If you’re an avid hiker or spend any time exploring the wilderness off-the-grid, at one point or another you may find yourself in the market for a new smartwatch.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a smartwatch that is GPS enabled, and has the ability to track not only your fitness stats but also your location every time you’re exploring the trails? If so, the Garmin Instinct Solar may be the perfect smartwatch for you.

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    In this article, we’ll take a close look at one of the top-ranked GPS smartwatches on the market. Garmin Instinct Solar gets nearly 5-star reviews from customers on every online marketplace where it’s sold. You’ll learn in this article why it deserves that ranking.

    Garmin Instinct Solar: What You Get

    When you unbox the Garmin Instinct Solar, you’ll get the watch, a USB charging cable, a quick-start guide, and an instruction manual.

    It should be stated up front that this isn’t your typical smartwatch. Don’t expect flashy screens or the ability to add all of the apps you want from an online store. However, what you do get is one of the most rugged, long-lasting GPS watches that has everything you need to track your location anywhere on earth as well as monitor important health metrics.

    Key features of the Garmin Instinct Solar:

    • The case is made of fiber-reinforced polymer
    • Scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla glass
    • Comes in a variety of colors
    • High contrast display for easy outdoor viewing
    • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery uses solar charging to extend battery life

    According to Garmin, this watch was built to U.S. military standard 810 thermal, shock, and water resistance ratings. This is especially important if you plan to take the watch hiking, camping, or hunting where the odds of extreme use conditions are much more likely.

    Garmin Instinct Solar: Health Sensors

    If you flip the watch over and look at the back, you’ll see a series of sensors in the middle of the backing, next to the charging port.

    These sensors monitor important bio-metrics that help the Garmin Instinct Solar calculate your stress levels and provide accurate feedback about your body’s response to activities like working out at the gym or climbing a mountain. And all that biofeedback is provided in real-time on different built-in apps.

    • See your real-time heart rate so you can maintain a healthy rate while exercising
    • Keep a log and see a charted history of your heart rate throughout the day
    • The Pulse Ox2 sensor tells how well your body is absorbing oxygen, which can help the watch gauge your sleep quality or how well you’re acclimating to the altitude

    The Garmin Instinct Solar uses various heart rate and oxygen level algorithms to gauge your current stress and energy levels. It provides feedback on this in the form of a stress tracking app, and a “body battery” app that’ll tell you whether you may need to rest and recharge your energy levels.

    Garmin Instinct Solar Displays and Apps

    It may seem like a major drawback that the Garmin Instinct Solar doesn’t have some online store where there are developers regularly releasing new apps. However, the library of apps already offered on the Garmin Instinct Solar is so extensive that it covers nearly all of the activities and functions any hiker, kayaker, runner, and nearly any other outdoor enthusiast or athlete may need.

    To see if these apps and this watch are right for you, let’s dive into the apps and features you’ll find on the Garmin Instinct Solar smartwatch.

    Garmin Instinct Solar Main Displays

    Each display on the Garmin Instinct Solar may at first appear a bit dated. Think 1990s digital watch, but with extra digital graphics and icons tossed in.

    The main watch display is basically the time, the date, sunrise and sunset, and battery life. You can alter the watch face slightly by scrolling through watch face designs and choosing one. Mostly the differences are what data you want to be displayed on the main face.

    Pressing the down button (lower button on the left side of the case), you can scroll through other displays. These are your default apps and include:

    • Your pulse Ox2 level and current heart rate
    • A log of your heart rate over the last four hours with the max and min for the day at the top
    • A summary “My Day” page showing all health stats like steps, floor climbed, minutes of vigorous activity, and more
    • A display dedicated to total steps for the day as well as your most recent workout
    • Current precipitation at your location, as well as the current temperature and the day’s high and low temps
    • A compass display showing your direction in degrees, as well as a visual compass around the rim of the display

    Navigational Features 

    To see activities that are available to be tracked on the watch, you’ll just need to tap the GPS button (the upper button on the right side of the case). This takes you to a list of activities you track using the watch. To quickly track your basic progress during a hike using GPS, just scroll down (using the down button – lower left side of the case) and select (with the GPS button) Track Me.

    The quick Navigate feature will bring up a display showing how long you’ve been hiking, the distance you’ve traveled so far, and your current heart rate.

    All three of these pieces of information are critical to know during a hike, especially if you’re hiking for fitness. Every time the watch tracks your hike it also logs all of the sensor information for you, and a map of your location and progress.

    You can access that log by pressing the GPS button to see Activities again, selecting Navigate, and selecting Activities.

    This will show you each activity logged and saved including the total activity time and total mileage. Just scroll to that activity and select it to see all of the activity details.

    This will include:

    • Distance
    • Time elapsed
    • Speed traveled
    • Calories burned
    • Average and max heart rates
    • Total altitude ascended and descended during the hike

    Location tracking is an area where Garmin excels better than any other smartwatch on the market. Garmin lets you access multiple global navigation satellite systems including GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo. This watch will track in areas where GPS alone may fail.

    This watch also includes a “Trackback Routing” feature that helps you return back to where you started by showing you how to backtrack along the same route you took to arrive where you are. So long as your watch has battery life in it, you’ll never get lost wearing it.

    Other Activities Garmin Instinct Solar Can Track

    You aren’t limited to hiking with this smartwatch. There’s a long list of activity apps included that you can add at any time. To see activities to track just select the GPS button and start scrolling with the Up and Down buttons on the left middle and bottom of the watch case.

    Preloaded activity apps include:

    • Swimming
    • Running
    • Biking
    • Hiking
    • Rowing
    • Strength Training
    • Much more.

    If you get to the end of the list and don’t see the activity that you’re interested in, you’ll see a final Add screen you can select with the GPS button to add more activities to your list.

    Other Features

    In addition to all of the features listed above, you’ll also have access to email, text, and alert notifications all on your wrist, so long as the watch is paired with your smartphone via Bluetooth. You can also access your calendar events and details that you’ve stored on your smartphone.

    Finally, you can pair your watch with any inReach satellite communication devices to send or receive satellite messages, get weather alerts, or send an emergency message out.

    The Garmin Instinct Solar isn’t a smartwatch with the latest bells and whistles or flashy apps that let you browse social media from your wrist. But what it is intended for, it does exceedingly well. That is navigational and activity tracking for all of your outdoor activities. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you won’t be disappointed owning the Garmin Instinct Solar.