Garmin Instinct vs Instinct 2: What’s the difference

  • Garmin

    Garmin Instinct 2

    Best overall

    $290 $290 Save $0

    The Garmin Instinct 2 offers a wide range of options and sizes – including Edition watches – so there’s plenty to choose from, boosted with a full range of features, it’s the model to choose.


    • Lots of options to choose from
    • Full selection of fitness functions
    • Mobile payments

    • It’s a little more expensive

  • instinctsquare


    Garmin Instinct

    A value alternative

    $142.49 $249.99 Save $107.5

    Often discounted, the original Instinct offers rugged looks in a well-protected watch that’s fully featured, but it doesn’t offer as many fitness features as the newer model, even if it’s more affordable.


    • Often heavily discounted
    • Great rugged watch
    • Basic fitness functions

Garmin doesn’t tend to leave its products without upgraded versions for too long, and that goes just as much for the Instinct as anything else. The Garmin Instinct was first announced in 2018, looking to appeal to outdoors types or those who want a rugged watch, before being updated in 2022 with a new version.

While there’s close parity between the functionality of the Instinct and other watches – like Forerunner – the Instinct plays to a lifestyle angle, a little like the premium Fenix devices. But with so many versions – 18 base models and that doesn’t include the different colour options – there’s loads to choose from, and plenty of decisions to be made.

Price and specs

The Garmin Instinct – the original older model – launched at $299, but is widely discounted so can be found much cheaper. One of the reasons it is heavily discounted is because it launched in 2018. The Garmin Instinct 2 costs $349, but again there are often discounts. The Instinct 2 comes in many versions, with the Instinct 2X Solar being larger and more expensive at $449, while the Instinct 2S is smaller – but costs the same price as the regular version. The Solar models cost more, so it’s worth deciding if you need that solar boost – and most of the Edition models also cost more.

There’s loads to consider with Garmin Instinct devices, and next you can look at the specs across the major models that are offered.

  • Garmin Instinct 2 Garmin Instinct 2S Garmin Instinct Garmin Instinct 2X Solar
    Heart Rate Monitor Yes Yes Yes Yes
    Battery Life Up to 28 day, unlimited with solar Up to 21 days / 51 days with solar Up to 14 days / 54 days with solar 40 days, unlimited with solar
    Display 23 x 23mm, 176 x 176 pixels 20 x 20mm, 156 x 156 pixels 23 x 23mm, 128 x 128 pixels 27 x 27mm, 176 x 176 pixels
    Storage 32MB 32MB 16MB 64MB
    Health sensors GPS, HR, ABC, Pulse Ox GPS, HR, ABC, Pulse Ox GPS, HR, ABC, Pulse Ox GPS, HR, ABC, Pulse Ox
    Dimensions 45 x 45 x 14.5mm, 52g 40 x 40 x 13.3mm, 42g 45 x 45 x 15.3mm, 52g 50 x 50 x 14.5mm, 67g
    Mobile payments Garmin Pay Garmin Pay No Garmin Pay

What are the different Garmin Instinct variants?

There’s a growing number of different versions of the Instinct, so here’s how they break down:


  • Instinct and Instinct 2 – base device with 45mm case
  • Instinct 2S – smaller device with 40mm case
  • Instinct 2X – larger device with 50mm case

Display features:

  • Solar – has Power Glass to recharge from the sun


  • Standard – the base device
  • Camo – comes with a camo finish
  • Tactical – has specific tactical features like night vision compatibility, stealth mode, dual format GPS, kill switch, jumpmaster mode
  • Surf – styling changes, tide data, surfing, windsurfing and kiteboarding activities
  • Dēzl – designed for truck drivers, with driver-specific functions
  • Esports – has a dedicated tracking mode for gaming

Only the Instinct 2 offers three sizes, but beyond that you can stack up size, display and edition to an extent. That means, for example, that you can get a 45mm Solar Tactical, or 40mm Solar Surf. The best thing to do is decide on the size and then the Edition if you want special features.

Of course, some will just want to buy a watch in the colour they want – in most cases you can get black in any version you want – but if you want a lime watch, that’s the Instinct 2 standard, if you want olive green, that’s the Instinct Solar Tactical, for example.

best fitness trackers photo 11

Design and build

The Instinct 2 is slightly slimmer than the original Instinct, although the weights are the same. The Solar version is 1g heavier, not that you’ll notice, while the Instinct 2S is the smallest and lightest. The Instinct 2X is the largest with a 50mm case, and heaviest at 76g.

Again, the different versions are the same overall design and build, all offering 10 ATM – 100m – water protection and that rugged construction, with a fibre-reinforced polymer case and bezel.

The bezel differs slightly between Instinct 2 models, with a tweaked design between the Standard, Camo, Tactical, Surf, and Dēzl editions, so each looks slightly different.

For the original Instinct the design is the same, with only colour differences.

All accept QuickFit straps, with 22mm across the Instinct and Instinct 2, while the Instinct 2S uses the 20mm QuickFit straps. The Instinct 2X has 26mm QuickFit straps.

The Instinct also carries MLD-STD-810G protection, so it should be able to take some abuse. The chunky design is part of the appeal of these devices.


All the Garmin Instinct devices use the same type of display. As we said, they’re all the same size for the 45mm devices, with a smaller display on the 40mm Instinct 2S, or larger on the Instinct 2X.

The technology is the same – it’s Garmin’s transflective MIP display – and all are topped with Corning Gorilla Glass to stave off scratches. As we outlined above, those devices with Solar in the name also have the Power Glass layer, which can provide some charge from the sun to boost the battery life – more on that below.

The Instinct is also unique in that it’s using a custom two-window design, which is how we have that separate section on the display. It’s worth noting that the Instinct 2 models (both the 45, 40mm and 50mm models) have a slightly higher resolution than the original Instinct.

Garmin Instinct 2 photo 8



When it comes to features there’s a lot packed into the Instinct as there is in all Garmin devices. From a hardware standpoint, there’s more storage on the Instinct 2 and 2S, expanding to 32MB over 16MB, meaning you can store more data. The Instinct 2X has 64MB topping them all.

Otherwise, many of the features come down to software, as all have GPS, heart rate, barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer and thermometer, which feeds into the data it can gather. They also all offer blood oxygen monitoring.

The Instinct 2, 2S and 2X add a range of additional training features, including recovery, training effect, VO2 max monitoring and performance condition – features that are common on Forerunner and now land here. There’s also support for Garmin Pay on the Instinct 2 models, meaning you can make payments from your watch, which you can’t with the original Instinct, so the new version is definitely more fully-featured.

Of course, some of the data that the Instinct will offer comes down to the version you buy. While all will support things like running, cycling, swimming, step tracking and sleep tracking, those Edition models give you access to different features. For many users, the Instinct 2 models contain a lift in general fitness tracking – but if there’s a specific feature you want, like tide times or those tactical features, then you’ll need to buy the specific Edition that covers those features.

Garmin Instinct 2 photo 3


Battery life

The battery life that you’ll get from your device will depend on what you do with it, of course. Generally speaking, there’s a good battery life from these devices – with the solar option meaning you can top that up while the sun is shining.

Of course, using all the sensors will knock down that battery from weeks to hours – but all will offer GPS tracking longer than most people will need. There’s up to 16 hours on the original Instinct, but 30 hours on the Instinct 2 – but some of these will only be achievable with battery-saving modes. Garmin claims that Solar models of the Garmin Instinct 2 have unlimited battery – but of course you’ll need plenty of sunshine to make that happen.


For those looking for a rugged outdoor watch, the Instinct family has plenty to offer, with a good range of features available on the original model which are still really attractive – especially as you can now get the older Instinct at a much lower price than the newer models, with much the same looks.


Garmin Instinct 2

$290 $290 Save $0

But there are some feature advantages at a basic level from the Instinct 2 models. Of course, there’s the smaller size which some will be drawn to, but there are also more basic fitness features meaning you can keep a closer eye on your training and performance. For those who really want something chunky, the Instinct 2X is there for you.

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