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You don’t have to be a full-time mountain biker to know that route tracking is an integral part of any trip – both in terms of your safety and fun.
It was only in the previous decade that folks still had to install colossal computers on handlebars not to get lost during their endeavors. As technology has evolved over the last 10 years or so, many have moved from the now-considered-by-some-archaic devices to wristwatches.
Nowadays, there are tens of watch brands offering smartwatches with highly capable GPS features. One of the go-to companies in terms of GPS watches built for outdoor adventures is the US-based Garmin.
Although the brand doesn’t focus solely on watches for biking, there’s a list of models that come with features and apps designed exclusively for those who love to ride.
So, what is the best Garmin watch for mountain biking?
I will help you decide by reviewing three capable Garmin models.
To make sure that readers with contrasting budgets can find the right smartwatch, the selected products are available at ranging price points.
On top of the biker-specific features, each watch comes with a plethora of fitness and health-related apps for everyday use. Some also support additional sports activities like swimming or running.
Without further delay, let’s go.
Best Garmin Watch for Mountain Biking (Top 3 Reviewed)
When trying to pick the best value-for-money mountain biking watch, I had no hesitation in choosing Garmin Instinct.
As we all know, exploring mountains by bike is hardly a picnic and comes with a bigger risk of injury and damage to your watch than many other sports. Hence, premium durability standards need to be high on the list of priorities.
Next to the Fenix Pro 6 series, which we will discuss in detail as well, Instinct is probably the most enduring line released by Garmin to date.
- See also: Best Garmin Watch for Hunting
In regards to thermal, shock, and water-resistance (10 ATM / 100m), all models in the Garmin Instinct series are built to the U.S. military standard 810. Biking in extreme conditions such as hot temperatures and heavy rain shouldn’t cause any troubles, just like an accidental drop.
The watch case is made from damage-resistant, fiber-reinforced polymer and measures 45mm in diameter. The display is chemically-strengthened and scratch-resistant, whereas the silicone band further adds to the ruggedness.
When it comes to watches for mountain biking, a reliable GPS is even more important than durability.
The Instinct series uses multi-GNSS satellites and outdoor sensors to make sure you always reach your destination. With a 16-hour battery life during non-stop GPS use, even the longest treks shouldn’t pose much of a challenge.
In extreme situations when the duration of the trip exceeds the 16-hour mark, you can switch to UltraTrac – a battery-saving mode that periodically turns off the GPS to save power. In this mode, Instinct uses the accelerometer to calculate speed and distance.
The Instinct boasts an impressive 14-day battery life in the standard smartwatch mode (when the GPS is off).
On top of the GPS feature, the watch is equipped with ABC sensors: altimeter for elevation data, barometer to monitor weather and three-axis compass to replace the role of GPS in case you want to be super-economic with the battery.
The Garmin-patented Tracback is a great app that navigates the same route back to your starting point.
Apart from the mountain biking-specific features, the watch is rich in other sports and health-related apps, such as:
- 24/7 Heart Rate Monitor
- Stress Tracking
- preloaded workout programs for running, hiking, swimming
Crucially, Garmin Instinct is compatible with both iOS and Android smartphones. By connecting the watch to your mobile device you will enjoy on-wrist messaging as well as alerts and notifications of your choice.
The only thing I find lacking in this otherwise superb product is the support for Garmin Pay – a contactless payment app.
Summing up, the Instinct is probably the best Garmin watch for mountain biking if we look at the quality-price ratio. It has all the features you need for your trail and costs less than some other releases that aren’t much more advanced.
Garmin Venu SQ
If Garmin Instinct is asking too much of your budget, the Venu SQ line provides more than a reasonable alternative.
Even though the model might not be as hard-to-beat as the Instinct and doesn’t meet the high military standards, it’s still composed of pretty turdy materials that should be able to withstand a lot.
The rectangular case is made from a fiber-reinforced polymer, whereas the bezel is aluminum. Protecting the face from cracks and scratches is a fairly durable Corning Gorilla Glass 3 – a popular choice also amongst other smartwatch brands.
On the waterproofing front, the model comes with a 5ATM / 50m WR rating which makes it splashproof. In other words, it’s fine to wear it during everyday activities like showering or washing your hands. A bike ride in the rain won’t damage it either. Taking it for a swim is a big no-no, though.
The Venu SQ series is available in 9 different design variations, including the white-and-gold you see on the image. It’s been named “SQ” because of its Apple Watch-like square case. The case diameter is just north of 40mm which is considerably smaller than most Garmin releases to date.
Crucially for a mountain biker, the watch comes with just as precise GPS as the Instinct. Pinpoint data is ensured by the use of the very same three satellites – GPS, Glonass, and Galileo.
With the GPS mode on, the watch battery life is 14 hours – 2 hours less than Instinct. Unfortunately, neither the UltraTrac battery-saving mode nor the Tracback feature is available with Venu SQ.
In the normal smartwatch mode, you can expect the watch to run for ~6 days. On one hand, it’s an acceptable result for a wearable device. On the other, it’s not even half of what’s on offer with Instinct.
Although Venu SQ is equipped with a compass, there’s a lack of altimeter and barometer.
The model does have some features you won’t find in the Instinct, though. Those include:
- Pulse OX Sensor 3 – measures the oxygen saturation in your blood 24/7 so you know how well your body is absorbing oxygen
- Body Battery – calculates the body energy levels so you can reach your peak performance in all walks of life daily
- Hydration Tracker – helps you stay properly hydrated
- Respiration Tracker – provides great insights into your breathing patterns throughout the day, during sleep, and while you do your breathwork or yoga
- Garmin Pay – contactless payments with your wristwatch
Naturally, other health-tracking apps like the heart rate monitor or sleep quality tracker are available, just like many pre-loaded workout programs. Daily fitness tracking gives you great insights into the number of steps you take, calories you burn, etc.
Needless to say, the watch works perfectly fine with both Android smartphones and iPhones.
If you’re willing to pay an extra $50, there’s a Venu SQ Music edition for all the music enthusiasts.
This model allows for phone-free listening since you can download songs and playlists from Spotify, Deezer or Amazon music to your smartwatch and then use wireless headphones to enjoy your favorite tracks on the go. Personally, I find the $50 price difference a bit too steep since I carry my phone with me all the time anyway. It’s a nice choice to have, though.
To conclude, Venu SQ might not the best mountain bike smartwatch on the market but it’s a really good alternative if you’re shopping on a tight budget as it has all the necessities you need during your treks. Other decent low-budget alternatives are: Garmin Forerunner 35, Garmin Forerunner 235 and Garmin Forerunner 245.
Garmin Fenix Pro 6
Closing the list of the best Garmin watches for mountain biking is the most high-end model released up until now, Fenix Pro 6. If the sky is the limit in terms of your finances, continue reading.
Not only is Fenix Pro 6 the most feature-rich Garmin smartwatch currently on offer but also the most enduring one. Similar to the aforementioned Instinct, it is tested to U.S. military standards for thermal, shock, and water-resistance (10 ATM / 100m).
Fenix Pro 6 series is available in a few variations which differ in terms of capabilities and price.
First of all, you can choose from 3 different case sizes – 42mm, 47mm, and 51mm. The first pick is most popular amongst women, whereas 51mm diameter is usually the preferred choice for folks with larger wrists. Price-wise, the first two sizes are exactly the same whereas you will have to spend extra to get the biggest one.
Then you will also have the choice of picking a version powered by a regular battery or the sun. The solar-powered edition will set you back around $250 more.
Finally, there’s also the choice of the display glass material. The standard version comes with a Corning Gorilla Glass DX or sapphire crystal. The latter is more expensive as it’s arguably the most scratch-resistant lens type available. The Solar edition is equipped with Garmin-patented PowerGlass, considered equally enduring.
The version you pick is of no significance when it comes to the case material. All cases are made from fiber-reinforced polymer and include a metal rear cover. The Fenix 6 Pro type you select will have a bearing on the bezel type, though. The more expensive editions include a titanium bezel whereas the rest use the standard aluminum type.
To round off the highly customizable exterior, Fenix 6 Pro allows you to choose from tens of different band colors. It’s also possible to pick from four different materials: stainless steel, leather, titanium, and silicone.
Moving on to the mountain biking-specific features, the watch is naturally equipped with the same multi-satellite GPS tracking.
The battery life of Fenix 6 Pro is on a whole different level:
- in the smartwatch mode, it lasts 14-16 days;
- during the Battery-Saver mode – up to 80 days;
- in the GPS mode – up to 40 hours
- during the UltraTrac GPS mode – up to 93 hours
What’s also important, Fenix Pro 6 is equipped with the much-loved Tracback mode that lets you use the same route back while saving the battery.
Akin to Garmin Instinct, the smartwatch comes with ABC sensors (altimeter, barometer, compass). On top of that, it also has a thermometer.
Fenix Pro 6 matches both previously discussed models in terms of its features, such as:
- Heart Rate monitor
- Blood OX Sensor
- Sleep Quality Tracker
- Body Energy Levels
- Hydration & Respiration trackers
- Garmin Pay
On top of those, it comes with a long list of premium features that include:
- Music App – allowing you to store up to 2,000 songs
- Safety Tracking – if the watch senses that an accident has occurred, it sends your location to emergency contacts
- Animated Workouts – makes staying in shape even easier with cardio, strength, yoga and Pilates workouts on the screen
- 2000+ TOPO and Ski maps
I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say that the watch comes with an endless list of perks. Quite frankly, listing them all here would take an eternity. If you want to learn about all, click here.
Naturally, Fenix Pro 6 works with both iPhones and Android smartphones.
Final word: although Fenix Pro 6 is by far the most feature-rich smartwatch produced by Garmin to date, the majority of the essential features for mountain biking enthusiasts can be found in Garmin Instinct that costs ~three times less.
If your budget doesn’t restrain you, Fenix Pro 6 is a luxury smartwatch that you will love from day one. Otherwise, stick to either Instinct or Venu SQ.