Once I had the Garmin instinct tied to my wrist, I felt like I could scale El Capitan. Since I’m not an experienced mountaineer, I used this Garmin Instinct review as an excuse for a social excursion to Maine’s Acadia Park. After hiking at high altitude every day to burn down all the blueberry pancakes and lobster sandwiches, I can say that the Garmin Instinct is one of the best sports watches for those who like to explore the outdoors. This is our Garmin Instinct Review.
Garmin Instinct Review: Design
The Garmin Instinct resembles the look of Casio G-Shock but didn’t feel as crumbly on my wrist as the iconic Casio watch. The Instinct felt light and looked slim enough not to be seen as a thorn in the side of pictures or eating out. The multisport Garmin Phoenix 6 – which starts at a much higher $600 – is, even more, my style, but I enjoyed the Coyote Tan finish and the breathable, perforated straps of the Instinct model I reviewed.
Like competing for ultra-rugged watches, the Instinct carries a Military Standard 810 rating for rough environments, which means it can withstand extreme rugged environments and temperatures and are submerged in water up to 328 feet (10 ATM). I didn’t come close to the ceiling of these conditions in Maine’s mild summer climate, but I did shave rocky beaches and glacier shaped granite peaks. Instinct showed no signs of wear, even when I climbed the steeper mountains of Acadia.
Garmin Instinct Review: Display
The Garmin Instinct’s 128 x 128-pixels display looks rough compared to the Amazfit T-Rex GPS sports watch’s colorful AMOLED display. But the advantage of the Instinct is a screen that’s easy to read in direct sunlight. I’d say that of all the wearables I’ve tested so far, the readability of the Instinct display is among the best in the category.
I also appreciate the backlighting for a short night excursion to see the full moon over Sand Beach. There is no touchscreen, so you have to use the buttons on the side of the Instinct to navigate through the menus. As a daily Apple Watch wearer, I often messed around to get to where I had to go, however, after a weekend of wearing the Instinct every day, I had it figured out.
There are twelve different watch faces to choose from, as well as a library of widgets that reflect the metrics available on the companion Garmin Connect app (iOS, Android). Instinct is not compatible with the Garmin IQ app store, so you’d better use one of the best smartwatches if you’re searching for more versatile functionality on a portable watch.
GPS and Sports Tracking
Acadia National Park seemed to be an ideal environment for testing Garmin Instinct’s GPS and outdoor tracking systems. I didn’t have a mobile service on most trails, so I relied on Garmin Instinct’s GPS to monitor my trips. With an onboard compass, saved waypoints, and TrackBack, I could easily navigate on my downloaded maps and cover my trail in reverse. When my phone reconnected, I looked at the recorded GPS map of my hikes in Garmin’s Connect app and saw precise points where we were wandering around to take photos or had to return where we took a wrong turn to South Bubble Mountain.
All this time, the Garmin Instinct followed my heartbeat, distance covered, steps, and pedals. Off the coast, it followed my spontaneous free swim in Long Pond when my canoe tipped over. There are 30 total activities the watch can follow, ranging from skiing and mountain biking to hiking and yoga. It’s worth noting that the Garmin Instinct also has inReach support, which means it can connect to Garmin inReach devices and establish two-way global SMS communication on the Iridium Satellite System.
Garmin Instinct Review: Performance
Back in the cab, I put the Instinct’s drag tracking to the test, knowing that the accuracy of the Garmin hasn’t impressed me in the past. Unfortunately, I don’t think the company has found out yet. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to watch the first sunrise of the country at Cadillac Mountain and then went back to bed for a few more hours, but Instinct didn’t register my return to sleep. The next night it didn’t recognize me when I woke up in the middle of the night and Twittered for an hour.
However, I did enjoy the Body Battery function, which helped me measure my total energy level. My 7/100 “battery” meter after the slow 8-hour drive to Maine meant I had to rest for the day of the walk that lay ahead of me. Although the Instinct provides music control, I wish there was some music storage onboard, like the Phoenix 6 or Garmin Forerunner 245 music offers. Of course, I could use the stored music on my phone, but there are times when I want to leave my phone behind.
In terms of notifications, Instinct benefits from Garmin’s Smart Notifications. Although you can’t answer messages or answer phone calls, it’s up to you which notifications you prefer to send to your wrist and whether or not to have them sent during activities.
Garmin Instinct Review: Battery Life
Garmin says it can take up to two weeks on a single charge, although it can take up to 16 hours in GPS mode. I didn’t walk for more than 8 hours in total during my 5-day trip and thought I could have left my charger at home. But if the battery of my instinct would decrease during the hike, I would be able to turn UltraTrack on. This extends the watch’s endurance to 40 hours in GPS mode by reducing satellite recording. The more affordable Amazfit T-Rex doesn’t have a comparable power management feature, and you only get about 10-hours of juice with continuous location determination for comparison.
Price and Configuration Options
The basic model of the Garmin Instinct costs $299.99 and is available in graphite, seafoam, tundra, flame red, sunbeam, and multi-channel blue. Tactical editions are available in Black and Coyote Tan for the same price. The Instinct Solar is a variant of the Instinct Solar that uses the power of the sun for a 54-days of battery life. It costs $399.99, which is quite premium, but it could be worth it for those who spend a long time outdoors. The Instinct Solar also comes in $499.99 Surf, Tactical, and Camo editions.
Garmin Instinct Review: Conclusion
The Garmin Instinct is the best adventure/travel watch you can buy under $300, making it an attractive alternative for the outdoor enthusiast who cares about design durability and GPS accuracy. A desire for music storage and apps can push you to the Garmin Phoenix 6, but be prepared to pay more for those premium features. That said, you might want to consider the $100 premium for the Instinct Solar if you’re excited about longer outdoor excursions and don’t want to be busy charging.
Still, the standard Instinct made as excellent a hiking accessory as I could want. It almost inspired me to go hiking for a few extra nights in the mountains of Maine – almost.
The rugged Garmin Instinct design, accurate GPS map, and practical battery management make it the best sports watch for most people.
- Comfortable and durable design
- Precise GPS mapping
- Good battery management
- No music storage
- Inaccurate sleep tracking