Garmin Instinct 2 vs Forerunner 255: Picking the Better Running Watch

If you’re looking for an entry-level GPS running watch, you should consider comparing the Garmin Instinct 2 vs Forerunner 255.

The Garmin Instinct and the Garmin Forerunner are like two sides of the same coin – an effective, affordable GPS running watch. But they differ in a few ways, and they excel in different areas.

So which of the two watches is better for you?

At the end of the day, they’re both good choices, but it depends a little bit on how you plan to use it.

Let me break down the key similarities and differences between the two watches, and then you can make an informed choice between the Garmin Instinct vs Garmin Forerunner.

Instinct 2
Forerunner 255
Instinct 2X Solar Tactical
Garmin 010-02626-10 Instinct 2, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Built for All Elements, Multi-GNSS Support, Tracback Routing and More, graphite
Garmin Forerunner® 255, GPS Running Smartwatch, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Slate Gray
Garmin Instinct 2X Solar - Tactical Edition, Rugged GPS Smartwatch, Built-in Flashlight, Ballistics Calculator, Solar Charging Capability, Coyote Tan
$235.00
$349.99
$499.99
Size
45mm / 40mm (S)
45.6mm / 41mm (S)
50mm
Display
Monochrome MIP
Color MIP
Monochrome MIP
Music
Optional
Battery
28 Days
14 Days
40 Days
Solar
Optional
Optional
Water Rating
10 ATM
5 ATM
10 ATM
GPS Coordinates
Multiband GPS
Wrist Based Running Dynamics
Garmin Pay
Instinct 2
Garmin 010-02626-10 Instinct 2, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Built for All Elements, Multi-GNSS Support, Tracback Routing and More, graphite
$235.00
Size
45mm / 40mm (S)
Display
Monochrome MIP
Music
Battery
28 Days
Solar
Optional
Water Rating
10 ATM
GPS Coordinates
Multiband GPS
Wrist Based Running Dynamics
Garmin Pay
Forerunner 255
Garmin Forerunner® 255, GPS Running Smartwatch, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Slate Gray
$349.99
Size
45.6mm / 41mm (S)
Display
Color MIP
Music
Optional
Battery
14 Days
Solar
Water Rating
5 ATM
GPS Coordinates
Multiband GPS
Wrist Based Running Dynamics
Garmin Pay
Instinct 2X Solar Tactical
Garmin Instinct 2X Solar - Tactical Edition, Rugged GPS Smartwatch, Built-in Flashlight, Ballistics Calculator, Solar Charging Capability, Coyote Tan
$499.99
Size
50mm
Display
Monochrome MIP
Music
Battery
40 Days
Solar
Optional
Water Rating
10 ATM
GPS Coordinates
Multiband GPS
Wrist Based Running Dynamics
Garmin Pay

Price Comparison: Garmin Instinct 2 vs Forerunner 255

Before we get into the actual feature comparison, it helps to start with the basics – what do the two watches cost. I’m assuming part of the reason you’re comparing the Garmin Instinct and the Garmin Forerunner is that you’re cost conscious, and you’re looking for a bargain.

If you’re not, then go get a Garmin Fenix 7S Pro Sapphire Solar and call it a day.

But back to the Garmin Instinct vs Forerunner …

The Garmin Instinct 2 comes in a few variations.

The base model, Garmin Instinct 2 Standard Edition retails for $299.99. You can often find it a little cheaper on Amazon, so you expect to pay $250 to $275. There’s also a smaller version (2S) available for the same price.

It also has solar and tactical versions. The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Edition retails for $399.99, while the Garmin Instinct 2 Tactical Edition retails for $449.99.

There are a few other variations, including different colors, an extra large size, and a special version designed with truck drivers in mind. More on those later – but the most expensive version (Garmin Instinct 2X Tactical Solar Edition goes up to $499.99.

So the Instinct 2 ranges from $299.99 to $499.99.

The Garmin 255 has fewer options, and things are a little simpler on that side.

The basic Garmin Forerunner 255 without music retails for $349.99. The Garmin Forerunner 255 Music costs an extra $50 – $399.99.

So they’re all in the same ballpark – although some variations of the Garmin Instinct 2 are either a little cheaper or more expensive than the Forerunner 255.

What Features do the Watches Share

Let’s start with what these two watches have in common.

Although their styles are a little different, both the Garmin Forerunner and the Garmin Instinct are – at their core – solid GPS running watches. And they share a lot of the same features.

They both effectively use GPS to track the distance and speed of your runs and sync that information back to the Garmin Connect app. You can also use the watches to count your steps for basic fitness purposes. Multisport activities are an option, so triathletes are covered.

Both watches track your heart rate with the same 4th generation Elevate heart rate sensor. They also track your sleep, stress, and Garmin Body Battery. You can set up your heart rate zones, based on either your max heart rate or heart rate reserve, and use that to guide your workouts.

They each have basic mapping features, including a compass and breadcrumb navigation. They also have a barometric altimeter to accurately track elevation. Trail runners and hikers are covered.

These watches both track your heart rate variability status and offer a morning report. You can program custom workouts, and you can find all kinds of performance metrics like VO2 Max, training load, and training effect.

In other words – when you compare the Garmin Instinct 2 vs Forerunner 255 they share a lot of features and either watch will be effective in tracking your training as a runner.

Where Does the Garmin Instinct 2 Excel?

The Garmin Instinct line is a more rugged watch – and it’s designed with the outdoorsmen in mind.

The most obvious difference is in the display and the style. The Instinct has a smaller, monochrome display and a larger protective bezel. Although the watch itself is about the same size, it appears more bulky – and more durable.

One of the advantages of the monochrome display, though, is that the watch has much better battery life. The basic version has twice the battery life of a Forerunner 255 in smartwatch mode (28 days), and it has battery saving modes to allow you to track activities for much longer.

The solar versions even advertise unlimited battery life in smartwatch mode. I’m generally a little skeptical of the solar charging, but in this case it probably does have some impact on longevity given the low power draw of the watch. The Forerunner 255 doesn’t have a solar option at all.

Another advantage of the Garmin Instinct is that it has a better water rating. All of the Instincts are rated for 10 ATM vs the 5 ATM of the Forerunner. This means that the Instinct 2’s are waterproof and are more suitable for use in deep water. They’re rated for 100 meters of depth.

Although both watches have navigation features, an advantage of the Garmin Instinct 2 is that you can actually get your latitude and longitude for mapping and orienteering purposes. So if you’re into that kind of thing, that’s a pretty important feature that’s missing from the Forerunner 255.

Finally, the Instinct has access to basic Garmin Golf features, some more advanced navigation features, and some additional activity profiles (like bouldering, climbing, and hunting).

What About the Different Garmin Instinct 2 Variations?

There’s actually a bevy of options available for the Garmin Instinct 2. They all share many similarities – but there are a few nuances and distinctions between them.

Instinct 2 Solar
Instinct 2 dezl
Instinct 2 Surf
Instinct 2X Solar Tactical
Garmin Instinct 2 Solar, GPS Outdoor Watch, Solar Charging Capabilities, Multi-GNSS Support, Tracbak Routing, Graphite
Garmin Instinct 2, dezl Edition, Rugged Trucking Smartwatch, Easy Break Planning, Compatible with the dezl OTR Navigator, Black
Garmin Instinct 2, Surf-Edition, GPS Outdoor Watch, Surfing Features, Multi-GNSS Support, Tracback Routing, Mavericks
Garmin Instinct 2X Solar - Tactical Edition, Rugged GPS Smartwatch, Built-in Flashlight, Ballistics Calculator, Solar Charging Capability, Coyote Tan
$379.00
$340.43
$299.99
$499.99
Instinct 2 Solar
Garmin Instinct 2 Solar, GPS Outdoor Watch, Solar Charging Capabilities, Multi-GNSS Support, Tracbak Routing, Graphite
$379.00
Instinct 2 dezl
Garmin Instinct 2, dezl Edition, Rugged Trucking Smartwatch, Easy Break Planning, Compatible with the dezl OTR Navigator, Black
$340.43
Instinct 2 Surf
Garmin Instinct 2, Surf-Edition, GPS Outdoor Watch, Surfing Features, Multi-GNSS Support, Tracback Routing, Mavericks
$299.99
Instinct 2X Solar Tactical
Garmin Instinct 2X Solar - Tactical Edition, Rugged GPS Smartwatch, Built-in Flashlight, Ballistics Calculator, Solar Charging Capability, Coyote Tan
$499.99

First, there are size variations. The Garmin Instinct 2 comes in three sizes – regular (45mm), small (40mm), and large (50mm). The smaller version has slightly worse battery life, while the larger one has better.

Besides size, the Instinct 2X has a few additional features that aren’t included with the standard or small version. These include an LED flashlight, Garmin Pay, and multi-band GPS. It also has some additional activity profiles.

Then, there’s the solar charging option. This is standard on the Instinct 2X, but it’s optional with most versions of the standard and small Garmin Instinct 2. I’m generally a little skeptical of the solar charging capabilities, but a) if you spend a ton of time outside and b) you don’t spend a ton of time tracking activities with GPS, you might see a significant improvement in your battery life.

There’s a tactical version that comes with a few unique features. Stealth mode will disable any external communication (ANT+/Bluetooth) and prevent the watch from logging activities. Night vision mode reduces the intensity of the backlight so that it works better with night vision goggles. Finally, it includes a kill switch that will clear all data on the watch with two buttons.

Another version is the dezl version. This is an interesting one designed with truck drivers in mind. It helps you track breaks while driving, stores loyalty program information for convenience stores, and can notify you with information about weigh stations. It’s a very specific feature set – but if you’re a truck driver, this may appeal to you.

Finally, there’s a camo version and a surf version. The surf version advertises some special activity profiles, but they’re also available on the standard Instinct 2. The only real difference with these two is cosmetic.

Where Is the Garmin Forerunner 255 Better?

The Garmin Forerunner 255 looks more like a traditional smartwatch.

Again, the most visible difference is in the display and the style. The Forerunner has a color display, although it’s still a MIP display. The bezel is smaller, exposing more of the screen.

One key advantage of the Forerunner 255 is that it has a music option. If you listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks on your runs, this is a great feature. You can sync the audio to your watch, connect your bluetooth headphones, and leave your phone at home. At this point, I don’t listen to anything when I run – but if I did, I’d want to be able to do it straight from my watch.

Another advantage of the Forerunner 255 is that it comes with multi-band GPS and SatIQ technology. The multi-band GPS can help increase GPS accuracy in some situations, especially dense urban settings. SatIQ technology helps the watch determine which GPS settings will perform best in a given situation.

A new feature on the Forerunner 255 – which it didn’t have at its release – is wrist based running dynamics. You can see stats like vertical oscillation and ground contact time without using an accessory. If you have an Instinct, you’ll need to sync a foot pod to get access to these stats.

Some final minor differences are that the Forerunner 255 detects naps, it has access to PacePro strategies, and you can see images from your phone notifications on your watch. The Forerunner 255 also has Garmin Pay, which only comes on some variations of the Instinct 2.

Does the Garmin Forerunner 255 Have Variations?

With the Garmin Forerunner 255, there are fewer options.

There are two sizes – the standard and the small.

The standard Garmin Forerunner 255 is 45.6mm in diameter, and it has a 260px display.

The smaller Garmin Forerunner 255s is 41mm in diameter, and it has a 218px display. The smaller watch also has a smaller battery and therefore less battery life. It’s about 10% less than the standard size – 14 days in smartwatch mode and 26 hours in GPS mode.

Both sizes are the same price.

The other option is music or non-music. The only difference is that the music version plays and controls music – and it costs an extra $50.

Forerunner 255
Forerunner 255 Music
Forerunner 255S
Forerunner 255S Music
Garmin Forerunner® 255, GPS Running Smartwatch, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Slate Gray
Garmin 010-02641-20 Forerunner® 255 Music, GPS Running Smartwatch with Music, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Black
Garmin Forerunner® 255S, Smaller GPS Running Smartwatch, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Powder Gray , 41 MM
Garmin Forerunner® 255S Music, Smaller GPS Running Smartwatch with Music, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Whitestone
$349.99
$359.00
$349.99
$379.99
Forerunner 255
Garmin Forerunner® 255, GPS Running Smartwatch, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Slate Gray
$349.99
Forerunner 255 Music
Garmin 010-02641-20 Forerunner® 255 Music, GPS Running Smartwatch with Music, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Black
$359.00
Forerunner 255S
Garmin Forerunner® 255S, Smaller GPS Running Smartwatch, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Powder Gray , 41 MM
$349.99
Forerunner 255S Music
Garmin Forerunner® 255S Music, Smaller GPS Running Smartwatch with Music, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Whitestone
$379.99

How to Choose Between the Garmin Forerunner vs Instinct

At the end of the day, both watches are a great choice if you’re looking for an entry level to mid-tier running watch.

Whether you choose the Garmin Forerunner or the Garmin Instinct is going to depend on how you expect to use it and what you prefer.

To a large extent, this is a style choice. The two watches look very different. They will appeal to different kinds of people. Take a look at the watch, go with your gut, and pick the one that speaks to you.

As for features, you might want to go with the Instinct 2 if battery life is important to you. It’s more energy efficient, and you have the option to add solar charging. You can really extend the battery life for those long treks.

One of the primary reasons to choose the Forerunner 255 is because you want to be able to play music. That’s simply not an option on the Instinct 2, and if you’re going to use the feature it’s well worth the upgrade to the Forerunner.

If you’re going to running in dense cities often, you might want to opt for the Forerunner 255. The multiband GPS will come in handy there. Garmin Pay is also an advantage for the Forerunner – and something you’ll probably only take advantage of if you’re doing a lot of city running.

Then there’s a host of specialized features on the Instinct that will appeal to a very small group of people.

Do the tactical features appeal to you? Well then you should probably get the tactical version of the Instinct 2.

What about the truck driving features? You’re not going to find them anywhere else.

And direct access to GPS coordinates is nifty. I don’t know that I’ll ever need it. But if you do – then it’s an easy choice.

Garmin Forerunner 255 vs Instinct 2: Which Watch Will You Choose?

At the end of the day, the watches are very similar when it comes to features – and very different when it comes to style.

The Instinct 2 is designed with a certain group of people in mind – and if you fit that mold, it’s the perfect watch for you.

The Forerunner 255, on the other hand, is more of a standard running watch – smartwatch hybrid. If you want something more like a traditional smartwatch but with a heavier focus on running, stick with the Forerunner.

Personally, I had a Forerunner 245 for a long time. I liked it. But I also wasn’t aware of the Instinct line at the time.

Frankly, the Instinct does everything I need, I’m fine with the style, and at this point if I were starting out I’d probably choose the Garmin Instinct 2 (or the older Garmin Instinct 1). I like the Forerunners, but they’re just getting too expensive for my taste.

Now that you’ve compared the Garmin Instinct 2 vs Forerunner 255 – which watch are you going to choose?

Check out all the different versions by clicking through to Amazon below. And leave a comment and let me know what ends up influencing your decision. I’m genuinely interested to hear why people prefer one watch or the other.

Instinct 2
Forerunner 255
Instinct 2X Solar Tactical
Garmin 010-02626-10 Instinct 2, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Built for All Elements, Multi-GNSS Support, Tracback Routing and More, graphite
Garmin Forerunner® 255, GPS Running Smartwatch, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Slate Gray
Garmin Instinct 2X Solar - Tactical Edition, Rugged GPS Smartwatch, Built-in Flashlight, Ballistics Calculator, Solar Charging Capability, Coyote Tan
$235.00
$349.99
$499.99
Size
45mm / 40mm (S)
45.6mm / 41mm (S)
50mm
Display
Monochrome MIP
Color MIP
Monochrome MIP
Music
Optional
Battery
28 Days
14 Days
40 Days
Solar
Optional
Optional
Water Rating
10 ATM
5 ATM
10 ATM
GPS Coordinates
Multiband GPS
Wrist Based Running Dynamics
Garmin Pay
Instinct 2
Garmin 010-02626-10 Instinct 2, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Built for All Elements, Multi-GNSS Support, Tracback Routing and More, graphite
$235.00
Size
45mm / 40mm (S)
Display
Monochrome MIP
Music
Battery
28 Days
Solar
Optional
Water Rating
10 ATM
GPS Coordinates
Multiband GPS
Wrist Based Running Dynamics
Garmin Pay
Forerunner 255
Garmin Forerunner® 255, GPS Running Smartwatch, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Slate Gray
$349.99
Size
45.6mm / 41mm (S)
Display
Color MIP
Music
Optional
Battery
14 Days
Solar
Water Rating
5 ATM
GPS Coordinates
Multiband GPS
Wrist Based Running Dynamics
Garmin Pay
Instinct 2X Solar Tactical
Garmin Instinct 2X Solar - Tactical Edition, Rugged GPS Smartwatch, Built-in Flashlight, Ballistics Calculator, Solar Charging Capability, Coyote Tan
$499.99
Size
50mm
Display
Monochrome MIP
Music
Battery
40 Days
Solar
Optional
Water Rating
10 ATM
GPS Coordinates
Multiband GPS
Wrist Based Running Dynamics
Garmin Pay

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