Best triathlon watch on a budget


There are so many different sports watches available that it can be difficult to figure out which one is best for us triathletes. Especially, if you are on a budget, most triathlon watches can be difficult to afford, generally costing more than $400. This is why we are going to look at the best watches for triathlon that won’t cost you an arm.

TOP 3 CHEAPEST WATCHES FOR TRIATHLON

 

Coros Pace 2


Garmin Forerunner 255



Polar Pacer

  Best value for money
triathlon watch
Cheapest Garmin
triathlon watch
Cheapest
triathlon watch
Best features Running Power
Lightweight
ANT+ compatible
Oximeter sensor
Trace navigation
Oximeter sensor
Polar Flow app
Cons No navigation Price No barometric altimeter
No navigation
Not ANT+ compatible
Best for People who like to have many metrics and a wide range of sensor compatibility. People who prefer the Garmin ecosystem, and are not afraid to pay the price. People on short on budget.
Price Around $200
(Check price on Amazon)
Around $340 
(Check price on Amazon)
Around $180
(Check price on Amazon)

Now let’s dive deeper into why I recommend these 3 watches.

What to look out for when buying a triathlon watch

A triathlon watch cannot be any watch available on the market. You need to be able to record several types of activities: swimming, cycling, and running as well as transition times between each leg of the event. This is why you need a multisport watch.

The watch industry refers to multisport watches as watches with a multisport mode. It consists of the ability to record several sports successively (including transition times) by only having to click on the lap button when switching sports. So multisport watches really exist to let you record a triathlon race.

It’s not because a watch can record each individual sport that you can tie them easily together during a race. This is why you need a multisport watch if you plan to race.

Another key factor to consider when buying a triathlon watch is the ability of the watch to record open-water swimming. Most watches can record easily pool swimming based on the accelerometer and the length of the pool.

But open water swimming is more tricky to record as the GPS can only detect your position when the watch is out of the water. This requires the watch to be able to send and receive signals more frequently which would drain the battery if the software is not clever about it. This is why not all watches have open-water swimming as an option.

Key features for a triathlon watch

  • Triathlon mode (multisport mode)

To be able to race a triathlon and record your activity. By multisport mode, I mean watches that can record several successive sports in one activity. Many watches claim to be multisport but only let you record one activity at a time. I have carefully listed watches that have a real multisport mode.

  • Open water swimming mode

Many watches offer an indoor / pool swimming mode, but not all watches offer an open water mode. Most races will be in open water and it’s very different to swim in the wild. Being able to train in open water with the right watch is an important feature to have. For instance, the notion of time and distance is very different when swimming in the wild because you don’t have the pool length as a reference.

  • Barometer

For better accuracy when running or cycling. The elevation is kind of tricky to measure and important when cycling or trail running. Knowing how much elevation you have done so far can help you better manage the rest of the course if you know the total elevation for this course.

  • Ability to connect to sensors

It’s always useful to connect to a cadence sensor when hopping onto your bike to better gauge your effort when cycling, or to a power meter if you have the desire to. You could also wish to connect to a foot pod or an external heart rate monitor for additional running metrics. This is why it is important that the watch is able to connect to sensors. It is best if the watch can connect to both ANT+ and Bluetooth to use any sensor you may already have.

  • Wrist heart rate monitor

It is more practical to have a wrist HRM. But this is generally the case with all multisport watches nowadays. Anyway, training with heart rate is really to progress. During a race, it will help you know when you have to reduce or increase the intensity. Do not underestimate the power of heart rate data for triathletes.

  • Workouts

Ability to do interval training with the watch. If you planned to do 10x (30s fast / 30s slow), the watch will bip at the beginning and end of each 30s set and tell you what you have to do and how many more times for instance. This is a very useful tool to progress.

What about a watch without multisport mode?

If you don’t care about recording your triathlon races, you might wonder if you can buy a watch without multisport mode to train for a triathlon. This seems legit, but not many watches have running, cycling, pool swimming, and OPEN WATER SWIMMING activities without a multisport mode.

What are the best triathlon budget watches?

Based on these criteria, I listed the 3 cheapest triathlon watches that meet these requirements. The most important features being triathlon mode, open-water swimming, and barometric altimeter.

Coros Pace 2
Best Value for Money

Coros Pace 2 is a really good watch for triathletes with lots of functionalities embedded in a very light watch at a great price!

Coros Pace 2

This watch doesn’t include mapping, touch screen, music, or contactless payment. But with regards to sports functionalities embedded into the watch, it is as good as a mid-end triathlon watch but at about half the cost of it!

You get structured workouts, training plans, and a barometric altimeter for better elevation accuracy. It has lots of sports profiles including triathlon, and open water swimming. The Coros Pace 2 also comes with a very unique running metric directly embedded into the watch: running power.

The watch software is regularly updated by Coros with all the latest improvements and new functionalities.

PROS

  • Price
  • Weight (only 29g)
  • Interface easy to read and use
  • Triathlon profile
  • Open Water Swimming
  • Track running mode
  • Running Power
  • 30h battery in GPS mode
  • Compatible with both ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors
  • Barometric Altimeter
  • Pulse Oximeter Sensor

CONS

  • No mapping
  • No trace navigation
  • No music
  • No contactless payment
  • Single-band GPS

About the single-band GPS:
It means the GPS can only connect to L1 frequencies and not the new L5 ones. The L5 frequencies help have more accurate GPS tracking in cities with tall buildings or if you run in canyons.

These frequencies are new and people have been running without them for years without complaining. Only 50% of satellites did cover L5 frequencies in 2021. So I don’t think you should bother with not having multi-band GPS for triathlon. It may make sense for people doing trails but not necessarily for triathlon.

Coros Pace 2 is recommended for:

People who want a watch very capable in terms of sports metrics while being very easy to use. This watch is already a reference for runners and triathletes and can easily compete with Garmin watches. It is also compatible with a wide range of sensors which makes it a no-brainer.

Definitely my preferred watch in this list of budget triathlon watches.

Garmin Forerunner 255
Cheapest Garmin triathlon watch with high-end features

Garmin is the most popular brand of sports watches. So it is only natural to list a Garmin watch in this search for the cheapest triathlon watch. Many people would prefer to stay in a Garmin environment.

Garmin Forerunner 255 is a very accurate multisport watch, thanks to its multi-band GPS. It integrates most of the features of higher-end watches such as barometric altimeter, Pace Pro, and Climb Pro features as well as the same GPS & Cardio chip as Garmin’s high-end models like Fenix 7. And since it’s a Garmin watch, you also get access to almost all popular training and recovery metrics.

Garmin Forerunner 255

What’s great is that you can also follow a GPS trace directly on your watch. This is great for training if you want to ride or run further or test a new loop without getting lost. The watch can only follow a course pre-loaded on the watch but that’s already good for most people.

Difference between a trace and a map for navigation

If you want to understand better the difference in mapping capabilities in the wide range of Garmin watches. I cover this topic in my article: “Using a Garmin Forerunner for Hiking”.

The real downside of this watch is the price. It’s a bit too expensive for the market segment Garmin was trying to reach. It’s definitely a really good watch but marketed as a cheap entry multisport watch, except it’s got way more features embedded than an entry-level watch; and it costs $50 to $80 more than you would expect.

Garmin Forerunner 255 comes with 4 models:

  • Garmin 255
  • Garmin 255 music
  • Garmin 255S
  • Garmin 255S music

In terms of content, they are all identical, except the ones labeled ‘music’ which include the ability to load music onto the watch or connect to Spotify, etc. If you want to know more about the music mode for Garmin watches, you can read this other article I wrote about it.

The ‘S’ version is a smaller size version of the watch (41mm case size vs 46mm for the normal version). The ‘S’ version is best for people with a smaller wrist. In my case, I do not enjoy the large version, I prefer the ‘S’ version as I find the other one too bulky to wear. But that’s a question of preference.

PROS

  • Interface easy to read and use
  • Garmin software (with updates)
  • Pace Pro & Climb Pro features
  • Triathlon profile
  • Open Water Swimming
  • Trace
  • Track running mode
  • 30h battery in GPS mode
  • Compatible with Bluetooth sensors
  • Barometric Altimeter
  • Pulse Oximeter sensor
  • Contactless payment
  • Multi-band GPS

CONS

  • Price
  • Weight (39g for the ‘S’, 49g for the normal)
  • No detailed mapping
  • Music – requires buying a specific version with music (about $50 more expensive)

Garmin Forerunner 255 is recommended for:

People who would like a watch very capable in terms of sports metrics with some additional perks like contactless payment or an oximeter. But these features come at a non-negligible price. However, Garmin’s ecosystem is a good reason to go for it!

Polar Pacer
Cheapest multisport watch

Polar Pacer released price tag is the same as Coros Pacer 2 but Polar Pacer is regularly in sale with up to 20% reduction, which makes this watch the cheapest with triathlon mode.

Polar Pacer

Polar has always been known in the market of sports watches for the detailed metrics and analytics you can get after recording an activity. Compared to Coros, you get better-detailed metrics analysis as Coros is much newer on the market. Polar Flow app is also much better than Coros.

But Polar is lacking a bit behind compared to Garmin and Coros. For instance, the display is smaller than other watches even though the case is 45mm and there are fewer pixels than its competitors. The watch does not have a barometric altimeter, which will reduce the accuracy when doing an activity with elevation (like cycling, trail running, or skiing…). And the watch is new without taking on-board new features. So I am worried Polar is not heading in a good direction for the future.

But Polar Pacer is a good watch for triathletes with all you need for a very cheap price. However, I believe having a barometric altimeter makes a big difference, and Coros has this feature for a similar price. You can unlock it with the Polar Pacer Pro, but it costs $100 more.

But this triathlon watch is definitely the cheapest, that’s why I believe it has its place in this top for people with a very small budget.

PROS

  • Price
  • 35h battery in GPS mode
  • Polar software
  • Triathlon profile
  • Open Water Swimming
  • Detailed metrics
  • Polar Flow app

CONS

  • No barometric altimeter
  • No trace navigation
  • No detailed mapping
  • Single-band GPS
  • No music
  • Not compatible with all sensors (but the list is quite good) no ANT+
  • No contactless payment
  • Less intuitive to use

Polar Pacer is recommended for:

People who are very short on budget or would like to start triathlon with something accessible first.

Things you need with your smart tra...
Things you need with your smart trainer

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