Review: Garmin Fenix 5X

The Garmin Fenix 5X in action in the Molokai Channel.

Let me start by saying that I’m not much of a measurement guy. I like to go by feel. When I got a Garmin Fenix 5x, it changed all that.

Garmin, a long-time leader in GPS technology, has a good reputation for making highly functional fitness watches among exercise junkies and in particular, paddlers. In the lead up to my first time doing Molokia 2 Oahu solo, I figured it was time to buckle down and get something that could measure my heart rate for interval training, tell me specific information about my stroke rate and also measure output over distances. After digging around the web, Garmin seemed the only logical choice. I chose the Garmin Fenix 5X.

When I got the watch, it was much more than I’d anticipated. First of all, it was huge on my wrist and heavy. I was worried that it was going to interfere with my paddle stroke. After going paddling, though, that wasn’t an issue. Second, it was much more complicated than I’d imagined. There were settings to measure mountain biking, running, trail running, hiking, swimming, golf and of course, SUP. Figuring out how to navigate the thing took a little getting used to but after a few outings, it all felt intuitive. While it functioned as a watch, it was essentially a supercomputer on my wrist that got texts from my phone when it was connected via Bluetooth, told me to move if I’d been at my desk too long and measured my steps for the day (strokes apparently count as steps). I did have some problems right when I got it with the watch freezing during workouts, but after resetting it, the problem seemed solved.

We plunged the Fenix 5X into the saltwater as much as we possibly could and it stood up to the test.

As I trained for M2O, the Fenix 5X became my constant companion. It was rugged, charged quickly and told me how my fitness level was improving as I continued my training regime. I used it for trail running when I couldn’t paddle, timed circuit workouts in the gym, heart-rate target training for flatwater sprints and measuring distance on my long weekend paddles. I particularly liked the mile splits that buzzed when you hit another mile, letting you know your overall time on water and how fast the last mile had been. That was particularly relevant when dealing with wind and current.

I did feel that they was almost too much tech going on in the Fenix 5X but I suppose that’s a good problem; you can always pick and choose how many of the functions you want to use. For me, it was all about the SUP setting, where I connected the watch by Bluetooth to the Garmin Connect app, uploaded my workout and studied where I’d gone, where I’d pushed hardest and where I could improve next time.

The app was a little complicated to navigate but again, with a little use, I was able to dial it in for how I was using it. Other handy watch features include a full GPS map, compass, altimeter, barometer and almost anything else you could use outdoors. I used it on a week-long backpacking excursion and it was an extremely handy tool for that purpose as well.

If you’re an adventurer that likes to do a multitude of outdoor activities, likes to measure all of said activities and wants to be prepared for anything, the Garmin Fenix 5X is the tool for you. For standup paddling, this is the single handiest training tool that I’ve ever used.


What it feels like to race Molokai 2 Oahu solo.

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The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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