Garmin Instinct Review: Every Adventurer’s Must-Have Watch

Jun 27, 2020
Garmin Instinct Review: Every Adventurer’s Must-Have Watch

There are various promising GPS smartwatches in the market today, but not all live up to their promises. Some are too expensive for their functions. Meanwhile, other watches simply can’t deliver despite being affordable. We’d like to help keep you from making the mistake of purchasing such watches. So, we’re taking a closer look at Garmin’s GPS watch, Instinct. As the brand’s lower-end outdoor watch, does it live up to the hype? Is it worth it? In this Garmin Instinct review, we’re going to look at everything great and not-so-great about the watch. Without further ado, let’s get into it.


Instinct is Garmin’s lower-end outdoor GPS watch, right next to the Fenix. However, the company boasts this watch more as an outdoor watch that combines the features of a smartwatch and GPS watch in one. Its more expensive counterpart — the Fenix — ranges from $599 to $699 in price. This would be Garmin’s flagship outdoor watch with amazing functions, design, as well as display. Meanwhile, there’s still a more affordable smartwatch under the Vivo series that ranges from $69 to $249. However, the Vivoactive 4 now places ahead of Instinct at $349.

On the other hand, Instinct only costs about half the price of Fenix. This $299 watch boasts just about anything a GPS watch can do. Moreover, it has various smartwatch functions that would make it worth its price. So, while it’s a lot cheaper than the Fenix, it’s still relatively expensive compared to other Garmin offers, like the first Vivo watches.


Garmin Instinct Design

The Garmin Instinct is as rugged as its more expensive counterpart. At first glance, the watch looks as if it comes straight from the late 1980s to 1990s. While a lot of people would compare it to Casio’s design, it’s probably due to the colours that make of the watch. The watch comes in either flame red, sunburst, seafoam, tundra and graphite colours. These many selections of colours alone make it easier for the watches to be marketable. However, colour combinations can go further than these colours. You may customise each watch even further through separately sold straps that you can mix and match.

The Instinct weighs about 52 grams and has a 45 mm casing. This would be significantly smaller compared to other GPS watches. Its weight also makes it a lot more comfortable to wear. Not to mention the 22mm strap is removable and may be used with other Garmin watches. The soft silicone band also makes for an easier choice when it comes to durability and comfort.

Speaking of durability, the watch’s casing is also fibre-reinforced to make it resistant to scratches. Moreover, the glass is chemically strengthened and its bezel is raised to protect the screen. The watch is also waterproof up to 100 metres and absorbs shock just as well as other expensive watches.


Garmin Instinct Display

The watch’s display also comes straight from the olden days of dot-matrix displays. However simple and small it is at 128 x 128 pixels, it does the job of providing all the necessary information you’ll need. This is a huge step down compared to the display graphics of the Fenix which is probably one of the price indicators. But for the basic information, the Instinct does just as great of a job as other GPS watches. The watch displays just about anything you’ll need with a simple up or down button. You’ll find your heart rate for the past four hours, activity stats, phone notifications, weather, compass, as well as events.

But what makes the Instinct more user friendly is its customisation features. You can manage your top-level screens and there would be 12 standard watch faces you get to choose from to begin with. Each information functions as a customisable block. Pick one and you can easily scroll through various other options to replace it. Perhaps, you’d want to monitor elevation instead of daily step rates. With a few clicks of a button, it’s one of the many things you can quickly set.

Here’s the thing, at $299, it’s unsurprisingly not a visual shocker, but it definitely carries over vital jobs and functions. There’s nothing you’d ask for more.


A lot of adventurers look for watches that could meet their needs. They want to know what’s ahead of them so they won’t be put in trouble when challenges come. After all, who wants to fall off a cliff or meet a storm in the middle of a hike? I’m sure nobody wants to fall behind on their step count goals either. As an outdoor watch, it’s only rightful for the Instinct to have the necessary tracking features. While you may think it lacks in that department due to its price, you’d have to think twice. Instinct works just as great with tracking from outdoor, activity, as well as sports tracking. But are they as accurate as we need them to be?

Outdoor Tracking

Garmin Instinct Navigation

The Instinct is primarily an outdoor watch. It should excel on GPS tracking more than it does in any other function. At the most basic level, Garmin Instinct could be a fancy compass for its bearer. It tells you the direction of which you’re headed and shows you the route you’re taking. While the Fenix shows a map on the display, the Instinct takes it a notch down by displaying only a line that draws the route. It’s not a map, just a tool to locate you and your destination. You might even think that it’s a broken feature or just something they shouldn’t have put in the first place. But if you work around it, you’ll find that it helps just as much as the Fenix would.

It shows you topography to help you navigate through your surroundings but, no, you won’t find landmarks on the display. Unlike other GPS smartwatches, the Instinct supports the display of elevation profiles. It also gives you the ability to enter specific coordinates and shares storm alerts. You may download a route to follow in case you already have one as well as pick the direction to follow. You may also track your route back through the backtracking feature. It’s way easier than resetting a new trail when you’ve already established and followed one.

It takes quite a while getting used to Instinct’s outdoor tracking functions. For a few hours, you’ll find yourself clicking here and there to understand how each function may be navigated to best suit your needs. However, all those times would be worth it. You’d realise later how easier it would be navigating with the Instinct and you’ll wish you’d have it earlier than you did.

Sports Tracking


Garmin Instinct Activity
Photo from Garmin

Despite it being primarily a GPS watch, the Instinct doesn’t fall behind as a multi-sports watch. It has countless functions that make it a great choice for sports enthusiasts. Whether you’re into swimming or cycling, you’re sure to enjoy the features it has to offer. But it’s also not that surprising to have such functions, especially that hikers and adventurers do other sports in the mix as well. There are features for running, biking, and swimming that would get you ready for any and all tracking needed.

The Instinct can be the basic sports tracking watch to have if your secondary interests fall on the sports aforementioned. It’s not the best in the game but it delivers the right information accurately and clearly. While there are more watches that can give far more accurate results, this watch gets it down to the basics. So if you’re cycling or running through a trail, you may leverage the navigational features the watch already excels at. But if you’re looking for in-depth results and analysis, you’re better off looking somewhere else. For instance, you may measure laps manually or automatically and even measure swim metrics. These include lengths, distance, pace, stroke count, as well as calories.

But there are some features that the watch is better off without. As part of its training tracking system, the Instinct can help you track your strength. It basically functions as a monitor for the reps and sets you do. But because it’s manually set, you might as well not touch that part and do the counting yourself. Pressing the button every time you begin or end a set is inconvenient for this matter.

Activity Tracking

Garmin Instinct Tracking
Photo from Garmin

Garmin equipped almost all of their watches with 24/7 activity tracking systems. The Instinct works with the same activity tracker that counts steps taken, calories burned, as well as stress and energy monitoring. Moreover, it has a move tracker that shows you moments of inactivity. It also has an auto goal feature that instinctively sets your step goal with data collected from previously recorded activities. Compared to other fitness watches, the features don’t vary that much. This, therefore, could be an alternative if you want an outdoor watch, sports watch, as well as a fitness watch in one. Meanwhile, if you’d like to track your heart rate, Instinct does a pretty decent job at it. It’s pretty accurate if you want to monitor your heart rate day in and day out.

However, there are downsides to its activity tracking as well. The Instinct monitors any and all inactivities and sleep. So, if you like to read before sleeping or leisurely just staying idle, the watch may consider that “sleeping” in general.

Smartwatch Features

Garmin Instinct Smartwatch
Photo from Garmin

Garmin Instinct may also be a great smartwatch but it’s not as functional as you’d think. Where the Fenix excels, the Instinct falls behind a bit. This watch doesn’t allow third-party apps. Therefore, you won’t be able to install new widgets as well as custom fields to the watch. But the watch is still fully customisable with features that are already in your watch. You also don’t get the Garmin Pay feature which may be one of the most convenient cash-less apps in the market. You can’t access Garmin’s Virb action camera as well as move music files on your watch. However, you may control your music playback on your phone through the watch.

Aside from those, you can also see notifications necessary. You may also respond to texts as well as answer and reject calls. In general, there’s really nothing to hate about its basic smartwatch functions. Opting for more expensive watches give you more features but all the basics are in the Instinct.

Furthermore, to embrace the full Garmin wearable experience, you might want to sync your Instinct to Garmin Connect. The app provides more insights than it already does on the watch and you may also move data to third party applications once synced.

Battery Life

Garmin Instinct Sunburst Flame Red

Because of the limitation on display options, the Instinct’s battery last longer than other watches. This would be a better choice for people who hike for longer hours. Garmin claims 16 hours of power with the GPS tracking turned on. But if you’re willing to sacrifice on the GPS function, you can last up to 40 hours with the UltraTrac GPS optimising mode. However, if you’re only using the smartwatch function of the watch, it could last up to two weeks.

These power modes are not that bad considering the hours it takes to trek or hike. The functions can still be of good use and you might still have some left to get you through a few hours. For the most part, your money will be worth it alone for the battery life you’re getting for a GPS smartwatch.

Final Thoughts

The Garmin Instinct is a lot more than just an outdoor tactical watch. It can be used by anyone who’s up for any adventure especially if you like exploring new activities. You may say that it’s not the prettiest in the market, but it surely does the job necessary for any GPS or multi-sports watch. Instinct is worth every penny already by the way each function works but it does take some time to get used to. Because it puts functionality ahead of anything else, you’d want to spend hours exploring the watch to get the most out of it. So, if $599 is too much for you but still want the same accurate GPS feature, the Garmin Instinct will do just the job for you.


Want to explore other outdoor watches? Check out this review of the Casio Pro Trek.

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