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There are a vast range of wearable technology products on the market these days. From fitness monitors to GPS navigation tools etc. Many of us involved in Bushcraft and other outdoor activities like to monitor our performance and log routes etc. It is interesting to look back at previous routes we have paddled or save great camping locations in the hills. The uses of wearable tech is only limited by our imagination and the limits of battery life and signal. That said it is also rather pleasant to leave the modern world completely behind. I used to own a Fitbit Charge 2 to monitor my steps and heart rate. It’s all to easy to get overly focused on a task and not move for far too long carving spoons or making cordage. A sports watch gives you feedback and encourages a less sedentary life style. Although you have to be aware of their limitations.
Get More From Your Workout with Less on Your Wrist
- Premium smaller-sized (42 mm) multisport GPS watch with Elevate™ wrist heart rate technology1
- Steel grip design with stainless steel EXO-Antenna bezel and forged steel back to maintain the best integrity in demanding environments
- Preloaded activity profiles for all of your sports and adventures
- Put key stats at your fingertips with the performance widget that shows the effects and progress of your workouts
- Connected features² include smart notifications, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect™ online sport community and personalisation through free watch faces and apps from our Connect IQ™ store
- Outdoor sensors, including GPS and GLONASS satellite positioning, barometric altimeter, 3-axis compass with gyroscope
- Battery life: up to 9 days in smartwatch mode (depending on settings), up to 14 hours in GPS mode or up to 40 hours in UltraTrac™ battery saver mode.
fēnix® 5S Sapphire edition adds a scratch resistant sapphire glass, WI-FI support to automatically sync with Garmin Connect and an additional QuickFit™ band in the box to better match your style.
My first impressions of the Fenix 5 were good. I like the look of the watch. It’s a good sized timepiece without screaming that it’s more a GPS and HRM. It is comfortable to wear and fairly light compared to other GPS watches. I don’t want to have several different wrist watches one for training and another for everyday use.
I have been using the Fenix 5s for many months and it has become my constant companion. I use it for all my training activities. The heart rate monitor function is accurate and gives good information. The HR strap is comfortable even on long rides and hard endurance sessions in the gym. I like the ability to set different training profiles and easily manage the data screens displayed.
The GPS unit accurately logs your training routes and it is simple to upload each session to Garmin GPS Software on the pc or App. You can then export your route to sites like Strava™. I have not found the navigation applications to be particularly useful as I am much more a map and compass man. The navigation gives simple instructions to each way point. I have tested it on some fairly featureless terrain and it has guided me back to my start point so would be a useful back up to a regular GPS unit.
I have used the watch to log way points when tracking. I can quickly locate the local badger setts I monitor and have managed to create a picture of the local wildlife movements. I also have used the watch to record the locations of my favorite fungi. When on expedition I use the Fenix to track my journeys so the clients have a record of their travel. I have found using GPS and GLONASS the tracks are pretty accurate. The lack of topography maps on the 5S hasn’t been an issue for me as I always carry a real map and compass.
Battery life is quite good. I can get several days use between charges if I am just using the watches basic functions such as heart rate and step counter. When using the GPS battery lasts around a day. Irritatingly the watch doesn’t always charge on its own on my RAV Power banks I routinely carry. I have to plug in my Fenix 5 and my Iphone to get enough draw for the battery packs to operate. Not a huge issue as its part of my routine to charge both at the end of the day.
One feature I found more useful than expected was the ability to change the watch faces. When on expedition I make sure I have a watch face showing the information I need in quick glance. A weakness of my old Fitbit was a lack of a second hand. Much harder to take a pulse with no seconds.
I also like the easy change watch straps. I tend to wear the black at home when I want the watch to blend in. in the outdoors I want my gear to stand out. It’s a pain in the rear searching our tent for a watch you put down to charge.
I have been using the Fenix 5 Sapphire for well over 12 months. The straps are looking a little tired. I am not kind to them getting them covered in mud and sawdust. The Sapphire crystal face is still scratch free. Its been dropped on rocks in Wales and Finland and generally abused but it keeps going.
Although Garmin did have to replace the watch under warranty because it wouldn’t connect with wifi. The replacement was easy to arrange with Garmins customer services. Although I had to pay to send the watch to their service department and received a refurbished watch. This was mildly annoying. I should have been able to walk into the shop I purchased the watch from and picked up a brand new replacement. Not be without a watch for 2 weeks. A minor gripe but something Garmin should look at.
A limitation of all step monitors is getting a false reading from our activity. For example if I’m using my axe carving a spoon or Bow Making then I can expect an extra 10000 steps or more. I also get a inaccurate step count when driving my old VW Van.
- Small size. I have small wrists and want the watch to be inconspicuous.
- Accurate GPS.
- Robust build.
- Configurable Watch faces.
- Large range of activities from swimming to SUP.
- Good battery life.
- Garmins app works well.
- Good range of activities pre-programmed.
- Wrist Heart Rate Monitor terrible.
- Sleep monitor inaccurate.
- Wrist band causes sore skin.
I deliberately haven’t focused on the dislikes as the watch overall is pretty good. I do think Garmin has a long way to go with its wrist-based heart rate monitoring. It’s utter crap bearing in mind I have had two units so its unlikely that its just an issue with my Fenix 5. Generally during exercise my Heart rate will be 30-50 bpm out. Even during rest the watches HR accuracy is questionable. My old Fitbit Charge 2 was much more reliable.
Garmin do suggest wearing a chest strap for accurate heart rate monitoring but I do feel that on a premium device costing over £500 getting the basics right is essential. The weakness in their HR recording is reflected in the inaccuracy of the sleep monitoring as well. Basically if you want a watch that monitors your heart rate accurately on the wrist then in my experience the Fenix5 is not for you. A Fitbit offers better HRM and more accurate sleep monitoring at half the price.
However if you want a bombproof sports watch to track our outdoor activities using GPS during your swim and cycle training the Fenix5 is a good choice. Switch off the wrist HRM and use a Garmin chest strap HRM.
Having used a Fitbit for a long time until my Spaniel ate it I never had an issue with the strap causing skin irritation. The bands on the Fenix 5 however has caused my skin to become inflamed at times. I generally ensure that I clean the strap at the end of each day and take the watch off for a period every so often. Looking on the Garmin Forums I am not alone experiencing an issue with mild skin irritation.
Ratings are out of 5, 1 being bad and 5 being the best
Fit for Purpose – 3/5
Versatility – 5/5
Durability – 5/5
Value for money – 3/5
Overall – 3/5
Price £440 at Cotswolds.
Note. Garmin have now released the Fenix 6 so the HRM issues I have experienced may have been addressed. The price of a Fenix 6S ranges from £500 – £1000 depending on the model.
I would be upset if I broke my Fenix 5. I am not sure I would rush out to the shops to replace it though. Although I do prefer it to the top range Suunto I tried.