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The Garmin Forerunner 235 is a GPS running watch with a wrist-based heart rate monitor, an accelerometer for indoor use, and sleep and activity tracking. It’s our most trusted training tool for our running adventures in the South, and stylish for around-town wear, too.

We’ve tested this watch on hundreds of runs –  and it’s become a tool that we rarely leave behind. Sure, there’s nothing like hitting the trail and shedding the electronic buzz of the modern day world, but this Garmin watch is like a silent training partner, there to push us over tough hills and give us a ton of post-run details and data to help our training. With a built-in heart rate monitor, an accelerometer, and GPS technology, the Forerunner 235 tracks our every move and our body’s performance, giving us a ton of data on our training and fitness.

Garmin Forerunner 235 review: our favorite running watch features built-in GPS, an easy-read colorful display screen, a strapless heart rate monitor

Garmin first introduced GPS technology to its line in 1990, and since then, they’ve burst onto the scene with several different types of devices, including the Forerunner series. The Garmin Forerunner 235 is a GPS running watch with a color screen and a wrist-based heart rate component. Quite a mouthful, eh? While it sounds complicated, we find the watch really easy to use, and quite simply, it tracks our distance and heart rate and displays our workout data in eye-pleasing colors. It’s also water resistant to 5ATM (about 50 meters/165 feet, and weighs a mere 42g. Not bad for a watch that does so much.

Forerunner 235: our trail-tested review

One of our favorite features of this watch is its integrated heart rate monitor. The 235 delivers heart rate data without the annoying, irritating chest strap of older heart rate monitors. That’s good news for those of us who were prone to losing the chest strap and hated the fit. This watch’s heart rate monitor component uses Elevate heart rate technology, a Garmin system that uses LED lights to measure blood flow in your wrist. We love watching our heart rate climb into our target zones during a trail run, and then monitoring its slow down during our cool down. The visual component of all this data really helps us make a deep connection with our training and effort. And the watch continues to measure our heart rate throughout the day, with a real-time data display.

Garmin Forerunner 235 review: three LED lights offer on-wrist heart rate monitoring for our running workouts

In addition to all the heart rate data, this watch gives feedback on pace, acts as a step and calorie counter, and even tracks sleep. It’s equally perfect for both the casual runner who merely wants to track weekly mileage, and those athletes who like to log every single measure of performance. It’s equally perfect for a road run around town, a trail run off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, or a great workout on Atlanta’s best running trails.

The 235 is great for indoor use, too, thanks to the built-in accelerometer. If the weather forecast forces our workouts indoors (or if you simply prefer a workout on the treadmill or an indoor track), the watch seamlessly transfers into indoor workout mode and keeps tracking our data. The watch’s accelerometer tracks distance and pace, without the annoying little foot pod of older systems that attached to a shoe.

Top GPS running watches: the Garmin Forerunner 235 is our favorite workout watch, with an acelerometer for indoor use and a built-in heart rate monitor

A huge benefit of the Forerunner 235, compared to older systems with chest strap heart rate monitors and foot pod accelerometers, is the watch’s all-in-one design. The watch features a single battery to keep charged. The battery life is decent, especially given how much data is being collected, and it charges via USB or a regular outlet. In smartwatch mode, it typically lasts for around 8 or 9 days. In training mode, depending on how long your workouts are, it’s good for about 11 hours before needing a charge.

So after the workout, then what? We think the watch is stylish enough to wear as our regular watch. It comes in three different colors and isn’t bulky like many GPS watches. The watch even allows customization, with downloads of different watch faces and apps from Connect IQ. If you do decide to wear it all day, be prepared for it to beep at you if you sit for longer than an hour. Some people dislike this feature, but we love it: it’s a good reminder to get up from the desk at least every hour. It can also push notifications to you from your smartphone, including texts, calls, and emails. If this sounds awful to you, don’t worry, these extra features can be easily muted.

Our favorite running watches: the Garmin Forerunner 235 features GPS, an acelerometer, a built-in heart rate monitor, and a colorful easy-read workout display

Another cool feature about this GPS running watch: it automatically uploads our workouts to Garmin Connect. Garmin Connect is an online training tool that keeps all of our workouts in one place. It helps us see trends in our training, adds up our mileage and pace data. Connect offers some fun features, too, including the ability to join training support groups, share workouts with others, and compete with friends in a running challenge. And if you’re not into uploading your data frequently, no problem: the 235 stores up to 200 hours of workouts before the memory tops out.

Garmin Forerunner 235 review wrap-up

If you’re in the market for a GPS watch that tracks heart rate without the chest strap, measures distance and time, counts steps and calories, plus a whole lot more, consider the Garmin Forerunner 235. It’s easy to use, light weight, and its all-in-one design simply rocks. We absolutely love this watch and can’t wait to run many more miles in the 235.

So where can I find it?

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Caroline Whatley

Caroline Whatley is a freelance writer and photographer at Authentic Asheville. She was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana but has called western North Carolina home for the last fifteen years. She loves hiking, running, backpacking, swimming and cycling and is on a mission to find new adventures in the South.