Garmin Instinct Vs. Instinct Solar: Better Outdoor GPS Watch

For outdoor enthusiasts looking for a rugged GPS watch, the Garmin Instinct series is a top choice. The standard Instinct was introduced in 2018, while the Instinct Solar debuted in 2020. These watches are purpose-built for outdoor adventures with features like GPS tracking, ABC sensors, sleep monitoring and more.

But which Instinct model is right for you – the standard or the solar-powered version? Here we’ll compare the key specs and features of the Garmin Instinct Vs. Instinct Solar to help you decide.

A Brief Comparison Table

FeatureGarmin InstinctGarmin Instinct Solar
Battery Life14 days smartwatch mode, 16 hrs GPS mode24 days smartwatch mode, 54 days battery saver mode
Solar ChargingNoYes
SensorsGPS/GLONASS, HRM, compass, altimeter, accelerometerAdds pulse oximeter, sunrise/sunset times, UV monitor
Smart FeaturesNotifications, weather, Connect IQ storeAdds flashlight, calculator apps

Overview Of Garmin Instinct Series

The standard Garmin Instinct and Instinct Solar share the same durable design in a fiber-reinforced polymer case. They have a monochrome display protected by chemically strengthened glass. The Instinct watches are water rated to 100m and built to U.S. military standard 810 for thermal, shock and water resistance.

Garmin Instinct
Garmin Instinct

Both watches offer activity profiles for running, cycling, swimming and more. You get built-in GPS with GLONASS support to track your route without a phone. There’s also a heart rate monitor, compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer.

For connectivity, the Instinct watches use Bluetooth to pair with your smartphone. You get smart notifications for calls, texts, calendar alerts and more. Safety features include incident detection which sends your location to emergency contacts if needed.

Now let’s look at the key differences between these two Instinct models.

Battery Life

The biggest difference is battery life. The standard Instinct is rated for 14 days in smartwatch mode and 16 hours in GPS mode. With the Instinct Solar, solar charging extends battery life up to 24 days in smartwatch mode and up to 54 days in battery saver mode.

The Instinct Solar has a Power Glass lens that uses sunlight to continuously charge the watch throughout the day. Garmin estimates you can get an extra 19 hours of GPS battery life per day from solar charging. So if you’re on a multi-day hiking or camping trip, the Solar can keep going much longer than the standard model.

If maximizing battery life is your priority, the Instinct Solar is the clear winner. But keep in mind, the standard Instinct still has respectable battery runtimes for a full-featured GPS watch.

Also Read: Comparison Between Garmin Lily And Venu.


Both watches have the key ABC sensors – altimeter, barometer and compass. You also get built-in sports apps for running, biking, swimming, skiing, rowing, yoga and more.

Garmin Instinct Solar
Garmin Instinct Solar

The Instinct Solar has a few additional sensors not found on the standard model. These include:

  • Pulse Ox – Measures your blood oxygen saturation levels. Useful for altitude acclimation and sleep monitoring.
  • sunrise/sunset times – The Instinct Solar shows you sunrise and sunset times for your location. Handy when you’re camping or hiking and want to plan outdoor time.
  • UV exposure – The Solar provides a UV monitor to see your sun exposure throughout the day. It offers guidance on when to apply sunscreen based on UV index.

While nice to have, these extra sensors aren’t essential. But they do add some extra outdoor-focused functionality to the Solar edition.

Smart Features

Both the Instinct and Instinct Solar connect with your phone to deliver notifications, weather updates, sync data to the Garmin Connect app and more.

You can also use connected GPS on your paired smartphone to track activities without wearing down the watch battery. Both watches also have music storage and playback, so you can load songs or playlists to listen without your phone.

The smartwatch features are very similar between the two Instinct models. The Instinct Solar does add support for a few extra apps like flashlight andcalculator. But generally the standard watch has the core smart features most will need.


Visually, the Instinct and Instinct Solar look almost identical. They have the same round watch face (either 27mm or 32mm) in a 45mm polymer case.

The standard Instinct comes in Graphite, Tidal Blue and Flame Red. The Solar is available in Graphite plus Electric Lime and Solar editions.

The bands are interchangeable 22mm QuickFit bands. So you can easily customize the look with different colors and materials. The watches are also compatible with Garmin’s QuickFit watch bands.

Overall, there are minimal physical differences between the Instinct and Solar variants. Choose based on your preferred color options.

Also Read: Is Fitbit Charge 5 Better Than Garmin Vivoactive 4?


As the higher spec model, the Instinct Solar demands a higher price. At launch, it cost $100 more than the standard Instinct.

Here are the current retail prices for these watches:

  • Garmin Instinct: $299.99
  • Garmin Instinct Solar: $399.99

However, it’s relatively easy to find both models discounted, especially the original Instinct. With a sale price, you can find the Instinct for under $200 in some cases. The Instinct Solar tends to sell for around $350.

Overall the Instinct Solar costs around 25-30% more than the standard edition. You’re paying a premium for the extended battery life from solar charging. Determine if that extra battery runtime is worth the higher price tag for your needs.

Garmin Instinct And Instinct Solar: Which Is Better?

So which Instinct wins – the standard or solar model? Here are a few key considerations:

Get the Instinct Solar if:

  • You want maximum battery life, especially for multi-day outdoor excursions off the grid.
  • Having sensors like pulse oximeter, UV and sunrise/sunset times appeal to you.
  • You appreciate the minor smartwatch upgrades like the flashlight and calculator apps.
  • You like the Solar color options – especially the Graphite and Electric Lime combos.
  • You don’t mind paying a bit more for the latest features and battery tech.

Get the Instinct if:

  • You want to spend less money and find a deal on sale prices.
  • The standard 14 day battery life meets your needs.
  • You don’t care about the extra sensors only found on the Solar model.
  • You prefer the design and color options of the original Instinct.
  • You primarily use connected GPS via your phone and don’t need max watch battery life.

Both are excellent rugged outdoor GPS watches. The Instinct Solar takes it a step further with enhanced battery life and a few extra features. But the standard Instinct still packs in great value for more budget-conscious buyers.

Ultimately it comes down to your budget and how much extra battery life you really need. For hardcore adventurers who regularly go off the grid, the Solar is likely worth the investment. More casual users can probably get by just fine with the standard Instinct to save some money.

Also watch this about Instinct Solar!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is the Instinct Solar better than the Instinct?

The Instinct Solar is an upgraded model with noticeably better battery life thanks to solar charging. It also offers a few extra sensors and features. So for outdoor use, the Solar is the preferable watch. However, the standard Instinct is no slouch, and still offers ample battery life for most people’s needs.

Is the solar version of the Garmin Instinct worth it?

For hardcore outdoors enthusiasts who need longer battery life off the grid, the solar version is likely worth the higher price. If you frequently do multi-day backpacking trips and want GPS tracking without charging, the solar advantage is extremely beneficial. For more casual users, the standard model is probably sufficient.

What is the difference between Garmin Instinct Solar and Instinct 2?

The Instinct 2 is Garmin’s newest generation Instinct watch announced in 2022. Compared to the Instinct Solar, the Instinct 2 has a touchscreen, updated HR sensor, new dual-band GPS, and multi-band support. It also adds built-in sports apps, a clearer display and more internal memory.
However, the Instinct Solar still has better battery life. Overall, the Instinct 2 is the newer, more advanced watch, but the Instinct Solar remains an excellent outdoor option.

What is the difference between Garmin solar and standard watches?

Garmin’s solar charging watches have Power Glass lenses that convert sunlight into energy to extend battery life. This allows solar models like the Instinct Solar to run much longer between charges compared to standard Garmin watches without solar charging.
Solar models also tend to include extra sensors and features such as pulse ox, sunrise/sunset data, UV monitoring and more.

Also Read: Comparison Between Suunto And Coros.


The Garmin Instinct and Instinct Solar are two of the best GPS watches for outdoor sports and exploration. With its military grade durability and long battery life, the Solar certainly stands out as the more capable model. But the standard Instinct gets you much of the core functionality for less cost.

Take a close look at your needs, budget and expectations for wearable tech in the wild. Analyze if the upgrades are worthwhile for how you actually plan to use a sports watch. This will help you determine if the Instinct or Instinct Solar is the right fit for your next adventure.

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