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A Deep Dive Into The Garmin Fenix 5
The Garmin Fenix 5 is the pinnacle of outdoor adventure racing watches – released in early March 2017.
We loved the Fenix 3 but the Fenix 5 will feature on more people’s wrists due to the 3 x different case sizes.
All models come with Garmin Elevate – off the wrist heart rate monitoring. A fantastic watch in all aspects from design to form and functionality.
This review of the Garmin Fenix 5 has been brought to you by Tristan Haskins aka CardioCritic
Who Is It For?
The Garmin Fenix range is for the user looking for the highest quality sports watch in a bomb-proof case.
There’s not a sport that the Fenix 5 doesn’t cater for. All the Fenix 5 models feature Garmin Elevate strapless heart rate sensors, taking heart rate directly off the wrist (no chest strap required).
The Fenix 5 watches are all equipped with the 3 essential components of an ABC watch, Altimeter, Barometer and Compass.
The Garmin Fenix 5 continues to provide a watch worthy of the world’s best outdoor adventure racers. Whether you’re mountaineering, orienteering, adventure racing or “just” running a marathon, the Fenix 5 could be for you.
Here’s CardioCritic’s video review of the Garmin Fenix 5. It’s maybe more of a product ‘walk through’ than a technical review.
The aim of my videos is to give prospective owners a genuine hands-on feel for the product – how it works, what it does and does not do.
Hugely Functional GPS Sports Watch
It’s quite remarkable just what this watch can do. Reading the features and functions of the Fenix 5 reads like the specification from 10 different dedicated sports watches.
It encompasses the features and functions of the following watch types / categories
- FITNESS watch with advanced fitness tracker including 24/7 heart rate tracking
- RUNNING watch with technical functions specifically for advanced runners e.g Lactate Threshold & Recovery analysis
- TRIATHLON watch with a dedicated Triathlon mode for SWIM to BIKE to RUN times and transitions
- CYCLE computer with everything from power meter support to Functional Threshold Power (FTP)
- SWIM watch with detailed swim-metrics including SWOLF score
- GOLF watch with the ability to download golf course maps from thousands of courses
- SKI/SNOWBOARD watch with automatic detection of uplift and downhill time
- KAYAK / SUP watch provides speed and distance feedback plus STROKE count, stroke rate and distance per stroke
- CLIMBING watch with vertical speed ascent and descent data
- ORIENTEERING watch with breadcrumb follow and waypoint to waypoint navigation (all models) plus detailed OS based map (Fenix 5X only)
- There’s more I’m quite sure !!
The 3 main differences between these Fenix 5 range of watches and the Fenix 3 predecessor are
The addition of Bluetooth connectivity for heart rate, speed and cadence sensors (previously only ANT+ sensors were compatible).
The Fenix 5 is available in 3 sizes (see below for more details).
This is GREAT NEWS for those with smaller wrists looking for a GPS sports watch that is as robust as it is discrete
All Fenix 5 versions incorporate Garmin’s Elevate wrist based heart rate monitoring system. A chest strap can still be used for those who want 100% accuracy from their heart rate data.
However, for most people, the convenience of wrist based heart rate at 95%+ accuracy for 95%+ of the time will relegate the chest strap to the bottom drawer.
Note > if you are happy with the mid-sized unit and ANT+ sensors (not Bluetooth) then consider the cheaper Garmin Fenix 3 HR with wrist based heart rate.
For all serious athletes this new Training Status feature is a major breakthrough. It’s difficult knowing when or if you’ve got your training load balanced correctly. The Fenix 5 has 7 x Training Status levels – Detraining > Unproductive > Recovery > Maintaining > Productive > Peaking > Overreaching
Predicted VO2 Max Score
In addition to the Training Status shown above the Fenix 5 also provides a predicted VO2 Max score. There are TWO values for this fitness measurement value – VO2 for Cycling and Vo2 for Running. Your predicted VO2 Max score is calculated following each training session. The data is all backed up on the Garmin Connect app providing the user with a historical review of their fitness progression.
Garmin Elevate HR sensors
All Fenix 5 models are fitted with Garmin Elevate wrist based heart rate sensor for convenience and 24/7 heart rate monitoring.
For those who insist on 100% accuracy, all models of Fenix 5 can be used with a Bluetooth or ANT+ heart rate sensor belt.
At CardioCritic we use these watches, daily, as part of our personal training. For myself, I would suggest that the Fenix 5 will give approximately 98% heart rate accuracy for 98% of the time.
When partaking in steady pace exercise I regularly see 100% accuracy for 100% of the time, comparing heart rate to a traditional chest strap.
However, when partaking in VERY HIGH intensity interval work, I have, on occassion, seen the odd spike or drop out.
Heart Rate Drop Out during Interval session
The graph below was taken from my own personal training data. Feel free to view the entire session here – CardioCritic Indoor Training.
The graph is perfect throughout with this one exception. Around 30 minutes during a steady ramp up to 160 BPM the Fenix 5 temporarily fails to acquire accurate heart rate data. It only lasts about 45 seconds and it fully recovers.
Examples of Training Data – RUNNING
The data shown below has been extracted from my Garmin Connect account following a short 3mile run. With the Garmin Fenix 5 the user has access to the following metrics
- Pace (average, max, per lap etc)
- Heart Rate
- Performance condition (looks to see if your fitness is improving comared to other previous runs)
- Running Cadence (strides per minute)
- Split times
- Time in Heart Rate Zones
Detailed Graph of Run Route
Performance Condition, Cadence & Temperature
As you run your Fenix 5 analyzes your pace, heart rate, and heart rate variability to make a real-time assessment of performance condition.
Your ability to perform compared to your average fitness level. At some time during the first 6 to 20 minutes the Fenix 5 displays your performance condition score.
Performance condition can also be an indicator of fatigue level, especially at the end of a long training run. A score between 2 to 10 is GOOD. Above 11 is EXCELLENT. -1 to +1 is BASELINE. -2 to -10 is FAIR and -11 to -20 is POOR.
Next Model UP
This would be the Garmin Forerunner 935 aimed at triathletes, multisport and elite athletes. It provides some of the very best training feedback with Training Load, Training Effect (aerobic and anaerobic) and Training Status (featured in this Fenix 5).
The 935 also features barometric pressure sensor but lacks some of the navigational features found on the Fenix range (e.g. routes)
Garmin Forerunner 935 reviewed here – the best all round GPS sports watch for those not interested GPX route navigation.
Next Model DOWN
The next models down are the Fenix 3, without the built-in HR, and the Fenix 3 HR.
If you are happy with the regular sized casing (47mm) and you don’t need Bluetooth accessory support then the Fenix 3 and Fenix 3 HR still come HIGHLY recommended. (April 2017)
It’s quite difficult to recommend a direct alternative to the Garmin Fenix 5 range of watches as it really depends on what is drawing you to them.
A majority of people will be attracted by it’s solid looks, robust case, scratch resistant glass, built-in GPS and wrist based heart rate.
Add to that essential navigational features like waypoint to waypoint navigation and breadcrumb trail route follow.
Watches that come closest to this are the Suunto Spartan range. For those with a race / training time less than 9 hours there is the Spartan Sport Wrist HR.
For those looking for a fully featured ABC outdoor adventure racing watch it would have to be the Spartan Sport Ultra (currently not available with wrist based HR, but I am certain coming very soon ….) [April 2017]
Suunto Spartan Sport reviewed here – best suited to triathletes and other multisport exercisers – this version requires a chest strap
Spartan Sport Wrist HR reviewed here – best suited to triathletes and other multisport exercisers – featuring off the wrist heart rate
Suunto Spartan Ultra reviewed here – best suited to outdoor adventure racers and ultra marathon / Ironman – chest strap required
Post Ride Training Data
Similarly, when cycling the Fenix 5 records high levels of performance metrics and displays them in graphical form on the Garmin Connect app or website.
Garmin Connect recalls graphical feedback for Heart Rate, Speed, Cadence, Power, Temperature and Performance Condition.
Summary Training Data
Time in Zones Graphs (Heart Rate & Power)
A major innovation in the new range is the SIZES. This is the first time Garmin have released a product in 3 different sized cases. The Garmin Fenix 5 is available in 42mm, 47mm and 51mm cases.
The models in the new Fenix 5 range go hand in hand with the 3 x different case sizes.
We have the smallest 42mm Fenix 5S, then the regular 47mm Garmin Fenix 5and finally the huge Fenix 5X.
An important point of fact here is that it’s ONLY the largest Fenix 5X that supports mapping. The Fenix 5x comes preloaded with TOPO mapping, routable cycling maps, guidance cues, points of interest, data overlays,
Garmin Fenix 5s (small / 42mm case)
This is the smallest version, the Fenix 5s with it’s 42mm case. It is available in various strap colours including white (as shown below) turquoise and black.
Fenix 5s Sapphire (42mm case)
The 5s is also available in a Sapphire glass version.
The more expensive Sapphire version features a scratch-resistant sapphire lens and adds Wi-Fi connectivity for data upload without the need of your smartphone at hand. Check Price at Amazon.
Garmin Fenix 5 (regular / 47mm case)
This model, the 47mm Fenix 5, is the same size model as the current Fenix 3 and Fenix 3 HR.
Just like the Fenix 5S the regular sized version is also available with Sapphire watch glass and WiFi connectivity at a small increase in price. Check Price at Amazon
Garmin Fenix 5X (large / 52mm case)
If you want mapping on your wrist (plus EVERYTHING else the Fenix 5 has) then it has to be the 52mm Garmin Fenix 5X. Preloaded with OS maps and featuring a barometric pressure meter for accurate altitude data the Fenix 5X is the must have adventure racer’s watch.
The Fenix 5X comes as standard with the sapphire glasswatch and WiFi connectivity. Check Price at Amazon
What happened to Fenix 4?
There is no Fenix 4 as the number 4 (as well as 13 and 14) are considered by some to be unlucky in Chinese.
The word for the number 4 “SI” sounds similar to the Chinese word for “death”. For this reason the numbers 4 is often omitted from building numbers etc.
This is opposite to the number 8 which in Chinese is pronounced “ba” which sounds similar to a word for prosperity pronounced “fa”
Heart Rate Bundles
The regular 47mm version is also available in a Heart Rate bundle package. The Heart Rate pack includes HRM-Tri™ chest strap.
When the Fenix 5 is paired with the chest strap additional heart rate and performance data becomes available including advanced running dynamics and heart rate while swimming
The fēnix 5 Performer Bundle with the HRM TRI chest strap provides access to additional fēnix 5 metrics including
- Stress Score to measure your actual stress level based on your heart rate variability
- Vertical oscillation and ratio or ground contact time and balance to make your running more efficient
Gallery – images of Fenix 5 taken during our Review
Entering Exercise Mode – selecting Sport Profile
Synchronized with smartphone Calendar to give diary alerts
Music Control- controls track and volume
(note – not internal storage, see Forerunner 645)
Daily Activity Tracking with 7 Day Step Graphs
The Garmin Fenix 5 is the one and only GPS sports watch I would recommend to everyone who emails me with their requirements if MONEY was NO OBJECT.
It really does cover all bases. Other “all-purpose” watches might cover the essential functionality of many sports and disciplines but NONE have the level of detailed functionality found in the Fenix 5. It’s a luxury item that will provide years of high quality training feedback.
Would I buy one? Yes, I really would. It could quite easily replace my current training combination of Garmin Edge 820 and Suunto Spartan Ultra. I don’t see how any reviewer could give the Fenix 5 range of GPS sports watches anything but a 5/5 star review.
Garmin Fenix 5 Promotional Video
This short promotional video (Garmin’s own) of the Fenix 5 and 5S shows the product from some nice angels and provides an overview of some of the key features. I hope to add my own video review of this watch ASAP.
Garmin Marketing images of the Fenix 5
Left – Fenix 5S (42mm) > Centre – Fenix 5X (51mm) > Right – Fenix 5 (47mm)
- Garmin Website – the Garmin Fenix 5 on main website
Last Updated on March 19, 2020