Big Guy Gear Review: Garmin Fitness Products (Fenix 3, Index Scale, Vivofit)

Just getting those steps...

Big Guy Gear Reviews are what the sound like--gear reviews focused on the usability for big guys. If you're a proportional six-footer, congrats: you can use literally every piece of gear on the market. If you're a big guy, however, you know it's a frustrating marketplace. I'm here to help.

For reference, here are my basic dimensions: 6'5", 226 pounds*, dress shirt is 17"x37".  I wear XL-tall shirts and 38x34 pants—as long as they’re not straight legged, boot cut, or whatever else skinny hipsters have pushed the market toward. I'm built with more of a weak-man's barrel chest than a fat-man's beer belly. I have what Lululemon calls "hockey butt." If you're tall and not broad, or broad and not tall, these reviews should still help you find usable gear.

This time we're talking about Garmin Fitness products (including activity trackers and their smart scale), which have literally changed my lifestyle for the better.  This is probably more of a testimonial to the power of activity tracking than an actual gear review, but I hope you'll enjoy the read regardless.


As with all Big Guy Gear Reviews, the products reviewed were purchased by me based on my own decisions and without any compensation from the manufacturer.  [that said, Garmin, I wouldn't turn away a Fenix 5x...]




Approximately 2.5 years ago mention of activity/step trackers would have been greeted with a hearty eye roll.  These trackers seemed like little more than a fad, worn by people wanting to feel like they're making healthy lifestyle choices without actually putting in any effort.  I felt certain that they would be of literally no benefit to a human, such as myself (I thought) who hikes a couple times a week and walks around the office to do things.  Even after I activated the S-Health app on my Note 4, which counted my steps when I carried my phone, I didn't believe the results of 3.5k steps per day.  After all, I reasoned, I didn't always have it in my pocket when I walked 10 yards to the printer, or 40 yards to the bathroom...surely those made up another 7k steps per day...


When I finally succumbed to the cult of the step tracker, it wasn't even for step tracking.  I was working out with a personal trainer trying to get fit for my Machu Picchu trip in 2015 and he had me use a chest-strap heart rate monitor with his older Garmin watch.  He didn't offer it up every time, and I really liked seeing my heart rate to get instant feedback on my workout, so I researched the cheapest Garmin device that was compatible with the Garmin Heart Rate Monitors.  That was the Vivofit 2, at the time, which offered basic heart rate monitoring, step tracking, and basic activity tracking.

What I thought was just going to be a heart-rate monitor turned out to be an actual life changer.  It turned out I really was only doing around 3k steps per day.  It also turned out that doing one 6-8 mile hike per week wasn't actually all the activity a person needed.  Finally, and most significant, it turned out that I'm very competitive and having a step goal urging me on was all I needed to get up and move.  

I wore the Vivofit 2 for months, always working hard to beat my step goal for the day.  My daily routine changed around meeting my step goal, which had the obvious result of getting me more active.  Instead of spending my daily pre-work hours watching last night's Comedy Central lineup on Hulu, I started going for walks to get in at least 3k steps to start the day.  I quickly found that to meet that 10k goal, I was going to have to stay active at work and go out of my way to get steps wherever I could.  This resulted in things like parking as far away from the grocery store entrance as possible or taking as many trips to the printer as I could.  As my step goal grew, so did my activity level, resulting in evening walks.  

Getting my steps in during a sub-
freezing snow storm in Flagstaff

Much like the post office, neither rain, nor snow, nor dark of night, kept me from my step goal.  I learned to enjoy the sunrise, I got to experience the peaceful solitude of a snowy pre-dawn in Prescott, or the forest sounds of an evening trail run; I went out of my way to find new trails, take new streets--to just explore as I completed my steps.


The impact was significant and almost immediate.  I began step counting in April, 2015, at my heaviest weight ever--259.6lbs.  By June 16, 2015, I was down to 245.4lbs.  Almost 15 pounds lost by virtue of nothing more than getting my steps in.  I started meal prepping lunches, making the next week's meal on Sunday, so I didn't have the temptation to just go grab something after I didn't feel like making lunch every morning.  Now, almost 2 years later, I have lost over 30 pounds and kept it off, without having to go to do any strict diet plan or go to the gym regularly.  There have been backslides--usually around holidays and celebrations--but with very simple changes to my diet and always competing with my step goal the weight (and body fat) keeps coming off.
Weight/Stepping starts in 2015

2016 and 2017 see the real progress!


You're probably now thinking "ok, Tony Robins, but what about the actual devices?"  That's fair.  

I started with the Garmin Vivofit 2.  Like I mentioned above, it is a basic activity tracker.  It's probably all most people need.  Heck, it's probably all I need, but I became a data junkie and wanted more.  The Vivofit 2 (which has since been replaced by the similar, but updated, Vivofit 3) tracks your steps and sleep, is compatible with Garmin ANT+ heart rate monitors, and will track activity times and activity calories.  It has a digital clock, alarm clock, and move alerts.  It gets the job done well and inexpensively--the Vivofit 3 is available from Amazon for just $69.99.


One nice feature of the Vivofit is that it can be removed from its silicone band and worn as a clip-on tracker, permitting you to wear your fancy watch and still track your steps.


I liked the Vivofit, but wanted more for two reasons:  1 - I love to hike and bike, and wanted to track my treks with more info than just steps, and 2 - relatedly, I became a data junkie.  So I upgraded to the Fenix 3 (now replaced by the Fenix 5).  This watch has been on my wrist nearly constantly for approximately the last 2 years.  I take it hiking, skiing, mountain biking, and hunting.  It's served me well hiking up the high peak of Mt. Humphreys or down into the Grand Canyon to visit Havasupai Falls.


The Fenix 3 is a GPS-enabled activity tracker.  It does everything the Vivofit did and FAR more--from GPS breadcrumb tracking my hike, to downloading golf-course data, to syncing with my phone to provide music controls and smart notifications.   It comes in several variations, including:  sapphire face, steel band, leather band, titanium band, HRM built-in.  I strongly recommend the scratch-resistant sapphire face and quite enjoyed the leather band as an alternative to the rubber in the Arizona summers. While the device is not exactly as intuitive as an Apple Watch or maybe a Fitbit, I find it far more durable, reliable, and built with fitness and activity in mind.  It's built like a tank, and if there's one downside it's that it's sized like a tank too--making it difficult sometimes to fit under my dress shirts for work (I work around that because it's not coming off).


My favorite feature of Garmin activity trackers is the automatic step-goal re-calibration.  Garmin understands that sometimes you might not be able to be as active and others you might be very active. The goal re-calibration adjusts your daily goal up or down based on your progress toward the goal in the prior days rather than being stuck at 10k like other trackers.  Miss the prior day's goal--it adjust downwards in hopes of putting that goal in reach.  Overcome your goal--it adjusts upwards to keep you challenged and active (though this also has it's downside--one summer my goal got up to around 15k steps per day and at some point it's unachievable on a normal day.  It was deflating to do 14-15k steps and still miss my goal).


The other device I regularly use is the Garmin Index Smart Scale.  I pre-ordered the scale and have been using it since release.  This is the other side of fitness accountability--even the most accomplished step-goal achiever can face defeat from a rich diet.  The Garmin scale is similar to other smart scales--it measures weight, body fat percentage, skeletal muscle mass, body water percentage, and bone mass.  Uniquely, though, the Index syncs with your Garmin Connect account to store and synthesize your health data in one location.  This enables you to stay in one ecosystem and maximize the benefit of your health endeavors.    I won't say a lot about Garmin Connect--it has to be used to be understood--but the information stored there is powerful.  You could, for example, simply look at your steps over the past year, or you could generate an exportable report of all your activities over the past year--broken down by month and activity type per month.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.


So like I said to start, this was more of a testimonial than an actual gear review, but I owe these devices for my improved fitness and activity levels.  What seemed like an unrealistic goal weight of 230lbs two years ago is now a goal that has been surpassed and replaced by a goal of 220lbs.  The actual device motivating you might not be a Fenix, it may not be a Garmin--heck, your motivation might not even come from a device--the important part is that you have a motivator to get active and GTFO!



*If you've read my Big Guy Gear Reviews from the first post to now you'll note that my weight has progressively dropped over the last 2-ish years from 260 at my heaviest down to my current 226.  I attribute that in large part to the motivating influence of my Garmin activity trackers used in that time, as well as the health feedback from my Garmin Index Scale.  Little more than meeting my daily step goal (which has almost always been over 10k steps/day) and making minimal efforts to eat better by way of cutting out fast food and meal-prepping my lunches have resulted in at least 25 of those pounds.  I'm not trying to make this a motivational post, but I have been amazed at how minimal my efforts needed to be to result in major changes in weight, BMI, and body fat percentage.

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