The world has gone mad for the various smart watches on the market. However, for anyone serious about outdoor sports, you should forget about the Apple watch and go for a proper watch made for the job, such as one of the Garmin Fenix watches.
The Garmin Fenix range has been one of the “go to” solutions for tracking your ride, run, hike or whatever adventure you embark on.
They are not cheap, so you really should know which Garmin Fenix you should buy.
The Garmin Fenix Staples
The Garmin Fenix range is reasonably extensive, but in the interest of keeping up with modern technology I will stick to the two main ones, the Garmin Fenix 3 and the 5.
Garmin Fenix 3
|Garmin Fenix 3 Specs|
|- Stainless Steel EXO™ antenna with GPS + GLONASS support for fast fix and accuracy
- 3.1 cm (1.2-inch) sunlight readable colour Chroma™ display
- Fēnix 3 Silver HR has Elevate™ wrist based heart rate (010-01338-77 only)
- Altimeter, barometer and 3-axis compass with auto calibration
- Support of a broad selection of sports and activities with dedicated user profiles like trail running, swimming, hiking, skiing and more
- Advanced fitness training features including VO2 Max and Recovery
- Advisor and classic Garmin navigation features like TracBack
- Smart features like Smart Notification and Connect IQ™ App support for further customisation
- Battery life: up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 6 weeks in watch mode
The Garmin Fenix 3 is one of the best GPS sport watches on the market. It is expensive for a reason, but cheaper than the Garmin Fenix 5.
- Easy to use
- Accurate tracking
- Well made and tough
- Great for multiple activities
- Basic display
- Need a chest strap heart rate monitor to get all the benefits
If you can’t read the data on the screen when you are out on a ride, it is pretty pointless. However, the display on the Garmin Fenix 3 is back lit, which makes it easy to see in direct sunlight. That is, unless you are running it in the power saving monochrome mode. This mode makes it a bit awkward at times. But when you have it in its normal mode, you are treated to a nice colour screen, measuring 3.1cm in diameter.
The wrist strap is made from a tough rubber. It is comfortable, even when it gets wet, either from rain, sweat or from whatever you are swimming in. Additionally, the strap feels very secure and gives you plenty of confidence that it is not going to fail. The Sapphire version of the Garmin Fenix 3 has a metal strap. This strap adds weight and is not as comfortable. It looks nice, but it is more for a night out than an alpine adventure. This can easily be changed though.
You will be impressed by the Garmin Fenix 3’s battery life. Even with Bluetooth and GPS switched on, you will probably get 15 hours or so of battery life. However, if you use the low power UltraTrac mode, you can get around 50 hours out of a battery. This is because the GPS only takes a reading every minute, rather than working constantly. If you are just using it as a watch, the battery should last about three months.
The Garmin Fenix 3 locates the satellite signals very quickly, and it is pretty accurate. This is because it uses GPS and the Russian GLONASS system for navigation. These two systems make the data much more accurate than the data you get from just your phone. You will see this when you download the data to the Garmin app. Navigation is the Garmin Fenix 3’s forte. It is very easy to select the compass, barometer and altimeter functions before you have even switched on the GPS.
When going on an adventure, you can plot way points on the move for your return journey. This is useful when on a bike or a run, as you don’t need to keep getting your phone out to find your route (especially if it is raining). You can also set these way points before you leave the house, and the watch will let you know if you stray off course.
Useful for multiple sports
The Garmin Fenix 3 has functions that make it great for lots of different activities. These features make it a very versatile watch for active people, and gives you a very detailed picture of what you are putting yourself through (or not).
- All types of running, including indoor
- Road cycling
- Mountain biking
- Swimming – pool and open water
When you are on your bike, the watch can connect to the Garmin accessory kit. The kit includes cadence sensors for speed, cadence, power and heart rate. These connect via ANT+, and are all great if you are taking your data very seriously.
For some serious fitness data, the Garmin Fenix 3 has a lot of features when used with a heart rate monitor.
- VO2 Max – Gives you an estimation of your fitness based on your heart rate
- Race time prediction based on VO2 max
- Recommended recovery time – How long you are you should rest before exercising again
- Vertical Oscillation
- Ground contact time (running dynamics)
- Running efficiency
- Automatically switches data from flat ground data to climbing – Ideal for fell running and XC riding to monitor ascent performance
- Swim metrics – Including distance, pace, stoke count, stroke rate and SWOLF score
Connecting with the app
With all the data the Garmin Fenix 3 can give you, you are going to want use it. Garmin have made it pretty easy to get to, by providing the Garmin app. You can sync the Fenix 3 with your phone via Bluetooth. One of my favorite parts of data, is your routes and the times you completed them in. This helps with monitoring your fitness and progress.
The app doesn’t look too sexy, but it allows very easy access to previous activities. It gives you a lot of information with an incredible amount of detail. Together, the watch and app track what you have been doing and where you did it. While doing this you will get alerts when you have achieved goals or got a personal best, giving you warm fuzzy feelings. You can then share them with your friends to get the moral high ground.
A nice touch is that you can download different watch faces to change the aesthetics of your watch too.
Garmin Fenix 5
|Garmin Fenix 5 Specs|
|- Compact (47 mm) multisport GPS watch with Elevate™ wrist heart rate technology1
- Steel Grip design with stainless steel EXO-Antenna as bezel and forged steel back to maintain best integrity in demanding environment
- Preloaded activity profiles for all of your sports and adventures
- Put key stats at your fingertips with the performance widget that shows the effects and progress of your workouts
- Connected features2 include smart notifications, automatic uploads to
- Garmin Connect™ online sport community and personalisation through free watch faces and apps from our Connect IQ™ store
- Outdoor sensors, including GPS and GLONASS satellite positioning, barometric altimeter, 3-axis compass with gyroscope
- Fēnix 5 Performer Bundle adds HRM-TRI monitor for advanced running dynamics and heartrate during swimming
- Battery life: up to 2 weeks in smartwatch mode (depending on settings), up to 24 hours in GPS mode or up to 75 hours in UltraTrac™ battery saver mode.
The Garmin Fenix 5 has a huge amount of features. It has great battery life, looks good and is a serious bit of kit. If you want to track everything that you do and are an active outdoorsy person, a Garmin Fenix 5 is worth the investment.
- Great for multiple activities
- Looks great
Garmin Fenix 5
The Garmin Fenix 5 has a great colour display that has a transfeflective screen. This uses sunlight to make the screen brighter. You will notice that the display is a dimmer than some smart watches on the market when indoors. However, it is back lit, so that doesn’t cause much of a problem. You need to know that, it isn’t exactly a smart watch, it is tough sports watch with lots of features.
The Garmin Fenix 5 comes with an elastomer strap, that is easy to replace with an option of a metal one. The metal strap looks great when you are out on the town, but wouldn’t be very comfortable when running or riding down a technical trail. This is due to the extra weight and feel of it. But, with the soft strap you shouldn’t even notice it.
All the Garmin Fenix watches have better battery life than you will find in a smart watch. Without the Bluetooth or GPS switched on, the Garmin Fenix 5’s battery should last about two weeks. This is good if you forget to take your charger on holiday with you. If you have the GPS switched on, you will get about 24 hours of battery life. However, as with the Garmin Fenix 3, it has the UltraTrac battery saving mode, that should give you about 60 hours worth of charge.
The Garmin Fenix 5 uses similar technology for navigation as the Fenix 3. The GPS and GLONASS systems keep tracking accurate. It uses a three axis electronic compass to keep your bearing too. Additionally, the altimeter gives you elevation data to monitor your ascents and descents. The built in thermometer and barometer can help predict changes in the weather, so you know if you need to start heading home.
Useful for Multiple Sports
If you can think of an activity, the Garmin Fenix 5 can probably track it. It can track all the activities of the Garmin Fenix 3 and more. Additional activities include, golf, boating and skydiving!
The fitness tracking of the Garmin Fenix 5 is very similar to the Fenix 3, however, the huge advantage that it has, is the integrated heart rate monitor. This is located on the back of the watch. You may find that it doesn’t react as quickly as a chest strap heart rate monitor, however it works well enough to provide you with the required data.
Connecting with the app
The Garmin Fenix 5 uses the same app as the 3. The app looks a bit dated now, but it does show you lots of information. The home screen shows you your step count and how much sleep you have had. It also tells you your active calories, activities, MyFitnessPal, intensity and floors climbed
When you swipe left or right, you have access to information of all the activities. The pages are all customisable, so you can choose their order and how many show up.
You can also get notifications on your watch. These notifications include, weather forecasts, calendar appointments, calls and texts. You can’t respond to any of these, only view them. Which is actually fine, if you are busy doing a sport, you can see the notification and decide if it is important enough to respond or ignore it.
Other Versions of the Garmin Fenix 5
There are a few different versions of the Garmin Fenix 5.
- Garmin Fenix 5S – This is the smallest and lightest version, with the shortest battery life. It lasts up to 9 days, but reduces to 14 hours when GPS is switched on.
- Garmin Fenix 5 – This has the longest battery life of up to 2 weeks and 24 hours in GPS mode
- Garmin Fenix 5X – Has 12 GB of storage, mainly used to store actual maps to view on the go. These include cycling maps and 40,000 golf courses. The battery life is 12 days, but reduces to 20 hours when using GPS.
- Sapphire – If you really want to splash the cash, you can opt for the Sapphire version. This is very expensive with an ultra tough face and a metal strap.
Which one to Choose?
Both of these sports watches are great if you are going to use them as they are intended. The Garmin Fenix 5 is more advanced than the 3. But if you don’t want to spend the extra cash and don’t mind wearing a heart rate chest strap go for the Garmin Fenix 3.
If you go for one of the Garmin Fenix 5 watches, I would personally take the 5 or the 5X. They are the perfect tools for tracking everything.
Let me know which one you chose and why in the comments section below.