The Garmin Instinct Is a Watch for Working Hands

I burn through gear like a madman, but this watch has yet to fail me.

byHank O'Hop|
Accessories photo

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I'm not smart enough, or wealthy enough, to pay someone else to do the hard work for me. And like the saying goes, "if you're gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough." I've never had a problem accepting that, but I've always had trouble finding gear that'd stick with me along the way. 

My free time is spent restoring my 1969 Dodge Charger, and everything that goes with it, eating mud on my DRZ, and tinkering with that and anything else mechanical I can get my hands on. I also spend a good amount of time slinging wrenches in the pits at local circle track events in the summers. And when I'm not doing all of that, I'm at the gym, on some kind of hike, or doing some grueling outdoor activity. To put it simply, beating the ever-living hell out of myself is what I do for fun. 

Hank O'Hop

So when I decided I wanted a watch last summer, my criteria was exacting. But most importantly, it needed to be durable, and if it could track some physical fitness data, that'd be a nice bonus. Without a clue as to what to look for, I turned to The Drive’s Jonathon Klein for advice. 

I went to him half expecting a few options to mull over. But the conversation started and ended with him blurting out "Garmin Instinct" without hesitation. He couldn’t have been more right. 

What Instinct Brings to the Table 

The Instinct is a GPS watch built to endure the harshest conditions, as it's built with a fiberglass reinforced case paired with Gorilla glass and a nice fully-vented silicone band. 

On the surface, it's a no-nonsense digital watch that's built for active people, and it’s packed with a good list of widgets that make it more than just a watch. It can track steps, and heart rate, data log a number of activities and even function as an altimeter, barometer, and compass. And when you pair it with the Garmin Connect and MyFitnessApp Apps, it can help you track calorie intake and more useful data regarding physical activities. 

Hank O'Hop

The Instinct is not what you’d typically call a true smartwatch, but it can connect to your phone via Bluetooth. That’s how it syncs up with the aforementioned apps, and it allows your phone to relay text and call notifications, which is extremely handy. I usually leave my phone on silent and let the vibrations of the watch notify me instead. 

I personally own the base version of the Instinct, but there are more options out there, including the Tactical and Solar models, along with the updated Instinct 2. Those have further features that would come in handy for others. 

Hank O'Hop

The Ups and Downs and Everything In Between 

I've worn the Garmin Instinct every day for the last nine months, and there's a lot I like about it. But I have found some things that could be better. 

My biggest gripes regard inaccuracies with data logging of physical activities. Information regarding calorie intake and intensity minutes—staple functions for fitness junkies—seem to be off. And there are also some widgets that are almost useless, such as trying to track weight lifting with it. It also tends to display older text messages rather than new ones. I often find myself looking at my phone anyway, with the watch simply serving as a way to alert me that I have a message, not as a way to read it. 

Hank O'Hop

These are pretty small issues, though, and I suspect that newer versions of the watch are far better in these regards and then some. Not only that, but even if it's a little clunky, it has proven useful, and I'd go as far to call it a definitive part of my workout routine. Though the numbers are off at times, I can still use my brain to realistically gauge myself. And the GPS function is also really great for logging distances traveled while hiking, running, bike riding, kayaking and more. 

Solar charging is an attractive feature and worth investing in, but the battery life on the base Instinct is more than good enough. A single charge lasts more than a week, regardless of the conditions I subject it to. Speaking of which, the Instinct has endured way more than I expected it to. 

Hank O'Hop Hank O'Hop

I've worn this watch through many nasty spills on the trail, dips into the ocean, while navigating through the tight brush to hidden fishing spots, and, of course, throughout the some of the harder steps of restoration of my 1969 Dodge Charger and more mechanical madness. It's seen the mud, salt water, extreme heat, bitter cold, blasts of rogue slag, and more than its fair share of impacts. It does wear its battle scars, but not even the soft silicone band has yet to fail me. 

I can't say I'm surprised the Instinct is able to endure the many blunders that come with an active lifestyle. I can't even say I'm surprised it lived through some nasty spills on the trail with the DRZ. I'm really glad it did, but the reinforced shell and Gorilla glass almost guarantee that level of banging around won't be an issue. 

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What really impresses me is the fact that my Charger project car failed to eat it. This thing has a track record of destroying phones and other devices. But it has yet to conquer the Instinct. 

The chips you see in the glass actually aren't from debris or the many hard impacts it's been dealt. They're from bits of slag cast by my welder while grafting new sheet metal onto the Charger. I've had similar situations kill a few phones I forgot to place out of reach and even set myself on fire during the same job that chewed on the Garmin. Still, it held up fine. I wouldn't recommend going out and beating on the Instinct with a hammer or tossing it off a cliff, I'm more than confident in saying that it's going to take on whatever it is you're willing to. 

Hank O'Hop

Garmin Got Me  

In the case that anyone with a hardy lifestyle were to ask me which watch I'd recommend, I'd blurt out "Garmin Instinct," just like my managing editor did to me. And this isn't even a case of getting a watch on loan from Garmin, either. I bought this watch with my own money, and I'd have no problem going with a Garmin again if I ever manage to break this one. Heck, I'd gladly turn to Garmin if I ever needed to trust my life to a satellite communication device, like my managing editor did.

The Instinct is just every bit as durable and functional as I could ask it to be. With newer versions on the market, you can also get your hands on one for a relatively low investment, too. I personally would consider saving for the Instinct 2 for the sake of having something more up-to-date, and that's what I've got my eyes set on next. 

Though, Garmin might be on the third or fourth version by the time this thing actually dies. 

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