Garmin Instinct Review – The Perfect Outdoor Watch

garmin instinct review

A Deep Dive Into The Garmin Instinct

Garmin Instinct is an adventurer’s watch that is quite suited for most outdoor recreation regardless of difficulty levels. This is exactly the watch you are looking for when you rely on features you will not find in other watches that will give exactly what you need when going out on hikes, running and any other outdoor activities that will take you off the beaten path.

Released in October 2018, the U.S. military standard specifications that have been incorporated into this watch means you have a rugged watch that you can count on as it is meant to take a beating while you explore the toughest environments out there of your choosing while staying on top of your fitness game.

The more challenging the activity the more features you need to rely upon that will aid you along the way to keep on track both on the trails and staying on top of your peak health.

Who’s It For?

For the adventurer who is on a frugal budget wishing, they could justify buying the pricier Garmin Fenix can rest assured that Garmin’s Instinct is an ideal alternative option that offers many of the same benefits as it’s higher-end counterpart while putting a smaller dent in the wallet.

For the outdoors enthusiast who hikes, runs, camps, and participates in other similarly rugged activities means you need a watch – this watch – that is truly suited to the task.

What We Like About The Garmin Instinct

While you pay less you can count on the fact that you will not get fewer features for the money. As with every other Garmin watch, Instinct tracks over 25 different activities, from the most popular ones like running, biking, and swimming to your less common recreational pursuits like rowing and stair-stepping.

Garmin commits to provide you with reliably accurate tracking in all their watches, including Instinct. Multiple data fields are at your fingertips, including heart rate, pace, and distance. Garmin also supports the more rugged and strenuous trails like scaling mountainsides. This is where Instinct steps up and provides you a way to keep up by displaying ascent and vertical speed fields.

Garmin’s precise and trustworthy GPS is just the beginning of assisting you as part of the navigation features provided by Instinct. As you explore your world, no matter how tough the terrain, thanks to Instinct’s multi-GNSS satellite support and outdoor sensors, you have easy access to your trek as it is mapped, tracked, synced and shared all thanks to Garmin’s exclusive app.

Depending on how steep your climb you may need a little more advanced information regarding the grade to ensure you are prepared for the climb. With this Garmin product, you can get the specifications that you require in a matter of minutes. All you need to do is swap out the vertical speed for the grade. You have a 24/7 tracking that you can count on to show you all steps, stairs, etc.

The built-in compass works side by side with any routes or coordinates that you upload to help ease your mind so you can enjoy putting all your energy on the hike of your chosen trail.

Thanks to 21st-century technology, getting lost need not be a worry anymore. Instinct includes Trackback® which is a reliable app that works in tandem with the compass along with the smartwatch’s basic navigation (breadcrumb trail). You get all the support you need to get you back on your original route.

The technology in this watch does not stop there. Navigate your next trail with ABC sensors, which provides an altimeter for elevation data, barometer to monitor weather and three-axis electronic compass. Between the available satellite systems like GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo you can track your location and where you are going just about anywhere.

Hikers are known to get injured in the most out of the way spots. Garmin gives you peace of mind on your treks offering the option to pair Instinct with an inReach device (sold separately; active satellite subscription required). These tools allow you to view and send messages, get weather alerts on your wrist, and trigger an SOS to the GEOS 24/7 emergency response team.

Rugged and longer treks mean you need a reliable battery you can count on for longer trips. Garmin’s smartwatch delivers with their verified 14-day battery life for regular use and 16 hours when Instinct is in GPS mode and up to 40 hours in UltraTrac™ battery saver mode.

Multiple health/fitness trackers provided in this watch give you multiple gauges so that you always know how you are doing, at your best and when you are pushing your limits, during any outdoor activity.

Some of these health tracker features include an enhanced optical heart rate1 technology to gauge the intensity of your fitness activities. Heart rate variability is what you will refer to as it calculates your stress level score. You can see how you are handling what is going on for you whether circumstances are calm or stressful.

Let’s not forget that it is called a smartwatch for a reason and Garmin seems to take it up a notch with this smartwatch making it even smarter than its competition. When it is paired with a compatible smartphone the smartwatch will receive your emails, texts, and alerts. With an Android™ phone you have the option to respond to all texts.

What We Don’t Like About Garmin Instinct

Due to Instinct’s low-resolution and non-color display, it is incompatible with onboard topography maps. Instead what you get is a breadcrumb map combined with other navigation features.

For a smartwatch, it is limited in only receiving incoming notifications and cannot connect to Garmin’s Connect IQ app store. While you can play music and with the watch’s controls, adding music files or using Spotify is not an option. Garmin Pay is not supported.

While the right side buttons are clearly labeled, they are so flush with the casing that it makes it difficult to press what you need. If you are wearing gloves it will be more difficult to push the buttons.

If the sleep tracker is important to you know that Instinct cannot distinguish between laying down quietly and actual sleeping time. Therefore, it will overestimate your sleep and provide less than accurate data.


  • Military standard 810 means the watch can take shock and stress
  • Multi-GNSS support is the upgrade to GPS tracking
  • ABC sensors
  • Trackback® routing prevents you from losing your way entirely
  • Built-in sports apps offers up to 25 activities


  • Low-resolution and non-color display
  • Does not access Garmin’s Connect app store.

What’s Included?

(A classic “What’s inside the box?” kind of section.)
Explain what comes with the product, from accessories to extras, assembly tools, and so on. Also, if there are some critical or desirable parts NOT included, be sure to mention it.)

Instinct is a durable smartwatch, due to its reinforced fiber-polymer casing, which weighs 52 grams and measures 45 mm across the casing. Its smaller size makes it more comfortable for the wearer, especially when it is used for longer treks.

The 128×128 pixel monochrome display is chemically strengthened, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP), and scratch-resistant. These factors make the display quite easy to read in the sunlight and its backlight makes it just as easy to read at night. The unique two-window design makes all the stats that you review easy to find on the watch face and you can customize the display for your preferred metrics.

You can rely on the fully vented silicone bands that include 2 independent, removable keeper loops. They ensure a secure fit and they prevent you from getting caught on things.

The smartwatch’s internal, rechargeable lithium battery.

Overview Of Features

(Explain the particular specs and features of the product, be sure to mention specific ones that make the product a good choice and to point the ones (or lack thereof) that are a weakness)

There are many features that will make this smartwatch so worth your while to use everywhere you travel.

The basic structure includes the lens material being made of chemically strengthened glass. Both the bezel and case material are from fiber-reinforced polymer.

Instinct is a Quickfit™ watch band (22 mm) compatible with the strap made of quality silicone.
As the watch measures 45 x 45 x 15.3 mm and is suited to fits wrists with a circumference of 132-224 mm.
There are many features here to boast that you can track and optimize for your outings.

Water rating is 10 ATM, which means it is water-resistant at 100 meters depth, which means it is fine in the shower or when you wash your hands but it would not be recommended to dive 100 meters while wearing this smartwatch.
Instinct has a memory capacity of 16 MB. Let’s see what features would be using the watch’s memory:

Clock Features include time/date, GPS time sync, automatic daylight savings time, alarm clock, timer, stopwatch, and sunrise/sunset times.

The valuable sensors that connect to the satellite systems and aid you on your trek include GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, Garmin’s Elevate™ Wrist Heart Rate Monitor, barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer, and thermometer.

Activity Tracking Features include step counter, move bars that will prompt on the device informing you a period of inactivity has elapsed. Walking for a couple of minutes will reset it. The auto goal will assign you a daily step goal based on your activity level history.


TrueUp is a feature that allows you to wear and sync data collected from multiple activity trackers. Garmin Connect will also “TrueUp” all of that data back to all your compatible devices

Garmin Connect will accept any of the data below from any device that is capable of recording it. This data is then packaged up and sent back to devices that are compatible with TrueUp

  • Steps
  • Calories
  • Floors
  • Intensity Minutes
  • Step distance traveled


Move IQ is a feature found on some Garmin watches. Garmin Connect identifies periods of movement that match familiar exercising patterns such as biking, running, swimming, walking, or using an elliptical machine and tags them as Events. Events will display on the Timeline tab in Garmin Connect as a grey icon, as shown in the picture example below, to help the user track what they have done throughout the day.

NOTE: Move IQ Events need to last for at least 10 continuous minutes to register and do not show in the activity history list, reports, or in a user’s Newsfeed in Garmin Connect.

To record a more detailed activity that counts toward your goals and totals, start the timer on your device at the beginning of your activity and stop when you’re finished. Timed activities will be the most accurate and include the most data.

And we’re not done describing the many apps and features that include Gym & Fitness Equipment that has availability activity profiles like strength, cardio, elliptical training, stair-stepping, floor climbing, indoor rowing, and yoga.

Instinct covers multiple exercises including run profiles to support running, treadmill running, indoor track running, and trail running.

Outdoor Recreation Features profiles hiking, climbing, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, XC skiing, stand up paddleboarding, rowing, kayaking, etc.

Diehard cyclists will appreciate that Instinct profiles biking, indoor biking, mountain biking, and courses. The analytical features include alerts that let you know when you achieve your goals like time, distance, heart rate, and calories burned.

The ANT+® and Bluetooth® Smart sensors will track your speed and cadence.
Whether you swim in the pool or in open water, this smartwatch is customized to track metrics like length, distance, pace, stroke count, efficiency as well as calories burned.

For pool swimmers, this device will aid you in improving most swimming strokes like the breaststroke, freestyle, and others. Also included is a drill logger, basic rest timer, “Repeat On” rest timer, and a menu of a pool swim workouts.

Whatever your flavor of fitness training you can rely on Instinct to provide the needed metrics to keep on your game thanks to Instinct’s training, planning, and analysis support to aid you in getting the most of your workouts.

Of course, you can track your heart rate and stress levels to help you gauge how you are doing both at resting and when workouts are intense.

For the avid hikers who are raising sporting dogs Instinct offers an added feature that makes it very attractive for your needs. You can connect this smartwatch with Astro® or Alpha® dog devices to receive dog status updates and alerts right on your wrist. Depending on the device model you choose, you will be able to track up to 20 dogs from between 4 (TT 15 mini) to 9 miles (TT 15) away.

Features include training levels of continuous and momentary stimulation, tone, and vibration alerts. While Instinct measures your speed and distance traveled, these dog devices measure their speed and distance as well. All of these enhance your trekking experience. Train smarter with a built-in sports app right on your wrist. Use preloaded activity profiles for running, hiking, mountain biking, swimming, and more.

Review Summary

(Final Wrap Up)

Instinct is a great outdoor watch that you want to have at all times. Garmin’s watches have many features that are not difficult to master in a relatively short time. Instinct is no different and you will be navigating your way through multiple screens with ease.

Once you are comfortable with the interface you have the option to get creative and customize how and what you wish to view during your workouts. You will appreciate Instinct’s other widgets like the Sunrise/Sunset, weather, and Xero bow sighting controls.

In addition to being a fitness and health tracker, you can also utilize the relaxing breathing sessions to reduce stress levels. If you have not been on top of being active Instinct will remind you to get moving.

The convenience of pairing Instinct with your compatible smartphone allows you to receive all on-wrist messaging, alerts, and notifications.

Instinct is a quality built a device that meets U.S. military standard 810, which means it can handle the heat, shock, and is water-resistant rated to 100 meters.

This smartwatch goes beyond GPS navigation capabilities. It accesses multiple global navigation satellite systems like GLONASS and Galileo which aids you to be able to track in more challenging environments where a GPS alone would be insufficient.

Garmin did not forget about those who still want a good looking smartwatch. Quickfit accessory bands will offer you opportunities to match your style with no tools necessary.

The Instinct is truly an outdoor watch, that offers excellence in tracking and navigation.


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