American Outdoor Guide|September 2021
Sean Curtis

We’ve come a long way since the pocket watch.

While society might not be flitting here and there in flying cars (yet), we do have wristwatches that can communicate with multiple satellites and give us our exact location. When GPS made it to the public (á la “Dick Tracy”), the battery life of a watch wasn’t sufficient for such a device to really be considered a viable survival tool.

The folks at Garmin have been cramming valuable features into their watches for a while now. But, with the latest version—the Instinct Solar Tactical Edition—they’ve practically eliminated the ability to get lost for long.

Being a watch enthusiast, I can “get lost” in the faces of some dreamy timepieces. The word, “horophile,” wasn’t recognized when I typed it into this article, but rest assured: To people who love and collect watches, there’s no better term to describe their passion. It’s derived from “horology,” which refers to the science of measuring time or even the art of creating time-measuring devices. I love watches, but I’ve often had to recognize the limitations of those I’ve used over the years.

Standard multiple-sensor watches relied on informing the user of altitude, barometric pressure, and even direction for years, but they required the user to have a decent knowledge of the terrain to maximize the value of that intel.

GPS was a critical upgrade, and it eventually materialized. However, the thought of having to plug in a watch every night or certainly every few days left them out of consideration for many scenarios.

Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t a “Goldilocks” story, in which I want things to be just right; there must be decent battery life for critical functions in order to provide true value.

The more you use nearly any device, and the more complicated the features you use, the more battery drain you experience, and the quicker your device dies.

Out of the Dark

How did Garmin take an already great watch and make it better? Well, it increased the amount of photovoltaic surface area in the Instinct Solar Tactical Edition’s watch face. This allows more solar-charging power and better collection angles. In addition, the company’s GPS masters swapped out the sensor next to the skin for one that can detect pulse oximetry, as well as heart rate. Pulse oximetry is great to know, because it informs the user how much oxygen their blood supply is actually working with. Pneumonia and other lung ailments can cause this to decrease; and once the numbers get below 90 percent oxygen saturation, it’s time to get medical help. This is potentially life-saving information.

While these two major upgrades are stellar, the Instinct already came with a host of great features that make it a very competitive value in a field crowded with “smart” watches. One of the telling design elements proving that Garmin knows its customer base is how rugged the watch is.

Another area that really makes the Instinct stand out is its ability to be customized, including features you can add through downloads. There’s an almost dizzying array of options to what is essentially a GPS-capable computer on your wrist. The sports apps (more on that in a bit) are great, but if you don’t see your favorite activity, you can likely add it. Widgets (tiny “applets” that provide data) comprise another option that really adds some personalized functionality. Examples of widgets are phases of the moon and current weather conditions. There's a bunch of options, although some of these require pairing your mobile device with the Instinct.

Built for Adventure

The Instinct’s case is formed from a fiber-reinforced polymer that’s been chemically strengthened to meet the MIL-SPEC 810 standard for thermal, shock and water resistance to 100 meters. It's 45x45mm in size, which helps with readability but won’t look huge on smaller wrists. The non-rotating bezel is raised enough to do an excellent job of protecting the Corning Gorilla Glass crystal from casual abuse experienced during daily wear.

The face is a customizer’s dream. It comes with several different, pre-determined options, as well as the ability to customize the various fields within the face. You can change information—such as the date, seconds, temperature and a wealth of other data— to organize and reflect what you want to see.

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