Cover - Best Triathlon Watch

Finding The Best Triathlon Watch For All Levels

Choosing the best triathlon watch these days is like buying a new smartphone. You want the best features that suits your triathlon routine. You don’t want anything that is too much or it will distract yourself from getting anything. We will start off with the question; What is the best triathlon watch for beginners? In this case, money is not a factor.

There are so many watches that have different features, whether it be things like structured workouts or running dynamics or cycling dynamics which are all do different things that you could use. Garmin triathlon watch has amazing web and mobile app. A Polar triathlon watch is pretty basic, but fulfill your needs. A Garmin running watch is very good at tracking your activity, active or passive. However, you don’t necessarily need to use all those features. It all comes down any watch that you are comfortable with.


We’ve got the Suunto Spartans sport HR so picture the Suunto Spartan but with a wrist-based heart rate sensor. 

that’s this guy right here. Credit: roadtrailrun website

For this triathlon watch we’re going to cover the five best and worst features about it. It’s not a deep dive review about it but we’ve got a pretty good idea of what we think of this device so let’s get to it.


A Multisport Watch

 The Suunto Spartan Sport HR is a multisport watch. So it can work as a pretty awesome triathlon watch. It is an activity tracker, a heart rate monitor, it has some smart features layered on top particularly smart notifications that show up on your wrist.

80 Different Sports Profiles

It’s got a stopwatch and a daily alarm you also have up to 80 different sport profiles you can choose from including running, cycling, swimming, triathlons, strength training, kettlebell workouts, CrossFit and all that stuff basically. It’s anything you could dream up and you can create your own.

Different Training Plans

 Within MovesCount (by Suunto) you can create different training plans you can also select from preset training plans or you can have your coach create new training plans and you can sync those straight to the device. That’s how cool it is. Besides, it is water-resistant down to a hundred meters, it has GPS andGlonass.

Battery Life

Now in terms of battery life, Suunto says it’s going to be:

  1. Max 8 hours at 1-sec GPS sample rate
  2. up to 12 hours at alt 1-sec GPS sample rate
  3. up to 30 hours at 1-minute GPS sample rate

Our estimate is for the average person who uses this as a triathlon watch it’s going to be seven days. The battery life is decent, as it’s not as good as some of the Garmin devices out there but decent battery life especially if you’re using the one that gives you hopefully up to 12 hours.

Breadcrumb Trail

It also has some navigational features. You can set point of interest you can set specific routes so you can follow them on the watch and in different sport profiles you have bread-crumbing (known as breadcrumb trail. It is automatically drawn as a dotted line when you are tracking an activity in a sport mode that has GPS enabled.) 

So, that’s most of the high-level features about this watch. Most of stuff you can expect there but our five favorite features about it here they are.


Normally we really wouldn’t get all worked up about a wrist heart rate sensor. It’s heart rate technology is virtually amazing. We’ve seen it on so many other devices but this one is actually made by Valencell so they make pretty much one of the best if not the best wrist based heart rate sensor. It’s even accurate mostly for weight training, for running and cycling.

Best HRM Watch For Running

If we had to choose a heart rate sensor for a GPS watch, we would go with this triathlon watch . Obviously, running that heart rate sensor is going to hurt battery life a little bit. In the future updates, by the time you get the device it will be tracking your heart rate 24/7. It’s not right now but in a software update, we will get that feature.

Not Tracking When Swimming

For swimming, this guy is not going to be tracking your heart rate even though when we switch it into the swimming mode. It does show the little lights there but essentially it’s not going to be used for swim tracking for that. If you want to track your heart rate, get the Suunto smart heart rate sensor and then after you jump out of the pool that can sync your heart rate to your wrist.

The Heat Map

This might be our favorite feature about the Spartan HR so far, although technically it’s not unique to this device. It was just launched alongside these partner series. They allow you to see how popular different areas are for different sports. 

For example, you can see how popular a place is for triathlon, hiking and trail running (by showing the density of the yellow icon) so you can see that it is a big epicenter for anybody that wants to get outdoors. You can see that there’s a bunch of trails you may want to go on and you can select those trails and sync them directly to the device.

Good For Avoiding People (That You Don’t Like)

We love these heat maps as it’s a really creative feature. We think it’s really useful actually and we love the fact that you can sync them directly to device. On the flip side of that, it also allows you to avoid people, if you know that’s a hot spot or a busy spot. You can go somewhere else if say you want to navigate outside and you don’t want to see a ton of people.

Detailed Data Fields

This is a small thing but we like that Suunto doesn’t just give you the information on your wrist, they also display some of it in charts. 
So, you’ve got heart rate chart and even got a real-time heart rate graph when you’re doing your triathlon, so you can kind of see how you’re doing on a graph as you run so it’s obviously going to give you your pace and just show you the information. They’ve kind of added a little bit more to it by giving you those charts.

High Durability

This watch feels like a beast of a watch as it’s very burly, has thick band and it feels like it’s going to take a hell of a lot to beat this guy up. So this triathlon watch wins on the durability side.

Cooler Software Update

We think it’s pretty good relative to what we’ve seen from Suunto in the past. It’s pretty easy to navigate and thoughtfully laid out. Pretty easy to jump right into when you first get to watch so we like the software it’s not the best out there but definitely an improvement. They’ve made these smart notifications better so you’ve got more characters to read hence, little bit more useful, plus there’s just a subtle notification.

Our Least Favourite Things

Mobile App Not As Good As Web App

The mobile app is just isn’t as good as it’s web portal. Their web portal is very robust in terms of features, obviously there’s still improvements they can do to that but there’s a pretty big disconnect in terms of what you can do in the mobile app vs what you can do on a desktop app. We would love the mobile app to have more features to it, with a better layout, more aesthetically pleasing and more useful. It just feels like there’s a pretty big difference between what you can do on the desktop app and what you can do on the mobile app. So Suunto got some work to be done there.

Bulky Form

The Suunto Spartans sport HR big and it’s heavy. Although if you look at the specs it’s actually lighter than some of the other watches out there and smaller than some of the other watches but for some reason it’s rigid and kind of feels bigger on the wrist. It feels heavier and it doesn’t conform to the wrist as much. It just feels bigger and clunkier and heavier although they got rid of the GPS nub.

Darker Display

This Suunto have a clear display with pretty nice display although not as vivid as Garmin Phoenix, which is big and it’s full color meanwhile remaining a 320 x 300 touchscreen. It does have a backlight but it’s just not as good. It’s harder to read because it’s a little bit darker not quite as vivid.

Limited Activity Tracking

We would love the SUUNTO to work more on activity tracking right now. So as for now, it tracks your steps, your calories burned and also your heart rate all day long but that’s it. It doesn’t track your sleep (which we would love to have) and nothing kind of layered on top. It’s not really a big focus on the mobile app although it is in there. We just think that they could do a better job with the activity tracking and with just that push on the feature, a lot of people would love to come over to SUUNTO.

Unimpressive “Smart” Features

There are smart phone notifications but there’s nothing that’s really that unique. There are no weather feature, no calendar, no additional watch faces like you can customize it to a certain extent. Sadly, nothing really above and beyond in the Smart Watch category. 


As a smart sport watch, its a nice triathlon watch a great sport GPS watch. However we would like them to add in some other smart features and really try to push the boundaries off this thing on the smart features as it really only has very basic features, not enough to attract a smartwatch enthusiast.


Here is the forerunner 735 XT Garmin’s latest and smallest triathlon watch to date. Essentially it’s an update to the Garmin Forerunner 920XT, in terms of hardware and form factor and there’s some new stuff under the hood as well. We think it’s going to be the gold standard for GPS triathlon watches at least for hardcore triathletes.


Price Tiers

This Garmin forerunner costs at USD$450 for only the watch. The next price tier which is the run bundle that comes with the HRM run heart rate monitor that is USD$500. Finally, you can get the Tri bundle that  comes with the HRM-Tri and HRM-Swim monitors is $600. 

The 735 XT is basically the shell of the forerunner 235. It’s little bit smaller and it has the same size display which by the way is full-color has great viewing angles and sunlight and it’s backlit. It has a really good display and overall Garmin seriously killed it in terms of the look in the feel of this watch. The watch looks great and the perfect size for someone as active as a triathlete. It is incredibly comfortable to wear more so than just about any other sport watch.


If you are checking out the best triathlon watch with heart rate monitor, you would absolutely love this feature. If you turn the watch on it’s back, you’ve got Garmin Elevate heart rate sensor which measures your heart rate through your wrist. That will be running 24/7 and during exercise, though it will be shut off during all swimming activities.

Adding to that, the heart rate sensor is good for endurance sports. For most of the people that are getting this watch, they’re going to end up with one of the bundles so they’ll probably just be using that wrist heart rate sensor for more casual exercise as opposed to training. Be aware, with that heart rate sensor, if you are weight lifting or cross-training, the built-in sensor is not going to be very good. You’re going to want to use a chest strap heart rate monitor.

Water Resistance, GPS and GLONASS

In terms of other hardware stuff, the 735 is water resistant down to 50 meters. It does have GPS and GLONASS (which is the Russian form of GPS) and ultra track mode which helps it to conserve battery life by taking GPS samples at a reduced rate.

Battery Life

Speaking of battery life, this guy will do about 14 hours in GPS mode. We didn’t fully exhaust the battery in one workout just yet, but all of our tests signals that it’s going to be right around 14 hours when it’s fully charged. This is actually a really good number for most of the triathletes out there and as far as average battery life you can expect six to seven days which is already pretty good if especially considering it’s very small form-factor. Obviously, the total battery life will depend on ultimately on your activity level.


The watch also has Bluetooth built-in which is how you sync it to the Garmin Connect, a mobile app that is on iOS, Android and Windows 10. It does so automatically as soon as you open up the application. It also syncs via USB. Now, if you want to learn more about Garmin Connect, you can refer to their website here.

GPS MultiSport

The Garmin Forerunner 735XT is a GPS triathlon watch. It ultimately handles triathlons and that’s mostly what you will be buying it for. If you buy it and you’re not a triathlete, we think maybe you should have got a different watch but you can also do other activities on it as well from running to paddle boarding to cross-country skiing to hiking and if it doesn’t have an appbuilt in you can create one. A little sad news for the golf enthusiast, there is no golf application. Aside from that, this watch is the best triathlon watch since you can create an app for swimming, cycling and running.

Swimming Tracking

For swimming, it tracks all of the metrics you’ve come to expect for both pool and open water swimming such as distance, lap info, stroke count and rate, swolf, intervals, and structured workouts. It actually tracks your heart rate if you have the HRM swim or the HRM Tri. 

Cycling Tracking

For cycling, it pairs with the; Garmin Speed/Cadence sensor and Garmin Varia Vision™ heads-up display. This is the first watch that does sync with that heads-up display. Then, you’ve got the Garmin Varia Vision™ rear view setup and a bunch of power meters and a lot more of accessories out there. It tracks all of the standard metrics for cycling. 

Running Tracking

Garmin is known for being a running watch. As for running, it supports indoor and outdoor workouts and tracks; Distance and Route, Lap Info, Pace and Speed, Cadence, Vertical Oscillation, Ground Contact Time, Stride Length, Vertical Ratio, and GCT Balance. If you pair it with the HRM run or the HRM Tri, you will be getting your advanced running dynamics as well and you’re going to get an estimate of your VO2 Max , a race predictor, a recovery advisor and a bunch of other helpful features including your physiological measurements.

Strava Suffer Score

The other thing that’s new, is that Garmin introduced Strava suffer score right on to your wrist in real time. This will be the first watch from Garmin to feature that metric and which interpret how hard your workout is and if you get the 735XT, you’re going to get 60 days of a free trial of Strava premium, which is pretty cool and a great application. By the way, that suffer score will be available to all of the users that have Garmin devices that utilize ConnectIQ. You guys can just go and install it right now if you want to.

Activity Profiles

There are a lot of activity profiles, such as run, run indoor, bike, bike indoor, pool swim, open water, and of course, triathlon. There’s a lot of them, so it can be confusing because it’s so capable but the point is the GARMIN FORERUNNER 735XT is the triathlon watch right now.

All Rounded Tracker

This Garmin watch is an all-day activity, sleep tracker and heart rate monitor. Garmin is good at them. There is not a whole lot to talk about, as it does have daily alarms and a bunch of reminders for you to move.


It can connect to your phone if it is within Bluetooth range, which is around 30 to 33 feet. It works with ConnectIQ for all of those apps widgets and watch faces. Relays all of your text messages, calls, emails and any of your phone’s notifications. It has native widgets for the weather and your calendar. It’s also able to control the verb action camera and control the music playing on your phone.


The GARMIN FORERUNNER 735XT is no doubt it’s making a lot of triathletes out there feel all warm and tingly inside. We love this watch as it tracks EVERYTHING from running to sleeping. Hands down, this is one of the best watch for beginners, amateur and triathlon pros.



Fenix 5 it is a multisport watch so it handles all of your triathlons needs. It’s a runner’s watch and also an outdoor watch. Besides that, it’s a SmartWatch, an activity tracker, sleep tracker and a heart rate monitor. So, it really does do it all but in all honesty it is actually more of a triathlon watch than anything.

We’re going to cover the good and the bad and then towards the end of it we’ll talk about how it compares to other watches and what we would do. Let’s get to it.


A stainless-steel EXO antenna for GPS and GLONASS and has a full-color beautiful display. However, on the Standard Unit it’s simply a mineral crystal display. You have to spend an additional hundred dollars if you want to get the Sapphire Unit.


The other big thing is, you would get Wi-Fi on the Sapphire Units. Also, it has a built-in wrist heart rate monitor on its underside. It’s a pretty commonplace by now. You’ve seen it on so many other triathlon watches.

It’s good watch for triathlon, running, light cycling, walking and hiking but it’s just not going to be accurate for Crossfit or weight training. It’s a limit to the technology for most wrist heart rate monitors as they are not accurate for anything really dynamic, and for this watch in particular you are not going to want to use it for strength training. You’ll want to use an external chest strap heart rate monitor for those types of exercises. It does pair with both Bluetooth and ANT+ sensors.

HRM Sensor

Now, all of the cycling sensors and heart rate monitors, all of that it uses both protocols now. Also, regarding that wrist heart rate monitor(HRM), it’s going to be switched off while you go swimming. You’ll probably want to get the HRM Tri or the HRM Swim, if you want to track your heart rate while you’re swimming. 

Quick Fit Bands

So, the Fenix 5 also has quick fit bands. They are pretty cool because a lot of people out there want to use this for sport and for work, and that way you can quickly interchange the bands on the fly. Arguably, the biggest draw the Fenix 5 is that it looks awesome. It’s both sporty and fashionable and as an FYI the same story goes with the Fenix 3 like that’s a great looking watch – but it doesn’t come standard with quick fit bands although it is compatible with the quick fit bands from the Fenix 5X.

Regarding Third Party Bands

We have not seen a lot of third parties starting to make the quick fit bands, because to be honest the band’s from Garmin are extremely priced. They start at USD$50 and they go up from there. So, we’re kind of sick of how expensive everything is. We are definitely going to get other bands for it and would love to put a leather band or a metal band on it but right now there’s just not a whole lot of options.

Additional Design Element

Here’s some other stuff regarding design. It’s water-resistant down to 100 meters, it syncs via USB and Bluetooth to the Garmin Connect app, so it’s one of the best apps out there iOS, Android and Windows 10. There’s also a web app and you can pair with it using a Mac or a PC.


It’s actually decently heavy for a triathlon watch. It’s 85 grams and basically the same weight as the Fenix 3HR, although it is in a noticeably smaller casing. Fenix 5 is just a slightly smaller watch. Just to be clear, it is not a small watch it’s still bulky and big and it feels like a big watch on your wrist. It’s just is smaller than the Fenix 3 and the Fenix 5X. As a triathlon watch, this will perform amazingly.


In terms of comfort, it’s a decently comfortable watch but it is a big watch and you’ll notice it on your wrist and when you do ratchet down the bands, you’re going to get a little bit of marks here and there and maybe a little bit of chafing. You’ve probably experienced it before with other watches if you tighten them up, you get a little bit of marks on your arm basically the same thing as what you saw with the Fenix 3 anyways. 

Battery Life

As far as battery life goes, Garmin says this guy’s going to go up to 24 hours in GPS mode. Expect about 18 hours in GPS mode as it’s not going to get you all the way to 24 hours. If you keep everything off and you never touch this triathlon watch maybe you’ll get 24 hours. Practically speaking, people should expect right around 18 hours in GPS mode. 

Now, what that translates to in terms of days, it’s a full week of battery life if you’re active. If you’re running or working out everyday, maybe once or twice a day, you’re going to get a full week of battery life now.

In regards to some of those longer sports like a 100-mile ultramarathon, you’re still going to have to charge it like any other watch out there. You’re going to have to charge it, making sure you have a pack with you or something. You can’t wear this one while charging at the same time which sucks, but you can charge it and track your activity at the same time. So for those really really long ones you’re going to charge the device.


A Multisport feature

Moving on to the performance side of things, it tracks all of the sports mentioned; Indoor running, Outdoor running, Indoor cycling, Outdoor cycling, Open pool swimming, Indoor pool swimming, Triathlon, Hiking, Trail run, Mountain bike, Climbing, Ski, Snowboard, XC ski, SUP, Rowing, Golfing, TruSwing, Jumpmaster, Tactical, Strength and Cardio.


With running it tracks Distance, Timing, Route, Pace/Speed, Heart Rate, Lap Info ,Cadence and then if you have the HRM Run or the HRM Tri or the new running dynamics pod you’ll also get the six additional running dynamics stats; Cadence, Ground Contact Time, Vertical Oscillation, GCT Balance, Vertical Ratio, Stride Length. If you’re really into running you might like those.

We think the vast majority of users will be fine with just the watch by itself. The Distance, Pace and Cadence tracker is really all most people need but again if you’re super into running you may enjoy those advanced to running dynamics.

UltraTrac Mode

One other thing for running, is “UltraTrac Mode”, which is basically a battery saving mode that takes GPS samples at a reduced rate.That means that the accuracy of the mapping gets messed up, so  they added a gyroscope to it to help fill in the lapses and data.  The “UltraTrac Mode” should be used for something that has long straightaway, for example really long bike rides and definitely not for trail running. We wish it was better as it’s still not something you’re going to use on a hundred mile trail running an ultra marathon.

For swimming and cycling you get all the stats on the watch;

  1. Time
  2. Heart Rate
  3. Lap Info
  4. Distance
  5. Speed/Pace
  6. FTP (w/power meter)

Pool Swimming:

  1. Distance
  2. Timing
  3. Laps
  4. Stroke Count
  5. Stroke Rate
  6. SWOLF

Open Water Swimming:

  1. Distance
  2. Timing
  3. Routine
  4. Stroke Count
  5. Stroke Rate

To track your swimming, you have to be a pretty decent swimmer for the stats to be accurate because for swimming, your form really matters. As far as overall training goes, the Fenix 5 has a lot of features so VO2 max included in that and then there’s a few really neat new metrics that basically help you better understand your workouts and your workout load. 

Outdoor Tracking

The Fenix 5X has full-blown topographical maps but the standard Fenix 5 has basic graphs but they work fine. You get your altitude, you have a barometer and a compass, you also have a bunch of stuff as far as navigation goes for a triathlon watch.

You can see specific locations and then you can navigate to those specific locations using the compass in a little map. Then, you can also choose back to start which is basically like bread crumbing so you can follow the trail back to where you started. You can even save courses on the watch and then upload your own. It’s not super in-depth as far as the outdoor tools go, but anybody trekking or hiking trail running will find it helpful. 
The other sport that you can track is golf. The features are:

  1. Yardage to front, middle, back of green
  2. Distance of shot
  3. Scorecard

Activity and Sleep Tracker

The Fenix 5 is also your activity and sleep tracker. The features are:

  1. Steps
  2. Calories
  3. Distance
  4. Floors
  5. Intensity Minutes
  6. Daily Alarm
  7. Sleep
  8. Heart Rate

It also is a semi smart watch, so it’s going to relay your phone notifications and as various widgets for:

  1. Notifications
  2. Weather
  3. Calendar
  4. VIRB Controls
  5. Music Controls
  6. ABC Tools
  7. Connect IQ

There are some third-party apps widgets and watch faces that you can download from Garmin Connect IQ. You can also control the music that’s playing on your phone so that’s streamed and stored music from iTunes, Spotify and Pandora. 


We wish that it had native storage for music. We would have loved to have had that feature. The price point is crazy, which is USD$600 at a starting price. It would cost even more if you get the sapphire unit. We wish that by default, it had a sapphire display. The original bands by Garmin are too pricey and it’s still big, bulky and heavy watch. It’s not for everybody out there but if you do end up getting it if you think you’re going to like it and you end up getting it you’ll probably really like it because it is such an amazing triathlon watch to have.

Joe Fischer

Loves watches and lifestyle

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