Advertising/Branding,  Products,  Running

GPS Running Watch Throwdown—Garmin v Nike

What’s the most important accessory to runners, other than their shoes? Their GPS watch. Like posting every workout to Facebook, everyone knows that a run doesn’t count unless it’s been tracked by the little alien runners in the sky riding on the GPS satellites.

I’ve used a Garmin Forerunner 405 since 2009 and love the thing like a child. It’s been with me through PRs and death marches, snowy runs and sweat-fests. The hubs has a shiny new NikePlus watch that he loves and refuses to take off, even when not running.

Garmins and Nikes seem to be the most popular GPS running watches, so the Sylvans seem to represent the average runner. Unless you’re a trail runner, then Suunto is where it’s at!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen runners get into the Nike v Garmin debate. And now I want to join in! I’ve had this post on my blog editorial calendar for a full year now. A YEAR! Who said that distance runners aren’t lazy? So here it goes—my two cents about some fancy computers we pour sweat and blood into.

GPS running watches, NikePlus watch, Garmin Forerunner 405, running watch comparison
5 a.m. test run

Disclaimer—neither company asked me to do this, and all opinions are purely based on my tastes. So take them with a salt pill.


Garmin—I’ve worn my Garmin for so long that it feels like an extension of my body, so this isn’t the easiest to judge. My 405 is pretty big and clunky, so it’s definitely noticeable on your wrist. Or my wrist, rather, since it’s pretty small. I tighten the band just enough so that it doesn’t bounce around but also doesn’t cut off my circulation, and that seems to work just fine. I’m also not a fan of the way my sweat pools under the face and band, but that may be more of a “hey, you’re human and active” problem, not a Garmin problem.

GPS running watches, NikePlus watch, Garmin Forerunner 405, running watch comparison
Lovable giant on my wrist

NikeThe watch itself is pretty comparable in size to the Garmin—noticeable without being too heavy or uncomfortable to wear. All the holes in the band allow for a better fit and less sweat (unless all my sweat today ran down my arm and pooled under my Garmin), though I wonder if they make for some funky tan lines in the summer. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

GPS running watches, NikePlus watch, Garmin Forerunner 405, running watch comparison
Slightly sexier – I would want the white, like my runner girl crush Kara Goucher


Confession—I have nothing scientific to base this off. On a track, the distances on the watches measure almost identical. But the pace? Who knows. If I were really serious about this, I’d bust out a stopwatch and log some repeats. But I’m not. From all the runs that the hubs and I did together, it seems that the Nike logs slightly faster times and longer distances. Nothing to complain about there!

GPS running watches, NikePlus watch, Garmin Forerunner 405, running watch comparison
Photobomb courtesy of Koda the Mini Mal


GarminI’m torn on this one. I’ve had nothing but great experiences with Garmin customer service. When Sasha ate my watch, I called Garmin, cried my heart out, and they sent me a new one with a warning to keep it away from sharp teeth. Can you say fan for life? But Garmin is majorly lacking in community engagement. I get that they cater to all GPS products and more serious athletes, but c’mon—social media engagement goes a long way in today’s world. Their Twitter accounts are so, blah. And that saddens me as an ad/marketing girl.

GPS running watches, NikePlus watch, Garmin Forerunner 405, running watch comparison

Nike—Nike has this one locked down. Hell, I challenge almost any brand to compete against Nike support and community-wise. The @nikerunning social team is just incredible. They’re engaging, helpful, and just fun to chat with. The social media management system they use helps them keep the conversations personal. Plus, they sent me the new Lunar Flyknit +1s to test. Love. Read more about the Sylvan love affair with @nikerunning on the hubs’ blog.

GPS running watches, NikePlus watch, Garmin Forerunner 405, running watch comparison

Ease of use:

GarminGarmin FTW right here. Everything about the watch is simple to understand and easily programmable. I love uploading my speed workouts onto it, so that I don’t have to think and run fast at the same time. I’m not a fan of their touch bezel, but that’s a moot point since Garmin has done away with that feature. Their website might not be shiny and flashy, but it’s heaven for a data nerd. I never even touch half the charts, but I like that they’re there if I need them. And I love how you can upload your run wirelessly—I walk into the house and the Garmin immediately starts uploading my run. Lazy runner, remember?

GPS running watches, NikePlus watch, Garmin Forerunner 405, running watch comparison

Nike—The Nike is great for new runners, or runners who aren’t obsessed with their splits (or watches). It gives you the bare minimum data (average pace), but won’t show current pace, let you upload a workout, or reset splits for speedwork. Their website is amazeballs in that it’s fun and colorful and easy to use, but you can’t manually upload your own workout. Wut. @nikesupport will do it for you with no problem, but that seems to be a pretty large feature they forgot.

GPS running watches, NikePlus watch, Garmin Forerunner 405, running watch comparison
Everything about this site screams, “Play with me!”


GarminAs I mentioned, I put my Garmin through a hell of a lot, and it’s still kicking. And all of my Garmin-wearing friends have had theirs for years too. These things are like cockroaches or Fords—built to last. And, the ANT stick and charger are still in great shape too!

GPS running watches, NikePlus watch, Garmin Forerunner 405, running watch comparison
Though my watch didn’t survive the jaws of a Husky

Nike—Zack has only has his GPS baby since April, and so far it’s…ok. The backlight and sound only works occasionally. And I always see runners posting about needing to replace their Nike watches for one reason or another.  Luckily, @nikesupport is wonderfully responsive and willing to walk you through any issue. Though there shouldn’t be that many issues to begin with.

GPS running watches, NikePlus watch, Garmin Forerunner 405, running watch comparison

So what do I think overall? I’m a Garmin fan, through and through. My watch was a gift from my sister years ago, and I cherish it more than (almost) anything. If you’re a serious runner who will want to log different workouts and obsess over data and put your expensive toy through the wringer, go with a Garmin. If you want a more laid-back experience, fun colors, a sense of community, and a way to log miles without fancy features, go with the Nike.

Do you run with a watch? Which do you prefer?


  • Andrea

    I just got my first GPS watch, the Garmin Forerunner 10, earlier this year. I held out for years because I didn’t want to obsess over my pace. Well, I PR’d twice this year in half marathons while wearing it so I guess that says something! It is definitely a basic GPS, but does what I need. The only thing that I’d change is that I wish it had a vibrate feature. I don’t always hear the beep at splits which can be frustrating.

    • tlsylvan

      Wooo, congrats on becoming a member of the Garmin family! I think some Garmins vibrate – mine doesn’t and it is frustrating sometimes when I’m running with music and don’t hear the split.

  • Greg

    I’d agree with pretty much everything you said here T. I actually tried out the nike watch about a year ago while I had a little glitch in my Garmin. In my experience, because I have tried and true routes I’ve run for years, the Nike one was WAY off on time and pace. I’d also say that on more average size wrists (you have teeny tiny ones) the Garmin isn’t big at all, and the new 610 (swoon) is even sleeker. And yes, they’re tanks. I want a reason to buy the 610, but my 405 just keeps on ticking. Also yes, their site is a data mine. It’s perfect.

    • tlsylvan

      Hmmm, so maybe Nike is trying to boost egos by tracking runs faster? And making runners look awesome in their clothes. Especially pants and shorts. I digress.

      My friend is waiting for her 610 to arrive in the mail, and I am SO excited to drool all over it. Maybe if we adopt another puppy and I leave my watch lying around and it happens to smell and look like a chew toy…

  • Jeff Martinez

    tlsylvan!!! YOU ROCK!! I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS BLOG FROM A “LOCAL” OR SOMEONE I KNEW FOR QUITE SOME TIME! I’ve compared a LOT of GPS, but the Garmin I’ve used in the past is way outdated, so I don’t think it’s a fair comparison to the newer products. As a seller and user of the Nike Sportwatch, I have to speak very highly of it, but I also just LOVE it! While we have seen some quality control issues with the Sportwatch, Nike handled it very well and the “glitches” are far fewer now-a-days and hopefully fixed all together!

    This is my advice to all Nike Sportwatch users! The watches performance relies heavily on battery charge and frequency of internet connectivity. Each time the Sportwatch is connected, workouts are uploaded and satellite information is updated. That satellite info is what effects connection speed and accuracy. IF YOU DO NOT CONNECT THAT WATCH TO A COMPUTER FREQUENTLY, IT WILL NOT WORK PROPERLY. The other bit of advice I have is to not wear it all the time! Apologize to your hubby for me, but it just sticks too far off your wrist and bangs into things too easily!

    I’m wear testing the TomTom right now and plan to review it in a couple of days. So far though, it’s pretty bad ass!

    • tlsylvan

      Glad I could be of service, Jeff! *curtsies*

      And thanks for the Nike Sportwatch tips! I bet a lot of runners don’t connect it that often. I need to go home and show this to the hubs, or buy him a new watch to bang around 🙂

      I look forward to reading your TomTom review! That watch has me curious…

  • Paul PJ Orr Wzzk

    I’ve actually managed to have a 405 and a Nike Plus go south on me. I bought the 405 at Running Wild in Pensacola shortly before moving from Pensacola to Knoxville in 2008. It quit after about 9 months. I tried calling Garmin and then visited the running store in Knoxville who referred me back to the original store in Pensacola. I faded on running and tossed the watch. Here in Birmingham, I started running again and bought a Nike Plus at Fleet Feet. It worked well for a few months and then……yep, it went dark on me too (not sure what it is with me and watches). I called the store here in Birmingham rather than going in personally (probably not a great idea) but didn’t hear back. So, I ran with my phone from March to September and purchased another Nike Plus. I like the performance of both the Garmin and the Nike but one thing separates them – the social aspect of Nike is unmatched. I’m friends with 8 runners at There’s something about knowing others are keeping tabs on me that causes me to run more. It’s fun to see how far in front of everybody Randy Lyle is and this month I’m trying desperately to keep up with JR. The Nike Leaderboard that shows me how my friends are running has me hooked. If you have a Nike Plus please send me a friend request and happy running!

    • tlsylvan

      Have you ever been hit by lightning PJ? Do lights flicker when you walk into a room? That’s so odd that your watches keep dying!

      I use Nike+ when I forget my watch, and I too like seeing who from the VR has more miles than me. It’s friendly competition!

  • Kay E

    I am a huge Garmin fan. I too did the Nike + long ago but that was a pain. I killed many an Ipod from sweating on them. I have a much loved 610 that doesn’t hold a charge too well and has a chip in the face from doing a ‘superman’ on a trail at Oak Mtn. She has been with me through good races and bad… running on air to slogfests. I just couldn’t imagine going back to Nike….even with their pretty colors.

    • tlsylvan

      Hooray for Garmin! Those suckers are resilient! I’ve fallen on mine many times, and it still keeps ticking!

      When yours finally dies though, you can get a colorful new Garmin 🙂

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  • Adrian L

    In 2015 finaly I got a 305 Garmin, at a second hand but as a new watch. So if until now I run with Nike + app on my iPhone 5 I tested bougth in the same time. The first 5 k was absolutley the same. +/- 3-5 meters betwen beep signal. After I started to take brakes bought device with auto pause the iPhone started to cut meters so at final of ten with Nike + I got 10k and 200 m. Now the Nike has a great app with a great site, with virtual contest, with audio on the run to anounce your time and music so nice to lestening while running. The garmin is great as watch 305 is a vrey nice piece and I think best for professional runners, obsesed by number and times. And it’s work how it should but my ante experience with Nike+ and the accuracy between two make me to think. Keep the Garmin 305 or not!

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