Garmin Instinct 2 Solar | Deep Dive - Outdoors Magic

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Garmin Instinct 2 Solar | Deep Dive

A new watch with a bunch of features and functions designed to please outdoor adventurers – and an unlimited battery life to boot

I recently spent a good five days hiking in Albania’s Accursed Mountains using the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar smartwatch with the GPS tracker in use and by the end of the trip, I was impressed to find I still had more than enough juice to last me the almost 24-hour journey by plane and car all the way home. In fact, the battery percentage reading I was given barely changed.

It’s quite remarkable just how long this thing can last, even with GPS tracking, and that’s why, as an outdoor enthusiast who likes to hike and wild camp for days at a time, completely away from civilisation, it has a heck of a lot of appeal. 

Read on for my complete breakdown. If you want to see the Instinct 2 in action, the latest episode of Will’s World has everything you need.

Battery Life

But this does also in fact have an unlimited battery life – that’s thanks to the clever Garmin Power Glass solar panels that sit across and around the watch face.

Now, although solar charging was a feature of the previous Garmin Instinct, that model was only capable of giving you an unlimited charge if the watch was in battery saver mode. With this new model, however, you can continue to use the various features of the watch (in other words, you can use it as a smartwatch) and you can still rest assured that it will live for as long as you need it to. That’s as long as you’re using it in the right conditions; Garmin specify that unlimited battery assumes all-day wear with 3 hours per day outside in 50,000 lux conditions.

You can’t be too gung-ho with the GPS usage. If you’re using the GPS at its most accurate, with frequent satellite positioning, then the charge should last up to 48 hours. If you’ve got the max battery GPS mode on (my settings for our test trip in Albania) that’ll give fairly frequent tracking for as much as 370 hours – that’s over 15 days – of charge. 

Then there’s the Expedition GPS mode. This allows you to continue to use the GPS – albeit with very, very spaced out tracking – while still enjoying an unlimited battery life. So, if you’ve got, say, a 3-week trip hiking the GR20 through Corsica, you can still use the watch in multiple ways, have the peace of mind that your position is still being tracked and not have to charge it up once.

Jessie tested the Instinct 2 over the course of a gravel riding, wild camping and climbing trip to Snowdonia.
Our writer James using the Instinct 2 on our trip to Albania's Accursed Mountains.

Of course, as should go without saying, you do also need some sunlight to rely on unlimited battery life. If you spend a lot of time indoors at a desk and you track your gym sessions in the evening, the watch is going to struggle to keep itself charged. If, however, you’re a bit outdoorsy and like to get outside during the day whenever you can, then the charge should stay nice and high for you – even if the days are on the gloomy side. 


The screen on the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar pictured here measures 45mm in diameter. For those with daintier wrists, there’s also a smaller version with a 40mm screen, that’s called the Instinct 2S.

Navigating the menus is done so using the set of five buttons.

You can also then take your pick between the solar model or the cheaper standard model (that doesn’t have unlimited battery life) and there are then specialist options, either in Solar or standard, to cater for surfers, truck drivers and for the special forces too. 


Unlike many GPS smartwatches, the Garmin Instinct 2 has the look of a real rugged watch made for the outdoors. And it is indeed built to withstand the rigours of life on the trail, being waterproof to 100 metres, dustproof, shockproof and highly scratch resistant too. By the end of our week in Albania’s Accursed Mountains it had come through looking as good as new.

The built-in heart rate monitor.

The screen is monochrome and is visible even on the brightest of days. The strap is made from silicon and is removable so you can customise your watch if you so choose. 

With three buttons on the left hand side and two on the right, each one clearly marked with their functions, learning how to navigate through the various menu interfaces on this doesn’t take long at all and, as we found, it’ll quickly become intuitive. 

What Can You Use The Garmin Instinct 2 For?

There are a whole bunch of tools for outdoor enthusiasts here. We’ve mentioned that it has GPS tracking already and that’s via GLONASS and Galileo satellites – so expect an accurate reading of your location, altitude and co-ordinates. You can view a digital compass, upload routes onto the watch to follow a breadcrumb trail, record routes as you go and you can also use the watch for track back navigation. The Instinct 2 also has a built in heart rate monitor to help you track your fitness, performance and even stress and sleep patterns.

Over 40 different sports are catered for here, including hiking, trail running, climbing and mountain biking and then also things like treadmill and track running, yoga and road cycling. It’s a very diverse list. 

Jessie using the Instinct 2 Solar on a wild camp in North Wales

I’m a hiker and, unsurprisingly, I’ve mainly been using this for hiking. Out and about it’ll tell me how far I’ve hiked and how far I’ve got left, I can see my heart rate as I go, I can use the breadcrumb navigation and its little arrows to keep on track. I can see the route profile and the elevation ahead. I can even check the temperature and weather I can expect. The sunrise and sunset times are particularly handy for any hikes that involve a bit of wild camping. 

Afterwards, with the watch synched to my phone, I can use the Garmin Connect+ app to see my route in detail on a map and I can analyse the changes of my pace and heart rate throughout the day. I can also see the total ascent and total descent from the day. Message and call notifications can also be received through the watch, you can send pre-set messages and, with the solar versions you can stream music through Spotify and make payments through Garmin Pay.


Smartwatches with all the bells and whistles for fitness enthusiasts can be a little off-putting for outdoor enthusiasts who might just want something that they can use to follow a route, or even to just give them their coordinates quickly. With its rugged build and deliberately uncomplicated screen and metrics, the Garmin Instinct 2 does, however, come across as being made specifically for us mountain climbers, trail pacers and mud seekers. And that’s before factoring in that unlimited battery life. That aspect to this thing should be a surefire clincher for outdoor enthusiasts in the market for a smartwatch.


Outdoors Magic x Garmin
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