Best Garmin Forerunner: choosing the right watch for each runner

Garmin Forerunner watches have earned their reputation as fantastic options for runners, across multiple price ranges. Here's the rub: Garmin has launched five new models since 2022, from the impressive Forerunner 965 to the mid-range & high-quality Forerunner 255 and the newest Forerunner 165. Deciding which of these great watches to buy is a challenge.

On top of that, you'll find that Garmin still sells most of its last-gen or lower-end Forerunner watches, from the 55 to the 945 LTE. These, too, can be tempting, especially during deals events. But should you buy these and miss out on what the newer Forerunners have to offer?

Below, we've rounded up the best Garmin Forerunner models to help you decide which one is the right fit for all of your running needs.

Picking the best Garmin Forerunner watch for every type of runner

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Garmin Forerunner sensors and features

Garmin watches have a ton of features, and it can be hard to keep track of what each watch can do. So we've poured over the specifications of every main Forerunner model still on the market, to show you what features you'll get (or miss out on) when you choose one!

To summarize, for the latest training features, you'll want to check out the Forerunner 255, 265, 955, or 965, though the 945 LTE has gotten a fair amount of new software sent back its way. You need a 9XX watch for proper maps, or an X65 watch for an AMOLED display and corresponding tricks like Red Shift mode. Generally speaking, the Forerunner 965 has everything on the list except cellular. 

Swipe to scroll horizontally
FeatureWhich Forerunner watches have it?
Heart rate trackingAll
Sleep score and insights165, 255, 265, 745, 945, 955, 965
Nap detection165, 255, 265, 955, 965
5ATM water resistanceAll
Built-in GPSAll
All-Systems GNSS/ dual-frequency GPS165 (All-systems only), 255, 265, 955, 965
SatIQ (Auto-select) GPS mode265, 965
Pulse Ox165, 245, 255, 265, 745, 945, 955, 965
Altimeter165, 255, 265, 645, 745, 945, 955, 965
Gyroscope255, 265, 645, 745, 945, 955, 965
Compass165, 255, 265, 645, 745, 945, 955, 965
AMOLED165, 265, 965
Touchscreen165, 265, 955, 965
Music storage165 Music (~500 songs), 255 Music (500), 265 (1,000), 645 Music (500), 745 (500), 945 (1,000), 955 (2,000), 965 (2,000)
Garmin Pay165, 255, 265, 645, 745, 945, 955, 965
Body Battery45, 55, 165, 245, 255, 265, 745, 945, 955, 965
Fitness AgeAll except 35
All-day stress trackingAll except 35
Intensity minutesAll
VO2 MaxAll
HRV Status165, 255, 265, 945, 955, 965
Performance condition245, 255, 265, 645, 745, 945, 955, 965
Race predictor55, 165, 245, 255, 265, 645, 745, 945, 955, 965
Daily suggested workouts55, 165, 245, 255, 265, 745, 945, 955, 965
Recovery time55, 165, 245, 255, 265, 645, 745, 945, 955, 965
Real-time stamina955, 965
Multisport255, 265, 955, 965
Pacepro55, 165, 245, 255, 265, 745, 945, 955, 965
Training effect/ status / load165 (Training Effect only), 245, 255, 265, 645, 745, 945, 955, 965
Training load focus255, 265, 745, 945, 955, 965
Acute load255, 265, 955, 965
Training Readiness265, 955, 965
Endurance / Hill scores955, 965
Wrist-based running dynamics/ power165, 255, 265, 945 LTE, 955, 965
Full-color maps945, 955, 965
Cellular support945 LTE

Garmin Forerunner battery life compared

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 Smartwatch modeGPS-onlyGPS with musicAll-Systems GNSSAll + Multi-band
Garmin Forerunner 359 days13 hours🚫 (Not applicable)🚫🚫
Garmin Forerunner 457 days13 hours🚫🚫🚫
Garmin Forerunner 5514 days20 hours🚫🚫🚫
Garmin Forerunner 16511 days19 hours7 hours17 hours🚫
Garmin Forerunner 2457 days24 hours🚫🚫🚫
Garmin Forerunner 25514 days30 hours7 hours25 hours16 hours
Garmin Forerunner 26513 days20 hours7 hours16 hours14 hours
Garmin Forerunner 6457 days14 hours5 hours🚫🚫
Garmin Forerunner 7457 days16 hours6 hours🚫🚫
Garmin Forerunner 94514 days35 hours12 hours🚫🚫
Garmin Forerunner 95515 days (20 with solar)42 hours (49 with solar)10.5 hours31 hours (34 with solar)22 hours
Garmin Forerunner 96523 days31 hours10.5 hours22 hours19 hours

Which Garmin Forerunner model should you buy?

As you can see, there's no shortage of Garmin Forerunner models from which to pick. Without a doubt, most would fall among the best running watches, with the Forerunner 265 and 965 arguably topping the list. 

If you're going to buy one today, I'd strongly argue that you choose the 165, 255, 265, 955, or 965. They're the only Forerunner watches with the most accurate GPS tracking, and the only ones still receiving the latest software tricks trickling down from the Fenix and Epix models — especially the pricier 955 and 965. Otherwise, thrifty runners can probably make do with the Forerunner 55. 

Still not sure where to start? These are the main factors to take into account:

1. Consider the size

When you're a runner, the size, weight, and thickness make a huge different for comfort, especially for marathoners and up who have to wear one for hours. Forerunners are certainly heavier than your typical fitness tracker, but that applies to some more than others. 

The Forerunner 35, 45, 55, 165, 255S, and 265S all fall into the 36-39g weight class with a 1- or 1.1-inch display size (the 165 is a big larger at 1.2-inch). Many people with smaller wrists will prefer this size, even if it means the display text isn't quite as readable. If that's a concern, get the 265S: its 360x360 AMOLED is so much more readable than the 255S' 218x218 display.

Also, take a look at each Forerunner watch's thickness. The Forerunner 955 (14.4mm) is significantly beefier than the 255 (12.4mm), for instance. That could make even more difference than the weight gap. 


Garmin used memory-in-pixel displays all these years because they save battery life and are more readable in direct sunlight than your typical AMOLED. But Garmin finally transitioned with the 265 and 965 because its battery tech has improved enough to support better visibility while still lasting a long chunk of time. 

That said, the 255 does last significantly longer than the 265, which falls closer to a last-gen Forerunner with its mere 20 hours of GPS battery (same as the Forerunner 55). If that extra 10 GPS hours matters to you, you may want to forego the AMOLED upgrade. 

As for the 965, it's also 11 GPS hours short of the 955, but 31 hours is nothing to sneeze at! And it actually lasts 8 days longer in smartwatch mode, proving it does better while idling. In that case, the only reason to downgrade for the 955 is because of the discount. 

3. Think about the features

As the sensors and features table above shows, Garmin slowly added more and more tricks to its Forerunner watches over time. Even though the Forerunner 55 costs much less than, say, the 745, it shares many of the same tricks. The newer the watch, the more likely it is to have what you need as a runner. 

If I had to pick the Forerunner "essentials" for my running training, this would be my list:

  • Recovery time (55, 165, 245, 255, 265, 645, 745, 945, 955, 965)
  • Training load ratio (255, 265, 745, 945, 955, 965)
  • Elevation tracking (165, 255, 265, 645, 745, 945, 955, 965)
  • Dual-frequency or all-systems GNSS tracking (165, 255, 265, 955, 965)

Aside from more accurate GPS, most of the Garmin Forerunners of the last five years have the "essentials." Other more modern tricks, like wrist-based running dynamics without the Pod, acute and chronic load, nap detection, HRV-based stress data, and Training Readiness are all nice to have, but maybe you can do without them. 

If you actually need full-color maps on your wrist, or the ability to check nearby surroundings without having to download courses first, you'll specifically need the Forerunner 945, 955, or 965. The same goes for other high-end tricks like real-time stamina and Hill Scores for elevation training. 

4. Battery life concerns

You mostly don't have to be too concerned about battery life when choosing a Garmin Forerunner model. The 55, 255, 265S, 945, 955, and 965 all offer at least two weeks of battery life — though that figure won't last if you use a lot of GPS battery. In that case, the 255, 945 LTE, 955, or 965 will do especially well.

You can technically buy the Forerunner 955 Solar to get a further battery life boost, but it's not nearly what you get from an Instinct 2X Solar with its "unlimited" battery life and 145 GPS hours. That watch's solar panel is very efficient, while the 955 Solar panel isn't really worth the $100 extra, in my mind. 

On the lower end, the 245, 645 Music, and 745 all offer seven full days of battery life in smartwatch mode, while the older, budget-friendly Forerunner 35 will give you nine days of juice. Generally speaking, you can expect at least a week of battery life regardless of which model you pick. 

Also, if you buy a watch intending to use the music storage feature, keep in mind that this trick burns through your battery life; expect to lose about two-thirds of your typical capacity, making a 945, 955, or 965 especially useful. 

Garmin Forerunners for everyone

Choosing the best Garmin Forerunner model is only difficult because there are so many good watches to choose among. They're some of the best Garmin smartwatches you can buy. With an extensive catalog of options, it's easy to find a watch that is designed for your lifestyle. Of course, you can also check out all of the other watches the company has to offer to confirm you're making the right choice for your needs.

But in the end, if you want the best Garmin Forerunner for most runners, that's the Garmin Forerunner 265 for features and specs, the 55 for budget quality, or the 965 for everything and the kitchen sink. If you're looking for the newest model that balances features with affordability, the Forerunner 165 is worth considering as well.

Michael L Hicks
Senior Editor, VR/AR and fitness

Michael is Android Central's resident expert on fitness tech and wearables, with an enthusiast's love of VR tech on the side. After years freelancing for Techradar, Wareable, Windows Central, Digital Trends, and other sites on a variety of tech topics, AC has given him the chance to really dive into the topics he's passionate about. He's also a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves D&D, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings.

For wearables, Michael has tested dozens of smartwatches from Garmin, Fitbit, Samsung, Apple, COROS, Polar, Amazfit, and other brands, and will always focus on recommending the best product over the best brand. He's also completed marathons like NYC, SF, Marine Corps, Big Sur, and California International — though he's still trying to break that 4-hour barrier.

With contributions from