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Garmin Instinct Review: Unleash Your Adventurous Spirit

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Are you an outdoor enthusiast seeking a reliable companion for your adventures? Look no further than the Garmin Instinct

This rugged GPS watch is designed to withstand the most challenging conditions while providing essential tracking and navigation features. 

Whether hiking in the mountains, exploring remote trails, or conquering challenging terrains, the Garmin Instinct is built to keep up with your adventurous spirit

Join us as we dive into a comprehensive review of this remarkable outdoor smartwatch and discover why it’s the ultimate companion for all your outdoor pursuits.

Garmin Instinct, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Features Glonass and Galileo, Heart Rate Monitoring and 3-Axis Compass, Graphite


User reviews

Garmin Instinct - weekend review. Replaces my Pebble 2 and Apple Watch Series 4. When I saw that this watch was being released, I read up on it and purchased it an hour later from an authorized Garmin retailer on Amazon, receiving it the next day. A little backstory...I used a GShock for years and loved it. I graduated to my first smart watch with the original Apple Watch. I had a love/hate relationship with it needing to be charged daily, the always-off screen, overall slowness, to name a few annoyances. It was just really cool all the “things” it could do.I left it for a Pebble 2 and really loved that watch for about 18 months until the buttons crumbled. I started using a backup Pebble 2 but I knew these watches had a very short lifespan. I tried a Ticwatch and an Amazfit Bip. Both were dreadfully disappointing so I went to an Apple Watch Series 3. It was more of the original Apple Watch but faster and a more mature operating system. I just recently upgraded again to the Apple Watch Series 4, which was again more of the same thing but a faster iteration. Still the always-off screen and needing daily charging made me miss my Pebble more and more.Then the Instinct just "checked all the boxes" for me. Back when my Pebble fell apart, this was the list I made in order of importance for my ideal smart watch:Always-on display:Instinct ✓ (monochrome, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel, with backlight)Several day battery life:Instinct ✓ (14 days)Physical buttons:Instinct ✓ (5, and you can program each for long-hold shortcuts)Waterproof:Instinct ✓ (100m)Notifications:Instinct ✓Music controls:Instinct ✓Text reply by voice:Instinct xCalendar:Instinct ✓Weather:Instinct ✓I realized that all the cool “things” I do on my Apple Watch are silly and can be replicated on my iPhone. I don’t need to scribble a text reply on my watch or use it as a glorified speakerphone. I miss the core functionality of a reliable watch that doesn’t need frequent charging, has an always-on screen, and physical button controls, especially when it comes to music or podcast controls without having to look or wake the screen. The fact that the Instinct has 24/7 heart rate tracking, GPS, and is built like a beast are nice bonuses. I don’t expect this watch to fall apart as easily as a Pebble, not to mention it actually has a warranty. (Constructed to U.S. military standard 810G for thermal, shock and water resistance).After a weekend with the Garmin Instinct:I use the watch primarily as a rugged smart watch. I have two kids that are always climbing over me or having me chase afer them. I rely on notifications and music controls in a device that I can just put on my wrist and forget about it for days without charging. When I look at the device, I need it to always show me the time. I can't deal with having to wake the device, so this type of display is more my style. I walk 2 miles about 2-3 times per week, and like to keep an eye on my lap time and heart rate, and control a podcast during that walk. I'll focus mostly on the differences between this watch and the Pebble 2, with some comparisions to the Apple Watch sprinkled in, as that's the watch I switched to after the buttons on my Pebble 2 crumbled.The display:It sure was nice going back to an always-on screen, being able to glance at it whenever I needed to see the time or an alert, especially from being used to an Apple Watch for months. I felt like I was getting carpel tunnel syndrome from forcibly having to turn the Apple Watch towards me to wake it. It was easy to read from basically any angle or lighting. I had no trouble whatsoever reading it while outdoors, in direct sunlight. Indoors, I didn't the Instinct's backlight unless the room was completely without lighting, such as in bed. However, the Pebble 2 is still more crisp, with a better contrast. Silly of me, but I did install a rounded 31mm screen protector just in case, which fit the 32mm screen perfectly. I found a 5-pack on Amazon for roughly $6. I like to protect the screens of all of my devices, and since this isn't a sapphire display, I'd like to keep the screen looking new. If you see an “edge” on the display in my photos, that’s the edge of the screen protector and not the watch’s actual display.The battery:Granted, I only used it for 2 days and the battery is rated for 14 days, it was already nice not having to charge the device yet, whereas the Apple Watch would have gone through two charge cycles by now. I would charge the Apple Watch while I slept, whereas I now wear the Instinct to bed where it tracks my sleep automatically. I went through all the settings, tested different options, etc. on the watch for a good two days, so after messing with it a lot more than I normally would, after 2 days the battery now reads 4 of 5 bars. Extrapolate that, and it's roughly 10 days of a lot of fiddling with the device. With average use, I could see 12-14 days easily. My Pebble 2 lasted a good 7 days before having to charge, so hopefully getting close to double that would be great.Physical buttons:Again, something nice to come back to was the ability to control the watch 100% with physical buttons. The 5 buttons are easy to press, and have a satisfying click. You know when you've pressed a button, even without looking. They're not mushy at all compared to my Pebble 2, which had some of the worst buttons on any device I've used this century. The Pebble 2's buttons were mushy, lopsided, and change the resistance over time, until which they just crumble and fall apart. The Apple Watch is a completely different device, controlled primarily with the touch screen, or the crown and side button (or voice). I don't miss these aspects of the Apple Watch at all.The menus in this watch go quite deep. There are so many features, especially with workouts. It took me some time to get used to the buttons and their function, but it's not something that should prevent you from trying the device. I just wish the app would mirror all of the menus in the watch, so I could manage the buttons more from my phone.Waterproof:I've not yet tested this feature of the device, although it is rated to 100 meters.Notifications:I was pleasantly surprised with how well this worked when paired to my iPhone 7 Plus. Notifications mirrored from my phone without any issues. The notifications timeout can be set to 30 seconds, 1 minute, or 3 minutes. During the initial notification timeout period, you can 1-click the "down" button to clear that notification (more on clearing notifications below). I was able to see a large portion of text messages and other notifications, although it is truncated when it initially appears on the display. I can go into the notification and scroll through more of the text, but there does seem to be a character limit, before I need to pick up my iPhone and see more information. For being notified of something that needs my attention, it does a great job, just as well as my Pebble 2 did. When a phone call came in, I was able to see the caller's name, and had the ability to answer or decline. An answered phone call would simply answer from my iphone as there is no speaker/microphone on the Instinct. An Apple Watch had better notification support, simply because I could act on them, but again that is not something I miss.What surprised me was that clearing a notification on my watch also cleared that notification on my iPhone, and vice versa - clearing a notification from my iPhone also cleared it from the Instinct's notification list. This is something that did not exist on my Pebble 2. In comparison, the Pebble 2 was a list of dumb notifications. If I cleared a notification on my Pebble 2, it remained in the notification center on my iPhone. Or if I cleared a notification on my iPhone, it remained in the list of notifications on my Pebble 2. The Instinct's manual describes this as "smart notifications" and I believe that to be true.However, while I can clear notifications from the Instinct, I can only clear them one at a time. I can't find a way to clear all notifications at once from the Instinct. To do that, it's quicker to just do it on the iPhone. I've reached out to Garmin to see if this is a possibility.Another aspect of the smart notifications, is the ability to notify you with tone or vibration, or both tone and vibration. You can go a bit more granular and decide how you're notified during a workout/activity compared to not during a workout activity. For example, I have "tone" notifications for when I'm not in a workout, and "tone & vibration" for when I'm in a workout. The vibration is rather strong and I would prefer if I could make it less intense, otherwise I would leave both tone & vibration on all the time.Music controls:The music/podcast controls work as well as my Pebble 2. You can pause/play, change volume, go to previous/next track, enable/disable repeat, or enable/disable shuffle. However, one downside of the music/podcast controls is that the current time does not display on the screen while at the music/podcast controls. This means I have to press two buttons to get back to the watch face to see the the time. This is something that Garmin can likely update through software updates, and something I would really appeciate.I noticed that the time of the song/podcast would sometimes display as —:— instead of the actual time progressed, but I haven’t used it enough to see why or how frequently it will really happen.Text reply:On iOS, you can't interact with notifications, with the exception of answering/declining a phone call. This is a limitiation with iOS. I believe there is more functionality if you were to use an Android phone. My Pebble 2 used to have replies, but with the shutdown of the servers, that's a thing of the past. There is some functionality with Rebble (the service that tried to resurrect Pebble's services), but again I believe that's more developed from an Android phone. For notifications that actually need a response or interaction, I just pick up my phone. I don't really miss the ability to do this from my wrist as it's still faster to just do it from my iPhone.Calendar:Surprisingly, the calendar is quite similar to Pebble's "timeline", with the exception that the Instinct's calendar only goes 1 day into the future and 0 days in the past, whereas the Pebble 2 let me go 3 days in the future and 1 day into the past. The Instinct allowed me to view the time, location, and description of the events, although they got truncated just like notifications.Weather:I'm not sure of the data source, but I have read online that they use Accuweather. It appears accurate when compared to other weather sources, and quickly shows me the current weather, high/low for the day, weather condition symbol, percentage change of precipitation today, and wind speed and direction - all on one screen. I have the weather in my widgets carousel (more on that below), which means it's always 1 button click away from my watch face.Other thoughts - heart monitor:I very briefly had a Pebble 2 HR and while it did have a heart monitor, I felt it was wildly inaccurate. The Pebble 2 HR also had a large bump on the rear of the device, which made the entire watch sit higher on my wrist. The Apple Watch did have what seemed like an accurate heart monitor, but it wasn't continuous. It would only take a reading every few minutes, sometimes not for 15 minutes or so. The heart rate monitor on the Instinct is rated as "24/7 continuous", and it definitely is. I have the heart rate monitor on my watch face and it updates every single second. It also has a small chart of the previous 4 hours.I haven't yet gone for my 2 mile walk, and I plan to update my comments when I've done so, but this is where Garmin devices typically excel and I don't expect to have any issues. You can customize the metrics that display for each workout, and it gets extremely granular for people who want to zero-in on exactly what they're looking for in a workout. This is a serious fitness device, but I really just want to keep an eye on my current pace, total distance, time elapsed, and the current time. I also want to be able to quickly pause/unpause my podcast and raise/lower the volume occasionally.Other thoughts - watch faces:There are 12 watch faces, but really only 6 since half of them are inversed colors of the other 6. Each watch face allows you to customize the complications. I use the default watch face, which allows for the time with seconds (although there's no PM/AM indicator), and 4 complications. I have: heart rate, day of week with date number, number of uncleared notifications, and battery level. Holding the MENU button brings up the watch menu, and the battery mater is displayed there, so I may wind up using that complication area for something else, especially considering how long teh battery should last.There is no Garmin Connect IQ on this watch, and I consider that to be a good thing. While it would allow you to install apps and additional watch faces, along with that comes the possibility of bugs draining your battery or introducing instability. I found that I never used many apps on my Pebble 2 or even the Apple Watch. Having my watch primarily be an actual watch is of great importance to me.Other thoughts - widgets carousel:From the watch face, you can press up/down to cycle through your widgets. Available widgets include: notifications, calendar, heart rate, music controls, weather, last sport, last run, last ride, last swim, steps, floors climbed, my day, calories, intensity minutes, stress, abc, altimeter, barometer, compass, temperature, dogtrack, virb, inreach, alternate time zones, xero, and sunrise/sunset. You can set as many or as few as you want, and can order them however you want as well. I have these enabled: notifications, calendar, heart rate, music controls, weather - so one press UP from my watch face brings me to the weather, or one press DOWN from my watch face brings me to my notifications, and they cycle through if you were to continually press UP or DOWN.Other thoughts - hotkeys/shortcuts:In addition to the widgets carousel, you can also customize hotkeys. A hotkey allows you to hold a button for 2 seconds to quickly jump to a destination. These are all the possible shortcuts which can be customized to a limited amount of destinations:Hold GPS buttonHold Back buttonHold Down buttonHold GPS + Down buttonsHold GPS + Up buttonsHold Back + Light buttonsHold Back + Up buttonsThe available Hotkey destinations are: GPS, timers, stopwatch, phone, dual grid, mob, lock/unlock keys, widgets, lap, navigation, backlight, metronome, sight ‘n go, screenshot, controls, baro. watch mode, sync time, flashlight, alarm clock, abc, set, broadcast HR, or disable the hotkey entirely.Holding the “Light” button can’t be customized as it takes you to the controls carousel.Holding the “Up” button can’t be customized as it takes you to the Menu.Right now I have the Down button as a hotkey to jump to my alarms, the back key to jump to timers, and the Back + Light combination to trigger the "flashlight", which is just the screen brightness set to 100%, but is enough to get you through a dark room.Other thoughts - alarms:The alarms have the option to make tone, vibrate, or both tone & vibrate, as well as custom repeat days of the week. They can be set from the watch directly or through the Garmin app. It woke me without any problem as I had both the tone & vibrate enabled, but just the vibrate would likely wake me up - and possibily even a deep sleeper. Considering I should only have to charge every couple of weeks, this means I can sleep with it on every night and its going to become my daily alarm.Other thoughts - stopwatch:The stopwatch is almost unusable for me, since it (1) doesn't display the current time and (2) doesn't allow you to leave the screen while the stopwatch is being run. The time screen shows me the current time and allows me to leave the screen while the timer is in process, so I don't understand why the stopwatch has this limitation.Other thoughts - bluetooth connectivity:My Apple Watch would fall back to Wifi if out of range of bluetooth, so it was nice to walk around my entire house without having to keep the phone in range, but the Garmin Instinct only has bluetooth connectivity to your phone. That connectivity was often hit or miss on my Apple Watch, as it would sometimes think it was connected by bluetooth, but if I attempted to send a message when I wasn't actually within range, it would forever get stuck and I'd have to disable/enable iMessage.I found the bluetooth range on the Garmin Instinct to be similar to that of my Pebble 2. It was interesting that if you enable "phone - alerts" on the Instinct, among other things it will notify you when your iPhone's battery is low, but also if you go out of bluetooth range - then again notify you when you return to bluetooth range and the device reconnects. If you have the "notification" complication on your watch, you will also know if you're in/out of range by seeing the number of notifications change to "--" when out of bluetooth coverage. This connect/disconnect feature was available on my Pebble 2 through certain watch faces or 3rd party apps, but it comes right out of the box with the Instinct.Final thoughts:It's only been a couple days now, but I've already put my Apple Watch Series 4 up for sale, and haven't looked back at my Pebble 2. I believe this is as close as I'll get to the core functionality of a smart watch that I miss with the Pebble 2. That being said, this watch can stand on its own and not just be a fill-in or replacement of the Pebble 2. The Garmin Instinct has a great operating system, seems very reliable in terms of notifications and alarms, not to mention it feels like I could drive over this watch with a tank and it'll keep on working. The app offers some nice insight into all of my health statistics, but I get enough interaction directly from the watch and am not sure how useful the app will be to me - although I definitely appreciate being able to customize some options directly from within the app.I got the Instinct in graphite color, which isn't entirely black but is more of a shadow/grey and is really nice looking. The bands are easy to swap, but I'm going to stick with the one that came with the watch.One other nice thing about this watch is that it can act completely independent from a phone/app. You just obviously wouldn't get any of the smart features such as notifications, calendar, weather, etc. The heart rate sensor will still work and activities will still be tracked. The time can even be set and updated directly from built-in GPS, without having to rely on a phone. This is not something that can be said of a Pebble 2 or even an Apple Watch. If you want to buy this watch as a super rugged G-shock type of watch but with great heart rate and activity monitoring, with the option of one day going completely independent of a phone or app, this is also a great choice.DAY 4 updates:Music controls update: Note that the Pebble 2 had "dedicated" button controls while at the music control screen. Push down for next track, up for previous, or middle to bring up options to change the volume up/down. Or holding up increased volume or holding down decreased volume, or holding middle paused/unpaused. However, with the Instinct, only one "action" is currently enabled. For example, the pause/play button is highlighted so that is the active function. If you want to change the volume, you have to turn the carousel to get to the specific control, then that action would be the one in control of the button. It's difficult to explain, but results in more button presses to do what you want with your music.Weather update: I realized that while at the weather widget, you can press the GPS button (or "enter" button as you'll come to realize), that this brings you into a forecast for the next 4 hours. Then press "down" and you'll see the daily forecast for the next 4 hours. During both of these forecast screens, the "now" temperature remains in the upper-right screen.Watch Face update: I realized that I was wasting a spot in the upper-right complication by showing the date there, because I could move that to the bottom of the screen where I had the battery. Then in the upper right, I can add a 4-in-1 complication that shows: battery, phone connection, alarm status, and do not disturb status.Stopwatch update: Somebody pointed out that you can hold the "CTRL" button to jump out of the stopwatch, then back out to the watch face. All the while, the stopwatch is still running. You can then go back to the stopwatch as normal, or go to your controls carousel to see the elapsed time on the stopwatch. Still, I would prefer to remain at the stopwatch screen and see the time so I don't have to jump out like this.Final thoughts update: I realized that I didn't even bother to comment on the band comfort, and I think that's because it's so comfortable that I hardly noticed it. There are many adjustment points on the band and it's an incredibly soft & matte silicone material. I find that I like keeping the watch on the 13th hole from (counting from the watch body), but I loosen it to the 14th hole before bedtime. I haven't noticed any difference in the accuracy of the heart rate monitor between wearing it on the 13th or 14th hole.
Tried Them All, This Is The Best. LATEST UPDATE AT BOTTOM (5/11/2020)What a frustrating activity tracker/smart watch journey I have been on. Nothing seemed quite right for what I was looking for. I am an avid outdoorsman who likes to hunt, backpack, hike, bike, and occasionally run. Things that are extremely important to me are an accurate altimeter, barometer, and GPS.I first purchased the Fenix 3 HR. The watch was impressive in the beginning and I thought I had found the one. The issue turned out to be the altimeter. It was not accurate at all. I then waited for the Fenix 5. Same damn issue. Altimeter was worse than the 3. When I contacted Garmin, they told me to put the watch in warm soapy water. While this did seem to temporarily reset it back to normal, I continued to experience the same issue. As much as I would like to put my watch in a warm glass of soapy water every night, I decided to pass. The 5 plus eventually came out and appeared to solve these issues. But then.....Garmin realeased the Instinct.This watch (so far) has really impressed me. It is so light weight and comfortable. The Fenix watches, while premium, are a bit large and heavy to wear. You truly forget you are wearing this watch. The features are great. It has absolutely everything I need. I’m not a triathlete and could care less about some of the measurements the Fenix gives you. Some have commented on the grainy display. I completely disagree. I would liken it to E Ink from a kindle. It truly is a pleasure to look at and is extremely clear and readable. I love that it is black and white.The keys and apps are very responsive. The menus are so much faster than the Fenix. You can really whip through the widgets and settings to get where you want. The buttons are excellent and I have yet to accidentally press one while bending my wrist.I am still testing the accuracy of the GPS tracking and ABC sensors but so far it is looking great. I really can’t say enough about this watch. Knock on wood, it seems like a great model from Garmin that will feel a niche hunting/outdoors market. I will provide an update in a month after more usage.-UPDATE-I've now had this watch for a few weeks and have taken it on several hunting trips. I am truly impressed with this watch. I cannot emphasize enough how comfortable and light this watch is. Owning and wearing heavier watches over the years, I think I forgot how nice it is to wear a watch that you forget is attached to your wrist. I hated wearing my Fenix watches to bed. Too bulky and would dig into my wrist. Tracking appears to be very accurate. Attitude has been accurate for daily use and when you are tracking an activity.What I Love About This Watch:-Comfortable & Lightweight-Responsive Menus-Screen Visibility is Exceptional-Accurate ABC Sensors and Tracking-Recessed Buttons Avoid Accidental Presses-Battery Life Has Been GreatI really only have a couple complaints or rather suggestions to improve the watch. When you lock the keys (which you don't have to too often because of recessed buttons), in order to unlock the watch, you hold any button for a short period. I wish Garmin would lengthen the amount of time it takes to hold the button. It takes about .5 seconds to unlock currently and that can be accidentally done pretty easily. This is really a minor complaint though. The screen is an unknown material or proprietary to Garmin. I do wish it was a Sapphire display but I put a screen protector on it and you truly cant tell there is one on the face. My last suggestion is I wish the battery indicator showed a percentage as opposed to the 5 bars in a battery indicator. Again, its a minor gripe but it would be nice if they changed that.Please ask me questions. Id be happy to answer. I've done a disturbing amount of research on these watches over the years and believe I have finally found the perfect watch for my needs. I've used all Fenix watches and a Suunto Traverse Alpha. This watch is my favorite.UPDATE 5/11/2020Still an absolutely great watch. This watch is on my wrist every single day. It is still extremely comfortable. I have had a couple issues that I will address:-My "Back" button started to give out on me around July 2019. It is a very commonly pressed button on the watch. Luckily the watch was still under warranty. Garmin replaced the watch no questions asked and quickly. A+ to them on their customer service. If it had gone out after the warranty period though, I would most likely be SOL. I believe it is a one year warranty.With that being said, I do use this watch heavily. It is worn 24/7-365. All things considered it has held up extremely well. At the new price point, I still think it is an amazing watch for the price.-My other issue, and I stated it earlier in the review is the lock feature on the watch. Its great that you can lock the screen but it is extremely easy to unlock simply by bending your wrist and hitting a button. This could be a simple software fix. They just need to extend the amount of time required to press a button to unlock. It doesn't happen that often but if it does during an activity, it can be extremely frustrating.This will be my last update for the watch. It has been an amazing watch well worth the price for me and I will buy another whenever this one dies. I hope Garmin continues to offer and improve this watch. It checks all the boxes for my needs.
Muy bueno, para medir el ejercicio. Facil de usar y durabilidad de la carga.
Procurei este relógio pois queria um produto resistente. Já tive outros Garmin, sou usuário a mais de 20 anos da marca e já tive problemas de durabilidade em alguns produtos. Comprei este relógio principalmente pela certificação MIL-STD-810G que atesta a resistência de dispositivos. É um relógio robusto, sem touch screen e lembra um G-Shock. A grande vantagem na minha opinião é a questão da função de esportes que contém muitas opções (bike, cardio, natação, etc) como outros modelos tippo Vivoactive/Venu/etc. O GPS é muito preciso e ele calibra muito rápido. Outra coisa que gostei é o sistema de botões achei que não seria muito fácil de usar durante as atividades pois estava acostumado com touch screen mas me surpreendeu pela facilidade de uso, na verdade é muito intuitivo. Espero que o review ajude alguém e no geral gostei muito do Garmin Instinct. Última atualização: após 1 semana de uso a bateria se mostra muito durável para o meu uso: bike 2 a 3 vezes por semana, musculação 3 vezes por semana.
När jag fick klockan förstår jag att jag har valt fel modell, så jag ville returnera den klockan men säljaren svarade att jag kan inte få mina fullt pris tillbaks. Jag har skrivit att Jag har valt gammal modell instinct 1 men jag ville köpa instinct 2.
I bought this watch in Dec 2020, so it's had 2 years and 4 months of everyday use! I've wated a good length of time to review it to hopefully give you a good idea of how robust the watch is etc. Not after a weeks use!!I use the watch everyday without fail and pretty much wear it 24/7 unless I'm charging it! Mainly I'll record hikes, including mountain hikes and the odd bike ride, so this is when I'll record the activity via the built in GPS, then download the activity to the Garmin app and Komoot.I used the watch to record hiking activities extensively last year whilst travelling in our campervan, spending 3 months in France, 3 months back in the UK, then 3 months in Spain. So what I'm saying is that the watch is used a lot.The battery life is fantastic, not using the GPS, I've had a couple of weeks out of it with battery power left over, I think I'd get up to 3 weeks. When the GPS is activated it will last all day, I believe up to 16 hours. I've spent all day on mountains in the UK, Spain and France and there's always been plenty of life left in the battery once the activity has ended.The watch is not bad to look at and is very clear and simple to use, it also sits nice on the wrist and is very light.The only gripe I have is the fact you can't see the steps on the face during a recorded activity, it just means you have to wait until you've finished.Overall I love the watch, it's been totally reliable and the best Garmin I've had by far. I would definitely buy another.
My first garmin watch and first smart watch as well. Looks rugged, light weight. Strap is long and very comfortable. Using it for tracking activities like running cycling etc. Data seems to be pretty accurate. If you are into sports, this device is not gonna let you down. Good battery backup(around 2 weeks) so if you go out on long treks, you will want to carry one of these. If you are looking for something sturdy and durable in all conditions, go for it.Not compatible with connect IQ though, but that should not be an issue.

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Key Takeaways

The Garmin Instinct stands out from the vast majority of fitness trackers with its unique circle window, providing a clear, readable screen that adjusts perfectly to different light conditions. This smartwatch covers all the bases, from monitoring your stress levels and blood oxygen levels with the pulse ox sensor and Body Battery feature to providing weather updates through the Weather widget.

Enjoy endless days in smartwatch mode thanks to the device’s impressive battery life. Never fret about losing power during your outdoor activities, as the battery level is always displayed in the circular window. This robust smartwatch comes in a tactical edition, complete with third-party apps available through Garmin Connect IQ.

Garmin goes above and beyond with Garmin Instinct’s outdoor features. Track your current elevation and barometric pressure in real-time, and navigate unfamiliar terrain with breadcrumb navigation. The device also syncs seamlessly with Garmin Explore and Garmin Connect Mobile, providing an integrated experience across devices.

Basic features such as receiving phone calls and Bluetooth connection are also covered, not to mention advanced capabilities like golf mode with cadence sensors and barometric trend tracking. For music lovers, the Garmin Instinct matches up to devices like Vivoactive 3 Music with its music storage feature.

The Fenix 5 Plus series, including Fenix 5, Fenix 5 Plus, and Fenix 5x, may have set a high bar in the realm of smartwatches. Still, Garmin Instinct rises to the challenge with its unique features and durability. Whether you’re a sweepstakes entry enthusiast looking for promo considerations or a mountain hut dweller needing a reliable gadget, this review will show you why Garmin Instinct is worth considering.

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Garmin Instinct Overview

For outdoor adventurers who want to unleash their spirit of exploration, having the right gear can make all the difference between an epic journey and an exercise in frustration. In sports watches, the Garmin Instinct aims to strike the ideal balance between hardcore data tracking and bombproof durability so users can focus on the thrill of adventure instead of babying finicky electronics.

This rugged GPS smartwatch was designed from the ground up with activities like hiking, climbing, trail running, and watersports in mind. The Instinct combines essential sensors like GPS, heart rate monitor, compass, and altimeter with smartwatch features into a tribal and tactical design built to military standards. No matter how far off the beaten path your exploits take you, the Instinct promises to keep up while standing up to the elements.

In this in-depth review, we’ll closely examine how the Instinct performs in real-world conditions to see if it lives up to the promise for outdoor enthusiasts. Key factors we examine include:

  • Build quality and durability – Does the rugged polymer case and special lens treatment really hold up to abuse?
  • Activity tracking – How accurate is the GPS, altimeter, etc., and how in-depth are the metrics?
  • Battery life – Does ultra power-saving mode really extend it for weeks?
  • Smart features – Are notifications and smartwatch capabilities useful or just gimmicks?

After putting the Instinct through its paces for hiking, climbing, running, swimming, and everyday use, we weigh in on who this watch is best suited for and where it offers the greatest value. Read on to see if the Garmin Instinct could be the ultimate wingman for your next adventure.

Key Features

Now that we’ve covered the overall concept and mission of the Garmin Instinct smartwatch let’s dive into the core features that set this rugged GPS tracker apart. The Instinct squeezes an impressive array of sensors and technology into its tactical chassis built to stand up to hardcore adventures.

Rugged Design and Durability

The “tactical” look of the Instinct gives it a bit of a military vibe. Still, more importantly, it’s ruggedized to meet U.S. military standard 810G for resistance to thermal, shock, and water hazards. The polymer case reinforced with fiber resin bumpers can take more abuse, while the chemically strengthened glass lens shrugs off scratches. Buttons are textured for easier operation while wearing gloves.

In real-world testing, the Instinct lives up to its durability billing. The watch emerged unscathed from rock scrambling, cliff jumping into water, and all-day hikes. For adrenaline junkies, it provides confidence in tracking data, even on hardcore pursuits.

Built-in Sensors and Navigation

Packed into the rugged shell, the Instinct offers an array of sensors tailored for outdoor adventures:

  • GPS/GLONASS/Galileo – Utilizes multiple global navigation satellite systems for tracking in more challenging environments than GPS alone.
  • 3-axis compass – Aids navigation when out of mobile range.
  • Barometric altimeter – Essential for hiking and climbing for tracking elevation gain and descent.
  • Optical heart rate sensor – Monitors intensity level during activities and all-day stress.
  • Accelerometer – Tracks cadence, distance, and intensity for running and biking.

Combined with navigation features like TracBack routing and waypoint marking, these sensors equip the Instinct as a formidable adventure partner.

Activity Profiles and Tracking

The Instinct comes preloaded with activity profiles for all-day use, running, biking, swimming, skiing, and more. The sensors and GPS provide detailed metrics for each sport, like distance, pace/speed, heart rate zones, elevation, and more.

With robust tracking capabilities packed into a durable shell, the Instinct has the potential to be the ultimate go-anywhere, do-anything Garmin watch. But how well does it deliver when you’re far from civilization? Let’s find out in our performance testing.

Garmin Instinct Specifications

  • 45mm watch with interchangeable 22mm straps
  • 128 x 128-pixel monochrome display
  • Up to 16 hours of GPS battery life
  • GPS / GLONASS / Galileo
  • Works with iOS and Android
  • 24/7 activity tracking
  • Heart rate monitoring
  • Multisport (running, cycling, swimming, hiking, skiing, and much more)
  • Let’s start with the basics. The Instinct comes in three colors: Flame Red, Tundra, and Graphite.

Garmin Instinct: interface

Garmin Instinct: interface

Although the Instinct is very easy to use, its five-button control system takes some getting used to.

Like activity selection or forward / backward / up-down, some are relatively simple to ‘memorize’ after half an hour of use. But delving into the options can be a bit more complicated.

The Instinct has a wide range of display options that provide heart rate information in the last four hours, top-of-the-line activity statistics, phone notifications, events, weather, and a compass.

Access to each of these is via simple up and down buttons, and for the most part, most are what you would expect from a Garmin.

The real superiority of the Instinct comes from the customization options. First, you can customize the top-level displays (12 standard clock displays from the beginning).

Each visible information acts as a small modifiable block. Once selected (using the top right customization button), you can scroll through other options to replace it, depending on your needs.

You can customize heart rate, cadence, temperature, elevation, goal, intervals, and stress data.

Garmin Instinct – Outdoor Tracking

Garmin Instinct - Outdoor Tracking Features

As we have said before, with Instinct, you can measure a wide range of sports. Running, biking, and swimming is basic modes, but it will also cater to outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, and even skiing.

For many sports watch companies, incorporating activities like hiking into a standard list of activities has been a problem with most sports watches.

Hikers or trail hikers want very different information mainly because the things that concern us are issues like getting lost in the middle of the night or falling off a cliff because of the fog.

Overall, the Instinct is a sleek compass that accurately tells you your direction and tracks your route.

Unlike the Phoenix, the monochrome display doesn’t allow for a map. Instead, the route you follow is drawn via GPS markers in a very simple line drawing.


At first glance, and without messing with the zoom settings, the “map” appears utterly useless as it is labeled. The first time I tried to get information, I thought I broke it. However, it is not a map but a device to track your location.

It does not offer the ability to see landmarks, but you can use topography and direction data to get plenty of exercise. It would be best if you spent a little time on it.

This may lack the apparent benefits of a more sophisticated map, but it makes finding routes much easier. The information it gives you goes a long way in solving most problems you will likely encounter.


In addition to a magnetic compass, something not always present in smartwatches, the Instinct includes elevation profiles, the ability to have specific coordinates, storm alerts, Galileo support (to use multiple satellites for optimized accuracy), Site and Go (which essentially allows you to set a direction to follow) and routes (the ability to download a route to follow using a breadcrumb trail).

After getting used to the route tracking features, I suddenly realized how useful it would have been on the previous hikes, where I ended up walking in circles for a long time.

Garmin Instinct: Sports tracking

Garmin Instinct: Sports tracking

The Instinct is aimed at hikers and outdoor activity (especially climbers or trail runners). However, if you want a watch for a specific sport, that doesn’t mean the Instinct isn’t a multi-sport watch. It just means that for the price, you’d probably be disappointed if you were using it primarily for city running.

Hikers do other things, though, and luckily I got to try the Instinct for a half marathon. Like a general racing Garmin watch, it did the job.

Like almost all Garmin watches, the Instinct offers 24/7 activity tracking.

So we’re talking about counting steps, monitoring sleep, and displaying that bar to quickly indicate your activity level throughout the day.

There are also stress tracking and adaptive step goals to motivate you a little more each day. Garmin’s fitness tracking capabilities align with Fitbit’s regarding striking the right balance between features and insights.

I didn’t have many complaints from an accuracy standpoint, though sleep tracking tended to attribute more sleep time than the Garmin Forerunner 935.

Smartwatch Features

The Garmin Instinct is an adventure-ready smartwatch that provides outdoor enthusiasts with a wealth of information at a glance. This includes GPS coordinates, altitude, air pressure, sunrise and sunset times, and more. It also comes equipped with a barometer, altimeter, and compass. The display is full color, sunlight-visible, and compatible with Garmin’s Connect IQ app market.

In terms of smartwatch features, with the Instinct, you can see notifications on the watch screen. There is the possibility of answering text messages and answering/rejecting calls (if paired with an Android phone).

You can also control music playback, connect to the Garmin Virb Action Camera, and view calendar and weather information.

Garmin Connect App

Garmin Connect App

The display is full color, sunlight-visible, and compatible with Garmin Connect App (Garmin’s Connect IQ app market).

To use the Instinct device’s connected features, you must pair it directly through the Garmin Connect app instead of from the Bluetooth settings on your smartphone.

You won’t have Garmin Pay, the ability to listen to music with Spotify or Connect IQ support. You can’t add custom fields, widgets, and apps to the watch.

While you can review much Instinct data on the watch, you are more likely to explore it once it syncs with Garmin Connect. Whether it’s the phone or the web app, there’s a lot to look at here, and of course, you can send data to third-party services like Strava once the two accounts have been linked.

See also
Best Sports Watches for Women in 2023: Top Picks and Reviews

There is nothing significant to say when offering a different experience than what you would get by combining a Fenix ​​watch or a Forerunner watch.

Much of what you’ll see will be very familiar if you’ve used a Garmin device. It’s packed with data, and it can take a little time to understand where everything is.

Solar Panel

Garmin Instinct has a solar charging panel on its screen. The watch does need to be exposed to light to charge, and it is not a very powerful one, but if you are going to be in the sun anyway, you can just let your watch charge.

Garmin Instinct – Heart Rate Accuracy

Garmin Instinct - Heart Rate Accuracy

If you’re going to make fair use of the built-in heart rate monitor, I’d say it works similarly to other Garmin watches that include the same technology.

Overall, it’s okay, particularly for 24/7 monitoring, but not exceptional once you start putting it through the high-intensity training test.

Against a Garmin chest strap, the live data appeared to be quite inconsistent, with the chest strap reacting quickly to fluctuations in inactivity and rest periods. The Instinct tends to lag briefly before reaching the chest strap.

On the other hand, if we talk about lower-effort training sessions, the highest heart rate in interval training came in one or two beats per minute and the average of only three bpm, which is quite good.

But more variations appear once you start increasing your training and quickly changing your pace and intensity.

When tested against a more consistent bpm activity, such as a 10k run, the Instinct noticeably fits the chest strap but still registers a higher maximum heart rate reading.

It seems well-equipped to do a pretty good job for more endurance-based activities like trail running or hiking.

However, suppose you plan to use the Instinct as your primary training watch. In that case, I recommend purchasing a compatible chest strap to give you the most reliable information on your heart rate.

Garmin Instinct: battery life

The battery is an essential factor for outdoor watches when you plan to spend a lot of time away from civilization and not carry that charger with you.

Garmin claims the Instinct gives you 16 hours with GPS on, 40 hours using UltraTrac optimization mode (worse GPS but better battery), and two weeks if you only use it as a smartwatch.

In my experience, these data make the price worth the right one. It is well equipped for a long day of trekking or hiking with all those sensors that are used well and without worry.

This is your best option if you are willing to sacrifice your mapping data’s accuracy for a longer tracking time. For most users, the Instinct’s battery life is more than enough.

More Than Just Outdoor Tracking

So far, we’ve focused on how the Instinct performs as an outdoor activity tracker, but it also offers helpful smartwatch capabilities for daily life. While the monochrome display and basic UI aren’t as stylish as a Garmin Fenix or Apple Watch, it gets the job done for notifications and convenience features.

Smart Notifications and Customization

With the Instinct connected to your smartphone, you can receive calls, texts, app alerts, and calendar reminders on your wrist. The notifications are basic but helpful for screening what’s worth pulling out your phone.

The watch face is also customizable with various layouts and data fields, so you can see the most important metrics to you at a glance. There are also free apps and widgets to tailor the experience further.

All-Day Activity Tracking

Even when not doing hardcore workouts, the Instinct provides all-day activity tracking to motivate you to stay active. It monitors steps, intensity minutes, calories burned, and sleep. The move alert reminds you not to stay sedentary for too long.

Music Control and Payments

Like most Garmin watches, the Instinct lets you control phone music playback and supports Garmin Pay contactless payments when connected to a compatible smartphone. These conveniences let you potentially leave the phone behind on runs and workouts.

Battery Life

The Instinct delivers on its long battery life claims, easily lasting a week or more of everyday use. The UltraTrac mode extends it to a month using activity tracking and sleep monitoring. This allows multi-day excursions off the grid.

While smart features aren’t the main appeal, they make the Instinct more versatile as an everyday watch in addition to the rugged performance.

Bottom Line of Garmin Instinct Review

Bottom Line of Garmin Instinct Review

After testing the Instinct across various outdoor pursuits and daily life, I can confidently say it lives up to its promise as a rugged GPS sports watch ready for adventure. The tactical design isn’t just for show – it can take a beating while continuing to log accurate data.

The wealth of sensors like GPS, altimeter, compass, and navigation features provide outdoor enthusiasts with helpful tracking and mapping right on their wrist. Whether you’re trail running, hiking, climbing, or getting wet, the Instinct has the metrics and durability to keep up.

Battery life is also a highlight, and it is able to keep going in expedition mode for weeks. The smart notifications, music controls, and Garmin Pay give it versatility for daily use.

For the price point, it’s impressive how much technology Garmin packed into this rugged build. The Instinct punches far above other watches in its budget-friendly price range.

While the monochrome display and basic UI won’t win any fashion awards, the Instinct isn’t about flashy style. It’s function over form.

For hikers, climbers, runners, swimmers, and outdoor explorers who want robust tracking without babying a delicate smartwatch, the Garmin Instinct is a trusty companion ready for adventure. It can truly unleash your spirit of adventure without compromising on data.

Garmin Instinct 2X Solar, Rugged GPS Smartwatch, Built-in Flashlight, Solar Charging Capability, Multi-Band GNSS, Graphite


User reviews

Excellent Durability and Functionality. I've been using the Garmin Instinct 2X Solar in Graphite for a while now, and it's been an outstanding experience. This rugged GPS smartwatch has not only met but exceeded my expectations with its solar charging capability, built-in flashlight, and multi-band GNSS support.The solar charging feature is a game-changer. It significantly extends the battery life, ensuring that I rarely have to worry about charging the watch manually. This is incredibly convenient, especially during long hiking trips or outdoor activities where access to power sources is limited. The watch face is designed to maximize exposure to sunlight, efficiently converting it to energy and keeping the watch powered for days on end.Durability is a hallmark of the Garmin Instinct 2X Solar. Its rugged build can withstand all kinds of rough treatment, from bumps and drops to extreme weather conditions. I've used it in heavy rain, on dusty trails, and under the scorching sun, and it has performed flawlessly in every scenario. The graphite color not only looks sleek but also masks dirt and wear, keeping the watch looking new.The built-in flashlight has proven to be more useful than I initially thought. It's powerful enough to guide me through dark paths during night treks and convenient when I need to find something in my backpack after dusk. This feature adds an extra layer of utility, making the watch an indispensable tool for any adventure.As for navigation, the multi-band GNSS support ensures accurate location tracking in even the most challenging environments. Whether I'm in a deep valley, near tall buildings, or under thick canopy, the Garmin Instinct 2X Solar maintains a precise signal, giving me confidence in my location and route.The user interface is intuitive, and syncing with my smartphone is seamless, providing me with notifications, weather updates, and other essential information. The range of activity tracking features is impressive, from standard fitness metrics to specialized outdoor activities, all accurately monitored and recorded.The Garmin Instinct 2X Solar is a top-tier smartwatch that stands out for its solar charging, durability, and precise navigation. It's the perfect companion for anyone who loves the outdoors or needs a reliable timepiece that can handle the rigors of adventure. I highly recommend it to those seeking a rugged, feature-rich smartwatch that won’t let you down.
Not an Apple Watch, and that is good for me. No, you can’t talk to text, or look at pictures, or surf the web, but that’s not the reason to get this watch.I get texts, emails and call notifications just fine. I don’t need it for responding as I never had a good experience with Apple Watch and used my phone anyway.This watch excels at outdoor activities. Mountain biking, shallow spear fishing, weight training, hiking and sleep tracking are excellent.Navigating back to my car has been helpful. The flashlight seems like a gimmick, but I use it all the time.I’m super hard on my body and destroy Apple Watch. So far, this thing has been flawless and takes my abuse in stride.
Perfect for military. Does everything I need and will probably be the last watch I buy. Tried Apple and got sick of it dying, but this thing goes for like a month. Its buttons instead of touch screen but once you get used it it it’s fine.
High Functionality Watch. This is a backcountry and athletic watch. Much deeper functionality that it appears. The watch gets more use than expected, all the time use. Great watch for off trail hiking. Physical design with rubber surrounding the face makes it hard to scratch the crystal. Completely waterproof, worn in rain, in the shower, pool, at the beach. Zap an azimuth with the watch pointed at a landmark, and the watch will guide you to the landmark. You can set waypoints along the way. You can mark your car in case you get lost, and the watch will lead you back, but it's almost impossible to get lost with its accurate gps. Nice ongoing interface with your phone/tablet, and the free app is comprehensive, still discovering new information 3 months later. Flashlight is great, use all the time. Solar could be better, needs direct sun. Lots of great free watch faces from another free app, and now with a new watch face, about 20 metrics all the time, so this watch is sucking a lot of juice. Battery is pretty good, but needs a charge every 10 days even with solar. Haven't tried battery save or expedition modes. Altimeter could be more accurate +/- 100 ft. isn't too impressive. Too much to review in short space. Sunrise/Set times, Barometric Pressure Drop alert, great monitor of body vital signs and sleep. Ongoing picture of body readiness, exertion, recovery. Tracks trends, gives recommendations and warnings, customizable, integrated with phone and in-reach, can send tracking info to someone at home. weather reports, guided breathwork, community support, can remind you x minutes before sunset/moonrise, among other unusual features, good timers and alarms, accurate time of day all the time. can be a little hard to read, lotta info in monochrome on a small watch, no touch screen. garmin, what's the difference between a walk and a hike? overall, Great Watch. Recommended.
A watch with the lot. This watch was a gift for my husband, he absolutely loves this Garmin . It does so many things ,it's outdoors look is very masculine but also suits good with a suit! Dar to many features, but the one feature my Husband loves is it has a torch 🔦 which is very bright . Highly recommend !
Does what it was bought for. I bought this watch for its long battery life, its robust build and the ability to easily geotag my photos I travel. It easily met my expectations. The main (only?) downside is the readability of the screen in low light, necessitating turning on the screen backlight for a second; a bit inconvenient but hardly a dealbreaker.
Un verdadero tanque de guerra, resistente, con excelente capacidad de batería, la confiabilidad de los productos Garmin.
Love the durability and battery life. I can count on it to do the job at all times. Plus the built in flashlight is a lifesaver for toes at night.
Produto pra quer precisão, robustez, confiabilidade nas medições e uma bateria que não acaba (principalmente quem vive no sol kkk) ..... em avaliação.....
I charged it the say I got it and it still has 21 days of battery life left. It has the solar charging but it's the beginning of March and it's been cold and cloudy where I'm at. The watch has been under my coat sleeve wherever I'm outdoors.The watch is easy to use and full of great features. This is my second Garmin watch and I really like it! Great job Garmin!
Vengo de un Apple Watch 8, no lo extraño para nada. Si eres de los que contestan llamadas desde el reloj o si no puedes presindir de la pantalla touch en definitiva este no es para ti; de lo contrario quedarás más que satisfecho.La duración de la batería excelente, desde que me llegó van 15 días y aún no he tenido que cargarlo. Notificaciónes excelentes, datos de deporte (utilizo pesas, ciclo indoor, ciclo outdoor, caminar, carrera cinta, carrera exterior) excelente.Los materiales se sienten 100% de calidad y robustos. La linterna led con intensidad ajustable está perfecta. La opción de luz estroboscopica al correr está excelente.Me compré el color Grafito (que es grisaseo); como se ve en las imagenes.Mucho que decir, totalmente satisfecho.

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