Garmin Instinct - NanaDC's Review in 2024: Pros, Cons, & Verdict

Written by – Updated on May 5, 2024

This Garmin Instinct review dives deep into the ins and outs of the Garmin smartwatch.

Garmin is to GPS systems as Kleenex is to facial tissue.

The brand has become so ubiquitous that it borders on a generic trademark.

The company holds a market value of over $19 billion.

Automotive products have long been a pillar of the Garmin inventory.

It is wristwear that has seen an astronomical rise lately, though.


That includes but is not limited to trackers and watches for trail running, hiking, water sports, and cycling.

Read this in-depth Garmin Instinct review to find out why their wristwatches became so popular and if you should get one.

Imagine enjoying the same tracking and monitoring features Garmin products have become famous for within a rugged smartwatch casing that is light and powerful and can endure the elements.

That's why the company manufactured this life-changing product.

If you are considering investing in an outdoors watch, this review will provide everything you need to know to make an informed purchase.

What Is the Garmin Instinct?

It is tailor-made for adventurers and one of the best smartwatches on the market today.

The inspiration came from previous Garmin watches, particularly the Vivoactive outdoor watch and Garmin Fenix.

While it surpasses its two predecessors in regard to features offered, it maintains the same bulky exterior but it's light.

Garmin Instinct GPS Watch

This military smartwatch is meant for people who eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors.

Whether you want to hike and follow a map like the Pacific Crest Trail or go bouldering near your home, this watch is constructed to handle a lot of harsh elements.

What makes this watch unique and excellent among its competitors is an affordable price tag at half that of Garmin's Fenix price.

Specs & Features: What It Can Do

The sports watch has a lot of features from its monochrome display to its magnetic compass that it's easy to ramble.

With brevity in mind, let's tackle the best features in its arsenal which you don't want to miss.


Behind the chemically strengthened glass lies a 128 x 128 pixels monochrome display. The 45 mm diameter comes in significantly wider size than traditional watches, which allows for easy readability.

Even in sunny situations, users can change the configuration and switch to a high-contrast look.


Instinct users can also choose between 12 different watch design or faces, some of which have miniature displays and widgets, like heart rate monitoring and elevation. While the display of this product is serviceable, the definition is underwhelming. The simple definition, lack of touch screen, and boxy casing, therefore, lend credence to any comparisons with vintage Casio watches.

Garmin's high tech design drew inspiration from the Fenix when it came to designing the robust navigation features of the Instinct. It allows you to start the pre-plan routes online or via mobile app. You can even search or create paths on the smartwatch. Here are a couple of other key features related to navigation that we just have to mention in this review:

  • Magnetic compass
  • Storm alerts
  • TracBack feature, which creates an electronic breadcrumb trail
  • UltraTrack
  • GPS coordinate display
  • Sunset and sunrise times
  • Area calculation
  • Hotkeys
  • 3D distance and speed

You can upload a map through your phone of your desired location and zoom and pan around the route to see an electronic version of the map at all times.


After selecting the "hiking" setting, the sensors can track pertinent information, such as the elevation profiles and your HR. If you wander off track, the watch checks your coordinates before setting you back on the route--a handy safety feature. That said, the watch can't account for certain features, such as lakes, roads, or mountain ranges.

If the altimeter plummets, the Instinct watch will send an immediate storm alert. That way, you can backtrack your route as quickly as possible. Those who want to explore regardless of weather conditions can adjust the altimeter to their desired calibration to avoid unwanted alerts.


Garmin claims that they are more than reliable when it comes to GPS tracking. The system also supports GLONASS and Galileo.

When you upload your activities to your phone or computer, you can expect to see a representative line of where you walked or ran within a few feet, regardless of the system.

gps save location

Any basic GPS outdoor watch will have some margin for error with its tracking. The watch does a serviceable job, even in rugged terrain, like mountains and forests. You can expect the same consistency when it comes to elevation readings, too.

Heart Rate Monitor

The heart rate monitor is most accurate when it is snug around your wrist. Compared to the chest strap devices, it is also very convenient. Even small discrepancies in hair quantity and watch positioning can alter the readings. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn't be able to slide a finger between the strap and the watch.

heart rate monitor

Once the it's in place and you feel comfortable, you can rest assured knowing your readings will be the best they can be. You can actively monitor your heart rate, distance, and pace as well as vertical speed. The watch also comes with 24/7 tracking, which counts everything, including resting heart rate and stairs climbed. Note that if you do opt for 24/7 tracking, the Instinct has a battery life of 14 days, in which sleep mode is not included.


The watch uses an optical heart rate sensor to measure during workouts. The activity tracking includes running (VO2 max), swimming, cycling, hiking, and more. Basically any type of workout except for golf.

sports modes

You can quickly access different workouts or sports modes in the upper right-hand corner. Once you select your activity of choice, you can customize the screen display with five pieces of information. They also add Virtual Partner and auto lap features for you to enjoy. This one has better features than most other sports watches.

How to Use the Garmin Instinct

If you have an urge to explore or be active, the watch is worth your consideration. It offers a diverse range of features like the Garmin Explore app to fuel interest in the outdoors and fitness. The real question is, "How are you going to use it?"

As we noted, the Garmin Instinct watch tracks various outdoor activities and sporting activities. 25 to be exact. The most popular options are running, biking, and swimming. Some other less popular activities include stair-stepping and rowing.

If you want to use the watch as a runner, the baseline option is to let it track your positioning while you run. It will transmit the global positioning data to your wrist. Then you can see your pace, elevation, distance, and total time as you go.

The watch also offers more advanced options like Virtual Partners and downloaded maps. A virtual partner is a training tool that helps you meet your fitness goals by setting a target speed or pace. In this case, you can set the rate of your virtual partner and try to keep pace with them through regular updates.

Downloaded maps are particularly useful if you want to run in forest trails or the mountains. You can prepare maps and upload a route via the Garmin app. If you get off-track, it will reroute you back to the course to ensure you don't get lost.


The watch also has everyday applications. For instance, it has sleep tracking and a stress tracking feature. The tool measures HRV throughout the day and calculates a stress score. What's great is that you won't need a chest strap to measure accurately. You can then see data that indicates how stressful or peaceful your day was.

It even has compatibility modes for dog lovers, which means that you won’t need another set of devices to monitor your pets. These are the Garmin Alpha 100, Astro 900, and Astro 430. The Alpha can track the speed, distance, and direction of up to 20 dogs at a time, which is one of the best options for large hunting groups. The Astro models offer monitoring within a five-mile radius and provide updates every 2.5 seconds.

As for the price, currently, it retails for the price of around $200. The price jumps up to closer to $300 for the tactical build, which features dual-grid coordination. Instinct Garmin color options are Sea Foam, Flame Red, Lakeside Blue, Sunburst, Graphite, and Tundra.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Your most pressing questions answered:

How Do You Know When the Garmin Instinct Is Charged?

You can toggle the screen display to check battery life. This step will display bars on the bottom of the screen. Fewer bars correlate with less remaining battery life.

The Instinct contains an internal, rechargeable lithium battery. When it is in smartwatch mode, it can last up to 14 days. It will last approximately 16 hours in GPS mode and 40 hours in UltraTrac setting.

How to Bring Up Texts on the Garmin Instinct?

To make it simple and comfortable for you, you can sync your smartphone with the Instinct.


That way, you can manage notifications as they appear on the Instinct. The easiest way to do that is with Bluetooth:

  1. Hold Menu
  2. Select Settings > Phone > Smart Notifications > Status > On
  3. Select During Activity
  4. Select Notification and Sound Preferences
  5. Select Not During Activity
  6. Select Notification and Sound Preferences
  7. Select Timeout
  8. Select the amount of time between the alert and display

How Accurate Is the Garmin Instinct?

The watch is one of the best Garmin smartwatches and it measures multiple data points, all with commendable accuracy. That can include tracking HR, HRV, vertical ascent, and global positioning. On the whole, the Instinct's accuracy measures favorably against competitors.

It is possible to influence the efficacy with personal and external factors, though. For instance, people with exceptionally hairy arms may not get personal data with the same accuracy as their non-hairy counterparts. Similarly, adverse weather conditions make precision routing tracking marginally more challenging.

How to Check Temperature on the Garmin Instinct?

The Instinct smartwatch has a sensor that tracks your temperature as well as the temperature outdoors. You can find that data with the onboard widget. It will start to display the current internal temperature, in addition to historical measurements.


Note that in one of the company-based Garmin Instinct reviews, it was suggested that the "temperature is not accurate." Garmin explained that internal body temperature could influence the sensor. It recommends removing the watch from your wrist for 20 to 30 minutes for the most accurate reading.

How to Reset the Garmin Instinct?

Using the buttons, you have two options here: reset to user settings or reset to factory settings. Resetting the user settings starts with opening the Menu, selecting Settings, then System, then Reset. Choose Reset Default Settings. This scenario lets you keep your activities.

Resetting to factory settings is similar. Start by selecting the Menu, then Settings, then System, then Reset. Choose to Delete Data and Reset Settings, which will restore the device to like-new condition.

Is the Garmin Instinct Touchscreen?

The watch does not have a touchscreen. You have to press the left and right button, like most other Garmin products to navigate configurations and apps. The placement of the buttons and the overall setup is identical to that of the Garmin Fenix series watches.

Does the Garmin Instinct Work With iPhones?

You can sync your iPhone or other smartphone to your watch via Garmin Connect app. The app lets you track, analyze, and share your fitness metrics and accomplishments. You can find the app in the Google Play or App Store. Note that the watch does not have Garmin Pay support.

Garmin Connect app is a central hub for your health data. It shows historic activity tracking, including work out intensity, training regimen, and sleep quality. Once you complete an activity, you can see the results immediately on the smartwatch or your phone.

connect app

Competitive people will gravitate towards Garmin Coach. The feature lets you customize your training to maximize performance. You will also get coaching advice and motivational articles and videos to help you power towards your goals.

Apps like Garmin Connect online also lets you see your friend’s activity. For instance, you can follow and compete with friends and family in trail running challenges to see who racks up the most steps per week. You can also earn badges for your accomplishments based on individual achievement.

Does the Garmin Instinct Play Music?

When you pair your Instinct with your smartphone device, you can play music on the watch. It works similar to the Apple watch. While you can control your music, you do not have the power to store it. Additionally, there is no option to utilize streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, or iHeartRadio.

Is the Garmin Instinct Waterproof?

The Instinct is water-resistant. You can submerge the wearable underwater up to 330 feet, which makes it suitable for everything outside of scuba diving. It can endure activities that involve splashing, going for a swim, diving, snorkeling, and aquatic sports.


The water-resistance feature is part of U.S. military specifications 810. These performance and manufacturing guidelines track rugged commercial and military equipment. Put another way: the watch will also hold up to extreme shock and thermal conditions.