Is the best triathlon watch a must-have? It's not essential, but monitoring performance and recovery during training and races with a tri watch can provide a competitive edge over your fellow triathletes. Track your swims, cycles and runs without excessive button pressing using one of the below multisport watches.
'Completing a triathlon' is on many people's new year's resolutions list. If you're new to the sport, a proper triathlon multisport watch can help you train more effectively than going on intuition alone. Triathlon watches are different from the best running watches as they can be used for multisport training, not just running. They also provide more accurate heart rate reading than even the best fitness trackers.
Need even better accuracy? Pair your triathlon watch with one of the best heart rate monitors. One of the most common triathlon mistakes is to get your pacing wrong by not knowing which heart rate zone you should train in. A dedicated tri watch can help get that right and provide data to train and race more efficiently in the water, on the bike or on your feet.
Best triathlon watches to buy right now
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The Garmin Forerunner 965 is everything we hoped the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar would be and more. The watch uses the same sensors and has the same features as its predecessor, but it's lighter and thinner, which is ideal for a performance wearable professional triathletes might use for training. The titanium bezel is a nice touch, as are the different colourways, allowing people to buy the best Forerunner in colours other than black.
The AMOLED display is bright and responsive, and the glance view is as good as it's always been. The UI colours are a bit garish for our taste – we prefer the saturated yet palatable interface of the Apple Watch Series 8 – but at this point, we accept it as a triathlon watch thing.
If you need an accurate multisport watch and have enough disposable income to justify the price, the Garmin Forerunner 965 is a must-have. Thank you, Garmin, for rolling out such a significant hardware update soon after the Forerunner 955 Solar launch. We love it.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 965 review.
We are absolutely in love with the latest and greatest Fenix, the 7X: it's big, bold, and extremely capable. Garmin improved the formula that made the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro great by improving the Power Glass, which combines the solar harvesting feature with the durable Sapphire glass lens. This means the Fenix 7 is tougher and has a longer battery life than its predecessor, which was evident when we tested the watch both in and outside the water.
The new Stamina feature is a great addition and measures short and long-term stamina during running and cycling activities. (This feature is not on by default; you must turn it on in the settings.) Knowing how much juice you have left in the tank can come in handy and even encourage you to push harder at the end of a session. We found this especially useful during long tri races.
For this and other features (such as Body Battery) to work correctly, you'll need to wear the watch 24/7, and it might be a bit of a challenge for some as the Fenix 7 is bulky. Thankfully, the watch's waterproof, so you don't have to take it off ever, even when you're in the shower/pool.
Read our full Garmin Fenix 7X review (The Garmin Fenix 7X won the Best Multisport Watch category at the T3 Awards 2022)
The Polar Pacer Pro is one of the best Polar watches you can get right now, especially if you aren't super keen on touchscreen operation. We'll go out on a limb and add that the Pacer Pro is a better option than the flagship Vantage V2 – it's definitely better value for money. We appreciated the new display when testing the Pacer Pro – it's bright and easy to read in broad daylight. The Pacer Pro also works faster than the Vantage M2, its closest predecessor, which is evident in screen transitions and load times.
Adding extra features, such as running power and different tests, was a good call from Polar and further increased the 'getting your money's worth' appeal of the Pacer Pro. We found the new Walking Test is a bit so-so; it's interesting but gives you a random VO2 max estimation, which isn't all that helpful. Hopefully, further firmware updates will improve this in the future.
(You might wonder why the 4-star Pacer Pro is ranked higher than the 5-star Forerunner 255S on this list; that's because they have similar functionality, but the Polar is A) cheaper (if only slightly), and B) can measure running power on the wrist without external sensors.)
Read our full Polar Pacer Pro review
The Garmin Forerunner 255S is the smallest Forerunner to date, yet it offers more functionality than most full-size triathlon watches. That's right: this tiny Forerunner is now not just a running watch but a full-fledged multisport watch, thanks to the addition of triathlon mode.
Speaking of new features, you can now track heart rate variability using the Forerunner 255S. HRV adds another layer to the extensive recovery and training features already included on the Forerunner 255S. Not to mention the Race Widget and the triathlon mode mentioned above; the Forerunner 255S is tiny but indeed mighty wearable.
The best thing about the watch, though, is that it enables people with small wrists to have access to pro workout features without any compromises. You can train like a pro using a small watch and a heart rate monitor – and that's worth the hefty price tag.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 255S review
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 while the Forerunner 945 has retained the look and feel of the Forerunner 935, Garmin has wholly revamped the flagship multisport watch on the inside.
Like most top Forerunners, the Forerunner 945 has plenty of features on board, including onboard music storage, Garmin Pay, PulseOx (blood oxygen monitoring), Live Event Sharing, accident detection and assistance, Body Battery energy monitor, training load focus and many more.
It also has built-in maps for navigation and discovering 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 at the same time, the Garmin Forerunner 945 has got your back.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 945 review
The Garmin Forerunner 745 is a fantastic triathlon watch. It's somewhat cheaper than the Forerunner 945 and trims some of its over-the-top features (e.g. archer widgets), and offers more precision, and faster GPS connection than the cheaper Forerunner 245, especially if you are using your watch for triathlons, which we can safely assume you will.
We can go on forever dissecting the many features of the Forerunner 745, but there is no point. You have seen most of them in other Garmin watches already, and the main advantage of the Forerunner 745 is not that it brings a lot of innovation to the table but uses the right blend of previously tried-and-tested hardware and software.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 745 review
As well as being able to track the usual metrics, the Coros Pace 2 can also measure running power on the wrist without any external sensors, much like the Polar Vantage V. But unlike the Vantage V, the Pace 2 hasn't got a touch screen, so if you like tapping your wrist, opt for the Polar.
The battery life of the Pace 2 delivers big time. Make sure you dust that charger cable off occasionally, as you won't need it for charging too often. The Pace 2 is the lightest tri watch on the market, at least of the lot we recommend using. It weighs around 30 grams (with the nylon band), so it's barely detectable on the wrist. The perfect tri watch for those who don't like wearing a watch.
Read our full Coros Pace 2 review
Although not as rugged as Garmin's Fenix range (or anything from the Suunto catalogue, for that matter), nor as good as a general fitness watch as, say, a Fitbit, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival majors on its swim/bike/run focus. Wahoo's smartwatch delivers a bucketload of data that requires minimal interaction with the tech, allowing you to focus on performance with only a cursory glance at the watch's face.
"The Touchless Transition is an incredible innovation and works very well", we said in our Wahoo Elemnt Rival review, "At the same time, the fact data is seamlessly handed over to other Wahoo bike computers will please anyone who is already invested in the ecosystem." The software has been updated since the launch, so the Elemnt Rival can now analyse sleep and has STYRD integration, among others.
The Polar Vantage V2 might lack some of the more casual features you'd expect to see in a top-notch triathlon-cum-fitness watch, such as on-board music storage and maybe even NFC, but truth to be told, the Vantage V2 is for the hardcore crowd. They might not care all that much about these filthy casual frivolities anyway.
The Polar Vantage V2 is a watch of many qualities. Its built quality is excellent and a step up from the original Polar Vantage V. It has loads of practical tests and data for serious runners and cyclists to better their form and prepare more efficiently for races. Better still, most of the tests and data provided by the Vantage V2 can't be found elsewhere (apart from the Pacer Pro; see higher up the list), making it all the more appealing for the information-thirsty triathletes.
It would have been great to see some improvements to the user interface, especially the navigation. Touch controls are still a bit laggy, although the screen feels slightly more responsive than the one on the Vantage V. We recommend the Polar Vantage V2 to anyone who would like to take their athletic performance to the next level: there aren't many wrist-wearables that provide as much data as this one.
Read our full Polar Vantage V2 review
If you need long battery life, you'll need the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium: it can last up to 170 hours in Tour mode, the most aggressive battery-saver option on the watch. Granted, you probably won't use this mode all that often, considering the watch does not do much else apart from tracking your position with an 'OK' precision, so no wrist heart rate, Bluetooth or vibration.
The Titanium version of this endurance athlete's favourite watch might not be cheap, but it features a titanium bezel and sapphire crystal glass for added ruggedness. The case is also water-rated to 100 ATM, so you can easily swim in it. That said, it can't read heart rate on the wrist underwater without external sensors, but it can track loads of other metrics such as swim pace and distance, stroke rate, count and type, and even SWOLF.
From a build quality point of view, the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium feels closer to a dive watch than a tri watch. It is more robust and certainly heavier than the Garmin Forerunner 945, and people with smaller wrists might not appreciate the watch's size.
Read our full Suunto 9 Baro Titanium review
How we test the best traithlon watches
Triathlon watches are feature-rich wearables and require at least a couple of weeks of testing so we can determine the effectiveness of these features. We wear the watches for swimming, cycling and running to check how accurate heart rate and GPS performance are under specific training circumstances. For more information on how we test at T3, click on the link now.
How to choose the best triathlon watch for you?
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 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 underwater and track advanced swimming metrics, too, like stroke count, pace and SWOLF.
Multisport transition: it is also important to be able to switch between sports 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 transitions 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. To achieve a comfortable fit, you would need a flexible silicone strap and 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 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. The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Titanium has a titanium housing, comes with a Sapphire crystal lens on the top and weighs 49 grams (case only).
What triathlon watch do pros wear?
According to an article on slowtwitch.com, the top 15 pro men finishers at Kona 2019 mainly used Garmin and Polar watches. Apart from the winner, Jan Frodeno, who now works with Wahoo and uses a Wahoo Rival, according to a press release from Wahoo: "RIVAL is already being used by some of the world’s best triathletes, including Ironman World Champion Jan Frodeno, American Ironman World Record holder Heather Jackson, and two-time Olympians Alistair and Jonny Brownlee."
Although not famous for his triathlon feats, Eliud Kipchoge uses a Coros Pace 2, an excellent watch that can also be used for triathlons as well (not to mention, it's featured on this best tri-watch list).