As an athlete, I’ve always taken a minimalist approach to gear. But I also need music while I’m out on the trail. Enter the Garmin Forerunner 945.

Remember the mixtape?
Remember the mixtape?
Photo by Nicolás Olivares at

The Evolution of the Portable Music Player

I remember my first cassette tape.  It was Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  I also remember tying my single speaker boombox onto my BMX bike and listening to Beat It over and over again as I rode home from elementary school.  Not exactly “portable,” but portable enough for the early 1980s.

In 1984, Sony released the original sports Walkman, the most advanced portable music player at the time.  Water-resistant and shockproof, it could play both sides of a tape without the need to remove it.  Just one problem: to listen to a mix, you had to make your own and to change tapes, you had to carry spares.  Portable? Yes.  Music? Yes.  Perfect?  Nope.

The tape later evolved into the compact disc (CD) which, in my opinion, was a waste. Tapes may have unraveled from time to time, but CDs were fragile and prone to scratching. This made them a challenge to use during any sport other than, say, smooth disco roller skating. Running? Good luck.  Each run would cost me $19.99 to replace my scratched CD.  Portable? Kind of. Music? Yes. Perfect? Not.

When the CD failed like most consumers predicted it would, the MP3 was born, ushering in the first period of perfect portable music.  Apple’s iPod revolutionized the music industry, as well as the design of portable music devices.  It was sleek, easy to carry, and allowed its user to change music with just a few flicks of the wrist.

The problem was that while the portable music industry was evolving, so was the sports industry.  Suddenly, endurance athletes—cyclists, swimmers, and runners—were demanding more data: GPS, heart rate, VO2 max. Companies like Garmin and Suunto rose to meet the needs of these consumers.  But this brought us back to the era of cassette tapes.

Cyclists and runners were now tech-heavy gear carriers, humping around multiple devices for various purposes during our rides and runs.  One to make calls.  Another for directions and performance metrics.  And another for music.  It was a relief when smartphones began combining music and calls, but that still required us to carry two portable devices.

For many years I used a Suunto Ambit Peak 3.  As an ultra runner and cyclist, it was the perfect watch to track data and get me home when lost.  Also with me on most runs was my phone and headphones, which allowed me to jam some tunes along the trail.  Music? Yes. Portable? Yes. Perfect? No.

The perfect portable music player with so much more.
The perfect portable music player with so much more.
Photo from Garmin

When I started researching new sports watches, I found lots of great products. But one feature kept jumping out at me: music on the watch. Garmin seemed to have cornered this market in 2020.  The company sells dozens of watches, many of which play music. I delved deeper and settled on a Garmin Forerunner 945 with music.

I chose this model for several reasons.  First, I liked the concept of an emergency tracker so I wouldn’t have to carry my phone.  I also needed long battery life, as some of my adventures last several days.  The GPS was a factor and Garmin has been the premier portable GPS brand for endurance athletes for some time.  It also has many other features, such as stride length tracking, heart rate data, and VO2—all in a portable, easy-to-wear watch.

But the primary feature that attracted me to the Garmin Forerunner 945 was the music.  Through Spotify or similar apps, you can download music to play as you go, without the need for a WiFi connection or the use of data.  This means that I can go for a run safely, have access to my health stats, and listen to music all using one device.  Music? Yes. Portable? Yes. Perfect? Yes.

If you are in the market for a sports watch, I recommend looking at the Garmin music line.   There are many different styles and sizes to choose from. Now, it’s time to pick the best one for you!