Many new runners reach out to me wondering what’s the major difference: Garmin vs Fitbit? They already have a Fitbit from tracking steps and aren’t sure why they need to switch to a whole knew GPS watch.
The truth is there are some pretty big differences between a fitness tracker and GPS running watch. But which of those things actually matter to you is an entirely different story.
All the well-known brands manufacture several series of GPS watches with varying features and in a range of prices. Which means means there’s something for everyone at a wide range of price points.
A few of the major differences Garmin vs Fitbit:
- Garmin wants to be part of your ENTIRE active life, all the performance metrics you could ever want, tracking every possible sport, Apple Pay, music, tracking your menstrual cycle and other assorted features
- FitBit wants to help you generally stay active, but may not be focused on performance
If you’re looking to purchase your first GPS watch for running, check out my post on GPS watch mistakes not to make, so you don’t end up getting more than what you need and spending more money than necessary.
This side-by-side comparison should help you better understand the different features and narrow down your choices.
Not interested in all the research and just want to know what I’d pick?
It has more than enough features to last you through that first 5K all the way through many marathons and is more cost effective than other options.
Garmin Vs Fitbit Feature Comparison
Even the most basic of GPS watches today include the same features such as heart rate monitor, pace, distance, calorie tracking, and lap function. Where the two brands differ is in the hardware, training tools, alerts, and additional data recording features. Some go above and beyond, for those looking to nerd out on statistics.
Display and Tracking – Winner Garmin
Both Garmin and Fitbit watches display customizable real-time data, such as pace, time, distance run, calories burned, and heart rate, plus more if you desire. But Garmin is able to show you a lot of other data like average pace, stride count, cadence and elevation gain.
The biggest difference between the two brands in this arena comes in display customization. The screens on the Garmin can be modified via the Garmin Connect app, which includes a ton of other add-ons as well.
- For me the screen customization is huge.
- I need to easily see my HR, my current pace, etc.
- Maybe all you really want to know right now is how far and how fast, which the Fitbit will show.
In terms of which watchmaker reigns in tracking, the Garmin is going to win based on the intense focus they’ve had on GPS for years. It’s continued to improve and if you’re going to be doing trails or running around a lot of buildings (i.e. downtown Chicago) then a better GPS really matters for accuracy.
GPS Watch Battery Life – Winner Garmin
While few runners need running watch to last them 24 hours with all features turned on, you’re more likely to have that happen with the Garmin. The Fitbit Charge can run with you up to 5 hours….so if you’re pushing for that first 5 plus hour marathon it won’t cut it.
In daily usage mode, most Fitbits and Garmins last about 7 days.
Mapping and Navigation – Winner Garmin
For those running new routes or who have a tendency to get turned around during a run, the navigational features on Garmin watches will make sure you stay on course and return home safely.
If you don’t mind looking at a map on a tiny screen, the Garmin Fenix series includes color topographic mapping capabilities.
Heart Rate Monitoring – Tie
These days, most GPS watches come with either strap-based or wrist-based optical heart rate monitors. Optical heart rate monitors are known to provide inaccurate results due to recording random movements (which is why I actually switched to the upgraded wrist based HR tracking with the Polar GPS watches).
I haven’t seen enough data on the Fitbit technology, but it’s been a mainstay of the product so it should be decent. However, there is a big difference in tracking your HR while sitting or sleeping and while running where we tend to see spikes when it can’t read correctly.
Both brands track wellness-related data like sleep metrics and heart rate throughout the day.
Fitbit Versa includes a lot more wellness tools like guided breathing and on screen workouts through the color display, but requires your phone for GPS. Which means on a run you’ll need that app open to get information.
Data Management and Apps – Tie
Garmin uses a program called Connect, and users seem to love the additional capabilities like the ability to create workouts, build courses, and challenge friends to competitions.
The Fitbit app also allows you to set goals, track your progress on workouts and in general look at your whole health picture.
If you’re switching between brands, then an app like Strava is probably the best place to keep all of your data safely in one place.
Watch Style – FitBit for Apple Lovers
I wouldn’t usually include this as an option, but I think the two are different enough that it may very well matter.
A lot of the Fitbit watches now look similar to an Apple Watch, which might make some more comfortable wearing it 24/7.
GPS watches are often a little bit larger and can indeed overwhelm a small wrist. I have started going for the Garmin S models which are designed to be smaller for the female wrist, but with all the same features.
Garmin VS Fitibt For Running
Ok we’re finishing up the Garmin vs Fitbit comparison.
You’ll quickly see that Fitbit prices are lower, likely due to the less technology needed in the watches since they aren’t providing metrics like VO2 Max, cadence, stride, etc.
Click any link below to see the watch and additional function details (and please note I almost ALWAYS see Fitbit on sale, so don’t buy one full price).
Budget Running Watches
✅ Garmin Forerunner 45 ($170)
This is now what’s considered an entry level running watch and it has EVERYTHING including smart watch features. You can go more basic with the Garmin 25, but it’s not well supported now. So with the 45 you’ll get:
- wrist based HR
- GPS features
- Safety features, smart phone notifications
It’s a great value when I think I paid this price for my first Garmin that could only track how far I ran!
Fitbit Charge ($145)
Only their second watch with built-in GPS, it has the same long rectangular style we’re used to seeing from Fitbit watches. The small screen could make it harder to see your data while running and the touch screen can be finicky once you’re sweaty.
It does include:
- sleep tracking
- Spotify controls (not storage)
- Fitbit pay
- water resistant for swimming
Midrange Running Watches
Garmin Forerunner 645 ($290)
For about $100 more, you can get the Forerunner 645, which will give you some bells and whistles like music, Garmin Pay, thermometer and altimeter. This watch will track running, swimming, and cycling and tell you your ground contact time balance, stride length, and more.
- HR Tracking
- Longer battery life
- Multisport, waterproof to swim
- Holds music, payment options from watch
- Smart phone notifications
✅Fitbit Versa 2 ($180)
While this model is an upgrade if you like tools like Alexa and weather apps and storing up to 200 songs, it does NOT contain a built in GPS. You can connect via the app on your phone to have the data, which for a running watch I find a major drawback. Though I know that many runners carry a phone, so for the price savings, could be worth it.
- HR Tracking
- Alexa built in
- Sleep tracking
- Smart phone notifications
It also has smart exercise recognition, so it will start tracking that you’re running or biking…but without the GPS you won’t be getting all the data you’d probably like.
High End Running Watches
✅Garmin Fenix ($500+)
Garmin’s premier sport watch, the Fenix series does pretty much anything you want, but is often the sought after watch because it has an everyday look. Let’s be honest, white/rose gold look basically convinced me I need the Garmin Fenix 6s (the S version is made smaller for a woman’s wrist too)!
This watch is for the athlete who wants their watch to just know what they’re doing.
It’s going to have every bell and whistle we’ve discussed previously, plus the components are upgraded.
The Fenix can tell the difference if you’re running indoors vs outside vs on the road or trail. It knows if you’re in a pool or swimming in open water. It can even give you an accurate weather forecast via Bluetooth.
Right now you can get the Fenix 5s at a huge discount because they’re rolling out the new Fenix 6 series.
See my full review of the Garmin Fenix 5S.
Fitbit Iconic ($200)
Even at their high end Fitbit is still in line with the budget version of Garmin and thus why so many are probably a little nervous to make the upgrade.
We’re back to a built-in GPS, the sleek colorful display, music storage, HR tracking and sleep data.
This is definitely considered their watch for the person wanting to track more fitness data. And you have the option to switch out bands, pay for guided workouts and add more apps as well.
All right now, we’ve done a Garmin watch comparison so you can see what makes the different prices, but how does it stack up against other brands?
Looking for more reviews to find the best things for you run?
Checkout our full page of my must have running gear reviews and guides to save you time searching and money! I share what’s worked for me and fellow runners, along with what wasn’t worth the price tag.
A few common requests:
- GPS Watch Mistakes most runners make
- How to use all your run data
- Best HR monitors (from watches to straps)
- Best foam roller
Other watches you want to know about? Let me know!
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