Garmin forerunner 920 XT and 735XT

Do I Really Need A Triathlon Watch?

My wife did her first two triathlons without a watch (her Fitbit couldn’t track the swim). It was not until the following Christmas that she used a specific triathlon watch. After a couple of years into the sport, I think it is a good time to share our thoughts about triathlon watches.

Triathlon watches are not a must-have for beginner triathletes. It is pretty hard to justify the high price tag for what you will do with it. Their main advantages are open water swimming and triathlon mode. Those features will become useful after a couple of months in the sport.

Let’s check that in more detail.

FOR BEGINNER TRIATHLETES

If you have just started triathlon and are new to the three disciplines, I recommend waiting a couple of months before buying one watch. Take the time to save some money and learn about the different features you would like to have. The only exception is for data geeks, like me 🙂

Here is how I would track each discipline in the meantime:

  • Swim: if you start swimming, you won’t need to track the details of all your sessions. It could even discourage you. Instead, focus on improving your technique. Having swim lessons early on is the way to go.
  • Bike: having a cheap bike computer is more than enough. If you want to record your routes, you can also use an app on your phone like Strava or Komoot.
  • Run: similar to biking, a standard sports watch or an app on your phone will work perfectly.
  • Triathlon race: my wife made her first triathlons without a watch. It is one thing less you need to worry about and you will get your split times anyway after the race from the officials.

FOR INTERMEDIATE TRIATHLETES

Once you get more into regular triathlon training, I think it is a good time to start logging your activities. While you could still track those without a triathlon watch, it will soon become a burden. Getting a triathlon watch at that time is a great investment.

With one single gear, you will be able to track everything: your workouts, your races, and you will be able to see all your stats.

PRICES OF TRIATHLON WATCHES

Expect to pay anywhere between $200 and $1,500 for a new triathlon watch. It highly depends on the brand and the features you are looking for.

Most triathlon watches are very durable and can be worn for several years, which means you can find some excellent second-hand bargains!

If you are not in a hurry to buy one, I have seen the best discounts before a new version is released (which happens every 1-2 years) and during the Black Friday or Christmas seasons.

MUST HAVE FEATURES OF TRIATHLON WATCHES

Don’t even consider buying a watch without those two features.

  • open water swimming: it means that your watch is waterproof and can record GPS data while swimming without using your phone. It is also called a built-in GPS watch (vs. GPS connected where you need your phone). If it can do that while swimming, you can be sure to have this feature while running and biking.
  • triathlon mode: it records your swim, bike, run, and transitions into a single activity. I already have so much to think about during a triathlon race that I don’t imagine myself having to start and manually save each of those activities.

OTHER FEATURES TO LOOK FOR

Even though those features are not necessary for all triathletes, they might be for you:

  • Compatibility with third-party software. Haven’t you heard? If it is not on Strava, it didn’t happen! (I used to hate this sentence, but over time I realized that it is actually true…)
  • ANT+ and Bluetooth readiness, so you can connect your watch to pretty much any external sensors (power meters, cadence sensor,..)
  • Heart rate measurement: either available directly with a wrist sensor on the back of the watch or through a chest strap.
  • Long battery life. Some watches could be a no-go for you if you plan to finish an Ironman in 15-17 hours. For shorter distances, I would not be too worried about this feature.
  • Music: Some of the watches will come with internal music storage, some others can start and stop the music (you still need a phone), and on some others, you won’t have anything related to music.
  • Wrist size: some watches have different wrist size versions, which might be a good solution for anyone having a small wrist.
  • Weight: it is really something you should have a look at. You can easily have watches which are two or three times the weight of others.
  • Navigation: If you are interested in a navigation feature, really check the detail of it. It can either be a full detailed map on your watch or a simple line without any map, which is way less helpful for guidance.
A watch with a line for navigation vs a watch with a detailed map

MY TRIATHLON WATCH RECOMMENDATION

Disclaimer: The Triathlon Tips of My Tri World are reader-supported. When you buy through links, I may earn an affiliate commission.

You cannot go wrong with those two watches:

  • Garmin forerunner 745 (Amazon affiliate link) for triathletes racing up to half distance triathlons. It has all the features you really need and internal music storage. My wife has the previous version (735 XT without music), and she loves it.
  • Garmin fenix 7 (Amazon affiliate link) for triathletes racing full-distance events or who want navigation guidance. I upgraded to this watch (7S) for the possibility to use either the buttons or the touchscreen, which is especially helpful when browsing the map.
Garmin fenix 7s and Forerunner 735XT
My watch (fēnix 7S) and my wife’s watch (Forerunner 735XT)