Garmin Instinct vs. Garmin fenix: Which is right for you?

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro (Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Instinct

Garmin Instinct

Whether you're a casual explorer, a first-time buyer, or a budget shopper, the Garmin Instinct is an incredible smartwatch for outdoor enthusiasts. There are a few different models to choose from, depending on your needs. This is the best choice for those who want an affordable GPS smartwatch designed for rugged adventures.

Garmin Instinct

Casual exploring

Activity/sleep tracking
TracBack Routing
Affordable price tag
Multiple design options
No advanced training metrics
Lacks NFC for Garmin Pay

Garmin fenix

Fenix 6

If you're used to spending a lot of time outdoors and you'd benefit from a premium multisport GPS smartwatch, a Garmin fenix model is the way to go. It's certainly more expensive, but it's made for advanced users who want more from their wearable. If you can get past the hefty price tag, it's going to fulfill all of your fitness tracking dreams.

Garmin fenix

Serious adventuring

Activity/sleep tracking
Advanced training metrics
Power Manager
Incident detection
Insanely expensive
Only a few design options

Garmin Instinct vs. Garmin fenix: Choose your adventure

If you're an outdoor enthusiast, you'll be glad to know there are plenty of Android smartwatches that can fit right in with your adventurous lifestyle. The Garmin Instinct and Garmin fenix watches are two options you should consider. Each series offers a few different models, so it'll be easy to find a match for your needs.

We'll be comparing the two standard models from each series: the Garmin Instinct and Garmin fenix 6. The higher up you go in each series, the more features you get (and the more you'll pay). With that in mind, the Garmin Instinct models are much more affordable than any of the Garmin fenix models. However, serious adventurers who need premium features may be willing to spend more money to get a more advanced model within the fenix series.

Dive into activity tracking with the Garmin Instinct

Garmin Instinct Hero

Source: Garmin (Image credit: Source: Garmin)

While there are several different fitness smartwatches to choose from, the Garmin Instinct is an ideal place to start if you're a beginner. So let's start with the basics. All of the Garmin Instinct models come in a sturdy 45mm case that's rated for military-grade durability with 10ATM water resistance.

You get a sunlight-visible two-window display. Keep in mind that you get a monochrome display with the Garmin Instinct, so no colors. The dual-screen design features a small sub-screen that lets you view additional stats, which are crisp and easy to read. The Garmin Instinct models are compatible with the company's 22mm QuickFit bands.

For the Garmin Instinct, Garmin Instinct Tactical, and Garmin Instinct Esports, the battery life is the same across the board. You'll get 14 days in smartwatch mode, 16 hours in GPS mode, and 40 hours in UltraTrac mode. If you're not familiar, Garmin's UltraTrac mode decreases the update rate of GPS data to once per minute. This allows users to enjoy longer battery life while in GPS mode.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Garmin InstinctGarmin Fenix 6
Display0.9 x 0.9 inches two-window display1.3-inch transflective display
Dimensions45 x 45 x 15.3mm, 52g47 x 47 x 14.7mm, 57g
SensorsGPS, GLONASS, Galileo, heart rate monitor, altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, thermometerGPS, GLONASS, Galileo, heart rate monitor, altimeter, compass, gyroscope, Pulse Ox, accelerometer, thermometer
Battery lifeSmartwatch mode: up to 14 daysGPS mode: up to 16 hoursUltraTrac mode: up to 40 hoursSmartwatch mode: up to 14 daysBattery saver mode: up to 48 daysGPS mode: up to 36 hours
Power manager✔️
Garmin Pay✔️
Incident detection✔️

If you opt for the Garmin Instinct Solar edition, the Camo and Surf models offer better battery life. You get 24 days in smartwatch mode or 54 days with solar. The Battery Saver Watch mode offers 56 days or unlimited battery life with solar. The GPS mode gives you 30 hours or 38 hours with solar. Additionally, Expedition GPS Activity mode can last for 28 days or 68 days with solar charging. The Garmin Instinct Solar models start approaching Garmin fenix territory as far as price is concerned, so that's something to keep in mind.

When it comes to features, the Garmin Instinct offers many of the essentials. You'll have built-in GPS, heart-rate monitoring, activity/sleep tracking, built-in sports apps, and stress monitoring. As you navigate your outdoor adventures, you'll appreciate the ABC sensors: an altimeter for elevation data, a barometer to monitor weather, and a three-axis electronic compass.

The Garmin Instinct will take you back to your starting point with TracBack Routing.

The Garmin Instinct will take you back to your starting point with TracBack Routing. When you're finished with your journey, you can use this feature to navigate the same route back to your activity starting point. During the activity, press GPS on your watch, then press back to start, and select TracBack. This will take you back on the same route you took to get there. Alternatively, you can press Straight Line to travel back to your starting point in a straight line.

You'll also have the option to pair your Garmin Instinct with select inReach devices, which will allow you to view and send messages, receive weather alerts, and trigger an SOS to the 24/7 emergency response team. These devices are sold separately and require a satellite subscription service, so you'll have to decide if these perks are worth it. You can also pair your Garmin instinct with Astro and Alpha dog devices to receive dog status updates and alerts.

The Garmin Instinct is also compatible with the company's Explore app, which provides you with an off-grid navigation solution and downloadable maps. This is especially useful when there's no service available in the area you're exploring. As a result, you'll be able to easily plan, navigate, and review your next great adventure before you head out.

Enjoy more features with the Garmin fenix

Considering the significantly higher price tag for a Garmin fenix model, you want to make sure that it has the features you need. When you compare the fenix 6 and fenix 5, you might not notice any major differences at first. They offer similar designs and battery life, after all.

While these two models are indeed similar, a few differences make the fenix 6 more appealing. The successor offers NFC for Garmin Pay, Power Manager to help you extend battery life, Pulse Ox for blood oxygen tracking, and PacePro technology that keeps you on pace with grade-adjusted guidance while you're running. If these features aren't mighty important to you, you'll save some money by opting for the fenix 5 over the fenix 6.

This multisport GPS smartwatch was built with durability in mind. The standard model comes in a sturdy silver 47mm case and an attractive stainless steel bezel. You also get a large 1.3-inch transflective color display that offers flawless sunlight visibility. It's also compatible with the company's 22mm QuickFit bands. If you want something smaller, a Garmin fenix 6S model comes in a 42mm case.

The Garmin fenix 6 provides daily suggested workouts based on your current training load and training status.

As far as the standard tracking features, the Garmin fenix 6 offers built-in GPS, activity/sleep tracking, heart-rate monitoring, stress tracking, blood oxygen monitoring, and more. When you're looking for more insight, you'll appreciate the advanced training metrics. Some examples include training status, training load, training effect, recovery time, and ClimbPro. The Garmin fenix 6 provides daily suggested workouts based on your current training load and training status.

The standard Garmin fenix 6 has a lot to offer, but if you want a model with full-color maps with turn-by-turn navigation and animated on-screen workouts, you might want to upgrade to a Pro or Sapphire model instead. With that said, the Garmin fenix 6 is a wonderful mid-range option for those who don't need the extra perks. Thanks to the advanced training metrics you get, it's also one of the best running watches.

Garmin Instinct vs. Garmin fenix: Which is right for you?

Garmin Instinct

Source: Garmin (Image credit: Source: Garmin)

Both of these Garmin smartwatches have a lot to offer. While there are some similarities between the two, they cater to different users. Those who are starting to track their adventures for the first time might be most interested in finding something that's affordable and easy to use. In this case, the Garmin Instinct is a solid option. You won't have to spend a fortune, and you'll get a great set of features for tracking your outdoor experiences.

The Garmin Instinct is a good starting point, but if you're a bit more advanced, you might be willing to spend more for a better watch. Not only do you get a more premium design, but you get even more features for an enhanced tracking experience. If you'd benefit from advanced training metrics and other extras such as Garmin Pay, Power Manager, and blood oxygen tracking, you'll likely prefer the Garmin fenix.

Courtney Lynch

Courtney Lynch is a freelance writer at Android Central. She's obsessed with all things health, fitness, and music. At any given time, she can be found checking out the latest and greatest gadgets while simultaneously petting her dog and sipping iced coffee.