The best Garmin watches for life in the military

Staying in shape and on course just got a whole lot easier.

Best Overall

Garmin tactix 7 Pro Ballistics Edition

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Best Tactical

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Tactical Edition

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Best Budget

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

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Garmin watches are generally regarded as the best in the business, but anecdotal testimonies don’t really paint an accurate picture of just how dominant the brand is in the outdoor space. In 2021, for example, Garmin raked in a whopping $4.98 billion in revenue. That’s a lot of smartwatches, gang.

Technically, a lot of that money was spent on GPS units, dive computers, satellite communicators, and equipment for aviation and maritime use — but the fact remains that Garmin has serious dough, know-how, and drive to create unparalleled GPS watches for military and civilian use. Just ask the Navy aviators who used their Garmins to navigate home after an aerial mishap, or, you know, any lost lieutenant

I sifted through Garmin’s extensive watch catalog to find the very best ones for military personnel. That includes battle-hardened watches built for combat and comfortable training assistants to help you dominate your next fitness test. The ones that made the cut to appear on this list are, hands-down, the best Garmin watches for life in the military. Here’s why they deserve a place on your wrist.

Best Overall

Garmin tactix 7 Pro Ballistics Edition

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Best Tactical

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Tactical Edition

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Best Budget

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

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Best for Fitness

Garmin fenix 7 Sapphire Solar

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Things to consider before buying a Garmin watch

You have a lot of options when it comes to GPS watches and smartwatches. Once you rule out alternatives like the Suunto 7 (which is great in town but not built for hard field use) and Apple Watch (which works seamlessly with other Apple products but has lackluster battery life), you’ll need to decide where in Garmin’s massive product range you should be looking.

Garmin’s website currently lists 30 models in the watches and wearables category. Each has multiple options, creating a buying environment ripe for paralysis by analysis. One way to narrow your search is by price. Then, you can prioritize which features and characteristics you care about most.  

Features

How do you plan on using your Garmin watch? Fitness apps, health tracking, and convenience features like control over your music are available on even the budget-friendly Forerunner 245 Music. Upgrading may or may not get you a better display — the Instinct 2 Solar Tactical Edition has a simple black and white display — but it will allow you to enjoy more advanced health monitoring, navigation, and activity-specific apps.

Battery life

If you’re new to Garmin watches, battery life is going to be a pleasant surprise. With the exception of our budget pick, any of the watches on this list would put an Apple Watch to shame. While other smartwatch manufacturers brag about batteries that last 18 hours, it’s common to get several weeks out of a Garmin. With careful GPS use and ample exposure to sunlight, solar models can last longer than a month.

Size

Most Garmin watches are sized similarly to the other options on the market. Frankly, they’re not very different from a lot of analog dive watches. The exception is the mammoth tactix series. Garmin’s flagship GPS watch has a bezel diameter of 51 millimeters and stands 15 millimeters tall on the wrist. Depending on your needs, that could be an asset because it means you get a giant display — or it could be too bulky. You’ll have to decide that for yourself.

FAQs about Garmin watches

Q: How much does a Garmin watch cost?

A: The entry-level Forerunner 245 Music has an MSRP of $349.99, and prices go all the way up to $1,599.99 for the loaded tactix 7 Pro Ballistics Edition

Q: Are Garmin watches worth it?

A: Garmin does a great job of offering watches at a wide range of prices so you can pay for only the features you need. No matter which one you buy, you’ll get a segment-leading product that’s trusted around the world.

Q: Are Garmin watches compatible with iPhones?

A: Yes, although some add-on apps are only compatible with Android devices.

Q: Are Garmin watches waterproof?

A: The Forerunner 245 Music has a water-resistance rating of 50 meters. All the other watches on this list have a waterproof rating of 100 meters.

Final thoughts

The Garmin tactix 7 Pro Ballistics Edition is the undeniable king of the hill right now (as it should be, for $1,600). It’s jam-packed with military tech that’s a genuine asset on battlefields anywhere in the world. If you don’t need every single bell and whistle, you can get the price as low as $1,099.99 for the standard model.  

Methodology 

Narrowing down the best Garmin watches can be daunting and subjective. In this case, I focused my attention on determining which ones work best in a military context. That might mean navigating uncharted terrain during a deployment to a hostile environment, or it could mean keeping you on pace to crush your annual fitness test. Features like night vision compatibility and stealth mode were given preference, but so were ones like contactless payment and the ability to control your music during a training run on your own time. I did my best to narrow the extensive list of Garmin watches currently available to the best overall, the best on a budget, and the best in two other price categories.

In the case of the tactix 7 and Instinct 2, I was able to put test units through their paces myself over the span of several months. You’ll find specific aspects of those watches that stood out in their respective sections of this gear guide.

The result of this is a Garmin watch review that’s written from a military perspective for people in the military — or those who have separated and are keeping the tradition alive.

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Scott Murdock

Commerce Reporter

Scott Murdock is a Task & Purpose commerce writer and Marine Corps veteran. Since 2020, he’s selflessly committed himself to experiencing the best gear, gadgets, stories, and alcoholic beverages in the service of you, the reader.