With close to a year of daily use, the Garmin fēnix 6 Pro (begins at $550) is the best GPS running watch I have ever used.
I really value the simplicity of running. The complexity of bike racing is partly what steered me away from it in my twenties. Yet over time, even running has gotten complicated. It no longer seems that all we need is a pair of shoes to be a runner. Now there is so much extra gear: a hydration pack, a cellphone for Spotify and Strava, headphones, a separate fitness tracker, extra clothing, a heart rate strap, snacks, bottles, and more!
The running industry implores us to make this stuff a requirement to get on the trails. In a quest to simplify, I’ve found the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro to be an accessory killer, removing mostly the big, bulky, and expensive iPhone from my running and daily life.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is one of their most expensive devices, but if you want a watch that functions as the one and only watch you’ll ever need, this is it. This does assume, of course, that you’re comfortable with the Garmin ecosystem; my own trail running was powered almost entirely by Suunto before I began this test. This watch was my first Garmin.
The learning curve is much higher than Suunto’s, but the payoff is incredible. And unless Suunto makes a drastic change to its software, the brand will continue to lag very far behind Garmin. Suunto is superior in terms of hardware; in fact, I wrote in iRunFar’s best GPS watches for running guide that the Suunto 9 Peak Titanium is the best designed and most beautiful watch of the last few years. But if you are thirsty for data and features, Garmin has them.
Read on to learn more about the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro and why we named it the best overall GPS watch for running in our Best GPS Watches for Running article.Shop the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro General Features
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro has a rugged look and feel; it’s not the lightest watch or the most streamlined. The display is sunlight-readable; the bezel is made of stainless steel.
The price of the watch depends on three things: the size of the case (42, 47, and 51 millimeters), the material (standard or sapphire glass), the addition of solar, and the inclusion or exclusion of various premium features.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is chock-full of features that are at the top of the line for any watch out there: super-long battery life, extremely accurate tracking, a plethora of maps, rapid processing that makes switching between features easy, connectivity to off-watch apps, about every health-tracking metric you’d ever want, and a huge amount of internal storage for music.
When heading out for a long run or race, you need to make sure your battery is going to last. The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro doesn’t have the best battery life on the market, but when combined with other features, the battery performance is easy to overlook.
I was able to get two weeks of performance from the watch in smartwatch mode — this means GPS tracking combined with notifications enabled. Garmin claims that the watch will last for 48 days when used in its lowest battery setting.
The watch is fairly consistent with Garmin’s claims; I tested the watch on runs of up to nine hours several times per week. On an overnight trip in the backcountry, I began with a battery of 99%, used the navigation full time, and still had five days of battery life remaining, even after tracking off-trail movement for over 14 hours.
GPS accuracy stands out in the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro. Satellite navigation and tracking functions are combined with a three-axis compass, gyroscope, and barometric altimeter. The watch supports three systems — GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo — that help track in more challenging environments than GPS alone.
The microchip in a GPS watch is responsible for the relay between the processor and the storage devices (such as maps and music). The quality and modernity of the chipset will affect the watch’s processing speed, such as navigating between screens and selecting functions.
The processing speed in the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is fantastic; where many watches take a frustratingly long time to react and transition, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is above average in its processing. The only area where it’s a bit lethargic is in maps mode, to zoom in or out and to pan around the screen.
Maps and Navigation
The most standout feature of the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro for ultrarunners who really like to get out into new areas, particularly in the backcountry, is its mapping and navigation capability. The watch comes preloaded with topographic maps — even ski maps for over 2,000 resorts — and in some ways is a suitable replacement to standalone navigation apps like Gaia or CalTopo.
Connecting the Garmin Connect App
Connecting the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro to the Garmin Connect app is very simple. Should you have multiple Garmin watches, the Garmin app can sync more than one watch at a time, which keeps your data straight.
The app itself is centered largely around fitness monitoring, such as pedometer, calories, women’s health, respiration rate, stress, and relaxation reminders. But it’s also the catalyst for designing routes or importing GPX routes that you want to run. Sending the file to the device happens with a single touch.
Music Storage and Access
It’s a real joy to go running without a phone, especially on local trails where I’m not concerned with having a camera or safety. In addition to downloading offline Spotify playlists, which we’ll talk about below, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro has 32 gigabytes of internal storage, so you can put thousands of mp3 files on the device.
However, listening to music is a battery drain; it can handle only about 10 hours of continuous play before the watch pivots to an extreme battery-saving mode or just outright stops music playback entirely.
How the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Interfaces With Strava on the Run
In the time of COVID-19, several trends have emerged in running, including the explosion of fastest known times. In 2020, the Fastest Known Time (FKT) website received 3,054 FKT submissions in North America alone, an increase of 400% from the previous year. While I went after just one FKT during my testing period with the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, I almost exclusively forwent sanctioned races for local personal challenges.
As a supplement to FKTs, Strava is the place to see how you stack up. Using the app on your phone while racing is nice, as it alerts you to the segment start and finish along with your in-progress splits.
Until the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro came along, you would literally have to run with your phone in order to utilize this feature. But now, the watch mimics the app’s segment data just by syncing the Garmin Connect app to your favorite Strava segments — no phone required.
How the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Interfaces With Spotify on the Run
Garmin’s heft in the marketplace has enabled it to acquire third-party permissions that no other watch company has to date, with offline streaming for Spotify available on the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro. Just like Strava, streaming music during your runs means bringing your phone and a pair of headphones. However, Suunto, Coros, Polar, and others haven’t been given this same access to the streaming music platforms.
The process is simple: Give the Garmin Connect app access to the Spotify app, scroll and select which playlists or podcasts to sync. It’s brilliant. Now you can run with the same access to music that your phone provides, without the phone! You do need a pair of wireless headphones, though.
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro General Health Tracking
Whoop, Oura, Fitbit, Noom, and glucose monitors — it feels like there’s a biometric tracker for every aspect of our health. Many of us appreciate this kind of data, helping us to benchmark and set daily goals for movement and sleep and our general health over time.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro does an excellent job of eliminating the need for these additional pieces of equipment. Its capabilities include heart rate tracking, calories burned, blood oxygen saturation, heart rate variability, hydration tracking, and menstrual tracking.
I really like the Body Battery feature that shows your body’s energy levels throughout the day so you can find the best times for activity and rest. Although absolute precision can sometimes be off for these metrics, we accept that the information provides a solid and consistent baseline, especially as a nonmedical-grade piece of equipment.
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Overall Impressions
Though it has a ton of features, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro won’t be for every trail runner and ultrarunner.
If you need a watch oriented for 200-mile races, then you’d be better off finding a watch with solar charging. While some Fenix 6 Pro models offer this, the Garmin Enduro is the best option. And some of us would prefer a precise altimeter, barometric pressures, and compass information over battery and processing power reserved.
On the other hand, if there are only a handful of times per year where you run more than 10 hours, this watch might be overbuilt, bulky, and more expensive than you prefer.
You could go lighter and less expensive with just as powerful a battery in a watch like the Coros Apex. Or, heck, if you just want a plain GPS watch without too many features, you could buy a cheap but nice watch for a quarter of the price on Amazon. One iRunFar reader has recommended the TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE cellular smartwatch, which costs $300.
So, what makes the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro worth every cent of its admittedly expensive price? The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro has the most impressive combination of battery life, connectivity to apps and special features, incredible preloaded maps, and the best navigation system I’ve used.
I love how this watch gives me the best features of apps and equipment without needing to bring them along. Compared to a phone, it’s obviously not entirely a replacement.
The watch won’t take pictures, text, or phone someone in an emergency. It won’t feed me when I’m bonking or hydrate me when I’m thirsty. And it certainly won’t warm me when I’m cold. But for how it especially excels with Strava, music, and health tracking, it’s an incredible tool.Shop the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
Call for Comments
- Have you used the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro? How does it compare to other Garmin watches?
- Does anyone out there not use a GPS watch at all anymore?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]
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