Is the best triathlon watch a must-have? It's certainly not essential, but monitoring performance and recovery during training and races 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.
Triathlon watches are different from the best running watches and definitely from the best fitness trackers. For instance, tri watches usually have a dedicated triathlon mode, and some of them can even read heart rate underwater.
Need even better accuracy? Pair your tri watch with one of the best heart rate monitors.
Triathlon is a great sport, and if you have been practising even just one of its sports principles before (swimming, cycling or running), it is worth trying. Triathlon challenges your endurance, and since there are so many different race lengths, you can pick one that suits your fitness level the most.
That said, you should take race preparations seriously. If the last time you swam more than 10 metres was in school 20 years ago, it might take you up to 10-12 weeks to get ready for the 700-metre open water swimming leg of a triathlon sprint. Let alone the 20 km cycling and the 5 km running parts, in quick succession after one another.
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 you with useful data, in the water, on the bike or on your feet.
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.
Best triathlon watches to buy right now
The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar is a huge update from its predecessor. It offers a lot of extra features and newer sensors for almost the same amount of money you had to pay for the Forerunner 945.
From a physical point of view, the Forerunner 955 Solar looks very familiar but adds a bigger screen with better resolution and, of course, the solar-harvesting Power Glass, which can help extend battery life, should you spend enough time training outside.
Interestingly, even with solar charging, battery life seems way too short for a top-tier watch, whether it's because the battery is being 'drained' by the many features of the watch or perhaps Garmin needs to optimise things a bit more; hopefully, future firmware updates amend this issue.
Some of the new notable (possibly battery-draining) features include Training Readiness (which gives you a score on how ready your body is for training on a scale of 0-100), Morning Report (a recap of sleep/HRV stats, plus workout suggestions) and the handy Race Day Widget (which also tailors Daily Workout Suggestions).
Not all new features are mind-blowing or even brand new, but all add to the overall feature-richness of the Forerunner 955 Solar. Add in the new sensors and GPS chip, and you have yourself a fantastic triathlon watch that's a must-buy for any self-discerning triathlete.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar review
The Garmin Fenix 7X is an excellent smartwatch for anyone who loves the Great Outdoors, and since triathlon races tend to be held outdoors, it is also ideal for triathletes, we said in our Garmin Fenix 7X review.
Garmin improved on the formula that made the Fenix 6 great by improving the Power Glass, which now 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.
Another great addition to the watch is the new Stamina feature that measures short and long term stamina during running and cycling activities. (This feature is not on by default, you have to turn it on in the settings.) Knowing how much juice you have left in the tank can come in handy during longer tri races and can even encourage you to push harder at the end of the race.
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.
The battery life of the Fenix 7X requires its own section:
Smartwatch - Up to 18 days/22 days with solar; Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 57 days/173 days with solar; GPS Only: Up to 57 hours/73 hours with solar; All Satellite Systems: Up to 40 hours/48 hours with solar; All Satellite Systems and Multi-band: Up to 23 hours/ 26 hours with sola; All Satellite Systems and Music: Up to 10 hours; Max Battery GPS: Up to 136 hours/ 289 hours with solar; Expedition GPS: Up to 40 days/ 74 days with solar.
In essence, pretty good.
The Garmin Fenix 7X is so brilliant, it won the Best Multisport Watch category at the T3 Awards 2022!
Also consider: the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is still a more than adequate option if you're happy to live without solar charging. It uses Garmin's previous-gen heart rate sensor, and the display is not as crisp as the Fenix 7, but the Fenix 6 is a viable option.
In our Polar Pacer Pro review, we said that this is one of the best Polar watches you can get right now, especially if you aren't super keen on touch screen 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.
The new screen is brighter and easier to read in broad daylight. The Pacer Pro works faster than the Vantage M2, its closest predecessor, which is evident when looking at screen transitions and load times.
The addition of extra features, such as running power and the different tests, was also a good call from Polar and further increased the 'getting your money's worth' appeal of the Pacer Pro.
The new Walking Test is so-so; not like the feature isn't interesting, but it 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. In today's cost-of-living crisis environment, every little thing helps!
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 a 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 whilst the Forerunner 945 has retained the look and feel of the Forerunner 935, Garmin has wholly revamped the flagship multisport watch on the inside.
For starters, it uses Garmin's new ELEVATE heart rate sensor, which is more accurate, even underwater, than the 935's sensor. The Forerunner 945 also uses a new GPS chip that better manages battery life and is more accurate than its predecessor.
The Forerunner 935 didn't have any onboard music storage and wasn't Garmin Pay ready, unlike the Forerunner 945. You probably won't use any of these features during races, but we can safely assume that you will wear the smartwatch on non-race days, where they might come in handy.
The Forerunner 945 also has many of Garmin's latest-gen features, including PulseOx (blood oxygen monitoring), Live Event Sharing, accident detection and assistance, Body Battery energy monitor, training load focus and many more.
Not to mention the built-in maps feature, which you can use for navigation and discover 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 in the goldilocks zone in terms of features and price. It is somewhat cheaper than the Forerunner 945 and trims some of its over-the-top features (e.g. archer widgets).
Plus, the Forerunner 745 offers more precision, faster and more reliable 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 that it uses the right blend of previously tried-and-tested hardware and software.
The only downside is the poor battery life when the GPS is on; if you need a triathlon watch with long GPS life, get the Forerunner 945. Read our full Garmin Forerunner 745 review today for more info on this capable tri-watch.
All that said, now that the triathlon-ready Forerunner 255 with better sensors and GPS is available for less than the Forerunner 745, we wonder if anyone still needs this watch? The colours still rock, though, so if you need a funky-looking red Forerunner, the 745 is your best bet.
To put it in perspective just how pretty the screen on the Pace 2 is, we often caught ourselves looking at the widgets for no reason whatsoever during testing. We very much appreciated the small form factor of the Pace 2 and didn't mind at all wearing it to bed, which in turn gave us better recovery results and suggestions – our Coros Pace 2 review explains this in more depth.
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-in for the Polar.
The battery life of the Pace 2 delivers big time. Make sure you dust that charger cable off, as the Coros Pace 2 won't need to charge more than once every other week. The battery life is not 'indefinite' like in the case of the Garmin Instinct Solar, but pretty good for a light and compact watch.
The Pace 2 is the lightest tri watch on the market, at least of the lot we would 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.
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 Versa 3, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival majors on its swim/bike/run focus.
Suppose you regularly enjoy those pursuits, individually or in triathlon form. In that case, Wahoo’s smartwatch delivers a bucketload of data in a way that requires very minimal interaction with the tech, allowing you to focus on performance with only a cursory glance at the watch 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 Polar Vantage V2 (link to our full review) 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 (link to our full review). 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 athletes.
It would have been great to see some improvements to the user interface, especially 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.
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
Want a watch that will practically last forever and has no learning curve either? Not interested in advanced metrics, heart rate or GPS positing? You literally just want to track time and don't want to spend a fortune on a smartwatch? The Timex Ironman Classic 30 is for you.
What you'll get for the price is features like lap timer, alarm, back light and stop watch. The watch also has shatter-resistant acrylic window lens and a round high-performance and durable resin case with digital display.
The Timex Ironman Classic 30 is also water resistant to 10 metres, and you probably won;t dive too deep into water with it, so it all checks out to us!
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).