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Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition vs Instinct (2021): Which Outdoor Smartwatch Is Better?

Built to US military-grade standards, the Garmin Instinct supports a range of features and outdoor activities that make it a favorite among outdoorsmen. From tracking and navigation to recreation and fitness features, it’s a rugged and reliable smartwatch designed to endure the toughest environments. The Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition, on the other hand, banks on the reliability of the Instinct series while adding tactical-specific features. With this addition, is there enough to separate the two models and make you choose one over the other?

Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition vs Instinct Comparison Chart

ModelGarmin Instinct Tactical EditionGarmin Instinct
 Garmin instinct tactical editionGarmin instinct outdoor watch
PriceCheck Price

at Garmin.com

Check Price

at Garmin.com

Dimensions45 x 45 x 15.3 mm45 x 45 x 15.3 mm
Display Size (with resolution)custom, two-window design; 0.9” x 0.9” (128 x 128 pixels)custom, two-window design; 0.9” x 0.9” (128 x 128 pixels)
Weight52g52g
Battery LifeSmartwatch mode: Up to 14 days

 

GPS mode: Up to 16 hours

UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 40 hours

Smartwatch mode: Up to 14 days

 

GPS mode: Up to 16 hours

UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 40 hours

Water Rating10 ATM10 ATM
SensorsGPS, Glonass, Galileo, Garmin Elevate™ Wrist Heart Rate Monitor, Barometric Altimeter, Compass, Accelerometer ThermometerGPS, Glonass, Galileo, Garmin Elevate™ Wrist Heart Rate Monitor, Barometric Altimeter, Compass, Accelerometer Thermometer
ConnectivityBluetooth, ANTBluetooth, ANT
Smartphone CompatibilityiPhone, AndroidiPhone, Android
Safety and Tracking FeaturesLivetrackLivetrack
Tactical FeaturesStealth Mode, Night Vision, Dual Grid CoordinatesDual Grid Coordinates
ColorsBlack, Coyote TanGraphite, Sea Foam, Tundra, Flame Red, Sunburst, Lakeside Blue
Cycling FeaturesYesYes
Swimming FeaturesYesYes
Outdoor Recreation ProfilesHiking, Climbing, Mountain Biking, Skiing, Snowboarding, XC Skiing, Stand Up Paddleboarding, Rowing, Kayaking, Jumpmaster, TacticalHiking, Climbing, Mountain Biking, Skiing, Snowboarding, XC Skiing, Stand Up Paddleboarding, Rowing, Kayaking, Tactical
Release DateAugust 2019October 2018

Design

The Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition and standard Instinct model are the same military-grade devices designed to endure to toughest environment. The original model, however, comes in more color variants than the Tactical Edition. 

The only noticeable difference in design between the Instinct watches is the ‘tactical’ label on the Tactical Edition’s display (left). On the right, the original Instinct in Lakeside Blue color.

Except for the ‘tactical’ label on the display, there isn’t much to differentiate the Tactical Edition from the original Instinct. The overall build and design of the two watches are similar, both boasting of fiber-reinforced polymer case and U.S. military standard 810G rating for thermal, shock and water resistance.

Garmin’s line of Instinct smartwatches are made for the outdoors, and in both models, this design philosophy is quite clear. The Tactical Edition and the Instinct are rugged and durable, with scratch-resistant displays that are readable even in bright sunlight. Both wearables also come with full-vented silicone bands for a secure fit on your wrists.

However, if you want a little more personality with your watch, the Instinct comes in six color variants, including the brightly-colored Sunburst and an eye-catching Flame Red. The Tactical Edition, on the other hand, sticks to the more conservative Black and Coyote Tan finishes.

Tactical Features

The Tactical Edition adds enhanced tactical features like the night mode and stealth mode to the standard Garmin Instinct.

Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition vs Instinct

 

A closer inspection shows the Tactical mode, as well as Jumpmaster feature, of the Tactical Edition. On the right, the just one of the many tracking and navigation features of the Instinct series.

What truly sets the Instinct Tactical Edition apart from the standard model is, as its name suggests, in its enhanced tactical features. Drawing inspiration from Garmin’s Tactix series, the Tactical Edition includes night vision and stealth modes, waypoint projection, and preloaded tactical activities.

With the Night Vision Mode on, for example, the display’s backlight level can be reduced. This makes it readable even while one is wearing night vision Goggles. Enabling the Stealth Mode, on the other hand, will disable wireless connectivity and communication while also stopping your GPS position from being stored and shared.

Although both models of the Instinct include dual grid coordinates, the addition of the two new modes expands the training functionality of the Tactical Edition to include challenging low-light environments, and locations with security concerns.

Smart Features and Activity Tracking

The Garmin Instinct series is smartphone compatible, feature-packed, and best-used with the Garmin Connect app. 

Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition vs Instinct

 

On the left, the Tactical Edition in the Jumpmaster’s HAHO mode. On the right, a slew of smart features to track your daily activities.

The Garmin Instinct and Instinct Tactical Edition are compatible with the iPhone and Android smartphones. Once connected to a mobile device, the watch can control and be integrated to a number of functions. This includes checking the weather, syncing your calendar, viewing phone notifications, and rejecting a call via text (for Android only).

The Instinct series also come with a plethora of features to track and monitor your fitness activities. Standard tracking functions include sleep monitoring, step counter, stress tracking, calories burned, heart rate, as well as gym workouts.

With the abundance of health information that’s collected by the watch, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But by connecting the device to the Garmin Connect app, health data is translated into meaningful insights that help you customize training and workout plans, as well as adjust fitness goals.

Sensors and Other Features

The Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition shares the same set of sensors as the Instinct, with the addition of new features, like the Jumpmaster profile for airborne operations.

Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition vs Instinct

 

Here’s a look at Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition (left) and regular Instinct model (right) in an outdoor environment.

The Garmin Instinct Tactical edition builds on the reliability of the standard Instinct. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So it’s no surprise you’ll still find the same set of sensors on the Tactical, including the barometric altimeter, compass, thermometer, and accelerometer.

Both smartwatches also come with vital metrics for running, cycling, swimming, and outdoor recreation. The Tactical Edition, however, has added the Jumpmaster to its outdoor recreation profiles. This new feature caters to experienced skydivers and covers three kinds of jumps: static, high altitude-low opening (HALO), and high altitude-high opening (HAHO). If you’re the parachutist looking to get detailed information on altitude and speed of descent, then the Tactical Edition should be a top consideration.

Verdict

The new features of the Tactical Edition will appeal to specific users but the overall consensus is that it’s the same watch as the Instinct.

Based on design and build alone, there isn’t much of a difference between getting the Garmin Instinct Tactical Edition compared to the standard Instinct model. Both are reliable outdoor watches brandishing the same US military-grade functionality and durability. Apart from the enhanced tactical features, the Tactical Edition still comes with the same sensors, as well as core features like the heart monitor, phone notifications viewing, 24/7 activity tracking, and Garmin Connect compatibility.

Those looking for more specific functions, including the Jumpmaster or night and stealth mode, will find the Tactical Edition’s new features a welcome addition. For the regular adventure-seeker, however, you’ll probably be better off saving $50 by opting for the original Instinct model.

FAQs

📌 What’s the difference between the Garmin Instinct and Garmin Instinct Tactical edition?

The Garmin Instinct Tactical edition comes with enhanced tactical features like night vision and stealth mode that’s not available on the original Garmin Instinct.

📌 Can I use the Garmin Instinct to answer or reject calls on my iPhone?

Although the Garmin Instinct is compatible with the iPhone, it can only answer and reject calls when paired with an Android smartphone.

📌 Is the Garmin Instinct Tactical edition waterproof?

Just like its predecessor, the Garmin Instinct Tactical edition is built to US Military Standard 810G rating for shock, thermal, and water resistance.

📌 Does the Garmin Instinct come with sleep tracking?

Yes, the Garmin Instinct is equipped with sleep tracking features.

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Mari Bassig

Senior Editor, writer and researcher passionate about gadgets, social media, and music.