The Garmin Instinct 2 is the newest addition to the brand’s range of rugged smartwatches. An entire series of new watches under the Instinct 2 umbrella, we've spent the last three months testing the flagship model – the Garmin Instinct 2S solar – and it's certainly impressed us. For a start, this model never runs out of battery life (as long as you spend at least three hours outside a day). It’s built to US military standard – aka it’s exceptionally rugged and will not break, no matter what you do with it or where you take it. And it gives you a mind-boggling amount of data (on your running and your health). The best bit? At £299 for the non-solar models and £389.99 for the solar-charging models, it’s much more affordable than other models with similar specs.
Seriously impressive battery life
When we first began testing the Garmin Instinct 2S three months ago, we were immediately sold on its long-lasting battery life. The Solar model uses Garmin’s Power Glass to garner energy from the sun, which means it technically never needs charging – if you wear it in direct sunlight for three hours a day that is (or in 50,000 lux of light).
For our office-dwelling tester though, who couldn’t hit that daily quota of sunlight, it lasted for around two weeks – and that was wearing it for 24 hours a day and doing multiple training sessions during the week. Although we didn’t test the non-solar model, the Garmin Instinct 2, the brand say it’ll last you for 28 days in smartwatch mode, which is still impressive when you compare it to the likes of an Apple Watch, which can run out of juice by the end of the day.
A valuable training companion
The Instinct 2 series now offers Garmin’s full suite of health and wellness features – so Body Battery, Sleep Score, Advanced Sleep Monitoring, Menstrual Cycle Tracking and Stress Tracking. We found the Body Battery feature – which measures your overall energy levels each day and gives this as a score out of 100 – to be particularly useful. It helped us better schedule our training sessions around other commitments, by giving us a clear indication of the sessions which left us feeling drained and in need of rest and recovery and those which didn't drain us quite so much. For example, we started to plan a few hours of rest – and an early night – after tough sessions and scheduled our easy runs for days we had social commitments planned.
Advanced fitness features also include VO2 Max Estimate, Fitness Age, Training Status/Load/Effect, Recovery Time and Daily Suggested Workout. Again, this was all data which our tester, who is currently training for a 70.3 triathlon, found to be genuinely beneficial in showing progress in her fitness and training load, as well as the amount of recovery time needed between sessions. The suggested run workouts also served as a great reminder of the importance of scheduling enough easy runs into our training week, especially when, on the days we chose to ignore the suggestion of a recovery run, in favour of a threshold session, we were told our training had been ‘unproductive’ (doh!).
The watch tracks a wide range of sports – including paddleboarding, skiing and snowboarding – but our tester stuck to trying out the watch during slightly less adventurous urban activities: running, cycling (indoor and outdoor) and indoor swimming. We found the GPS accuracy to be excellent when used for running and cycling and we were pleased with how quickly it found a satellite. Running data includes metrics such as Training Effect, which measures the impact of an activity on your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, and Running Dynamics, so cadence and stride length, while for cycling you’ll get information on things like Power Output (when connected to a power meter) and Respiration Rate. For swimming, there’s also Stroke Rate and Swolf (swimming efficiency).
All of this information is then sent to the Garmin Connect app, where it’s visually broken down into easy-to-digest graphs and charts, which we found to be a boon – especially when it came to understanding the different heart rate zones we’d been training in during sessions.
Clever safety features
Another feature we were pleased to discover when we began testing is the Instinct 2S's in-built Incident Detection. When your watch and phone are paired, if the watch detects an incident, it will automatically send an alert, along with your live location, to your emergency contacts. It detected an ‘incident’ on two occasions during testing (both false alarms!): once when we stopped suddenly and stooped over to catch our breath after a particularly tough running interval and also when we rode off a high curb while out cycling. It gives you 15 seconds to cancel the message in the case of a false alarm. You can also send you live location to your contacts manually if you require assistance.
Basic maps and no music
One of our few criticisms of the Garmin Instinct 2S was the fact we couldn’t play music offline, so it meant carrying our phone with us on the run, which in all honesty, we didn’t mind too much as we tend to carry it anyway. Plus, for this price, we’d be surprised to get onboard music storage too.
Our second, but slightly bigger, bugbear is the watch’s poor map functionality. When we tried to upload a custom course from Strava to the watch, the course consisted of one line marking the route and an arrow to lead us in the right direction. With no road markings, we found it very hard to know where to turn and ultimately had to go back the way we came before we got very, very lost. There is a back-to-start navigation available, which will take you back the way you came if you get lost, but again the map is very basic, so might not prove particularly helpful!
While the watch is designed to withstand the toughest outdoor environments – it’s water-rated to 100 metres and is thermal and shock resistant – it doesn’t look or feel bulky. There are two case sizes available (45mm and 40mm), both weighing 52g. The solar addition has a 40mm case and we felt it looked unobtrusive on our tester’s petite wrist and was comfortable to wear all day and at night. Don’t get us wrong, it has a distinct ‘adventure sports watch’ look about it – it’s not trying to dress itself up as a sleek piece of jewellery like some smartwatches – but there’s plenty of colourways to suit your style, and we loved the neutral Mist Grey, which pairs with just about anything. On a practical note, the monochrome watch face is clear with a high colour contrast, which makes it easy to read, and the five-button interface is easy to navigate.
As with all smartwatches, features like smartphone notifications delivered to your wrist (you can receive emails, texts and alerts) and contactless payment (via Garmin Pay) help to make your life that wee bit easier.
For keen runners and triathletes, the Instinct 2S is an excellent training companion, giving you all the data you need (and more) to analyse and compare your performance across a range of activities. Happily, it doubles up as a bit of a virtual coach – telling you when to rest, push harder or back off – and helps to give you a more complete picture of your fitness and overall health. Obviously, there are watches out there that can do this in far more depth – for example the Fenix 7 has more advanced training tools – but it depends how granular you want to go with your data (and how much budget you have). Moreover, due to its basic mapping, discerning adventurers might want to look to the Fenix 7 for more advanced navigational tools. But, for literally half the price of the Fenix, you get what you get what you pay for, and in the case of the Instinct 2S, that’s rather a lot.