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Garmin Instinct Vs fenix 6 – Which Watch Is Right For You?

Once upon a time runners just put their shoes on and ran, maybe using a stopwatch to keep track of pace and time. A pencil and a notebook were all you had to keep track of your workouts.

In a little more than a decade, things have really changed. It’s easier than ever now to track every metric imaginable, and use the data to improve performance. From VO2 max to cadence to ground contact time, out watches can track it all. And one of the companies we have to thank for that is Garmin.

Garmin has a ton of different smartwatches. Pretty much every one is loaded with features, and deciding which one you should buy, and which one is just too much, can be a tough decision. Today we’ll be comparing the Garmin Instinct vs Garmin fenix 6, two popular high-end models designed for extensive backcountry adventuring.

One of the first things you’ll notice is that the fenix 6 costs a good $250+ more than the Instinct. Because of this, it can be tempting to just choose the Instinct from the start without even considering the differences.

But we truly believe the fenix 6 is the full package, especially for runners. Let’s dive deep into the comparison so you can make an informed choice!

Main Facts

First up, the most noticeable difference is that the fenix 6 starts around $550-600 (and goes up depending on features/models), while the Instinct (standard) costs about $300. We’ll delve into the reasons for this difference as the review goes.

The Garmin fenix 6 is available in three face sizes: 42mm (6S), 47mm (6), and 51mm (6X). Each of the sizes has some small differences in features, with the S being the least feature-heavy, and the X containing the most advanced features. You can also choose between standard, sapphire (with sapphire glass), and solar.

The Instinct only comes in one size. You can get it in regular or solar. You can also choose between the standard model, tactical model, eSports, camo, or surf version.

For the purposes of this review, we’ll be comparing the two standard versions: the Garmin fenix 6 standard, 47mm smartwatch, and the Garmin Instinct standard, non-solar edition.


The Instinct is the slightly smaller (but thicker) of the two watches, with a size of 45 mm x 45 mm x 15.3 mm thick. The fenix 6 is 47 mm x 47 mm x 14.7 mm thick.

Display Size

The display size is of course smaller than the full watch size. Here the fenix comes out on top, with a display size of 33 mm, compared to the Instinct’s 23 mm display.

Display Resolution

The Instinct’s display is at a perfectly reasonable resolution of 128 x 128 pixels. However, the fenix wins here again, with a display of 260 x 260 pixels.

It’s worth noting that the resolution most likely won’t be extremely noticeable unless you’re literally comparing the two watches next to each other. The lower resolution watch will be just as easy to read as the higher one, and the loss in resolution won’t be noticeable to the average eye.

What’s more noticeable is the fact that the fenix display is a color screen, while the Instinct’s isn’t.


If weight is of importance to you, the Instinct is lighter on the wrist, at 1.8 ounces (52 grams). The fenix 6 weighs 2.8 ounces (80 grams).

Neither of the watches is heavy, though, and it’s not likely you’ll notice much difference when wearing either one.

Battery Life

Battery life is an important consideration. What you need really depends on what you’ll be using the watch for.

GPS Mode

In full GPS mode, the fenix 6 can run for up to 36 hours. The Instinct has a 16-hour battery life on the same mode.

Max Battery GPS Mode/UltraTrac Mode

GPS is a huge eater of battery life, and both watches include modes that prioritize battery life over continuous GPS data. The fenix’s mode is called Max Battery GPS, and you can get 72 hours of use out of it. The Instinct’s mode is known as UltraTrac mode, and it’ll give you approximately 40 hours.

It’s important to note that in this usage mode, you lose significant GPS accuracy in tracking your distance and real-time pace.

Health Monitoring

Both Watches

Both of these watches have some helpful health monitoring features. The fenix has significantly more than the Instinct, though.

Both have 24-hour wrist-based heart rate monitoring, display your daily resting heart rate. Both can alert you if your heart rate goes unusually high or low.

To monitor your energy, each watch has Garmin’s Body Battery energy tracker, stress tracking, and a breathing timer to help you relax.

They also both track your sleep cycles and hours, hydration level, and menstruation, although you’ll need to download the Garmin Connect app for these.

Fenix 6 Extra Features

Now, the fenix has a few extra features in this section that give it a leg-up on the Instinct.

First, it’s surprising that the Instinct doesn’t measure something as simple and baseline as respiratory rate, but it doesn’t! The fenix measures it 24/7, similar to the HRM. Changes in respiration can indicate an upcoming cold or extra stress.

The fenix 6 also measures your blood oxygen saturation using a pulse oximeter. This is how much oxygen is in your blood, expressed as a percentage.

This gives insight into how effectively you’re breathing! Shallow breathing often results in less oxygen available for the body and muscles to use, so it’s a good thing to be able to monitor.

Lastly, although both track your sleep cycles, the fenix offers sleep insights and sleep score. This will give you an indication of whether or not the sleep you’re getting is effective.


Sensors are all the built-in tech that allows your watch to sense external things, like distance, GPS routes, or altitude.

Both Watches

Both of the watches offer three different navigation systems: GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo. They also both have something called Garmin Elevate Wrist-Based Heart Rate Monitor, which accounts for external factors when measuring heart rate.

A compass, barometric altimeter, and thermometer are built into both. The accelerometer is what measures speed and distance, giving you info on your pace. It also uses changes in your arm’s direction to track your cadence and count steps.

Fenix 6 Extra Features

The fenix’s Pulse Ox feature mentioned above is further enhanced by sensors that adjust it as the altitude changes. If you are, for example, tracking a mountaineering expedition, this reading can help your analyze your high-altitude acclimatization.

This watch also features a gyroscope. This is movement-oriented and can be used for counting reps of exercises or steps.

Daily Smart Features

These are everyday features that usually involve your smartphone too.

Both Watches

Both the fenix and the Instinct have Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity to connect to treadmills, cycling sensors, and the like. Smart notifications include the ability to reject a phone call with a text when your phone isn’t nearby.

Weather and calendar apps are standard. You can control your smartphone music on either watch, as well as make use of the Find My Phone and Find My Watch features.

They’re both compatible with VIRB cameras and can be used as a remote. Both connect to Garmin Connect mobile for instant data uploads.

Fenix 6 Extra Features

The fenix has some handy extras in this department. First up, you can use Connect IQ to download new watch faces and apps, which the Instinct doesn’t offer.

As well as being able to control your smartphone’s music, the Garmin fenix 6 can store up to 2000 songs on the watch itself. You can link your earphones up to your watch and listen phone-free, which is a great safety feature if you’d prefer not to run with your phone.

The addition of Garmin Pay is another helpful safety feature that means you no longer have to carry cash or cards around with you – simply pay using your watch.

Another highly useful feature that the fenix 6 delivers is a customizable battery saver. Also known as Power Manager, it offers you insights into what exactly is using the battery on your watch, so you can make battery-saving decisions about what to switch off and what to leave on in the background.

Safety And Tracking

Safety is of extreme importance. Garmin has been adding safety features to their watches for a while now. Both of these have some helpful safety functions.

Both Watches

Both watches use Garmin LiveTrack to keep friends or family updated on your live location. This is an excellent safety feature for peace of mind, so someone always knows where you are and where you’ve been.

Fenix 6 Extra Features

The fenix 6 offers several additional features, including Group LiveTrack and Live Event Sharing.

Perhaps more useful is the Incident Detection function, which will contact an emergency contact if an incident is detected during a workout. This relies on the accelerometer and gyroscope to detect possible collisions, impacts, or falls.

You can also set up Assistance, which contacts a friend or family member if you request help.

Available Gym Activity Profiles

One reason to have a smartwatch is to track your cross-training activities. There are gym profiles pre-set on each watch.

Both Watches

Both include strength training, cardio, elliptical training, stair stepping, floor climbing, indoor rowing, and yoga.

Fenix 6 Extra Features

The only change in the offerings here is that the fenix also has pilates. It does, however, have automatic rep counting thanks to the gyroscope. Be aware, though, that the rep counting won’t work if you’re using legs or the arm without the Garmin on it!

Training, Planning, And Analysis Features

The data you get from your smartwatch can be used to find out your strengths and weaknesses to create better training plans.

Both Watches

On both of these watches, you’ll find functions like heart rate zones, maximum heart rate, HR alerts, and the ability to share your HR details with other devices.

GPS speed and distance help runners, cyclists, and swimmers get info about how far and fast they’re going.

Downloadable training plans, interval training, and advanced workouts feature on both. Advanced features like Virtual Partner, Race An Activity, and Course Guidance are also found on both the fenix and the Instinct.

Customizable screens and activity profiles are also present on both models. Physio TrueUp allows you to sync data between multiple devices.

Fenix 6 Extra Features

The fenix 6 has quite a few extra features in this section.

Recovery Time gives you insights into how well recovered you are and advises you on how much more recovery you may need before your next hard workout. It also offers an HRV (heart rate variability) test, as long as you have a compatible accessory to do it.

This can give insight into general health, as well as how effective your workouts are. Another feature that can do the same is respiratory rate during exercise, which the fenix also tracks.

VO2 max, training status, and training load are valuable and advanced running dynamics data that serious runners can use to improve their performance. You can also set up Strava Live Segments on your Garmin.

Running Features

Runners will appreciate the features on both watches. The fenix 6 comes out on top by quite aways, though, if you’re serious about tracking running metrics.

Both Watches

Both have onboard profiles for treadmill running, indoor track running, road running, and trail running. They’ll measure time, distance, and pace based on GPS data.

They also both calculate your cadence (number of steps per minute). Built-in run workouts can be utilized, and they’re both compatible with foot pods.

Fenix 6 Extra Features

The fenix delivers much more advanced metrics for runners. Be aware that many of them need a compatible accessory to measure, so the watch itself won’t measure these alone.

Advanced metrics you can find on this watch include:

  • Vertical oscillation (how much your torso moves up and down when running)
  • Ground contact time (how long your feet are in contact with the ground – can help find muscle imbalances)
  • Real-time stride length
  • Performance condition
  • Lactate threshold (the point at which your muscles begin to fatigue)
  • Race Predictor
  • PacePro Strategies

Outdoor Activities

Runners aren’t the only ones who’ll benefit from these watches’ features. They both have built-in settings for a variety of outdoor activities.

Both Watches

You’ll find the following sporting profiles on both watches:

  • Hiking,
  • Mountain biking
  • Climbing
  • XC skiing
  • Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Rowing
  • Stand-up paddleboarding
  • Kayaking
  • Jumpmaster
  • Tactical

Cycling Features

Both watches have cycling functions, but the fenix can be connected to a power meter and also supports triathlon mode, which the Instinct doesn’t.

Swimming Features

Both also have swimming features. The fenix, unlike the Instinct, delivers alerts and monitors heart rate while in the pool.

Fenix 6 Extra Features

The fenix offers the same sports as the Instinct, with the addition of surfing and golf. The Instinct has no golfing features whatsoever, so this could be the make-or-break feature for those who love a round or two.

The fenix is packed with golfing features, including:

  • 42,000 preloaded courses
  • Digital scorecard
  • Handicap scoring
  • Yardage to green (front, middle, back) and doglegs
  • Shot distance
  • Hazards and targets
  • Stat tracking
  • Auto courseview updates
  • PlaysLike distance feature


The Instinct is a great smartwatch that offers a wide range of useful features. But it misses out on some important metrics, although it includes some tactical features that we haven’t mentioned here. For runners, the fenix 6 is just a step up from it in every department.

For beginners looking for a smartwatch to track basics so they can get used to it, the Instinct would be fine. But it’s really worth holding out for a month or two and saving the extra cash for the fenix 6.

The extra features mean you’ll be covered no matter what sport you’re doing. Runners and golfers especially will love the array of advanced features on the fenix 6.

Verdict? Instinct: It’s a tactical watch that runners can also use. It’s good for beginners or tactical buffs. Fenix 6: A high-end running and adventure watch with all the bells and whistles. Great for anyone who want all the data, or a watch that is hard to outgrow.

Shanna Powell

Shanna Powell

Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.

The Wired Runner