Can you use Garmin Instinct for triathlon?

As triathletes, we are always looking for the best GPS smartwatch at the cheapest cost to record our workouts and race events. But not every watch is fit for the job. In this article, we will look at the Garmin Instinct watch. At first glance, it looks like a really good watch at a very reasonable price. But can it be used for a triathlon?

Garmin Instinct is not a triathlon watch as it does not have a multi-sport mode. It has all the greatest features of multisport watches like Garmin Fenix but it lacks the ability to combine several sports into one activity. You can still use it for each sport independently, perfect for training.

Indeed, Garmin Instinct is an outdoor watch that offers one of the best ratios between quality, price, and resistance you can find on the market. This is why I am going to make a review of this watch from the point of view of a triathlete.

Note: This article only reviews the first model of Garmin Instinct watch. There is now a newer model available on the market called Garmin Instinct 2.

Does Garmin Instinct have a triathlon mode?

Garmin Instinct watches do not have a triathlon mode, nor a multisport mode. It means that you cannot record all 3 sports in one single activity. You can hopefully still record each sport individually.

Can you use Garmin Instinct for triathlon?

Garmin Instinct is not meant for triathlon. It lacks a multi-sport mode but has each individual sports mode embedded with all the features you need. It is possible to go through the trouble of changing activity during a race to record your triathlon but not ideal.

Garmin has reserved the multi-sport activity profiles for its high-end watches (like Garmin 735XT, 745, 945, and Fenix watches). This means that Garmin Instinct is not a triathlon watch: it does not allow to record a triathlon event in a single activity with just a few lap presses to launch the next activities. Same as several models like the Garmin Vivoactive watches.

Garmin Instinct standard edition

However, Garmin Instinct is not compatible with 3rd party apps from Garmin Connect IQ. Indeed the most known Garmin Vivoactive and Venu series, as well as Forerunner 245 and 645 can embed a multi-sport mode thanks to third-party apps from the store. That’s not the case of the Garmin instinct.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t train with it for triathlon. Let’s review its features.

Garmin Instinct best features

  • Resistance and durability: it’s built to endure with a fiber-reinforced polymer & strenghtened glass.
  • Monochrome display: with great contrasts! (sunlight-visible)
  • Battery life: 16h (in GPS mode)
  • Waterproof: to 100m
  • Wrist-based heart rate
  • Barometric altimeter

The particularity of Garmin Instinct watch is the monochrome display. Nowadays it’s not very common to have modern GPS watches without a colored display. But in this case, the readability of the screen is very much increased compared to a color watch (especially in sunlight). In bright light, it’s always difficult to read the screen on a digital screen, this is not the case here.

Triathlon training with Gamin instinct?

With the Garmin Instinct, you can run, cycle, swim (indoor and outdoor), which means you can train for the different sports of triathlon individually. Let’s see in more detail the features provided for each sport.


For running, the following activity profiles are available: Running, Treadmill Running, Indoor Track Running, Trail Running. The Garmin Instinct will measure your cadence thanks to the internal accelerometer. For outdoor activities, it uses GPS to measure distance and speed.

Garmin Instinct does not exploit the running dynamics metrics of HRM-Run or Garmin RD Pod. Also, it cannot be used for the measure of running power with third-party apps from Connect IQ. To be more specific, you cannot connect the Stryd sensor.

However, you can do workouts during your runs. It is perfect for interval training, like track sessions or fartlek sessions.

So the running mode is good but is missing the advanced features. Most people don’t need them, even triathletes. But if you care about the extra running metrics (foot stride, vertical oscillation…), Garmin Instinct is not the right watch for you.


For cycling, Garmin Instinct can use external sensors for speed, cadence, and heart rate, but it’s not compatible with power meters. But it makes sense, power meters are expensive sensors while the Garmin Instinct is a low-budget watch that doesn’t target the same users.

Pool swimming

The pool swimming mode uses the accelerometer to count the number of lengths you do and can recognize your stroke style. It includes a drill mode, which starts a chronometer and will ask you the distance you did at the end. It’s very powerful for doing workouts (like swimming with legs only…) where the watch would not be able to tell the right number of length you did in the pool.

Also, the watch won’t record heart rate data while swimming as some recent watches do (Fenix 6+, Garmin 745, Garmin 945).

Open water swimming

Like on Fenix watches, the Garmin Instinct optimizes the GPS signal for open water swimming. The heart rate wrist sensor is deactivated during the swim. This is better than the Vivoactive 3 and 4, which don’t do open water swimming.

Conclusion about training with a Garmin Instinct

Training with a Garmin Instinct for triathlon is totally fine. You will get lots of data and be able to create workouts, like any sports watch. The good thing is that it includes all triathlon sports including open water swimming. Plenty of watches are not accurate enough to include both pool swim and open water swimming. At such a low price (check the current price here), the Garmin Instinct is of great value.

How can you use Garmin Instinct for a triathlon?

As mentioned earlier, there is no triathlon profile to record your race events in one single activity file with the Garmin Instinct. But you can still record your triathlon event in separate files.

How to record a triathlon with Garmin Instinct:

  1. Select the swim activity (pool swim or open water swimming as needed)
  2. Press start at the beginning of the race
  3. Once you enter the transition zone, save the activity and switch to bike
  4. Press start on the bike activity (as fast as possible)
  5. Once you get on your bike press lap
  6. Once you finish the bike leg, save the activity and switch to run
  7. Press start on the run activity
  8. When existing the transition zone, press lap
  9. One the finish line, save the run activity

You now have 3 files:

  • the first one has the time and distance for the swim leg
  • the second one has a lap for the transition time and then a lap time and distance for the bike leg
  • the third one has a lap for the transition time and then a lap with the time and distance for the run leg

You can decide to record the transitions in separate files in another activity of your choice, but it means you will have to do even more manipulations on your watch. Also, each time you switch activities you easily lose 10-15 seconds of recording. And you will have to be focused on doing actions on your watch at the most stressful moments of the race: the transitions. This is when you already need to focus to do things correctly (think about nutrition, struggling to remove a wetsuit, thinking about putting your helmet on first, etc.).

Cons of not recording a full triathlon in one file

  • it’s difficult to record accurately the transitions
  • you won’t have a total race time (but during a race you have a race chip and an official time :p)
  • it’s annoying to switch activities mid-race and can be stressful when racing to make a mistake
  • you need to do more manipulation on your watch during your race

But it’s not the end of the world, especially if you only race once or twice a year.

Is Garmin Instinct good for triathlon?

All things considered, Garmin Instinct is not the best watch for triathlon as it lacks the multi-sport mode. It will be annoying to record your race events but for training the watch is totally fine. It has all the necessary requirements to do each sport individually and comes with open water swimming. It’s really great for its cost!

If money is a huge factor for you, this watch is perfect for beginner or intermediate triathletes who only races a few times per year. For training, it does the job very well and you don’t need a more expensive watch. It’s just the question of having to manipulate activities during a race that can be an issue.

If you think the Garmin Instinct is a good fit for you, you can buy it on Amazon here.

If you are interested in triathlon and owning a Garmin watch, you may want to look at my article about the limitations you may encounter with Strava:

Things you need with your smart tra...
Things you need with your smart trainer

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