Garmin Instinct 2 vs Garmin Instinct: pick the right watch for your next adventure

Garmin Instinct and Garmin Instinct 2 on green and yellow background
(Image credit: Garmin)

In February 2022, Garmin revealed its second-generation line of Instinct sports watches, with heaps of sports tracking modes and extra-long battery life. However, the latest model isn't necessarily the best one for you. We're here to explain all the key differences, so you can choose the Instinct that will fit your needs.

First, it's important to note the price. The basic spec Instinct 2 costs considerably more than the standard first-gen Instinct, and adding extra features like solar glass will bump the price up further still. The original Garmin Instinct might therefore be the best choice you're on a tight budget, and since it's an older device, you're likely to find some generous discounts at third-party retailers like Amazon and Wiggle.

If you have smaller wrists, the Instinct 2 is likely to be a better option. Whereas the original Instinct only came with a 45mm diameter case, the Instinct 2 is also available in a more compact 40mm version. 

The Instinct 2 also has a lot more to offer when it comes to sports tracking. Its upgraded heart rate monitor gives more accurate readings, and it has a slew of new workout profiles, as well as multi-sports tracking.

That's only scratching the surface, though – there are also big differences when it comes to battery life. special editions, and everyday smartwatch features. You can scroll down for the full lowdown on the Instinct and Instinct 2, but if you've already made up your mind, we've also tracked down the best prices for both watches eight here:

Watch models and price

Watch models

  • Garmin Instinct 2 comes in two sizes
  • Various special editions available
  • Standard and solar models to choose from

The original Garmin Instinct comes in just one size (45mm), but is available in many different colors and configurations. Alongside the standard version, there's also a solar edition that uses photovoltaic glass to harvest energy and keep its battery topped up.

There are also various special editions available: Camo (which doesn't add any extra features, but has a stylish patterned band and bezel), Tactical (designed for service personnel), Surf (with tide times and a dedicated surf tracking activity), and Exports (which allows you to broadcast your heart rate during streams).

Garmin Instinct Esports Edition

(Image credit: Garmin)

The Garmin Instinct 2 gives you even more options. First of all, you can now choose between 40mm and 45mm case sizes – the smaller of which is well suited to people with slim wrists. Both sizes come in standard and solar versions.

There are also special edition Instinct 2 models. As before, there's a Surf edition, but this is now available in both 40mm and 45mm sizes, and you can choose to have it with or without solar glass.

The Tactical and Camo editions are only available in 45mm. The Tactical model has solar glass, but the Camo doesn't.

There's no version of the Instinct 2 designed for esports. Instead, Garmin has added a new watch called the Instinct 2 Dezl (pronounced 'diesel') Edition, which is specifically for truckers. It can connect to your truck's Garmin navigation system, display your health stats on its high-res screen, and remind you to take regular breaks.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Garmin Instinct 2 watch models
Edition45mm case40mm caseStandard glassSolar glass
StandardYesYesYesYes
SurfYesYesYesYes
TacticalYesNoNoYes
CamoYesNoYesNo
DezlYesNoYesNo

Two surfers wearing Garmin Instinct 2 watches

The Instinct and Instinct 2 both have special Surf Editions (Image credit: Garmin)

Price

  • Garmin Instinct 2 costs more than the original Instinct
  • Solar and special editions are more expensive
  • Original Instinct watches often available at a discount

The original Garmin Instinct starts at $299.99 / £269.99 / AU$399 for the standard non-solar edition. The most expensive watch in the range is the Instinct Solar Tactical Edition for $449.99 / £359.99 / AU$799.

You can often find the original Instinct range discounted at third-party retailers like Amazon. We've found the best deals on the original Instinct and Instinct Solar for you here:

The Garmin Instinct 2 range is more expensive than the original lineup. It starts at $349.99 / £299.99 / AU$549 for the standard non-solar model. The most expensive watch in the line is the Instinct 2 Solar Tactical Edition, which retails at $499.99 / £429.99 / AU$749.

Design, display and battery life

Design

  • Polymer watch cases and silicone bands
  • Five physical buttons and no touchscreen
  • Instinct 2 comes in livelier colors

Watches in the Garmin Instinct range are designed to be tough and durable rather than flashy. All Instinct and Instinct 2 models come with a fiber-reinforced polymer case and silicone band – though you can replace this with a woven, leather or metal strap if you buy one separately.

All Instinct watches have a similar case design, but as mentioned above, the Instinct 2 also has a more compact 40mm variant (the Instinct 2S). All watches are controlled using a set of five physical buttons around the edge of the case, which can be easily operated with wet hands or while wearing gloves. There's no touchscreen.

Watches in both lines are available in a wide range of colors, but the Instinct 2 comes in some livelier hues including Poppy, Electric Lime, and Neo Tropic (a kind of seafoam blue).

Women's wrist wearing Garmin Instinct 2S Surf Edition

The Garmin Instinct 2 comes in brighter colorways than the original Instinct (Image credit: Garmin)

Display

  • All watches have monochrome MiP displays
  • Unique dual-display design
  • Instinct 2 has a higher screen resolution

All Garmin Instinct watches have monochrome memory-in-pixel (MiP) displays, with a small cut-out at the top right that displays contextual information while you're navigating through menus, and can show a statistic such as current step count, heart rate, or date on the watch's home screen. There's no visible difference between standard and solar glass.

Garmin Instinct Solar watch with black band

All Garmin Instinct watches have a high-contrast monochrome MiP display (Image credit: Future)

This display is less striking than the AMOLED screens of watches like the Venu 2, but it's easy to read in all lighting conditions and has more contrast than the color MiP display of the Garmin Fenix 7

The original Garmin Instinct has a resolution of 128 x 128 pixels. The 45mm Instinct 2 has a resolution of 176 x 176mm, and the 40mm Instinct 2S has a resolution of 156 x 156 pixels.

Battery life

  • Instinct 2 watches have improved battery life
  • Solar editions can last indefinitely in right conditions

Long battery life is a key selling point of the Instinct series, and the Instinct 2 range last even longer between charges. The solar editions can keep running indefinitely with sufficient sunlight, but as with any smartwatch, the real world battery life will depend on which features you use.

The table below shows the quoted battery life for the 45mm standard and solar editions, assuming all-day wear with three hours per day outside in 50,000 lux conditions. Battery life is slightly shorter for the Instinct 2S due to its smaller battery.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Garmin Instinct maximum battery life
ModeInstinctInstinct SolarInstinct 2Instinct 2 Solar
Smartwatch14 days54 days28 daysUnlimited
Battery saver smartwatchn/aUnlimited65 daysUnlimited
GPS16 hours38 hours30 hours48 hours
UltraTrac / Max battery GPS40 hours145 hours70 hours370 hours

At a launch presentation for the Instinct 2, Garmin said that unlimited battery life is a realistic possibility for someone like a lifeguard who works outdoors.

Smartwatch and fitness features

Smartwatch features

  • Instinct 2 supports third-party apps
  • Instinct 2 Solar editions offer NFC
  • No LTE versions available

Watches in the Instinct and Instinct 2 series are designed with outdoor sports in mind, but they also have a decent set of smartwatch features for everyday use.

All Instinct watches will let you receive smartphone notifications, plus incoming call and text alerts on your wrist. You can use your watch to control music on your phone, and to find your phone if it goes missing (or vice versa).

Garmin Instinct watch showing smartphone app notifications

All Garmin Instinct watches allow you to receive smartphone notifications on your wrist (Image credit: Garmin)

The Instinct 2 does a lot more, though. For example, you can download third-party apps, faces, and data fields for it through Garmin Connect IQ – something that's not possible with the original Garmin Instinct.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar watches also offer Garmin Pay, so you can make contactless purchases and pay for public transport where it's supported.

There are no LTE watches in the Instinct or Instinct 2 series though, so you won't be able to download apps or transfer data without a Bluetooth connection to your phone.

There's also no microphone, so you won't be able to answer calls or use your phone's voice assistant from your wrist (for that you'll need the Garmin Venu 2 Plus instead). However, Android users can use their Instinct watch to reject calls with a text response.

Fitness tracking

  • Instinct 2 has new heart rate monitor and SpO2 sensor
  • Instinct 2 adds many new sports profiles
  • Instinct 2 has multi-sport tracking

Watches in the original Instinct series have an impressive array fitness tracking tools, but the Instinct 2 makes several big upgrades. First of all, there's a new optical heart rate monitor, plus an SpO2 sensor for tracking changes in blood oxygen saturation. The Instinct 2 also has more advanced sleep tracking, plus respiration tracking.

The original Instinct series has a wide range of workout tracking modes, and caters particularly well to cyclists, runners, and swimmers. There are sports modes for outdoor road running, trail running,  treadmill running, road cycling, indoor cycling, mountain biking, pool swimming, and open water swimming.

BMX rider wearing Garmin Instinct 2 watch

The Garmin Instinct 2 adds lots of extra sports tracking modes (Image credit: Garmin)

When you're in the gym, there are also profiles for strength, cardio and elliptical training, stair stepping, floor climbing, indoor rowing, and yoga. Hiking, climbing, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, rowing, kayaking, and Jumpmaster (for skydiving) are also available.

The Instinct 2 adds profiles for indoor track running, indoor climbing, bouldering, fishing, hunting, gravel biking, cyclocross, e-biking, and many other activities. The Instinct 2 also has multi-sports tracking, so if you're taking part in a duathlon or triathlon, you can switch between modes with a press of a button rather than ending your activity and restarting.

Watches in the Instinct 2 range are legal for golf tournaments too, and include tools like a digital scorecard, yardage to layups/doglegs, hazards and course targets, and green view with manual pin position.

Cat Ellis
Homes Editor

Cat is Homes Editor on TechRadar, specializing in kitchen appliances and smart home technology. She's been a journalist for 15 years, is a keen home cook, and is here to help you choose the right tech for your home, get the best deals, and do more with your new devices.