I walked 5,500 steps with the Garmin Forerunner 165 and Polar Grit X2 Pro — here’s the winner

Garmin Forerunner 165 and Polar Grit X2 Pro on a person's wrist
(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

The Garmin Forerunner 165 and Polar Grit X2 Pro are both competent, GPS-equipped smartwatches launched this year.

While they vary quite a bit in price — the Polar is $749 while the Garmin starts at $249 for the non-Music version — both promise pinpoint accurate activity tracking, monitor loads of health data and offer practical tips for training and recovery. 

The question is: When you peel back all the fancy tech and features, which one is more precise at counting good old-fashioned steps? It may not be the sexy workout metric, but it's an important one that many folks, myself included, like to keep tabs on. Plus, devices that accurately count steps tend to excel at runs, jogs, and hikes. 

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Polar Grit X2 Pro: Step count test

Mother Nature has blessed the great city of Seattle with gorgeous weather as of late. Never one to miss out on sunshine, I planned a lovely morning stroll to clear the head, knock out half of my daily step count goal, and of course, test the latest fitness-focused smartwatches. 

With the Polar Grit X2 Pro on my left wrist and the Garmin Forerunner 165 on my right, I took off on my route with the intent of incorporating as much elevation gain as possible into the workout. 

Garmin Forerunner 165: $249 @ Garmin

Garmin Forerunner 165: $249 @ Garmin
The Garmin Forerunner 165 is a mid-tier, GPS-equipped smartwatch with lots of features aimed at helping folks prep for upcoming events, like marathons. It also boasts solid battery life, a bright and colorful screen and a comfortable overall design. 

Polar Grit X2 Pro: $749 @ Polar

Polar Grit X2 Pro: $749 @ Polar
The Grit X2 pro is Polar's newest GPS smartwatch for outdoor adventures. It features a large, immersive AMOLED touchscreen and stainless steel case and bezel, making it tough-built and delightful to interact with. Moreover, the Grit X2 Pro is jam-packed with fitness-tracking tech and supports a huge number of physical activities. 

Fortunately, both devices sport onboard altimeters/barometers and spit out total ascent metrics when all is said and done. 

For a control, as always, I manually counted every 100 steps I took before clicking my trusty tally counter and starting over again at one. Fifty-five clicks later and my test was complete. Which device came closer to my manual count and how do the two compare in terms of other health and distance stats? Read on.

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Polar Grit X2 Pro: Step count test results

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Garmin Forerunner 165Polar Grit X2 ProControl
Steps5,5865,6715,500 steps (manual count)
Distance2.54 miles2.50 miles2.56 miles (Google Maps)
Elevation gain410 feet344 feetn/a
Average Pace21 mins 14 secs per mile21 min 32 secs per milen/a
Average heart rate145 bpm144 bpmn/a
Max heart rate185 bpm185 bpmn/a
Calories burned433 calories675 caloriesn/a

In total, I counted exactly 5,500 steps on my walk. Both the Garmin and the Polar overcounted that number by a negligible amount — Garmin tacked on an extra 85 steps and Polar added roughly double that, 171 steps. In either case, I'd call these results well within the acceptable margin for error. 

Looking through the other metrics, both devices recorded nearly identical average and maximum heart rates, pace and distance. Calculating calories burned is far from an exact science, so the discrepancies there don't concern me much.  It is, however, curious to see such a noteworthy difference in my ascent. 

During this walk, I took a route that involved scaling an epic pedestrian staircase to try and get my heart rate up. (it worked.) This particular set has 388 steps and involves roughly 160 feet of ascent. I climbed it twice during the adventure, so, it's safe to say the journey involved at least 320 feet of ascent. 

The question is, beyond the stairs, did I climb closer to an additional 24 feet or 90 feet? My gut says it's the former, as I can only think of one other portion of the walk that involved a noticeable incline, and it only lasted for roughly two blocks. 

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Polar Grit X2 Pro: Garmin wins

Garmin Forerunner 165 and Polar Grit X2 Pro in the sunshine

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

The Garmin Forerunner 165 takes the win against the Polar Grit X2 Pro in this step count challenge. However, it's worth noting that both of these devices performed exceptionally well here. 

Moreover, there's no need to get too caught up on having the most pinpoint accurate fitness tracking device (even if it's a lot of fun to test them head-to-head). Ultimately, as long as you're consistently wearing the same one and comparing apples to apples, so to speak, the data should be more than good enough to keep you informed and help you train. 

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Dan Bracaglia
Senior Writer, Fitness & Wearables

Dan Bracaglia covers fitness and consumer technology with an emphasis on wearables for Tom's Guide. Based in the US Pacific Northwest, Dan is an avid outdoor adventurer who dabbles in everything from kayaking to snowboarding, but he most enjoys exploring the cities and mountains with his small pup, Belvedere. Dan is currently training to climb some of Washington State's tallest peaks. He's also a big photography nerd.