Garmin Instinct vs. Forerunner 245: Which Should You Pick?

Garmin Forerunner 245 in black on the left and Garmin Instinct in black on the right

The Garmin Instinct and Forerunner 245 are two classic mid-range GPS watch options. They’re marketed towards pretty different groups, however, with the Instinct being better suited for rugged adventures, and the Forerunner 245 being best for—you guessed it—runners. In this post, I’ll go over reasons to choose one over the other.

As some context, I’m a GPS watch nerd who’s tried 11 of the most popular models over the last few years. I’m mainly a road runner (marathons and half marathons), but I’ve also dabbled in triathlons and trail running. I like to wear my watch all the time to track workouts and view my everyday fitness data.

For full disclosure, I have not actually tested the Instinct, but I have tested the Forerunner 245 for a month as a loaner. I personally only own the COROS APEX. This review will be based on my analysis of the specs, and sharing my experience where possible. Keep in mind that I will mainly be comparing the standard (non-solar) Garmin Instinct with the Forerunner 245, as their retail prices are most similar. I’ll include a couple notes about the other versions of the Instinct though!

This post is not sponsored, but it does contain affiliate links at the end, meaning that I earn a small commission on any purchases through those links, at no extra cost to you. Your support allows me to keep writing reviews like this one 🙂

Things in Common: Garmin Instinct and Forerunner 245

Before we get into their differences, here are some things that both watches have:

  • Fitness tracking for common activities: running, trail running, indoor track running, biking indoors/outdoors, pool swim, strength, yoga, stair stepping, and yoga.
  • Fitness stats: steps, heart rate, Body Battery (basically the amount of energy you have remaining), stress, sleep, and menstrual tracking.
  • Basic smartwatch features: weather, calendar, messages, and find your phone/watch.
  • Safety features: LiveTrack—allows your friends and family to follow your activity in real time.

This list is actually fairly short for two Garmin devices; the good thing is that the decision shouldn’t be too hard since the Instinct and Forerunner 245 are quite different.

Reasons to Choose the Garmin Forerunner 245

garmin forerunner 245
garmin forerunner 245

The Forerunner 245 is the most recent model of the most popular watch series for runners. The Forerunners in the 200 range offer more features than entry-level watches, but aren’t so complex that you’ll get confused.

One of the Forerunner 245’s main draws are its training metrics, which can be helpful for runners going for PRs. These metrics are:

  • VO2 max: aerobic performance capacity; it’s actually very odd that the Instinct doesn’t have this because it’s on even lower-end Garmins
  • Training Status: whether your training has been productive
  • Training Effect: how much the activity has improved your aerobic and anaerobic fitness
  • Training Load: whether your training is a smart amount
  • Recovery Advisor: how much time you should wait before another hard workout
  • Race Predictor: predicted time for 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon

You’ll also get PacePro to create a pacing plan for your races and runs, based on elevation and your goal time. You can adjust the plan based on whether you want a positive, negative, or even split, and whether you want to take uphills easy or hard.

If you’re planning to do a lot of track workouts, you’ll like the outdoor track mode that allows for more accurate distance data. The watch asks you to input your lane number and calibrates the distance based on your first couple laps.

In terms of fitness data, the Forerunner 245 has Pulse Ox, which measures blood oxygen saturation. This can be helpful in monitoring your sleep and detecting sleep apnea. The standard Instinct doesn’t have Pulse Ox, but the special editions do.

Unlike the Instinct, the Forerunner 245 also has a music version which is $50 more expensive. You’ll be able to download music onto the watch or connect Spotify Premium, Deezer, and Amazon Music (just make sure you have Bluetooth headphones, as the watch itself doesn’t have speakers). And while the Instinct also has Audio Prompts to alert you of your time, pace, and laps—if you’re connected to your phone—the Forerunner 245 music can give you audio prompts via Bluetooth headphones, so you won’t need to take your phone with you.

While both watches allow you to share your real-time location using LiveTrack, the Forerunner 245 also has Incident Detection. If the watch detects a fall, your watch will call your emergency contacts after a brief delay (allowing you to cancel if needed). You must be connected to your phone to use this feature.

If you’re looking for longer battery life, the Forerunner 245 has 8 hours on the Instinct in GPS mode (24 vs. 16 hours). That said, the Instinct lasts two weeks in regular smartwatch mode while the Forerunner 245 only lasts one week. Both watches have UltraTrac mode for long events, and the Instinct lasts up to 40 hours. The Forerunner 245’s UltraTrac battery life is not specified, but it’s likely longer than the Instinct’s given its longer GPS battery life.

Finally, The Forerunner 245 is lighter and has a crisper screen. The Instinct weighs 52g while the Forerunner 245 is 38.5g. As someone with baby wrists and hands, I prefer the build and weight of the Forerunner 245, but my current watch (the COROS APEX) is actually 49g, so it’s pretty comparable to the Instinct.

The Forerunner 245 has nearly double the resolution of the Instinct though at 240×240 pixels vs. 128×128. The screen size of the Instinct is actually 23x23mm and the display is square-shaped, while the Forerunner 245 has a circle-shaped screen with a 30.4mm diameter. The Instinct’s square-shaped screen feels kinda unnerving to me on a circular watch, as there’s some corners cut off and dark space.

Reasons to Choose the Garmin Instinct

watch face of the standard Garmin Instinct in black
side view of the standard Garmin Instinct in Black

I’m a runner, so I’m of course going to be partial to the Forerunner 245, but there are many reasons to choose the Instinct instead.

The first thing is that the Instinct offers a wider array of tracking abilities. You’ll be able to track:

Open water swimmingStand up paddleboarding
HikingOutdoor rowing
Mountain bikingJumpmaster
XC skiingFloor climbing

Basically, the Instinct is better-suited for those who are especially outdoorsy and doing more specialized activities. In fact, there are actually four other versions of the Instinct, including Tactical, Esports, Camo, and Surf. Some of these versions even have a solar-powered model, with the solar versions lasting up to 54 days in smartwatch mode and 38 hours in GPS mode with solar power. These models are $100-150 more expensive than the standard non-solar Instinct.

The Instinct also has a barometric altimeter, which allows for more accurate elevation stats. (The Forerunner 245 bases elevation on GPS, but you can correct your elevation data on Strava if you sync all your workouts there.) With the barometric altimeter, the Instinct is able to track Floor Climbing as an activity and your daily floors climbed. You’ll also be able to see vertical speed and total ascent/descent in the relevant activity modes. If you’re in navigation mode, you’ll also be shown a future elevation plot to help you predict upcoming changes in elevation.

Because of the barometric altimeter, you’ll also get a barometric trend indicator with a storm alert. You can manually set the rate in barometric pressure change that will trigger an alert.

Some other features of the Instinct that may be helpful are:

  • Stealth mode—disables wireless communication and won’t log any information to the watch, but you can still monitor time, pace, elevation, and location
  • Night vision mode—reduces backlight intensity for night vision goggles
  • Dual grid coordinates—saves location as dual grid coordinates to navigate back to
  • Projected waypoint—create a new location to navigate to by projecting the distance and bearing from your current location
  • Sight N’ Go—similar to projected waypoint; point the watch at an object in the distance, lock in the direction, and then navigate to the object.
  • Moon phase, sunrise, sunset—can help when hiking or stargazing

Finally, the watch does have more of a rugged look and is more durable. The Instinct actually conforms to military standards for durability! The Forerunner 245 is also pretty durable and has a scratch-resistant screen like the Instinct, but the Instinct takes things to the next level.

The Bottom Line

The Forerunner 245 is better adapted for road runners aiming to improve their performance. It can be a decent option for trail runners due to the long battery life, navigation features, and trail running mode, but the lack of barometric altimeter isn’t ideal.

The Instinct can also work for runners, but would be better for runners also going on other outdoorsy adventures. The lack of training stats aren’t necessarily a dealbreaker if you’re in-tune with your body and can adjust your workouts accordingly. I’d recommend the Instinct for especially for hikers as it has the extra navigational features and elevation data. Price-wise, the standard Instinct also is listed on some sites for as low as $170 new, while the Forerunner 245 is still largely retail price ($300).

Where to Buy the Garmin Instinct and Forerunner 245

If this review helped you, it would mean a lot if you purchased through my affiliate links. I also want to encourage you to buy used or from small, local running shops if you can. I don’t get paid if you do that, so if you want to show your appreciation financially, you’re welcome to buy me a virtual coffee.


Forerunner 245


Forerunner 245

Other retailers

Swappa (used electronics)
Dick’s Sporting Goods

If you’re considering other watches, check out my comparison of the COROS APEX vs. Forerunner 245 and the Forerunner 245 vs. Vivoactive 4. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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