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Garmin Fenix 5 GPS Watch Review

Garmin Fenix 5 GPS Watch Review

A bird hunter uses his Garmin Fenix 5 GPS watch with a Garmin Alpha.

Compatible with Garmin GPS Collars, the Garmin Fenix 5 is the ultimate upland data geeks tool.

On October 19, 2018, sunny skies combined with blustery winds and warmer temperatures, 25 mph and 63 degrees to be exact, led to an oddly successful day in the grouse woods. Too warm and too windy to be considered ideal grouse hunting conditions, I hiked 9.24 miles and burned 2,624 calories over the course of 5 hours, 29 minutes and 36 seconds of hunt time. And best of all, after all the miles, minutes and calories, I flushed 16 ruffed grouse and 28 American woodcock while managing to bag 4 grouse and 3 woodcock.

Yes, it was a good day indeed, and I can still feel the warm winds cooling as the sun slunk down behind the trees at dusk. And I can yet feel the heft of those birds on my game strap as I hung them from a sapling next to a very tired, yet very proud English setter. While I hope these memories last forever, I am certain they will fade and blend over time. But I’m also certain they will retain the basic facts and integrity to help me remember them, thanks to my Garmin Fenix 5 watch and the data it helps me capture.

Upfront: the Garmin Fenix is absolutely loaded and the base model starts at a price tag of $449.99. Stay with me and I’ll explain why I’m convinced it’s worth every penny.

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Let’s start from the top, beginning with: what is the Garmin Fenix? According to the Garmin website, the Fenix is “a premium multisport GPS watch with Elevate™ wrist heart rate technology fit for adventure with rugged design that features stainless steel bezel, buttons and rear case which allows you to put key stats at your fingertips with the performance widget that shows the effects and progress of your workouts.”

Yes, the Fenix is all of those things and much more. I won’t bore you with all of the technical details as I intend to focus on how I utilize this watch for upland hunting, but I will say, the Garmin Fenix is an incredibly capable, durable, and ruggedly handsome piece of outdoor technology. Creative Director of Project Upland, A.J. DeRosa, has gone so far as to say, “It’s the ultimate upland hunting fashion statement. The Garmin Fenix is so hot right now!” All kidding aside, I love my Garmin Fenix and I am predictably more and more impressed with it after each use. 

I was first drawn to the Fenix, as I suspect many upland hunters are, due to its capability to communicate with and display information from my Garmin Alpha GPS dog collar. Having now thoroughly tested the feature I can assure you that it really works and it works really well. Essentially there’s nothing magic happening; the Fenix establishes a connection via the Garmin Alpha handheld unit which is most likely strapped to a bird vest or in a pocket and displays the direction and distance of a dog wearing an associated GPS collar. The direction indication and location updating within the Fenix is immediate and responsive.

The Garmin Fenix is compatible with the Garmin Alpha GPS collar

Effectively there is a true feeling of performance and convenience I get by being able to quickly look at my Fenix watch, as opposed to the Alpha handheld, to quickly establish my dog’s location before (hopefully) moving in on a productive point. Furthermore, the orientation and navigation technology within the Fenix is of superb quality. When I level my wrist, the Fenix quickly orients itself and points me in my preferred direction of travel, or again, towards my bird dog on point.

While I’ve been pleased with the Garmin Alpha compatibility, it is perhaps some other more unexpected features that have me so enthralled with my Fenix watch. Specifically, the interface with the Garmin Connect app on my smartphone and the built in activity tracking. It is the activity tracking that logs and archives the data and details of each and every one of my hunts.

After the dog is collared up, the truck is locked and a couple of shells are dropped into my side-by-side, a couple of quick watch button presses are all that’s required to begin logging quantifiable date, time, location, distance and weather data that will later be used to complete my hunting journal. The Garmin Fenix minimizes the work I have to do in the field to collect this data, which allows me to focus on my hunt and enjoy every moment I spend in the woods. Later, when I’m back at home dreaming I was hunting, I can pore over the data, reliving the days and recreating memories.

Like most hunters I imagine, these memories are invaluable to me. Any piece of technology that helps me save them and add more detail and clarity to them is worth considering. Oftentimes the question of technology becomes: is it worth the learning curve or the time spent using it? In the case of the Garmin Fenix, I say, “Yes, it most definitely is!”

As a ruffed grouse and woodcock hunter, I’ve become borderline — okay, never mind — I am obsessed with satellite imagery. I spend more time than I care to admit hiking through digital forests with my fingertips. Not without benefit though; I’ve learned much about digital scouting and that’s resulted in the discovery of many new covers to hunt, some of them no doubt my best places to go. So what does this have to do with the Fenix?

After a hunt, when I click stop on my activity tracking on the watch, that hunt is over — until I get back to camp, that is. Eventually I’ll fire up the Garmin Connect app and sync all of the day’s recorded activities to my phone, at which point I can begin to review each hunt individually. Beyond the time, distance, weather and wind data I previously mentioned, the Connect app will display the exact route I walked over the satellite imagery so I can see exactly how I hunted the cover. This becomes not only an effective review tool for me, but it’s yet another way I can relive the hunt. Depending on how well I know that cover, I can put myself back into that specific place.

I can remember walking along the alder-lined creek bottom. I can still see the hazel brush and aspen rising out of the swamp to my right. And I can still hear that pair of grouse flushing out of the deadfall up ahead. And just in case you’re wondering, I missed . . . with both barrels.

Beyond the hunting applications, the Garmin Fenix has become a part of my daily life, considering I don’t go anywhere without it strapped to my wrist. Whether I’m taking the dog for a walk or taking my mountain bike for a spin, the Fenix is always there, always on, tracking, logging and storing. For some, this may be of no interest and I understand that. For me, I enjoy the numbers, the data and the accountability it provides me. The Garmin Connect app is loaded with charts and summaries related to activity and fitness levels. There’s more there than I’ll likely ever use but hey, thanks for including it all, Garmin!

I could go on and on about the technical features of the Garmin Fenix. The durable, waterproof housing. The built in heart-rate monitor for accurate and instant fitness tracking. The extremely capable on-board GPS and compass display. The incredible battery life and the limitless customization options. Those features are all there along with many more.

It’s not often that a piece of upland gear can cross over from use in the field to daily driver status, but when something does, it becomes the standard by which I measure all my other gear. While the Garmin Fenix is not an inexpensive piece of technology, it’s proven its worth and value to me over and over again. I suspect there will be a Garmin watch on my wrist for the foreseeable future.

Note: Garmin recently released a new watch that includes many of the same features as the Fenix, including the dog tracking capability, at a lower price point. The Garmin Instinct is now available, and perhaps a review on Project Upland will be forthcoming. 

View Comments (6)
    • The connect app does not show the dog’s route. I can’t say for certain but my guess is that capability is not available. Good question for Garmin though, I would love to be able to include that within my individual activity logs. That said, of course I can map and save tracks via the Garmin Alpha or Astro itself. I can also map my hunts and do some of what the Fenix does with my Alpha but I’ve just found that I’ve never done it with my Alpha. I’m certain it has much to do with the fact that it’s so easy to press a couple of buttons on my Fenix watch and then have everything sync to my phone at the end of the day. That’s where the real convenience is as opposed to having to plug the Alpha unit into my PC and then manage everything there. It’s much easier via my smartphone and the cloud.

    • Thanks Michael! Great idea, I do know at least one person on the Project Upland writing squad has an Instinct, so that review could be forthcoming. That said, without having done extensive research or use with the Instinct, I actually think most of the features I like and wrote about on the Fenix are also available in the Instinct. Again, I’m not 100% sure but I think most of what I wrote about applies to the Instinct as well. Certainly the dog and activity tracking with connection to the Garmin app.

  • I couldn’t be more in agreement with your positive review of the Garmin Fenix 5. Not only am I an avid upland hunter and field trialer, but I am also a triathlete. My Fenix 5 gets year round use tracking my swim, bike, run and dog activities. If you link your Garmin account with the Relive app, you can automatically create really cool videos of each hunt complete with satellite imagery, course, distance, elevation, and photos. The video replay follows your course travelled and then shows you the photos taken during the hunt as it reaches the point where each photo was taken. A great way to revisit and remember each hunt.

    • First of all, thank you Lance. Secondly, wow! I will absolutely be checking out the Relive app. That is an awesome idea and definitely fits in with how I use my Garmin Fenix. Thank you for the tip!

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