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The Garmin Instinct 2X: The new brightest spot in the series
Whether I am camping in the wilderness or rummaging in the attic, there is almost nothing I love more than using the word “torch” (instead of “flashlight”). Garmin’s latest adventure watch adds this small joy and so much more to users’ wrists in what turns out to be a major upgrade to the Instinct 2 series. The latest device packs a powerful, built-in light, plus a number of significant improvements on both the hardware and software fronts. Find out more in this Garmin Instinct 2X review.
X is for X-Large
Long before you even power up its LED flashlight, the Instinct 2X makes a big impression. With a case size measuring in at 50mm, it’s 5mm larger than the Instinct 2 and 10mm larger than the 2S. The oversized option aligns the lineup with the three-prong approach of the Fenix 7 series. However, it doesn’t feel as large as the Fenix 7X (and in fact, it’s 2mm smaller) or as heavy. It may not seem to be intended for small wrists, but it’s also impossibly lightweight and comfortable so it somehow works, at least for me.
That’s likely because the flood of data points packed onto the device’s screen feel well worth any extra bulk. To improve usability, the Instinct 2X even increases display real estate from .9 to 1.1 inches. It’s still a monochrome MIP display, with two windows and 176 x 176 pixels, which is everything you need for the type of adventuring Garmin expects. Not to be left behind, the solar panels around and across the display also received a monumental increase of 50% in production capacity compared to the Instinct 2 Solar. Notably, there is no non-solar Instinct 2X. Visible screws seemingly hold all of these pieces together which adds to the rugged aesthetic.
Despite its massive 50mm case build, the Garmin Instinct 2X is still impossibly comfortable, even for petite wrists.
The device does not have a touchscreen, so if you’re deeply into swiping around menus, this pick isn’t for you. More than likely, you’ll be too sweaty, dirty, or underwater to rely on touch sensitivity when using an Instinct 2X anyway. Instead, it features the same classic five-button navigation we’ve seen on countless Garmin watches. As always, these are clearly labeled and intuitive, but may take a little getting used to if you’ve never used a Garmin device before (thankfully I’ve tested a whole bunch). The watch face is also highly customizable with adjustable complications for keeping your priorities at a glance. Personally, I tend to check sunrise and sunset excessively to micromanage my use of daylight.
From the watch face, a tap of the down button will scroll through Garmin widgets including everything from solar intensity and weather to body battery and sleep. You’ll also notice the icon in the small window swap out to reflect whatever you are currently viewing. You can dig into any of these categories to see more screens of data or head over to the Garmin app for a larger view. These widgets are not set in stone and you’re free to add or remove whichever tools you want accessible. You can also manually reorder them in whatever manner you prefer whether by average usage, priority, or if you’re particular like me, alphabetically.
Flipping the watch over, you’ll see an optical heart rate sensor and a set of removable straps. If you want to change out your bands you will need a safety pin, or if you have one on hand, an earring post works great. However, the straps are highly durable so there shouldn’t be much reason to swap them. Garmin has managed to absolutely nail its sport band design. It’s a perfect blend of stretchy yet snug with tightly packed openings for the optimal fit. I wore the watch through many sweaty outdoor workouts, including an attempt at a pull-up regimen, and experienced a comfortable fit throughout this Garmin Instinct 2X review period. On the other hand, this is a very large case and I found it best to dry it off completely after showers and swims to make sure no moisture was trapped beneath the case.
You can purchase the watch in Graphite, Flame Red, White, or Moss. Tactical Editions come in Black or Coyote Tan. As mentioned, either edition is only available in one 50mm size. Made from durable yet lightweight polymer, it’s plenty comfortable even for smaller wrists. You just have to be willing to sport the oversized look.
I managed to get trapped in a sweatshirt with a tight cuff on one occasion after forcing the sleeve up over the watch only to struggle to get it back over in reverse. Other than that, I truly didn’t notice the size, especially not compared to my Apple Watch Ultra. The Instinct is also water-resistant up to 10ATM and tested to US MIL-STD-810 standards for thermal, shock, and water resistance.
Harness the light and pack your own
Once you’ve evaluated the basics, the most fun to be had without tying up your laces is to check out the brand-new built-in LED flashlight, endearingly labeled “Torch” right on your device. This feature has appeared before on Garmin watches, but it’s an exciting addition to the Instinct 2 lineup, for practical reasons as well as safety.
The torch features adjustable intensities as well as a strobe function you can tailor to different speeds. You can even set the strobe to match your cadence to grab the attention of oncoming traffic on late-night runs. Or to let your neighbors know how slowly you move.
Lighting up the Instinct 2X is a built-in LED flashlight similar to that found on the Fenix 7X.
Finally, the torch offers a red safety light mode to find snacks in the middle of the night, though it was probably more intended to help you find your tent or trailhead. If you opt for a Tactical Edition you’ll find a green light option instead of red.
Meanwhile, with its enlarged solar panels and minimal battery draw (we love you, monochromatic screen), the Instinct 2X isn’t a device built to fraternize a whole lot with its charger. Without solar charging, Garmin claims a 40-day battery life in smartwatch mode. With GPS only, that number naturally drops dramatically, landing at 60 hours of battery. With all satellite systems and multi-band enabled, it drops to 27 hours. These are great specs at face value. However, with solar charging Garmin claims an unlimited battery in smartwatch mode, 145 hours in GPS only, and up to 36 hours with all systems and multi-band GPS enabled.
You can now also view your solar lux hours on the device to track how much sunlight you’re harnessing. You can find your total lux hours now displayed at the top of your watch face or navigate to the Solar Intensity widget to see your last six hours and daily averages. According to Garmin, three hours of direct sunlight should amount to about 50,000 lux per day. This should be enough to keep your device powered for a full day or get you about an hour of GPS. As I am fortunate enough to live in an abundantly sunny location, I didn’t need to charge my device at any point during this Garmin Instinct 2X review.
Beyond the bulb
However, as anyone who’s been lost on a trail knows, simply announcing you have a torch won’t make anyone else terribly comforted. Fortunately, the Instinct 2X has a lot more to offer as well. It won’t just light your way back to a trailhead, it will also record your meandering with incredible accuracy.
For every adventurer who craves GPS accuracy, the Garmin Instinct 2X adds multi-band GNSS.
For the first time on the lineup, Garmin adds multi-band GNSS, elevating navigation on the Instinct 2X to the same level as the Fenix 7. This drastically increases the device’s accuracy, especially for hiking or running through areas with obstructed sky, like cityscapes. I took the device on a number of outings and compared the results to other devices with multi-band GPS. Unlike during our Garmin Instinct 2 testing, this the 2X was more capable of keeping up with the Fenix 7. It also kept up with the Apple Watch Ultra.
The Instinct 2X doesn’t offer onboard maps but it does still feature breadcrumb mapping which is highly effective. Oddly, the watch did not receive SatIQ for managing battery life which we saw on the similarly-priced Forerunner 265.
Ready or not, the Garmin Instinct 2X will let you know
One of the biggest additions on the software front is Training Readiness, which had yet to make an appearance on the Instinct 2 series. This Garmin favorite launched on the Forerunner 955 and has since made its way to many of the brand’s top watches, including that watch’s successor, the Forerunner 965. According to Garmin, it will remain exclusive on the Instinct 2X rather than trickling down to the older models in the line. Training Readiness is based on a number of tracked metrics including sleep, HRV status, and acute load. Unlike Training Status which analyzes your schedule, training readiness helps you evaluate whether you are physically ready to accomplish your next workout.
Training Readiness and Morning Report further elevate the device to the level of some of the brand's top fitness-tracking watches for advanced training.
One of the easiest ways to check out your Training Readiness is from your Morning Report, another feature added to the lineup. Some people wake up to their pets, kids, or significant others, but I say a good morning message from Garmin is its own heartwarming experience. You’ll see exactly how well you did or didn’t sleep, what weather to expect when you open the blinds, and a suggested workout to start dreading before you even sip your coffee. You’ll also see your Training Readiness. This report is customizable so you can filter out what’s less useful to you first thing in the morning or add even more fields like notifications and more. All jokes aside, it’s highly useful and helps create a consistent morning routine, especially if you tend to plan around your workouts.
If you don’t usually revolve your day around exercise, the Instinct 2X may have you changing your ways. When I tested the Garmin Instinct 2, I said the device made me want to take up a few more hobbies. The Instinct 2X offers all the same sport tracking plus more, including a new Obstacle Racing sport mode for tracking course times.
As before you can customize sport modes on the watch or from the Garmin app. In our experience, it’s much easier in the app than via excessive button pushing. As mentioned, the device doesn’t offer onboard maps. However, if you want to follow a loaded file or previous workout, you can. The device is also compatible with many popular fitness platforms such as Strava and Komoot.
Garmin Instinct 2X review: Designed to get, and keep, you going
It’s been a long time since we’ve found much to complain about when it comes to Garmin launches. What’s perhaps more impressive is that we’re often pleasantly surprised. Between an on-device flashlight that proved more than adequately bright, (apologies to the tent of strangers I shined it directly at), and highly accurate multi-band GPS the Instinct 2X feels like a major upgrade to the lineup. Throw in Training Readiness and theoretically endless battery and we almost may have expected this to be an Instinct 3.
The Garmin Instinct 2X is a major upgrade to the lineup that feels almost like an Instinct 3.
Of course, the oversized design won’t work for everyone and we would love to see a future model with SatIQ. But for the same price as its existing siblings, this is a heck of an upgrade. It packs all the staples of health and fitness shoppers look for on a fitness tracker. Pricing for the Instinct 2X stayed exactly the same as the rest of the series at $499. A Tactical Edition will run you 50 bucks more at $499. This model packs valuable advanced features like night vision compatibility, stealth mode, a ballistics calculator, and more.
The Garmin Instinct 2X does not feature onboard maps.
The major differences between the Instinct 2X and its predecessor are its built-in LED flashlight, multi-band GPS, Training Readiness, and better solar power efficiency. It’s also larger.
You cannot answer a text message from the Instinct 2X when paired with an iPhone. You can send canned responses when paired when an Android phone.