For the outdoor adventurer, the Garmin Instinct is indispensable: built to military standards, it offers useful course tracking and rugged construction at an affordable price point. A vivid array of colors, a 100-meter water resistance, and a vented silicone band add to its back-to-basics appeal.
The Instinct is designed to military specifications, so claims Garmin, and the Instinct’s low feature set may not appeal to everyone except those who need to demand the most out of their equipment. Lacking a color screen, third-party apps, music storage, or onboard topographical maps, the Instinct nonetheless packs an impressive array of tracking features, an emphasis on toughness, and as noted above, can be had in a multitude of color combinations.
Garmin says that the Instinct is built to U.S. military standard 810G, which sets parameters for thermal, shock, and water resistance. There is an overall vibe of indestructibility to the Instinct that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever worn a Casio G-Shock, a Timex Ironman, or other tough plastic watches. To reflects that toughness, chemically strengthened glass is surrounded by a raised bezel for impact protection. The fiber-reinforced polymer case has a 45mm diameter and a weight of 52 grams. The band is made of silicone, and is comfortable enough to wear at night to track sleep cycles with. The five-button layout, common and familiar to Garmin users, and works intuitively in this instance. On the Instinct these buttons are marked by blocky text around the bezel, and the buttons themselves are large, rectangular, and textured with rubber for both water resistance and functionality.
The monochrome screen is divided into two screens, unique to the Instinct: a small circular window displays time and date, while the rest of the screen’s real estate is given to various apps and notifications. That small window to the right can also be customized in split-screen mode to share whatever stats you’re currently tracking. Twelve watch faces are available and built into the Instinct.
The Instinct relies on three different onboard location tracking systems, including GPS, Galileo and GLONASS, and it connects to these three systems quickly and accurately. Other higher-end Garmin watches, such as the Fenix series, feature topographical maps. But that particular model also costs more than twice as much. The Instinct relies on a breadcrumb map setup, with an internal compass for navigation and elevation tracking that can be cross-referenced for further orienteering. There’s also a backtrack feature to get back to the same starting point on a hike, which is extremely handy in preventing wearers from getting lost.
In addition to outdoor adventuring, the Instinct also comes with an array of health and wellness features, including stress tracking, which prompts mindfulness and relaxation techniques when it detects differences in heart rates. There is also a step and stair counter, which manifests itself as a widget for daily activities. A Bluetooth connection via Garmin Connect summons real-time weather information, which works in conjunction with the barometer function for storm alerts. Outdoor thrill seekers will find this sort of thing invaluable. Some users report that the sleep tracking isn’t as accurate as in other Garmin models, since it only monitors heart rate and movement; unlike other models, there is no blood oxygen saturation or breathing monitor like on other Garmin models.
Tracking: GPS, GLONASS, Galileo tracking on color maps with panning and zooming.
Stress Tracking: Prompts mindful breathwork in cases of elevated heart rates.
Advanced Sleep Monitoring: Breaks down your night to track your light, deep, and REM sleep modes.
Battery life: Up to 14 days in smartwatch mode, up to 16 hours in GPS mode, up to 40 hours in UltraTrac™ battery saver mode.
What the Instinct lacks, in this case, is what makes it more focused (and cheaper). There is no Garmin Pay for contactless card payments. WiFi and onboard music storage are also missing. Unlike other Garmin models, the Instinct doesn’t support PulseOX sensing for blood saturation or Body Battery, available on the Fenix and Viviosmart models.
A no-frills GPS watch for under $300 will be a boon to those who need just the basics to get outside. With an everything you need, nothing you don’t mentality, the Instinct is rugged enough to take on these outdoor adventures.
Frequently Asked Questions
Number of Available Colors
Type Of Display
Monochrome, Sunlight-Visible, Transflective Memory-In-Pixel (MIP)
0.9" x 0.9" (23 x 23 mm)
128 x 128
Heart Rate Monitor
Water Resistance Rating
Max Battery Life
What is included in the box?
On-board music storage
NFC Touchless Payment