Best triathlon watch 2020: track your swim, cycle and run with these advanced multi-sport smartwatches

Need a new tri watch? We’ve got the list of best triathlon watches right here. The below watches are the cream of the crop, the most advanced triathlon watches from all the top manufacturer including Garmin, Polar, Suunto and Coros.

Triathlon watches are different from running watches and definitely from fitness trackers as the watches on this list have dedicated triathlon modes and most can even read heart rate under water too. If you need to track your heart rate even more accurately, get a heart rate monitor, they can be paired with triathlon watches as well and there are some triathlon specific models as well

Triathlon is a great sport and if you have been practising even just one of its sport principles before (either swimming, cycling or running), it is worth trying. Triathlon challenges your endurance and since there are so many different race lengths, you can pick one that suits your fitness level the most.

Saying that, you should take race preparations seriously. If the last time you swam more than 10 metres was in school 20 years ago, it might take you up to 10-12 weeks to get ready for the 700-metre open water swimming leg of a triathlon sprint. Let alone the 20 km cycling and the 5 km running parts, in quick succession after each other.

One of the most common triathlon mistakes is to get your pacing wrong, by not knowing which heart rate zone you train in. That’s where a good (best, even) triathlon watch can come super handy, a wearable that monitors your heart rate in real time, as well as your pace, position and loads more metrics, in the water, on the bike and on your feet, running.

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How to choose the best triathlon watch

A good tri watch has many extra features on top of the ones a regular running smartwatch has. For one, it needs to be waterproof, otherwise it would be quite hard to wear it all the way through a triathlon race. The main criteria are as follows:

Battery life: a triathlon race can last for anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days, but you are looking at 3-4 hours of race time on average. The good tri watch should be able to last at least 6-8 hours in GPS mode, to make sure it won’t die on your wrist just before the end of the race, losing all the data and your bragging rights for later, having no proof that you completed the race. The Coros Apex, for example, can last up to a 100 hours in GPS mode, and the Suunto 9 Baro up to 120 hours.

Water-tight construction: as mentioned above, it would be rather difficult to track swimming with a watch that is not water rated to at least 50 metres. The best triathlon watches are not only swim proof, they can also measure heart rate on the wrist under water and track advanced swimming metrics, too, like stroke count, pace and SWOLF.

Multisport transition: it is also important to be able to switch between sport modes without excessive button pressing. You will be quite preoccupied with taking your wetsuit off and putting your cycling gear on after getting out of the water, let alone trying to find the right menu setting for switching from tracking swimming to tracking cycling. Most top tier smartwatches offer one button multisport transition and even have a dedicated triathlon mode, for added convenience.

Fit and comfort: races last for a few hours and you don’t want to feel uncomfortable, adjusting the watch on your wrist every two minutes because it’s giving you all the wrong HR readings. In order to achieve a comfortable fit, you would need a flexible silicone strap as well as a smooth case material. Watches like the Polar Vantage V and the Suunto 9 Baro have a curved design that makes fitting the watch snugly around your wrist easier.

Ruggedness: you don’t want to your new tri watch to break after accidentally falling off your wrist or get scratched after bumping it into your bike’s handlebar, do you? Many top tri watches come with Gorilla Glass or Sapphire crystal lenses and sturdy casing, like the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Titanium, which has a titanium housing, comes with a Sapphire crystal lens on the top and only weighs 49 grams (case only).

The best triathlon watches, in order

The Garmin Forerunner 945 is the perfect compromise between features and price, whilst not being a compromise at all. Many people will say ‘but it looks the same as the Forerunner 935’ and you know what? They are right. But whilst the Forerunner 945 has retained the look and feel of the Forerunner 935, in the inside, it has been completely revamped.

For starters, it uses Garmin’s new ELEVATE heart rate sensor, which is more accurate, even under water, than the 935’s sensor. The Forerunner 945 also uses a new GPS chip that manages battery life better and it is more accurate than its predecessor as well.

The Forerunner 935 didn’t have any onboard music storage and wasn’t Garmin Pay ready, unlike the Forerunner 945, which is. You won’t use any of these features on races, probably, but we can safely assume that you will wear the smartwatch on non-race days, too, where they might come in handy.

The Forerunner 945 also has many of Garmin’s latest-gen features, including PulseOx, Live Event Sharing, accident detection and assistance, Body Battery energy monitor, training load focus and many more.

Not to mention the built in maps feature, which you can use for navigation as well as to discover local points of interest. Granted, the 1.2″ screen is not as detailed as your smartphone, but if you want to break away from the phone screen for a bit and still want to be able to navigate in the same time, the Garmin Forerunner 945 has got your back.

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The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is a great smartwatch for anyone who loves the Great Outdoors and since triathlon races tend to be held outdoors, it is also great for triathletes, too.

Garmin managed to improve on the formula that made the Fenix 5 Plus so great, further enhancing the battery life and also tweaking the user interface, which is now way easier to glance over, thanks to the widget view.

If anything, the Fenix 6 Pro is more rugged than light, but it is far from being too heavy, the Titanium version is also 11 grams lighter than the steel version, making it on par with other smartwatches on this list.

It also has a multisport mode which makes switching between sport modes as easy as pressing a button. The Fenix 6 Pro also has all the functions we already mentioned above in the Forerunner 945 review, but in a more stylish package.

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The Suunto 9 Baro wins on battery life, lasting up to 120 hours in Ultra mode. Saying this, you probably won’t use the Ultra mode all that often, since in this mode, the Sunnto 9 Baro does not much else apart from tracking your position with an ‘OK’ precision, so no wrist heart rate, bluetooth or vibration.

But even in performance mode, the Suunto 9 Baro can last up to 24 hours, more than enough for majority of triathlon races you will likely to attend. 

As for build quality, the Suunto 9 Baro feels closer to diving watch than a running watch, meaning it is more robust and heavier than the Garmin Forerunner 945, for example. For people with smaller wrists, this might be a deal breaker, since for accurate heart rate tracking, the watch needs to sit on your wrist snugly. And for that, you’ll need some wrist circumference wearing the Suunto 9 Baro.

The watch might be a bit big but at least the front is filled with the display, and a high resolution display that is. The resolution is 320 x 320 pixels, the highest on this list.

One downside of the Suunto 9 Baro is that it can’t track heart rate on the wrist under water. It tracks loads of other metrics, though, including swim pace and distance, stroke rate, count and type, and even SWOLF.

Oh, and this watch has a touch screen, which feature is disabled in exercise mode (much like the Polar Vantage M).

The Polar Vantage M might be almost £200 cheaper than the Vantage V, but it you aren’t too keen on the running power metric and don’t often do ultra-marathons, you are probably better off with the former.

The Polar Vantage M is light – the case is only 28 grams – and has a decent sized 1.2″ screen, too, with a 240 x 240 pixels resolution. You can choose from a range of funky-coloured straps as well, our personal favourite is the lime green one, which will make you stand out from the sea of black multisport smartwatch wearers.

The Vantage M supports advanced swimming metrics and automatically detects your heart rate, swimming style, distance, pace, strokes and rest times. Distance and strokes get tracked also in open water swimming.

One advantage of the Polar Vantage series is the Precision Prime sensor technology, which uses 9 sensors to measure your heart rate, plus has 4 additional skin-contact sensors, so it knows when the watch is in the correct place for precise measurement.

Among other features, the Polar Vantage M also has a multisport mode which makes switching between sports easy as pie.

What can we say? The Garmin Forerunner 935 is still a very decent multisport watch. It tracks position precisely, has loads of great functions (with probably many more rolled out later as firmware update) and now that the Forerunner 945 has been released, the price is on point, too.

It might pick up GPS signal a bit slower than the Forerunner 945 and might not be as precise as that and by getting it you might miss out on the new features mentioned in the Forerunner 945 review.

It also uses Garmin’s last gen heart rate sensor, which is not imprecise, but definitely not as accurate as the ELEVATE sensor.

What the Forerunner 935 has, though, is built-in barometer, altimeter and electronic compass as well as features like training load and good battery life.

All for a reasonable price.

Coros is getting more and more attention in fitness circles for their great value for money fitness wearables that challenge models from more established brands like Garmin, Polar and Suunto, so pretty much all the brands on this guide. The Pace is Coros’ most reasonably priced model but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap or that it doesn’t have any performance features.

The Coros Pace is a multi-sport watch that even has a triathlon mode and can measure heart rate under water. The metrics recorded include running cadence, stride length, pace, stroke rate and SWOLF. Analytics can be further scrutinised on the watch or in the free-to-use Coros App.

If you ever used running watches before, you know that a good app can make or break even the best running hardware. In 2020, apps are essential part of the running process and many runners (and cyclists and triathletes) spend countless hours poring over friends’ feeds in Strava and their own metrics in various running apps.

Saying all that, the Coros App is okay at best and could use some refinement for sure. It’s not terrible to use but not as intuitive as some other apps on the market. For those who aren’t too keen in overanalysing their performance, the Coros App could be used to feed data into third party apps like Strava or TrainingPeaks.

In return for putting up with the app, the Coros Pace repays you great battery life – the Pace can go for roughly two weeks between two charges – the aforementioned triathlon features and the Smart Learning Stride Length feature that will measure the distance ran even without a GPS signal.

Coros might be a brand some old-school sportspeople are not overly familiar with, but you might want get familiar with the name sooner rather than later. The Chinese company has exploded into the fitness smartwatch scene recently with their quality products, the Apex being the most sophisticated version of the lot.

Naturally, they offer the same (and sometimes better) specs as models with a way heftier price tag on the market, but unlike many other Chinese manufacturers, Coros’ offers are actually high-quality and definitely worth the money you invest in them.

The Coros Apex stands out from the crowd with its seriously HUGE screen and extremely long battery life. The former is a whopping 1.8″ (46 mm) display hidden under a Sapphire crystal lens with a resolution of 240 x 240.

As for battery life, the Coros Apex can last up to 100 hours in UltraMax mode. In this mode, for every 120 seconds, the GPS is switched on for 30 seconds, then Coros’ Intelligent Stride algorithm, along with motion sensors, will kick in for the remaining 90 seconds.

The turn dial does take a minute or two to get used to but once you have done so, it’s intuitive enough to use and makes switching between screens as easy as turning a dial. Like, literally.

Want a watch that will practically last forever and has no learning curve either? Not interested in advanced metrics, heart rate or GPS positing? You literally just want to track time and don;t want to spend a fortune on a smartwatch? The Timex Ironman Classic 30 is for you.

What you’ll get for the price is features like lap timer, alarm, back light and stop watch. The watch also has shatter-resistant acrylic window lens and a round high-performance and durable resin case with digital display.

The Timex Ironman Classic 30 is also water resistant to 10 metres, and you probably won;t dive too deep into water with it, so it all checks out to us!

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