Sport Passion   -  Comparatives, tests, advice and training tips

Garmin Instinct: the watch designed for adventurers

by Philippe Baudoin © Copyright (published 01/11/2018)
Garmin Instinct GPS Adventure Watch

A robust, very complete and ultra-competitively priced watch

Designed primarily for outdoor activities, this new watch by Garmin has been designed to withstand extreme conditions (heat, water, shocks and more) while offering very complete functions. It will be perfectly suited to adventurers looking for a robust and reliable watch at an affordable price. An excellent price-quality ratio! Read our in-depth review and opinion.

Buy Garmin Instinct

Price (from)
249 219 €
249 239 €
247.41 €

Commercial links. Prices are not contractual. Please visit the merchant site.

Features of the Garmin Instinct

52 g
45 x 45 mm x 15.3 mm
23 x 23 mm, monochrome, non touch screen, 128 x 128 px
14 d in watch mode / 16 d in GPS mode / 40 h in UltraTrac
Yes, but no transition between activities
Recommended activities
Hiking, mountain, trekking, trail, running, biking, mountain biking, swimming
iPhone, Android. Bluetooth and ANT+ wireless data transfer.
Cardio-frequency meter
Yes, on the wrist
Topographic maps
Music player
No, Smartphone music control only
Payment system
Telephony / 4G
Barometric altimeter
Yes, 3 axes
Sunrise hours, barometric trend, moon/sun information
10 ATM (100 m)
Very robust, connected, interchangeable strap without tools, activity tracking, Smartphone notifications, 16GB memory
The Garmin Instinct watch is designed for outdoor. It is very robust (military standards 810G) and very complete for an affordable price

Detailed review of the Garmin Instinct, the watch for adventurers and hikers

Forerunner 965

The Garmin Instinct is aimed at adventurers, adventurers, adventurers and extreme sports enthusiasts who need a watch that is resistant to all tests, reliable and complete. It has been specially designed to withstand extreme conditions: heat, shock, water (up to 100 m). It has also been designed to be readable even under the most difficult conditions, such as direct sunlight.

The strategy adopted here by Garmin was to take over many of the functions of its top-of-the-range Fenix 5 watch, those relevant to outdoor, to offer a complete watch for exploration but at half the price of a Fenix 5. Why indeed pay more for highly sophisticated features that we will not use! This is something to attract the attention of demanding athletes, adventure or extreme sports enthusiasts, who do not necessarily have the budget for a more expensive watch.

Sports: outdoor, adventure and extreme sports

The Garmin Instinct is a multi-sport watch particularly well suited to the practice of extreme sports, activities where shocks can be frequent (climbing, mountaineering, canyoning), trips on rough terrain (mountain biking) or medium and high mountain sports (hiking, trekking). It is also suitable for running, cycling, swimming (sea or swimming pool) and many other activities including indoor sports. It also offers many sports profiles (running, cycling, swimming, weight training, cardio, elliptical cycling, step, stepper, rower, yoga, hiking, climbing, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, stand-up paddle, rowing, kayaking, Jumpmaster...).

watch connected black instinct
The Garmin Instinct is a robust, reliable and complete watch for outdoor activities. A reference for scavengers!

Design: priority to robustness

Garmin has clearly put the package on the solidity of his watch and it shows! It has a particular look linked to its reinforced design which gives it an air of Casio Pro Trek. You like it or you don't like it! However, it remains relatively light at 52 g (compared to 65 to 96 g for the Fenix 5 Plus).

This model stands out from the other Garmin models by its octagonal display. It also has a mini screen embedded in the main screen that allows you to permanently display a data chosen by the user: heart rate, compass, weather, etc. A very practical aspect, especially in sports where it is difficult to divert your attention for more than a few seconds.

The Instinct screen is a monochrome screen that is very easy to read even in direct sunlight. Its 128 x 128 pixel resolution is smaller than the screens of the latest Garmins, which may seem a little low if you are used to the comfort of larger screens.

The watch is available in 3 colours (red, grey and anthracite grey) with a ventilated silicone strap that offers 2 independent removable loops. These guarantee an excellent hold of the bracelet.

A durable watch certified according to a military standard

The Instinct is a watch designed to withstand extreme conditions: shock, heat, dust, dust, water (water-resistant to 100 m in theory).

In practical terms, for those who wonder what "extreme conditions" means, it complies with the American military standard MIL-STD-810G. This standard, originally created for military equipment, is now used for some commercial products. It defines about thirty tests to pass in order to receive certification. The object must withstand a range of stresses: use in a saline environment, wetland testing, dust and sand exposure, vibration exposure, solar radiation exposure. It is subjected to cold, heat, freezing, thawing... Its waterproofness is tested under water but also at low pressure to simulate behaviour in high mountains.

The housing of the Garmin Instinct is made of fibre-reinforced polymer, a material that is both strong and lightweight. Its screen is protected by a chemically reinforced scratch-resistant glass. To protect it even better, Garmin has placed it slightly set back from the bezel so that it is difficult to damage it. Climbing or mountaineering enthusiasts will appreciate it.


Garmin announces a maximum autonomy of 14 days in watch mode, 16 hours in GPS mode and 40 hours in UltraTrac power saving mode (GPS measurements are less frequent, therefore less accurate, to save battery power). Garmin has accustomed us to better, but let's not forget that this is about offering a complete sports watch at the best price.

ModelInstinctFenix 5Suunto 9Spartan Ultra
Watch mode14 j14 j14 j20 j
GPS mode16 h24 h25 h18 h
UltraTrac Mode40 h60h120 h140 h
Autonomy of the Garmin Instinct and comparison with other models of outdoor watches

Sensors: everything you need is there!

optical heart rate sensor on the wrist
The Instinct is equipped with an optical heart rate sensor for 24-hour monitoring of your activity

L'Instinct includes all the sensors useful for scuba divers: GPS (GPS compatible, Galileo and GLONASS), 3-axis electronic compass, barometer, barometric altimeter, thermometer. It is equipped with an optical heart rate sensor on the wrist with stress level measurement and a gyroscope for motion detection.

The watch is also compatible with certain external sensors that can be connected via Bluetooth: temperature sensor, foot pod, speed sensor (for cycling), cadence sensor (for running), heart rate belt, VIRB camera control, GPS collar for dogs, etc.

Features: all the tools dedicated to exploration

Garmin offers on this model many of the features offered by the excellent Fenix 5 or the latest Fenix 5 Plus.

We find the advanced GPS navigation functions, including the breadcrumb trail, the return to the start as the crow flies, the Trackback function to retrace your steps, the See & Rally function to reach a point located at the bare eye, navigation to points of interest, the possibility of following a route already completed or a new route programmed in the watch. The toquante of course records the GPS track. The compass allows you to orient yourself with a map. Audio instructions are available.

topo map display on Smartphone
With Garmin Explore, download maps and plan your route anywhere even without cellular connection

With the offline navigation solution Garmin Explore, the user can plan his offline routes, during an outing for example, even without a cellular connection! To do this, simply use the Garmin Explore website or application to first download the maps to your phone (to be coupled with the watch), then plan your offline trip from your smartphone and upload it to the watch.

The on-board sensors provide information on the route (distance, speed, position, etc.), altitude and cumulative altitude difference with display of the route profile, weather (storm alerts, sunrise and sunset times, moon information, tide times).

L'Instinct offers a large number of pre-installed profiles and training functions for running, cycling and swimming, including the ability to schedule split training. It is a multi-sport watch but it does not know how to manage transitions between activities. For triathlon, it is therefore better to use a watch designed for this purpose, such as the Garmin Forerunner 935 or the Forerunner 735XT.

display route and terrain profile
Extensive navigation functions allow you to find your way anywhere.

There are also LiveTrack (to share information in real time or be followed on the Internet by friends), Virtual Partner and Virtual Racer (to define a rhythm to follow or to measure yourself against yourself).

The Garmin Instinct is also an activity tracker, provided you wear it at all times: it measures your activity during the day (number of steps, calories burned, number of floors climbed, intensive minutes, sleep analysis including light and deep sleep duration). She also knows how to assess your stress level.

Concerning the functions of the Fenix 5 that are absent on this model, there is the mp3 player (to listen to music without having to carry your Smartphone), contactless payment (not very useful during exploration), tools to help athletes such as the estimation of the VO2max or physiological measurements for example. These functions are not very relevant for the intended use of this model and would have unnecessarily increased the price of the watch. The connectIQ function that allows you to download third-party applications is also not available.

Connected functions

The Garmin Instinct can be coupled with a Smartphone to benefit from Smart Notifications. These functions allow you to access advanced features of the Smartphone without having to take it out of your pocket: email and SMS notifications, calendar consultation, control of the Smartphone's music, data download, "find my phone" function, etc. The Garmin Connect application also allows you to share your data with the online sports community or track your progress directly on your phone. Garmin Explorer, described above, provides access to maps and route planning without a cellular connection.

Our opinion: should you buy the Garmin instinct?

The Garmin Instinct is the model you need if you need a robust, complete and affordable sports watch that can accompany you in extreme conditions, whether for sport or at work. Heat, dust, high altitude, frost, shocks, vibrations: none of this frightens him! It has been designed for these extreme situations. It will satisfy demanding athletes looking for relevant data for their sport.

thin watch seen from the side

With Instinct, you can easily face sandstorms and high desert temperatures, climb cliffs without fear of scratching or breaking your watch, hike, canyon, go canyoning, mountain bike waterfalls, a via ferrata, etc. without having to worry about your watch and the shocks it may suffer at any time. It is ideal for adventurers and adventurers but also in professions where the conditions are not suitable for a classic sports watch.

It is difficult to design a more solid watch than this one because it meets a very strict standard used by the military. In other words, it is very robust.

This obviously has consequences on its look, which is closer to that of a Casio Pro Trek than a "classic" Garmin watch or a watch designed to be worn in the city. With its sporty and reinforced design, we are obviously far from the elegance of a Apple Watch !

The monochrome screen is a little small but it has the advantage of being very readable under all conditions, which is really a good thing. It could just be a little wider for more comfort.

Regarding features, this model is very complete for sports such as hiking, exploration, adventure trips where it is essential to know how to find your way around, or explore unmarked trails. For sports training or competition, however, it is better to turn to a more sport-oriented model that will offer useful monitoring and statistics functions to optimize your training and progress (see our comparison of the best cardio-GPS watches).

The autonomy of this watch may be an elimination criterion for some users. It is sufficient for trips of one or two days at most (16 hours in GPS mode), unless using UltraTrac mode (up to 40 hours of autonomy). However, the latter is much less precise at the measurement level. This is a little low for some activities such as multi-day trekking, long runs (ultra-trail, ultra-deep sea, etc.). This is obviously far from the autonomy offered by the Fenix 5 Plus or the Suunto 9 (120 hours and high accuracy even in power saving mode). For long outings, it is therefore better to bring a backup battery with you. However, you will have to stop the watch.

We appreciated the compatibility of the GPS chip with the 3 American, Russian and European satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo) which increases the chances of catching a signal in sensitive areas, especially in the mountains.

The Garmin Instinct is an excellent compromise between an ultra-complete high-end Fenix 5 watch, but whose price is more than twice as high, and a cheap watch that does not offer such a complete range of functions. Garmin offers here a very complete watch for a more than reasonable price. Why indeed pay more for functions that are not useful. We have added this model to our comparison of the best cardio-GPS watches 2024 for hiking. We highly recommend it if you are looking for a watch for exploration or hiking.

We liked
  • Robust, ideal for extreme conditions
  • Very complete for an affordable price
  • Reliable and reliable
We would have liked
  • A slightly larger screen
  • A little more autonomy

Price and availability

The Garmin Instinct is available in 3 colours: fire red, tundra grey and graphite gray. It is available in specialized stores and on the Internet at the recommended price of 299 €. Discover it at our partners and enjoy our coupons.

Philippe Baudoin
Copyright © Sport Passion

Buy the Garmin Instinct

Price (from)
249 219 €
249 239 €
247.41 €

Commercial links. Prices are not contractual. Please visit the merchant site.

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