Last Updated: May 18, 2021

Garmin Instinct Review: A Great Outdoor Watch?

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Garmin Instinct

Garmin Instinct is a rugged and waterproof smart watch, designed for people who are constantly going on new adventures, but still need access to their emails at a glance. View Latest Deal

The Garmin Instinct wristwatch was built according to military specifications. Which means it’s designed to survive some of the toughest and harshest conditions you could expose it to, from ridiculous weather to actual combat. But it’s a smart watch, so we have higher expectations for it than your standard rugged outdoor watch.

What exactly can you use the Garmin Instinct for? Is it waterproof and can you safely dive with it? And, how exactly do its smart watch features compare to those of the most popular smart watches on the market?

Those are just some of the questions that I will answer in this detailed review. If you want to know more about the Garmin Instinct watch, just keep reading!

Garmin Instinct Specifications

Before we get into the details of all the different things you can do with the Instinct watch, let’s take a look at some of its basic specifications first. 

Pros

  • Tough and durable
  • Very lightweight
  • Waterproof up to 10ATM
  • Versatile features
  • Compatible with other Garmin devices (and software)
  • Works with Android and iOS devices

Cons

  • Only 16 hours of battery life in GPS mode
  • Many features don't work without GPS
  • Not compatible with Garmin Pay
  • No TOPO maps

Product Information

  • Case/Bezel Material: Fiber-reinforced polymer
  • Lens Material: Chemically strengthened glass
  • Strap Material: Silicone
  • Case Dimensions: 45 x 45 x 15.3 mm
  • Weight: 52 grams
  • Display Resolution: 128 x 128 pixels
  • Battery Life: 14 days (smartwatch mode); 16 hours (GPS mode); 40 hours (UltraTrac mode)
  • Memory: 16 MB

I will tell you more about the case and strap materials later – for now, suffice it to say that the Garmin Instinct is a very tough and durable watch. The thing I’m more interested in at this moment is the sizes of the case and display – they’re large enough to make the display easy to read, but not so big that the watch will look ridiculous on your wrist.

The Instinct will fit people with wrist circumference of 132-224 mm, and it has a medium-sized case that looks good on most people. In addition to that, this watch weighs only 52 grams, which is really great. It’s lightweight enough that you will easily forget you’re wearing it, and it won’t bother you at all.

Another thing we need to clear up is the battery life. You’ll see soon just how many different settings this watch has, so it only makes sense that the battery life depends on the exact thing you’re using it for. It is a bit disappointing that you can only get some 16 hours if you’re using GPS mode since this is what most people who want an outdoor watch would do.

But, you do have the option of putting it in a power-saving mode that will get you up to 40 hours of battery life when using GPS, which is a bit better. And if you’re just using it as a basic smartwatch, you don’t have to charge the Li-Ion battery for two weeks!

Case And Strap

The Instinct watch is built to be incredibly tough and durable, and that starts with the case. The lens features chemically strengthened glass with excellent scratch and impact resistance, while most of the case is made from fiber-reinforced polymers. The strap of the Instinct watch is made from silicone, which is a very durable material.

Another great thing about the watch display is that it is high contrast, meaning it’s fairly easy to read even in direct sunlight. This is very useful for outdoor lovers – what good is an outdoor watch if you can’t even read the dial while you’re outside?

One thing you will really like about the strap is that it’s vented – all those holes in the strap aren’t there just for Garmin to save pennies on the materials. They make the watch strap breathable, which is particularly useful when you’re wearing it in wet weather.

And if you’re not a fan of the strap, you can always switch it out for one of Garmin’s many Quick Fit bands – the watch is compatible with these, and you can replace the strap without any extra tools.

In addition to that, this wristwatch also features five buttons on the case that allow you to navigate the watch interface. They are ribbed so it’s easy to feel them without even glancing at your wrist. And it’s indicated on the bezel what each button does, which I really like. Don’t expect me to remember just from glancing at the manual once – I need that constant reminder which button I need to push if I want to access the menu!

Smart Watch Features

Garmin Instinct, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Features GLONASS and Galileo, Heart Rate Monitoring and 3-Axis Compass, Sea Foam

The Garmin Instinct is a rugged smartwatch, designed for outdoor adventurers who want the ability to read their emails while they’re in the middle of nowhere. It is compatible with both iPhone and Android devices, but there are some features that are only going to work with Android phones. The most notable such feature is text response or rejecting phone calls with text messages.

Other features like smart notifications, music control, and find my phone/watch capability work just as well on both iOS and Android devices. The Instinct also has full support for your calendar, and it can tell you the weather – but that’s about all the smartwatch features you get on the Instinct. And I think that’s okay – if you wanted an elaborate smartwatch that can almost replace your phone, you’d go with something from Apple or Samsung.

It’s also important to note that the Instinct watch is compatible with Garmin’s VIRB action camera. It works as a remote for the camera, which is pretty useful for those moments when you need both hands to stay alive, but still want to capture the scenery in front of you.

Bottom line, if you just want a smartwatch then this is probably not the best option for you. But, if you want a rugged outdoor watch that you can use to answer phone calls, change music and check your emails, the Garmin Instinct is seriously worth considering. Keep reading to learn more about all the different things you can do with this watch, and why it might just be one of the most versatile smartwatches ever made!

Outdoor Recreation Features

Garmin Instinct, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Features GLONASS and Galileo, Heart Rate Monitoring and 3-Axis Compass, Sea Foam

The different outdoor recreation profiles of this watch include hiking, kayaking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, rowing, tactical, and even SUPPing.

The Instinct watch has all the basic features you would expect like a barometer, GPS, compass, vertical speed tracker and sun and moon information. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so let’s talk more about all the features that are hiding beneath the surface.

This watch allows you to set your destination and project a waypoint, which will make your hikes a whole lot easier. It also has the ability to navigate downloaded courses – a feature known as ‘breadcrumb trail’. The barometric altimeter is capable of alerting you of impending storms, while the TrackBack features allow you to follow different courses in reverse.

It’s also possible to add checkpoint along the way – say you see something you want to check out while you’re following a course, but the weather is horrible and you can’t immediately stop to check it out. You can add a checkpoint, and if you follow the exact course when you’re heading back, you will have no issues finding that interesting spot once again.

The Instinct supports point-to-point navigation, which even includes Garmin’s Sight ’N Go feature. This lets you navigate to a point that’s within your sight, but inaccessible due to terrain – say you can see a massive boulder, but it’s on the other side of a vast chasm. The navigation can recognize that, and show you the easiest way to reach that boulder, without plunging to your death.

It’s also compatible with Xero, the digital sight for tactical bows that’s actually illegal in several US states, as well as Garmin’s BaseCamp mapping software. And it has the ability to calculate the size of an area by using information from satellites – a feature that sounds really cool, but which you likely won’t ever use.

On top of that, the Garmin Instinct has elevation profiles and 3D distance and speed measuring, which are helpful for keeping track of hikes on different terrain types. Another great thing about this smartwatch is that you can put it in ultra battery saving mode, which uses only the GPS.

The UltraTrac mode reduces the number of features the watch is tracking as well as the features you have access to, but it extends the battery life to a solid 40 hours. If you’re not a stranger to multi-day expeditions, this will certainly come in handy.

However, you can only get 40 hours of use when the watch is in battery-saving mode. If you put it in the standard GPS mode, you can only get up to 16 hours of battery life. While that’s okay for day hikes and easier climbs, it’s certainly not enough for people who are used to spending an entire weekend in the mountains. In that case, you’re better off getting a watch that either supports solar charging or has much longer battery life.

Fitness & Exercise Features

The Garmin Instinct makes a great workout companion, thanks to all the different features it has that are designed to keep track of your workouts. Apart from being able to keep track of your basic activities like step count and calories burnt, the watch also has multiple modes for different workouts.

It can automatically keep track of the number of reps you’re doing and alert you once you’ve reached your goal. But you need to adjust it to the right profile first, in order to truly get the most out of your exercises.

There aren’t too many different gym profiles that the watch supports, but there are certainly enough for the average person. There’s cardio, strength training, yoga, stair-stepping, floor climbing, and indoor rowing, which covers all the basics. And keep in mind that’s just for the gym workouts – it’s also a good watch for runners, with multiple running profiles you can set it to. But more on that later.

One of the features I really like is the Virtual Partner option. It lets you compete against a set goal – whether you just want to outdo yourself or show your friends that you can crush their times, it’s certainly an excellent motivator to keep you working out.

The Instinct also has the ability to download different training plans onto it, and it can even guide you through certain courses. Other useful features of this smartwatch include customizable data pages and activity profiles, support for interval training, and even advanced workouts.

Great Swimming Watch

This outdoor watch is waterproof up to 10ATM, so approximately up to 100 meters underwater. This means that it’s perfectly suitable for diving, even though it’s not primarily designed for that. In fact, this smartwatch features several different profiles for swimming and diving, allowing you to customize it to fit your experience perfectly.

It’s capable of tracking both open water and pool swim metrics like stroke count, pace, distance heart rate, etc., as well as recording all your pool swimming workouts. The Instinct can even detect the type of stroke you are using, but only if you set it to the pool swim profile. Rest timer is another feature exclusive to the pool swim profile, allowing you to keep your exercise precise to the second.

But if we’re being completely honest, I wouldn’t really recommend the instinct if the main thing you’re looking for is a diving watch. Something from Omega or Seiko would be a much better choice, considering that those brands make some astonishing diving watches.

And if it’s just a diving watch you seek, then you won’t have much use for more than half the features of Instinct, so it wouldn’t really make sense to get it. The only reason why you’d want this over a proper Omega diving watch is the attractive price point, and the fact that it can receive emails but still works underwater.

Good Option For Runners

I already mentioned that the Instinct watch has some great options for runners, so let’s talk more about that. The different running profiles include basic running, treadmill running, trail running, and indoor track running, which covers all the basics.

If you’re mainly an outdoor runner, then you’ll really like this watch. It has GPS-based tracking of time, distance, and pace, allowing you to monitor everything about your runs. And remember, with the Virtual Partner option, you can save these runs and compete against yourself later on. This is very useful for keeping track of your progress and seeing just how much you’re improving every day.

The Instinct can also keep track of cadence, counting in real-time the number of steps you are taking per minute. However, this is a GPS based feature – if you want to use this for indoor runs, you will need to get your hand on Garmin’s Foot Pod. This allows you to monitor distance and cadence when running indoors when GPS isn’t really an option. The Foot Pod is a tiny little gadget that can fit on your shoelaces, but it’s not exactly a cheap toy. Whether or not it’s worth the extra $50-60 entirely depends on you and your running habits.

Cycling Features

This wristwatch is equipped with some useful cycling features that can help you keep tract of your habits on the bike. You can set it to one of the three different cycling profiles (biking, mountain biking, indoor biking) and keep track of things like time, distance, heart rate, cadence, speed etc.

It’s also possible to set an alarm that will alert you once you’ve reached the desired goal. So, say you want to cycle for about 30 minutes or 10 miles whichever comes first – the wristwatch will alert you that you’ve reached your goal, and you don’t even have to look at the watch.

You can also download different courses onto the watch and explore new trails – a particularly useful feature for traveling. And you have the option of competing against your previous cycling sessions, which is going to be very useful if you’re training.

Garmin Instinct Review: Final Thoughts

The Instinct is an incredibly durable smartwatch from Garmin, with some very versatile features. It’s suitable for runners, swimmers, hikers, climbers, and even divers, with all sorts of features that cater to different types of outdoor adventurers.

However, I get the feeling that it’s going to barely scratch the surface for most of those people. By attempting to be such a versatile watch, it doesn’t really do a lot to excel in one particular area. The 16-hour battery life is a slap in the face for serious hikers and climbers since that’s not even enough to get you through the day.

And the lacking smartwatch features are a turn-off for people who actually want a smartwatch they can use for more than just telling time and answering phone calls.

So, who and why should get this watch? Well, if you’re attracted to the idea of a smartwatch that you can go underwater with, this is a pretty good option. And if you’re a light hiker who wants the option of tracking their routes and hiking speed, but rarely spend more than a day at a time in the great outdoors.

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Garmin 010-02064-00 Instinct, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Features Glonass and Galileo, Heart Rate Monitoring and 3-Axis Compass, Graphite
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Garmin 010-02064-00 Instinct, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Features Glonass and Galileo, Heart Rate Monitoring and 3-Axis Compass, Graphite
  • Rugged GPS watch built to withstand the toughest environments
  • Constructed to U.S. Military standard 810G for thermal, shock and water resistance (rated to 100 meters)

Also, the Instinct is just amazing when it comes to toughness and durability. It will survive pretty much anything short of being bludgeoned to death by a hammer. And it has some pretty good options for tracking workouts – features that you have in a regular smartwatch, but without the fragility of Apple’s pricey gadgets.

All in all, the Garmin Instinct might not be the best smartwatch or the best outdoor watch you can get your hands on. But it is the best versatile gadget you can get for less than $250 (less than $200 in some colors), so it’s certainly an option for considering!