Gear Review: Garmin 735XT

Despite picking up a Garmin 920XT just a few months ago, it looks like I’m actually going to take the plunge on a completely different watch. Shortly after I picked up my Garmin 920XT, Garmin introduced the 735XT. This watch is based off of the Forerunner 230/235 form factor, including optical heart rate on the wrist. A couple of weeks ago I decided to pick one up to try it out and decide if it was a better watch for me than the 920XT. After using the watch for a couple of weeks, I’m feeling very confident in saying that this is a really great watch.

First, let’s talk about what makes the 735XT special. As I stated above it has an optical heart rate monitor on the wrist, so you can do away with those annoying chest straps. I’ve found it to be mostly accurate, but I’m not an elite athlete either, so I would point you to DC Rainmaker’s review where he goes into tons of data and details on how the OHR works. I’ve only had one issue with the OHR, which I will get into later in the review. On my test runs it has performed as expected, and I’ve enjoyed having the extra data without the chest strap. Additionally, the 735XT is MUCH smaller and lighter than the 920XT, and even the fenix3. The size is one of the biggest benefits of this watch for me.

Apart from the optical heart rate, the 735XT is very similar to both the 920XT and the fenix3. The underlying operating system is almost identical, and all of the screens seem to behave the same way across all of the watches. The 735XT can also take advantage of the Connect IQ store of apps to add more features to the watch, as well as additional watch faces. I had no issues finding things in the menu system, and the 735XT adds in additional options that you can scroll through while simply in watch mode.

The 735XT also has basic smartwatch functionality. I can get phone notifications on my wrist, including phone calls, which I can answer with a press of the button. Obviously this is only useful if my phone is tucked away and I have an earpiece in my ear, but it’s nice knowing it’s there as an option. You can also control your music through a special music control menu accessed by holding the up button while on the main watch face. Keep in mind that this only works with Apple Music on an iPhone however. You cannot control other apps such as Google Play or Pandora. I have not tested the feature with an Android phone, but I would assume that you are limited to Google Play Music on that platform.

As with most new watches, the 735XT has the full compliment of activity tracker features. I’ve attempted to wear the watch every day for the past couple of weeks to see how I enjoy the activity tracking features, such as heart rate and steps. I’ve never been a big watch guy, but I’ve actually gotten quite used to it now. Not so much for the step counting, but for the notifications on my wrist, and basic time/date checking. One day I didn’t wear the watch at all and kept looking at my wrist when I wanted to know what time it was. Obviously the conditioning has taken hold.

My experience with the step counter has been adequate. It seems to be a better measure than my iPhone, which often estimates higher than I know I’ve done. You can also integrate with sites like MyFitnessPal to get full tracking of all activity and calories taken in. I tend to shy away from using steps taken in my calorie tracking, as those are often steps that I would be taking no matter what. So I have turned off that integration point. I still glance at my steps every now and then to make sure I’m getting enough movement. If I see that I’ve yet to hit 7000-8000 steps by mid-afternoon, I know I need to go for a walk. This feature is great for reminding me to not sit around all night on the couch without moving a bit. You can also turn on an activity reminder feature.

When it comes to GPS tracking, the 735XT has all the same features as the 920XT except that it uses a GPS altimeter instead of a barometric one. I’m OK with this as I’ve used a GPS altimeter for years, and found it to be adequate. You can set up many different activity profiles, and alter the screens that are available on each profile. The Garmin 735XT adds in a fun built-in screen called “Strava Suffer Score”, which is a feature of the Strava tracking site to tell you how intense your workout was. It’s not really terribly useful while running (at least not to me), but it’s fun to see.

Uploading activities is over either Bluetooth or through a USB connection. Wifi is non-existent on the 735XT, but frankly wifi was never that big of a selling point for me anyway. It was nice to come home from a run and have my watch automatically sync over wifi, but Bluetooth is fast enough for my needs. Plus, if I’m away from home I’m going to use Bluetooth no matter what. I’m already using the Bluetooth notifications, so it’s not a big deal to sync over it.

I mentioned that I had one small issue with the OHR. My wife picked up a FR235, which also has an optical sensor. We’ve noticed that if we take the watch off of our wrist, and place it on a bright white surface (like our desks) with the OHR facing down, that when you put the watch on again, the OHR has extreme difficulty locking on. Both of us have needed to do a reset on the watch to get our OHRs to function again after not wearing the watch for a long period of time. In the future we’re going to try only setting them on a dark surface to test our that theory. Because the optical heart rate sensor uses light and reflectivity, I could see there being issues with the sensor being overloaded by a bright white surface. I’ve posted on Garmin’s forum about it, but I haven’t heard any more discussion.

One of the trade-offs from the 920XT is a bit of battery life. The 735XT only gets around 15 hours of battery life, which would be cutting it close for me in a 50 mile race. However, unlike the 920XT, the Garmin 735XT can be charged while on the run. It uses a clip charger, so it might be awkward to wear on the wrist, but placing it around the shoulder strap of a vest with a battery in the pocket would solve that issue. I don’t plan on doing 50 mile races every day, so the 15 hour battery life is more than enough for my weekly activities.

Overall, I’ve been very, very happy with the Garmin 735XT. It’s size and weight are amazing for the features that it packs into a small package. It has all the GPS features I need for running and biking (it can do swimming and multisport as well), and the battery life is more than adequate. I’ve come to enjoy the connected capabilities for notifications and activity tracking, despite not being the main reason that I wanted to try out this watch. I think it might be eBay time for my 920XT, despite being a very capable watch. The 735XT seems to be everything I need in a much nicer package.

Trivia and Pokemon

For the Beer and Bikes group this week we went to Fair State Coop which is this great brewery down in NE Minneapolis. Wednesday nights are trivia night, and because Pokemon Go is all the rage right now, the picture quiz was all based on Pokemon.

I took one look at the sheet and started filling it out for the team. There was only one that I wasn’t 100% sure about, but it was hilarious that I was able to fill this in from memory, having only played heavily since the beginning of this year. Later, the trivia master said that there was probably one person in every group who grabbed the sheet and just started filling it out by heart. I guess I was that guy!

 

Beer, bikes, heat, and crappy days

The day I’m writing this is a Wednesday, and on Wednesdays I usually participate in a Beer and Bikes group. Today is one of those days when I really need the beer and biking (maybe the beer more). It was a very rough day at work, but since this is a public blog, I’ll refrain from any details. Suffice it to say, I’m looking forward to getting out and relaxing tonight with some nice biking and tasty brews.

It also happens to be a week when we’re in the middle of a heat wave. The temps for the bike ride tonight will be in the 90s. That will certainly help burn off some extra calories, as the heart needs to pump a lot harder in warm weather. One of the advantages of a bike (different than running) is that you have some built in wind blowing in your face as you ride. It makes hotter days like this feel a little bit more tolerable. Granted it still might be a two water bottle night.

I’m also looking forward to burning some calories to help my weight loss. Being at a calorie deficit gets frustrating very quickly. Because I’m riding tonight, and most likely running tomorrow morning, I have a bit more of a cushion in what I can ingest. So the beers tonight will be a slight bit more guilt-free. Granted, I wish beers like Select 55 had more taste to them, since with 55 calories I could down a couple of those and not worry, but alas, beer just isn’t made that way.

I’m going to close this blog with my latest instagram picture from the other day, as it was a beautiful sunrise, and it makes me feel good about the world when I look at it.

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Trying some camp food

The wife and I are planning some day hikes in a couple weeks, and we wanted to try out cooking on a trail. This past weekend we hit REI and grabbed some camp food to try before we commit to which flavor to bring with us on the trip. We sampled two of them tonight and I’m pleased to report that we had some pretty good success.

First up is Mountain House Italian Pepper Steak. We boiled the appropriate amount of water, poured it in, stirred and waited 8 minutes. Since we were in the comfort of our home we decided to pour it out into bowls so we could see what we were getting. I’m happy to report that this particular one was a big success. It needed a little salt and pepper, but the meat wasn’t overly chewy, and the peppers tasted really good. Overall, very happy with this one and this might go with us on the trip.

Second, we tried some dessert in the form of Backpacker’s Pantry Dark Chocolate Cheesecake. The cool thing about this one is that you put in cool water, so there’s no cooking involved. You whip it for two minutes and then let it set for 10. Even with waiting for it to set, it still came out more like pudding. We added in the chocolate cookie crumbles, which added some texture, but it still was basically like eating a cake mix. It was tasty for a while, but the sweetness got old fast. I really don’t see buying this one again, as it wasn’t really all that satisfying in taste or texture.

We’ve got one more to try sometime this week, but so far this experiment has been successful, and mostly tasty.

 

 

Hixon Forest running

Last year the first ever Hixon 50K was run down in La Crosse, WI. It was put on by the main running store down there, where a couple of elite local trail runners work and live. I had heard good things about the course, and have been meaning to check it out. Since we were going to be passing by this weekend, we decided to stop at Hixon and check out some of the trails.

We parked at the top of the bluffs, in-between the upper and lower sections of the forest, and decided to try the upper section first. This area is full of trails that are used by both runners and mountain bikers. We picked a couple of loops and headed out. Very quickly from the parking lot you drop into a valley and start winding through a lovely prairie. As soon as we got to a turn off for a path named “Bob” we turned off the prairie trail for an area of thick woods. The Bob trail was a lot of fun, with technical footing and a lot of quick up and downs. It reminded me of the track at Elm Creek, but slightly more primitive.

All too soon the path rejoined the prairie trail and we found ourselves back near the main road. The mountain bike side of the forest is rather small, and we only managed just over a mile on the path we took. I know the race strings together a lot of the smaller paths, but we didn’t really know what that was supposed to look like. So instead we opted to try the lower forest area, which was a 3 mile loop designated for hikers.

We found the entrance to the path and once again immediately descended into the forest. There have been some heavy rains lately, and the upper part of the trail was very, very slick and muddy. We weren’t able to manage a very fast run, despite being downhill, but eventually the ground dried out enough to click into a nice pace. It felt like we were going down forever, but eventually we hit the valley, where the lower parking lot sits.

We stopped for a moment to remove some rocks from our shoes and began the trek up the other side of the path. The lower side is wonderfully flat-ish for about a mile before you hit the giant climb back up to the top. The final climb is a slog. It weaves back and forth in large arcing switchbacks, constantly climbing for what feels like forever. It’s almost 500 feet of climbing in a single go, and it really gets the heart rate moving.

We eventually crested the top and made our way back to our car. Hixon has some amazing hills that really challenge you, but I had a great time exploring them. The area is beautiful, and if you park on top of the bluffs you get a beautiful view of the countryside. It was a great experience, and we burned off enough to enjoy some pizza at the amazing Red Wing Brewery.

I might have to give the Hixon races a try some year, and see how the course fits into the trails. Just running the area was a wonderful experience, and I’d recommend it if you’re in the area and you enjoy some fun trails.

 

Effigy Mounds National Monument

The wife and I are on a short weekend trip to rural Wisconsin to visit some extended family. On the way there we discovered signs for something called Effigy Mounds. We were seriously intrigued and decided to turn off the highway to check it turns out that Effigy Mounds is a National Monument, run by the National Park Service. The mounds are Indian mounds that are structured in the shapes of animals, hence the effigy.

We decided to take a path that climbed two miles up a hill on switchbacks, to view some of the mounds, and visit some of the river bluff overlooks. It was fascinating to see the mounds of earth, in what was obviously man-made shapes. One of them that we passed was called Little Bear and even from eye level you could see the shape of it. There are tons of artifacts that are buried in the mounds, hence they are protected sites. Only specific archeology projects are allowed to investigate the mounds themselves. 

The views from the overlooks were amazing and well worth the uphill hike. It was fun to see a river full of activity, stretching into the distance. I have a bunch of pictures of the area, but since we’re on a rural hotel wifi connection that isn’t too stable, I’m going to wait to post those until tomorrow.