Are the days of subscription-free Garmin watches numbered?

Female rock climber checking her smartwatch
(Image credit: Getty)

Garmin sports watches aren't cheap, but once you've bought one you'll have full. unlimited access to all its features. There are no Fitbit-style limits on viewing archived data on your fitness and sleep, and no Apple-esque premium membership for training plans. But all that might be about to change.

We've recently learned about the next major software update that'll be arriving on your Garmin watch at some point in the new year (unless you choose to download the alpha build and try the unpolished version on your Fenix 7, Marq 2, or Epix right now). It's exciting stuff, but there's also a rumor circulating that Garmin will be adding a couple of unlisted features to the Fenix range as well, including an extremely handy tool called Outdoor Maps+.

At the time of writing Outdoor Maps+ is only available in the US on Garmin Montana 700 devices, but it's extremely comprehensive – packed with info on National Parks and forests, BLM land, and much more. However, that all comes with an annual fee of $49.99 per year, which Fenix owners would presumably need to pay in order to access the info from their wrists.

Pay to play?

Then there's LTE to consider. In November, the Garmin Bounce bounded onto the scene – a kids' sports watch able to send and receive messages so parents and guardians can keep tabs on youngsters. Data services aren't free though, and unlocking the Bounce's full features requires a monthly payment of $10 per month.

Info accidentally published on one of Garmin's international websites earlier in the year suggests that an LTE version of the Garmin Forerunner 955 will be revealed at some point, which will presumably carry a similar fee.

There's satellite communication, too. Right now that's a feature only available to owners of Garmin inReach devices, but there's now stiff competition following Apple's addition of satellite SOS to the iPhone 14 to the iPhone 14, it may only be a matter of time before it's integrated into watches as well.

Garmin recently launched the inReach Messenger, which is a little device that links to your phone via Bluetooth and allows you to send text messages via satellite in remote areas without cellular connectivity. It's not too much of a stretch to picture the same tech being miniaturized even further and fitted into the chunky housing of a next-gen Epix.

I've already made some predictions about next year's new Garmin watches, but before long you might also need to factor in subscription fees when upgrading your wearable if you want to get the most out of it. I don't think the company will start charging for anything currently available for free through Garmin Connect, but more exciting features may be pay-to-play.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.