Garmin Forerunner 265 or 965: Which Running Watch Should You Pick

So you’re becoming more serious about running, and it’s time to get a GPS running watch. There are so many options out there, you could easily be overwhelmed. Today, let’s weigh two of those options from Garmin – the Forerunner 265 and the Forerunner 965.

These watches are the latest two Forerunners that Garmin has released – available in early 2023. The Forerunner 265 is a solid mid-tier choice, while the Forerunner 965 is the top-end option among Forerunners. The two watches overlap in a lot of areas, but there are a few key differences that differentiate them.

So which one should you choose? Let me run through the differences, and you can make a decision yourself.

Price Differences Between the Garmin Forerunner 265 and 965

The clearest difference – and a significant one – is the price point. The Forerunner 965 has a couple extra features compared to the 265, so what you should really be asking yourself is … do these additional features justify the additional cost?

To make that choice, it helps to start by understanding how they compare on price.

The Garmin Forerunner 265 comes in two versions – the regular and the small (265S). Both versions retail for $449.99. This is more expensive than its predecessors were when they were new. If that’s too rich for your blood, you may want to consider an older version. Check out this comparison of the Garmin 245, 255, and 265.

The Garmin Forerunner 965 only comes in one configuration – and it retails for $599.99. This is consistent with previous versions, and the gap between the 2XX and the 9XX is getting smaller. The solar and LTE options are gone with this release, but if you’re interested in them – or in getting a cheaper version of the 9XX – check out this comparison of the Garmin 945, 955, and 965.

The Garmin Forerunner 955 also comes in two configurations – the regular version and the solar version. The regular version retails for $499.99 and the solar version retails for $599.99.

There’s not a huge difference between the two watches – around $150. If you’re in for $450, what’s a little extra? But, it’s still not nothing.

So what does the Garmin Forerunner 965 bring to the table, and does it justify spending an extra $150?

Enhanced Features on the Garmin Forerunner 955

There are a handful of minor software differences and additional features that the Forerunner 965 has. Some of these aren’t really worth pointing out, like additional activity profiles. Note that some of the features that used to differentiate the 255 and 965 (like training readiness) are now available on both watches.

But there are a few key features that are worth pointing out. For some people, these will definitely justify the additional cost.

These three features include improved maps and navigation features, live Strava segments and the suite of Garmin Golf features.

Improved Maps and Navigation Features

Picture of the Garmin 955 maps and navigation

For my money, the most important difference is the fully featured maps.

The Forerunner 265 has the same breadcrumb navigation that the Garmin 245 and 255 had. It helps, and it’s much better than running blind.

But the Garmin Forerunner 965 introduces true mapping capabilities. You can see actual streets and trails marked on the map, as well as individual points of interest.

This means that with a planned route, you’ll get turn by turn directions. If you haven’t planned ahead, you can also use the round trip course creator to automatically plan a route for you.

When I’m away from home and exploring a new city, this would be extremely helpful. I usually spend time studying a map ahead of time before I go out for my run. The breadcrumb navigation on my Forerunner 245 has gotten me home a few times, but I’ve made some wrong turns and felt a little lost. I’d love to see an actual map when I’m exploring like this – and I don’t want to have to bring (or get out) my phone to do so.

Live Strava Segments

This next feature is only going to be important to you if you’re into Strava. But if you are – then it’s a big one.

Live Strava segments lets you load your favorite Strava segments directly onto your watch. You’ll get notifications throughout your run to let you know when you’re approaching a segment. The navigation features will guide you through the segment. And you can benchmark your performance against a target.

You can set that target to be your own best effort or a goal time. Or you could target the crown and try to be the fastest person on the segment.

A few years ago, Strava moved most of the segment functionality behind a paywall. You’ll need a Strava subscription to make use of live Strava segments, so I imagine this won’t appeal to as many people as it otherwise could. But if you are a subscriber, this adds some great functionality. Frankly, I don’t know that I could justify the Strava subscription fee without a feature like this.

Garmin Golf Features

One of the other really special features with the Garmin 965 is the availability of Garmin Golf.

I don’t play golf, so this particular feature doesn’t appeal to me. But if you are a golfer, then this is an awesome collection of features to carry around on your watch.

You can load the map and data for the course you’re playing, and you’ll be able to see things like the distance to the hole. Garmin makes some devices specifically for golfing, but the 965 brings most of those features right to your watch. It’s a great value add if you find it useful.

If you’re both a runner and a golfer, then I think this would absolutely justify the higher price of the 965.

Physical and Hardware Differences in Garmin 265 vs 965

There are also some clear physical differences between the two watches that are worth pointing out.

The Garmin 265 and 965 both have the same AMOLED display, but they have slightly different types of glass. The 965 uses Gorilla Glass DX, while the 265 uses Gorilla Glass 3. This is supposed to help reduce glare and scratches. Not a huge difference, but it is “better.” The bezel on the 965 is also titanium, so overall it just has a more solid build.

In terms of size, the Forerunner 965 is slightly bigger. It’s 47.2mm – a little bigger than the 955 was – whereas the 265 is 46.1mm. Note that there’s no S version of the 965, so if you want a smaller watch, the 265S is your best option. The bigger watch also means a slightly larger screen and higher resolution for the 965.

There’s a bigger difference in battery life between the two watches than has been the case in the past. The actual battery life will vary a lot depending on how you use it, but the 965 is rated to last about 1.5 times as long as the 265. For example, in GPS only mode, the 965 is rated for 31 hours, while the 265 is rated for 20. This is probably more important if you’re playing music, which also eats up battery life.

Finally, the Garmin 965 has a ton more memory onboard. It comes with 32gb of memory, compared with only 8gb for the 265. Some of this is probably necessary for the additional features – like maps and Garmin Golf. But it also means more space for music. If you want a big playlist, then you may want to go with the 965 over the 265. Personally, I don’t listen to music while running, so this wouldn’t matter much to me.

Similarities Between the Garmin Forerunner 965 and 265

Before we wrap up, it’s worth pointing out that there are substantial similarities between the two watches.

Both watches are high quality, fully featured GPS running watches. They each have the option for multi-band GPS to get more accurate data. They’ll do a great job of tracking your steps, your runs, and your sleep.

With the addition of training readiness to the 265, they both offer the same performance metrics – like VO2 max, performance condition, body battery, and heart rate variability.

Both watches feature multi-sport activities. The older Garmin 245 did not have multi-sport activities, so if you’re familiar with the previous versions of the Garmin Forerunner you may not realize that both the 265 and the 965 are good choices for triathletes.

Finally, they both have music capabilities, they both have altimeters to track altitude, and they both hook up to external sensors like an ANT+ heart rate monitor. There is no longer an option to get the 265 without music.

So Should You Choose the Garmin Forerunner 265 or 965?

So we’re done comparing the Garmin Forerunner 265 vs 965. Which one should you choose?

At the end of the day, you’re going to have to decide.

For me, the tipping point would be the maps and navigation features. I’ve been thinking about upgrading my own Forerunner 245 for this very reason. But, if you mainly run on the same routes, this may not matter to you the way it matters to me.

Garmin Golf and Live Strava segments are really cool features – if you use them. Either one, to a heavy user, would probably be worth the upgrade. But many runners will have no need for either feature.

Then there are the physical differences that make the watch “better” – the titanium bezel, the better glass, the additional battery life. None of these are necessary – and the 265 isn’t an inferior watch for not having them – but they are a reason to choose the 965 if you want to splurge a little on the “best” watch.

Once you’ve come to a decision, go ahead and purchase your Garmin Forerunner 265 or your Garmin Forerunner 965. At the end of the day, they’re both great options.

And if you’re wondering if there’s a different Garmin out there that’s right for you, check out this guide to picking the right Garmin Forerunner. It may be that you can save some money with a previous generation Forerunner, or you might not need all the features on the higher end watches.

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