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Which Garmin Forerunner model is right for me? How to choose the perfect size & features

No matter what type of runner you are, there's a Garmin Forerunner model with your name on it. As you may know, Garmin supplies some of the best fitness smartwatches out there. Whether you're seeking a budget-friendly couch-to-5K option or you're currently gearing up for a triathlon or marathon, Garmin has a range of options for nearly any price point. 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.

How to pick the best Garmin Forerunner model for you (or the runner in your life)

Which Garmin Forerunner model should you buy? How to choose

As you can see, there's no shortage of Garmin Forerunner models for you to pick from. The brand is responsible for some of the best Android smartwatches and wearables. The lineup only continues to grow and improve as the years go on, too. One of the best options is the Garmin Forerunner 255, which is geared toward passionate runners who want to take their tracking experience to the next level. As a running watch, it handily beats our former favorite, the Forerunner 245 Music, with modernized features and slightly improved specs. It delivers all of the features you need to track your progress and improve your performance.

Those who don't need the most advanced features might prefer something a bit more basic such as the Garmin Forerunner 55. It still has tons of perks, including activity/sleep tracking, heart-rate monitoring, and onboard GPS. You also have plenty of great running features such as recovery time, daily suggested workouts, race predictor, and cadence alerts.

If you're still having trouble deciding, let's focus on the particular areas you should consider.

1. Consider the size

When you're a runner, the size of your smartwatch makes a huge difference in the wearable experience. You don't want a giant bulky device that's going to get in the way of your workouts. Fortunately, all of the Garmin Forerunner designs take this into careful consideration. There is a wide variety of sizes to choose from and some models even offer more than one size option.

The Forerunner 35, 45, 55, and 255S/ 255S Music all fall into the 36-39g weight class with a 1- or 1.1-inch display size. The 35 has a rectangular design while the rest have a standard circular design, but they all prioritize a lightweight fit while trading away pixels. Many people with smaller wrists will prefer this size, even if it means the display text isn't quite as readable.

If you appreciate a larger display and more durable design, the full-size Forerunner 255 and Forerunner 955 both have 1.3-inch displays and weigh 49g and 52g, respectively. Both are on the upper edge of what a fitness smartwatch typically weighs, but they give you the best visual experience. Or if you look at the last generation, both the Forerunner 745 and Forerunner 945 sit at 1.2-inches, though they're not actually that much lighter — another reason why we consider the newer-gen models the best Garmin Forerunner watches available.

2. Choose the right band

Another important element to consider is the watch band you'll use. Most of the time, the standard band that comes with your Garmin Forerunner will be sufficient for the time being. However, as you start using your wearable, you might find that your preferences change. Whether you want something fancier for those nights out or you find that you'd prefer a woven fabric over silicone, there are plenty of choices.

All Forerunner models are compatible either with Garmin's QuickFit band system or standard quick-release bands. We're constantly keeping tabs on all of the best options. Whether you're looking for Garmin Forerunner 245 bands, Forerunner 55 bands, or Forerunner 945 bands, you'll be pleased with how many options you have.

All of the larger models use industry-standard 22mm bands, while the 55 used 20mm. So if you want the newer 255 or 955, our picks for the older watches will still apply.

3. Think about the features

Make sure to consider what features matter most to you in a smartwatch. The company is known for offering a core set of features that keep you on track. You'll find smartwatches with GPS, heart-rate monitoring, and activity tracking, all available through Garmin Connect at no additional cost for the data.

If you're content with the basics and want to save some money, you might appreciate the simplicity of the Forerunner 35-55. You get health tracking, some essential running metrics, and some workout suggestions, but nothing too in-depth. They're best for people just starting out running and don't need to confuse themselves, or those who don't need a lot of data.

Those who want detailed tracking and extra features will want to consider some of the other options. You'll pay more for them, but if you're committed to tracking your progress and improving your performance, it will be money well spent. 

The Forerunner 255 gives you almost all of the features you'd get from the 955, aside from mapping and real-time stamina. Serious runners who mostly run guided races or in their neighborhood probably don't need maps, but it is interesting to see in real-time how much energy Garmin estimates you have left, encouraging you to slow down if you're pushing too hard.

You can, of course, also downgrade slightly to an older model. We've broken down how the Forerunner 955 Solar compares to the 945 LTE if you're looking at a premium option. While we like the Forerunner 945 LTE, its usefulness over the newer model really only applies if you run without a phone in dangerous, isolated locations. If you want more LTE features than safety tools, you'll have to look at other smartwatches with LTE.

As for the Forerunner 255 vs. the 245, the 2022 Forerunner watch adds Garmin Pay, all-systems multi-band GPS — which tracks you across multiple satellite frequencies and across GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO all at once for hyper-accurate results — and heart rate variance for better stress and sleep tracking. We think it's worth it, but maybe not if you can score the 245 for a lot less.

4. Battery life concerns

You mostly don't have to be too concerned about battery life when choosing a Garmin Forerunner model. The 255, 955, 945, and 55 all consistently offer about two weeks of battery life, though the first two do much better for GPS battery life in particular. And, of course, the 955 is the only solar-powered Forerunner available.  

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. 

If you're choosing a Music model, keep in mind that even the 955 Solar can only last 10.5 hours with GPS and music, while other models dip as low as 7 hours. And if you choose the 255S, you get just 12 days rather than 14, though that's still more than many of the older models.

Garmins for everyone

The good news is that there is a Garmin Forerunner model for just about everyone. No matter what your current skill level is, these wearables are 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 255 for features and specs or the 55 for budget quality.