Choosing The Best Triathlon Watch For Beginners
Training for your first triathlon can be a challenging process, and you may need to kit yourself out with all sorts of new equipment in preparation for the big event.
Swimming gear, running shoes, and a high-quality bike are all obvious must-haves, but the most important tool when it comes to getting ready for the big day is a decent multisports watch.
Where a more basic GPS sports watch is usually only equipped to monitor your location, distance, pace, and heart rate whilst running, a good triathlon watch will have multisport functions that allow you to track these statistics across all three triathlon events.
A high-quality sports watch is, therefore, an essential purchase for all first-time competitors, but which is the best triathlon watch for beginners, and how can you decide which one is right for you?
Why Should You Buy a Triathlon Sports Watch?
A good multisports watch can be a vital tool for helping you to prepare for your first triathlon, as it allows you to monitor your progress and identify your strengths and weaknesses across all three events; running, cycling, and swimming.
This can help you to optimize your training in each individual sport, by monitoring your fitness and giving you the tools and information you need to make steady, guided progress throughout your training.
But with hundreds of fitness watches out there to choose from, deciding which make and model to go for can be a daunting process. To help you decide, we've tried and tested the top five triathlon watches for beginners, to work out which models deliver the best multisport training experience.
What Should You Consider When Choosing a Triathlon Watch?
There are several important things you need to consider before investing in a triathlon watch, to make sure you get the best possible training benefits from your purchase.
- Connectivity: It is essential that your triathlon watch has a built-in GPS tracker, to allow you to accurately monitor your location, and therefore your distance and pace, across all three events. Some sports watches, although advertised as ‘GPS connected' still require the use of a SmartPhone to track your activity, which will be of no use when swimming.
- Software Compatibility: Most sports watches come with their own, built-in training software, but if you already have a preferred third party software that you'd rather use, make sure it is compatible with the device before you buy it!
- Waterproofing: This one may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure your triathlon watch is waterproof so it survives any water-based training!
- Running, Cycling, AND Swimming Metrics: Most sports watches will monitor and display stats relating to your location, distance, pace, and heart rate, and can be used for both running and cycling. However, finding a sports watch that also has a decent swimming mode is often more tricky, and may limit your choices.
A good triathlon watch should be able to measure your swimming efficiency (or SWOLF) and give metrics based on your distance and stroke length. To complicate matters further, your watch should also have an open water mode, as most triathlon events take place in open water, rather than swimming pools.
- Recovery Stats: To really give your performance a boost, choosing a triathlon watch that gives you recovery stats is a great way to monitor the progress of your fitness as you train. This can really give an edge to your training, allowing you to reach your fitness goals even more quickly.
What Is The Best Triathlon Watch For Beginners?
1. Garmin Vívoactive 3 GPS Smartwatch
When searching for a multifunction GPS watch, the Garmin vívoactive 3 has it all, with more than fifteen pre-loaded sports apps for everything from yoga and weightlifting to running and cycling; and yes, it's waterproof and well equipped for swimming, too.
Aside from the standard distance, pace and heart rate trackers, the Garmin vívoactive 3 also has some higher-end features, including VO2 max. This allows you to monitor the maximum amount of oxygen your body uses throughout your training session, so you can keep tabs on your overall fitness, and make any necessary changes to your routine for improvement.
In terms of appearance, this Smartwatch follows the standard, round-faced design of most models available but at only 43g, is a little less chunky and more stylish looking than other models. This is down to the fiber reinforced polymer construction of the watch which, although lightweight, does feel a little flimsy and plasticky.
When put through its paces, we found the Garmin vívoactive 3 to deliver accurate speed, distance and tracking data, particularly during outdoor activities - perfect for triathlon training! The display is clear and easy to read and use, relying mostly on touchscreen controls to swipe through your metrics.
Whilst this is undoubtedly a simple and convenient way to flick between your pace and heart rate data during your training session, sweaty fingers can make this more difficult to use than buttons. The Garmin vívoactive 3 is also able to connect to your messages and email via Bluetooth, but only when paired with your Smartphone, which is of little use when training for swimming events.
Why Buy It?
The GPS distance tracking of the Garmin vívoactive 3 is exceptionally accurate across all three events, whether used when running, cycling, or swimming.
Delivering reliable stats on your distance, pace, heart rate, and oxygen consumption, this watch is a nifty tool for monitoring your fitness and progress as you train. However, with no multisports function, this watch is best used when training consecutively for each of the single triathlon sports.
- Easy to Read Display: The display is easy to read under good lighting conditions, and has a backlight feature for good visibility in the dark, too.
- Accurate Activity Tracking: The GPS tracking capabilities of the Garmin vívoactive 3 are excellent, accurately monitoring and recording your location for reliable fitness and performance data.
- Stress Level Monitoring: The Garmin vívoactive 3 is able to monitor your stress levels throughout the day, via tracking of your heart rate variability when exercising and at rest. This is handy for people dedicated to making significant improvements to their fitness, and can really help you to get an edge on the competition!
- No Music Storage: This triathlon watch has no onboard music storage, and must be paired with a music device if you want to listen to your tunes as you train. This may not be an issue for some users, but it is not always convenient to take your smartphone with you when out running or cycling, and certainly not when swimming!
- Flimsy Feel: The plasticky feel of the Garmin vívoactive 3 makes the device more lightweight and comfortable to wear, but also makes it feel a little flimsier than you’d expect for a premium product.
2. Garmin 910XT Sport Watch
The least expensive model on this list, the Garmin 910XT nevertheless has an edge over the Garmin vívoactive 3, in that this is a multisports watch designed predominantly for triathlon training. This allows for more accurate monitoring of your fitness and progress across all three events and is particularly well equipped for both open water and pool training.
With a robust design and waterproof depth of 50 meters, the Garmin 910XT is hardy enough to withstand heavy use across multiple sports, perfect for those planning to use their sports watch regularly.
In terms of design and wearability, this watch has a comfortable wristband and, despite being a little chunky, is not too weighty. The display is clear and easy to read, and the button controls on the side make switching between sports modes easy and convenient, with just one click. With an impressive 20 hours of battery life in training mode, the Garmin 910XT also has the longest battery life of any other models on this list.
This sports watch delivers accurate data for all of the standard statistics one might expect to see on a GPS training watch; distance, pace, calorie consumption, and heart rate.
However, buying a budget watch such as this one means you’ll be missing out on some of the more advanced features that come included in more premium models, such as VO2 max measurements and recovery advice.
Why Buy It?
With the lowest retail price of any of the models on this list, the Garmin 910XT is the perfect budget purchase for beginner triathletes. With accurate tracking and multisports functions, this watch delivers comprehensive and detailed stats across each event.
This is perfect for people looking to buy their first triathlon watch, giving you the tools you need to analyze and improve your fitness and performance as you train.
- Great Usability: The screen and settings of this watch are very easy to read and navigate via the button controls during your workout.
- Built-in GPS: The built-in GPS tracker of the Garmin 910XT means don't have to take your smartphone out for runs in order to accurately track your pace and location.
- Garmin Connect: With the Garmin Connect app, it is easy and convenient to view detailed metrics and data from your training.
- Chunky Design: The design of this watch may not appeal to people with smaller wrists, as it is pretty big and chunky.
- Limited connectivity and smart features: With no built-in Bluetooth, it is not possible to check your messages or field calls using the Garmin 910XT.
- Not well suited for indoor training: We found that the Garmin 910XT had some issues with picking up GPS signal when indoors, which can make activity tracking difficult when training in a swimming pool. Also, with no internal accelerometer, this watch is also unsuitable for use on treadmills.
3. Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR watch is packed with features, containing a whopping 80 different sports profiles. This means you can track your activity, heart rate and calorie consumption across pretty much any sport you’d like, including hiking, skiing, weight lifting, trail running and many, many more.
It's also a fantastic watch for beginner triathletes, as it includes a multisport function for accurate data tracking across consecutive running, cycling, and swimming events.
The hardy, durable design is reassuringly sturdy, is waterproof up to a depth of 100 meters, and is suitable for use both in indoor and outdoor training. Another thing we loved about the Suunto Spartan is how easy it is to customize for your own personal training needs. It has a series of pre-programmed training plans to choose from, and also allows you to create your own tailored workout plan, which can be easily synced to your smart devices.
The battery life is decent, though not as good as other models featured here, and translates to around 7 days of use. The display of the Suunto Spartan is clear and easy to read, with a full-color touchscreen, but is not quite as bright or vivid as the Garmin models on this list.
Why Buy It?
The Suunto Spartan has most of the features required for anyone starting out in their triathlon training, and accurately and reliably performs when it comes to recording and displaying your fitness data.
Another really nice feature of this model is that it produces a real-time graph of your heart rate statistics over the course of your workout, which is useful for monitoring overall fitness and performance for beginner trainers.
- Recovery Advice: The recovery recommendation period feature of this watch is based on the intensity of your workout that day, and is a really helpful tool for beginner triathletes aiming to improve their fitness and performance.
- Durability: This model is hardy, durable and waterproof, perfect for athletes planning to get a lot of use from their triathlon watch.
- Heat Map: One nifty and unique feature of The Suunto Spartan is the heat map, which allows you to view how popular certain areas are for training across different events.
- Large, Heavy Design: The chunky design of the Suunto Spartan means it is not as comfortable to wear as other models on this list and may put off buyers with smaller wrists.
- No Heart Rate Tracking When Swimming: The wrist-based heart sensor, although accurate when used during other sports, cannot be used when swimming.
4. Polar V800 GPS Sports Watch
As a mid-range priced sports watch, the Polar V800 is great value for money, offering a wide range of useful features for triathletes in training.
Aside from the standard activity tracking statistics, the Polar V800 also includes some more advanced features usually reserved for more premium products, such as VO2 max and sleep tracking. It also features a recovery advisor based on your last 24 hours of activity; a particularly useful feature for people at the beginning of their training, who wish to more closely monitor their fitness levels.
We found this model to give accurate statistics across all workouts, whether performed individually or during multisport training. With a heavy focus on running, cycling, and swimming, as well as waterproofing at depths of up to 30 meters, the Polar V800 is the ideal triathlete watch for beginners.
We also liked that this model is Bluetooth enabled, meaning you can receive smart notifications on screen, for connectivity even during your lengthiest training sessions.
Why Buy It?
The Polar V800 has everything you could need as a beginner triathlete, offering reliable and accurate GPS tracking across the three sports that matter most.
We especially appreciated being able to monitor heart rate during swimming, as this is a feature that is sadly lacking from most multisport models.
- Heart Rate Tracking During Swimming: Unlike most other models on this list, the Polar V800 is able to monitor your heart rate whilst you are swimming, allowing for better activity tracking in this event than most other sports watches.
- Durable and Stylish: The design of the Polar V800 is both sturdy and attractive, making it ideal for extended use.
- Rugged Design: Although undoubtedly durable, the design of this watch is a little large for those with small wrists, and may feel heavy with extended use.
- No sleep analysis: Although able to track your sleep and rest patterns, the Polar V800 currently has no sleep analysis feature.
5. Garmin Fenix 3 HR, Gray
The Garmin Fenix 3 HR is one of our favorite of the multisport watches reviewed here, mainly for the exceptional data tracking and functionality of this model across a wide range of activities, including hiking, mountaineering, rowing, skiing, snowboarding, and golf.
The on wrist heart rate sensor records data 24/7, producing a daily graph and giving an excellent overall estimation of your fitness levels and calorie consumption.
The advanced running dynamic stats of this model are also an attractive feature, helping you to learn more about your running form and technique, allowing you to avoid injuries whilst training. For beginner triathletes, this is particularly useful for working out how to improve your overall performance and optimize the quality of your rest.
What really makes this triathlon watch stand out in the crowd, however, is its unparalleled capability when it comes to activity tracking during swimming events. Suitable for use both in pools and open water, the Garmin Fenix 3 reliably records your stroke count, stroke rate distance intervals, and heart rate, and is waterproof down to depths of 100 meters.
The only downside to this feature is that you have to wait until you exit the water to view your statistics, so keeping tabs on your performance during your actual training session isn't possible. However, the stats presented are accurate and provide an excellent overview of your general performance and fitness during swimming, more so than the vast majority of sports watches available on the current market.
The stylish design and silicon wristband of the Garmin Fenix 3 comfortable and attractive for a sports watch you can wear throughout the day and night if you want to track your sleep patterns and gauge your quality of rest. The display screen is clear and fully readable in sunlight, and the button controls make for quick and convenient use when you're on the go.
Finally, the Garmin Fenix 3 has some great smart features included, allowing you to connect to Facebook, check messages, and answer and decline phone calls from your watch. It is also easy to reorder and customize your apps from your phone, for ultimate convenience when personalizing your workout routine.
Why Buy It?
The Garmin Fenix 3 is a fantastic all round, multi-function, multi-sports watch with a wide range of useful features for aspiring triathletes; and indeed, anyone who loves working out in the great outdoors.
The accurate GPS tracking reliably records your activity data across a wide range of activities, but particularly in the running, cycling, and swimming events.
The advanced smart features of this watch also make it an excellent choice for people who value their connectivity whilst on the go, for a device that allows you to stay on top of both your fitness and social life.
- Outstanding Activity Tracking: The Garmin Fenix 3 has exceptionally accurate GPS activity tracking across a great many sports, particularly those all-important three; running, cycling, and swimming!
- Advanced Metrics: The VO2, lactate threshold, stress level tracker, and sleep quality tracker are all very useful tools for athletes hoping to monitor and improve their overall fitness levels.
- Recovery Advisor: The recovery advisor feature of the Garmin Fenix 3 is another great feature for first-time triathletes, helping you to optimize your recovery and maximize the benefits of future training sessions.
- Bulky Design: As is often the case with sports watches, the design of the Garmin Fenix 3, although undoubtedly attractive, is a little bulky.
- No touch screen: The button controls are easy and convenient to use, but the lack of touchscreen functionality on this model may put some people off buying.
Having tried and tested the best that the sports watch industry as to offer in the way of triathlon watches, we recommend the Garmin vívoactive 3 GPS Smartwatch as the best triathlon watch for beginners.
Delivering exceptionally accurate statistics across all three triathlon events, this model is the most comprehensive on this list for providing advanced metrics, particularly when used for outdoor activities. This makes it ideal for triathlon training, and rates high on our list in terms of overall usability, function, and style.
With more than fifteen pre-loaded sports apps, this model is sure to suit everyone and is a highly useful tool for improving your sporting performance and meeting your fitness goals.
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Who am I ?
I'm Sam Rondot, the person behind the blog Running Addicted. I'm a French entrepreneur and I'm passionated about running. I started running since 12 years old and have covered 16 marathons (at the point of writing).I enjoy running and the exhausted feeling I have after a long run. I always follow one rule: I try to do my best and run until I can’t. This makes me feel that I can do anything. I know you have that feeling, too. Running has taught me that I am capable of so much more than I have ever imagined.Learn more
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