garmin adventure racing mode
Kyle Nossaman, center of frame, wearing the Garmin Enduro with AR mode enabled.

Garmin Enduro Review: The First Smartwatch Approved for Adventure Racing

For the first time, adventure race competitors can wear smartwatches at official events. The new Garmin Enduro has an Adventure Racing Mode that enables the change. GearJunkie’s adventure racing team tested it at the first event that sanctioned its use.

For adventure racers, there’s never been a better reason to buy a Garmin GPS-enabled watch. The company recently announced that the Adventure Racing World Series authorized its new Enduro watch for competitive use. It also approved the older Fenix and Marq series.

Previously, adventure race competitions, which emphasize endurance and orienteering, did not allow GPS-capable watches. The Garmin Enduro’s Adventure Racing Mode (AR Mode) locks users from features that would deliver a racing advantage like GPS, distance, and speed.

But it does enable various tracking functions: a tracklog, various biometric monitoring features, and a compass. Users can also opt to turn on GPS tracking in a capacity that records location data but makes it invisible to them until after the race.

garmin enduro adventure racing watch

“With the new software update, adventure racing competitors can continue to monitor biometric data, set timers, and utilize other built-in features like an altimeter and compass while adhering to the guidelines of the sport,” said Dan Bartel, Garmin VP of global consumer sales.

It’s a significant change in adventure racing, which prioritizes analog navigation. The multisport orienteering competitions can lead teams of participants through challenging terrain via kayak, mountain bike, and foot.

Routes are often hundreds of miles long, and unmarked. However, teams must navigate to specified checkpoints along the way using only a map they receive hours before the race starts.

For obvious reasons, adventure racers typically train with watches that track their location, fitness data, etc. With the Garmin Enduro, they can now compete without losing any data.

In-House Testing Summary

GearJunkie’s Kyle Nossaman test-drove the new Garmin Adventure Racing Mode in the first official event sanctioning its use. The 30-hour USARA National Championships race in Cable, Wisconsin, required teams of three to paddle, trek, mountain bike, and navigate between 50+ checkpoints.

Before the race, Nossaman and his teammates received detailed instructions for use from the USARA. Notably, the organization also approved Garmin’s Fenix 6 and Marq series for official events.

Nossaman reported that the USARA encouraged competitors to establish a sound knowledge of how Adventure Racing Mode worked before the race. Any usage of GPS in adventure racing still results in disqualification, and users are responsible for their knowledge of their devices and software.

Nossaman armed himself with his Garmin Enduro and the most complete understanding of Garmin Adventure Racing Mode he could marshal. Then he started the race. His full, in-depth report covers the features he used, USARA verification details, and what he liked best. Read on for the review.

Review: Garmin Enduro Smartwatch for Adventure Racing

On the surface, Garmin AR Mode operates like other Garmin activities. Once selected, there are options to set up your preferred data screens, power mode, and more. The data screen that I built and used showed: heart rate, timer, time of day, lap time, and battery percentage.

garmin adventure racing mode

A locked default screen served as the Adventure Race verification page and showed my race start time. I was able to manually track laps and set some alerts, which I found helpful.

Reminders for time, heart rate, and eating (which is nice during Adventure Races, where proper fueling is key) were all clutch. I also used and liked the compass.

garmin adventure racing mode

As you’d expect, once you stop activity in AR Mode, it cannot be undone. This saves your activity and verifies your start and stop times. Essentially, it’s a security feature: USARA race organizers checked the verification at the finish line to confirm that I’d kept the watch in AR Mode for the entire race.

For a 30-hour race, it’s key for any watch to have great battery life. (And for lots of other applications outside of adventure racing, too.) USARA rules dictate that if a watch in AR Mode dies during a race, it disqualifies results. My Garmin Enduro was perfect, as it had extremely impressive battery life. I started the race with an estimated battery life of 55 days.

I used AR mode’s special locked-out GPS capability during the entire 30-hour race, so I could look at my route later. At the end of the race, I had 27 days of battery life left. I had no concerns about my watch dying during the competition.

During the race, I found it helpful to track lap times for various legs of the race, and generally keep track of elapsed time and time of day. The best part, though, was the GPS capability.

Syncing my watch to my Garmin app after the race allowed me to view our GPS track and upload it to Strava. My teammates and I used the information to analyze our navigation, pace, and more.

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I’ve been adventure racing for a full year, and I see the new Garmin Adventure Racing Mode as a positive. I liked using some of the watch’s functions during the race and analyzing some data after the fact.

That said, using a GPS tracking watch for that amount of time requires ample battery life. My previous Garmin Fenix 5 only lasted 12 hours in GPS mode. By comparison, my Garmin Enduro can function in GPS mode for up to 80 hours.

Get the Garmin Enduro Smartwatch

While the Garmin Enduro squarely aims at adventure racing, it is a beast all on its own. Its GPS consolidates multiple satellite networks to maximize tracking ability.

Its updated fitness tracking specifically targets endurance athletes — adventurer racers and ultra runners, take note. It pairs with an inReach Mini satellite communicator to enable messaging in remote environs. Then there’s the massive battery life.

Check it all out at Garmin — MSRP is $800.