Using maps on Garmin watches is a headache – and it shouldn't be

Map on a Garmin Epix watch
(Image credit: Future)

Garmin made its name in satellite navigation (the company was originally called ProNav), so it's perhaps no surprise that mapping has become such an important part of its best GPS watches. What's strange is the way you interact with them, which still feels weirdly counterintuitive, even for top-tier devices like the Garmin Epix and Forerunner 955.

Back in the days when all Garmin watches were controlled solely with buttons, finding your way around maps was a pain in the neck, but thankfully things have improved now that modern Fenix and Forerunner models are equipped with touchscreens. Panning around is now as simple as tapping and dragging a finger across the watchface.

Zooming isn't so easy. It's understandable that a screen just over an inch in diameter doesn't support two-fingered gestures like a phone – pinching to zoom on a watch face would just be too fiddly – but double-tapping to zoom in and out seems like a natural way to interact and get a closer look. Want to see your full route? Double-tap. Focus on your current location? Double-tap again.

For the time being, the experience just doesn't feel complete and polished. We're optimistic that things will change, though – particularly because Garmin seems to be pouring a lot of time and resources into on-wrist mapping.

Show me the way

Earlier this year, Garmin released the Epix, which I strongly believe is the best Garmin watch around when it comes to maps. The Fenix 7 is fine, but its memory-in-pixel display with its blue backlight just doesn't render things particularly clearly. On the big, bold AMOLED display of the Epix, maps look fantastic – clear and easy to read.

The Epix and Fenix 7 also comes with a new Map Manager tool, which makes it easy to download and organize new maps directly on your wrist rather than messing about with the Garmin Connect app on your phone. Both watches have plenty of storage too, so there's lots of room for street-level, topographical, and other maps – all ready to use at the flick of a finger,

Before too long, all Garmin watches might be sporting vivid, crisp full-color screens. Garmin has applied for patents that would allow it to integrate solar charging into an AMOLED watch display without affecting the appearance or increasing costs too much. A more polished map interface would be the icing on the cake.

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.