Waterproof Smartwatches and Fitness Trackers For Swimming – Guide for getting Best Bang for your Buck

Waterproof Smartwatches and Fitness Trackers For Swimming – Guide for getting Best Bang for your Buck

Which Smartwatches and Fitness Trackers are designed with Swimming in mind? I looked at all the major brands and over 30 devices to show you in this buyers guide how to get your money’s worth when selecting a device for swimming!

There are a ton of options out there for swimmers and casual swimmers who want to track their pool activity.

However, many waterproof smartwatches and fitness trackers are not designed for swimming and won’t track distance and heart rate in the water. So, if you want to track your swimming, it’s important to select a device that has a swimming setting instead of just being waterproof.

If you are just looking for my recommendation for the best bang for your buck it is here. If you want a versatile multi-sports device suitable for swimming that looks good and has a great app it is the Garmin Vivoactive 3 – check current price on Amazon

What to look for in a Smartwatch or Fitness Tracker for Swimmers?

There are so many waterproof smartwatch and fitness tracker choices so it can be quite confusing. So let’s go over some of the features you should consider when looking for a fitness tracker or smartwatch for swimming.

Functionalities to look for in a Swimming Tracker

The most important features are distance measurement and duration.

Other measurements that some models offer are calories consumption, stroke count and stroke rate sensors. You should also check is the model only for pool swimming or also for open water swimming if that’s something you are in to for example from a triathlon perspective.

Some models offer even heart rate measurement from the wrist during swimming, but this can be inaccurate and therefore some models have disabled the heart rate monitor in swimming mode.

Waterproof rating

Devices are usually rated with an ATM rating or a depth rating in meters. ATM is the Atmospheric pressure which tells you how effective a device is in withstanding the pressure until a specific depth. At sea level, the average Atmospheric pressure is about 1 bar. Going underwater the pressure increases roughly by 1 bar per 10 meters.

So a 3 atm rating would imply 30 meters water resistant. This, however, doesn’t mean you should go diving with the watch since actually a 3 atm rating is tested with static air pressure and when you are in the water you are moving so the pressure on the device is higher when in movement.

I have a smartwatch rated to be watertight up to 50 meters and I have been swimming with it and even diving like to 5 meters and I haven’t had any issues. I would not recommend diving any deeper though and the device states is good for swimming only.

Which Smartwatch or Fitness Tracker to choose for Swimming

There are multiple brands you can look at for devices which are suitable for Swimming. In this buyers guide, I will be looking at the following brands and how you can get the best bang for your buck.

  • Garmin
  • Apple
  • Fitbit
  • Polar
  • Suunto
  • The following brands are also briefly covered: Samsung, Moov, Misfit

Garmin devices for Swimming

Garmin has a great lineup of smartwatches and fitness trackers and their devices have a great build quality and they are overall very good quality.

Below is a list of the devices that Garmin currently has for swimming listed from the cheaper end to the more pricey ones. All the models listed here are compatible with Android and iPhone smartphones. My favorites from a bang for buck perspective are the Garmin vivoactive 3 and Forerunner 735XT.

Garmin vívoactive 3 / 3 Music

This is one of my favorite options. It has GPS, Heart Rate monitoring from the wrist and it has a swim mode. It’s rated at 5 ATM and has a battery life of up to 7 days. There are two versions of this device and the 3 Music version has storage for 500 songs that you can play over Bluetooth without having a smartphone. Please note though that Bluetooth doesn’t work underwater so the music option is mainly for other sports. If you want music while swimming look at some of the waterproof headphones with integrated mp3 players.

  • Pluses
    • Pool swim metrics (lengths, distance, pace, stroke count/rate, calories)
    • Stroke type detection (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly)
    • Swim efficiency (SWOLF)
  • Minuses
    • This model is only for pool swimming and not for open water swimming

Garmin Instinct

This is very similar to the Garmin vivoactive 3, but it’s rated at 10 ATM and has a battery life of up to 14 days.

  • Pluses
    • Pool swim metrics (lengths, distance, pace, stroke count/rate, calories)
    • Stroke type detection (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly)
    • Swim efficiency (SWOLF)
    • Open-water swim metrics (distance, pace, stroke count/rate, stroke distance, calories)
    • Long battery life up to 14 days
    • 10 ATM rating
  • Minuses
    • No wrist-based Heart rate monitoring
    • No touchscreen

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Rated at 5 ATM, battery up to 11 days and it has wrist-based heart rate measurement.

If you are a triathlonist and want the open water swimming and better cycling options I would say this is the device with the best bang for your buck and you should get this instead of the Vivoactive 3.

  • Pluses
    • Same pool swim metrics as the other models
    • Open-water swim metrics (distance, pace, stroke count/rate, stroke distance, calories)
    • Long battery life up to 11 days
    • HR while swimming with HRM-Tri™ and HRM-Swim™
    • Better Cycling features compared to the vivoactive 3. This is something to consider for example for triathlon training
  • Minuses
    • No touchscreen

Garmin Forerunner 645

Rated at 5 ATM, battery up to 11 days and it has wrist-based heart rate measurement.

This device is very similar to the Forerunner 735XT from a swimming perspective but it’s missing the open water and HR while swimming features.

Garmin Forerunner 935

Rated at 5 ATM, battery up to 14 days and it has wrist-based heart rate measurement

This device is very similar to the Forerunner 735XT from a swimming perspective. If you are not interested in the other features that this model offers you should definitely go for the cheaper 745XT.

Garmin quatix 5

Rated at 10 ATM, battery up to 14 days and it has wrist-based heart rate measurement.

Very similar to the Forerunner 735XT from a swimming perspective. If you are not interested in the other features that this model offers you should definitely go for the cheaper 745XT.

Garmin fēnix 5 / 5 Plus / 5S Plus

Rated at 10 ATM, battery up to 12/7 days and it has wrist-based heart rate measurement.

The device is very similar to the Forerunner 735XT from a swimming perspective. If you are not interested in the other features that this model offers you should definitely go for the cheaper 745XT.

However, the Garmin Fenix 5 is a very stylish device and if you are looking for something suitable for dress shirt usage as well then this might be a great fit for you. You can style your smartwatch with a stainless steel strap (check my article on the topic.)

Garmin tactix Charlie

Rated at 10 ATM, battery up to 12 days and it has wrist-based heart rate measurement.

Very similar to the Forerunner 735XT from a swimming perspective. If you are not interested in the other features that this model offers you should definitely go for the cheaper 745XT.

Garmin quatix 5 Sapphire

Rated at 10 ATM, battery up to 14 days and it has wrist-based heart rate measurement.

Very similar to the Forerunner 735XT from a swimming perspective. If you are not interested in the other features that this model offers you should definitely go for the cheaper 745XT. The metal band on this model looks really nice though. So again this might be an option to consider if you want a watch you can wear in other occasions as well.

Garmin fēnix 5X Plus

Rated at 10 ATM, battery up to 20 days and it has wrist-based heart rate measurement.

This device is very similar to the Forerunner 735XT from a swimming perspective. If you are not interested in the other features that this model offers you should definitely go for the cheaper 745XT. The 20 days of battery life is a nice feature though, but the price point is a lot higher than the 745XT.

Garmin fēnix Chronos

Rated at 10 ATM, battery up to 8 days and wrist-based heart rate measurement.

Very similar to the Forerunner 735XT from a swimming perspective. If you are not interested in the other features that this model offers you should definitely go for the cheaper 745XT. This device is one of the best looking Garmin smartwatches out there though.

Garmin Descent Mk1

This device is good for diving (Designed to comply with EN13319), battery up to 19 days and it has wrist-based heart rate measurement.

However, it is very similar to the Forerunner 735XT from a swimming perspective. If you are not interested in the other features that this model offers you should definitely go for the cheaper 745XT. The diving feature is something that I would love, but the price point is really steep.

Apple devices for Swimming

In the case of Apple, there are not many devices to choose from. Currently, the Apple watch Series 4 is the newest one. Apple devices are included in the list since Apple Watches are quite popular and they do have swimming functionality since Series 2.

The accelerometer and gyroscope are used to capture all the movements of our wrist in the water, and as a result, it can figure out what style of swimming we are doing (backstroke, freestyle, breaststroke).

The accelerometer is used to track velocity and motion and the gyroscope, in turn, helps figuring out what stroke you are doing. The gyroscope can also recognize when you are doing a turn in the pool.

The Apple Watch will track total time swum, the number of meters completed, how many strokes you are taking per lap, the type of stroke you are doing, lap time, and somewhat (but not really) heart rate data. The heart rate data while swimming is not very accurate as with all other models that leave the heart rate monitor on while in water. The main issue is that the water comes in between the wrist and the device.

For open water swimming, it uses the GPS to track distance.

Below is a list of the devices.

Apple Watch Series 4

Rated at 5 ATM, battery up to 1 day and wrist-based heart rate measurement. I guess no one would buy the Apple watch just for swimming since it’s quite expensive, but if you fancy the other features it’s a viable option. From a sports perspective, I would recommend the Garmin devices though.

  • Pluses
    • Has tons of features in addition to being able to track swimming
  • Minuses
    • Really short battery life
    • Doesn’t work with Android

Apple Watch Series 3

Rated at 5 ATM, battery up to 1 day and it has wrist-based heart rate measurement.

  • Pluses
    • Has tons of features in addition to being able to track swimming
    • Price wise this older model is actually quite reasonable compared to the Garmin devices.
  • Minuses
    • Really short battery life
    • Doesn’t work with Android

Fitbit devices for Swimming

Fitbit has a decent amount of device choices for swimming. Fitbit trackers tend to be of good quality and the Fitbit app is very highly rated.

According to Fitbit, you can choose to swim using any of the 4 most common strokes (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly). They, however, recommend swimming freestyle for the best measurement results.

You can only use automatic tracking to capture swim lengths, duration, distance, and pace. You need to turn on swim tracking and set your pool length in the Fitbit app for the Flex. For other Fitbit devices, you can set the pool length on the device.

Fitbit doesn’t really support open water swimming and if you do open water swimming the device might automatically detect the swim and try to estimate length which will be naturally very inaccurate.

I wouldn’t say that the Fitbit devices are designed for swimming and compared to Garmin the Fitbit devices are not doing such a good job at least yet. So if swimming is the primary thing I would go rather with Garmin.

Below is a list of the devices that Fitbit currently has for swimming listed from the cheaper end to the more pricey ones. All the models listed here are compatible with Android and iPhone smartphones.

Fitbit Flex 2

Rated at 5 ATM, battery up to 5 days.

  • Pluses
    • Inexpensive
  • Minuses
    • Doesn’t have a heart rate monitor
    • No GPS
    • Not really a proper sports tracker

Fitbit Charge 3

Rated at 5 ATM, battery up to 7 days and wrist-based heart rate measurement.

  • Pluses
    • Inexpensive
  • Minuses
    • No GPS
    • No live count of the swimming stats

Fitbit Versa

Rated at 5 ATM, battery up to 4 days and wrist based heart rate measurement.

  • Pluses
    • Looks like a Apple Watch if thats something you like
    • Does show a live count of the swimming stats during the swim
  • Minuses
    • No GPS

Fitbit Ionic

Rated at 5 ATM, battery up to 1+ days and wrist based heart rate measurement.

  • Pluses
    • Has GPS
  • Minuses
    • Poor battery life

Polar devices for Swimming

Polar has a decent amount of device choices for swimming. Polar is a company based in Finland and it has a 40+ year history and was the first to start making mobile heart rate monitoring devices for athletes.

Polar has currently 8 waterproof models and 4 of those have swimming metrics. They say that water may prevent the wrist-based heart rate measurement from working optimally, but still, you can use it to get some idea.

Below is a list of the devices that Polar currently has for swimming listed from the cheaper end to the more pricey ones. All the models listed here are compatible with Android and iPhone smartphones.

My favorites from the Polar lineup are the M600 and Vantage M considering their reasonable price point and the swimming metrics they provide and the included GPS and wrist-based heart rate monitoring.

Polar Loop 2

Rated at 2 ATM, battery up to 8 days.

No real swimming tracking.

Polar M200

Rated at “Suitable for Swimming”, GPS, battery up to 6 days and wrist-based heart rate measurement.

No real swimming tracking.

Polar A370

Rated at 3 ATM, battery up to 4 days and wrist-based heart rate measurement.

It doesn’t have a real swimming tracking option but it will collect your activity data from your wrist movements during swimming.

I used the previous model A360 and found it was overall a good device but my experience with the Garmin devices are a lot better. After using a FitBit and a Garmin device I felt the Polar app is lacking in functionality.

Polar M430

Rated at 3 ATM, battery up to 20 days, but with continuous HR it’s a lot less. It has wrist-based heart rate measurement.

No real swimming tracking.

Polar M600

Rated at “Suitable for Swimming”, GPS, battery up to 4 days and wrist-based heart rate measurement.

This device supports swimming metrics. You can use the wrist-based HR monitoring during swimming-

Polar Vantage M

Rated at 3 ATM, GPS, battery up to 7 days and it has wrist-based heart rate measurement.

Supports swimming metrics.

Polar V800

Rated at 3 ATM,  GPS, battery up to 30 days in time mode with activity tracking. Note there is no wrist-based HR monitoring.

When using the Swimming or Pool swimming profile, V800 records your swim distance, time and pace, strokes, and also identifies your swimming style. In addition, with the help of the SWOLF score, you can keep track of your development.

The four most common stroke styles are recognized as with other brands.

Polar Vantage V

Rated at 3 ATM, GPS, battery up to 7 days and wrist-based heart rate measurement.

Supports swimming metrics.

Suunto devices for Swimming

Suunto has a decent amount of device choices for swimming. Suunto is another company based in Finland with a 80+ year history starting with compasses and later moving also to fitness trackers.

Suunto has currently 3 waterproof models (plus some variations of these) that have swimming metrics.

All of the models are suitable for pool and open water swimming and give you proper swimming metrics with speed, distance, stroke count, stroke type, pace, and SWOLF. Heart rate monitoring is possible during the swim but you need to wear the chest strap.

Below is a list of the devices that Suunto currently has for swimming listed from the cheaper end to the more pricey ones. All the models listed here are compatible with Android and iPhone smartphones.

Since the features are quite similar I would choose the Suunto Spartan based on looks. It’s quite reasonably priced but the HR model does come at an extra cost.

SUUNTO AMBIT3 PEAK

Rated at “Suitable for Swimming”, GPS, battery up to 30 days.

SUUNTO SPARTAN ULTRA/SPORT

Rated at “Suitable for Swimming”, GPS, battery up to 20 days.

SUUNTO SPARTAN SPORT WRIST HR

Rated at “Suitable for Swimming”, GPS, battery up to 14 days and wrist-based heart rate measurement.

Other devices for Swimming to be considered

Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro

Rated at 5 ATM, GPS, battery up to 5 days, wrist-based heart rate measurement.

Whether you choose the pool or open water, the Speedo On app developed for Gear Fit2 Pro tracks your stats and presents them in easy-to-read summaries.

Samsung Gear Sport

Rated at 5 ATM, GPS, battery up to 4 days, wrist-based heart rate measurement.

Dedicated swim tracking features offering up distance, strokes, lap time and SWOLF

Moov Now

Rated at 3 ATM, battery up to 6 months.

You can see feedback on your stroke type, rate, distance, and efficiency, as well as lap times and an overall indicator of your pool stamina. This device is well rated as a swimming tracker. If you want heart rate monitoring in the pool, you can invest in the Moov HR, a small Moov Now-like device that can sit inside your swim cap.

Misfit Shine 2

Rated at 5 ATM, battery up to 30 days.

You can get swimming-specific algorithms that track laps and lengths as well as distance and calories burned.

Extensive testing with one of the Garmin devices

I have been very happy with the Garmin Vivoactive HR model which was recently discontinued and has been replaced by the Vivoactive 3. Since the Vivoactive 3 is basically the same as the previous model with some improvements I can definitely recommend the new model.

Garmin Vívoactive HR

  • GPS smartwatch with a sunlight-readable, high-resolution color touchscreen
  • Built-in sports apps include GPS-enabled running, biking, swimming — no phone connection required
  • Customize with free watch face designs, widgets, and apps
  • Receive smart notifications and smart coaching from Garmin Connect when paired with your phone
  • Up to 8 days’ battery life in watch/activity tracking mode or up to 13 hours using GPS

You can do without the chest strap and measure heart rate from the wrist for all your sports except swimming, where optical heart rate isn’t available. Using heart rate data, vívoactive HR provides calories burned information and quantifies the intensity of your fitness activities, providing better credit for your efforts.

When Swimming you can see detailed stats like total and interval distance, pace, stroke count, stroke type. Let the swimming app calculate your efficiency with SWOLF, which adds the time and the number of strokes it takes to swim a pool length. Interval Count lets you seamlessly pause and then resume your workout. At the end of a workout, view your summary data, which includes interval and session averages, overall time and personal records.

Garmin says that the swim feature is designed to work for 4 recognized competitive swim strokes. The manual doesn’t seem to say what these stroke types are, but this video from Garmin on youtube is really helpfully in explaining that Garmin devices recognize freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly stroke, and backstroke. The video also explains some reasons why measurements can be inaccurate.

My Personal Experience with the Vivoactive HR

This device is the best one I have had so far. I really like it that it’s waterproof and I have had no problems wearing it in the sauna or in the pool and even swimming in the sea. The wrist strap and build quality are really good and after a year of wearing it daily, I can’t see any signs of anything breaking. The battery life is really good. It’s really good for running, cycling and rollerskating. I also like to measure the duration of my swims but for the distance, I haven’t gotten proper results. The above video though explains why measurements can be inaccurate and one reason is changing stroke types mid-swim and that’s exactly what I have been doing. So I will retest and report back with my findings.

Check my recommended gear page for my current recommendations and pricing.

Pluses

  • Long battery life
  • Heart rate measurement from the wrist
  • Good build quality
  • Good waterproof rating
  • GPS is accurate when running/cycling etc.

Minuses

  • Heart rate measurement is not available while swimming
  • Although rated at 50 meters waterproof the manual says that it’s intended for surface swimming and you can’t go scuba diving and it will void the warranty
  • Swim distance measurement will be inaccurate if you don’t follow the guidelines in the above video from Garmin

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