Gear Review: Garmin Fenix 3 HR (Sapphire) Sports Watch for Hiking
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
Garmin Fenix 3 HR (Sapphire):
This blog post is a review of the Garmin Fenix 3 HR (sapphire edition) multi sports watch.
The Fenix 3 HR is a multi sports watch with GPS and Heart Rate monitoring functionality. The Fenix 3 comes in versions with and without Heart Rate monitoring ("HR" denotes which model does have this).
The Fenix 3 HR also has a toughened and (I think) better looking "sapphire" version too, this is the one I bought and am reviewing here. I have had this watch 2 years and purposely waited to get some really good use out of it before I reviewed it.
The sapphire version of the Fenix 3 is more resistant to scratches and damage, and is less likely to crack than the standard version due to its sapphire lens. This therefore seems to be the outdoor adventurers choice of the choices available.
Durable, tough and up to the job when it comes to outdoor adventuring
Having had the watch for two years, I can say that it has taken a bit of a beating. It has been out in all weathers, knocked against rocks and clattered on surfaces (I am clumsy!), and it has stood the test of time well. There are a few small aesthetic chips and scratches to the dial and watch strap (you will see in photo above), but remarkably the screen itself is completely unscathed with no damage at all. This watch has definitely proven itself to be tough enough for the job.
I am very impressed with its durability, and in that respect it is a fantastic outdoors watch.
Whilst it meets the rigours of the great outdoors, the Fenix 3 HR sapphire is a smart looking watch. I also wear it to work as it looks great with the matching stainless steel strap. you can also buy the basic watch band separately as well if you prefer. I have both, but have never taken the metal strap off as I find it comfortable even in the outdoors on hikes - it just feels more robust.
Sports watch band
I will briefly outline an overview of this watches features below, but will mainly focus on and discuss features that are used for hiking/walking and navigation.
The Fenix 3 HR provides summaries of your activities on its display, which includes data such as distance, time, pace, steps climbed, elevation, calories burned and more. You can customise what data you want it to show and can even download new "watch faces" from the Garmin "Connect IQ" app to change what the display looks like. You can choose from professional and smart looking ones if you want to use it as a day to day watch, or various sporty ones if you prefer.
Hiking/Walking and Navigation
The Fenix 3 HR has a number of extremely useful functions for hiking/walking and navigation which I have found to work well in the real world.
Plot and plan routes
You can use the Garmin Connect platform to plot and plan routes and upload them to the watch to follow when hiking or walking. When you go into the watch menu and select the route you have planned at the start of your walk, the route will show on the display in green. You can then zoom in and out to check where you are on it (I find this a bit fiddly to do). Whilst a bit fiddly, this does mean you can find out at any point exactly where you are on your planned route and which direction you need to go into stay on track which is incredibly helpful and I find myself checking and using regularly.
You can export your route GPX. files, and can also import GPX. files into the Garmin Connect "courses" section. This means you can import a course created by someone else and upload it onto your watch. You will find downloadable route GPX. files on many walking websites so this is useful.
Aways check any GPX. route file created by anyone else in Garmin Connect before using it and relying on it for your walk to make sure it is accurate. Don't assume that any route you download from someone else is fully accurate or won't need tweaking. I have found numerous issues with other peoples GPX. route files. There are often many versions of the same walk as well so you want to make sure the GPX. route file you have downloaded is the one you need/want and matches its description accurately.
Map mode, Sat Nav and signposting
When you select a route that you have uploaded from Garmin Connect to the watch and press start, it brings up the route on your watch display. You can then zoom in or out as you need to so that you can see where you are to stay on course and check directions. The map route will show as green and your progress will be in black.
As well as following the route on the main map, this watch has a handy "sat nav function", which flashes up directional arrows. These regularly signpost you as to which direction to go in order to stick to your planned route. The watch will vibrate and visually tell you when you are not on course and I have found it to be accurate within a few feet which is reassuring.
It stops you from wandering too far before realising you are off track which can only be a good thing. If it flashes up and vibrates to tell you that you are off track, you can then choose to go into the map itself and check in more closely and in more detail where you are and where you need to go.
Follow the green line - the Garmin Fenix 3 HR in map navigation mode
The Fenix 3 HR has an omni-directional EXO™ antenna, with GPS/GLONASS satellite reception which allows you to navigate in more challenging environments than GPS would alone
I have found the GPS/GLONASS takes a few seconds to locate and lock on, but when it does it is reliable and doesn't drop out. I have not yet experienced any loss of GPS or GLONASS signal, but I am mostly wearing it out in open spaces or in areas of light cover.
Once function I really like on this watch for hiking and outdoor adventuring is the ability to receive weather updates. It is a fantastic little bonus and can give you a heads up for rain or storm. This can help prevent you from getting too far without knowing there was trouble ahead.
It also gives you the chance to dig out your coat or hat and gloves before getting wet or cold! winner!
Route backtracking and find your car:
You can use the route backtracking function (TracBack®) the Fenix 3 to follow turn back and follow the route back from where you came if you need to. The watch even allows you to save where you have parked the car when you begin your hike so you will always find it on your way back! This has come in very handy on a number of occasions!
This watch is said to last up to 2 weeks in smartwatch mode (depending on settings), up to 16 hours in GPS mode. I would say that it is a reasonable reflection of reality in my experience.
The Fenix 3 HR also has a 3-axis compass, altimeter and barometer.
Supporting systems and apps for Fenix 3 wearers:
Garmin Connect: Overview
When buying the Fenix 3 HR and other Garmin sports/fitness watches, you also get access to Garmin's fantastic web based activity management centre called "Garmin Connect". To use this you will first need to create an account, but once you are set up, you can use it to map out, plot and upload routes to your watch. You can sync these to the watch via bluetooth or by connecting the watch physically via the black charger base which you then either plug into a source of power to charge or into the PC for data transfer and syncing.
Note that the "HR" models have the three lights on the bottom which will illuminate green when in use to measure your heart rate.
The Fenix 3 HR watch and black charger base/USB sync cable
Route Planning in Garmin Connect
To plot, plan and upload routes to your watch you will need to do this via the computer on the Garmin Connect website (link below)
You simply go into the "courses" menu where it will ask you to create a new route. You can then type the location of where your hike will begin into the search bar. It will then take you the area and you can start to plot your start and end points with any markers along the way.
It is very simple to use and easy to do. I prefer using the street maps view from the options on the right hand side of the screen to do this as I find it easier to see the paths and trails. It does also give you google maps and options to look from a satellite view with varying levels of terrain visible depending on what you prefer).
Plan a route: plan/upload a route to your watch from "courses" within Garmin Connect
You can also download the Garmin connect app from the Apple App store and Androids Play store. The mobile app will allow you to sync data from the watch after walks/hikes for example to your phone and it will present it all in easy to read charts and graphs with excellent breakdowns of information which will include all of your standard data like heart rate, calories burned and other metrics such as total steps, elevation and distance/time.
The data you choose to have displayed both on the watch face and in the data summary is customisable so you can make it fit your needs.
Garmin's excellent "connect" and Connect IQ store" apps
Reviewing and sharing your activity
Once you have completed an activity, you can transfer it to the mobile Garmin Connect app. From here you can then share it with friends or view the data in clear graphs, charts and summaries. The app is well laid out, engaging, and gives you all of the information you need.
In the app you can add photos to the activity, rename it, and view a number of other measures such as your average and best pace, total moving time and total activity time, the average and maximum heart rate recorded and elevation information.
Garmin Connect activity summary
What I love about the Garmin Fenix 3 HR
1. Durability - It is tough and meets demands of outdoor use
2. Navigation Capabilities - The "sat nav" and directional signposting function, track back option and ability to upload your own routes is fantastic (and accurate) from my use so far
3. Simple to use - The watch has a lot of features but Garmin have done a good job of keeping the watch and accompanying software user friendly
4. Customisable and versatile - You can use this watch as a day watch and fitness watch as well as for hiking/outdoors, and you can customise it to show what information you want and the display to look how you want it to
What I've not liked about the Garmin Fenix 3 HR
1. Reliability - This is one I hate having to put down but I have to be honest. Whilst it may be durable and the navigational functionality is fantastic, I cannot say it has been fully 100% reliable. This is the only negative I could think of. On 99% of my hikes and adventures it has worked flawlessly, but it has on 2-3 occasions frozen completely and turned on/off leaving it unusable for that trip.
It is important to note however that this issue seems to happen when there is a new update available from Garmin, and where I have used it without having updated the watch to the latest version. This therefore this seems to be a likely cause. Either that, or I have had a faulty unit which could happen to any manufacturer. It doesn't appear to be the case though and it is not a widespread problem amongst users of this watch that I can see. For it to happen 2-3 times in 2 years also isn't a consistent regular issue either and gives some perspective as well.
I have recently updated the software hoping this will stop it from happening again in future. I will update later in the year with whether that has worked.
It is also very important to remember that a GPS watch shouldn't be your only way of navigating and be relied upon to get you of trouble on its own. Carrying a map and compass with at least a basic level of map reading skills should always be your primary as any type of technology can fail.
Conclusion - do I recommend?
Overall the Fenix 3 HR is a fantastic and very capable outdoors watch. It is incredibly tough, and the navigational capability is excellent with some very cool and useful features that really help keep you on course. On top of all this, it has all the fitness bells and whistles and even acts as a smart watch in a limited way by displaying phone notifications (you can't take or receive calls on it).
Garmin's supporting software like Garmin Connect makes this a great package. I feel it offers good value at the £369 I paid for it.
The reliability issue I have mentioned is likely to be a result of me not keeping the software up to date on the watch - so whilst it is worth mentioning to you, I would not let it stop me from recommending the watch. If it was a manufacturer fault this would be a different matter.
I have had a great experience of using this watch and would therefore recommend it. The Fenix 3 HR is an excellent choice due to its capabilities and functionality, and I would also say that it now presents good value when compared to the models that have succeeded it like the Fenix 5 and 6.
Whilst those may have some upgrades, I think this watch would still be an excellent choice and be a worthwhile purchase for an outdoor adventurer. You'd get a great watch and save some money at the same time!