GPS watches for every budget
If you’re just starting your triathlon journey, the benefits of investing in a dedicated triathlon watch for training and races might not be immediately apparent to you. You may already own an adequate smartwatch that can track your runs, bike rides, and even swims, which might serve you well when you’re doing the first triathlon training workouts.
However, when you’re really starting to push yourself to perform better and increase your training intensity, you'll need a watch with onboard GPS, all-day battery life, and a durable design to keep up with the demands of your swimming, biking, and running workouts. Other features specifically designed to make things accessible on the go and record advanced stats and analytics will become increasingly more beneficial as you progress through your triathlon career. We’ve got you covered because we’ve rounded up options that include the best-of-the-best and something a bit more budget-friendly.
Garmin Forerunner 945
“The Very Best Triathlon Watch”
Garmin released its first Forerunner triathlon watch in 2003 — and has been comfortably leading the pack ever since. The Garmin Forerunner 945 is the latest in the series and one of the most feature-rich triathlon watches on the market. It’s easy to set up and pair with the Garmin app for iOS or Android and is packed with highly accurate sensors for tracking your body during peak performance to enhance your training and recovery.
The Forerunner 945's design is lightweight and comfortable so that you can wear it for hours at a time. Its battery life lasts up to two weeks in smartwatch mode and up to 36 hours in GPS mode (without music) which is more than enough to get you through even the longest Ironman.
This is a watch you can wear daily as well as on race day and, due to its popularity in the triathlon community, chances are you’ll find a fellow athlete, friend, or online resources to help you get better acquainted with the watch if you need it.
Key features of the Garmin Forerunner 945:
The Forerunner 945 offers a complete suite of features for a triathlete: from tracking and collating crucial metrics and data for optimizing your training performance to loading up the watch with your favorite playlist for your next ride or run. Easy access to active stats means you can track your body performance during your run or ride and then sync all that data to your phone. There are also great features for managing rest and recovery, something you might not consider when you’re just starting out. Building these good habits early is essential for maintaining your athletic longevity.
Garmin also offers a compelling option for new triathletes with the Forerunner 945 Blue Bundle. Along with a stylish blue watch strap, the bundle includes two chest strap heart monitors: the HRM-Tri for all-purpose heart rate monitoring throughout all phases of your training and the HRM-Swim, specifically designed to hold tight even during wall pushes in the pool.
One of the most substantial benefits of the Garmin brand is their wide range of supporting accessories that all mesh well together, either by connecting through the watch or syncing data to your smartphone. Having everything you need for training under one umbrella is convenient for set-up, data transfer, and daily use.
What you need to know: The Garmin Forerunner 945 is the pinnacle of triathlon watches in 2021, with thoughtful design and features that will push you to reach your training goals and beyond.
- Easy to set up and use
- 36-hour battery life in GPS mode
- Jam-packed with sensors and useful features
- Vibrant, sunlight-visible color display
- Support for contactless payment and onboard music storage
- Easy swap bands available
- Only available in black (custom straps can be purchased)
- Expensive for beginners
$599.99 USD, amazon.com
Coros Pace 2
“Best Budget Triathlon Watch”
Coros offers the Pace 2 for the budget-conscious triathlete, delivering an impressive slate of features in an ultra-lightweight package. As its name suggests, this is the second-generation model that features enhanced processing power and a digital dial for easier one-finger use.
With a 50-meter waterproof rating, you will have no issues tracking your swims, even in open water. Coros also boasts its Track Run Mode, which aims to track your personal bests more accurately while running on -- you guessed it -- the track. Users also praise the Coros app for its ease of setup and use.
The Pace 2 can deliver up to 30 hours of battery life in full GPS mode before needing a recharge and offers 24/7 heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, and a Night Mode that intelligently keeps the watch face always-on during nighttime activities without completely draining the battery. It’s a great option if you’re looking for a more affordable triathlon watch that doesn’t skimp on the features you’ll rely on to accurately record your training.
Key features of the Coros Pace 2:
Convenience is the core philosophy for the Coros Pace 2. The simple button and dial layout for menu navigation is designed to minimize your interactions when you’re training. With the ultra-lightweight options available, you’ll barely notice it on your wrist.
While the Pace 2 offers other sport modes for tracking your physical activities, the main focus here is on tracking your swims, runs, and bike rides. The Track Run mode purports to offer the most accurate data for your lap times and progress if you work out on a running track. Coros’s heartbeat monitoring matches different algorithms with your workout and training routines, which provides more accurate results.
Backed with a more energy-efficient processor and enhanced battery life from UltraMax mode, the Coros Pace 2 is a training smartwatch that’s an ideal entry point for a budget-conscious triathlete looking for outstanding performance at a great value. The Pace 2’s low price compared to the competition makes it an easy recommendation to new triathletes, but the fact that Coros has managed significant innovations while maintaining a relatively low price actually makes it a compelling smartwatch choice for triathletes of all experiences and ability levels.
What you need to know: The Coros Pace 2 is the most affordable triathlon watch that offers great features for training and everyday wear.
- Great entry price for beginners
- Optimized for battery life performance
- Intuitive interface
- Lightweight and stylish nylon band options
- Lacks some of the sensors and features of high-end multi-sport watches
$199.99 USD, amazon.com
Wahoo Elemnt Rival
“Mid-Range Triathlon Watch”
Wahoo is a relative newcomer to the multi-sport watch segment, but it’s a compelling mid-range option for beginners and a natural fit if you’re also in the market for bike computers and other bike training accessories.
The Elemnt Rival offers a simplistic four-button layout built around a bright and colorful watch-face that features an ambient light sensor so that your stats are always viewable no matter the conditions.
You can expect a 14-day battery life for daily smartwatch usage and up to 24 hours in GPS or HR mode, which is more than adequate for most athletes. There aren’t as many sensors or differentiating features as found in the Forerunner 945 or Pace 2, but one standout feature is the touchless transition, allowing you to accurately track all three segments on race day with just one button press — an especially handy feature for beginners.
It’s best to view the Wahoo Rival as a key piece of your triathlon training kit rather than a sporty smartwatch with a triathlon training mode. Wahoo’s considerable efforts to seamlessly sync cycling accessories with smartphones offer another way to sync and track data while capturing your swims and runs. Any beginner can pair a Wahoo watch with a bike computer and leverage the data to help you crush your first triathlon.
Key features of the Wahoo Elemnt Rival:
The Rival features seamless transitions from swim to bike and bike to run. Touchless transition is its strongest differentiating feature that will appeal to beginners and seasoned triathletes alike, along with data syncing functionality with apps like Strava, Dropbox, and Wahoo bike computers (of course).
The Rival lacks some important functionality for daily use, such as contactless payment, third-party app support, and other sensors used for tracking different workouts and post-training recovery. Most people already wear an Apple Watch or fitness tracker on the daily, and that’s why this first iteration of the Rival wasn’t designed (or priced) to compete for that space on your wrist. Instead, Wahoo focuses on enhancing the training and race day experience for triathletes of all levels.
What you need to know: Wahoo plays to its own strengths with the Elemnt Rival, offering a stylish multi-sport watch that pairs well with other Wahoo bike accessories.
- Big, bright display is always easy to see
- Designed to work seamlessly with other Wahoo products
- Simple interface designed to minimize user interactions
- Touchless transition is an excellent feature for beginners
- Lack of features for the price point
- May sit a bit heavy on the wrist
$379.99 USD, wahoofitness.com
How to decide which triathlon watch to buy
Investing in a reliable multi-sport watch is an important decision when you’re starting to get serious about training for triathlons. Garmin offers the best product available with the Forerunner 945, but there’s no shortage of other great options out there. For the absolute best value, consider the Coros Pace 2. If you’re coming from a cycling background, already have a Wahoo bike computer, and don’t require the most advanced health monitoring statistics, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival might be the watch for you.