Which Garmin Instinct should you buy: Regular, Solar, Tactical, or Esports?

Garmin Instinct Tactical
Garmin Instinct Tactical (Image credit: Garmin)

Best answer: When it comes to choosing a Garmin instinct smartwatch, the standard model will be the best option for most outdoor enthusiasts. If you're looking for additional perks, one of the other models might be more your speed.

Which Garmin Instinct should you buy?

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If you're a fan of wearables, you know that Garmin offers some of the best Android smartwatches out there. However, the company's smartwatch lineup is far from predictable, including the rugged Garmin Instinct models. The Garmin Instinct and Garmin fēnix models are both made for outdoor enthusiasts, but the Instinct models aren't quite as advanced — or expensive. The good news is that the Garmin Instinct models cater to a few different types of users.

If you need a rugged outdoor smartwatch that's ideal for covering basic tracking, the standard Garmin Instinct will do. If endurance and unlimited battery life are of the utmost importance, the Garmin Instinct Solar may be more appealing. If you'd like a few extra features to take your expedition to the next level, the Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition might be just what you're looking for. If you've got a competitive nature about you, the Garmin Esports could be the most suitable choice. We've gathered the details on each of these options to help you pick a winner.

Garmin Instinct

Garmin Instinct

(Image credit: Garmin)

Whether you've been adventuring for a while or you've only just discovered your love of the outdoors, the standard Garmin Instinct smartwatch is a great starting point. It covers all the basics that most people are looking for in this watch without being ridiculously expensive. Standard features include built-in GPS, heart-rate monitoring, activity/sleep tracking, built-in sports apps, stress tracking, and smartphone notifications.

There's a lot to say about the Garmin Instinct. When you're out exploring, you can take advantage of features such as course navigation, elevation profiles, and compass mode. You get up to 14 days of battery life in smartwatch mode, up to 16 hours in GPS mode, and up to 40 hours in UltraTrac mode.

The Garmin Instinct comes in a hefty 45mm case, and the watch is compatible with Garmin's QuickFit 22mm interchangeable bands. It's designed to meet military-grade durability standards, including 10 ATM water resistance. You'll appreciate the monochrome sunlight-visible display that's protected with a scratch-resistant lens. The wearable comes with a fully vented silicone band with two removable keeper loops that keep it secure and prevent it from getting caught on things.

It's worth noting that some of the features you might be used to seeing on Garmin smartwatches won't be found on the Garmin Instinct. You won't have bonus perks such as Garmin Pay, Wi-Fi support, onboard music storage, for example. The regular Instinct also lacks VO2 max metrics and blood oxygen monitoring. If you can live without these extras, the Garmin Instinct is an excellent value.

Garmin Instinct Solar

Garmin Instinct Solar

(Image credit: Garmin)

As the name suggests, the Garmin Instinct Solar takes things up a notch with solar charging technology. If you're at all familiar with the Garmin fēnix models, you're probably familiar with the concept of solar charging on your smartwatch. While models like the Garmin fēnix 6 and fēnix 5 may share a lot of features, it's the optional solar charging on the 6 models that sets them apart. You'll find this concept also applies to the Garmin Instinct lineup.

There's a solar version of the Garmin Instinct Tactical model as well. The Solar models are also available in a Camo edition and Surf edition. The only unique thing about the Camo edition is its camouflage design. However, the Surf edition offers surf features, like tide data, that helps you track ocean conditions to catch the perfect wave. You can also record your surfs, including the number of waves surfed, maximum speed reached, and distance traveled. Both the Camo and Surf edition offer solar charging.

On that note, the major difference between the standard models and the solar models is the solar power charging capabilities. The standard smartwatch mode is already impressive, which offers up to 24 days of battery life. That number more than doubles to 54 days when you add solar charging to the mix. Remember that these solar charging figures are based on the assumption that you'll be wearing the watch all day with at least 3 hours spent outdoors in 50,000 lux conditions. You have other battery modes, including Expedition GPS mode that can last for 68 days with solar charging.

With all these new battery modes, it makes sense that you'll also have a convenient power manager available to use. This tells you how certain settings and sensors impact your watch's battery life. You can also make easy changes at a moment's notice to help extend battery life when you're on the go. Unfortunately, you won't find the power manager feature of the other Garmin Instinct models.

You'll notice a theme with the design. The Garmin Instinct Solar also offers military-grade durability and 10 ATM water resistance. It comes in a 45mm case with 22mm interchangeable bands. The chemically strengthened lens is made of Power Glass so that you can count on it to last. It comes in a handful of bold colors. In addition to Graphite, you also get Orchid, Tidal Blue, Sunburst, and Flame Red.

Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition

As for the Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition, it's not exactly overflowing with a whole bunch of extra features, but it may be a worthy upgrade for the right person. In addition to the regular Garmin Instinct features, you also get a Dual Position Format Display, Night Vision mode, Stealth mode, and Jumpmaster mode.

Some of these new features might be self-explanatory, while others deserve a little more context. For example, the Dual-position format feature allows you to simultaneously display two sets of coordinate systems on one screen. As the name indicates, Night Vision mode allows you to adjust your screen's backlight setting to a level that won't interfere with your vision when you use night vision goggles.

When you use the Stealth mode feature, you disable storage and sharing of GPS position and disable wireless connectivity and communication. You can still see your current GPS position, but the locations are not shared or saved to your watch. Finally, Jumpmaster mode includes three jump types: High Altitude-High Opening (HAHO), High Altitude-Low Opening (HALO), and Static. You'll receive information on the speed of descent and altitude.

The Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition doesn't offer anything different in terms of design. It also has military-grade durability, 10 ATM water resistance, and a 45mm case with 22mm interchangeable silicone bands. You'll only get two color options this time: Black and Coyote tan. The battery will last for up to 14 days in smartwatch mode, up to 16 hours in GPS mode, and up to 40 hours in UltraTrac mode.

Garmin Instinct Esports Edition

Garmin Instinct Esports

(Image credit: Garmin)

Right off the bat, it's easy to see that the Garmin Instinct Esports Edition is a very niche smartwatch. Unless you're a competitive gamer, this wearable likely won't pique your interest. The company describes this device as a GPS gaming smartwatch built for victories. You might not be outside exploring the mountains and tackling challenging hiking trails, but the Garmin Instinct Esports Edition won't judge you for that.

While this is definitely a gamer's paradise, you'll still get many of the primary features that are also available on all of the other Garmin Instinct models, including GPS, heart-rate monitoring, activity/sleep tracking, Body Battery, stress monitoring, and so on.

Perhaps the main attraction is the addition of the STR3AMUP! feature, which allows you to broadcast key metrics to your game streams. Start by downloading the app, which will then need to connect to your watch. Remember that your device will need to be in the Esports activity mode, which is essentially another activity profile on your Garmin Instinct smartwatch. Once your watch has paired with your computer, it will transmit three metrics via Bluetooth connectivity: heart rate, stress level, and Body Battery level. Basically, if you want credit for your physical activity during gaming, this is the watch for you.

You might expect some design differences, but this Garmin Instinct model follows the usual trend. So you get the monochrome, sunlight-visible display, a 45mm case with 22mm bands, military-grade durability, and 10 ATM water resistance. The only real difference is that it's only available in one color, which is Black Lava. The battery will last for up to 14 days in smartwatch mode, 80 hours in Esports mode, 16 hours in GPS mode, and 40 hours in UltraTrac mode.

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.