Choosing a GPS Running Watch: Which Garmin Forerunner is Right for You

A woman running, and a man holding an old stopwatch. It's time to upgrade to a real GPS running watch!

So you’ve decided that it’s time to up your running game and get a GPS watch. But with so many options out there, it can be a bit overwhelming. Garmin Forerunners are definitely a good choice – but which model is right for you?

I feel you. I was there myself, not too long ago.

When I first got back into running, I was using a Fitbit Charge 3. I had to piggyback off my phone to get a GPS signal. It was ok, but it definitely wasn’t ideal.

After a couple of months, I decided to upgrade. I poured over all the options and weighed their pros and cons. Ultimately, I settled on the Garmin Forerunner 245. Given my needs, it was a great choice. Two years later, I’m still happy with it.

But everyone is going to be different, and what’s right for me might not be right for you. So let me run through what Garmin has to offer, and highlight a few key differences between the watches that will help you make the best choice.

The Advantages of a Garmin Forerunner

Before we get into the differences between the various watches, let’s start with a more basic question – why do you need a Garmin Forerunner in the first place?

There are lots of ways to track your workouts.

With any smartphone, you can use an app to track a run – like Strava or MapMyRun. Back in the day, this is how I got started with Endomondo (which is now defunct and closed).

This has a few inherent problems, though. First, you have to carry your phone. Second, it can’t track your heart rate. Third, it’s really awkward to interact with the tracker while you’re actually running. This might work when you’re first starting out, but as you progress you’ll quickly grow out of this.

Another option is to use a basic fitness tracker. The first fitness tracker I had was a Fitbit Charge 3. It was really designed to track steps, but it had the ability to track a run as well. But it wasn’t ideal either. It didn’t have its own built in GPS, the touchscreen didn’t work well while I was running, and the screen was impossible to read on a sunny day.

And then there are smart watches. If you already have an Apple watch, why can’t you just use that to track your runs? You can, these are designed to be smartwatches first and fitness trackers second. Runners that use Apple watches often complain about inaccurate GPS and heart rate data, and you still have the problem of controls.

Garmin Forerunners are designed from the ground up with running in mind. So that’s what they do best. They track your runs (as well as bike rides and swims, if you’re a triathlete). Everything else is secondary.

So the key advantages to a Garmin Forerunner are that a) you’ll get accurate GPS data, b) you’ll get fairly reliable heart rate data, c) the screen will be easy to read outside, d) you get physical buttons to easily interact with the watch while you’re running, and e) you can build complex workouts and track all of your data in Garmin Connect.

This is true of the most basic Forerunner – the 55 – as well as the top of the line 945. If all you need is a basic running watch, any of them will do.

That being said, there are some key differences that distinguish each watch. So run down the line up and see what makes each one unique.

Garmin Forerunner 55 – The Entry Level Watch

The Garmin Forerunner 55 is the entry level Forerunner. It was released in 2021, and it offered some upgrades and improvements over the older 45 / 45S.

It retails for $199.99, and for that you’ll get a decent, feature rich GPS running watch.

You can track your runs, and you can build workouts in Garmin Connect. It has access to the “Track Run” activity, which accurately maps your run around an oval track.

It uses the optical heart rate monitor to track your heart rate during workouts, to measure your heart rate variability, and to calculate your Garmin Body Battery throughout the day. Read more about Garmin Body Battery here, if you’re unfamiliar with this nifty feature. You can also connect to an ANT+ heart rate monitor, like the HRM-Dual, for more accurate heart rate data.

But it is missing some premium features. It does not have navigation, nor does it have access to premium running metrics like Performance Condition. There’s no music option, either.

This is the perfect choice for someone who’s just starting out, and just needs a basic GPS watch to track their runs and workouts. But if you want music, do a lot of trail running, or dabble in triathlons, you’ll want to consider one of the higher end Forerunners.

Garmin Forerunner 245 – The Mid-Tier Choice

The Garmin Forerunner 245 is next up on the list. It comes in two versions – with the 245 Music retailing for $349.99 and the base model retailing for $299.99. This is also one the Forerunner model that tends to have the best discounts on Amazon – so there’s a good chance you won’t end up paying the full retail.

But it is definitely more expensive than the 55. So what do you get for the extra money?

It includes all of the same features as the 55. It has just similar hardware, although the screen is slightly larger and has a slightly higher resolution. But there are a few key features that set it apart.

First and foremost, the Forerunner 245 has a music option. If you want to sync music to your watch, you’ll need to upgrade. Second, it has access to basic navigation features. These are really useful if you go trail running or if you often run in unfamiliar places. And finally, it has access too some more advanced running metrics as well as the ability to sync to a running pod.

If any of those features appeal to you, then the Forerunner 245 might be the right choice. This is the one that I chose, and the main feature that I couldn’t live without is the navigation.

Garmin Forerunner 745 – A Mid-Tier Watch for Triathletes

Take a step up, and you’re looking at the Garmin Forerunner 745. As you get to the higher end of the Forerunner line, they tend to get a little pricey. The 745 retails for $499.99.

Again, it has all of the same features as the 245. The hardware is similar, with a few exceptions. It’s a little larger than the 245, and it features a different kind of glass.

One key difference is that it includes an altimeter. This allows the watch to accurately track elevation change – whereas the Forerunner 55 and 245 both use GPS data to estimate elevation.

Another is that the 745 includes Garmin Pay – an NFC, contactless payment system. It’s a nifty feature, and maybe a gimmick. But it may appeal to you.

But the thing that really sets the Forerunner 745 apart is that it includes additional features for triathletes. You can track multisport activities that span running, biking, and/or swimming. You can also sync a power meter to gather data about your bike rides.

If you’re thinking of doing a triathlon, then you definitely want to go with the 745 or 945. And if you’re a trail runner, you’ll probably find the altimeter to be an important feature. Otherwise, you might be happy sticking with the 245.

Garmin Forerunner 945 – The Top End Model

Picture of the Garmin 945 maps and navigation

Finally, we come to the Garmin Forerunner 945. It’s the top end model in the Forerunner line, and it comes with the highest price tag. There are two versions – a base model that retails for $599.99 and an LTE model that retails for $649.99.

This is the top of the line Forerunner, and it is feature rich. It includes everything on the other models, plus a few extra little bonuses.

The biggest one is probably the LTE connectivity. The other Forerunners can send messages (for Live Tracking or to call for help), but they can only do so if you have your phone with you. Now you can stay connected and run phone free. People can even watch your progress live and send you messages, which is pretty cool.

Another significant upgrade is the maps. The Forerunner 245 and 745 have access to basic navigation, but they’re basically wireframes and breadcrumbs. You don’t get any map data – just a line on a blank background and a compass. The 945 introduces fully featured maps, so you can navigate streets and explore a city with nothing but the watch on your wrist.

Finally, the 945 brings golfing features to the Forerunner line. You can track your play along a golf course, see how the holes are laid out, and know how far you are from the green. If you’re not a golfer, you probably won’t care about this. But if you are a golfer, it’s a huge value add.

If you want the biggest and best Forerunner out there – you need to splurge on the 945. There are some awesome features on this that will make it worth it, assuming you use them. But, again, if you don’t have any use for them… you might as well stick with the cheaper, basic models.

Direct Comparisons Between Garmin Forerunner Models

So that’s a quick run down of the four major Forerunners that are currently available. You might see some older models out there, but unless you’re getting a great deal on a used watch, you probably want to avoid something older like the 35, the 235, or the 735.

If you’re torn between two of the watches, check out these three guides for more thorough comparisons of the two watches you’re considering:

All four of these watches are great, and you can’t go wrong with any of them if you’re looking for a basic GPS running watch.

But there are some features that clearly set them apart. With a price range of $199.99 to $649.99, there’s a pretty significant price differential. So make sure you consider the various features, and find the right watch for you.

I decided to go with the Forerunner 245, and I’m happy with it. I don’t listen to music while I run, and I don’t do triathlons. However, I do find the navigation feature useful, and I’m glad I didn’t cheap out and get the 55 (or the 45, which was available at the time).

However, the LTE connectivity of the 945, as well as the maps functionality, has me reconsidering things. I have a feeling I might be upgrading if I ever come across a good enough deal.

And when you do, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear which one you chose and why.

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Choosing a GPS Running Watch: Which Garmin Forerunner is Right for You

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