The humble watch has come a long way and has evolved significantly – from being just a timepiece to a fashion accessory to becoming a survival gear. Whether you are an active camper, a regular backpacker, an avid outdoorsman or a hero on the battlefield, a regular watch just won’t do. When picking the perfect tactical watch, you need to pick one which can survive not only the abuse you put it to, but also the elements of nature.
A tactical watch not only has to serve the primary purpose of showing time, it has to do it when it matters the most. A military watch has functions and features which are much needed for outdoor survival and are built like a rock to withstand shocks and vibrations. Think of these watches as the armoured versions of your every day watches.
Prices of tactical watches vary greatly, but generally higher priced watches are known for their quality. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune to own a quality watch for yourself. In this exhaustive guide, we explain what are the features to look out for in a survival watch, which parameters should influence your decision and how to care for your watch. We also review the best tactical and military watches and list our top picks.
(Case & Bezel)
|Battery type &|
|Suunto Core Wrist-Top Computer Watch||2.26||Digital||30||Composite & Aluminium||CR2032 battery|
|Casio Men's PAG240-1CR Pathfinder||2.29||Digital||100||Stainless steel & Resin||Solar powered|
|Casio Men's GW-9400-1CR||3.2||Digital||200||Stainless steel & Resin||Solar powered|
|Casio Men's PRW-3000-1ACR Protrek||6.4||Digital||100||Stainless steel & Resin||Solar powered|
|G-Shock Rangeman Master Of G Series Stylish Watch||8||Digital||200||Resin||Solar powered|
|Casio Men's GA100SD-8A G-Shock Military Watch||2.56||Analog & digital||200||Resin||CR2016 battery|
|Luminox Men's A.8831.KM Recon||9.12||Analog||200||Stainless steel||CR2032 battery|
|Timex Expedition Shock Digital Compass Watch||6.08||Digital||200||Resin||CR2016 battery|
|Timex Men's T49825DH Expedition||3.52||Analog||100||Stainless steel||CR2016 battery|
|Lad Weather GPSMaster tactical watch||2.22||Digital||100||ABS plastic & Stainless Steel||CR2032 battery|
Should you invest in a tactical watch?
The simple answer is YES. A tactical or military watch is not meant solely for field and military personnel, it can be used equally by outdoor enthusiasts. The military adjective just goes on to put emphasize on the build quality of the timepiece rather than who it is meant for.
When you are outdoors and lost, your sense of time is affected. You have no idea how long have you been lost, how far you have been from where you started and which direction you are going? A basic watch may tell you the time but not show direction or distance. Hell, you can use the sun and the star for navigation but it is much better to fall back on a survival gear than the wild guesses.
If you are a serious outdoor person, spend a few bucks more but invest in a quality survival watch so that you are prepared come what may.
A military watch is build for durability, hence it can take all the beatings and some more that you throw it while outdoors. These watches are shock and vibration proof and can withstand falls multiple times. The same may not be true about your every day or luxury watch.
How to pick a good tactical watch?
Apart from being extremely accurate and very durable, military watches come with a plethora of features. You maybe surprised at the sheer number of functions that a good survival watch can offer but chances are you may not end up using all of those. Still, no harm in choosing the best options when you are putting your hard earned money right?
Not all watches offer all the features, so if you have to make a choice, ensure that you look for the following features.
- Build material and design
- Digital vs. mechanical
- Battery type and life
- Waterproof vs. water resistance
- Triple sensors
- Atomic watch feature
Build material and design
Watch cases come in an array of build materials and each one is different from the other. Some of them are,
- Resin: Hardened resin is a type of plastic that has been hardened and cured under temperature. Resin is completely synthetic and can be colored. It is strong but lightweight at the same time and it is also waterproof. Resin is the de facto choice for cases and bands in tactical and sports watches due to their tolerance to extreme temperatures and rough use.
- Stainless steel: Due to its high availability, strength and resistance to scratches, stainless steel is the most common material used in the construction of watch cases. Compared to other metals, stainless steel watches are a lot less cheaper but they are also a little heavier. Some people have allergy to this, so if you are one of them, you should pick a different material.
- Carbon fiber: Carbon fiber is a common material used in the construction of many products like sport gear, ski poles, pistols and watch cases. Carbon fiber is as strong as steel but lightweight making it an ideal choice for construction of watch cases.
- Titanium: Titanium is a metal that is slowly getting adopted in the watch segment with more and more manufacturers having at least one model with this build. It is a sturdy metal but not as heavy as steel and doesn’t causes any allergies. If you have a thing for metal, you should consider titanium as a viable choice.
Survival watches are robustly design and mostly come in subdued colors instead of being flashy. The buttons are designed to be non-intrusive and there are no rough or sharp edges which can risk getting stuck in your clothing.
Military watches are meant to be durable. By that it means that the watch should be able to withstand a barrage of extreme conditions. This could be regular rough use, extreme temperatures, fall and shocks and exposure to moisture. Apart from the watch casing, the straps are the other major component that you should consider. In most cases, it is quite common to have the same material used in the construction of the case as well as the straps.
If the straps are made of canvas or leather, be aware that these are not 100% waterproof as some of the manufacturers may claim. Also if you sweat a lot, these straps can quickly start smelling awful.
The face of the watch is another aspect that you just can’t ignore. Most faces of tactical watches are made of mineral glass but a few high end ones are also made up of Sapphire. While Sapphire is a very hard and scratch-resistant mineral, it is also costly making it a second choice in budget watches. Mineral glass is not a bad choice and will suffice in most cases.
Digital vs. mechanical
Though mechanical watches are more sophisticated and stylish, they have far more moving components than their digital counter parts. This make the prone to more damage when subjected to sudden impact and shock. Mechanical watches are not as accurate as digital watches. Mechanical watches are also affected by magnets and heat and this can sometime render them at fault.
While a digital watch is good for telling time, the sweep of the analog hands help you perceive time and the urgency of the situation. If you find a watch which offers both a digital and an analog display, consider it over one having only a digital display. But if you have to choose between an analog and a digital watch, always opt for a digital watch from a tactical standpoint.
Battery type and life
Military watch batteries come in two types – replaceable and solar chargeable. While both battery types have their pros and cons, in the end it comes to a matter of economical choice. Ideally in a tactical situation, the lesser you have to worry about things the better. A solar powered tactical watch makes more sense as you don’t have to worry about the battery every running out on you.
Brands like Casio have solar powered watches that can run for up to 6 months on a single charge. Not to forget the fact that solar powered watches can recharge under artificial light as well so it is always on charge mode.
Replaceable batteries can last anywhere from 9 to 12 months before running out. Considering they are not very costly, it is not a significant in your maintenance cost.
One drawback with the replaceable battery is that you may not be able to replace it on field. You need a kit to do that yourself.
May watches need a visit to your local watch shop for a battery replacement, more so if your watch is a waterproof or water resistant type.
Our advice is to opt for a solar powered battery as they have more advantages compared to their replaceable counterparts.
Waterproof vs. water resistant
This is a topic which is debated over heavily but the explanation can be quite confusing. Let us try to explain the various concepts one by one.
Waterproof: Simply put, waterproof means that the object cannot be affected by water. So what a waterproof watch implies is that there is no chance of moisture or water entering the watch. But that is not the case all the time. Truth is, there is no watch that is 100% waterproof. There is only so much pressure a watch can take before water can enter the watch and damage it eventually.
Water resistant: The term water resistant indicates how well the watch will hold against water pressure before starting to leak. A water resistant stamped watch can withstand the occasional water splashes like washing hands or dishes or when caught in a rainfall but that doesn’t mean you expose it to water on purpose. The water pressure on land is different from what you feel under water. What that means is that, a watch that is submerged under water has a greater force being applied on it than a watch that is held under a shower or tap.
Due to this, it is not advised to wear these watches and go swimming. Divers have special watches with higher water resistant ratings than regular watches which can withstand this pressure.
Degree of water resistant is generally denoted by M, ATM(Atmosphere) or pressure units like a bar. 1 ATM pressure is roughly the pressure we feel on land. For every 10 meters under water, 1 ATM pressure increases. So Under water, at a depth of 10 meters, we will feel 2 ATM(1 ATM of land pressure and 1 ATM for being 10 meters underwater) of pressure.
This degree of water resistance by no means denote the unit till which the watch will remain operational. So a 30M water resistant watch doesn’t mean it will be functional or can be operated under water at a depth of 30 meters. There is no direct relation between the rating and the depth under which the watch can operate.
It is advised to always go for a watch with a higher rating(200 is the norm nowadays) so that you don’t have to worry about accidental exposure to water.
Every tactical watch nowadays will have sensors to display direction, altitude or barometric pressure and temperature. These readings can be very useful and sometime critical to plan your next move.
A sudden drop in barometric pressure can indicate an incoming storm.
Similarly, some people may have health issues and breathing problem at higher altitudes.
When you are lost or need a sense of the direction to go, a compass becomes absolutely necessary.
The sensors are also collectively known as ABC sensors(Altimeter, Barometer & Compass) are very accurate with little scope for errors. Most watches will also offer a log or history feature to see how the values have been over a period of time.
Our suggestion is to opt for a watch which offers all these sensors.
The backlight functionality of the watch is to see time during night or in low or no light situations. You don’t necessarily need an electrical source in the watch for this, rather any source which can provide some form of light will suffice. A backlight feature in a watch can be accomplished in three ways,
- Using an EL backlight: An EL(Electro Luminescence) backlight is a thin film consisting of colored phosphor fused between two transparent plates. The phosphor glow when subjected to high voltage and this gives out light. EL backlight was a technique used in older watches but is still used in some models due to its relatively low maintenance, production cost, lightweight and high resistance to shock and impact.
- Using Tritium lighting: Tritium(H3) is a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen and has various industrial uses, one of which is to create self-powered light sources. Tritium gas is sealed in a small glass tube coated with phosphor. The decaying of Tritium releases electrons which makes the phosphor glow and this leads to a glow, which is used on watch dials and hands. The light produced in this way is very small to be seen in daylight but enough for viewing at night or dark surroundings. These lights are permanent and always on.
Since Tritium is a radioactive material, it has a decaying life of 10-20 years. Most manufacturers guarantee that the lighting will be around for 10 years but the truth is they can last longer than that. But the main issue is that, once the Tritium has completely decayed, you can not repair or replace these lights rendering them completely useless. The question that is asked is will you be wearing the same watch for more than 10 years? Why not? When you buy a quality product, don’t you want to keep using it for as long as possible?
- Using a LED backlight: LED backlighting is the most common form of lighting in watches nowadays. A small LED light is used to light the watch when desired by pressing a button. Some watches have a nice auto-backlight feature where the led lights automatically when you lift your wrist.
The backlight should be enough to see well in dark surrounding but not too bright to give away your position in a tactical situation. Also, it is desirable to have a backlight which can be operated with ease, for example, the auto-backlight feature is a nice to have feature when your hands are full and not free to press a button to enable the light.
Atomic watch feature
An atomic watch is a timepiece which automatically adjusts its date and time using electronic radio frequency, synchronizing itself to a transmitting atomic clock’s time. In the US, an atomic clock will synchronize itself with the US atomic clock in Colorado. The watch antenna will search for the 60 kHz radio signal once a day that is emitted from Fort Collins. To automatically synchronize, the watch should be within the broadcast radius of the signal.
Atomic watches normally try to synchronize themselves during night when the signal interference is the least. They do this once a day but some watches offer a manual search feature as well so synchronize when needed.
Regular atomic watches do not take into consideration the timezone difference between regions. They just adjust themselves as per the transmitted signals. Watches with a GPS feature are not affected by this constraint. They synchronize using GPS signals sent from satellites and can adjust times anywhere in the world to the correct timezone.
Which are the best tactical watches and what our picks are?
Suunto core military watch – Editor’s choice for best tactical watch
The Suunto brand is world renowned for making some of the best tactical watches. Trusted by professional divers, runners and mountaineers, Suunto watches have the best in class functionality and unmatched features.
Calling the Suunto Core a military watch will be an understatement, it is a mini computer on your wrist. Be it the subtle and sleek design, the polished and rounded edges or the stinger buttons, this watch has fine craftsmanship stamped all over it.
The Suunto Core has a barometer which can alert about an incoming storm 2 hours before it is due. It measures this by rapid drop in atmosphere pressure over a period of time and then notifies the wearer by an alarm. On a mountain hike and long trail, this feature can be a life saver.
The altimeter on the Suunto Core can measure elevation up to 30,000 feet. It also has a nice relative measuring feature which can measure your ascent and descent from your current altitude. It logs this information and can let the user rewind or fast forward this information to check and track progress.
The Suunto Core is water resistant up tp 30 meters and can sense if the wearer is under water. It then starts tracking and displaying the depth.
The Suunto Core comes in all black color and a range of black and colored straps. There are a couple of leather straps also which adds more appeal to it.
The specifications and features of the Suunto Core are,
- Weight: The Suunto Core weighs just 2.26 ounces, but packs quite a punch in its small form.
- Altimeter: The altimeter can display both absolute and relative altitude which is nice. There is a neat looking trek log which displays history of your trekking and lets you fast forward it as well.
- Barometer: The barometer reading is displayed in a nice graphical format for the last 24 hours. It also lets you go back and see the pressure in 30 minutes increment.
- Backlight: The Suunto Core has an electro luminescent backlight which stays on while you operate the buttons.
- Countdown timer: A countdown timer lets you set time for up to 90 minutes , and you can set it to the seconds.
- Compass: Compass with bearing lock.
- Build: The body is made up of composite material while the bezel is made of brushed aluminium.
- Display: The Suunto Core features a negative display, and the face of the watch is made of mineral crystal.
- Button lock: All the buttons can be locked by pressing and holding a button. This ensures that you don’t accidentally press anything.
- Stopwatch: Basic stopwatch with start, stop and reset functionality.
- Thermometer: Thermometer can measure body temperature when worn on wrist.
- Sunrise and Sunset timing: Displays the sunrise and sunset time for the current day.
- Alarm: Features one alarm with a snooze function
- Water resistant: Water resistant up to 30 meters.
- Battery: 1 CR2032 battery
Casio PAG240-1CR Pathfinder Triple Sensor Multi-Function Sport Watch – Best value pick in best tactical watch
The Casio brand is synonym with quality watches and they have been the innovative leaders in watchmaking for years. Casio has been the forerunners in creating highly functional digital watches liked both by outdoor enthusiasts and survivalists alike.
The Casio PAG240-1CR Pathfinder has nice bright labels and buttons and at first glance will not come across as dull but rather colorful.
It boasts of a dual layer duplex LCD, with each layer displaying a different set of data. This looks cool and gives the watch an ultra-cool sophisticated display.
The watch features more buttons than you would typically need and this makes operating it very easy. There are separate buttons for altimeter, barometer and the compass and you don’t have to cycle through the menu to access them.
The specifications and features of the Casio PAG240-1CR Pathfinder Triple Sensor Multi-Function Sport Watch are,
- Weight: The Casio PAG240-1CR weighs at 2.29 ounces, which is not very heavy considered its build.
- Altimeter: The altimeter can measure altitude in an increment of 5 meters. The altimeter displays ascent, descent and maximum altitude values.
- Barometer: The barometer reading is very accurate and the functionality is very easy to use. It displays a graph for the values in the last 48 hours.
- Backlight: The Casio PAG240-1CR has an electro luminescent backlight which is activated on the press of the buttons.
- Build: The Casio PAG240-1CR sports a complex rugged look and is very sturdy. It can be safely said that it is built like a tank!
- Display: The Casio PAG240-1CR features a black digital display, with overlay LCD layers. This allows for multiple functions to be used at the same time. The face of the watch is made of mineral crystal.
- Stopwatch: The stopwatch supports split timing.
- Thermometer: The thermometer present can be calibrated to measure relative temperature readings.
- Sunrise and Sunset timing: Displays the sunrise and sunset timing for 48 cities and 31 timezones.
- Alarm: Comes with five alarms and one of them can be set as the snooze alarm.
- Water resistant: Water resistant up to 100 meters.
- Battery type: The Casio PAG240-1CR is a solar powered watch and the battery can last for 6 months without further exposure to light.
Casio Men’s GW-9400-1CR Master of G
The Casio GW-9400-1CR Rangeman is touted as the best G-Shock watch. It features a stylish and tough design and comes packed with all the features you will find in other G-Shock watches.
It is the first Casio G-Shock watch to feature ABC sensors which are available in the Pathfinder models. ABC is short for Altimeter, Barometer and Compass. It also has a thermometer to measure temperature.
The Casio GW-9400-1CR Rangeman also features a stopwatch which can measure up to 1000 hours, but what anybody will measure that long is anyone’s guess. The watch can also display sunrise and sunset times for your current latitude and timezone.
The Casio GW-9400-1CR Rangeman is a solar powered watch and can run for 7 months on a full charge without the need of any further exposure to a light source. Combined that with the power saver technology that Casio watches have and you have a very energy efficient watch at hand.
The watch features multi-band atomic timekeeping and can receive time synchronization signals 6 times a day. There is a manual synchronization feature as well. You will not have to worry about the time on this watch every going out of sync.
The specifications of the Casio GW-9400-1CR Rangeman watch are,
- Weight: The Casio GW-9400-1CR Rangeman weighs at 3.28 ounces.
- Altimeter: The altimeter can measure altitude up to 10,000 meters.
- Barometer: The barometer reading is very accurate and can store up to 40 recorded values.
- Backlight: The Casio GW-9400-1CR Rangeman has fully auto LED backlight with Afterglow.
- Build: The Casio GW-9400-1CR Rangeman is shock resistant and mud resistant.
- Display: The Casio GW-9400-1CR Rangeman features a digital display. The face of the watch is made of mineral crystal.
- Stopwatch: The stopwatch supports split timing and can measure up to 1/100 of a second.
- Thermometer: The thermometer present can measure values between -10 to 60 degrees centigrade.
- Sunrise and Sunset timing: Displays the sunrise and sunset timing for 48 cities and 31 time zones with daylight savings on/off feature.
- Alarm: Comes with five alarms and one of them can be set as the snooze alarm.
- Water resistant: Water resistant up to 200 meters.
- Battery type: The CasioGW-9400-1CR Rangeman is a solar powered watch and the battery can last for 7 months without further exposure to light.
Watch maintenance tips – How to care for your tactical watch?
- Tactical and military watches are built shock proof. They can withstand a great deal of fall and take a lot of beating. But care should be taken that nothing heavy falls on your watch as it may not be able to survive such a shock.
- Do not take a watch under water near to its specified limit. So if a watch is described as 30 meters water resistant, it does not mean that it can be operated at 30 meters depth.
- Do not operate a watch under water.
- If a watch has been opened for cleaning or change of battery, ensure that it is tested for water resistant as well.
- Sea water can prove harmful to metal cases. It can rapidly corrode it. Sea water can affect the straps as well. Ensure that you wash a watch with fresh water after it has been exposed to sea water and then dry it.
- Never use cleaners and solvents to clean your watch, this can damage the straps or the case.
- Use a microfiber towel to clean the watch face or case.
Tactical Watch Batteries
Many of the tactical watches listed above rely on solar power to power themselves. Other tactical watches rely on CR2016 or CR2032 batteries to run. If you are looking for some options for such batteries, you can consider the following options:
- Energizer CR2016 3V button cell battery pack
- Duracell CR2016 battery pack
- Maxell Micro CR2016 battery pack
- Energizer CR2032 battery pack
- Sony 3V lithium CR2032 battery pack
- Duracell Duralock CR2032 lithium battery pack
Final thoughts on the best tactical watch
A tough tactical watch is meant to be useful in tougher situations. It should be a reliable gear which you find useful and can trust upon. Before you decide upon which watch to buy, think about what features you desire in your watch? Do you just need a watch that us built tough or do you need sensors to log your trek activity? Picking a good military watch boils down to picking what features you will find useful.
In this article, we described what are the factors that you should consider when buying a tactical watch and what are the best options available.
We hope you found this article useful. Do let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.