Best GPS watch for open water swimming

GPS and Fitness tracking devices are everywhere and come in all shapes, sizes and prices.

The right one for you comes down to a few basic requirements.

Are you swimming in open water?

Do you need it to track swim strokes or just for GPS tracking?

Will you use it for multi-sport events like triathlons or marathons?

Each of these has many answers so instead of dwelling on them lets take a look at some of my favourite GPS watches for open water and see if you spot the one you like


We take our racing very seriously and while I’m not the fastest triathlete out there I do like to closely monitor my performance during each race.

For that, I use my Garmin Fenix 5X. The Garmin is huge and does weight a fair bit on your wrist. I have very wide wrists so it doesn’t bother me and the weight is worth the tradeoff because it’s packed with more features that I will probably ever use.

Yes, it does cost a fair bit but to me, it’s the best on the market and is worth every cent I spent on it.

If you are looking for a watch that does pretty much everything then this is the one for you.

So let’s dig into the techie stuff for a few mins and see what it can do…

First up we are going to look at the GPS multi-sport qualities of this watch. We are avid triathletes in this group so there are a few must-haves for us.


When it comes to picking out an idea triathlon watch there are some things that are a must-have in terms of functionality.

Title
Best Value
Garmin Forerunner 935
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
Top Choice
Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire
Garmin Forerunner 735XT Bundle
Star Rating
Preview
Garmin Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit (Black)
Garmin Forerunner 735XT - Black & Gray
Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire - Black with Black Band
Garmin Forerunner 735XT - Black & Gray Run-Bundle
Reviews
94 Reviews
204 Reviews
434 Reviews
40 Reviews
Display Type
LCD
215 x 180, Color display
240 x 240
215 x 180, Color display
GPS
Weight
1.76 ounces
1.6 ounces
0.8 lb
1.6 ounces
Multi-Sport
Price
$468.99
from $299.99
$590.94
$349.99
Best Value
Title
Garmin Forerunner 935
Star Rating
Preview
Garmin Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit (Black)
Reviews
94 Reviews
Display Type
LCD
GPS
Weight
1.76 ounces
Multi-Sport
Price
$468.99
Details
Title
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
Star Rating
Preview
Garmin Forerunner 735XT - Black & Gray
Reviews
204 Reviews
Display Type
215 x 180, Color display
GPS
Weight
1.6 ounces
Multi-Sport
Price
from $299.99
Details
Top Choice
Title
Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire
Star Rating
Preview
Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire - Black with Black Band
Reviews
434 Reviews
Display Type
240 x 240
GPS
Weight
0.8 lb
Multi-Sport
Price
$590.94
Details
Title
Garmin Forerunner 735XT Bundle
Star Rating
Preview
Garmin Forerunner 735XT - Black & Gray Run-Bundle
Reviews
40 Reviews
Display Type
215 x 180, Color display
GPS
Weight
1.6 ounces
Multi-Sport
Price
$349.99
Details

Garmin Fenix 3 HR

The Garmin Fenix 3 HR  is an omnidirectional stainless steel GPS watch for open water swimming with GPS/GLONASS satellite capabilities.

With Fitness training features like advanced running dynamics with vertical oscillation and vertical radio, you will definitely find it hard using another GPS watch after using this one.

Rugged, capable and smart, the Garmin comes in a treated silicone band with reinforced housing for sturdiness and durability in extreme water conditions.

The display screen is in high-resolution color Chroma display which is visible under intense sunlight thanks to the LED backlight.

The Fenix 3 HR can be used inside the water and it is water rated up to 100 meters with a battery life of up to 40 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode, 16 hours in GPS mode and up to 2 weeks of use in smartwatch mode. It’s truly a beast in the ocean.

Lens Material
Glass
Bezel Material
Steel
Strap Material
TPU
Bat Life: GPS + Smart
3 Weeks
GPS/GLONASS
Altimeter, Barometer, Compass
Activity & Sleep Tracking
Running Physiological Measurements
Golf
Wrist Heart Rate
Lens Material
Glass
Bezel Material
Steel
Strap Material
TPU
Bat Life: GPS + Smart
3 Weeks
GPS/GLONASS
Altimeter, Barometer, Compass
Activity & Sleep Tracking
Running Physiological Measurements
Golf
Wrist Heart Rate

With the Garmin, tracking your heart rate won’t require the use of a chest strap.

It gives you the option to track your heart rate data without wearing a chest strap which is a movement away from what we had in some of the other Triathlon watches that we have reviewed above.

You can also count your steps, monitor your sleep with this watch. The Fenix 3 HR uses the heart rate to crunch other numbers such as the amount of calories burned and quantify the intensity of your fitness activities per time.

When it comes to going into every detail about your form and fitness, the Garmin Fenix 3 HR has your covered here as well.

It can measure your oxygen levels and your recovery easily.

It uses the VO2 estimator to crunch important metrics such as your stroke speed, beats per minute and your heart rate variability to estimate the total amount of oxygen that you can consume per minute and if you want, you can also track your overall fitness gains over a period of time and compare it with your friends.

Garmin Fenix 3 HR can track the distance covered, pace and your stroke count.

Once you input the pool size into the watch, it will do the rest of the data crunching for you. This same feature is also available for skiing, golf and paddle sports.

Golfers can use it to get the yardage to the front back and the middle of any course you might have downloaded from Garmin Connect and if you want, you can use your GPS watch as a glove-friendly remote via the ANT+ wireless connectivity feature.

The multi-sport watch is not just useful in the water; this watch has relevance on dry land as well.

It can allow you go further with your running data and tap into advanced running dynamics to create a range of important data such as the number of steps taken per minute (Cadence), the degree of bounce in your running motion and the benefit ratio to stride length.

The Fenix 3 HR also measures your stress levels by comparing your heart rate data while standing still for 3 minutes to provide you with data on how stress you are.

The Fenix 3 HR provides serious bass when it comes to comprehensive navigation. It can guide you on and off the beaten path using GPS plus the combination of ABC.

ABC represents the Altimeter, Barometer and Compass.

It can help you navigate your way back to where you came from. With inbuilt sensors for providing important information on heading, elevation, and weather, you will find this watch handy for your everyday use as well.

The altimeter provides the elevation data to monitor your ascent and descent while Barometer helps you predict the change in weather by showing you information in air pressure over the short term.

The Garmin Fenix 3 HR can be customized with tons of free downloads from the Connect IQ store.

You can add new data fields, widgets and important apps that will make it more fun and appealing to use.

You can also receive emails and alerts right on your watch while in the pool swimming.

It uses the wireless connection from a smartphone to let you know when you have a message – displaying the text on your display screen.

Pros

  • Quite lightweight thanks to the rubber strap
  • Well-designed and versatile GPS watch
  • The battery life is very good.
  • Combination of GPS/ABC/Health/Fashion features

Cons

  • Difficult using it with Microsoft products.
  • GPS data is not always accurate.

Garmin 910xt

The Garmin Forerunner 910XT is a next-generation triathlon watch from Garmin and a super upgrade to the Garmin Forerunner FR305.

But is the Garmin 910XT just another upgrade with little to show for it other than a slimmer profile? Actually, it does have a lot going for it.

Garmin Forerunner 910XT is one of the best triathlon watches out there with an insane ability to track time, distance, speed, elevation and the heart rate.

It combines a whole lot of features that make it one of the most revered GPS watches in the market. When you flip open the box, you will see a couple of things that will help you get started.

These include the USB charging clip, USB ANT + stick, the watch, the manual and a heart rate strap.

One of the first things that will amaze you when you go through the content of the box is the power plugs.

The Garmin Forerunner 910XT comes with three different types of plugs – the standard US power plug and two others for customers who reside or are travelling to Europe or the UK. This comes in handy if you are venturing abroad for a race…

The second thing that will blow your mind when you unbox this GPS watch is the heart rate strap which includes a strap and the transmitter pod. The design of the strap here is quite different from what we had in the previous models but it’s still quite effective.

Each Heart Rate strap is paired with Premium ANT+ but the type of strap you will get will depend on the version of the 910XT that you purchase.

You can also use an older or existing ANT+ strap but you should stay away from any strap from a Polar unit.

The USB charging clip that we spoke about earlier will be used to charge the watch by connecting it to your computer or through the AC power plug but it can’t be used to transfer data.

The USB stick, on the other hand, will be used to make data transfer via the ANT+ method. The ANT+ method is a way of transmitting data between Garmin devices.

The ANT+ protocol is strictly for Garmin devices and it is quite similar to Bluetooth except that it uses lower energy as compared with Bluetooth.

In order to transfer data from your watch to your computer, you will have to plug the ANT+ USB stick into your computer so it can establish a connection with your GPS watch.

Forerunner 910XT is an all in all GPS enabled watch designed for use as an open water swimming watch. It is water resistant up to 50 meters and it is Garmin’s first Triathlon watch which offers an extensive set of swim metrics that can be used to monitor and track your movement in the pool such as distance covered, stroke identification and pool lengths.

The Garmin Forerunner 910XT is as powerful on land as it is on water.

It offers a wide range of powerful and advanced cycling features for capturing your speed and distance over time.

What’s new?

The Forerunner 910XT also has a barometric altimeter which is a step above the GPS altimeter that came in the previous FR310XT and the FR305 models.

With the barometric altimeter on this GPS watch, a cyclist can map to reality better than what they had with the GPS data and when this doesn’t work as expected, they can use the altitude data correction on the Garmin Connect device to switch on the elevation correction.

Pros

  • Can be used for a range of activity including biking, running and swimming.
  • Easy low power transmission via the ANT+ network.
  • Great for anyone doing triathlons.
  • The screen is easy to navigate and use.

Cons

  • Concerns about its use with a kickboard and it seems to be inaccurate when doing laps.
  • Data transfer must not be interrupted once it begins.

Multisport mode

In addition to the standard features that should be expected from a good watch, it should also come with a multisport mode that allows you to use the watch for other activities outside swimming.

Multisport watches can be paired with your smartphone via Bluetooth Smart connectivity so you can enjoy other conveniences like reading your email, texts and other important alerts to you.

Triathlon and Outdoor Navigation

Triathlon watches come with extra features for tracking your steps, stroke count, calories, heart rate underwater while swimming, type of stroke and barometric altimeter. Having a GPS watch that can record the necessary metrics for your performance as well as other sports that you might engage in is a smart move.