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Notable Upgrade: Garmin Solar Smart Watches

Garmin has upgraded two of its popular watches with solar augmentation to last longer between charges.

Notable Upgrade: Garmin Solar Smart Watches

(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Stafford)

Garmin watches have a reputation for style, toughness and usefulness. I’ve owned all generations of the Tactix line, from the Alpha GPS watch to the new Delta solar-powered GPS watch featuring Applied Ballistics built in. 

The word “watch” may be part of the name, but it falls short in describing the Garmin Tactix series. Yes, they are worn on wrists and offer the time, but these powerful devices are ruggedized microcomputers for savvy users needing accurate information and environmentals to help you make better shooting solutions. 

I primarily wear one of two Garmin smartwatches. As a police officer, I often prefer the Instinct for patrol duty. It is lightweight, weight just 52 grams; waterproof to 100 meters; and meets the vibration, shock- and dust-proofing requirements of MIL-STD-810. The 1.4-inch screen is bright, even in direct sunlight, and detailed enough to make use of the maps. What helps is the sapphire lens is scratch resistant. Whether I’m running, jumping, or apprehending a suspect, it’s great knowing that the watch isn’t going to fail. 

Though I wear the Instinct currently, my day-to-day watch for the last 5 years has been of the Garmin Tactix variety. The GPS-driven mapping capabilities are helpful when I’m in the middle of nowhere, as is the built-in compass, altimeter and barometer. When shooting at long range, knowing your elevation and pressure is helpful in accurizing a ballistic solution.


garmin-solar-smart-watch
(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Stafford)

Any of the Tactix line is great looking. I can wear it in a professional setting without looking like wearing a distracting brick. The metal surfaces are diamond-like carbon (DLC) coated, which means that the surface isn’t rough causing friction, it’s hard and corrosion resistant. These qualities are fitting for a precision instrument. 


These Garmins also function as a typical smart watch would meaning that you’ll receive text and email notifications, you can play music from your playlist, sync to Bluetooth headphones, and more. When travelling internationally, I have also used the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) and Galileo satellite network capabilities built in. From rucks to runs, and bike rides to free weights, the fitness-tracking also work with the navigation capabilities making the Tactix accurate as any wrist-worn tracker can be.

The Garmin Tactix line might offer more features than the average shooter needs, but if you’re wearing Bluetooth hearing protection, you can control your phone on the range without having to find a quiet space to take it.

garmin-solar-smart-watch
(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Stafford)

Worth noting, I’ve also observed that the Garmin’s night-vision compatibility has been helpful, both as a cop and as trainer. Night vision products are becoming more attainable throughout the industry. Scoff at needing night vision capability now, but I foresee when night vision devices (NVD) will be as ubiquitous as red dots on a pistol. Making a Garmin tactical watch as part of your everyday carry (EDC) would be a smart investment versus a non-tactical option.

The Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical Edition and the Tactix Delta Solar Editions, both with and without the Applied Ballistics app feature have arrived. The addition of solar augmentation isn’t a new idea, but it was executed wonderfully by Garmin. Solar charging comes through the sapphire lens of the watch, and offers meaningful improvement when compared to standard models. The solar editions extend the Instinct from a 24-day runtime to 54 days during normal conditions. The Tactix, because it runs such a feature-rich operating system, sees a restrained bump from 21 days to 24 days under normal use. The user can also utilize the Power Manager Mode to tailor the watches power usage to their own mission profiles.  


For those who would wear a Garmin in austere environments, there are a few notable functions besides the usual Jumpmaster HALO/HAHO/Static suite. The Delta contains a kill switch, for example, which allows the user to wipe the memory of the watch so that no sensitive information can be gleaned from it. Both the Instinct Solar and the Delta Solar also have a stealth mode, so that the GPS location position is visible on the device. In stealth mode, however, locations are not saved to the smartwatches’ memory or shared. This allows for training in areas with security concerns without revealing the user’s location. That’s not a feature that everyone needs, but it’s something useful for those who need it.

garmin-solar-smart-watch
(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Stafford)

I received a Tactix Delta Solar Edition with Applied Ballistics for this assignment, and I charged it to 100 percent immediately. I’m not a fan of wearing a watch to bed, but the new Solar Edition Garmin wearables have other interesting capabilities for people looking to track biometrics. The new Tactix Delta included Pulse Ox² technology and Body Battery. Pulse Ox² is a noninvasive method used to measure the saturation of oxygen in the bloodstream. Body Battery is a feature that uses a combination of heart rate variability, stress, sleep and activity to estimate a user’s energy reserves throughout the day by displaying a number from “1” to “100” that represents an individual’s energy level. 

The heart-rate monitor on this new model was more accurate than my other Garmin watches, having a variance of about 5 beats per minute (BPM) difference from a chest-strap monitor I tested it against. (My other watches all vary about 10 BPM.) The information is easy to access once you have the watch synced to your smartphone and it’s helpful when tracking these metrics to make changes in rest, sleep, food, and exercise patterns.


During this evaluation, I used the Garmin Tactix Delta watch to track my runs, my walks, and my intense training sessions. At the range, I used the Applied Ballistic calculator to test a new long-range rifle at distance. Under this intense use of so many functions, the Tactix Delta lasted 10 days. When I charged it before leaving on a hiking and shooting trip to Arizona, it still showed one day of charge remaining on the watch’s display. 

The Applied Ballistics integrations deserves a follow up article to effectively describe its capability and accuracy. In short, the feature allows the shooter to input rifle and ammunition data. Then, the Garmin adds the atmospheric data, which combines to make long-distance shots more predictable. It was easier than making up DOPE cards. You have to add your rifle and ammunition data to the watch manually, but you can import the data from your desktop using the supplied cord and the Applied Ballistics website. I have used the app on my phone, and the app with a Kestrel unit, but this Garmin Tactix makes accessing this information convenient since it takes into account atmospheric information. 

I also learned that the Tactix ballistic calculator also integrates with certain SIG Sauer Ballistic Data Xchange (BDX) products and Terrapin X laser rangefinders. This further allows new ways to develop or access enhanced ballistic information. This feature deserves more range trips to properly evaluate, but from what I was able to test, it seems to work well as long as your trigger manipulation is clean. All of these fancy functions don’t mean a thing if you can’t press the trigger properly. 

Garmin is leading the segment of mission-ready timekeepers. If you’re interested in learning more about Garmin’s GPS and smartwatch wearables visit garmin.com. I’m looking forward to spending more time learning about the capabilities of this device. It feels as though we’ve barely scratched the surface.

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