The Garmin Instinct It's a different watch than what Garmin is used to, starting with its aesthetics (clearly inspired by the Casio G-Shock) and continuing because it's a totally new model. It's neither Forerunner nor Phoenix, and of course it has nothing to do with the Vivoactive.
So what is the Garmin Instinct? It comes from Garmin's Outdoor division, which is the same one behind the successful Fenix product line but also behind devices like the Oregon, Xero or InReach. So the orientation of the Instinct is clearly focused on outdoor and mountain use. And it also means that there are a lot of Garmin Fenix in this Garmin Instinct, although this model offers shock, water and temperature resistance that meets the military standard MIL-STD-810G.
In short, the Garmin Instinct is a heavy-duty ABC watch that is intended for use primarily in the mountains and hiking.
I've been using the Instinct for several weeks now to get to know it thoroughly and to tell you how it works and what's so special about it, and once it's done with it it will be returned to Garmin, there is no compensation from you when it comes to these tests.
Remember that if you like the content I offer and you want to collaborate supporting the site, you can do it by buying your new Garmin Instinct (or anything else) through the Amazon links I provide. That way I will receive a small commission which is what supports the site and the many hours needed to perform all these tests.
I won't keep you any longer. Make yourself comfortable, because I'm going to tell you everything you need to know about the Garmin Instinct and so far no one has told you.
- Comfortable and lightweight
- A different aesthetic for a Garmin. You either like it or you hate it
- Route navigation with a multitude of options
- Altimeter, barometer and compass (ABC clock)
- Compatible with Garmin InReach, Garmin Xero, and Garmin Explore
- MIL-STD-810G resistance to shock, water and temperature.
- Irregular altimeter data
- There is hardly any difference in price with the Fenix 5, and leaving aside the use in hiking and mountain, there are a few differences
- No Connect IQ or Garmin Pay
- Very limited support for external sensors (no potentiometers, running power, lights or radar)
Things to keep in mind about the Garmin Instinct
As I said at the beginning, when we look at the Garmin Instinct and think about what its concept is and what it's geared towards, it's impossible that the Fenix 5 doesn't come to mind immediately. Both are designed for mountain use and both come from the Garmin Outdoor division.
We might think it's a Cheap Garmin Fenix 5So what makes them different and what makes the Garmin Instinct special? Well, here are their main differences compared to each other.
- MIL-STD-810G military grade resistance certification
- The screen on the Garmin Instinct is monochrome, while on the Fenix 5 it is colour.
- It is much lighter. The Instinct weighs 52 grams while the Fenix 5 goes up to 85 grams in the standard size.
- There is no support for Connect IQ of any kind, so it is not possible to install applications, widgets, data fields or different clock faces.
- The Instinct supports fewer external sensors. It does not allow potentiometers, lights or cycling radar.
- Slightly lower range for the Instinct.
- The Garmin Instinct lacks VO2Max estimation, Training Effect, Training Load and other advanced metrics, nor does it calculate the Lactate Threshold, all of which are present on the Fenix 5.
- The Instinct does not offer a golf mode.
- There are no multi-sport modes either. No triathlon, duathlon or similar. The Fenix 5 does.
- Both the Fenix 5 and the Instinct have the same Garmin Elevate wrist heart rate monitor. Garmin has not taken the opportunity to equip the Instinct with the PulseOx sensor as the Fenix 5X Plus despite being designed for mountain use.
- There is no WiFi, something that is present in some Fenix 5 models.
These are the main differences between the two models, which are the most similar within the Garmin range.
But without a doubt what stands out most about the Garmin Instinct is its aesthetics, totally different from what Garmin has been used to offering until now. When I first saw it I couldn't stop thinking about the Casio G-Shock. Its "rugged" design, the secondary circular display... all reminiscent of the Japanese manufacturer's rugged line.
And I'm talking about a secondary circular screen because that's the effect it offers. Of course there's only one screen on the clock but the design allows that area to stand out as if it were a separate screen.
Configuration possibilities and differences with the rest of the Garmin range
This second screen is precisely what separates the Garmin Instinct from the rest of the models in the range, both in terms of its presence and its configuration possibilities.
Starting with the time sphere, it should be remembered that since the Instinct is not compatible with Connect IQ it is not possible to download different options from the application, but it does allow you to display a multitude of information in different ways.
There are many things that can be customized and we can choose different proposals. There are 6 different spheres, which are multiplied by two since we can select them in black background with white characters and vice versa.
Then podemos select what to see in each case both in the "secondary" screen. Second hand, heart rate, altitude, barometer data... And on the dials that have graphs 1TP10We can also choose what data we want to see represented.
Here are some examples of the possibilities it offers.
The same screen becomes important in the rest of the clock interface, highlighting each section of the menu with icons or additional information in each part of the menu.
As for the configuration of the sport profile, thanks to this small circle we can have up to 5 data per screen, when the usual in Garmin has always been 4. Perhaps it is not the best option for the one who is more right in sight, but at least it is a nice addition considering that this model does not support Connect IQ data screens.
Without a doubt, this is where the small circular section becomes more important, the Garmin Instinct offers unique and never-before-seen screen layouts.
As it is a watch geared towards mountain use, the Instinct receives all the functions specific to that use that you can find in the Fenix 5:
The clock changes to a specific screen that we can configure when we climb a slope. We can specify from what vertical speed the screen will change (i.e. how many meters we would climb in an hour).
It will take into account the data from the barometric altimeter to identify when we are ascending at the rate we have set, and when we descend from that rate of ascent the clock will return to the usual data screen.
The truth is that allocating it by percentage would seem simpler to me, but it is a personal opinion.
3D speed and distance
It allows you to calculate speed and distance traveled more accurately when there are significant changes in altitude, although I do not recommend it if you are running on the flat as it can alter both data.
This function significantly reduces the number of times it records GPS data. It is a more suitable option for hiking, where we move at a slow and steady pace. I would not recommend using this mode for running or cycling, as the tracks you will get will be quite poor.
According to Garmin, the Instinct achieves up to 40 hours of battery life when configured in this way.
A function you will never use. You can make the route in a certain way and the clock will calculate the area. Useful for measuring the fence of the sheep, for example.
But if you find another use for her, I'll be happy to meet her...
When the air pressure drops drastically (at a rate we can indicate), the watch will warn us of the possibility of a good storm being prepared.
It is possible to set not only the warning, but also the rate of descent to adjust the alarm to your particular zone as sudden drops in pressure may be more common somewhere or other.
Dawn, dusk and twilight
Little to explain... According to the GPS position data the clock will offer you every day the time of sunrise, sunset and twilight (the clarity before sunrise and after sunset, not the time of the movie).
Its main use, of course, is to be able to calculate how much time we have left of light and to know if we are going to finish the route during the day or at night, in order to make decisions about it, like choosing to camp and from what time to prepare the camp.
As is common with any Garmin (and by extension any GPS running watch) you can switch screens by pressing the up/down buttons. Additionally you can activate the automatic screen switching option so that the watch rotates regularly between the different screens.
As for marking laps, you can do it automatically -you can define the distance you want to mark them- or manually. However, unlike the rest of Garmin models in the Instinct the Lap button is assigned by default to return to the main screen (while it continues recording the activity), but you can activate the use of this button in a traditional way.
And speaking of buttons, if you look at the bezel of the watch, each button is marked with letters above it. That tells us which part of the menu we access if we keep that button pressed.
For example, if we keep the button marked ABC we will find all the information regarding compass, barometer and altitude, and if we do the same with the GPS button we will have our coordinates and you will be able to save them as a point of interest.
Otherwise, it offers exactly the same as any other Garmin watch in terms of workout timing and analysis in Garmin Connect, activity tracking (steps and heart rate), and even sleep. There's nothing to be proud of here, either positive or negative. It's a Garminfor better or for worse.
Finally, before I finish, I would like to specify that the Garmin Instinct supports swimming in a pool, which will allow you to control and monitor your underwater training, both in terms of pace and distance.
But it's only swimming in the pool, unfortunately there's no support for open water swimming or multi-sport activities. So if you were thinking of doing a triathlon or duathlon sporadically... I'm sorry, but you won't be able to register it completely with the Garmin Instinct.
As it is a watch designed for hiking and mountain climbing, Garmin has equipped the Instinct with all the brand's navigation functions, or almost all of them, because it does not have the integrated maps that we can find in the Fenix 5 Plus.
But the fact that it doesn't have maps is not a negative point. As for its functions, you can find exactly the same ones that a Fenix 5 has. And I'm not only talking about route navigation, there are also many other specific functions for its use in the mountains, which I will detail below (although some of them I have already indicated in the previous section):
- Route navigation
- Navigation to a saved point (waypoints) via compass
- Recording of a point for a given coordinate
- Back to top
- Sight N'Go mode
- Elevation profile on routes
- Compatible with the Garmin Explore application
- 3D distance and pace
- Storm warning
- Sunrise/sunset and twilight hours
- Area calculation
Of course, the function that we will make the most of is route navigation, and this is where we have a multitude of options for loading a route on the clock:
Design a route manually on the Garmin Connect
It is the fastest way to create a route since simply by marking a starting point and an end point, the website itself will design the route you should take.
It also displays heat maps, which are common routes that other Garmin users have taken, so they're interesting paths to explore. These are the purple lines that you can see on the map, which look like capillaries.
It's extremely intuitive and fast. The ideal choice for preparing routes on roads, but not for expeditions on small trails or through forests without any marked paths. As you can see, I was able to trace this route of almost 50km by simply marking 7 points. Garmin Connect took care of everything else.
Upload a downloaded route on the Garmin Connect
At the bottom of the route selection, you must click on Import route for this window to open.
We will simply drag the .tcx or .gpx file from the route that has been provided by the organization of a race, a friend or that we have created through another application.
Designing an automatic route in the Garmin Connect app
The Garmin Connect mobile application also allows you to create routes, but not manually as on the web. What it allows us to do is to create an "intelligent" route in which we enter predefined data: distance to travel, direction in which we want to move and click on the map at a starting point.
In a few seconds the application designs a return route with those parameters and shows it on screen. Unlike the Edge or Fenix 5 Plus with maps, it only gives you one option.
It is the perfect choice if we are in an unknown place and we simply want to do a route without getting too hot, in a few seconds it will be designed, but surely the choice made is not the most beautiful one we can have.
But if you do not have access to a browser, it is a very good option to go out with a known destination in a place that we do not know.
Use Garmin Explore for waypoints or routes
Although at first glance it may seem like the same thing as Garmin Connect, it doesn't look like it at all. Garmin Explore is what used to be known as Garmin Basecamp, the program you had to install on your computer to design routes.
It offers topographic maps that you can download to your phone (and consult even when you're in the world's last refuge) to help you prepare routes in inhospitable areas that you can't reach with Garmin Connect.
You can mark points of interest, or know details such as the altitude of a particular place.
But the main difference with Garmin Connect when it comes to creating routes is that you'll have to do it using many more points, because Garmin Explore won't adapt to the road, but will make a straight line between them. And you can't swell because we have a 200-point limit on the routes.
As you can see, it's a much more powerful option than Garmin Connect, but you'll need to take it easy and think more about where you want to go, how you want to go and why.
Additionally there are other ways to load tracks into the clock. Wikiloc allows you to pass the tracks directly, or you can load tracks by uploading them to the clock's memory by connecting it by cable to the computer, but these I have detailed are the main ways.
Once you have synchronized your clock and have your route on it, you can select the route directly from the activity menu.
You don't need to use a specific navigation profile, since following a route is independent of what sport you are practicing, but logically it has to be a sport with GPS use, if you go swimming in the pool you won't be able to select a route.
You could even do the navigation without saving the activity (through the navigation option), but the usual use will be to navigate while you are doing a hiking, biking or trail running activity; in which case you will be interested in recording all the data collected.
When you load a synchronized route, you will be able to see the route to follow. Remember that there are no maps of any kind, you will simply have a line to follow. That is the route that the clock will then show you and that you can follow to find your way.
We also have an altitude graph, which like the route will also be added as a data screen, allowing you to see at any time where you are, i.e. you can see the hardships you have gone through and those you still have to go through, so that you can adjust your efforts.
All this is taking into account that you have created a route to follow and that you have synchronized it before starting the training. But what happens if you have gone out to explore and have managed to get lost? Well, you can make use of the back to start options.
They're two different ones. On the one hand we have TracBackwhich will show us the route we have followed until we get lost.
The problem could be that, if trying to find the way back you have circled, all that appears in the log and the clock will show you those circles again.
So additionally we also have the possibility to activate the return to start in straight lineIt will simply show you the remaining distance to the start and the direction you need to go in order to find the point of origin.
As you can see the watch is packed with specific functions for navigation and mountains, and has received virtually all the possibilities that the Fenix 5 has.
The Garmin Instinct, like any of the latest Garmin models on the market, not only has GPS satellites, but also supports Galileo and GLONASS satellites. The combination always forces you to use GPS along with GLONASS or Galileo, but you cannot use just GLONASS, just Galileo or the combination of GLONASS + Galileo.
When analyzing the GPS performance of a training device I simply compare it to other devices during the same activity. On the same day at the same time.
I don't have any route analysis because, even if the route is the same, all the other factors are not comparable. The same watch can have a fantastic result one day and six months later, on the same route, be a complete disaster.
Factors such as trees, cloudy skies, interference from elements that were not there before and are there now... there are many factors to take into account so a comparison on different days would not be fair.
So I just carry three devices so I can evaluate when there is a failure, if it is common and by which side.
I'll start the comparison with an easy start a few weeks ago. Training was quite short, as I was beginning to recover from an injury that has left me without running for almost a month.
As it always happens, from a bird's eye view everything seems to be pretty good, although it already allows us to see that there are certain differences at some point. Someone has made a mistake and deviated from the trajectory, let's see who it was.
On the way down you can see that although the Suunto 9 and the Garmin Forerunner 935 are deflected a little and pass slightly over the wall, this is not a noticeable deflection (less than a meter difference with the actual route).
However, the Garmin Instinct does have a much more noticeable detour from the route. Basically, it chooses to run almost on the other side of the road.
Later on, in the area of the promenade, all the clocks are recomposed and make the return journey without going too far off the actual route.
But at this point the Garmin Instinct deviates from the real route again by several meters. The real route is the one between the Suunto 9 and the Garmin FR935 graphics, but without stepping on the sand at all.
At least they're all doing the turn correctly, and once I change direction and go north, everything goes back to normal...
Or not, because once again the Instinct has chosen to deviate several metres from the real course, but after the new turn and passing over the river bridge again it joins up with the other two clocks, at least up to the point of the turn.
But it's not the only one that fails, as Suunto 9's return journey is also quite irregular.
Could it have affected all this at the total distance? Well, let's see.
In the end the distance was compensated between the FR935 and the Instinct, marking exactly the same at the end of the training and with 50 meters more for Suunto 9.
In this case, besides the shooting, there is also a zone with repetitions on a slope, so I repeat the same up and down route in a successive way on the same straight line.
This is the line where I do the continuous reps.
Again, there are notable deviations from the Instinct. Both the Garmin FR935 and the Polar Vantage M repeat the same line more or less effectively on the way there and on the way back.
You can see the Garmin Instinct going off-course up to three times. How many reps was it doing on the straight? Three ????.
Well, we continue with the rest of the route in a more traditional way and at a more constant pace. The rest of the training is more of the same, with slight wobbles from the three watches at specific moments. However, it is worth noting this turn between 8th Street and 5th Street (nice names), which the FR935 does perfectly and both the Garmin Instinct and the Vantage M do the turn prematurely. The strange thing is that the two have coincided at exactly the same point.
Something that will be repeated later.
In the rest of the training sessions I have done with the Instinct (which I will not put on so as not to bore you too much) I have perceived the same behaviour. Overall the final result is just fine, but in many parts of the training you can see points where the graph deviates without reason from the real zone.
The strange thing is that this also happens in totally straight areas that should not represent an excessive difficulty, and yet it also fails slightly.
Finally I will add a mountain activity, for the simple reason that the Garmin Instinct is a watch designed for the mountain and hiking, so it is clear that it must be tested in its main facet.
There are only two models on this chart. There should be three, because he also wore a Suunto 9 on his right wrist. But I inexplicably don't have a file. Why? Well, I have no idea, I guess he wouldn't keep the activity and it wasn't recorded...
In any case, the path followed has no mystery, because the route was parallel to the river and back along the same path, with running on the way up and mixing running with walking on the way back.
Again from a bird's eye view everything looks perfect, but if we zoom in we see again the same problems we have seen in past activities.
It should be noted that the Polar Vantage M has done both the outward and return journey perfectly by the same route, leaving only one graph. The Garmin Instinct... not so much.
Summarizing all this, the Garmin Instinct at the moment is not the model of the brand that stands out the most in terms of GPS quality. Let's say it's passable, because it doesn't have horrendous sawtooth graphics or absolute signal loss, but they must work this aspect and I wouldn't be surprised if we see updates on it.
Optical heart rate sensor
In the wrist heart rate monitor we will not find many differences from past models. The summary I can give you is the same as always: good in training with a constant rhythm, somewhat slow in reactions to changes in intensity, bad in cycling and irregular in low intensity activities (walking, gym, etc.).
It's not unique to the Garmin Instinct, or the Garmin Wrist Heart Rate Monitor (called the Garmin Elevate); it's just common to optical pulse sensors. Some work a little better, especially those on the arm like the Polar OH1but it's the usual complication they face today.
I'll start with a varied mountain training. Although there are only two charts it's perfectly valid to see when and where it fails.
The first part of the training consists of a few intervals of change of pace. A total of seven intervals with a rest period by lowering the intensity. In six of them the Instinct matches the data from the Polar H10 sensor paired with the Polar Vantage M, while in the second interval it gets a little lost.
In general the result is quite good, with a small delay in both the up and down beats, but perfectly valid.
After making a video of the Instinct, I recover the rhythm in which everything is again correct, until in minute 45 I meet again with the rest of the family and a period of walking begins, which the Instinct reflects in a quite irregular way.
Let's go with another training with a little mix of everything. It starts with warm-up in continuous race and ends with series in pyramid (increasing and decreasing the time of the interval).
As usual there are not many problems at the beginning while warming up, Suunto 9 has some small wrong spike but it soon gets back on the right track.
At the beginning of the intervals in the first one the Instinct finds out a little late, but the two following ones it does them perfectly. It is in the rest of the third interval where it loses completely the composure during one minute approximately until it understands that there is no rest and it adjusts again with the rest.
Yes, there is a slight delay compared to the chest pulsometer, but perfectly usable in general.
In the following training there is a bit of variety in the intensity, starting with three intervals uphill and followed by running at a constant pace with slopes.
The start of the training is a complete fiasco for the chest heart rate monitor until I start sweating and it allows a correct recording. It is a clear example that not always the chest sensor will be the most reliable. Both the FR935 and the Instinct record the data correctly.
From then on, the three intervals are correct when the intensity increases, but quite regular when the rest comes (which I do by walking to the point of origin), especially in the case of Forerunner 935.
From these intervals back to the race at a constant pace you can perceive that both FR935 and Instinct have a small delay in the changes of intensity, but leaving aside that slight delay you can check that the reading is correct.
Finally, we're going to have a bike training. Remember what I told you at the beginning of the bike performance? Well, here it is.
I don't have to explain much more to you, do I?
It is at this point that I have noticed a more strange behavior from the Garmin Instinct. I don't know if it is a problem with my unit or a firmware problem that will be solved, but I don't like what I have seen.
Reviewing the workouts done the general tone is always the same: the Instinct does the first half by marking altitude data correctly, but the second half is like forgetting about the barometer and moving to using GPS data exclusively.
In this chart you have an example.
Regardless of the fact that the three units do not mark the same thing (which is normal, since I have not performed an initial calibration to the same data, which is crucial if we want everyone to mark the same thing).
All three devices have barometric altimeters, and we can perfectly appreciate how the trend is the same in all three graphs, being almost parallel in all of them. But something happens in the 36th minute, moment from which the Instinct data appears much more filtered.
As I say, it's something I've seen in more than one training session, not in all of them, but I've been able to appreciate it on more than one occasion. If I had to bet money I'd say it's a software failure because there's no reason for the altimeter to be disconnected like that, but it's still a very important aspect to highlight in a watch that, above all, is an ABC watch.
Buy Garmin Instinct
I hope that this complete analysis has helped you to decide if it is a valid device for you or not. All the work I do you can consult it without any cost, but if you want to support the web and with it the work I do, the best way to do it is to buy your new device through the links I provide below. And if you don't buy it today, remember to stop by when you are going to do it!
Through these links not only will you get a very competitive price and the best customer service, but I will also receive a small percentage without costing you any additional outlay. This is what allows me to continue offering you tests like this on the site. You are not going to buy it, you already have it or Amazon is not an option; but do you like the tests I perform and do you want to show your support for the site? Then consider signing up for a VIP membership. Above all you will be helping to support the site, but you will also enjoy unique benefits.
If you have any questions, remember that you have the comments section at the bottom, where I will try to answer all your questions.
Opinion Garmin Instinct
I'll be honest, when Garmin introduced the Instinct he was quite skeptical, mainly because he has his biggest competition at home. The Garmin Fenix 5 has bargain prices which very often puts it very close to the price of the Instinct, and it is undoubtedly a watch with more features.
Yes, there are things about the Instinct that also make it special in some ways, such as a totally different aesthetic than what we're used to at Garmin, or the military grade ruggedness. But I don't know if there are many potential buyers of the Instinct for whom this MIL-STD-810G certification is the main reason to buy.
Overall, the Fenix 5 makes the same than the Instinct plus more stuff. That's irrefutable.
Who's going to buy the Instinct when for a a little bit more has the Phoenix? Well, there's the key, in that a little bit moreFor someone looking for a hiking or mountain watch that won't use training metrics, multisport activities or even Connect IQ applications... what will you pay the difference for?
The Garmin Instinct is the cheapest ABC mountain watch on the market today. Polar has nothing like it in its range and the Suunto Spartan Baro has a highest price and have an identical level of performance. Well played, Garmin.
And the truth is that it's not just a dumber version of the Fenix 5, Garmin has introduced enough differences between the two and also simplified several of its functions, precisely by getting rid of things that not everyone will use but keeping all the navigation possibilities that the Fenix range offers.
With the Instinct Garmin he wanted to make a simple adventure watch, with a different aesthetic and focused on those who are overwhelmed by the number of options of a Phoenix. They have embroidered it.
What concerns me most is the performance of the barometric altimeter, which is crucial in a watch of this type. The track record I think can also be improved, at least compared to other models of the same brand. Again, this is another basic feature that should be asked of this model.
So I hope that Garmin will continue to work on those aspects in future software versions.
And with that... thanks for reading!