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Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Review

A rugged GPS watch with potentially unlimited battery life, this watch has all the features you need and nothing you don't
Garmin Instinct 2 Solar
Credit: Garmin
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $450 List | $449.99 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Reliable, durable, excellent battery life, simple design
Cons:  Plastic body, straps not removable, may be less comfortable for smaller wrists
Manufacturer:   Garmin
By Matthew Richardson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 29, 2022
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76
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 12
  • Features - 20% 7.0
  • Battery Life - 20% 8.0
  • Ease of Use - 20% 8.0
  • Accuracy - 20% 8.0
  • Design - 20% 7.0

Our Verdict

If durability and battery life are your main concerns, we cannot recommend the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar enough. While lacking some of the more premium features found on the highest-end watches, we appreciate the simplicity of this design, both visually and internally. This watch is rugged, and charging via the sun it can pretty much last forever. Basic navigation and bread-crumb mapping are powerful tools for preplanned routes and navigation in familiar territory. Sure, you don't get topographic maps, a color screen, or music storage, but this watch isn't trying to do it all. Some may be turned off by the tactical design, but the Instinct is for those that truly desire functionality over everything else.

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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Reliable, durable, excellent battery life, simple designGood battery life, comfortable, easy to use, great valueExcellent quality, accurate, simple design, very easy to use, great feature set, very long battery lifeLow profile design, great battery life, very accurate, low costSimple, inexpensive, lightweight
Cons Plastic body, straps not removable, may be less comfortable for smaller wristsLacks some toolset functions, scroll wheel has unintended clicksBacklight isn't bright, heart rate monitor accuracy is a little offMinimal activity profiles, no navigation features, plastic constructionLacks premium health stats, shorter battery life
Bottom Line A rugged GPS watch with potentially unlimited battery life, this watch has all the features you need and nothing you don'tA fully-featured GPS watch at a great price makes this one of our top recommendations for all user typesA well-constructed and accurate watch with a minimalistic design, excellent battery life, and all the right featuresA fully functional and incredibly light GPS sports watch boasting great battery life at an incredible valueA basic GPS watch that will be perfect for those looking to track their activities without the advanced features of premium models or extended battery life
Rating Categories Garmin Instinct 2 S... Coros Apex Pro Coros Apex Coros Pace 2 Garmin Forerunner 55
Features (20%)
7.0
7.0
6.0
5.0
5.0
Battery Life (20%)
8.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
5.0
Ease of Use (20%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Accuracy (20%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Design (20%)
7.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
6.0
Specs Garmin Instinct 2 S... Coros Apex Pro Coros Apex Coros Pace 2 Garmin Forerunner 55
Watch Face Material Power glass Sapphire glass Sapphire glass Corning glass Chemically strengthened glass
Bezel Fiber reinforced polymer Titanium Alloy Stainless steel bezel Fiber reinforced polymer Stainless steel
Case Fiber reinforced polymer Alumnium Alumnium Fiber reinforced polymer Glass fibre reinforced polyamide
Strap Material Silicone Silicon or nylon Silicon or nylon Silicon or nylon Silicone
Tools Required to Change Band? Yes No No No No
Model Tested Solar Standard Standard N/A N/A
Size Tested One size only 47mm 42mm One size only One size only
Measured Main Body Size (diameter) 45mm 47mm 42mm 43mm 42mm
Measured Thickness 15mm 13.4mm 13mm 11mm 12.5mm
Measured Screen Width 23mm 33mm 33mm 32mm 26.5mm
Measured Weight 1.87 oz 2.0 oz 1.7 oz 1.2 oz 1.31 oz
Measured Charging Time 123 min 80 min 70 min 80 min 111 min
Battery Type Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion
Measured Battery Life With GPS On 30 hours 36 hours 24 hours 29 hours 19 hours
Manufacturer-Reported Battery Life Smartwatch mode: 28 days and unlimited w/ solar;
GPS: 30/48hrs
Smartwatch mode: 30 days;
GPS mode: 40 hours;
UltraMax mode: 100 hours
Smartwatch mode: 25 days;
Full GPS mode: 25 hours;
UltraMax GPS Mode: 80 hours
Smartwatch mode: 20 days;
GPS: 30 hours;
Ultramax mode: 60 hours
Smartwatch mode: 2 weeks;
GPS: 20 hours
Navigation Built In? Yes Yes Yes No No
Satellite Networks Used GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO
Maps? No Yes - basic Yes - basic No No
Back to Start Navigation? Yes Yes Yes No No
Water Resistance (max depth) 100m 100m 100m 50m 50m
Music Control? Yes No No No Yes
Music Storage? No No No No No
Daily Fitness Tracking? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Touchless Payment? Yes No No No No
Sleep Tracking? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Blood Oxygen? Yes Yes No No No
Compass? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Barometric Altimeter? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Temperature Sensor? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Main Software App Garmin Connect, widgets for other features Coros App Coros App Coros Garmin Connect, widgets for other features
Can Software Cross Over to Different Software Ecosystems? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

While watches continue to do more and more as technology advances, we appreciate the design of the Instinct 2 Solar, which reduces the feature set to things that you actually need and will use on a day-to-day basis. The tactical design and internals provide everything you need without the extras on the most premium models. Arguably this is the best feature set of any of the watches when compounded with the solar extending battery life. If you're doing a 30+ hour night adventure, then there are probably other options you should consider, but at this price point, we are impressed with the day-to-day performance of this model. You still receive health metrics, navigation, breadcrumb mapping, music controls, and all of the GPS activities/data fields you have come to expect from Garmin. The rugged design and fixed watch straps may not be for everyone, but we think this is a great option if it fits your style or if you want a bomb-proof option without spending top premium prices.

Performance Comparison


Garmin Instinct 2 Solar gps watch - the solar instinct 2 is rugged, durable, and perfect for running and...
The Solar Instinct 2 is rugged, durable, and perfect for running and scrambling missions in our backyard.
Credit: Matthew Richardson

Features


A non-color, no-touch, E ink-looking display provides all of the features and information you need for your adventures and day-to-day life. Today's GPS watch market is always showing off the latest and greatest features and tools, but the *Instinct 2 Solar* provides a refined list. Arguably the most impressive feature is the battery extending solar screen, which increases battery life in high-intensity solar conditions. The turn-by-turn navigation of preloaded routes and breadcrumb mapping can assist with navigation in unfamiliar terrain or low visibility. Ample smartphone-connected features like notifications and music control make this a watch you can use in your day-to-day life. Additionally, the most important health metrics are also found in this model, such as heart rate and sleep metrics. Of course, it has the basics too, such as your ABCs (altimeter, barometer, and compass), which are crucial for day-to-day life and non-GPS connected activities


We feel this is the feature set you need when spending this amount of money and should be a great example for all GPS watch feature sets at this price point. Other attributes should also largely influence your decision, but in our opinion, this feature set is what you need in a GPS watch. While additional features are nice, some can be gimmicky and rarely used.

Notable Features:

  • Heart rate monitor
  • Solar Charging
  • Garmin Pay
  • Compass
  • Alarms
  • Several activity profiles
  • Pedometer and calories burned
  • Barometer
  • Altimeter
  • Sunrise/Sunset information
  • Breadcrumb navigation
  • Course creation and upload options

Take a look at the Garmin website to see the full scope of all the features offered.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar gps watch - a look at the tools offered by garmin. we love garmin pay and the...
A look at the tools offered by Garmin. We love Garmin Pay and the find my phone feature!
Credit: Matthew Richardson

Battery Life


With the introduction of solar charging, Garmin claims virtually endless battery life. Of course, this is determined by the amount of sun you receive during the day and your location. This feature works best with few clouds and direct sunlight, and vegetation can also impact its effectiveness. GPS mode will also burn more battery than daily use; therefore, you will need to understand the solar limits, especially if you plan on depending on the sun for all your charging needs.


With a claimed 30 hours in standard GPS mode, the Instinct 2 does not have the battery life of the high-end models that boast 100+ hours on a single charge while using GPS. Instead, the Instinct shines for those users not planning on epic GPS recording activities where conditions are variable. While batteries continue to improve with GPS watches, a potential for 30+ hours far exceeds your normal day-to-day outings and adventures. This watch should be suitable for most users, and the solar benefits are always there for a charge here and there throughout the day. The Instinct 2 is also perfect for expeditions in the high mountains, glaciers, and deserts where high solar intensity is likely. Determining your ability to access electricity should be considered when making your final decision. If charging your watch on an extended trip is one less thing you'd like to worry about, this is a great option.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar gps watch - solar intensity is displayed in a widget on the instinct 2 solar...
Solar intensity is displayed in a widget on the Instinct 2 Solar, letting you know how much sun your watch screen is receiving in changing conditions.
Credit: Matthew Richardson

Ease of Use


Garmin has done a great job with user interface and software design. We feel that it's intuitive, easy to use, and closely matches the Coros brand. We appreciate the dedicated buttons on the Instinct 2, which are tactile and provide predictable interaction even while on the move. The menu system is easy to follow, and you have the option to configure the watch both via the app and the watch itself. Adjusting the various settings is straightforward and makes sense once you learn how the menu system operates. The ability to add/remove tools and widgets allows you to tailor your watch to your specific uses and display only the important information.


On the flip side, the dedicated app feels a bit dated. When spending this amount of money, we feel the app integration should be a focus, but the Garmin Connect app feels like less of a priority for the brand. Ultimately this is not a deal-breaker for us because we often use third-party applications such as Strava to view our data and document our activities. But this isn't the best user experience, and using the app for anything more than activity syncing to upload to a third-party platform may leave you disappointed — especially if you've used the competitor's offerings.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar gps watch - sunny ridgelines are perfect for the solar instinct 2. just remember...
Sunny ridgelines are perfect for the Solar Instinct 2. Just remember that minimal battery life is gained while tracking in GPS mode.
Credit: Matthew Richardson

Accuracy


We took all of our watches on a three-mile GPS test and recorded the results alongside each other. Each model was within +/- 0.01 miles of the three miles. Today's GPS watches are pretty dang accurate, and our scoring reflects that. If you often find yourself in complex terrain, a Multi GNSS model like this one is a great choice. Or even better is dual frequency found on the Garmin Fenix 7 and Coros Vertix 2.


Heart rate data was a bit more variable, and we recommend a dedicated heart rate strap if this is important to your training. Still, all the Garmin models we tested, including this one, performed the best in this area. Since fit is so important for a heart rate monitor to work properly, you may want to try this watch on first since it does not feature hinging watch straps like most of the competition. If you get a good fit, the Instinct 2 should only have a variance of about 1 - 3 bpm, as it did for us during testing.

The straps on the Instinct 2 don't hinge, so this watch doesn't fit...
The straps on the Instinct 2 don't hinge, so this watch doesn't fit as snugly on as wide a range of wrist sizes. If HR monitoring is important to you, try this watch on to make sure it fits before committing.
The heart rate monitor on the Instinct 2 works well if the watch is...
The heart rate monitor on the Instinct 2 works well if the watch is a good fit for your wrist.

Design


The Instinct 2 has the most rugged and tactical look of any of the watches we tested. If this is your primary watch, this could make or break your decision. The five tactile buttons are functional and feel nice, especially while moving. The scroll wheel on Coros watches takes a bit too much precision while on the move, so we are glad Garmin continues to implement buttons in their watches. However, unlike most of the watches we tested, the straps are not removable, and their fixed position may be less comfortable on thinner wrists. You may want to try this one on for size before committing.


The small circular display changes for various screens and unique data fields are designed for this small area. We wish the software had been designed for this overlay instead of weirdly blocking out the background. This isn't a huge gripe, but it seems a bit half-baked; if this display is important to the watch, we feel the software should also be updated to include this design choice and not cut off various text.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar gps watch - the dedicated abc button on the instinct solar 2 quickly activates...
The dedicated ABC button on the Instinct Solar 2 quickly activates the Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass.
Credit: Matthew Richardson

Value


While not the cheapest we tested, this watch has all the key features you'd want and expect from a GPS watch today. If you decide the solar function is unneeded, you could also buy the standard version and save quite a bit of money. We think if this design fits your style, you'll be plenty pleased with the value, and the durability will make sure your purchase will last for years to come.

Conclusion


We are big fans of the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar. This is a rugged GPS watch with all of the features you need for expeditions and adventures. While not having all the bells and whistles of the top-end models, it has everything you need and nothing you don't. If this watch fits your style, we think it's an excellent choice and comes at a reasonable price point. The baseline battery could be slightly better, but the solar option creates a potentially limitless use time. If a GPS watch is essential while you are away from electricity, this is a solid choice. And if you like the look but don't need the solar capabilities, the Instinct 2 is available in a non-solar version too.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar gps watch - the sunny canyons of utah are the perfect place for the solar...
The sunny canyons of Utah are the perfect place for the Solar Instinct 2. Can you spot our lead tester?
Credit: Matthew Richardson

Matthew Richardson
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