Garmin Instinct GPS Watch

The adventure-oriented and rugged Garmin Instinct GPS watch is made to track a plethora of training modes, focusing more on outdoor activities, and it provides a wide range of basic functions that step into the smartwatch territory. With the splendid battery life and durability, magnetic compass, wrist-only HRM and open-water swimming tracking, there isn’t a similar watch offered at the Instinct’s price point.

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Where to Buy
Moosejaw Link
$299.99See Deal
Backcountry Link
See Deal
Holabird Sports Link
See Deal Link
See Deal
Road Runner Sports Link
See Deal
Pros & Cons
  • Rugged design
  • Great battery life
  • Reasonable price
  • 28 sport modes
  • Great durability
  • Satisfactory accuracy, unless you want a precision device
  • Comfortable
  • Music control
  • Smart notifications
  • Wrist-only Heart Rate Monitoring
  • Magnetic compass
  • Cons
    • Lacks HRM when swimming
    • Lacks metrics like training load info and VO2max
    • No third-party apps available
    • Monochrome screen
    • Text responses only available for Android users
    • Key Features
      The number of activities that the Garmin Instinct GPS Watch is able to track will suit most people’s taste, given that there is truly a wide range of various activities to track. There is a total of 28 sport modes that you can track with the help of the Garmin Instinct, and those are Trail run, Regular run, Cycling, Mountain Biking, Standup paddleboard, Walking, Treadmill, Indoor track, Hike, Climb, Indoor cycling, Ski, Snowboard, Cross country ski, Kayak, Rowing, Indoor rowing, Strength training, Cardio, Yoga, Elliptical, Stair stepper, Floor climber, Tactical running, Boat, Pool swim, Open water swim and Other sports. The obvious sport mode missing here, which should be expected of a fitness watch oriented to outdoor sports, is triathlon but its omission is far from a deal-breaker. You can customize your activity profiles and make use of the Auto lap, Manual lap, Auto pause, Automatic rep counting, and other helpful features.
      Basic Features
      As one of the best-known fitness watch brands on the market, Garmin made sure to do a good job and create a good base for casual and basic usage of the Instinct before continuing onto the advanced features. Among the basic features offered with the Garmin Instinct are the step and calorie counter, weather and temperature, calendar, alarm clock, timer, stopwatch, automatic daylight saving time, as well as smart notifications for messages, phone calls, etc. The option of responding to a text or rejecting a phone call via a text message is available only for Android users. Another perk that blends the fitness watch with smartwatch functionality is the option to control smartphone music with the watch. Speaking of smartwatches, the Garmin Instinct will learn your activity level over time and create Auto goals – a daily stem number goal you’re expected to hit, that will keep you active and motivated.
      Advanced Features
      The Garmin Instinct GPS really shines in the advanced features department, not because it’s revolutionary in any sense, but because it gives a strong performance across all features, which will leave a vast majority of users satisfied. To support the tracker’s performance, the brand has included a barometric altimeter along with multiple global navigation satellite systems such as GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo.

      The combination of the three latter navigation systems is exceptionally useful when going off-road and off-trail because it allows the Garmin Instinct to track your activities accurately in challenging environments that would probably be too complex for GPS alone to handle.

      The built-in 3-axis compass offers you the possibility of turning the display into a magnetic compass. This is considerably better than having a GPS-based compass, given that they are known to mix up directions, especially when you’re not moving. By choosing the ‘Sight and Go’ option in the Navigate profile, you’ll access the simpler and easier magnetic compass that has a much higher accuracy rate.

      The Instinct navigation history offers you information on your location history via the breadcrumb trail, which would be somewhat underwhelming were it not for the TracBack feature that will automatically create a backward route for you to follow. This is achieved by using thirty of your most significant location points throughout the path. Needless to say, this feature is supremely useful when there are no markings to help you find your way back. However, if you’re not in the mood for retracing your steps all the way to the starting point, you can utilize the Garmin Connect app or website to create a predetermined route and export it to the watch. The downside of this feature is that there is no option to download any Connect IQ app, as with some other Garmin watches, which could showcase your GPS coordinates against the OS grid.

      As far as the Heart Rate Monitor goes, the Garmin Instinct features the Elevate wrist heart rate technology, which keeps track of changes in your blood flow by shining light through the skin. This enables you to track your heart rate, sleep, activity and stress without using a chest strap. The Heart Rate monitoring features of the Garmin Instinct include HR zones, HR alerts, HR calories, % HR max, % HRR, Auto max HR, and HR Broadcast, which allows you to send the data to your paired device via ANT+. Keep in mind that the HR swimming metrics are lacking on this device, especially if that one of your favorite sports and activities.

      Unlike some other fitness watches, such as the Polar Vantage V, the Garmin Instinct has limited training insights, with the lack of information on training load and VO2 Max estimates being the most apparent of the bunch.
      The altimeter accuracy of the Garmin Instinct GPS is more than satisfactory, and it can be auto-calibrated based on your GPS at the starting point, but you can also calibrate it manually, as well as manually choose to auto-(re)calibrate in the middle of your run or hike. However, the GPS-based calibration is a little tougher to achieve once you’re climbing a vertical rock, and in these situations, the most reliable metric available is probably the barometer one. That being said, if elevation tracking is of critical importance to you, you might want to invest in a higher-end product, because Garmin Instinct probably won’t cut it for you.

      The Elevate HR technology isn’t new for the brand, which comes as no surprise given that its accuracy is relatively high. Granted, there will always be some wildly inaccurate measurements given, mostly because everybody’s physiology is different, but those inaccuracies most likely won’t happen during hikes, jogs, and walks, but during some more complex, interval-based activities.

      The same thing that’s said about the altimeter can be applied to the GPS accuracy. While on the day-to-day basis the Garmin Instinct GPS will provide good performance, this is a device that’s relatively easily hindered by trees, buildings and similar obstacles. If you’re looking for a ballpark figure of your route distance, you’ll be satisfied with this fitness tracker; if you’re striving for great precision, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
      The Garmin Instinct GPS fitness watch features ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to connect the device to iPhone and Android phones, as well as a large number of external sensors and different devices. You can also pair the Instinct with an inReach device that will allow you to read and send preset messages via satellite communication technology. You can also get weather notifications and trigger an SOS alert to the GEOS 24/7 emergency response team.
      The main app for the Garmin Instinct fitness tracker is the Garmin Connect Mobile, which can, among other things, help you locate your phone and vice versa, via its Find My Phone and Find My Device features. For finding different routes and planning your hikes, you can use the Garmin Explore app to plan your routes ahead. You can also access way markers and courses through this app, as well as different maps, so you don’t have to exclusively rely on the Instinct’s breadcrumb trails. The Smart notifications feature allows you to stay connected and upload data automatically to the Garmin Connect online fitness community.
      While the watch itself looks robust and somewhat crude, the vast majority of customers agree that the Garmin Instinct is a comfortable watch to wear. The soft silicone band won’t cut into your wrist even if you tighten it up for the sake of greater HRM accuracy, and the lightweight nature of the watch makes you forget you’re wearing it in a few hours’ time.
      The Garmin Instinct GPS Watch looks sporty, edgy and rugged, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. That being said, the brand has pulled out this look and created a nice-looking, although somewhat unimaginative watch. For anyone not paying close attention, it could very well look like a regular, sturdy watch. It’s available in a number of different colors, ranging from fashion-forward to subdued, and each color is well-chosen and looks really nice. You can choose from “Graphite”, “Tundra”, “Flame Red”, “Sunburst”, “Lakeside Blue” and “Sea Foam”. Notably, all of the color names imply that this is an outdoors watch meant to be worn in nature.
      The Garmin Instinct GPS isn’t a premium watch, and consequently, it isn’t made out of premium materials. However, that doesn’t stop it from not only looking robust but being robust as well. This watch is constructed to adhere to the U.S. military MIL-STD-810G standard, making it thermal, shock and water-resistant (up to 100 meters – 10ATM). The case of the watch is fiber-reinforced, and together with the scratch-resistant display, it increases the overall durability of the device, making it suitable for all kinds of outdoor adventures.
      The lens material of the Garmin Instinct is made of chemically strengthened glass, while the bezel material features fiber-reinforced polymer. The monochrome display measures 0.9 x 0.9in or 23 x 23 mm, with a fairly low resolution of 128 x 128 pixels. This won’t affect the readability of the screen, given that the screen itself in on the smaller side as well. The black and white screen is sharp and has the option if being illuminated by pressing the top left button. Speaking of buttons, given the intention of the brand to create a watch suitable for various environments, the Instinct doesn’t have a touchscreen but relies on the five buttons arrangement as seen on the Fenix watches.
      The band of the Garmin Instinct is made out of silicone and includes two removable keeper loops that provide a secure fit and prevent the watch from being caught on a branch or anything else that could compromise its durability and performance.
      At the weight of 52 grams, the Instinct GPS is surprisingly lightweight, especially given the fact that it’s still a relatively thick watch. Its dimensions are 45 x 45 x 15.3 mm, and with the wrist circumference of 132-224 mm, it can fit almost anyone.
      Ease of Use
      While the five-button configuration takes a while (2-3 days) to get used to, once you do get yourself up to speed with the button-operated interface, you’ll find that navigating through the Garmin Instinct is relatively easy. The interface features a lot of widgets such as music controls, temperature, heart rate, weather, calendar and activity levels, as well as various data screens. The compass, altimeter, and barometer can be accessed quickly by long-pressing the button marked ABC.

      An innovative feature that’s worth noting is the “two-window” screen layout, which features a small, circular window on the top right part of the screen, which showcases short info on various data.
      Power Source
      The battery life of the Garmin Instinct is advertised to last up to 14 days in smartwatch mode, up to 16 hours in GPS mode and up to 40 hours in UltraTrac battery saving mode. These modes have proven to be in-line with what the brand advertised, leaving almost all customers satisfied with its performance.
      The good thing about the Garmin Instinct GPS is that it’s priced really well, offering you more than what most sports watches in that price category do while being significantly cheaper than some other watches that only have several features more. Additionally, it’s not often that open-water swimming tracking is provided at this price point, which makes the Instinct a reliable watch that will satisfy the varied needs of a lot of fitness enthusiasts.
      There are several accessories available on the Garmin website that are compatible with the Instinct GPS, some of them being a 22mm QuickFit watch band, as well as a Carrying Case Bike Speed Sensor and a Bicycle Mount Kit.
      Key Features
      -28 sport modes
      -Auto lap, Manual lap, Auto pause, Automatic rep counting features
      -A variety of basic smartwatch features
      -GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo global navigation satellite systems
      -Built-in 3-axis magnetic compass
      -Barometric altimeter
      -TracBack feature
      -Great price point
      -Elevate wrist heart rate technology
      -ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity
      -Garmin Connect Mobile, Garmin Explore app
      -45 x 45 x 15.3 mm, 52g
      -Thermal, shock and water-resistant up to 100 meters
      -Monochrome display, 128 x 128 pixels
      -“Two-window” screen layout
      Bottom Line
      The Garmin Instinct GPS is a uniquely attractive watch, not only because of its real-watch-like design but because of the price to quality and features ration. The performance that this fitness watch provides is excellent, and unless you’re a professional athlete, striving for perfection, every feature this durable watch has will be good enough – at least – to any recreational athlete.
      Where to Buy
      Moosejaw Link
      $299.99See Deal
      Backcountry Link
      See Deal
      Holabird Sports Link
      See Deal Link
      See Deal
      Road Runner Sports Link
      See Deal
      By Lizzy Pavlovic
      Last updated:
      Where to buy
      Best offer on: Jul. 26. 2021

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