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Garmin Instinct 2S Solar review

12 Apr 2022

A rugged, solar charging sports watch with excellent battery life and functionality

Cyclist Rating: 
Records lots of data • Nice size • Excellent battery life • Perfect for an expedition • Optional backlight
Appearance doesn’t suit every social situation

The Garmin Instinct 2S Solar is a no-frills multi-sport watch, with a high contrast black and white screen.

It is very functional, recording and displaying all the metrics you’d expect and a few you wouldn't: all the usual health stats, sleep monitoring, VO2 max estimates, weather, timers and alarms, options to get smart notifications, Garmin’s Body Battery, Garmin pay, maps… the list of capabilities the Instinct 2S Solar packs in is extensive.

I found the Instinct 2S easy to use, very helpful for training with really great data points and excellent battery life. It is a great price for the level of tech, and I am not one fussed about maps, so for me the Instinct 2S is near perfect.

Garmin Instinct 2S Solar: Unique features

The sports watch market is saturated. Even looking at Garmin’s own watch roster, with the new Fenix 7 and the similarly priced Garmin Forerunner 745, there’s a lot of choice and that’s before considering competitors such as the Polar Grit X Pro and the Coros Apex.

For one, this watch is as tough as those rugged side buttons make it look.

Overall, it feels like a hardy expedition watch which in my view wouldn’t be out of place in an army training environment, an ultra-endurance cycling race or even something like 10-day hike through the Gobi Desert.

It is also solar powered, so when you are out in the aforementioned desert, charging shouldn’t be a major issue, given I tracked an activity on the watch six days a week and battery life lasted over two weeks. And that’s without much sunshine.

The Garmin Instinct 2S Solar is also versatile in terms of what in can track. It isn’t a watch just for cycling or running or hiking; it will record a multi-day expedition, a triathlon, a kayaking session, a day out on a boat, fishing, golf, and one I am not the biggest fan of, even a hunt.

The point is that the Instinct 2S should have something for everyone. And it’s fun. Just look at that funky colour.

Plus the design reminds me of the days that Baby-G watches stole teenage girls’ hearts.

One thing I should mention is that the Instinct 2S offers storm notifications. This means that should a storm be approaching, the watch will buzz and let you know. Thank you Storm Eunice for helping me test that out.

It is a neat if slightly useless feature for a Londoner like me, but I’d rather have it and not need it than vice versa.

Garmin Instinct 2S Solar: Size

A major selling point of the Instinct 2S is that it is smaller than Garmin’s other adventure watches but the brand says this is achieved with no impact on performance.

The watch pictured is the Instinct 2S Solar size 40mm, which I found to be a really nice size on my wrist. It also comes in 45mm. Other Garmin watches tend to be larger, the Fenix 7 models range from 42mm to 51mm.

I found it light, straightforward to use and the screen is easy to read even though the display is black and white.

I definitely wouldn’t want anything bigger.

The pictured Instinct 2S Solar is a standard edition in neo tropic (turquoise/green), but this watch also comes in black and silver.

The options expand should you choose a different version of the Instinct 2S. Variants such as the Camo, Tactical, Surf and Dezl (specifically for truck drivers) versions have a larger range of colour options.

Garmin Instinct 2S Solar: Cycling-specific features

Whilst there are a host of activities to choose from, what is notable about the Instinct 2S is that it has options for a range of different cycling disciplines.

There’s specific profiles for road, gravel, MTB, e-MTB, commuting, indoor, triathlon, e-bike, cyclocross and bike touring.

So whatever I was looking to track, the Instinct 2S Solar was likely to be able to cater for it.

The watch has integrated maps and a course tool which I did find useful when out riding, but to get the most out of the navigation tools I found I wanted a bigger or more high-res colour display to show the all-important finer details.

A dedicated bike computer is better in this respect, but the Instinct 2S Solar does a good enough job given its size and multi-sport remit.

The Instinct 2S will cover you for nearly every sport. I am not joking when I say nearly, because korfball (and you thought e-MTB was niche) isn’t include and neither is rugby or tennis.

If it is feasibly trackable, then it’s going to be on the watch. For all others, the ‘cardio’ profile is a non-specific but still-useful option.

There’s also Expedition mode, which lets the user record a multi-day activity and reduces the need to charge the watch. This mode turns off all unnecessary sensors and accessories in order to conserve battery life and track points are recorded once every hour by default.

Consequently, the Instinct 2S Solar is a watch I would feel very safe and comfortable wearing in the depths of the wilderness.

Another obscure function is Tactical mode, which I found intriguing. Essentially it will track location via GPS, elevation changes and display the user’s current coordinates in two coordinate systems.

I can’t say I have had much use for this (except one explained further down) but it does make me feel tough knowing that this watch could be used by the military.

Garmin Instinct 2S Solar: Personalised training

I found that one of the most useful elements of the Instinct 2S Solar was its recommended training element.

The watch suggested training rides and runs based on my data.

I found this beneficial as I tend to wander outside and head off without much of a plan, so having a suggestion for a ride or a run was genuinely useful.

For instance, I am currently packing in a few runs a week for a race in July, but it feels far away so I haven’t quite got a rigid training schedule going just yet.

Instead, I am benefiting from choosing ‘trail run’ or ‘run’ and seeing what the watch suggests I do. So far these have been endurance runs, recovery runs, intervals and even my favourite, rest.

The user can also create workouts on the app and upload them to the device, which is a common feature on most sport watches.

Garmin Instinct 2S Solar: Battery life

When the sun shines you will rarely need to charge the Instinct 2S Solar. As the name suggests, the watch has the capacity to solar charge.

I could also flick through the on-screen menu and see at what points of the day I benefitted from solar charging, and a personal favourite of mine was that I could configure the watch face to display sunrise and sunset.

Even when the sun didn’t shine, I didn’t need to charge the watch very often.

The Instinct 2S holds battery life for a long time. I have found that this has been on average around 16 days, and that’s with tracking some sort of activity six days a week.

Obviously if using some energy sapping apps would negatively affect battery life, but I didn’t find they ever reduced it that much.

Even when I mistakenly recorded a six hour ‘tactical’ session (which was really a Sake Brewery tour and beer drinking escapade), battery life was cut down by only a few days.

Plus, when the Instinct 2S Solar needs a charge, it will buzz a few times and will ask to go into power saving mode.

It’s all rather courteous and polite.

And whilst on the topic of illumination, a feature I really like is the optional backlight.

The backlight isn’t sensor-operated, which is a total breath of fresh air from the Garmin Vivoactive 4S I have until now been a devout wearer of.

After years of rolling over in bed and being blinded by its backlight, it is refreshing to have the choice and only need to press a side button to see the time.

Garmin Instinct 2S vs Garmin Fenix 7 Solar vs Garmin Forerunner 745

Garmin’s other newest launch is the Fenix 7 Solar which is a touchscreen adventure watch and costs around twice the price at £689.99.

The main difference is the display, with the Fenix 7 offering a colour display, which makes the Fenix 7 offer considerable better mapping capabilities especially when looking for details like elevation profiles.

The software for mapping and navigation is also more advanced on the Fenix 7, and it comes in three sizes: Fenix 7S at 42mm, Fenix 7 at 47mm, and Fenix 7X at 51mm, compared to the Instinct’s 40mm and 45mm.

However the Instinct wins with the longer battery life, with Garmin claiming a typical 18 days with the Fenix 7 but 21 days for the Instinct 2S.

In a similar price bracket lies the Garmin Forerunner 745 at £399.99 which Garmin says is made for runners and triathletes.

The Forerunner has a better screen resolution but the Instinct comes out top in battery life, GPS, waterproof rating, and I think it is a more versatile watch, especially for those who like an adventure and other sports.

Garmin Instinct 2S Solar: Verdict

Clearly, there is a lot of tech packed into the Instinct 2S Solar. Sometimes I wonder if the user can ever have too much tech – but in this case I think the Instinct 2S is just right, like the baby bear’s porridge.

The Garmin Instinct 2S Solar costs £389.99, which makes it one of the more affordable watches in Garmin’s extensive range. And the level of functionality on offer makes it good value in my opinion.

I like the watch enough to not want to take it off, and herein lies one of the only real issues I have with it.

Wearing it to social events makes me feel a little silly as it looks distinctively like an expedition watch with its rugged outer casing. And in the colour I’ve been wearing, it certainly isn’t subtle. 

But even that doesn’t put me off. This is a fantastic watch for the adventurous that I would highly recommend. 

  • Buy the Garmin Instinct 2S Solar now from Garmin (£389.99)

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