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Garmin Fenix 5 Review

Garmin Fenix 5 Outdoor Adventure GPS watch
  • Editor Rating
  • Rated 5 stars
£449 to £699
  • 100%

  • Heart Rate Monitor functions
    Editor: 100%
  • Heart Rate Accuracy
    Editor: 98%
  • Activity Tracking features
    Editor: 99%
  • Running functions
    Editor: 99%
  • Cycling functions
    Editor: 99%
  • Fitness monitoring features
    Editor: 99%
  • Ease of Use
    Editor: 100%
  • Battery Life
    Editor: 100%

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

Garmin Fenix 5 range

Release Date (UK) > Q1 2017

Product it replaced > Garmin Fenix 3 & Fenix 3 HR

Suggested Retail Price (when new) > £499 – £699 depending on model

Who’s 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.

Ask CardioCritic

If you can’t decide if the Garmin Fenix 5 meets your needs and budget then get in touch with Tristan – aka CardioCritic today. I’m here to help!

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

  1. FITNESS watch with advanced fitness tracker including 24/7 heart rate tracking
  2. RUNNING watch with technical functions specifically for advanced runners e.g Lactate Threshold & Recovery analysis
  3. TRIATHLON watch with a dedicated Triathlon mode for SWIM to BIKE to RUN times and transitions
  4. CYCLE computer with everything from power meter support to Functional Threshold Power (FTP)
  5. SWIM watch with detailed swim-metrics including SWOLF score
  6. GOLF watch with the ability to download golf course maps from thousands of courses
  7. SKI/SNOWBOARD watch with automatic detection of uplift and downhill time
  8. KAYAK / SUP watch provides speed and distance feedback plus STROKE count, stroke rate and distance per stroke
  9. CLIMBING watch with vertical speed ascent and descent data
  10. ORIENTEERING watch with breadcrumb follow and waypoint to waypoint navigation (all models) plus detailed OS based map (Fenix 5X only)
  11. There’s more I’m quite sure !!

Watch the Video

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.

We also have some more videos relating to Garmin Connect IQ Apps and the Garmin Fenix range here

New Features

The 3 main differences between these Fenix 5 range of watches and the Fenix 3 predecessor are

  1. The addition of Bluetooth connectivity for heart rate, speed and cadence sensors (previously only ANT+ sensors were compatible)
  2. 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
  3. 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.

>> TOP of Review

Pros & Cons


  • All models with wrist based, Garmin Elevate, heart rate monitoring
  • Available in 3 x different case sizes, 42mm, 47mm & 52mm
  • Compatible with ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors (speed, heart rate, cadence & power)
  • Genuine multisport support. Use pre-configured profiles or create your own
  • Triathlon Mode for SWIM> BIKE > RUN
  • 24/7 Activity Tracking including heart rate all day, steps, distance, floors climbed and MOVEBAR
  • Fenix 5X model supports OS mapping on larger 240 x 240 pixel display
  • Supports both GPS and GLONASS satellite systems
  • All models support breadcrumb trail / route follow
  • All models support Back Home guidance
  • Fenix 5X provides additional turn by turn support
  • Battery life up to 24 hours in GPS mode, and up to 60 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode
  • Packed with performance monitoring features eg. Training Load & Recovery timer
  • Swim-metrics including SWOLF
  • Golf courses - download golf course data from global database (free)
  • Cons

  • Nothing ! It's quite frankly simply amazing ....
  • Next Model Up

    Functionally, this is the top of the range of Garmin sports watches. The only watches MORE expensive than this one are the Fenix Chrono range. Functionally they are nearly identical. The increase in price is down to the steel/titanium case of the Fenix Chrono. I’m afraid I’ve not had the benefit of reviewing the Chrono in the flesh so I can’t really comment further.

    Note > in May 2017 Garmin released the Forerunner 935. The Garmin Forerunner 935 aimed at triathletes, multisport and elite athletes 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)

    Next Model Down

    The next models down are the 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)

    • Garmin Fenix 3 Review – without Garmin Elevate off the wrist heart rate . One size only & only supports ANT+ accessories
    • Garmin Fenix 3 HR Review – with Garmin Elevate off the wrist heart rate. One size only & only supports ANT+ accessories

    Closest Competitor

    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]

    Training Status

    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
    Garmin Training Status shown on Fenix 5

    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.
    Predicted VO2 Max score shown in Garmin Connect

    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.
    Heart Rate Accuracy Graph for the Garmin Fenix 5

    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

    • Distance
    • Pace (average, max, per lap etc)
    • Calories
    • Elevation
    • 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

     Garmin Connect Run route map and graphs for HR, Pace and Elevation

    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.

    Graphs from Fenix 5 showing Performance Condition, Run Cadence and Temperature

    Post Training Heart Rate data - Time in Heart Rate Zones from a Fenix 5 Summary of Training Data extracted froma Fenix 5

    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.

    Graphical Feedback

    Garmin Connect recalls graphical feedback for Heart Rate, Speed, Cadence, Power, Temperature and Performance Condition.

    Fenix 5 graphical data from Garmin Connect - Heart Rate, Performance Condition, Cadence, Power and Speed

    Summary Training Data

    Summary of Training Data from bike ride recorded on Fenix 5

    Time in Zones Graphs (Heart Rate & Power)

    Graphs showing time in zone for Heart Rate Zones and Power Zones

    Different Sizes

    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.

    Different Models

    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 5 and 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. Check Price at Amazon

    Fenix 5s Sapphire (42mm case)

    The 5s is also available in a Sapphire glass version. The more expensive Sapphire vesion 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

    One example of the small 42mm Garmin Fenix 5s - 42mm case

    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

    Regular 47mm Fenix 5 showing time of day, date and stepsRear view of Fenix 5 showing Garmin Elevate Heart Rate sensors

    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 glass watch and WiFi connectivity. Check Price at Amazon

    Fenix 5X in Altimeter, Barometer & Compass mode Fenix 5X showing topo graphs

    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

    A Fenix 5 Tri Bundle complete with HRM-swim chest strap for 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

    Fenix 5 in exercise mode - select your sport here

    Synchronized with smartphone Calendar to give diary alerts

    Synchronise your Fenix 5 with your iOs or Android phone calendar

    Music Control- controls track and volume

    (note – not internal storage, see Forerunner 645)

    Fenix 5 Music Control. Skip tracks and control the volume Music Control on Garmin Fenix 5

    Daily Activity Tracking with 7 Day Step Graphs

    7 Day activity tracking STEPS graph shown on Fenix 5

    Review Summary ..

    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.

    >> Back to Top of 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)

    All 3 versions of the Fenix 5 - small, medium and large

    External Links


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