Megan writes about health and wellness issues, among other topics.
Runners, cyclers, and hikers like to be able to track how far they want, how fast, and where. Not long ago, watches that not only could tell time but also tell you where you were on a map seemed like a futuristic fantasy.The first watch equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) that could track your location came around in 1999, and was made by Casio. That watch cost about $500-$600, which when accounting for inflation was quite expensive at the time. The Casio GPS watch had a pixelated grayscale map, and could stay charged for just 10 hours. It was much larger and bulkier than most GPS watches around today.
GPS watches have come a long way since 1999. Today’s GPS watches are slimmer and more comfortable to wear. They track additional features other than just your route or location on a map or your speed. Many can tell you your heart rate, or your hours slept and quality of sleep (if you wear it to bed). Previously, to transfer your route information from running, hiking, or cycling onto a computer, you had to plug in your watch to the computer and navigate computer files. Now, many operate using bluetooth and connect directly to your phone and other fitness apps.
Today, many companies manufacture GPS watches, including well known ones like Timex and Apple. Perhaps the most well known among GPS watch manufacturers in the fitness world, however, is Garmin. Founded in 1989 right before the first GPS watches began coming out, Garmin makes all kinds of GPS devices, including ones for cars, airplanes, and underwater. According to Statista, Garmin holds the seventh largest market share percentage of wearable smart devices. Specific to runners and running GPS watches, though, Garmin is definitely among the most popular. Out of Amazon’s top ten selling items for “running GPS units,” Garmin devices make up nine out of ten. My favorite Garmin watch, the Garmin Forerunner 35, is the number one seller in this category.
The Garmin Forerunner 35
The Forerunner 35 is not the fanciest of all Garmin watches, but it is my favorite for a lot of reasons. This watch has all the basics you need to be able to track your run, including your speed, distance, map, and heart rate. It tracks your sleep as well if you wear it at night. The watch also tracks your calories burned for each activity. The Forerunner 35 has a grayscale display that doesn’t show the actual map where you are running/biking/hiking, but when you are done and upload your activity to the Garmin Connect App (and/or other apps like Strava or Map My Run), you can see the map there. It has only four side buttons that do everything you need: settings, return, activity, and scroll.
The watch itself features a square display and a flexible rubber strap. Many Garmin watches with additional features, such as the display of the map right on your wrist, are quite big. I am a small framed woman, and those higher end watches with all the bells and whistles and bigger display screens tend to hurt my wrist after a while. The forerunner’s scaled down, but completely adequate smaller display screen fits perfectly on my smaller wrist without causing me any discomfort while exercising.
A lot of the higher end Garmin watches can be quite expensive, too. Some of the most decked-out Garmin watches, which include extra features like “lactate threshold” and “blood oxygen level” are priced at $300 or more. The Forerunner 35 starts out at $99, which is a much lower barrier to entry for beginning or intermediate runners looking for a reasonable smart watch to be able to track their runs.
The Garmin Connect App
Garmin watches connect via bluetooth to the Garmin app, Garmin Connect. Garmin Connect features your logged activities, including the map, time, pace, city, and calories burned. The home page of the app lists your last 7 days of activities, your average resting heart rate, your average steps for the past 7 days, and your calories in/out per day (for this you’ll need to connect the Garmin Connect app to My Fitness Pal, where you can manually enter calories in/out each day). Garmin Connect also features fun challenges you can join, and badges you can earn for reaching certain milestones. When you hit a PR (personal record), run your longest distance, or hit other milestones (like running in the lowest temperature!), you’ll earn cool badges that are logged on the Garmin Connect App too. The app features a calendar view, so you can see a monthly view color coded by activity levels each day. You can keep track of multiple Garmin devices in the settings area. You can also create custom fitness goals for yourself and track your progress.
The Garmin watches charge via USB. If for some reason you don’t have the Garmin Connect App or don’t want it, you can still manually upload your activities to your computer via the USB cord.
Use With Strava (And Other Exercise Tracking Apps)
Fitness enthusiasts caught on to the social media trend...the same way people share photos of birthday parties and nights out with friends on Facebook or Instagram, who doesn’t want to share runs/hikes/rides with fellow athletes on social media? If your run didn’t get uploaded to Strava for all to see, did it even happen? Apps like Strava have filled that gap by allowing exercisers to track their activities and “follow” friends so they can see and comment on each others’ activities. The Garmin Connect app can be linked directly to Strava, so that any time you complete a run on your Garmin watch, it automatically gets uploaded to both.
If you are looking for a reasonably priced GPS smart watch to track your outdoor exercise activities on a map, The Garmin Forerunner 35 is an excellent choice. It is one of the lowest cost Garmin GPS watches, but has all the features you need to be able to track your distance, speed, map, calories burned, heart rate, and even sleep. It is an overall smaller device, ideal for those with smaller wrists or who find bulkier watches uncomfortable to wear while exercising. If later on you feel you really need features like blood oxygen level or lactate threshold, or you want to be able to see the actual map on your watch when you are out on the trail, you can always upgrade later.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on May 16, 2021:
Nice review of the Garmin Forerunner. I have been using Fitbit Versa for quite some time and now plan to go to Fitbit Sense shortly but this Garmin sounds like a good option to try once before finalizing. Thanks for the review.