Best Cheap Triathlon Watches (2021)
If you’re not looking for a luxury item but rather a simple and cheap sports watch to track your triathlon training and race days all the while not burning a hole into your wallet, keep reading.
Triathlon watches have reached the point where the latest models, e.g from Garmin, have become somewhat of a luxury item as they offer way more than what an average user actually needs, combining a sports watch with a smartwatch. Well, yea, you could argue that you also want the watch to read your mind for input, and, of course, who would forget, for it to do the dishes for you, so there’s definitely more to ask for. However, at the end of the day they’re just wristwatches…
10 of The Best Cheap Triathlon Watches
You won’t find a suitable triathlon watch for dirt cheap unless you settled for the absolute minimum. Water resistance up to at least 50m deep is pretty much a standard for every watch on this list.
But if you were to add to that the modern looks, compatibility with external sensors, wrist-based HR, GPS, Bluetooth connectivity for apps & widgets, an actual “triathlon mode”, and a whole bunch of additional more advanced features and possibilities, the price tag starts to rise. That said, at some point down this list you may find some of the watches listed here being an overkill for your needs and maybe even out of your budget.
Listed here are cheaper sports watches that at the time of writing were still supported for the most part.
#1 Timex Ironman Classic 30
Handsome in its own simplicity, the cheapest sports watch for triathlon on this particular list, the Timex Ironman Classic 30(full-sized for men, mid-sized for women). It provides you with the minimum.
It’s basically a quality stopwatch with 30 lap memory, countdown timer, customizable alarm, 100-Hour Chronograph with lap and split times, 100m (330ft) water resistance, a decade* long battery life, and a display screen that can light up in the dark (+ a calender, 3 different time zone clock times, and a few more simple things like that). Easy to read, easy to use.
Essentially, what that means for triathlon is that you can time your distance in swim (laps in pool), bike and run. It’s just a practical and cheap sports watch.
It is NOT a smartwatch, it does not have GPS, no Bluetooth connectivity for getting apps & widgets, and no external sensors either, so no “triathlon mode” nor Heart Rate monitoring. And no advanced nor even just relatively basic features. Just the bare minimums as was mentioned earlier.
#2 Garmin Forerunner 35
Second on the list is a fairly big jump (I believe it to be a necessary one) in terms of both price and functionality from the bare minimum to basics with Garmin Forerunner 35. Though still cheap.
This one is basically a running watch with added sports modes that support triathlon elements to some extent, but not fully (e.g no transitions, no “triathlon mode”, no open water swim support). It’s got all the things the Ironman Classic 30 has for the most part (instead of a decade-long battery life, it’s more like days, but this one is rechargeable). On top of those things, FR35 has interval tracking, though a linear one, also built-in GPS tracking functionalities, Bluetooth connectivity for additional apps & widgets, compatibility with external sensors, and some more.
For how it factors into triathlon however, I wouldn’t recommend it for serious athletes. It gives you a sense of more meaning to your training and racing in run and bike, but its GPS tracking is not super accurate. Perfect for beginners or intermediates on a budget though. On top of just timing your distance in swim, bike and run, built-in GPS functionality allows you to track your distance, cadence and pace (except for swim, mainly for run instead), and offers more tracking data in general, such as step count, heart rate, calories burned, etc.
It does NOT support open water swim tracking and it doesn’t have a “triathlon mode” nor are the GPS related readings perfectly accurate. No advanced features either.
#3 Amazfit Stratos
Amazfit Stratos by Xiaomi tries to be a lot of things, including a watch for triathlon. An actual “budget” watch that tries to do everything the higher end fitness trackers do. It’s so much cheaper because it’s a Chinese fitness watch.
It’s a GPS enabled multi-sport smartwatch with wrist-based HR. Although Amazfit Stratos has more features than say Garmin Forerunner 735XT, reliability comes at a price and having lots of features for the sake of having lots of features doesn’t sit right with me. It basically tries to do everything the previous watches do and more. From your minimums and through basics to some more advanced tracking features (VO2max, recovery time, etc). Additionally, more in the line of general fitness tracking features, step tracking, calorie tracking, and even sleep tracking; notifications, Bluetooth connectivity for pairing with external devices (sensors, music players – Stratos has an on board music storage -, etc), etc.
Triathlon is recognized as an option among other sports modes with Amazfit Stratos (meaning it has a mode/app for triathlon) as it does support open water swim tracking. The open water swim algorithms are kind of not specified anywhere for me to make an educated judgement, so I wouldn’t expect Garmin level accuracy in open water GPS readings. Neither the wrist-based HR sensor nor the touchscreen work under water. However, it’s got buttons with which you can navigate through everything in the watch while touchscreen happens to be disabled.
It is NOT super accuracte when it comes to swim tracking.
#4 Garmin Vivoactive HR
This is something that looks like it’s trying to be a combination of a smartwatch, with a colored touchscreen and all, daily activity tracker and a sports watch, the Garmin Vivoactive HR. Relatively basic with lots of options, not too cheap anymore, but not exactly expensive either, relatively speaking.
Simply put, it’s a GPS enabled activity tracker, mainly focused on tracking runs. True, it’s otherwise called a multi-sport smartwatch with daily activity tracking functionalities and a wrist-based HR technology, but it’s mainly just an activity tracker in my book. It does almost everything when it comes to being a general fitness tracker, but it will most certainly try to stop you from taking things too seriously. VAHR just does a lot of things (tracks swim, bike, run, walk, skiing, paddle boarding, golfing, etc, and their associated metrics, and more). But the thing is, the more sophisticated things get, the more inaccurate they become and you’re left with just a general ballpark for data in those areas.
In terms of triathlon, it can definitely be a handy companion during your training and racing, no doubt. But if you took the competitive nature of the sport too seriously, I can imagine you wanting to pull out your hair over inaccurate readings from time to time.
It does NOT support open water swim tracking (but you can kind of force it on with some apps, though the data afterwards will look like you were drunk while swimming) and it doesn’t have a “triathlon mode” either. Also, GPS readings are not perfectly accurate here and there and there are no advanced metrics.
#5 Garmin Vivoactive 3
Garmin Vivoactive 3 too has a colored touch screen, but looks much nicer than VAHR. This one’s also relatively basic when it comes to triathlon related tracking features.
It’s a GPS enabled multi-sport smartwatch with wrist-based HR, much like Garmin Vivoactive HR, but slightly better. You’ll get some additional advanced features like VO2max, but no advanced running metrics the higher end watches tend to have. It otherwise does pretty much everything as a general fitness tracker, much like Vivoactive HR.
For triathlon, Garmin Vivoactive 3 is an upgrade from Garmin Vivoactive HR mainly in terms of style and, to some extent, accuracy, and perhaps also in terms of some additional features that don’t directly tie into triathlon however.
It does NOT support open water swim tracking (but you can kind of force it on with some apps, though the data afterwards will look like you were drunk while swimming) and it doesn’t have a “triathlon mode” either.
#6 Garmin Forerunner 735XT
FR735XT, one of the first true triathlon watches on this list, but it’s not “cheap” (though not exactly “expensive” either, relatively speaking).
It’s a GPS-enabled multi-sport smartwatch with wrist-based HR, more accurate when it comes to GPS readings and supports open water swim tracking among other slightly more advanced things. One such more advanced feature would be an actual “triathlon mode”, the most important one in this article’s context. Otherwise it does pretty much everything, again. In all honesty though, you don’t exactly need all those fancy things to begin with, they’re (very) nice-to-haves.
It’s an actual triathlon watch for once.
It does NOT do your dishes.
#7 Polar Vantage M
You can think of Polar Vantage M as the direct competitor of the FR735XT. It’s more than a general fitness tracker, decent for triathlon.
This one is also a GPS-enabled multi-sport smartwatch with wrist-based HR. When compared to FR735XT, the choice between them ultimately comes down to which one you like more. In a sense, they’re equal. However, you do have to consider some rumoring information that go against the Polar Vantage M, such as delay GPS signal connection, the often times sporadic readings from the optical heart rate sensor, and no ANT+ compatibility. Battery lasts for longer though.
It’s almost perfect for triathlon training/racing if it wasn’t for the lack of ANT+ connectivity, but if you didn’t use external senors, Polar Vantage M can be a good option.
It does NOT feature ANT+ compatibility (that means you can’t have ANT+ external monitoring devices for additional tracking data).
#8 TomTom Multisport
TomTom Multisport watch is a relatively basic when it comes to triathlon. 8th on the list by the way…
It’s a GPS enabled multisport watch. For what it does, it’s reliably good quality for every other individual sports mode but swim, less so when you’re unlucky and end up with a defective one (in which case you can most likely get it replaced depending where and when you buy/bought it; some obvious nuances involved there that can’t be discussed here). It’s not to say it doesn’t support both indoor and outdoor swim tracking, but it’s not perfectly accurate when it comes to swim tracking.
As for triathlon, the accuracy in both indoor and outdoor swim isn’t all that great, but you’ll still get a general ballpark of data out of it at the very least. For other areas, it’s decent enough.
It does NOT have a “triathlon mode”, no wrist-based HR. It’s not a smartwatch. Swim tracking not decent enough for a more serious athlete.
#9 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
9th on this list is Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR. Somewhat decent for triathlon.
It’s a GPS enabled multi-sport watch with wrist-based HR. In swim, you’ll probably get a general ballpark of information rather than super accurate readings. Other things it does just fine.
Triathlon wise, it does have a triathlon mode and on paper supports open water swim tracking among other things.
It is NOT ANT+ compatible and doesn’t have GLONASS.
#10 Coros Pace
Coros Pace fills the gap between high-end smartwatches and consumer-oriented fitness trackers. It’s fairly decent for triathlon training/racing.
It’s a great value GPS enabled multi-sport smartwatch with wrist-based HR. There’s a whole lot of crap it can do as it’s at the end of the list here, so go figure.
Capable triathlon watch.
It does NOT do you dishes.
How To Choose a Cheap Triathlon Watch?
Even cheaper triathlon watches can track swimming, biking, and running, and offer various tri-specific features.
Generally speaking, the cheaper the watch, the less features and other supportive elements it has. But there are features you might actually need that you don’t know know about. Following are the features you might want to find in your triathlon watch.
A multi-sport watch is a watch that supports more than just one sport activity (e.g running). Each supported activity gets its own set of additional data fields for tracking said sport. Those “sport modes” can be swapped between at your demand. Usually the tracked data is stored and can be transferred elsewhere from the watch for a better overview and management (excluding the stopwatch). Some multi-sport watches have a “triathlon mode” that tracks the swim, transition, bike, transition, and run altogether.
First off, even the cheaper watches are made water resistant. The more sophisticated the watch is, the more metrics you get for tracking your swimming and other sport activities. The cheapest on the list is basically just a stopwatch, so it only tracks your time you yourself need to know the distance or count the laps for. Having GPS allows you to track additional metrics like the distance, usually coupled with pace, etc, and that in open water where it can actually acquire GPS signal.
More sophisticated watches have better open water GPS technology for making sense of the data for when the watch goes under water where it loses the GPS signal. Going even more sophisticated you start to get watches with predict technologies that try to count the laps for you in the pool, also the amount of strokes you make, how efficient you are, and even tell the style you swim in, etc, all the while just wearing it on your wrist.
Although useful on paper, the more sophisticated elements may not be very reliable and to me seem more like fancy toys given their fail rate, allowing sellers to increase the price of the whole package for “added value”.
There are more and more things these watches can potentially do (no, not the dishes), but I hope you got the picture from that alone.
Compatibility With External Sensors
External sensors often times give more reliable readings than built-in ones. Garmin watches, if they’re not decade* old, tend to have what’s called ANT+ wireless technology for pairing the ticker with external sensors.
For example, though granted, a built-in wrist-based optical heart rate sensor, with its added associated features like calorie and sleep tracking, can be super convenient, but it tends to give false readings from time to time due to various circumstances. To mitigate those false readings for when accuracy is important, an external chest strap is used to monitor heart rate more reliably (heart rate readings can be of vital importance in certain cases).
Some cheaper tri watches simply don’t support such a thing, so in case you weren’t aware of it already, now you know what to watch out for as per your needs.
This is fairly simple of a concept, but you might want to consider the battery life of your triathlon GPS watch, be it cheap or not, with GPS set on enabled depending on what triathlon distances you’re thinking of tackling. Some cheap triathlon watches tend to last just barely enough for a full Ironman for example.
Some cheap tri watches can look and feel too bulky. Usually the thinner and lighter the watch the better.
More Cheap Triathlon Watches
There are loads of nuances to consider when compiling a list such as this. Some people might prioritize certain features over others, be it music for example. Also, some triathletes don’t give a damn about “triathlon mode” and can do without it just fine, etc. So based on your criteria(s) you might be baffled as to why I didn’t put a certain cheap triathlon watch up there on the list.
Some of the following models aren’t supported any longer, so in case of issues you’d just have to live with it.
- Garmin Forerunner 920XT (used watches still circulating on the market)
- Garmin Forerunner 310XT (used watches still circulating on the market)
(links open in a new tab)
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