Garmin’s New Rugged GPS Watch for Hiking, The Garmin Instinct

I’m always excited to learn of new GPS watches built for outdoor activities like hiking and there aren’t tons of watches in this category, at least not with a rugged build and the features you need without costing a lot of money.  The Garmin® Instinct® is a GPS watch that is aiming directly at outdoor enthusiast and is more affordable and it’s a brand new product announced by Garmin this month.

The suggested retail price of the Garmin Instinct is $299.99, so it’s not exactly cheap but compared to other GPS watches with the features the Instinct offers, it’s a more affordable option for someone looking for a hiking or outdoor watch.

The Garmin Instinct is made of fiber reinforced polymer which should make it a strong and durable watch.  In fact, it meets military standards for thermal, shock and water resistance.  It has a water resistance rating of 100 meters which means it can be submerged to that depth, and it does support both pool and open water swimming as timed activities.

Some of the notable features of the Instinct include a built-in 3-axis compass, barometric altimeter, and support for multiple GNSS satellite networks including GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo.  This should help the Instinct keep tracking of your position in more challenging environments, like dense forests.

You’ll be able to plan your routes with the Garmin Explore™ app and use Garmin’s TracBack® feature found on the Garmin Fenix, Vivoactive 3, and some of the Forerunner models.

TracBack allows you to navigate back to your starting position and is essential for any hiking watch. It also supports saving waypoints to navigate back to later.

The Instinct will also monitor your daily stats such as steps, distance traveled, calories burned, stress levels using HRV (heart rate variability), and sleep.

Battery life is good too – up to 14 days with regular usage and 16 hours in GPS mode or 40 hours in UltraTrac™ mode for GPS.This looks to be a good option for someone wanting a rugged and reliable GPS watch for the outdoors but it is missing some features of both the Fenix and the Vivoactive like Connect IQ™ which means you won’t be able to download apps or different watch faces. It does come with different watch faces to choose from.

While it does support notifications from your smartphone, it doesn’t support music storage like the newest Fenix, the Vivoactive 3 Music, and the Forerunner 645 Music.  It also doesn’t have the SpO2 meter for blood oxygen like the newest Fenix and the recently released Vivosmart 4.


However, you’ll still get LiveTrack™ which allows people you invite online to view your position and stats.  This can be a good safety feature, especially for hiking trips. Downloadable training plans are still supported and was as virtual partner which can motivate you to increase your pace when running for example.

ANT+ is also supported which means a chest heart rate monitor can be used with the Instinct for more accurate heart rate readings for those activities that are tough for wrist heart rate sensors to accurately measure.

The watch is available in three different colors: graphite, tundra, and flame red and available at Amazon and elsewhere.

Full list of activities the Garmin Instinct supports:

  • elliptical
  • stair stepping
  • floor climbing
  • indoor rowing
  • yoga
  • running
  • treadmill running
  • indoor track
  • trail running
  • hiking
  • climbing
  • mountain biking
  • skiing
  • snowboarding
  • XC skiing
  • stand up paddleboarding
  • rowing
  • kayaking
  • tactical
  • biking
  • indoor biking
  • mountain biking
  • pool swimming
  • open water swimming

Some of the specs of the Garmin Instinct:

  • 22 mm silicone replaceable straps
  • physical size is 45 x 45 x 15.3mm (So not a small watch but outdoor watches need to be larger for practical usage, in my opinion anyway.  When you’re trying to see your route or view the screen when riding a bicycle, a larger screen will be appreciated.)
  • weight is 52 g
  • water rating is 10 ATM
  • the display is monochrome, transflective memory-in-pixel, good outdoor bright sunlight readability
  • resolution is 128 x 128 pixels
  • memory/history is 16 MB

Built-In Features:

  • timer
  • stopwatch
  • sunrise/sunset
  • storm alert
  • GPS
  • GLONASS
  • Galileo
  • Garmin Elevate™ wrist heart rate monitor
  • barometric altimeter
  • accelerometer
  • thermometer
  • calendar
  • weather
  • smart notifications (text response/reject phone call with text message for Android users)
  • control smartphone music
  • find phone / find watch
  • VIRB® camera remote
  • Support for Garmin Connect mobile app