Polar Vs Garmin: Comparing Runner’s GPS Devices

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Among the most popular GPS running watches are Polar and Garmin.

But, which is the better choice when looking at Polar vs Garmin GPS running watches? What features are present with Garmin vs Polar GPS watches and vice versa? What is the best GPS running watch?

In this article, we will compare Polar running watches vs Garmin GPS running watches, pointing out similarities, key differences, and who might prefer Polar vs Garmin running watches.

We will cover: 

  • Key Differences Between Polar vs Garmin GPS Running Watches
  • Which is Better? Polar vs Garmin GPS Watches for Runners

Let’s jump in!

A runner looking at their watch.

Key Differences Between Polar vs Garmin GPS Running Watches

Here are a few of the main differences between Polar GPS running watches vs Garmin:

  • Polar running watches tend to offer premium heart rate tracking, with more precise optical heart rate monitoring, heart rate variability, and other heart rate metrics.
  • Garmin running watches focus on overall performance, providing running-specific performance metrics like VO2 max prediction, pacing, recovery, and readiness to train.

Therefore, overall, if you are a runner who likes to train by heart rate, you may be best served by choosing a Polar vs Garmin GPS running watch whereas if you like to train by pace or have special running features to enhance your training aside from heart rate metrics, you might prefer Garmin vs Polar GPS running watches.

This is not to say that Garmin GPS watches do not offer heart rate monitoring or that Polar GPS running watches don’t offer advanced features for runners, accurate pacing, and recovery metrics.

However, the technology and focus tend to deviate between Garmin vs Polar running watches in these areas.

One of the features most beneficial to runners and unique to Polar vs Garmin GPS watches is the Polar five-minute fitness test. These are simple assessments that help evaluate your current aerobic fitness level and estimated VO2 max.

A runner looking at their watch.

Garmin vs Polar GPS Running Watches: Models

Although there are quite a number of SKUs or GPS running watches offered by both Garmin and Polar, here are a few basic price point comparisons between some of the most popular Polar vs Garmin Running Watches:

  • Budget GPS Running Watches: Garmin Forerunner 45 vs Polar M430
  • Mid-range GPS Running Watches: Garmin Forerunner 245 vs Polar Vantage M
  • Premium GPS Running Watches: Garmin Fenix 6 vs Polar Vantage V or Garmin Forerunner 955 vs Polar Pacer GPS running watch 

Even the most basic, entry-level, inexpensive GPS watches from Garmin and Polar offer standard features such as optical heart rate monitoring with wrist-based sensors, pace, distance, time, calorie burn, a stopwatch, and lap function.

The primary differences between the inexpensive GPS running watches and the expensive GPS running watches from either brand are the battery life and the features offered by the brand.

A runner looking at their watch.

Polar vs Garmin GPS Running Watches: Display and Metrics Tracked

Both Garmin and Polar running watches offer a customizable display with different choices of real-time data, such as your total distance or lap distance, pace, workout time, calories burned, heart rate, etc.

After your run is over, both Garmin and Polar watches will provide similar summary data including your average pace, elevation gain, total distance, step count, workout time, etc. 

You can usually scroll through the display while you are actually running to also view this information.

Higher-end models offer things like average steps per minute or even stride length.

There are also Garmin and Polar multisport watches that can track different fitness activities, whether you are training for a triathlon or just doing a cross-training workout to support your running. 

A runner looking at their watch.

This is an important feature to consider if you do tend to do different types of workouts aside from running. 

Overall, most runners prefer the display on Garmin vs Polar GPS running watches, both in terms of how the display actually looks as well as the customization of the display screen.

For example, when comparing the Garmin Forerunner 955 or Garmin Fenix 6 vs Polar Vantage V, the display on the Polar watch is noticeably dimmer and often requires hitting the backlight button which can be a hassle while you are running.

If you are running in bright sun, it often seems that the Garmin display is easier to read than the Polar display.

The best Garmin GPS running watches also are a little bit easier to customize than the best Polar GPS running watches.

For example, with the Polar Vantage running watches, you can customize the display on the six screens, but you have to use the Polar app in order to do so.

The Garmin IQ app allows you to get more personalization of your running watch display with widgets like music and weather for premium models.

A runner looking at their watch.

Polar vs Garmin GPS Running Watches: Battery Life

In general, you will find a much longer battery life with Garmin vs Polar GPS running watches, though the Polar Vantage series is a notable exception.

The Polar Vantage series is said to last 30 and 40 hours in continuous training mode, depending on the mode, whereas the high-end Garmin Fenix series taps out around 24 hours.

While either of these is plenty long for the average distance runner, marathon runner, and even 50k ultramarathon runner, if you do long ultramarathon races, it may be better to go with the Polar Vantage vs Garmin Fenix 6 and Forerunner 945 or 955.

With that said, these Garmin running watches can switch to UltraTrac mode.

This mode can help extend battery life to approximately 60 hours, but it does so by compromising the accuracy of GPS monitoring because the GPS signals are not recorded as frequently. 

Instead, your distance and pace are determined by the accelerometer, which is a much more rudimentary technology and far less accurate than GPS run tracking.

Therefore, if you are doing a trail race with a lot of switchbacks or a run where you are sneaking around in a similar area without a clear straight direction, it is often not useful to switch to this battery-saving mode because your GPS data, and thus your distance, paste, and all of your other relevant running metrics will be inaccurate.

Garmin Forerunner 955 does have solar charging, which may help augment battery life if you are running in an area where the watch can get good access to sunlight.

A runner looking at their watch.

Polar vs Garmin GPS Running Watches: Mapping and Navigation 

The best Polar GPS running watches and Garmin GPS running watches both offer extended features in the app or online to navigate new routes.

If you really struggle with your navigation or tend to run in new areas often, you might be best served by choosing the Garmin Fenix vs Polar GPS watches because there are on-watch color topographic mapping capabilities.

However, keep in mind that the map is extremely small on the watch and won’t necessarily be useful for turn-by-turn directions and clarity but as sort of a saving grace if you are lost and can’t remember how to get back home.

Polar vs Garmin GPS Running Watches: Heart Rate Monitoring 

Long before Polar started making high-quality GPS running watches, the brand was known for making heart rate monitors for fitness

Polar has clearly spent a lot of R&D investing into making the most accurate heart rate monitor running watches.

Even though wrist-based heart rate monitoring via optical LED sensors is not as accurate as chest-based heart rate monitoring, if you do not want to wear a chest strap and want the most accurate heart rate monitor GPS running watch, it is better to go with Polar vs Garmin.

A runner looking at their watch.

The Polar Vantage series running watches are the only GPS running watches currently available that use bio-impedance technology to weed out errors in heart rate monitoring caused by movement.

Additionally, while both Garmin and Polar GPS running watches offer sleep tracking and heart rate monitoring during the day (at least with most models), these biosensors tend to be more accurate with the Polar watches, and features like heart rate variability will also be more reliable with Polar vs Garmin watches for runners.

Which is Better? Polar vs Garmin GPS Watches for Runners

Both Polar and Garmin are reputable manufacturers of premium fitness watches, including top-of-the-line GPS running watches. 

Overall, choosing either a Polar GPS running watch or a Garmin GPS running watch can be an excellent investment in your training. 

While you can’t really go wrong with either Garmin or Polar running watches if you are more interested in heart rate training, you should choose Polar vs Garmin and if you want a more feature-packed, easy-to-customize GPS running watch, you might prefer Garmin vs Polar. 

For suggestions on some of the best heart rate monitors for runners, check out our guide here.

A runner with a heart rate monitor.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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