If you're looking for a smartwatch that uses renewable energy while tracking essential metrics, consider the Garmin Instinct 2S Solar Watch. Garmin keeps pumping out multi-sport and running watches that leave the competition scrambling to keep up. The Garmin Instinct 2S Solar is a 2022 update to the Instinct line, which came out in 2018. From the get go, I found that the 2S Solar shines when it comes to tracking every activity of the complete outdoors person, and it has some definite perks like pace, cadence, and workout suggestions that enhance training sessions too.

I’m a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)-certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. Much of my work revolves around writing about health, fitness, and nutrition, but I also consult with private clients to develop fitness and nutrition plans. Because I’m training for my first half marathon, I wanted a watch that could do more than track my runs to help improve my overall fitness. The Garmin Instinct 2S Solar is the first Garmin watch I’ve used, but I’m not new to fitness trackers and watches. I’m always looking for tools to help my clients reach their fitness goals (as well as myself), so I put this watch to the test.

What is the Garmin Instinct 2S Solar?

Specs:

Case Size: 40 mm
Weight: 43 grams
Memory: 32 MB
Battery Life: 28 days (smartwatch), 65 days (battery-saver mode), 30 hours (GPS), 70 hours (max battery GPS mode), 32 days (expedition GPS activity)
Abnormal Heart Rate Alert: Low and high
Sensors: GPS, Glonass, Galileo
Incident Detection: Notifies authorized contacts if it detects an accident

Garmin’s Instinct line hit the market in 2018, but the Instinct 2S Solar is a smaller 40 mm solar version (compared to the 45 mm Instinct 2 Solar) and a 2022 update of the Garmin Instinct 2. The Instinct 2S Solar is lighter and more durable than the already rugged original Instinct, however, the smaller 40-mm case doesn’t visibly overpower smaller wrists like mine. This model, like previous Instinct watches, is also reminiscent of a classic sports watch with the perforated band and manual buttons to control features. 

Beyond weight and size, the Instinct 2S Solar’s screen brightness beats out most of the competition. While the Pacific Northwest didn’t provide me with many sunny days in my month of testing, the screen brightness made it easy to see under just about any lighting conditions.

First Impressions

The Instinct 2S Solar needs a charge right out of the box using a proprietary charger, but charges fully within two to four hours. Garmin uses two apps, Garmin IQ and Garmin Connect, to access all of the watch’s features. While the Garmin Connect app was super easy to use, the Garmin IQ app was a little less so. 

The Garmin IQ app is where you can browse and add faces, widgets, and apps to customize the watch to your preferred uses. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to sort through the faces, apps, or widgets based on the watch model and I spent an inordinate amount of time browsing through all the options. Many of these extras are compatible with the 2S Solar, but it would have been easier if I could have searched based on the watch model rather than searching through the app or watch face’s individual description to check compatibility.  

Rugged Design

Everything about this watch screams “sports watch.” I’m okay with that, but it’s not the kind of design that blends seamlessly in the office. The thick but lightweight case can take a serious beating without showing a scratch. I wore it 24/7 while camping, which involved more than a few bumps (and bruises for me), and the watch was no worse for wear. I also mowed the lawn, split and stacked firewood, cut brush, cleaned the house, and everything in between, and there’s not a knick or scratch on it. It’s not sleek, but it can definitely withstand some serious hits and still look good. 

I love the 2S Solar’s solar charging, and its battery life is beyond impressive. I’ve used Apple watches that required daily charging, which is a pain. This Garmin’s battery life and solar charging are so much more convenient. In theory, it has unlimited battery life, but that’s a bit of an exaggeration. It can run solely on solar power if it’s in battery saver mode and you’re in high solar intensity conditions (not so much the case for my Pacific Northwest conditions).

That said, you still get a full 30 hours using the GPS and 65 days on battery-saver mode. On my four-day camping trip, the battery lasted with some to spare, even though I tested its features quite extensively out there, having tracked my location on a hike and used the compass to get my bearings while on top of a ridge. 

Our campsite was in a remote location, but that didn’t pose a problem for acquiring a satellite lock. Garmin uses three satellites, so your chances of getting a lock are pretty good most of the time. This is definitely a watch for outdoor adventures like hunting, backpacking, and skiing, where navigation help can be a literal life-saver. If you lean heavily toward a particular activity, the Instinct 2S has you covered, coming in several versions like standard, camo, tactical, surf, and Dezl (designed for truck drivers).

The Workouts

My workouts consisted mostly of running and strength training with some yoga, pilates, and random cardio thrown in. The 2S Solar performed beautifully for run tracking, route guidance, and workout suggestions, keeping up with my regime. You can also load training plans through Garmin’s trainers for events like a half or full marathon, which was particularly useful for me. It suggested interval workouts, base runs, and speed training based on my workout history, and recovery suggestions also followed each workout, varying from eight to 72 hours. The app also continually reminded me that I do too many high-intensity workouts, encouraging low-intensity workouts to avoid injury and burnout.

The navigation features were a huge help during workouts. I loaded preset courses picked by the Garmin Connect app and courses I could customize by entering them into the app. Once loaded onto the watch, it guided me while I ran. The Instinct 2S Solar only failed once when it tried to guide me through a parking lot  that wasn’t open to the public (the watch read it as a street), but it made up for this error when it made course corrections and rerouted me. This ensured I got the right distances in spite of the diversion and would be a big help if you were running a race or in unfamiliar territory. That said, the Instinct 2S Solar did better with simple custom courses rather than complicated ones with lots of turns and switchbacks. 

I found activity tracking less useful when doing activities like yoga and strength training. With strength training, for example, you’re supposed to press a button every time you change exercises and press a different button to restart the clock when you start the next exercise. There I was in the gym doing a superset and I’m supposed to remember to click a button when I’m switching from bench press to push ups. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I had the same issue with yoga and pilates, where I was supposed to click a button each time I changed poses or moves. I’d be in the middle of my yoga flow and I couldn’t reach my watch while transitioning from downward facing dog to chaturanga without breaking my poses (and my nose when I’d inevitably fall on my face). Eventually, I set it to strength training or yoga and didn’t bother to press the button when I changed exercises or finished my reps. 

One feature it lacks that would be nice is automatic activity detection, like my Fitbit Inspire 2 has. While the Instinct 2S Solar occasionally thinks I’m swimming when I fold laundry, the watch does a good job of tracking my major activities without me having to press anything. This feature would  bring the Instinct 2S Solar to another level of intuitiveness because there were a few times I forgot to start tracking. You can manually add activities, but auto recognition is a tough convenience to give up. 

Tracking Health Metrics

Accuracy is always a top concern when it comes to health metrics with any smartwatch or fitness tracker. The Instinct 2S Solar let me keep an eye on my pace, distance, and (incredibly accurate) heart rate during my runs. It made workout suggestions to improve my VO2 max which it calculated for me, however as a personal trainer, I have to point out that you need specialized equipment to get a true VO2 max. The Instinct 2S Solar’s estimate gave me a good picture of my overall health and fitness, but I wouldn’t get too stuck on the number because accuracy is difficult to measure. The 2S Solar was pretty spot on for my heart rate, cadence, distance, and altitude gained or lost. I’ve often been frustrated by my Fitbit’s inaccuracy with my resting heart rate, whereas the Garmin was almost always spot on. 

That said, there were definitely some circumstances where I found the watch was less accurate for steps and distance, mostly when I was on the treadmill. There’s a specific setting for treadmill runs, but the watch didn’t accurately count my steps or my distance even after calibrating it with the treadmill. My basic Fitbit did better for my treadmill runs, though the 2S Solar far outperformed on the open road and trail. 

Step counting was another frustration, as the watch would occasionally miscount or not count at all, depending on the movement. For example, it counted zero steps when I mowed the lawn even though my heart rate got up to 130. If I carried the mail while walking, it couldn’t register those steps. As a goal-oriented person, a watch that missed steps was frustrating. 

Speaking of goals, the 2S Solar’s customization features are perfect for personally tailoring the watch to your fitness goals. I preloaded my most common exercises to show up on my “favorites” list so they were quicker and faster to track. There are widgets and apps for cycling, hiking, hunting, weightlifting, fishing, and a whole lot more so you can customize the watch to specific sports or activities. I picked a stats-heavy watch face and then customized the placement of each app and widget on the face so I could easily monitor my preferred stats — heart rate, distance, and steps. I further customized the watch through the Garmin Connect app, where I could set and track fitness goals as well as check out workout suggestions. 

The Instinct 2S Solar’s customization options are definitely a strength, BUT all of the customization options can make it difficult to use right out of the box. Everything is operated and adjusted using five manual buttons rather than a more user-friendly touchscreen. They’re easier to use when you’re working out and have sweaty, clumsy fingers, but scrolling through all of the menus with buttons made my tennis elbow flare.  

Who Should Buy It?

The Garmin Instinct 2S Solar would be great for active people who frequently vary their workouts and activities. The watch can keep up with almost everything you throw at it, from swimming in open water to rowing on a machine in the gym. Hunters, fishermen, and surfers who may need extra navigation features will also appreciate this watch. The built-in compass, altimeter, and barometric information give you insight into conditions in real-time. It also does an excellent job of connecting to satellites for navigation purposes. 

The Instinct 2S Solar is also a good choice for athletes who want to use their watch for navigation or to get training pointers and tips. You can monitor heart rate zones, input custom workouts, and get recovery time suggestions to help with many aspects of training. 

Who it’s not for — the casual and single sport athletes. This watch is pricey. If you only do one or two sports, a sport-specific watch will save you money and potentially offer many of the same benefits without the long list of extras you probably won’t use (and save you from tennis elbow flare-ups).

Finding the right screen and settings is difficult, cumbersome, and downright frustrating until you know your way around the watch, which can take a couple of weeks (at least it did for me). It took several runs to figure out how to simply track a run with (or without) GPS. I’d get halfway through my run before realizing the clock hadn’t started (hint: you have to hit the button twice) or that I’d set it to GPS tracking rather than run tracking. At times, all of the extra features felt like too much when all I wanted to do was run and simply keep an eye on distance, time, and pace.

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.


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