Hannah MitchellBASE Digital Writer Hannah is a Lake District-based journalist and all-round outdoor lass with a particular fondness for rock faces.
Rugged, reliable and uncomplicated. Like all the best things in life.
The Garmin Instinct Solar 2S offers exceptional battery life owing to its (as the name might suggest) sneaky built-in solar panels which help boost up your battery whilst you enjoy the great outdoors. With tracking for over 40 different sports, the ability to switch modes mid-route and detailed metrics including sleep, stress levels and menstrual tracking, it has a lot to offer in a surprisingly small package.
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51 days battery life in Smartwatch mode with solar, 100m waterproof, GNSS, breadcrumb navigation
Available in smaller size and activity-specific editions
Solar charging for longer battery life
Detailed body metrics
Tough polymer construction
Sporty appearance might not be to everyone’s taste
Takes a little bit of learning how to optimise battery life with GPS usage
What I’m looking for
I’ve said it before: I’m very much a ‘one watch woman’. I’m a climber, hiker, swimmer and sometimes runner, and I’ll have a crack at most other outdoor pursuits if you dare me. Basically, if it involves fresh air – I’m there.
I like a watch I can wear for mini-adventures, big hill days and that I can take down the pub at the end. I don’t profess to being especially fashion-conscious, so an active aesthetic suits me just fine.
Being a relative newcomer to the smart watch world, I value ease of use and simplicity. I have a pretty low tolerance threshold for lengthy installation and synching when it comes to smartwatches and the like, and I want my devices and apps to communicate with minimal input from me, so that I can spend more time doing fun stuff – and tracking it!
I want my watch to be rugged and ready to take a few bashes and drops (because it will inevitably connect with a rock face, quite probably at speed, at some point).
So the initial big tick for me upon unboxing the Instinct 2S Solar was the size. The watch comes in two sizes, with the smaller version being the 2S. I have relatively slim wrists and don’t like anything bulky or heavy, so the 40mm case size and 43g weight of the 2S suits me down to the ground. To get into the finer detail, it’s 13.3mm in depth, which feels surprisingly flush owing to the smaller case size, and will fit wrists with a circumference of anything between 112-180mm.
Now, looks. I mentioned that I’m not especially fashion-conscious, but as a youngster I lusted after Casio’s Baby-G watch – the ultimate over-priced status symbol of the 90’s cool kid – needless to say, I never got one. Unboxing the Instinct 2S Solar, it’s hard not to be reminded of those sought-after sports watches of the time, except this is like a grown-up version with, I suspect, a whole lot more to offer. Maybe I’m finally cool.
The rugged but relatively compact casing feels immediately durable, and the silicone strap is fully adjustable for a snug fit. The watch I tested is a clean, neutral Mist Grey colour, though there are a number of other shades available depending on the edition (the Instinct 2 comes in activity-specific editions for surfers, special forces and truckers respectively, and the new 2X version has even better solar-charging capabilities owing to its Power Glass™ lens). The screen is monochrome, sunlight-visible, 156 x 156 pixels, and the watch has five push-buttons to operate it.
Setting it up is fairly straightforward. I download the Garmin Connect app on my phone and go through the usual account creation process, pair the app up with my watch via bluetooth and a code that appears on the watch screen. You’ve got all the usual connectivity you’d expect, including receiving all your phone notifications on your wrist (though I can’t imagine anything worse, so immediately opted out of that one) and Garmin Pay. The app guides you through key features and prompts you to enter your stats and favourite activities. At this point you can also link up to Strava – in less than ten minutes I’m ready to go.
The app guides you through key features and prompts you to enter your stats and favourite activities. At this point you can also link up to Strava – in less than ten minutes I’m ready to go.
I’ve been using this watch almost every day for around three months now, in conditions ranging from glorious sunshine to howling winds and sideways rain, tentatively beginning by swapping out my phone for the watch alone on my local 5 and 10k running routes to get a handle on its functions. Being lucky enough to live in one of the country’s most beautiful and brilliant adventure playgrounds, every minute I’m not furiously typing away at my laptop tends to be spent soaking up the outdoors in whatever way I can. I’ve taken the Instinct 2S Solar for multiple open water swims, on single day and overnight hikes, multipitch mountain routes and laidback dog walks on the local fells.
I even gave this watch a run for its money on a canoe jaunt and guided MTB trail in the Brecon Beacons as part of a Garmin adventure weekend, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of how it performs during different activities. Most recently it accompanied me on the Fjällräven Classic, a 65km, three day thru-hike of the Cairngorms, but more on that later.
I’ve never been one for sleeping with a watch on, but in the name of a fair and in-depth review, I’ve even been wearing my watch to bed in order to monitor my sleep, which helps to inform Garmin’s Body Battery metrics.
Who is this watch for?
The Instinct 2S Solar is an entry level-ish addition to the smart watch world with its simplicity of use, unpretentious functionality and display and active aesthetic. That said, it’s not to be underestimated! There are over 40 different sports to track and the ability to switch between activities mid-route and track continuously. For example, you can track your walk-in to a mountain crag in hike mode, rack up and switch to climb mode to record ascent and descent, then revert back to hike for the walk back out. It’s certainly one for the triathletes, or perhaps just the Jack Of All Trades.
Solar charging is perhaps this watch’s biggest USP, but of course you have to actually spend time in the sun for it to be a useful feature. With that in mind, it’s perhaps rather obviously suited to those who spend plenty of time outdoors. Extensive health and fitness metrics are another appealing asset, there’s even a menstrual tracking widget for the Garmin Connect app that can be loaded onto your watch. Obviously this isn’t for everyone, but I’m pretty psyched to see this previously overlooked but incredibly influential factor in training finally being a feature on smart watches. It’s a big tick for people who have periods!
The thermal and shock resistant, fibre-reinforced polymer case and chemically strengthened, scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass mean that it’s a good choice for people who don’t take any prisoners when it comes to their gear. If you’re after something a bit shiny, chic and stylish in a watch, the outdoorsy, active appearance of the Instinct 2S Solar might not be for you.
The Instinct 2S Solar is an entry level-ish addition to the smart watch world with its simplicity of use, unpretentious functionality and display and active aesthetic.
What Stands out?
Mapping and navigation
You can create and pre-load your own routes through the Connect app, but mapping on the Instinct 2S Solar is quite basic in its monochrome display, which undoubtedly helps with the extensive battery life. It offers convenient turn-by-turn navigation without the need to stop running, and has a back-to-start function for when you need to beat a quick retreat. Personally, I wouldn’t ever rely solely on GPS to navigate unfamiliar territory, and will typically have a map stashed on longer or more challenging routes anyway. In my case the standard of mapping is fine, but if you tend to be more reliant on your wristwear or like a more extensive and colourful display, you’re definitely going to want a more advanced model. I found the tracking to be surprisingly accurate in the water, although it went a little bit awry whilst climbing on vertical terrain!
Many, many metrics
It might not be for everyone, but the extensive metrics recorded with consistent wear are a great aid if like me, you’re not especially regimented with your training and have a tendency to ignore the signs of fatigue. Keeping an eye on my sleep scores, stress, body battery and suggested recovery times have made me more acutely aware of when it’s time to rest and ultimately optimise my productivity for the next session.
The mental and physical benefits of menstrual tracking are becoming increasingly better understood, and with that, people’s ability to actually capitalise on training and rest according to their hormonal fluctuations. I’ve been tracking my cycle for almost four years now using an app on my phone, but the ability to see this data on my wrist alongside my other metrics has given me a much-needed nudge to pay greater attention to how my cycle pertains to performance.
The clue is in the name. The Instinct 2S Solar has clever, built-in solar panels on its face that mean that it has an unlimited battery life – with a couple of caveats. According to Garmin, unlimited battery is based on all-day wear in Battery Saver or Smart Watch modes, with at least 3 hours per day outside in 50,000 lux conditions. In GPS mode with solar you can expect up to 48 hours of battery and in Max Battery GPS mode, up to 370 hours. You can keep an eye on your solar stats too, so you know if you’re likely to need a bit of extra charge from a power source (or an excuse to spend more time outside).
There is also an Expedition GPS mode which allows for unlimited battery with solar – something I wish I’d clued myself up on before embarking on the aforementioned UK Fjällräven Classic! This is where I’d recommend spending a bit of time familiarising yourself with the GPS settings and their respective battery life, otherwise, you too might find your watch needlessly flatlining on you just hours from the finish line of your multi-day hike.
Small and Mighty
A low-ish profile and smaller size make this comfy enough for even this slim-wristed light sleeper to wear all day and night. Whilst I’m still not converted to wearing a watch whilst climbing because of the potential for snagging on features and gear, it is fairly unobtrusive and feels tough enough to tolerate an impact with the rock!
Value for Money
In today’s economic climate, you might be loath to contemplate spending £389.99 (£299.99 is the lowest I have found online) on a watch that doesn’t have a colour screen. You’d be forgiven for thinking that at first glance, the Instinct 2S Solar is a little bit overpriced for what it’s offering. However, I firmly believe that what this watch lacks in flash it more than makes up for in battery life, activities, functions and metrics. The durability of the watch make it feel like it’s going to last a long, long time, and I for one am quite happy for its tough, utilitarian looks. After four months of constant wear, there isn’t a scratch on the screen.
The Instinct 2S Solar gets my vote for value, once you delve into what it actually has to offer.
BASE Bottom Line
The display isn’t fancy, and the maps are basic but sharp and clear, with reliable GPS tracking via GLONASS and Galileo satellites, extensive and often intriguing metrics, trustworthy navigation and activities catered for from XC skiing to fishing and yoga. If you’re not already au fait with Garmin products, take five minutes to familiarise yourself with the the watch’s interface and functions before you set off, and get clued up on the GPS settings to really get the best from your battery.
Suited to always-on-the-go, multi-disciplinary folk who value simplicity of use, extensive activity options and aren’t too fussed about sleek aesthetics, the Instinct 2S Solar has a lot to offer in a neat, nifty little package.
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