You might be wondering is Fitbit or Garmin better for runners? Both Fitbit and Garmin are popular fitness trackers packed with valuable features for runners. However, Fitbit is more of a regular fitness tracker that doesn’t seek more than to make you more active. On the other hand, Garmin is a full-scale runner watch with far more sophisticated tracking options.
Ultimately, the choice between the two comes down to each runner’s needs. But before making your choice, you should explore what each of them has to offer, and this is what this article will help you achieve. So first, we’ll compare the two devices by their most important parameters and discuss their individual features in more detail.
- Fitbit vs. Garmin Similarities
- Fitbit Models for Runners
- Why Choose Fitbit
- Garmin Models for Runners
- Why Choose Garmin
- Final Verdict
Fitbit vs. Garmin Similarities
Given that both Fitbit and Garmin serve the same function, it’s apparent that they will share more than a few features in common. They both target people who are after active lifestyles and are pretty similar in the following regard:
Basic Fitness Tracking Features
This includes indoor and outdoor running and biking, strength workouts, yoga, swimming, etc.
Some devices allow users to download music and play it from their watches, usually requiring a Bluetooth speaker or headphone connection. Note that this feature isn’t available to all Fitbits and Garmins.
Stress management, heart rate monitoring, steps, menstrual tracking, and climbed floors are basic fitness stats both wearables offer. Their premium versions also feature VO2 or the maximum oxygen consumption rate during exercise. With the Fitbit, VO2 is called “Cardio performance,” while on Garmin, it’s “Pulse Ox.”
Messages, calendar, weather, and contactless payment are some of the available features you can find in both Fitbit and Garmin devices.
Fitbit vs. Garmin Comparison
Despite targeting health and fitness enthusiasts, these devices are after different specific consumer groups. For example, thanks to its focus on GPS technology, Garmin is more attractive to runners and people who prefer to track outdoor activities.
On the other hand, Fitbit markets among groups of people who have the primary goal of boosting their daily activity dose. For example, you could use Fitbit and Garmin to track your daily steps. But Garmin is more suitable for professional runners who want advanced metrics about their runs.
Both brands come with customizable real-time data displays like distance, pace, time, burned calories, heart rate, etc. However, Garmin wins the race when it comes to showing advanced running stats like stride count, average pace, or elevation gain and cadence.
Also, the most significant difference in the display is the level of customization. You can change the screen on the Garmin smartwatch using the Connect app, which is something you can’t do with Fitbit. There are also plenty of add-ons for this purpose.
If screen customization is an essential feature for you as a runner, it’s best to go with Garmin. However, if you’re OK with knowing how fast you’re going and how many calories you burn, Fitbit is an excellent device for simple display info.
Garmin, as a brand, puts a strong focus on GPS technology. It’s one of the biggest highlights of this smartwatch, making it a favorite brand for runners. If you do a lot of runs in urban and densely populated areas, you’ll want to have a device that can accurately track your location. In this case, that’s Garmin.
Garmin comes with better battery life when used in GPS mode. So long-distance or marathon runners who need a solid battery to last throughout the workout should go for Garmin devices. Fitbit Charge, for example, can last up to five hours in GPS mode, while Garmin can make it up to four times longer.
Regarding regular usage, both devices last around a week on a single charge.
Heart Rate Monitoring
Most modern GPS watches feature some type of heart rate monitor. They’re either wrist-based or strap-based. Although there’s not too much data on the Fitbit tech, the heart rate monitoring feature is one of its highlights, so it should provide decent accuracy.
Runners should know the difference between measuring heart rate while sleeping or sitting and during a run. Generally, running causes more spikes when the device can’t correctly record the changes in heart rate.
Overall, Fitbit and Garmin offer decent heart rate metrics throughout the day.
Data and Apps
Garmin uses the Connect app to provide users with additional functionalities like building courses, creating workouts, challenging friends, etc. In addition, there are customizable dashboards users can tailor to their specific needs to see the data they want. They can also access comparison stats for the last seven days for the average step, calories, sleep, and other data.
Fitbit’s app has many features, including workout progress tracking, setting goals, overviews of the runner’s health, and more. It’s safe to say that both brands have done a great job with the app and data experience and are equally as valuable for users.
Runners who want a built-in GPS watch should expect a slightly larger watch due to the technology needed for the sensor to work properly. However, many GPS watches now come in cases that range from 40 millimeters to 42 millimeters, which shouldn’t be an issue – even for runners with smaller wrists.
The Fitbit’s design is more similar to an Apple Watch overall, making it more comfortable to wear throughout the day.
Users who appreciate luxury devices will enjoy premium Garmin models. However, even the lower-end models like the Venu 2 come with a relatively modern design that doesn’t scream “sports watch.”
Runners on a budget will be thrilled to learn that some of the best Fitbit trackers are available for less than $150 on the official website. For example, the Fitbit Inspire 2 costs $79.95, while Fitbit Versa 3 is $169.95 at the time of writing.
On the other hand, Garmin costs much more on average, with the Forerunner 245 being $274.99 (with music support), Forerunner 55 $169.99, while Vivoactive 4 is $329.99.
The vital thing to consider is that you can save more in the long run by opting for mid-range Garmin smartwatches for their longer lifespan. As previously mentioned, Fitbits often die after the first year, while Garmins can double that at the very least.
Fitbit Models for Runners
Fitbit has a versatile lineup of smart trackers for people who wish to be more active. Most of their devices can be used for running, and we have presented the best ones below.
Fitbit Charge 4
The Fitbit Charge is the brand’s classic model and one of the most affordable ones in their entire lineup. The device has a thick band in multiple colors and a rectangular screen built into the strap.
A range of features and excellent functionality make this product super valuable for runners of all levels. However, there’s a significant downside for those who can’t run without a proper GPS tracker – the battery levels on this device aren’t good enough to withstand lengthy running sessions with the GPS on.
Fitbit Charge 4 Pros
- Accurate GPS
- More than decent heart rate accuracy
- Plenty of workout modes
- Active Zone Minutes functionality
- Advanced sleep tracking features
Fitbit Charge 4 Cons
- The screen may be too narrow for some users
- Less than average battery life
Fitbit Versa 3
The Fitbit Versa 3 is a more advanced smartwatch tracker with a speaker and a mic. In addition, it supports digital assistant integrations, built-in GPS, and automatic workout recognition. The latter is excellent for runners who often forget to turn the workout mode on their watch, as it automatically does so. The GPS will also work in the background.
The Versa 3 automatically tracks breathing rate, offers guided breathing sessions, and measures VO2 levels during cardio workouts. In addition, the Workout Intensity Map can be beneficial for runners who monitor their pulse zones during sessions.
Fitbit Versa 3 Pros
- Modern design
- Plenty of advanced features
- Accurate sleep tracking
Fitbit Versa 3 Cons
- Advanced features only available with a subscription
- Not as many health stats as in the Sense model
The Fitbit Sense is an upgraded version of Versa 3 with added health features like ECG, skin temperature measurement, stress scanner, etc. However, most of those features are considered advanced and require a premium subscription.
Runners who use Strava will be delighted to know this app comes in-built with the Fitbit Sense for even easier workout tracking. All basic running metrics like distance, time, and pace are pretty accurate with Fitbit Sense, thanks to the GPS functionality.
Fitbit Sense Pros
- Includes ECG functionality
- Excellent display
- Blood oxygen level support
Fitbit Sense Cons
- Buttonless design
- Requires Fitbit Premium to unlock advanced features
Fitbit Inspire 2
The Fitbit Inspire 2 is the leading smart tracker for beginning runners who’ve never owned a tracking device. This simple device connects to a smartphone with Bluetooth LE and relies on your phone for a GPS connection. The battery life is more than satisfying for any runner – up to 10 days on a single charge.
There’s no music support, so you have to rely on your phone for this, which isn’t a big deal given that the GPS functionality also requires a smartphone.
This second version of Inspire comes with some of the Fitbit’s basic features like Sleep Score, activity tracking, heart rate monitoring, and mobile phone notifications. There’s also the Intensity Map functionality for tracking your efforts, and you’ll receive vibration alerts when your heart rate spikes up and enters or leaves the fat-burn territory.
You can use the Fitbit app to track your heart rate and pace on a particular route after a workout to see where you need to improve.
As you can see, although super simple in terms of advanced features, this watch offers more than enough opportunities to track your running efforts. Overall, this could be the perfect device for runners who would like to explore smartwatches but aren’t sure yet if this is something that would work for them.
Fitbit Inspire 2 Pros
- Super long battery life
- HRV and breath rate monitoring
- Free Fitbit Premium for one year
Fitbit Inspire 2 Cons
- Lacks color display
- No Fitbit Pay support
Why Choose Fitbit
Sleep Tracking Features
According to a 2020 “Nature and Science of Sleep” study, Fitbit became more accurate than Garmin and other commercial watches. However, no device, including Fitbit, can be considered 100% accurate regarding this feature.
The Fitbit Versa and Sense models have a stunning AMOLED display known for its brightness and crisp colors. However, when it comes to Garmin, only Garmin Venu models have an AMOLED display (excluding Venu Sq).
Both Fitbit Versa and Sense users can respond to calls from their wrists due to the in-built speakers and mic. Garmin still doesn’t have this functionality. Users can still accept calls on their Garmin device but must use the connected smartphone device to talk.
The Fitbit has a more sophisticated app store with to-do lists, notes, news, or Starbucks cards. Both Sense and Versa models also come with Google Assistant and Alexa integrations.
Most Fitbit models come with in-built altimeters that track the number of stairs the user has climbed. Only some Garmin models have this feature.
Runners on a budget can purchase high-quality Fitbit wearables for around $130, while Garmin costs at least 40% more. You can also find Fitbit models on sale more frequently. However, it’s important to remember that many Fitbits die in one year, so it may make sense to go with a more expensive solution that’ll last longer.
Garmin Models for Runners
Garmin is a robust smartwatch made exquisitely for runners. The abundance of performance features and functionalities only goes in that favor. Below is the overview of the best models for runners available today.
Garmin Forerunner 245
The Garmin Forerunner 245 is possibly the brand’s most popular running wearable tracker due to its many features suitable for runners. The watch is equipped with a treadmill, road, trail, or track running monitoring functionalities and comes with a 24-hour battery with the GPS on.
There are two different versions of the Forerunner 245. One supports music downloads, while the other doesn’t. The LCD isn’t touchscreen, but it’s super clear and easily readable. The GPS is surprisingly accurate whether you use it in urban areas or in nature. In addition, the system can get a GPS lock in less than 20 seconds after stepping outdoors.
The heart rate sensor is also more accurate than its predecessors. However, due to its optical nature, it’s not the most reliable one out there.
Garmin Forerunner 245 Pros
- A plethora of features for runners
- Great battery life
- Customizable display
- Lightweight design
Garmin Forerunner 245 Cons
- Lack of touchscreen
- Spotify integration is not the best
- Difficult to control music during runs
This Garmin model is the only one with an AMOLED touch screen display. It has basic features for runners like built-in GPS, which is super accurate for long-distance runs and doesn’t drain the battery as much.
A handy Virtual Coach function motivates users to keep up with their activities. The functionality includes helpful material to educate themselves on health and fitness, schedule their workouts, etc.
Other notable features include contactless payments, music functionality, third-party app integration, and universal compatibility.
Garmin Venu Pros
- Excellent GPS accuracy
- More than average battery life
- Supports third-party integrations
Garmin Venu Cons
- On the pricey side
- May look bulky on smaller wrists
Garmin Forerunner 945
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is one of the best smartwatches for runners, and it certainly comes with a price that reflects its premium category. Runners with no budget restrictions who are after professional progress tracking should definitely consider this watch.
Besides the regular GPS, step, heart rate monitoring, music sync, and contactless payment options, there are plenty of runner-specific features to enjoy. The VO2 max monitoring, training status, recovery time, training load, altitude acclimation status, and heart adjustments are only some of its advanced features.
The battery life can last up to 10 hours in the GPS mode and up to two weeks under regular use.
Garmin Forerunner 945 Pros
- Advanced run tracking features
- Excellent battery life
- Onboard workout maps
Garmin Forerunner 945 Cons
- Too expensive
- The blood sensor could be more accurate
- Plain design
Garmin Forerunner 55
Runners on a tighter budget but still want a premium running device can rely on the Garmin Forerunner 55. This version is the latest of the brand’s entry-level watches, released in 2021. It’s also the first to feature pool swimming and include the PacePro technology.
Overall, new and intermediate runners can enjoy just enough features to track their workouts and monitor overall health. This watch has everything an average runner needs with 20 hours of battery life, 24-hour tracking, a heart monitor, and advanced workout and recovery suggestion functionality.
Garmin Forerunner 55 Pros
- Plenty of features for runners
- Supports swimming tracking
- Excellent battery life
Garmin Forerunner 55 Cons
- Only one size
- Lower resolution display compared to competitors
- Sleep tracking could be better
Garmin Vivoactive 4
The Garmin Vivoactive 4 is a lower-budget alternative to the Forerunner and Fenix watches. However, it has 90% of the same functionality as accurate GPS, GALILEO, GLONASS sensors, Pulse Ox, pressure, temperature, and other features.
Runners will appreciate the button functionality on the side, making it easier to operate the device when running with gloves on or going for a swim. While on the run, you can track your pace, time, distance, heart rate, averages, lap data, temperature, accents data, heading, and cadence. A good portion of these features isn’t available in other watches.
A significant downside for triathlon athletes is that there are no open water swimming tracking capabilities in this model, so they will have to look for alternatives.
Garmin Vivoactive 4 Pros
- Packed with features
- Affordable price
- Tracks respiration
- Pulse oximeter function
- Plenty of running metrics
Garmin Vivoactive 4 Cons
- No open swimming support
- Too many badges
- Uses multiple smartphone apps
Why Choose Garmin
Runners who rely on GPS to track their workouts (even marathons) can rely on Garmin’s robust battery. It lasts up to 24 hours in the GPS mode (compared to the maximum of 12 hours in Fitbit). However, an average Garmin can last as long as a Fitbit with regular use (up to one week). On the other hand, more expensive Garmin versions can last even longer.
LiveTrack Safety Feature
Runners concerned about safety can rely on the LiveTrack feature unique to Garmin. It allows sharing activities in real-time with family and friends. An “Incident Detection” feature also notifies an emergency contact if the watch detects an incident.
Most premium (and some mid-range models like the Forerunner 245 and 55) have a PacePro feature that allows runners to create their pacing strategy based on the running course. Runners can track their goal time and overall progress with that course.
Advanced Performance Monitoring
All models after the Forerunner 245 have advanced features for monitoring performance like Training Load, Training Status, or Training Effect. These let the user know how their workout load impacts their fitness levels or how well it is optimized.
Garmin devices come with Amazon Music integration, while Fitbit devices do not. This feature is available on all Garmin models with music functions like the Venu, Vivoactive 3/4, Forerunner 245, and other premium versions.
While most Fitbit models are touchscreen, Garmin has a range of hybrid solutions and button-only devices. Runners who work out in colder climates or go for frequent swims may prefer operating their watches with a simple button push.
Garmins tend to last much longer than Fitbits (which only last around one year on average). So, a Garmin device can easily last up to three years without a replacement.
Open water swimming functionality. Fitbit doesn’t support open water swimming, while some premium Garmin models (745 and 945) do. However, this feature may be necessary for triathletes who wish to track all their activities with a single watch.
This Fitbit vs. Garmin review showed how the two powerful tracking devices for runners are similar and highlighted their most significant differences. The comparison shows that Garmin is a clear winner in performance, GPS technology, and heart rate monitoring. The tradeoff with Garmin devices, however, is the price range.
If you’re a professional runner who could benefit from more advanced running metrics and stats, then Garmin is a better investment. However, if you’re a beginner or intermediate runner needing an affordable tracker that will provide insight into basic running metrics, you can try Fitbit. The main downside of purchasing Fitbit is its short lifespan (around a year).
Hopefully, we have helped you decide which runner watch is better for your specific needs. Whichever choice you make will be a great one.