I’ve been swimming with a Garmin 310xt GPS unit for almost a year now, and I have to say it is a fantastic piece of gadgetry. I got it for Christmas last year (thanks mom!) and have put it through the paces in the ocean, a couple lakes, and even a little bit with my bike. It’s a device that’s touted to be waterproof that actually appears to be waterproof! Amazing! There’s no holes or ports in it which gives it limited opportunities to fail. The charging is done via metal connections on the outside of the unit and data is uploaded wirelessly… I wish waterproof cameras worked like this! I will say the 310xt is pretty crazy expensive ($350ish), but I’ve definitely gotten a lot of value out of mine.
When I got the 310xt my first order of business was to get the Garmin software set up on my computer. The unit comes with a USB device that wirelessly downloads your data which is super suave and part of why this particular waterproof device doesn’t fail. The problem is being a guy that works with computers I figured I’d just set it up without reading anything, no problem right? Wrong! If you do things out of order the set up is going to suck… a lot. Before you do anything get out the directions, read them, and then follow one by one through the set up process… trust me on this one! I was pretty thoroughly frustrated while trying to get things set up!
After I had the software sorted out it was time to swimmerize it. My 310xt started life as a watch, but it’s no so great for tracking your position in water while swimming if it’s wrist based. Water and satellites don’t necessarily get along. I hear a software update has helped that situation out a lot, but I can’t speak to that as I’ve never used it in that fashion since I did some surgery and removed the straps. I kept the little metal things that held the straps on and then used some velcro to loop around all that to allow me to attach the unit to my goggles. I swim with a cap over the top of all that to hold it onto my noggin so it’s always (well almost) above the water for the best signal. As a side note… part of why I chose the 310xt as opposed to other newer devices from Garmin was the shape. It’s fairly flat on the backside and doesn’t dig into your head when held down with a cap. Some of the newer units were smaller but much more curved and wouldn’t have worked out as well under a swim cap.
Operation of the unit is fairly simple. Hold a button to turn it on, wait for it to find satellite signal, push a button to start it, push the same button to stop it, hold the lap button down to clear it out. All of this can be easily done without looking at the screen, I do most of it on the back of my head with a cap over it. There’s other more advanced features and settings you can mess with, but frankly I’ve never used most of them or needed them. Whatever defaults I set when I first got it have served me pretty well. Once you’re done swimming you just need to turn it on within range of the wireless usb device and it will download your swim data and upload it to the Garmin Connect Website where it will plot it to a map and give you all kinds of cool stats, I really dig that. You can send other people links to your workout, or view your workout data from anywhere with an internet connection. Super suave.
While swimming I don’t notice the unit much, but if it’s a long swim… like 6+ miles… it can get uncomfortable if a tight cap is involved. On my own training swims where I used my own caps that were a little stretched out for my huge head I was ok, but in long races with fresh tight new caps it was headache city and in a few cases I ended up tossing it into the support kayak. One thing that I really like about having it on me while swimming is I get a buzz every 1000m letting me know where I’m at, assuming I manage to correctly count the buzzes.
Although I doubt the lines it pulls are totally perfect, they seem to be very good. I get the occasional irrational hop or squiggle in my lines that is obviously wrong, but you can get too mad about that. You’re tracking your movements in the ocean with the help of devices floating in outer space, let’s just go ahead and agree that’s amazing and we don’t get to complain about an occasional glitch :)
All told I think the Garmin 310xt is an excellent piece of swim dork-ery and if you like to know exactly(ish) how far you swim in open water and don’t like money I compel you to go get one. You can buy the 310xt from SwimOutlet.