Gear Review: Garmin Forerunner 910XT

Brand: Garmin

Model: Forerunner 910XT

My first tool I used to track my running was the Adidas miCoach app on my iPhone. While I really liked the customizable training plans and ease-of-use the application offered, having a smartphone attached to my arm during runs wasn’t really my idea of a good time. After deciding that I wanted a GPS-enabled watch for running, I settled on the Garmin Forefunner 405CX about 1 1/2 years ago with mixed results. With a new project Ryan and I are working on in regards to trail running (more on this later, I promise), I made the decision that I needed something more accurate than the haphazard elevation charts that watches relying solely on GPS based elevation provided. Longer battery life was something I was looking forward to as well, as I have a bad habit of not always charging my watches when I should.

After some research, I decided on the Garmin Forerunner 910XT, a recently released watch marketed towards triathletes and ultramarathoners. While I could care less about every competing in a triathlon, the advertised 20-hour battery life piqued my interest due to my aforementioned habit of not charging my watches, but also because I plan on becoming an ultramarathoner in the not-too-distant future. There was also the added bonus of the watch being waterproof (for tracking the swimming legs of a triathlon), meaning I could wear the watch during Tough Mudder, giving me the ability to track the distance and elevation change of the courses we run. Oh, and did I mention it uses a built-in barometric altimeter to track elevation during the run?

After stopping by Garmin at a couple different race expos to try the watch on with no luck (apparently they don’t bring the 910XT to marathon expos), I got lucky when I stopped in at Road Runner Sports while in Southern California this past summer. Seeing the watch in person and trying it on just confirmed the decision I had already made about the 910XT being my next running watch. While quite a bit bigger than the 405CX, the 910XT is remarkably more comfortable on my arm, due to the more arm-like shape of the backside of the watch tapering around the arm before the band attaches, instead of being completely flat like the 405CX.

After getting the watch I promptly took it out for a few runs on some of the trails I’m pretty familiar with to see how the elevation charts would differ from the 405CX and I was pleased with the results. The 910XT recorded slightly more ascent and descent than the GPS-based watch and miCoach did, and on out-and-back courses the elevation chart mirrored itself as it should be. There are issues running up and over a ridge that is calm on one side and windy on the other as the immediate pressure change can freak out the pressure-sensitive altimeter, but I can always fall-back to GPS-based elevation on Garmin Connect on particularly windy days.

One of my absolute favorite parts of the watch is the ability to (finally) track live ascent and descent numbers during the run instead of having to wait until I sync the watch with Garmin Connect afterwards. The watch tends to record a higher number of descent than ascent when I use go down a hill using a different route than I used to go up, so I’ve resorted to averaging the two out. I’m not sure if it’s the way the watch polls the altimeter for updates (whether it’s every X amount of feet ran or a certain change in the altimeter), or if it’s due to the increased speed being ran down the hill compared to the trek up. Surprisingly, the elevation chart that is exported by the raw GPX data doesn’t show the same incongruity as the watch’s elevation calculator shows.

Lastly, using the watch is a lot easier thanks to it having actual buttons instead of a touch-sensitive bezel around the watch face. Using a touch-sensitive bezel during the summer time when you’re drenched in sweat is an exercise in patience. The 910XT has nice, big chunky buttons that are easy to press when you and the watch are both soaking wet (or covered in mud) and they never false-click or ignore your touches.

So far I’m extremely happy with how the watch has worked and I look forward to continuing to put it through it’s paces and seeing what it’s capable of. We’ll see how it works when it’s covered in mud and dirty water in a few weeks at Tough Mudder.

Pros

  • Barometric Altimeter rather than GPS-based elevation data
  • Very comfortable on the arm
  • Actual buttons rather than a touch bezel
  • HUGE watch face allowing very easy reading of data during a run
  • Ability to see live ascent/descent values

Cons

  • Barometric Altimeter can get sketchy in windy environments

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