IQ store.

  1. Trail Run / Running by Welffi
  2. Trail Run Rosario
  3. Trail lap