Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Perfect GPS Trail Watch - The Garmin fenix

Source: DCRainmaker
Well after running for the last couple of years with my Timex Ironman Global GPS I have switched over to the Garmin fenix.  I have been somewhat happy with my Timex; however, there were some idiosyncrasies with the watch that, at no fault of its own, started to wear on me. 


 I got the Timex as a result to missing my PR at the Long Beach half marathon playing around with my smart phone.  I was using the phone app (RunKeeper) to keep my pace which was fine until my phone started randomly calling people.  After that race, I was waiting for the Garmin 900XT because of its built in pacing alerts, its multiple sports features (it is a tri watch), and its long battery life.  However, I saw on Active a great deal for the Timex, which had most of the features, sans the pacing alerts, as the 900XT and opted for that.

When I got this watch, I was drawn by its ability to track, as any good triathlon watch worth its muster, both my cycling (really just commuting even though it equates to between 30 to 60 miles a week) and training for road running.
However, now I am running more trails than road.  I love climbing hills and mountains and needed something more versatile.  I really needed more of a trail running watch and that is what I have found in the Garmin fenix.

Decision Factors

Garmin fenix center, Timex Ironman Global far right. Source DCRainmaker
One of my frustrations leading up to the purchase of my watch (which was a gift from my father-in-law) was with Strava.  I love this site and it has really helped me in keeping my motivation up.  However, both the phone App and watches without a built-in barometric altimeter in my experience as well as reported by Strava will under-report elevation gain.  So I wanted a watch that could basically land a plane.

Secondly, I ran a 12 hour endurance event during the summer and found as I was getting to the 11th hour the low battery warning coming on.  While I was able to finish the race with the battery level, it died a minute after the race.  I did have my heart rate monitor on for the first 4 hours of the race; however, if I would have kept it on the entire race, the battery would probably die at hour eight.  This is from a watch that was supposed to get 20 hours of life.  So any replacement watch would need to be better than what I have now.

Third, one of my complaints about the Timex watch was that I was required to use Training Peaks to keep track of my training record.  I did find ways later to record the data, such as using Running Ahead and use the .pwx converter to upload to Strava; but this was a bit of a hassle.  So my new watch would need to be flexible with any reporting platform and of course any Garmin device fits the bill.

Why the Garmin fenix

Initially, what alerted me to the Garmin Fenix was the claim of a 50 hour battery life, this intrigued me.  Then I learned that primarily this watch was made for the long haul, such as a hike or an ultra. Now to get 50 hours of battery life does mean that you put it in Ultra mode which means the data points are record in minute durations instead of second durations.  However, when covering long distances, I suppose the detail is not as important as if you are doing intervals or running a 5K.

Doing my research, it met my first need also, the barometric altimeter, and while not initially a go to running watch in early reviews, what I read identified that it was more than sufficient.

Then I took a look at the firmware patches and quickly realized that is a watch that was in a constant state of improvement.  It had addressed some of the running feature misses and has improved upon them.  In fact, in just the short time I have owned the watch (beginning in December)  Garmin has updated the firmware to include a skiing feature, the ability to upload intervals, as well as the ability to check your IPhone messages in the watch.  So basically I have a new device!

What I like about my Garmin fenix

While I liked my Timex, I really had nothing to compare against.  Also, there were features I did not use just because of the complexity of setting up those features. This is much different in the Garmin fenix.  

  •  Virtual Pacer - One of the features I love using is the virtual pacer as well as my maximum and minimum pace.  Even after Long Beach, I still used a phone app to tell me my pace.  Now I have alerts that can both chirp and vibrate in my watch and have found them extremely useful and more reliable than the phone app.

  • Quick GPS Location – I really had problems with my Timex taking sometimes several minutes to triangulate my location.  I am finding however, that the Garmin fenix syncs up its location within seconds even in the cloudiest or remotest locations. 

  • Ability to customize the screen – I really love this feature!   Basically, I can have seven data screens where I can customize with the data metrics I want.  And these can be customized for the activity that you are doing.   For example, for my running screens I have my distance, average pace, and amount of time I have run.  My second screen has all my relevant heart rate monitor data, the third screen has my altimeter and weather information (you can keep track of temperature with this watch!).  And since there are tons of other activities there has to be well over 100 metrics to choose from.


  •  Attractive but rugged – I love that as the different generations of GPS watches are developed the smaller the watches become.    It does not look like the typical bulky GPS primarily due to the decision do increase the depth of the watch instead reducing the amount of space on the wrist.  This is especially great since I have skinny wrists.  And while it was definitely designed for the outdoors in mind, I have gotten complements on the styling of the watch. 

  • Ease of stopping and saving data – originally this was a complaint in early reviews.  However, Garmin took back this feedback and made updating easy.  Basically the moment you turn off the GPS, the watch saves the activity.

  • ANT/Heart Rate - I also love how quickly that this watch identifies and syncs up with the heart rate monitor.  I always had to reset my Timex to find the HR monitor.  The Garmin fenix has no problems in this area.

In summary, if you are looking for a GPS watch made for the trails, this is your choice.  I definitely would recommend this watch and am looking forward to many years of use.  However, just don’t take my word for it.  Check these reviews out to answer more of the information as well as more of the technical side.


  1. Wow, this looks great, I've heard these GPS's are only the best. I've actually been looking around for some online hoping I can get a good deal for one. My friend told me to check this site out .

  2. I am going to show my girlfriend this website as a hint for my upcoming birthday. I have been a big fan of Garmin and their work. When I moved recently to Seattle I actually bought a Garmin cell phone from T-mobile. I love the simplicity and maneuverability of the Garmin systems.
    Fred Hutchinson |


submit to reddit