Garmin Forerunner 265

Multiple Buying Options Available

  • Incredibly comprehensive running data
  • Vast recovery metrics
  • In-watch music capabilities
  • Expensive
  • Multiple buttons take some time to get used to

As SELF’s fitness director and an avid runner and weight lifter, I test a whole lot of wearables. There are so many options out there, but sometimes it feels like a Goldilocks situation: One might have the sports-centric features I love but also miss out on some smartwatch capabilities. Another may be great for running but may skimp on some overall general health metrics. Which makes me wonder: Is there a fitness watch out there that’s just right?

With that question in mind, I powered up a sample of the Garmin Forerunner 265, the latest iteration in the brand’s running-watch product line. Read on for my complete Forerunner 265 review.

How I tested

I based my review off the criteria recommended by SELF’s panel of experts for evaluating fitness trackers, taking into account things like accuracy, ease of use, and special features.

Though the Garmin Forerunner 265 is a running watch, it was created with the understanding that runners don’t just pound the pavement—they do a bunch of other workouts too. So along with testing the watch during runs (from slow recovery paces to quick interval sessions and a 10K race), I also strapped it on for indoor cycling classes, outdoor walks, strength training sessions, and even a random yoga class.

I wore the watch for over a month for all those activities, as well as while showering and sleeping. During this time, I only took off the watch to charge it.

Ease of use

One thing to note: I’m very familiar with the Garmin world—my very first wearable was the Garmin Forerunner 10 over a decade ago, and I’ve been wearing the Garmin Venu 2 pretty regularly over the last couple years. So I unboxed the Forerunner 265 already knowing a lot of what to expect with the hardware and the accompanying app.

First impression

I have to say: Even though I have experience with Garmins, the initial process was a little more complicated than I expected. The Forerunner 265 is a touchscreen-capable device, but it also has a lot of physical buttons. That’s not necessarily a problem—I think buttons you can actually feel are a huge plus since it makes for less fumbling during your workout and lets you operate them just fine if you’re wearing gloves. Five, though, is a bit…much. Especially during setup and initial use, I found myself getting tripped up on which button did what, though it eventually became easier as time went on.

The Garmin app

Other than that, setting up the Garmin Forerunner was straightforward, and it paired easily with my Android phone. Once I selected the new watch as my “primary device” in the Garmin Connect app, I was able to see the breakdown of all the metrics right there in one place: workout details, training readiness, resting and max heart rate, body battery, stress, steps, floors, calories, sleep, sleep score, pulse oximeter reading, pulse oximeter and acclimation, respiration, training status, and heart rate variability status. Yes, there are a lot of them! If that much information is too overwhelming, you can simply swipe left to hide each field and clean up your home screen.

Scroll down even further, and you’ll get a snapshot look of the previous day’s data for all those fields, and, if you keep scrolling, you’ll get a compilation of what your last seven days looked like cumulatively. This can help you identify any patterns—or alert you if any metrics are way off your norm.

The watchface

Your actual watchface (which you can choose in the Garmin Connect IQ app) can show much of those same metrics mentioned above too. Like on the app, you can pick and choose which fields you want to show up, and set up shortcuts for which button you want to start which command.

A cool thing about the Forerunner is that you can see a lot of your data right on your wrist: For instance, if I click on my sleep score, I get not only the number, but also a graph of my deep, light, REM, and awake time, a breakdown of the duration of each, and a bar chart showing my sleep stages for the last seven nights. Lots of fitness trackers give you bare bones on the watch and direct you to the app for more specifics, so having so much info right at my fingertips was a nice treat.

The exercise screen

I customized my “start” button to go right to the exercise screen, which allows you to choose from from dozens of activities: run, bike indoor, treadmill, strength, walk, HIIT, track run, trail run, elliptical, bike, swim, pool swim, open swim, yoga, winter sports, and more.

The Forerunner is a running watch, so it really wasn’t a surprise to me that its tracking for that activity is excellent—by far the best of any brand I’ve tried. The customization is really great, and you can tweak the data screens (each of which allows up to six fields) any way you see fit. I configured two separate ones: The first includes time elapsed, distance, pace, and heart rate, and the second shows lap time, lap distance, lap pace, and heart rate. If you want to get fancy, you can add even more additional screens, with other metrics like cadence, split pace, power, heart rate zones, and elevation. Once you enable touch capabilities on your running activities, all you need to do is scroll on the face of your watch to cycle through each screen. On easy and long runs, I keep my watch on the first data screen the entire time, and when I do interval workouts or tempo runs, I shift to that second screen during my efforts to make sure I’m hitting my paces.

Christa Sgobba

The running screen really shines on the Forerunner 265, but I was also a huge fan of the strength screen. You can customize that, too, but the default works great for me: It shows your heart rate, a graph of where that falls in your heart rate zones, time elapsed during your set, and reps. Once your first set is done, you press a button to end it, and you’re given the option to edit your number of reps (your watch counts this for you based on your movement, though it’s not always accurate) and fill in the amount of weight you used. In between sets, the time elapsed per set changes to time in your rest period, which I found to be really helpful to make sure I’m taking enough of a breather. After your workout, you can see in the app how many sets and reps you did at which weight for each exercise, making tracking progression really easy.


Accuracy is vital in a running watch, and I found the distance-based GPS to be right on target: I used this watch several times at a popular trail that’s labeled every half mile, and each time I passed these markers, my watch’s distance matched up perfectly. I often run a set loop around my neighborhood, and my final distance never varied more than a hundredth or two of a mile.

I also found its heart rate data to be very accurate. In a lot of watches I’ve tried, I’d sometimes notice weird heart rate drops during intervals or short times of harder effort, but my Forerunner 265 never glitched like that.

Battery life

I’m spoiled by how hardy my Garmin Venu 2 is in regard to keeping a charge, so I expected no less from the Forerunner 265, and it held up: I pretty much only fully charge it twice a week or so, sometimes more if I just plop it onto the charger for a quick boost of juice while I’m getting ready. A 10-minute top-off before a run, for instance, brought me from 42% all the way to 60%. Activity doesn’t sap a whole lot of battery, either. I started a 35-minute indoor bike session at 11%, then after my workout was over, it was just down to 10%. A lot of fitness tracker smartwatches really hemorrhage battery life—so much so that you almost need to charge them daily—so Garmin’s resilience is a welcome break.

Comfort and style

The Garmin Forerunner 265 is a workhorse, and, well, it kind of looks like one. Even though I tried this in the smaller 42-mm-case size, it still has a rugged, functional silhouette—if you’re looking primarily for a dainty, pretty fitness tracker to wear to work or while out running errands, this probably isn’t going to be the best one for you.

As for comfort, though, I really enjoyed this watch. The silicone sports band is not as stiff or hard as some of the others I tried; it’s actually quite stretchy and has a lot of give.

Water resistance

The Forerunner 265 is made to withstand water pressure up to 50 meters—more than enough to track activity for many different kinds of off-land sports. I’m not a swimmer, I can’t comment on how it holds up during those workouts, but I did shower in it daily and wear it while hanging out in both a pool and an ocean where the device was submerged, and it handled it just fine.

Special features

Along with tracking activity, the Forerunner also provides a bunch of health metrics—and some really fun extras:

Running data

The Forerunner 265 allows you to create running workouts on the app—setting up your warm-up, interval duration and target pace, number of repeats, and cooldown—and sync it seamlessly to your watch. To me, this is a game changer. I recently did a workout with short one-minute sprints, and before this I’d have to keep looking down at my watch to keep time, which would break my stride and stress me out. With this feature, my watch started to vibrate five seconds before the period was up, and alerted me via voice (it connects via Bluetooth to earbuds) when my interval was actually done. It also helpfully told me when my pace was lagging outside my target. (On the other hand, if the thought of a literal voice in your ear telling you to hurry up is more anxiety-inducing than motivating, you can skip including pace targets, which I will probably do some times.)

Another cool running feature? The watch uses data from your runs and your VO2 max (how efficiently your body uses oxygen) to give a prediction of your 5K finish time, and it’s fun to see the graph of how that estimation changes over a four-week period based on your training. I haven’t raced a 5K in a solid four years, and its prediction is just a handful of seconds off my PR, so I’ll take it.

Christa Sgobba

Health and recovery data

Like most fitness trackers these days, the Forerunner tracks health metrics like sleep, resting heart rate, and heart rate variability (HRV, or the fluctuation of time between heartbeats). My favorites, though, are the stress score (which uses HRV) and the “body battery” (calculated by HRV, activity, and sleep). I found it was helpful to take a look at these graphs during the day when I needed a reminder to take a break.

A new-to-me recovery feature in this watch was the training readiness, a metric that combines your sleep score, recovery time from activity, HRV status, training load, sleep score history, and stress history into a score from 1-100 to help you determine whether you should go all-out in a workout, dial down the intensity, or take a rest day instead. It was cool to see how non-exercise factors affected this: I had only a few readings of “poor” during my testing period—all of which occurred during pretty stressful travel, when my days were packed and I was short on sleep. I wasn’t working out heavily during this time, but seeing how my body was still physically stressed from other things motivated me to dial it back even more.

Christa Sgobba

Smartwatch features

I felt like the smart features were pretty standard here: You can get notifications for email, calls, texts, and a bunch of other apps if you so choose. You can respond to texts with some prewritten answers, but nothing individualized. It lacks the speak-to-text replies that I really loved with the Google Pixel Watch and you can’t actually take calls from it either.

Music capabilities

This was another game changer for me. The Garmin Forerunner 265 allows for phone-free music, a huge benefit for someone like me who hates lugging one around on the run. The watch is compatible with Spotify and Amazon Music; I used the latter and loved it. It synced with my existing playlists and always found my Airpods within seconds. You can also use a button shortcut on your watch to switch to the music screen during your workout if you want to skip a song or adjust the volume—you don’t have to cancel out of your routine.

Bottom line

The Forerunner 265 is a great watch for runners who take their workouts pretty seriously. The sport-related features are really immense, and some of them fill a need you didn’t even know you had. As someone who just started a training cycle for a fall half marathon, these features and the related data are huge, so I’m definitely going to continue to use this device through it.

If you’re a more recreational runner (or mainly focus on another type of exercise), though, it’s hard to justify the price tag here, especially since it comes with specialized features you may not even need or use. In that case, I’d recommend a more general fitness tracker—if you want to stay in the Garmin world, the Venu 2 is a nice, less intense option.