Smartwatches are becoming increasingly ubiquitous as more and more manufacturers roll out new models and features. With so many options, it can be hard to choose the best watch for yourself, so in this article I’ll lay out all the features and give a review of my personal experience with one smartwatch, the Garmin Instinct.
What is the Garmin Instinct?
The Garmin Instinct combines smartwatch capability with outdoor adventure features and health tracking elements. Besides the obvious purpose of telling time, the Instinct has several other functions:
The Instinct displays the time and date (which are synced with GPS and automatically adjust for daylight savings time) as well as sunrise and sunset times. You can also set an alarm clock or use a timer and stopwatch.
ABC stands for altimeter, barometer, and compass. With these three tools, you can know your elevation at all times, monitor weather for incoming storms, and keep your bearings with the three-axis compass. The watch also includes a thermometer and accelerometer.
Multi-GNSS Navigation Support
The Instinct allows you access to three different global navigation satellite systems (GNSS): GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo. The combination of all three systems provides better tracking in more difficult and remote terrain than just GPS alone.
This feature allows you to track your outbound journey and then provides navigation to follow the same route back to your starting point, so you’ll always make it back to your vehicle or campsite.
The Garmin Instinct tracks your heart rate through the wrist sensor, as well as your stress level throughout the day. You can wear it at night to track your sleep patterns and evaluate how much time you spend awake or in different phases of sleep. It also keeps track of your steps each day, and sets an automatic goal for you to meet.
You can set it up to remind you to move on a regular basis or prompt you to meet your goals. The watch also tracks calories burned, floors climbed, distance traveled, and intensity minutes. It includes TrueUp and Move IQ technology to actively track and set goals for you.
You can choose from a multitude of activities for smarter training and detailed activity tracking. You can use this feature to map, track, and share your activity stats. The available activities include running, hiking, mountain biking, swimming, skiing, snowboarding, paddleboarding, rock climbing, rowing, kayaking, and so forth. Each activity has its own metrics and available features.
The watch can also be used for gym workouts, with profiles for strength, cardio and elliptical training, stair climbing, indoor rowing, and yoga. The Instinct will automatically count reps for you so you’ll never lose track.
There are even training and workout planning features available, so you can download training plans, customize your activity profiles, set up auto or manual lap tracking, receive audio prompts, and much more.
Smart Notifications and Features
You can pair this watch with a compatible smartphone (iPhone or Android) to receive emails, texts, and other alerts. If you have an Android phone, you can even respond to texts or reject calls with a text straight from the watch.
The smart features also include a calendar, weather, find my phone and find my watch functions, Virb remote, and the ability to control music that’s playing through your smartphone.
If you have a Garmin inReach device (which are sold separately and require a subscription plan), you can pair it with your watch to view and send messages, receive storm alerts, and even trigger an SOS message to an emergency response team if you get into trouble while out of cell service.
Dog Tracking Device
You can also pair your watch with an Astro or Alpha dog tracking device to receive updates and alerts from your pup through the Instinct.
You can choose to purchase the Tactical Edition of the Garmin Instinct, which features night vision goggle compatibility, jumpmaster technology, stealth mode, and other additional features.
Garmin App Connectivity
You can pair your watch with the Garmin Connect mobile app, which allows you to view details like stats, maps, and more from your workout, sleep, or day overall. The watch can also pair with the Garmin Explore mobile app, which lets you map, track, sync, and share your data from anywhere.
Garmin Instinct Construction
The Instinct is built for adventure with a fiber-reinforced polymer case and a chemically strengthened and scratch-resistant display face. It does not have a touchscreen, but the screen is easily readable in both dim and bright light due to the backlight and high contrast, and big enough that you can easily read it and navigate through features with the five buttons around the sides of the watch.
It has a two-window design so you can see multiple stats at once.
The soft and pliable silicone bands are vented to keep you comfortable and have two removable keeper loops to keep the tail tucked securely away. You can also switch out the bands to any QuickFit watch band to mix up the color and style. The watch is designed to fit wrists with a circumference of 132-224 mm.
The Instinct complies with the United States military standard 810 for thermal, shock, and water resistance. The watch is waterproof up to 100 meters underwater, so it will still work whether you are free diving or SCUBA diving.
The battery is an internal, rechargeable lithium battery that can last up to 14 days in smartwatch mode, up to 16 hours in GPS mode, and up to 40 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode, so you won’t be left in a lurch with a dead battery.
The Tactical Edition comes in black or dark tan, while the standard edition is available in dark gray, light gray, red, yellow, dark blue, and a lighter slate gray/blue color.
My Review After 60 Days
My boyfriend Aaron and I asked for (and received, thanks to Aaron’s parents!) a Garmin Instinct for Christmas, and nearly 60 days in, we are still loving it. We chose the Instinct mainly because we wanted the altimeter feature and this watch had that but not all the other bells and whistles that we didn’t need, which kept the price more reasonable.
We have used the watch for hiking, rock climbing, and tracking daily steps so far, and we are excited to test it in some water sports scenarios as the weather warms up. So far, here is what we like and dislike about the Instinct:
- Accurate altimeter – Again, this is the main feature we wanted in a smartwatch, and we use it to determine true elevation gain and loss while hiking, as well as while driving. We live and travel full-time in a converted short school bus, and altitude affects how the bus runs so we like to keep an eye on that.
- Looks good – Of course, this isn’t the most critical factor, but we wanted something that either of us could feasibly wear, and that wouldn’t scream that it’s expensive. The watch is rather large, so although it fits on my slender wrist and doesn’t look outrageous, Aaron usually wears it and shares the stats with me. The Instinct also looks, at first glance, like it could be any digital watch (as opposed to very recognizable Apple watches and FitBits) which is more in line with our style. The always-on display is handy as well, so you can glance at the time without having to wake up the screen.
- Waterproof – Although we haven’t yet tested the watch for water sports, we love to swim, paddleboard, and generally spend as much time as possible in the water when the weather is hot, so this was a critical feature for us.
- Intuitive to use – We both have aversions to reading instruction manuals, but this watch was easy to figure out, and within a few hours, Aaron had mastered all the features.
- Customizable – This watch has so many features that it would take all day to review the data if you used all of them. We enjoy the fact that you can choose what data is tracked and have only your favorite activities set up so you don’t have to scroll through a long list each time.
- Long battery life – The two-week battery life on this watch is insane, and we love it. We charge all of our devices with the solar panels on our bus, so things that require infrequent charging are lifesavers.
- Large size – As I mentioned, this is a big watch. If you wear it too close to your wrist joint, it can impede the motion of bending your hand back since it sits relatively high off of your arm and is a bit bulky. However, the big size makes it easier to read, and for the number of features packed into this thing, it’s actually relatively small.
Best Places to Buy a Garmin Instinct
There are several places to buy Garmin Instincts, so it’s a good idea to shop around and check for the best possible deal. Sites to check include the Garmin website, Amazon.com, REI.com, and BestBuy.com. Shop for sales and free shipping to maximize your value.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that the Garmin Instinct is definitely worth the investment, and it’s a worthwhile piece of gear for anyone ranging from casual adventurers (like us) to extreme sports enthusiasts. Garmin has proven their products in the outdoor industry for many years and continue to do so with this high-quality smart watch.
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Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!