Pairing constant and methodical training with the right triathlon watch is a powerful combination for improving your strength, agility, and time to complete.
Modern triathlon watches provide valuable information for trainers. Metrics and features like GPS tracking, barometers, and even smartwatch functionality offer athletes new perspectives on their performance. There are many options on the market today that can work alongside your current regiment and prove to be invaluable assets.
We’ll be covering seven triathlon watches and taking a look at their features and specifications to determine the best overall watch for the modern triathlon athlete.
If you’ve never looked into a triathlon or multi-sport watch, it can be a little difficult to justify the research and investment required to find the right watch for you.
Rest assured—these watches do more than tell you the time or let you check in on your heart rate. A proper triathlon watch will provide you with information about your performance and ability that you can use to improve imperfections in your routine that you may not have known you had.
Modern triathlon watches are built with several functions that measure and track different aspects of your performance, environment, and development. We’ll be taking a look at just a few features and benefits you can expect in your new watch.
Most athletes are already aware of the benefits of a heart monitor and learning how to keep your pulse in check. However, your air intake is dependent upon the saturation of oxygen in the air, and a watch with a barometer can help you see how elevation improves or impairs your performance.
GPS tracking will allow you to see precisely how far and how fast you’ve been traveling, and many watches offer live tracking as well. An athletic trainer or even your family members will be able to see your location in real time—which can greatly improve safety when training in unfamiliar and remote locations.
Many watches can also pair to your phone or connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi to allow you to transmit the metrics and data to a computer.
In some cases, triathlon watches can push notifications like emails and text messages to your watch, so any emergency doesn’t have to wait until the end of a training session. Wi-Fi and Internet capabilities can provide a great option for athletes that want to look at their metrics in a more easily digestible environment than straight from the watch face.
One of the more popular ways that triathlon watches transfer metrics and data to other devices is through proprietary apps. Before purchasing a watch, make sure that you own a mobile device or computer that is compatible with any software or applications that may be required to use the device.
These applications can often provide complicated numeric data in ways that are more actionable to athletes. These metrics can often allow you to work on specific sections of your performance, so considering a watch with a highly rated community and mobile phone application behind it may be in your best interest.
Triathlon watches can vary wildly in features, specifications, and cost. We recommend purchasing the best watch you can afford, but the best watch can depend upon an athlete’s individual needs.
If you train with others, or in a location that you know rather well, GPS tracking may be lower on the hierarchy of needs for you. Perhaps you don’t want the distraction of push notifications, so any phone connectivity isn’t necessary for your routine.
They key to determining the right triathlon watch is to write down the features you can and cannot live without. No triathlon watch is perfect in all metrics—and many focus on specific features to appease specific needs and stand out from the crowd.
Compare these specifications to your list to best match you with a watch that’s strong where you need it to be. Remember that watches with customizable software could also allow you to access features that aren’t available right out of the box. Sometimes, the right product is the product you can mold to your specific needs over time.
These considerations will help you find the watch that’s geared towards your lifestyle—and comes equipped to handle a rigorous and exhaustive training regiment.
It’s important to remember that triathlon watches, while helpful, are just another tool at your disposal. Without proper utilization, triathlon watches are about as helpful as any other analog watch on the market.
Here are a few basic considerations to note before purchasing a watch:
Know your sport. Speak with others to determine the proper method of utilization and know what to do with the metrics provided by your watch. Find a vibrant community—either online or locally—that you can turn to when learning the ins and outs of your triathlon watch.
Leverage your expectations. Athletic training is a long a difficult road, and no piece of technology will expedite that process. Features like music playback and social media may be appealing initially, but it is up to you to improve your time and ability—not the watch.
Know your watch. The best triathlon watches are often made by companies that consistently and considerably improve their offerings over time.
Small details, like an incremental number change or an addendum to the model number, are often more than minor improvements.
These slight variations—like additional lettering or an “X” at the end of the model number—indicate that you’re purchasing a completely different watch.
Check for updates. Most triathlon watches have more in common with your smartphone than a watch. Search online for updates to firmware or software on your device. These can often fix problems as small as bug fixes and as pertinent as the correction of a bad sensor.
These updates can often bring new features to utilize previously ignored sensors on the watch—making your investment even more valuable.
Make sure it’s waterproof. While this should go without saying, not all triathlon watches are built for every aspect of the sport. Many non-swim watches are on the market, and the worst thing you could do is drown your investment without even realizing it.
Remember that water-resistant and waterproof are two completely different concepts.
Now that you’ve decided which features are most important for you, and understand the prerequisites for owning a triathlon watch, it is time to look at some of our options. We’ve selected seven watches that best represent a wide swath of options that make up the triathlon watch market.
Remember—We’ll be going over the pros and cons of each watch and comparing them by the features and design they offer. After our overview, we’ll be naming the triathlon watch with the best features and overall design.
Garmin’s Forerunner series features a respectable lineup of effective and functional watches, and the 920XT is no different.
The 920XT features all of the usual offerings—like a heart rate sensor, speed tracking, and distance tracking—but features a litany of specific metrics as well. With the 920XT, you’re able to track cadence, vertical oscillation, ground contact time, and record time when running.
When swimming, the waterproof 920XT features distance, stroke count, stroke type, rest timers, and logs your drill.
All of these metrics are easily shared through Garmin Connect—Garmin’s preferred software of choice for all of their products. Connectivity also allows others to watch your training in real time, and even lets you share your progress over social media.
While powerful in features, the 920XT’s major detriment comes in the design department. Compared to other triathlon watches and even other Garmin watches, the 920XT just isn’t as aesthetically pleasing, and may even be cumbersome for smaller athletes.
The watch features six buttons and a square screen to control the interface but certainly won’t draw any visual attention from others. When compared to other watches with similar functionality, something as simplistic as design becomes a bigger problem than you’d expect.
If you’re looking for function over form and want a workhorse of a watch, the 920XT may be up your alley.
If the idea of a TomTom triathlon watch strikes you as odd, you’re not the only one.
TomTom’s watch line is a relatively nascent development for the company, but a choice that makes more sense when you look into features.
The Adventurer is a slick and modern watch that comes accompanied by an aesthetically similar phone app. The watch’s rectangular black screen will be able to tell you about your altitude, direction, pace, speed, and the elevation changes you experience. Being waterproof up to 40 meters also allows you to keep your watch on throughout the route.
The Adventurer is designed for many sports and uses, so you can expect to see some convenient and ubiquitous features. The watch can show you calories burned, steps taken, and can even connect via Bluetooth to play music through your smart device.
Unfortunately, functionality seems to stop here—so you won’t be getting specifics like stroke type and ground contact time out of the Adventurer. As pretty as the Adventurer is, it simply cannot compare to the function of a 920XT or similar models.
The TomTom Adventurer is great for a casual market and works well as a watch that can be used outside of intensive training as well.
It’s hard to undersell the capability of the Garmin Forerunner 935, even compared to the function-heavy 920XT.
The 935 is a marriage of form and function—looking more like a smartwatch for city usage than a rugged and tactical sports watch. Strangely enough, it can outperform both.
The 935 features wrist-based heart rate monitors, a barometer, altimeter, and shows you everything you need to know on a beautiful full-color screen. Advanced measurements like stride length and ground contact time are also offered.
The 920XT may win in the features department, but not by much. One possible issue in function may be a requirement for additional straps to measure heart rate in the water.
The 935 can last up to two weeks in watch mode, or 24 hours in GPS mode, so charging shouldn’t be much of an issue. Of course, GPS mode also features push notifications from your phone. You can control music playback on mobile devices, share with the Garmin Connect community, and even call up an Uber.
All of these features are offered in a small form that weighs less than 50 grams. The Forerunner 935 is perfect for athletes wanting a great balance of features in a small and pleasing package.
The Polar V800 offers metrics that are sure to please swimmers, while still maintaining a stable balance of features in a study package.
The watch features a Gorilla Glass screen lens with a black and white display for low-light conditions. A GPS is integrated for speed, alongside features like distance, route tracking, altitude, ascent, and descent.
There’s a focus on water-based capabilities with this specific watch—which was designed to measure heartbeat and remain waterproof up to 30 meters.
Like Garmin’s Connect interface, Polar has designed the Polar Flow app and web service to work alongside the V800 and back up your metrics and performance. Sadly, this may be needed for this watch more than others, as the Polar V800 will only last about 14 hours on a single charge.
For athletes looking for a watch that lasted for an entire triathlon, this may be a considerable detriment.
The Polar V800 is a great watch for athletes that focus on swimming or train in low-light settings.
The Fenix 5X Sapphire differentiates itself from stiff competition within the brand by bringing a focus on style and GPS tracking.
Mapping is the primary focus of the Fenix 5X Sapphire—which can provide a full-color topographical map of your surroundings. Built with a 3-axis compass, gyroscope, and barometric altimeter, there’s little risk of getting lost with the Fenix 5X Sapphire.
Like the 935, the Fenix 5X Sapphire can provide access to features and customization on a round, full-color screen. The design remains a little more rugged than the 935—dropping the flat, glass surface for a stainless-steel bezel and stronger casing.
All of the features that come with the Garmin Connect system are accessible, alongside standard offerings—like a 100-meter water rating and a wrist-based heart rate monitor. The Fenix 5X Sapphire also draws its namesake from the sapphire scratch resistant glass screen which will keep your watch looking as new as ever.
Sadly, features are diminished somewhat from similar models, so a heart rate chest strap is required for additional metrics like vertical oscillation and ground contact time.
The Fenix 5X Sapphire is great for athletes wanting a focus on GPS performance and a rugged aesthetic.
For fans of TomTom’s GPS capabilities, the Adventurer is not the only smartwatch on the market that assists athletes and functions as a music player.
The TomTom Spark 3 is a cardio and fitness smartwatch that features GPS tracking and a consistently updated software package. The Spark 3 is also the only product on our list that features a built-in music player—allowing you to ditch the phone and work out with the included Bluetooth headphones.
The TomTom Spark 3 also shares another similarity with the Adventurer—as both are capable of utilizing TomTom’s excellent user interface and support system.
Pace, distance, and speed are offered as real-time metrics and shown to athletes by simply lifting your wrist. Route exploration is also offered, which will allow users to explore trails and new routes without the threat of being lost.
Unfortunately, many of these capabilities come at a cost. Advanced metrics are currently not offered, and no update seems to be coming to alleviate that problem. Battery life is also worth noting, as listening to music and utilizing GPS functionality will limit your usage to under 5 hours.
The TomTom Spark 3 is a great smartwatch for those who want built-in music capabilities and a reliable, waterproof build.
The final watch on our list is another Garmin offering and focuses on a heart rate monitoring without a chest strap as well as a larger screen.
The Fenix 3 is a softer and more user-friendly option than some of the other watches on our list—featuring a silicone band for comfort and a chroma display for use in the sun. The Fenix 3 is also water rated and able to connect to Wi-Fi to transmit data to—you guessed it—the Garmin Connect interface.
Customization is a major focus of the Fenix 3 as well, which allows third-party widgets and apps to control the various sensors, as well as interpret the metrics in varied ways. The Fenix 3 is also waterproof up to 100 meters and can measure your steps with a 3-axis accelerometer.
The Fenix 3 performs admirably enough but lacks the advanced features of the 920XT or the sleek style of 935. The screen is large and readable but may pose a problem to users with a smaller wrist or athletes interested in a design that’s not quite as intimidating.
The Fenix 3 is great for athletes looking for a focus on customization and a balanced approach to features.
Any one of these watches would make a fine addition to the tool belt of any triathlon athlete that’s looking for an easy and effective way to measure metrics important to performance and strength.
However, it’s clear that one watch stands out above the rest. Only one watch provides features, customization options, a classy design, and a slick user interface without any major detriments.
That watch is the Garmin Forerunner 935. With the advanced features that many trainers are looking for, the 935 stands out against the Adventurer, Spark 3, and Fenix 3. With a slick and street-ready design, the watch can be worn without distraction and double as a daily watch.
The 935 also comes equipped with all of the features and benefits we covered earlier and doesn’t come with functional concerns like waterproofing or a need for wires and clunky software.
Like we noted earlier, the 935 is a watch that focuses on updates—so be sure to check to make sure your software is up to date if you decide to purchase the watch. With a base model this powerful, there’s nowhere to go but up for the Forerunner 935.
The technology of our best triathlon watch—or all triathlon watches for that matter—advances more and more with each passing day. By purchasing a watch with a focus on utility and a manufacturer that’s focused on updates, you can prolong your investment by ensuring the sensors inside are being utilized by the best software possible.
We hope that we’ve provided you with valuable information to get smart about training, purchase the right equipment, and start working towards faster times today.
Hey there, my name is James and I am the creator and editor of this site. I have been doing Triathlons for a while now and am competing in 70.3 Ironman's as well come this year. I created this site to help those new to the sport and to share my journey with other athletes.