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When looking for the best GPS watch for triathletes, know that the number of extra features required on it pushes the price up to close to and much above the $300 mark. After all, a watch that helps you through training for running, cycling and swimming is quite advanced.
Top triathlon watches differ from GPS watches that are sufficient for running and cycling, as they should be waterproof and have the ability to track metrics for swimming in a pool as well as in the ocean. Battery life with GPS turned on is important too, as most of the vital metrics can only be measured with it on, even if only sampled at a low rate. However, it doesn’t have to last longer than 24 hours, as we’re not tracking ultra-running here. The bigger the battery, the chunkier the watch, and that’s not something you want if you also plan to use it for all day activity tracking for fitness.
Some watches may come with an optical wrist-based heart rate monitor, but many do not because chest strapped ones are still more accurate. So, the ones that don’t have in-built monitoring will either be compatible with their own brand chest strapped ones, or with third party ones. The former are usually more convenient and designed to work well together. The heart rate monitor will track distance, time, and speed. For advanced training metrics, check to see what type of external sensors work with it – its own, ANT+ or Bluetooth. The first two are the best, with Bluetooth being a bit less accurate or easy to use
So, what is the best triathlon watch? To find out, let’s get on with our triathlon watch reviews.
Polar V800 GPS Sports Watch
The Polar V800 is not new in the market at all but is still a very popular multi-sports watch and there have been some recent improvements to it. It is quite a chunky watch in comparison to the others on this list so might not be for small wrists. However, its construction quality is top notch so that may be a deciding factor. Besides, it now includes all day tracking, so it you should try to get its complete worth by wearing it from day to night. It backlighting is good too. The battery stays alive for up to 2 weeks when GPS is off, 13 hours with GPS on, and 50 hours in low power GPS mode.
This GPS watch will track speed and distance and map your route very accurately. Although it doesn’t use wrist based heart monitoring, you can buy the package that comes with the chest strapped Polar H7 heart rate sensor that also works while swimming. You can also choose to pair the watch with Bluetooth sensors for stride, bike speed, cadence and power. You can create different customized profiles for each sport you train for, including cycling and swimming.
Its advanced training app analyzes the running data and provides you with coaching feedback and creates more personalized routines for you. To access more routines, you can’t do it through the mobile app, but the watch has wi-fi and you can access the web app to download them. You can then see race prediction times, heart rate zones, recovery times and more directly on your watch. The circuit plans are especially useful for training.
In addition to sports tracking, in the normal mode it lets you know if you have been inactive for too long, gives you 24/7 distance and calories burned metrics, and has smart notifications built into it. However, it may have a tendency to lose connectivity with your phone. That can mess with synchronization and smart notifications, but the circumstances surrounding this can do with the area you’re exercising in or other possible variables.
While hardcore sports enthusiasts will love this watch, beginners might find the user interface and masses of information a bit daunting. Once you get used to it, however, you may find that even its hefty price tag is worth it.
Garmin Forerunner 920XT Watch OR 735XT Watch
These two watches have many similarities, such as both being able to sync to your phone for smart notifications. They are both built for triathletes, and this includes cyclists and swimmers. There are also some differences, like the 735XT is light-weight whereas the 920XT is bulkier and made for more advanced training metrics. The 920XT’s battery lasts far longer and therefore more suitable for those who don’t want to constantly charge it.
Both watches offer complete tracking when training indoors using motion sensors, or outdoors using GPS and external sensors. Both the Garmin 735XT and the 920XT shows you VO2 max, estimated lactate threshold figure, recovery time and a race predictor. The former does it with the in-built wrist based heart monitor, while the latter can be paired with a chest strap monitor.
They will connect to Garmin Connect via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for analysis of your performances and can be synced to a few third-party apps like Strava.
Both of these watches can record your progress and statistics live online. Your friends and family on social media can watch, in real time, how well you are doing in your training. They can see the distance, the route you took, the speed you’re going, and much more.
The 735XT watch is pretty slim for a sports watch and can be discreetly worn even when you’re not working out, which is good if you want to take advantage of its all day tracking ability. It comes with a fairly accurate optical wrist-based heart rate monitor and its slightly stretchy strap allows it to fit comfortably on your wrist to measure your pulse. For more accuracy with advanced metrics, you can pair it with a chest strap too. This is probably the best Garmin triathlon watch for users that want to use it just as much for all day activity tracking.
You can purchase this watch alone or as a bundle with one or two add on Garmin monitors. The Run-bundle includes the HRM-Run monitor and the tri-bundle includes the HRM-Tri and HRM-Swim monitors for tracking all sports individually. With the run-bundle, you can track things like cadence, vertical oscillation, stride length, ground contact time and more that will cover almost every sport possible except for swimming. This is because wrist based heart monitoring is deactivated in the water. The tri-bundle goes even further for specific sports, and comes with a chest-based strap to allow you to track metrics in the water.
The swim metrics accuracy is pretty good. For example, before getting into the pool you enter its dimensions and it will tell you stroke length for a lap. However, if you stop in the middle, you have to manually pause tracking as it doesn’t automatically detect this. Cycling tracking with the power and cadence metrics that come with the optional Garmin cycling sensors is also good.
Even with all these metrics, toggling between the screens on the 735XT is easy and convenient.
Though this watch is the best triathlon watch with heart rate monitor, it does not have the most long lasting battery. If you’re using UltraTrac GPS mode where readings are less frequent, you’ll get 24 hours but in advanced training full GPS mode, expect closer to 14 hours. This means you have to charge the watch after every completed triathlon. It does, however, last quite a few days if you only use it for everyday activity monitoring and smart alerts.
Another downside could be the dimness of the screen. This may not be a good watch for night riders.
The Garmin 920XT doesn’t come with in-built sensors, but it can connect to those sensors using ANT+ or the Garmin Bike Speed Sensor and Cadence Sensor. You can also buy the watch with the HRM-Run heart rate monitor bundle or the tri-bundle for all triathlon sports. When paired with a power sensor, it can even give you VO2 max stats while cycling.
The 920XT is much bulkier and sporty looking so it will stand out if you wear it all day. However the battery lasts much longer. For normal GPS training mode you’ll get 24 hours, several days in just watch mode, and up to 40 hours in UltraTrac periodic reading GPS mode. This is our top pick for best triathlon watch for swimming and cycling.
Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR Running GPS Unit
The Finnish brand Suunto’s Ambit3 Peak is really meant for hiking and mountaineering but works just as well for triathlons and other sports. Not only does it come with a highly accurate GPS, but it also includes an altimeter, barometer and compass, and works well under water, so you can train anywhere. It robust construction really does make it an all-weather watch. You can rely on its tracking accuracy and lack of glitches and best of all, it’s easy to use.
The Ambit3 Peak syncs easily with your phone for smart notifications. It will track your steps 24/7, but that’s the only daily activity functionality you’re going to get from it. If you’re running or just exploring some beautiful woods or are high up in the Rockies, you can take photos and movies to share with friends and family instantly. It will keep you safe by not only providing you with directions, route maps and topography advice, but also alerts you to storms, changes in altitude pressure and more.
When it comes to sports tracking, get the bundle with the heart rate monitor so that it can track speed, distance, pace, and heart rate, even under water. It comes with specialized tracking for running, cycling, and indoor and outdoor swimming, and you can use it to perform running technique and performance optimization, and do recovery tests. External sensors that are Bluetooth compatible can be added for some advanced metrics, although this is not as painless as when paired with ANT+ sensors.
This Suunto is marketed as having up to 200 hours of battery life, but that’s a stretch. With GPS on expect not more than 22 hours.