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Garmin Instinct Review. Tough AND smart.

Garmin Instinct

The Garmin Instinct

Who says tough can't be smart?

Hey, I’ll admit it. I’m one of “those guys”... I have to have the latest greatest techy gear no matter what the cost. And that is why I currently have a Garmin Fenix 5x plus on my wrist... Um..Well, ok... I USED to be one of those guys. Once I got married, I became one of those guys who WISHED he had the latest, greatest techy gear. I have a feeling maybe some of you may be in the same boat as me, whether you want to admit it or not. The fact that I have an expensive Garmin watch has more to do with me being able to get a discount from Garmin, and less about me getting what I want. Never the less I have had the flagship Garmin watch now for a few months and know what it can do (ok, actually I know about 60% of what it can do). But more importantly I know what I actually use it for, both at home on a daily basis, and when I’m hunting. Here are the features I rely on daily and/or when I’m in in the field:
  • Heart rate monitoring
  • GPS Tracking
  • Activity tracking (running, hiking, weight lifting)
  • Smartwatch notifications (texts, alerts, emails)
  • Elevation tracking
  • Tracking my Calories burned
  • Temperature
  • Syncing with my Garmin inReach Mini
  • Syncing with my Garmin Xero Bowsight
  • Looking at data in Garmin Connect (phone app)
Interestingly enough, the NEW Garmin Instinct does ALL of this. Garmin Instinct Rugged GPS Smartwatch The Garmin Instinct is Garmin’s first outdoorsman’s watch. It’s built to be durable and reliable, yet it also keeps all of the features you need to be active, and informed, especially when in the backcountry. Here I made a list of the most notable features of the Garmin Instinct and explained why I think they are important and or useful.

Battery life

The battery lasts up to 14 days in normal or smartwatch mode, up to 16 hours in GPS mode, and up to 40 hours in Ultra Trac mode. Ultra track is Garmin’s battery saving GPS mode. I don't like it because accuracy suffers big time, but if I had to stretch my battery, this is the mode I’d use.

Instinct Activity Tracker

GPS and Activity Tracking

The Instinct’s GPS Tracking uses a few different satellite systems. GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo. This is important when considering accuracy in different environments, but also for speed of acquisition. The GPS does acquire quickly and seems to be as accurate as my Fenix in the few activities that I have tracked. Also I have noticed that adding Galileo tends to help find a signal when GPS alone will not work. You WILL have to edit each of your activites' GPS mode to be GPS + Galileo to get the best results.


ABC (altimeter, barometer, compass)

Location tracking gets some help from the ABC features found on the Garmin. Like other Garmin watches the Altimeter is easy to calibrate using GPS. The barometer includes an adjustable storm alert. And unlike some watches that use the accelerometer or gps data, the 3 axis magnetic compass allows you to get a reading without moving. I don’t use the compass or barometer much, but I do look at my elevation often. Especially when climbing hills in the dark, or when trying to determine the snow line. And sometimes it's nice to know that my heavy breathing is due to elevation, and not because I’m out of shape.

Garmin Instinct Text Reply

Smartwatch Notifications

When it comes to being a smartwatch, this will not likely replace your android or apple watch, if that's what you’re looking for. Its monochrome digital display is not as pretty, as big, or as versatile as your typical smartwatch. It is functional though. I use the smartwatch notifications daily to read my incoming texts, and to answer incoming calls without pulling out my phone. In comparison to the Fenix 5x plus the screen does not show as much data, but you can scroll through if needed.

Garmin Instinct Connect screenshot

Health Stats

The Instinct tracks your heart rate, steps, floors climbed, stress, calories burned.. But the coolest stats won’t necessarily be on your watch. The Instinct syncs with your phone via the Garmin Connect app. As long as you have an internet connection on your phone, the Connect app takes your data and gives you some great feedback. My favorite is sleep tracking, but you can also get other insights as well.


Like pretty much every other watch that tracks the temperature, your body heat will throw this off. It’s great if you don’t mind being + or - 20 degrees.

Instinct syncs with inReach Mini

inReach Mini

The inReach Mini adds Ant+ support and is the ONLY inReach device that will talk to any Garmin Watch. When I’m hunting it works really well. I simply put the MinI in my pack’s lid, or attached to the outside of my pack. The watch allows me to send those free preset messages, and also alerts me when I get an incoming message. I LOVE THIS. Like most of you, I turned all the sound off on my inReach Mini. So when the wife sends me an inReach text, getting the alert on my watch is great. Otherwise I won’t get the message till the next time I get in my pack. Also great if your buddy texts you from the other side of the ridge letting you know where to meet up, or what direction they are heading.

Xero A1I Bowsight

Yes, the Xero can send data to the Garmin Instinct. I will update this section when I have more time to test it.

Fenix 5x Plus vs Garmin Instinct

Instinct Display

The display on the Instinct is a monochrome, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel. This simply means that its an old school digital watch display that is VERY readable in pretty much any environment. My Fenix 5x plus is nice because it is color and uses very little battery life. But after looking at the Instinct's “old school” screen, I have to admit that I like it better. Why? Because I can read it at a glance. The color screen on my Fenix doesn’t seem to be as clear to my old eyes. There is a small round display in the upper right hand corner of the main display. At first glance this seems cheesy. However after using this for a few days, I LOVE it. It allows me to highlight whatever data I happen to be interested in at that moment. There is a light that works well enough, and can be set to auto turn on when you turn your wrist. Options are on, off, or after sunset, which I think is pretty cool.

Garmin Instinct Watch Face

Watch Faces

The Instinct does not work with Garmin Connect IQ. This is a bit disappointing. I love that I can can install a bunch of cool apps on my Fenix 5x plus that are available in the Connect IQ store. I can also download hundreds of different watch faces from Connect IQ to my Fenix. The instinct will not. However the Instinct does have 12 watch faces built in and they are completely customizable, and some have cool charts. I like seeing my heart rate history, or when hunting I like to see my elevation profile while climbing up a hill. Each is visible with a watch face. I’m sure there will be more available in future updates, but for now, these are all I need.

Customizable data screens

From the watch face to what data screens you want to see during your tracked activities, the watch is very easy to customize. And there are a lot of data points to select from. Take the time to customize these screens, it will make your watch more enjoyable!

Build, fit and finish.

After wearing the Fenix 5x plus, I cannot believe how light this watch is. 52 grams, compared to my Fenix 5x plus at 96 grams. I hardly notice that it’s on my wrist! The build quality is great, and it does feel like a very durable watch. But it doesn’t have that spongy feel that you might think. The bezel and case are fiber-reinforced polymer and come in 6 colors. Flame Red, Tundra, Graphite, Lakeside Blue, Starburst, and Sea Foam. The buttons have a distinct click, and have a bit of feedback, you’ll know that the button is working.

Garmin Instinct Buttons

Notably missing from the Instinct

Here are some of the features that are not included on the Instinct that I do like on my Fenix. None of these are features I need though. Just features I like.
  • Pulse Ox
  • Color Screen
  • Connect IQ
  • Topo Maps
  • Garmin Pay
  • Onboard Music

Garmin Instinct


My overall impression of this watch is that it does a great job of giving me the info I need in a very functional and efficient way. But that's it. Don’t come looking for the fancy fluff here. I like to think of the Garmin Instinct as a watch that would be tough enough for my dad, but smart enough for my nerdy nephew. And priced at $299 even my nephew could afford one! Backcountry approved? You bet.

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