So you fancy yourself a Triathlete. You’ve been chomping at the bit to shave off a few seconds of that final sprint to the finish line from the beach. Or maybe you haven’t quite finessed the proper uphill pace on your Cannondale bike. You want to raise your game to the next level come competition time. Or maybe you aren’t gunning for the next Ironman. Maybe you’re a weekend warrior that likes to consolidate his workout into the holy trinity of solid compound exercises: running, biking, and swimming.
Whatever your stripes may be, you’ve ultimately figured you can aid your performance with some solid gear: a Triathlon watch or what is often called a multisports watch. But here’s the rub. 2017 promises to be saturated with a crush of such watches heavy in features tailored to the Triathlete. Which are the best of the best? And how do you wade through the pond of such watches without getting lost in all the tech? In other words, where’s the Goldilocks of Triathlon watches for you?
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Many a professional Triathlete are forthcoming in saying that they keep their gear simple: an old school stopwatch to set the pace. Some use absolutely no gear. And some are compelled to sing the praises of their respective sponsors. The question is, do any of these methods boost a performance?
Let’s be honest. That’s why you want a Triathlon watch. It’s clearly not for style and sex appeal. Otherwise, you’d be watch hunting through a larger canon of timepieces. You want a watch that is built to withstand the rigors of a Triathlon and that can push you to your maximum performance level.
Can a Triathlon watch really do that? Let’s look at the receipts. Certain features have shown to boost an athlete’s awareness of their progress. That way they know if and when to nuance their training or competition performance in the moment. Pouring it on, as it were, might be a result of your pedometer telling you that you haven’t clocked in your desired distance at the optimal time. So you need to go heavy or go home in the second or third interval of the Triathlon. Or your heart rate monitor may warn you that you are over exerting, maybe even over training. So choosing to pull back and cool down through the remaining pace will add miles to your life as an athlete.
These are the DNA of a Triathlon watch worth its weight in breast strokes and 50-meter dashes. Giving you the details on where your performance is lacking or can use improvement is essential. Anything else is a luxury item that may or may not distract you from your goal of improving your performance. But more on those such features later…
Do you want to run faster? Of course, you do. But will running faster positively or negatively impact your swim and biking? The simplest gear for monitoring and correcting your pace is a stopwatch. You’ll ultimately want a Triathlon watch with some iteration of this feature. Stopwatches range from minimalist digital second, minute, and hour recordings to detailed pace monitors that log everything from how fast you average to the strength of your exertion. The devil’s in the details. Pinpointing how you up your run is entirely up to you. But certainly, check off a stopwatch all the same.
Positional tracking can help you anticipate the rough parts of the bike route or simply give you a heads up to where you are in the larger context of the race. Imagine you’ve gotten distracted through your ride. But your tracker will tell you where the uphill slog is coming for instance. Or maybe the downhill sprint is moments away. Couple this with a strong GPS mapping system and you can really finesse your performance down to the slightest distance.
There is a cast of characters or usual suspects that we already have become familiar with: Garmin and Timex Ironman, for instance. And then there are the outliers that deserve your undivided attention. Here are the top performers according to price and function.
Best Triathlon Watch 2017
1. Garmin Forerunner 920XT
The Garmin Forerunner 920XT was the belle of the 2016 ball. Here Garmin proves its value by continuing to think ahead of the pack. Among the impressive vocabulary of functions and gear tech, the lightweight watch features swim stroke count, heart monitors that can be tweaked and paired with other devices, and run cadence. This is where things could get murky for the giant brand. Does endowing a seemingly minimal-looking watch with so many options help or hurt? Evidently not. According to most pundits and enthusiasts, the 920XT was hands down one of the most popular Triathlon watches of the year that was 2016.
It clocks in at 45 x 55 x 12.7 mm and weighs a mere 61g. It has a water resistance of 5 ATM. And then there are the spectacular bells and whistles that put the 920XT on a pedestal: smartphone compatibility and connectivity (including emails and texts), Garmin Connect Mobile App, swim metrics, pace and stroke count, all-day activity tracking, stride length, and total steps per minute.
2. Tom Tom Multi-Sport Cardio
Not to be outclassed by arch rival Garmin, Tom Tom has fashioned its own Triathlon watch in the form of the Multi-Sport Cardio. What’s strongest about this GPS watch is its heart rate monitor. Again, we find a simple minimalist design that skimps on visual aesthetics for brass tacks. The monitor is painstakingly accurate. Couple its performance with yours in the pool, on the bike, or on the run and you have a strong combination of detailed activity tracking. And speaking of the pool, bike, or the track, the Multi-Sport Cardio has strong features that with precision monitor your pace, cadence, stroke, and distance.
The Multi-Sport couples its tech features with training zones, five to be exact. Sprint, speed, endure, fat burn, and easy. Then it uses its one button functionality to quickly whip you through its menu items without confusion. For practicality, the Multi-Sport is as accessible as it gets.
3. Ironman Rugged 30 Full-Size
Timex essentially pioneered the idea of crafting a robust watch built expressly for Triathlon events. The Ironman, as it were, is not merely an event nor a comic book character. It’s a trademarked iteration of Timex sports watches built to handle the best and worst your workout can throw at it. The Ironman Rugged 30 is a muscular digital watch that will give you 30 lap memory recall, 99 lap memory count, 100-hour chronograph, and a 24-hour countdown timer.
But given that this is a classic watch, you won’t find smartphone connectivity, Bluetooth, or any of the other perks that come with the modern tech we pair with iPhones and Androids. This is old school at its best. 45 mm diameter, 100-meter water resistance, Indiglo night light and markings, and robust resin material to keep your watch from crumbling under the pressure of a hefty workout. It retails for a winning $55.
4. Suunto Ambit3 Vertical
Suunto has shaken the leaves of its competitors’ trees with its constant evolution of watches that focus both on sports tracking and well-being.The Ambit3 Vertical cuts a svelte silhouette with a stylish yet minimalist presentation. Where the Timex is all about flexing its muscles on the look of the watch, Suunto is rather restrained. Here not only does Suunto tackle your performance in the water or on a bike, it comes equipped with vibration alerts that track your elevation.
Altitude tracking and performance might be a key fit for those biking intervals that scale up through the mountains. On the other hand, how likely are you to use this feature if you already have it on your bike? Suunto is betting the farm that most buyers will use it and won’t avail themselves of any similar gear for their bike. In any event, the watch is extremely lightweight, sleek, and compact.
As for the bells and whistles, the Ambit3 Vertical comes with pace, cadence, and distance trackers. It also boasts a strong 15 hours of battery life, 5-second GPS accuracy, Bluetooth and Smartphone connectivity. You can do everything from monitor your heart rate to check incoming calls and messages while you swim through your paces.
It won the Best New Gear Award in the winter of 2016 from Gear Institute. And that says a lot given Suunto’s ever-evolving software updates. And for the price, it sits comfortably between Garmin’s upmarket listing and Tom Tom’s low to mid range with a retail price of $370.
5. Polar V800 GPS Sport Watch
Polar has long carved a niche in the world of health and fitness with its constellation of heart rate monitors, fitness trackers, and GPS sports watches. Here is no different with the V800 GPS Sports Watch. Polar continues to improve on the 2014 watch with its steady string of upgrades and updates with each passing season. And still, the V800 remains as a strong reference for effective Triathlon watches.
The large display monitors everything from the wrist: run cadence, heart rate monitor up to 30 meters in water, GPS that covers distance and speed, and Bluetooth. It also boasts some singular achievements like the smart coaching platform. Here, the V800 can give you strong analytics about your training load and how it affects your performance and recovery. Also, your smart coaching can accurately track your profile and determine how your running performance has evolved over time.
Other bells and whistles include a barometer, accelerometer, 13 hours of battery life, a resistant gorilla glass window, and USB connectivity and compatibility with MAC and Windows. Notably absent is smartphone connectivity. And while you will most likely be concerned more with your run time than your emails, it is something to take on board for the price. At $500, the V800 prices up there with Garmin’s more fully integrated Triathlon watches but lacks some of Garmin’s forward-thinking tech. Final verdict: great performance, poor pricing.
6. Magellan Switch
The Magellan Switch, like the Timex iteration of Classic Ironman watches, fits into the budget Triathlon watch category. Here’s a very affordable and equally functional multi sport watch that comes with an impressive haul of features and tech. Firstly, it has all the usual suspects: run cadence, distance, speed, elevation, and water resistance. Then it has its own take on the Garmin enabled tracker the Virtual Partner, which it calls the Activity Pacer.
And for a lightweight watch, it is remarkably sturdy and performant. It has 8 hours of battery life and 50 meters of water resistance. It also archives up to 60 hours of activity with 1 second recording. Accuracy hinges on pinpoint precision with the Magellan.
Now here’s some forward-thinking on the part of Magellan. The Switch comes with an extra battery that can be used to switch out the other when it runs down. That doubles your battery life to 16 hours of performance. The Switch lists for $180 but retails on Amazon from an astounding $50.
7. The Moov
The Moov considers itself more of a wearable than simply a GPS multisport watch. Clocking in at a shocking $60, it packs in essential tech for the fitness enthusiast. Here are the simple perks that come with your wearable: Bluetooth and smartphone pairing, water resistance, up to 6 months of battery life, smart coaching that analyzes your workout in real time, and cadence and run tracking.
All of these elements come to the fore when you take this watch out into the field. You can personalize your profile in order to tweak your swim, run, or bike performance. Moov’s coaching will adeptly scrutinize your exertion and progress and give an accurate depiction of your movement and landing. Strokes in the pool don’t limit themselves to mere distance and time. Instead, how you effect those strokes, sprints, and uphill pedals are broken down to improve your ultimate performance.
For price and performance, the Moov is hands down a winner. While it doesn’t boast the future tech that Garmin and the Ambit3 tuck under the lid, it exceeds expectations. And at a mere $60, you probably won’t find a comparable performer on the market.
Best Triathlon Watches July 2017 UPDATE
Garmin and Suunto both make double appearances on this list. Why? Going into 2017 the two brands firmly had their eyes fixed on more than one solid offering for Triathletes. Now that their respective 2nd offerings have been unveiled, we can confirm that they both are worth taking a look at.
8. Garmin Forerunner 935
Garmin returns to form here with a lightweight triathlon watch, the Garmin Forerunner 935, that goes hard in the paint. This one gives an added boost to its swimming component. Where its predecessors were already strong, the 935 leaves no rock unturned. It s certainly a function and gadget heavy sort of device. That being said, this is the kind of merchandise for the elite athlete…or gadget geek.
Here’s what stayed true to form: metrics tracking, heart rate monitor, activity progress. What’s changed? The design is slim for one. Then add to it roughly 49 grams of lightweight dynamic performance that includes 50m water depth, interchangeable straps, and smartwatch notifications.
Where does the 935 falter? Well, for a smartwatch, there is no tactile design. This is all old school buttons rather than touchscreen. For those of us hoping for the most modern design aesthetic possible, we’re likely to be disappointed by Garmin’s choice of old school rendering. Secondly, this is not for everyone’s pocketbook. The 935 prices itself between $500 and $650 depending on if you get the Tri Bundle.
But in terms of picking up where the 920XT and the Fenix left off, the 935 is a worthy investment for an elite athlete who spares no expense for the sake of their sport.
9. Suunto Spartan Series
Suunto for its part has thus far put forward a trinity of triathlon watches in its larger canon of multisport watches. The Spartan series which features the Spartan, the Spartan Ultra, and now the Wrist HR, has been a credible alternative to the premium offerings from Garmin.
Aesthetically, the Spartan series gets better with each new iteration. All three have a firmware app that is compatible with both your smartphone, tracking fitness metrics, recovery, workout optimization and personalization, and even some intuitive features that measure and predict your performance level. Where do they differ? The Spartan, for example, charges with a magnetic strap that affixes to the watch. The Ultra is thick and not as svelte as its rivals.
But then the WHR comes along in hopes of fine-tuning the little details that might otherwise dog its predecessors. It takes on board the idea of customization with flying colors. You can tailor your workout and your metrics tracking to your liking, even building the aesthetic look of your metrics tracking screen. In essence, the WHR is encouraging you to build your own workout and in turn build your own tracking platform on the watch.
The Spartan series is not a small watch. Nor are they thin. But the WHR more than makes up for the size difference with its take on intuitive performance and metrics tracking. As for price the WHR retails for $499. The Suunto Sport retails for $399. And Suunto’s premium multisport watch the Ultra retails for $699.