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A Garmin Instinct 2S Solar in Mist Gray rests on a spray painted, cement platform.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority
aa2020 recommended

Garmin Instinct 2 review: Built for more adventurers than ever

Garmin's latest adventure watch adds more features and more sizes, potentially attracting new users.
By
March 3, 2022
aa2020 recommended

Garmin Instinct 2

With its rugged build, Connect IQ support, and a whole new host of training tools, the Garmin Instinct 2 is truly a second-generation device. If you're already an outdoor enthusiast with a long list of hobbies, you'll find plenty of features to fit your lifestyle. If you don't yet have a healthy number of adventurous interests, this device might motivate you to pick up a few.

Retail price: $349.99

$349.99 at Garmin

What we like

Durable design with military grade specs
Connect IQ compatible
Packed with Garmin training features
Triathlon/multisport mode avilable
Impressive battery life (infinite in some cases)

What we don't like

Garmin Pay only available on solar models
No on-board music
No maps
Limited smartwatch features
aa2020 recommended

Garmin Instinct 2

With its rugged build, Connect IQ support, and a whole new host of training tools, the Garmin Instinct 2 is truly a second-generation device. If you're already an outdoor enthusiast with a long list of hobbies, you'll find plenty of features to fit your lifestyle. If you don't yet have a healthy number of adventurous interests, this device might motivate you to pick up a few.

Adding to Garmin‘s rugged lineup, the Instinct 2 series offers impressive battery life and brand-new compatibility with the Garmin Connect IQ app. No longer just for the tactical watch crowd, this durable device is packed with training features. In short, adventurous athletes and outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to like at a pretty good price. Read our Garmin Instinct 2 review to find out more.

Garmin Instinct 2 series
$349.99 at Garmin

About this Garmin Instinct 2 series review: I used the Garmin Instinct 2S Solar edition for seven days. It was connected to my Samsung Galaxy A51 throughout the testing period. The Garmin Instinct 2S review unit was provided to Android Authority by Garmin.

What you need to know about the Garmin Instinct 2

A user models the Garmin Instinct 2S in Mist Gray at the peak of an ocean front hike.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority
  • Garmin Instinct 2S: $349 / £299 / 349
  • Garmin Instinct 2S Solar: $449 / £389 / 449
  • Garmin Instinct 2S Specialty Standard: $399 / £349 / €399
  • Garmin Instinct 2S Specialty Solar: $499 / £429 / 499
  • Garmin Instinct 2: $349 / £299 / 349
  • Garmin Instinct 2 Solar: $449 / £389 / 449
  • Garmin Instinct 2 Specialty Standard: $399 / £349 / €399
  • Garmin Instinct 2 Specialty Solar: $499 / £429 / 499

True to the adventure spirit, Garmin Instinct 2 devices bring back the same rugged exterior built to withstand the elements, but this is a complex family of devices at a glance.

The new lineup comes in two sizes, a 45mm model dubbed the Instinct 2 and a new, smaller 40mm case size labeled the Instinct 2S. In each of these sizes, there are also Solar editions available, as well as Specialty and Specialty Solar editions. Check out our guide here for all the differences between these editions.

These watches are a follow-up to Garmin’s Instinct Solar and offer significant upgrades to the existing line. For starters, they pack more features than ever before. Most importantly, the newest Instinct 2 series is compatible with the Garmin Connect IQ store for the first time. Users can load up on Garmin and third-party widgets and apps, as well as tap into Garmin’s many important health and wellness features.

The line also offers 24-hour heart rate monitoring, blood oxygen readings, and stress tracking. Users will also find more training tools, better sleep tracking, and improved battery life to the point of unlimited usage in some solar models.

Don’t miss: The best Garmin watches you can buy

The Garmin Instinct 2 series went on sale on February 9, 2022. The watches are currently available for purchase from Garmin. All of the unique editions are available in various colors (too many to list here!) and can even be customized using Garmin’s Your Watch, Your Way.

What’s good?

A Garmin Instinct 2S Solar user reviews the Solar Intensity widget on her device.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

Let’s start from the outside and work our way in. First, the addition of a second size option in the Instinct 2S range is great for adventurers of smaller stature. Size variety is a major improvement to the line and opens the door to a larger audience. I wore a 40mm device throughout my Instinct 2 review period and at no point felt that the watch was overly bulky or cumbersome.

Of course, this is an adventure watch, so it isn’t sleek by any means (you might want to take it off, for instance, when changing in and out of a wetsuit), but it is definitely light, well-fitting, and comfortable. I also really liked the Mist Gray Garmin provided. If the black and white vibe is too plain, there are plenty of options to suit all manner of tastes.

The multiple sizes, bold colors, and nearly unlimited customizable combinations ensure that any user will find a fit they like.

The display is monochrome and isn’t a touchscreen. However, that isn’t a knock at all. Given the day-to-day usage this device is intended for, a touch screen doesn’t make sense, or at least isn’t a necessity. Meanwhile, the higher resolution on the Instinct 2 series compared to the original Instinct line could easily go unnoticed but is quite impressive. On the Instinct 2, the resolution has increased from 126 × 126 to 176 × 176. On the Instinct 2S, resolution lands at 156 × 156. Not only does the higher resolution give widgets and data more breathing room, but it also provides a less pixelated font, increasing readability.

Overall the experience is crisp, and my information was easy to view both at a glance, and when diving deeper into different menus. On a related note, I love the new organization of the user interface. There is a learning curve if this is your first Garmin or you’re used to a touch screen, but once you mess around, the five buttons are quite intuitive. Once you have the hang of it, navigating is helped considerably by the new abbreviated widget glances. I was able to regularly scroll through this menu efficiently, checking basic information and tapping into specific features for more data.

Scrolling down to the bottom, you can also add Garmin or third-party widgets to load more stats and tools. Since the Instinct 2 supports Connect IQ, users can access and add a library of widgets and data fields (third-party or Garmin options), as well as Connect IQ watch faces. For women, this also means the addition of female health tracking. How else will you remember to pack the necessities in your hiking bag?

A user showcases the highly adjustable strap on her Garmin device.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

As usual with Garmin devices, the band is also a big pro with plenty of strap holes for personalized sizing. With my below-average-sized wrists, I really appreciate Garmin’s commitment to an adjustable wrist band. The silicone is standard in that it is comfortable but nothing noteworthy.

In short, this is a durable build that I felt confident bouldering in, and it wasn’t an obnoxiously heavy accessory to wear on a run or while lifting weights. The only minor red flag I might raise is the questionable texture of the metal detail encircling the watch’s face. It reminds me of an abrasive nail file or shop class throwback, and it collected debris over time. Again though, I would rate the design and material well overall.

Check out: The best fitness trackers

What I would rate even higher is the Instinct 2’s battery life. There is something uniquely luxurious about not even having to think about your wearable’s power level over a multi-day review period. More importantly, the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is the company’s first device to claim unlimited battery (under the right conditions). Having only the smaller 2S model to test, I couldn’t verify these claims, but I was very impressed with my device’s battery life nonetheless. I can certainly get by with a meager 20+ hours of GPS usage before plugging back in.

A Garmin Instinct 2S Solar rests face down displaying the device's sensors.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

For heart rate data, the Instinct 2 series employs Garmin’s Elevate Gen 4 optical heart rate sensor. This is the company’s newest sensor, first introduced on the Venu 2 series and now found on all the top-tier devices, including the Fenix 7 series. Unsurprisingly, the Instinct 2 pumped out reasonably accurate heart rate data at rest and during workouts. Compared to my Polar HR strap, it sometimes took a few minutes to lock on at the start of a workout, but after that initial hurdle, measurements stayed comparable.

As mentioned above, the Instinct 2 series boasts more training features than ever, including some new features that were just released in the Fenix 7 and Epix watches. Among these, Garmin introduced Training Status and Training Load features to the Instinct line, as well as Health Snapshot, Recovery Time, daily workout suggestions, VO2 Max, Body Battery, and Fitness Age.

Wading through the Instinct 2's feature set and sport profiles might lead you to pick up a few more healthy, albeit adventurous, hobbies.

If you’re sensing a pattern here, it’s because there is one. None of these are new features to Garmin; they’re just a sampling of the best of Garmin finally brought to the Instinct line. The result is a very dense feature set full of helpful data. I won’t dive too deeply into these since they’ve all been covered before in our Fenix 7 review — give that a read for all the small details. The bottom line is that access to all of these provides a comprehensive look at your overall performance, health, and training.

The Instinct 2 line also provides advanced sleep tracking, including a breakdown of your sleep stages and a sleep score. I am frequently thwarted by sleep tracking devices that don’t understand when I am awake. However, during this review, my data was fairly accurate compared to sleep tracking on my Fitbit Versa 3, and the daily sleep scores typically correlated with how rested I felt when I woke up.

Dig deeper: Fitbit vs Garmin: Which ecosystem is right for you?

Additionally, Garmin also introduced a lot of new sports profiles to the Instinct 2 series, including triathlon and multi-sport modes. For a normal triathlon, users can choose the triathlon sport profile. Meanwhile, the multi-sport option allows you to custom select three sports. To change sports, you unlock then press the lap button. While I didn’t run a triathlon (or train for one) during this test period, this is a nice feature to see added as it again broadens the potential user pool for this device.

Back to the sheer number of sports profiles, though, we’re talking everything from gravel bike rides to golf and a whole lot in between. In testing the device and exploring the options, I found myself itching to try out new activities. If you are easily influenced, this is a device that will make you want to pick up more hobbies.

What’s not so good?

A Garmin Instinct 2 displays the Wallet screen where users can access Garmin Pay.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

No device is perfect. One gripe with the Instinct 2 series is that Garmin Pay is only available on Solar editions. This is the single software difference between the base and Solar models, but it is significant. Generally, it is always disappointing to invest in a device that leaves you behind the curve. As digital payment services continue to gain popularity, that feels like the case here.

You don’t necessarily expect many smartwatch features on wearables from the adventure market, but they would, of course, be great to see. With Garmin’s Venu 2 Plus adding support for voice assistance and on-wrist calling, it will be interesting to see how Garmin handles those features in the future.

Read more: The best smartwatches you can buy

The Instinct 2 series also doesn’t support offline music. It does offer music controls, but I rarely found myself using them. Meanwhile, the inability to store music on the device means lugging your phone on long runs and hikes.

Unlike the Fenix 7, the Instinct 2 series does not feature preloaded maps, and only offers a breadcrumb trail for users to follow. The other option is following direct-to-point navigation or using the device’s compass (like Lewis and Clark).

Full mapping capabilities would have been nice to see. On the flip side, once you reach your destination, the Instinct 2 series offers two options for heading back to the start, Straight Line, and TracBack. I tested both of these features and found TracBack to be helpful. Straight Line can trip you up if a direct route to your starting point is not physically possible. Additionally, don’t expect Up Ahead from the Instinct 2 or ClimbPro. These advanced features are not available in this series.

An image shows Garmin Instinct 2 vs Fenix 7 GPS data on a coastal run.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

In general, GPS on the Garmin Instinct 2 worked well for me throughout the review period. In the effort of full disclosure, though, there were a few times it seemed to wander compared to other devices. One example above shows the Instinct 2 seemingly lost in tree coverage compared to Garmin’s Fenix 7 during a 5K run. However, these instances were minor and didn’t sway my opinion of the watch.

Garmin Instinct 2 specs

Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Display
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Custom, two-window design
0.79 x 0.79-inch monochrome, sunlight-visible, transflective MIP
156 x 156 resolution
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Custom, two-window design
0.9 x 0.9-inch monochrome, sunlight-visible, transflective MIP
176 x 176 resolution

IP rating
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
10ATM
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
10ATM
Dimensions and weight
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
40 x 40 x 13.3mm
Standard: 42g
Solar: 43g
Fits wrist circumference 112-180mm
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
45 x 45 x 14.5mm
Standard: 52g
Solar: 53g
Fits wrist circumference 135-230mm

Compatibility
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Android, iOS
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Android, iOS
Storage
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
32GB
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
32GB
Lens material
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Power Glass
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Power Glass
Build materials
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Bezel:
Fiber-reinforced polymer

Case:
Fiber-reinforced polymer

Strap:
Silicone
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Bezel:
Fiber-reinforced polymer

Case:
Fiber-reinforced polymer

Strap:
Silicone
Connectivity
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Bluetooth Smart
ANT+
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Bluetooth Smart
ANT+
Smart features
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Connect IQ-compatible
Smart notifications
Text response/reject phone call with text (Android only)
Controls smartphone music
Find my phone/find my watch
Incident detection
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Connect IQ-compatible
Smart notifications
Text response/reject phone call with text (Android only)
Controls smartphone music
Find my phone/find my watch
Incident detection
Input
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Five face buttons
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Five face buttons
Sensors
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Garmin Elevate heart rate sensor
GPS
GLONASS
Galileo
Barometric altimeter
Compass
Accelerometer
Thermometer
Pulse ox blood oxygen saturation monitor
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Garmin Elevate heart rate sensor
GPS
GLONASS
Galileo
Barometric altimeter
Compass
Accelerometer
Thermometer
Pulse ox blood oxygen saturation monitor
Battery
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Smartwatch mode: Up to 21 days/51 days with solar*
Smartwatch mode (w/ battery saver): Up to 50 days/unlimited with solar*
GPS: Up to 22 hours/28 hours with solar**
Max Battery GPS mode: Up to 54 hours/114 hours with solar**
Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 25 days/105 days with solar*

*Solar charging, assuming all-day wear with 3 hours per day outside in 50,000 lux conditions
**Solar charing, assuming use in 50,000 lux conditions
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Smartwatch mode: Up to 28 days/unlimited with solar*
Smartwatch mode (w/ battery saver): Up to 65 days/unlimited with solar*
GPS: Up to 30 hours/48 hours with solar**
Max Battery GPS mode: Up to 70 hours/370 hours with solar**
Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 32 days/unlimited with solar*

*Solar charging, assuming all-day wear with 3 hours per day outside in 50,000 lux conditions
**Solar charing, assuming use in 50,000 lux conditions
Garmin Pay
Garmin Instinct 2S (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Solar and Specialty Solar models only
Garmin Instinct 2 (Standard, Solar, Specialty, and Specialty Solar)
Solar and Specialty Solar models only

Garmin Instinct 2 review: Should I buy it?

A Garmin Instinct 2S on a user's wrist displays the device's built-in compass.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

If you are looking for an adventure watch, you should seriously consider buying the Garmin Instinct 2. Frankly, few devices are packing this breadth of features at this price point. It’s a watch that offers a durable build, excessive battery life, and plenty of fitness features to keep you busy.

If you already have an Instinct or Instinct Solar, this is well worth the upgrade. If you're an adventurer new to the line, it won't let you down either.

Of course, if you can afford the Garmin Fenix 7, that’s an even heavier-loaded device to grab. Similarly, if you can find the Garmin Fenix 6 on sale, it’s a solid option as well. You may be able to find one similarly priced to the Garmin Instinct 2.

Don’t miss: The best smartwatch deals

Finally, if you want a variety of Garmin’s best tools, but on a smartwatch, the Garmin Venu 2 Plus ($449) is also an alternative worth considering. This device offers Bluetooth calling and the ability to tap into a voice assistant on your paired smartphone. Consequently, you’ll miss out on the Instinct 2’s durability, solar charging, and impressive battery life, as well as some of the newer training features discussed above.

If you are already invested in the Instinct line, this follow-up is worth upgrading to if your budget allows. It’s a rugged fitness watch with a lot to offer, especially for anyone enthusiastic about the great outdoors.

A product image shows a Garmin Instinct 2 Standard model in graphite.
Garmin Instinct 2 series
More features, vibrants colors, and multiples sizes
The Instinct 2 series takes things to the next level with Garmin Connect IQ compatibility. This means more personalization, watch faces, and third-party app support. The devices are also now available in two sizes and a variety of vibrant colors. Users can choose a standard, solar, specialty, or specialty solar model, all of which offer improved battery life and a host of health and fitness features.

Top Garmin Instinct 2 questions and answers

Q: Does the Garmin Instinct 2 series support heart rate broadcasting?

A: Yes, the Instinct 2 series supports Bluetooth and ANT+ heart rate broadcasting.

Q: Does the Garmin Instinct 2 series measure SpO2?

A: The Garmin Instinct 2 series does feature a Pulse Ox sensor. However, it is not intended to be used as a medical device to monitor or diagnose medical conditions.

Q: What safety features are available on the Garmin Instinct 2 series?

A: The Garmin Instinct 2 series offers incident detection. Your watch must be paired to a nearby smartphone for the feature to work. If an incident is detected, it will share your live location with select contacts. During certain activities, this will happen automatically.

Q: How long does the Garmin Instinct 2 take to charge?

A: It takes a little less than two and a half hours to go from zero to 100% using the supplied charger.