Military personnel and serious outdoorsman know that the time to acquire and prepare gear is long before setting out on a hike or mission.
Speaking of time, how do you plan to keep it in the harshest conditions? Can your current watches withstand submersion, extreme temperatures, and constant abuse? Can they provide you with the proper tools such as a compass, elevation maps, barometric pressure, trailhead location to find your way back even if the going gets tough?
If you can’t answer yes, this is the guide for you! We’ll be discussing the best military watches and what make them perfect for the adventurous outdoorsman. These watches are tough enough to provide potentially life-saving information when it counts the most.
We’ll be discussing what makes a watch a “military grade” timepiece and what tools and functions you should be looking out for on your next watch purchase. After you have a good idea of what you’ll need, I’ll do the dirty work and reveal the best deals on the best watches so that you can spend more time with your boots on the ground!
- Here the Best Military and Tactical Watches (Listed by Price)
- 1. Armitron Men's Sport Watch
- 2. Timex Ironman Rugged 30 Edition
- 3. G-Shock Sport Watch
- 4. Casio GA-100-1A1 Military Series Watch
- 5. Seiko 5
- 6. Suunto Core
- 7. Casio Pathfinder
- 8. Cressi Leonardo
- 9. G-Shock GG-1000-1A5CR
- 10. Luminox 3081 EVO Navy Seal
- 10. Samsung Gear S3 Frontier
- 11. Marathon Milspec Navigator WW194013
- 12. Garmin Instinct
- 13. Garmin Tactix Bravo GPS Watch
- 14. Suunto Traverse Alpha
- 15. Casio Pro Trek Resin GPS Smartwatch
- 16. Garmin Tactix Charlie Multisport GPS Watch
- 17. Casio G-Shock Mudmaster GWG-1000-1AJF
- 18. Marathon GSAR Mil Spec Watch
- 19. Victorinox Swiss Army Alpnach
- 20. Rolex Submariner Automatic
- Tactical Watch Buying Guide: What Features to Look for
Here the Best Military and Tactical Watches (Listed by Price)
Creating a comprehensive list of military watches is no easy task mostly in part due to the wide selection of tactical watch configurations that may fit the criteria of a military watch. I’ve tried to list watches that I think stand alone in their category and outperform their direct competitors.
Secondly, I’ve tried listing watches in every price range so that everyone in any economical situation can find something that fits their needs. With that said, however, you do get what you pay for and watches on the cheaper side will most certainly not contain advanced functionality like GPS, Bluetooth connectivity, fitness trackers, and high durability designs.
One of our favorite sayings here at Marine Approved is to “buy once, cry once”. This means that you save up for those top tier products that are guaranteed to exceed expectations and provide a long lifetime of reliability and high performance. If you’ve ever cheaped out on something and then wished you had gotten the better version, you know that feeling of regret is a horrible buying experience.
On the other hand, you may not need advanced functionality and you may not need a highly durable design, thus making the cheaper options a better fit for you! There are a lot of great watches that are decently waterproof and provide accurate time for those of you who don’t plan on exposing your timepieces to harsh abuse.
Basic Brawlers: Choosing the Best Military Watch Under 100 Dollars
Watches in this category tell the time, are waterproof, have a decent level of durability, and won’t require you to dump out your savings account. For most average people, watches in this category will likely suffice just fine and provide you with everything you need on a daily basis.
1. Armitron Men's Sport Watch
My review: This is a fairly popular watch throughout the military as a whole. It’s dirt cheap which makes it easy to replace if it gets lost and it contains everything you need on a basic level. It’s waterproof to 330ft which is more than enough to get you through just about any training the military offers. It contains a silky smooth plastic quarts display that is tough, visible and durable even when drug through the mud. You can pick this one up in a blacked out color scheme or a more vibrant black with orange accents configuration.
The band is a resin style band that uses a buckle closure system. The watch features a digital time display with alarms, stopwatch, calendar, lap counter, military and standard time, and backlighting. Armitron is known for their low cost but incredible quality watches. They aren’t fancy and they don’t encompass the leading technology, but they do get the job done and they’re less than the cost of a case of beer.
As an added bonus, Amazon often rolls out discounts on this watch and prices can come down under $20! This is definitely a great watch to add to your Amazon watch list!
The only cons I see:
- It’s very basic
2. Timex Ironman Rugged 30 Edition
My review: Timex took a great barebones watch that was insanely cheap and already super durable and released a “rugged” edition of said watch and here we are!
The Timex Ironman has been long known as a budget-friendly option for marathoners, a handy tool to have while training, and just an all-around solid watch that can take a beating without beating your bank account. It’s got all your essentials including countdown timer, alarms, 30 lap memory, and a 100m water resistance rating.
It comes in two color schemes, blackout and black with yellow accents. To me, they’re pretty much the same, so I hope you like black! If you don’t like the black color schemes, you can pick up the other Ironman watches which are basically the exact same thing, just styled in a more “sporty” fashion than the rugged edition. The other Ironmans have the exact same features and are just as tough, the only difference is styling.
At around $35, it’s hard to beat, and it’s my choice as the best military watch under $50. It’s a simple watch at a simple price, and if all you need is to tell the time without worrying about abusing it, I give it a hard YES!
The only downside:
- It tells the time and that’s pretty much it. Nothing else!
3. G-Shock Sport Watch
My review: G-shock is made by Casio which has one of the longest and most well-known timepiece manufacturing reputations. If you’ve ever been in a Marine Corps Exchange you already know G-shocks are the most common watch sold. This particular model is one the cheapest models you’ll find that is worth owning as a military style watch. All G-Shocks, so long as they aren’t knockoffs (very common, beware) are incredibly tough and have a very fair warranty.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this watch is the nifty little bull bars wrapping around the face of the watch. I’m not entirely sold on the idea that they increase its durability in any significant way, but hey, it looks tactical! The watch itself offers a digital display inclusive of LED backlighting, countdown timer, alarms, stopwatch, calendar, date, 200m water resistance, battery warning indicator, flash alerts and a strong textured resin band with a clamp style locking system.
This watch is fantastic for those of you who can’t fathom the idea of spending over a hundred bucks on a G-Shock. It’s fairly bare bones but it is incredibly durable and will sustain abuse from most average outdoor activities with ease.
At under $100 and sporting a three-year battery life rating, this watch is an absolute steal.
The only con I see:
- Common in many G-Shock models, the buttons are difficult to use and can be tough to push. This is probably intentional though.
4. Casio GA-100-1A1 Military Series Watch
The Casio GA-100-1A1 is one of the most popular military watches out there right now.
This watch is sold at a lot of military exchanges and was first watch I bought when I joined the Marines.
I put this watch through hell and after using it for over a year it still operated like new. It doesn’t have any fancy features, but it does have all the basic features you’d want in a tactical watch.
If you want a reliable watch that you don’t have to worry about failing on you when you need it most, this is a great option. In my opinion, this is the best military watch under 100 dollars. I only chose this watch over the G-shock reviewed above because I have personally used and tested this watch.
Mid Range Timekeepers: Military Watches Under $200
Watches in this range are essentially just better in what they do over the previous category. You still won’t find a whole lot of crazy functions although there are a few smartwatches you can get in this range that are pretty tactical. This will likely be the category that most of you find yourself buying from.
5. Seiko 5
My review: The Seiko 5 has been long used by the military and special forces as one of the most reliable barebones watches around. It’s not flashy and for good reason, it does what it’s intended to do well while maintaining a low profile.
What’s special about it? Well, it includes a centrifugal charger which means that the watch is powered by your movement. Finally, all that PT truly paying off, eh?
With a 37mm stainless steel design and a Hardlex mineral dial window, the 21 jewel automatic movement display is well protected and looks gorgeous. At $85, this is one of the clearest displays in this price range.
It’s tiny, mighty, cheap, and gets the job done. What’s not to like about it? The watch I’ve linked to is the nylon strap version, which is the cheapest one. If you’re not a fan of this band, you can find the watch with an assortment of other bands as well, even a stylish stainless steel version.
Take your pick and you won’t regret this tried and true military grade purist. This is the lowest priced automatic non-quartz centrifugal charging watches that is worth a damn on the market today. The one I’ve linked to is also the smallest model, there are other Seiko 5’s that are simply larger in size with minimal addition to the price tag.
The only potential cons I see:
- If you store the watch for a long period of time, it will require a brief charging period (flailing your arm around)
- The watch can slow down without regular movement, sometimes unnoticeable
6. Suunto Core
My review: I’ll come right out of the gate and claim my inherent bias on this watch. I’ve worn this watch a lot and have chosen it time and time again over many other watches in my arsenal. Why? I don’t really know! I just really like it.
Suunto isn’t a brand name that comes to mind immediately when talking timepieces, however, they certainly deserve their spot on this list. It doesn’t “appear” tough at all, but please let me assure you, this thing has been through hell and back riding along on my wrist and it’s still kicking strong. From scuba diving to hiking to daily gym sessions, this watch has been my buddy for the long haul.
The Suunto Core comes in 10 color schemes so it’s pretty likely that you’ll find one you like. Personally, I own the White Crush addition but I actually prefer the glacier gray and wish I had purchased that color scheme. The watch itself is just so damn sleek and slim for how tough it is! I can’t rave about it enough.
Over the past four years, I’ve only replaced the battery once so it’s pretty safe to say that the battery life is fantastic. The watch comes equipped as a standard ABC watch with sunrise and sunset calculations, which if you skipped the guide, means it has an altimeter, barometer, and compass. I’ve used all three countless times and I find that the Suunto Core is one of the most user-friendly ABC watches I’ve ever tested. Of course, it also comes with your basic tools such as date, calendar, alarms, stopwatch, etc.
Aside from the standard ABC functions, the Suunto Core also has a weather mapping trend function that will automatically alert you to rapid changes in your environment. For me, it’s not always completely accurate but it is nice to know that rain or snow is becoming a high potential. The display is plenty large and the backlighting is perfect with multiple illumination settings to choose from.
The only cons I see:
- Although I love the watch, I’m not a huge fan of rubber bands. At first, it just feels odd when you’re sweaty.
- It’s a single tooth locking design and with enough force, the tooth can bend, ruining the locking mechanism. I’ve gone through 4 bands with this watch in four years. Ouch!
7. Casio Pathfinder
My review: Outside of the extensive G-Shock product lineup we find a few one off Casio designs that fit the criteria of military style watches perfectly. This watch, in particular, is a favorite among servicemen and outdoorsman around the world and is well known for its hardened outdoorsy design.
This watch is tough as nails, arguably one of the toughest on the list with a mineral display window. The watch is powered via solar panels and contains all the normal features you’d expect from a sport watch such as 100m water resistance, temperature indicator, stopwatch, digital ABC functionalities, harsh temperature resistance (-10C/14F), backlighting, 31 world time zones, city code display, up to five alarms, calendar, countdown timers, and 12/24hr formatting. Expect to achieve roughly 6 months of battery life without light exposure and nearly unlimited battery life so long as it’s exposed regularly to light.
Another resin band watch to add to the list, it’s pretty much the same as the others so read those comments!
This watch may seem similar to cheaper models from Casio but where it really shines is in the implementation of a rock hard mineral display window and better overall construction materials. It’s true, you can get the same functions for less, however, this watch is considerably more durable and the solar-powered capabilities can really save your butt!
The only potential cons I see:
- 100m water resistance is a bit disappointing on a watch that’s over $150
- The rotating compass ring is easy to gum up with dirt and becomes difficult to turn
8. Cressi Leonardo
My review: If you’re not a fan of diving, there are better options out there. If you are, this is a top tier dive watch. Manufactured in Italy by Cressi, a top tier scuba gear design firm, the Leonardo is purpose-built to be paired via IR with a dive computer. Of course, if you like the design, you can just buy one and use it as a tough sports watch.
Coming in 15 color schemes, this watch is more sporty than rugged, but don’t let that fool you, she can take a beating and keep on tickin’. It includes lifesaving features such as a dedicated HUD and alarm system for surfacing too soon, protecting you from exploding your organs. Nice touch, I do like my organs unexploded.
For those of you who may not know, if you are diving deep and using a nitrogen blend, you have to surface slowly as to dissipate the buildup of nitrogen accumulated by your blood at deeper atmospheres. Surfacing too quickly creates expanding nitrogen bubbles that will cause major internal damage in just about every portion of your body. Divers must take precaution from this condition that’s coined “the bends” and by using this watch, you’ll be protected, allowing you to surface in the most optimum fashion.
The most interesting part of this watch is the fact that it’s a one-button design making for a very simple and durable design. The fewer buttons, the fewer things to go wrong! I won’t go too in depth in terms of its diving features but overall, it’s a fantastic entry to intermediate dive watch that includes every feature for diving you can possibly think of.
The only potential cons I see:
- Requires the proprietary Cressi boot to be used as a dive computer replacement
9. G-Shock GG-1000-1A5CR
The A5CR is the Japan version and from what I’ve read, this is the model with the best construction materials. The 1A5 is the North American version if you prefer it.
My review: Get used to seeing a lot of G-shock in the world of “military watches”. As the second one I’ve listed thus far, this watch is one of the toughest analog display watches you’ll find in the market that isn’t a ridiculous price.
Coming equipped with your run of the mill sport watch features such as timers, stopwatch, backlight, digital compass, thermometer, calendar, world time, and 5 alarms, this watch pretty much hits all the “needs” while maintaining a purist and rugged design. This tank of a watch is waterproof up to 200m and has a well-known reputation for surviving abnormal beatings.
Something special about this watch is its massive 2-year battery life on a double sr927w battery with passive solar charging configuration. The watch is hefty and heavy and is built for durability and a rugged appearance, not sleekness, and is quite thick, not fitting under standard gloves and making sleeves uncomfortable.
Overall, if the task at hand requires tank-like durability, this is a strong choice for a great price! You can also find them in a massive amount of different color configurations and there are several band choices at hand. The one linked about is a traditional resin band, however, a little searching around Amazon will show you the same watch with a bunch of different band options.
The only potential con I see:
- This thing is huge and heavy and may not be suitable for everyone
Choosing the Best Military Watch Under $300
If $300 is your budget, this section is for you. There are some insanly durable watches in this price range.
My review: If you like the rugged durability style watches but the G-Shock isn’t your style, a fantastic alternative is the Luminox Navy Seal Analog watch. This watch is very similar to the previously reviewed G-Shock but instead of that outdoors rugged design, this watch is a bit more of a modest and modern look. It’s also a tad smaller and lighter, making it a better option for those looking for the lightest gear possible.
I like this watch particularly because it entails the sport functions I need without being oversized. The white on black is a color configuration I can always appreciate and polyurethane band with a buckle latch is especially nice. It sports the same industry standard 200m water resistance label and utilizes a crystal clear Swiss Quartz movement and mineral display.
I have personally held this watch and tried it on but I have not had the chance to fully field test it. It does seem to have a very high standard of durability that I would say should hold up just as good as the cheaper G-Shock watches. The watch doesn’t have powered illumination but it does have 25 year rated borosilicate glowing accents that make the watch easy to read in the dark without the need for a recharge from a light source.
The only possible concern:
- This watch initially had a problem with the minute hand coming loose from a hard impact. Luminox claims its fixed so be wary of models that were manufactured before this fix.
10. Samsung Gear S3 Frontier
My review: This is a smartwatch that I have personally used since its release a few years ago and I am pretty thoroughly impressed, although I did end up selling it. I had long been a smartwatch hater but after getting a great deal on it alongside a new Samsung phone, I decided to keep an open mind and try it out. I loved it, but it still just isn’t for me.
It is, however, most definitely, for a lot of people! The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is their rugged version of their flagship smartwatch line and comes with the same internal technology encased in a tough and rugged case.
As far as functions go, it’s a smartwatch. It does everything. Listen to Spotify. Crawl your way out of the desert. Hack your way through the Amazon. Do some online shopping. Track your sleep. Pay for groceries. Run a marathon. Whatever. It does it all!
Almost anything your smartphone does can, at the very least, be augmented with this watch. You can even reply to texts, block your wife’s calls, use Samsung pay without connectivity, and download a plethora of apps. When I had the device, the app store was a bit disappointing but from what I’ve read, new apps are added daily and the watch is only now being supported by major developers, so I’d expect some pretty nifty app support now.
And hey iPhone lovers, this watch will work for you too as its compatible for pretty much all smartphones, not just Samsung! Nice to see major companies leaving “proprietary-ness” out of their new gadgets.
Although I don’t consider many smartwatches to fit the “military grade” criteria, it does technically meet the Mil-STD standards, so by definition, I suppose it is military grade. I will say, however, by the time I sold it, it was beaten to hell. Still functioning fine, but the beautiful black bezel will catch scratches from seemingly anything.
As a last tidbit, it is water resistant (only a little) and does have all the functions of an ABC watch. To me, this is more of a sports/activity based smartwatch than a rugged Amazon trekker, however, you could, in theory, bring this thing along with you on some hefty trips.
The only potential cons I see:
- It’s a “work in progress” type of device
- Not as durable as what I would consider “military grade” but alas, it does meet the military minimums
My review: Getting to watches that the military actually issues, the Marathon Navigator has many years of military testing that sets it apart from any watch on this list under $1000. This is the watch to have if you’re on a budget but looking for top tier quality purist style timepieces.
Rolex? Psssh. Plebs. Get yourself a Marathon and show people you’re a real operator. This bad boy is built specifically to specifications set by the US Government and is designed for the most brutal situations our freedom fighters will face. This particular model was designed with pilots and paratroopers in mind and Marathon even interviewed hundreds of ex-military for the most optimum design specs.
It’s not a smartwatch, but it’s certainly not dumb either! The Navigator comes equipped with Marathons well-known tritium gas tubes attached to each hour marker and hand, resulting in limitless glowing even without an external light charge. This timepiece comes with Marathons proprietary “high torque” movement paired with the coveted ETA F06 3 jewel quartz. To top off its impressive list of MIL-SPEC goodies, Marathon included an end of life (EOL) indicator to ensure proper notification of power.
For our sea dogs, never fear the great depths again. To my knowledge, all Marathon watches are capable of being submerged in 1000m of water and sustain the pressure from 6ATM.
The Swiss don’t mess around when it comes to Military grade watches and neither should you. Pony up for a Marathon and you’ll have a watch that’ll live longer than you. As a bonus, you can find it in 5 different tactical color schemes.
It’s a Marathon. Nothing to hate on
12. Garmin Instinct
The Garmin Instinct is basically the G-shock version of a smartwatch. It’s a lightweight and comfortable watch that is perfect for hunting, hiking, biking, and running.
It has a 16-hour battery life with the GPS on and 14-day battery life in standby mode.
It has an accurate altimeter, barometer, built-in magnetic compass, easy to access minimap, trackback, elevation profiles, distance to destination display, heart rate monitoring, and GPS functionality all for under $300.
The Garmin Instinct also meets the United States Military standard 810G for thermal, shock and water resistance.
Some downsides of this watch are that it does not have connect IQ (to install apps and new watch faces), music storage, colored topographic maps, and the battery life isn’t the best with the GPS enabled.
Overall, despite a few missing features, I still think this is the best military watch under 300 dollars.
Next Up: Best Military Watches Under 500 Dollars
13. Garmin Tactix Bravo GPS Watch
My review: The Garmin Tactix Series is just about as tacticool as it gets. We got night vision compatibility, all the cool kid ABC features, non-reflective blackout design, wireless connectivity via wifi hotspot, Garmin Connect app, Omni-directional stainless steel EXO antenna, GPS/GLONASS satellite utilization, and a slick knurled diamond carbon coating. This watch is so tactical that it even has a “tactical” interface option for advanced training and navigation.
But wait, there’s more! The Tactic Bravo (and Charlie reviewed below) is made for the most elite of operators and includes the Garmin Jumpmaster interface, projected way-points, dual-format GPS coordinate data tracking and a beautiful Sapphire Chroma display that is readable in the brightest of direct sunlight contact.
That’s a functions list longer than my typical grocery list and it fits in an ultra slim design that perfectly slides under tactical gloves or inside a sleeve. If you want to be the coolest kid on the block, get one of the Garmin Tactix watches!
Usually, I’m not a fan of nylon strap bands, however, it does make sense as this watch is designed to be worn with gloves. The package I’ve linked you allows you to choose between a nylon or silicone band.
Battery life varies depending on how you use this watch. Typically, you’ll get roughly 50 hours in Ultratrac mode, 20 hours in GPS mode, and up to 3 weeks in standard smartwatch mode. Pretty incredible numbers despite the watch being so lightweight and slim.
If you ever get lost with this thing on your wrist, you should lock yourself in a basement. It has literally everything you could ever need to navigate your way out of any environment. I could talk about this watch all day, or you could just buy it and save yourself the time! In my opinion, this is the best military watch under 500 dollars.
The only potential con:
- 100m depth rating is like seeing a muscle car with a V6 in it. LAME. Stick to jumping out of planes and stay away from deep scuba dives and you’ll be alright.
14. Suunto Traverse Alpha
If you want a super durable military watch with GPS functionality, but don’t want to pony up the money for a watch in the Garmin Tactix Line, the Suunto Traverse Alpha is still one hell of a watch. This is more so a hiking, fishing, and hunting watch than it is a fitness watch, although it does have some nice fitness features.
The fitness report on the Traverse Alpha shows average speed, distance, skin temperature, route, duration, calories burned while running, highest elevation, workout intensity, and some useful graphs. The fitness reports are not as detailed as the watches in the Garmin Tactix line but are still pretty impressive.
I know a few people who own this watch and they’re always raving about it. Overall, it’s an awesome watch at a pretty reasonable price point.
15. Casio Pro Trek Resin GPS Smartwatch
My review: Phew, 500 dollars for a Casio, it better be good!
It is good… Marine Approved for sure!
Just please understand that this isn’t a king in durability but rather utilizes top-notch navigation as its primary functionality. If the G-Shock is an old school Nokia, this is a smartphone, comparatively. It won’t take a massive beating but it is one of the “smartest” watches on the list.
Android compatible GPS connectivity, MIL-STD 810g compliance durability, ABC tools, activity trackers, dual-layer LCD display, and 25 hours of battery life at maximum utilization, this thing is a titan when it comes to a hikers wrist companion.
Except for one thing… 50m water resistance. Ew… Let’s act like we didn’t see that part…
Moving on to what this watch was made to do, which is most certainly not scuba diving, the watch has a full-color map display and utilizes offline downloadable maps. This watch gives you the power of Google maps no matter where you are with both GPS and GLONASS compatibility.
It’s tough to fully review a watch like this without drowning out the other watches on the list so I strongly recommend taking a look at a video or you’ll be reading all day and missing out on the beautiful weather outside!
The only potential cons I see:
- 50m of water resistance is garbage at $500. Rain? Fine. Just don’t dive with it.
- Battery life is a bit lackluster
Time Guardians $500+
The bells, the whistles, the long lists of functions! These are watches for true gadget enthusiasts that require the highest performance and latest tech. Expect to find smart device connectivity, navigation, extreme depth ratings, and more tactical stuffages!
16. Garmin Tactix Charlie Multisport GPS Watch
If you’re looking for a tactical watch that allows you to download topographical maps, I highly recommend taking a close look at this offering from Garmin. This is one of my favorite watches out there, and in my opinion, is the best military watch with GPS functionality at a reasonable price point.
I fell in love with this watch in about 0.3 seconds. There’s really nothing to not like about this watch so don’t expect many cons. This is one of the most beautifully designed military inspired watches I’ve ever come across.
The display face of the watch is highly adjustable and is easy to read even on sunny days. The built-in navigation sensors include GPS and GLONASS plus a 3-axis compass.
This watch is loaded with features and has many significant upgrades from the Garmin Bravo.
17. Casio G-Shock Mudmaster GWG-1000-1AJF
Like other watches mentioned, this is the Japan version and is being reviewed due to its higher level of manufacturing quality.
My review: The both the price and the watch are absolutely massive, but is it worth it?
The Mudmaster has long had a reputation that I never understood until I got my hands on one. It’s a tank, plain and simple. Sealed up for 200m depth rating and living up to its name, being drug through the mud, this is by far one of the toughest watches ever built.
Complete with solar charging, it’ll last several weeks with no light sources. The watch is triple reinforced to resist impact and abuse and simply put, it’s expensive because it’s nearly unkillable. If you’re someone who prides themselves on utter destruction and pushing products to their limits, this may be a fun one to give a go at. This is a watch that should outlive most buyers.
Let us know in the comments if you manage to kill one!
The only potential con:
- A bit expensive for the average sportsman but hey, buy once cry once, right?
18. Marathon GSAR Mil Spec Watch
My review: Here she is, the pride and joy of Marathon, the Swiss made GSAR military field issue watch that encompasses an intricate build list almost as big as the price tag! The US military orders these in mass and of course, they pay a much lower price! Or do they??
Where do I start? This watch is unlike anything else on this list. It was purpose built by using government specific specifications for use by the military.
The tubes placed on each hour mark and the hands are tritium filled that ensure an unlimited glow without the need of a light source. For those not familiar with tritium and not interested in the science behind it, tritium basically glows forever without the need to “charge” it with light. Pretty damn tactical and its found in a lot of high-end military issued optics as well!
This watch comes with the ever so gorgeous sapphire glass crystal which reduces glare and allows the watch to be readable even in the worst of lighting conditions. She’s finely crafted from 316L surgical grade stainless steel and is guaranteed to withstand any situation military members may find themselves in.
Better yet, it’s got the coveted Swiss ETA 2824-2 mechanical self-winding system which made this watch especially popular for serviceman in the Search & Rescue (SAR) field and missions at sea. It’s capable of sustaining up to 300m under the sea. That’s 1000ft. That is far more than just about any diver will ever even come close to!
For the divers reading, it is ISO 6425 approved. This watch is tried, tested, and approved by the Marines. Can we get an Oorah for this badass timepiece? It’s got history, man!
The watch comes well paired with a vulcanized rubber strap. I didn’t explain this strap type before, but in a nutshell, its rubber on steroids. Try to break it. Please. Tell us in the comments if you succeed! (I doubt anyone will)!
Without dedicating an entire page to this watch alone, let me just end on this note. It’s the fine Swiss craftsmanship that has been used in some of the world’s most expensive watches packed into one of the most robust and durable packages.
It’s sleek, smooth, and badass. If you got the cash, this is one hell of a watch and way more Tactical than a Rolex.
The only potential con:
- It costs a lot, but so do a lot of other watches that aren’t nearly as durable.
19. Victorinox Swiss Army Alpnach
My review: I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen one of these in person, however, these are among the most sought after Swiss Mechanical Chronograph watches and if you take a look their purpose, it’s no wonder they have earned their right on this page. These watches are the absolute top of the line quality and historically, many Navy Seals swapped their Rolex Divers for the Alpnach.
I’m not so sure I’d personally want to put a $2400 watch that looks so damn good through substantial abuse, but if you do, I’m sure it’ll hold up just fine. With a water resistance of 100M and a top tier 44mm stainless steel case coated with black PVD, this thing should be able to handle just about anything you throw at it.
The Alpnach comes with a unidirectional rotating bezel and stunts beautiful luminescent hands and markers. The sapphire crystal is already tough on its own but this one is coated for extra scratch resistance.
An expensive watch comes with an expensive band. You’ll get a 22mm double locking PVD coated stainless steel band to match the gorgeous watch itself. To make things even cooler, the back of the watch is skeletonized which reveals the centrifugal charging system.
This watch encompasses that sweet elegance you’d expect from a top tier Swiss Watch designed and shoves it straight into one of the most durable cases you’ll find. If top tier is your cup of tea, you’ll love this watch.
The only cons I see:
- It’s $2400, which makes it a bit expensive for most average sportsman to abuse
20. Rolex Submariner Automatic
My review: It wouldn’t be a complete list of military grade watches without the Rolex Submariner. Rolex has a long history of military involvement and most of their divers watches were engineered for field use in military applications. Probably not as often anymore, Rolex Submariners could be found in many cockpits of pilots, on the wrists of specialized divers, and even found in combat zones around the world.
The Rolex is more than just the gaudy show-off piece that most people think it is. This thing was designed to be the highest quality operational watch in existence.
I don’t have one nor have I ever owned one, but I’ve gotten to play with a few and it’s true, having a Rolex on your wrist does carry a certain presence with it. It’s hard to explain but if you know about the history and understand what that crown stands for, you’ll instantly appreciate the craftsmanship of any Rolex piece.
So, what makes it so expensive? For starters, the Submariner comes with a hardened ceramic unidirectional rotating bezel that is in a class of its own. This wraps around the 904L steel casing which is the same metal used in aerospace applications. It’s an automatic watch, meaning it doesn’t need to be manually wound up and it doesn’t have batteries.
The 31 jewel caliber 3135 is by far a leader in accuracy and durable movement. Elegant and nearly indestructible, serviceman were able to rely on its accuracy no matter what the soldier and his watch had been through.
The dials are illuminated by a photoluminescent “superluminova” compound which is a higher grade of luminescence than tritium.
For diving, the Submariner watches come with a patented HEV system. This system allows the watch to pure helium at incredible depths, allowing it to maintain its solid level of waterproofing.
The only potential cons:
- Repairing this watch will cost more than just about every other watch on this list
Tactical Watch Buying Guide: What Features to Look for
What is a military watch?
Taking a quick look on Amazon with the keywords military watch or tactical watch will land you with thousands of results, most of which do not fit the standards that I would consider “military grade”.
Way back in the day, all serviceman in the United States were issued watches directly from the military, however, this ended as most soldiers ended up wearing their own preferred timepieces instead.
Most people would agree that a military grade watch should be tough as nails, implement reliable battery life, and offer functionality that far surpasses the ability of your standard watches.
With this said, the term “military grade” does vary and is hard to define with exact precision in the market of timepieces. There are many different watches that could be considered military grade, thus creating a lot of confusion, especially if you’ve never really owned watches before.
So to answer the question, there is no answer! That’s right, “military grade” is a subjective term that you should define depending on your own terms and conditions. To make your own personal proprietary definition, you first need a plan.
Why are you looking for a military watch? Are you simply looking for something you don’t need to worry about abusing? Are you actually in the military? Do you just want to pull off that rugged woodsman look? What will you be doing as you wear this watch?
Answering these questions are important and will ideally point you in the right direction. Failing to plan will likely end with you doing one of two horrible things. Either A, you’ll waste money buying a watch that implements tools you won’t ever use or B you’ll find yourself wishing you had spent more money due to your watch lacking functionality.
Understanding how you’ll use your watch will be the single most important piece of information you need before you go on pressing those yellow buy boxes on Amazon.
For example, if I’m looking for a watch I can go diving with but I don’t particularly enjoy hiking, I’ll be looking for watches that have incredible depth capabilities (at least 10 atmospheres) and perhaps other features such as helium release valves, illuminated displays, atmospheric pressure indicators, etc. This means I’d be shying away from watches that have step counters, navigation, trail markers, and so on. Although I can find watches suitable for both hiking and diving that are coined as “military grade”, I would most certainly be in need of a watch that is focused on diving instead of hiking.
Unfortunately “military grade” doesn’t give us a whole lot of information, so to understand further, we’ll dive into specific watch functions and other things you should be wary of!
This is the most up to date military specification label that, in order for a manufacturer to legally use (yes, a lot use this wrongfully), the watch must meet all aspects of this label. This specification has a distinct class system ranging from Type I to Type IV.
A watch with the MIL-PRF spec label will fall into one of the classes and as a general rule of thumb, the more functions, the higher level of waterproofing, and powerhouse type will determine which class the watch falls under.
On this list, not every watch I include will encompass the MIL-PRF label. Some of them simply don’t have what it takes to make the cut and some of them, although they would likely earn their title, simply haven’t been tested.
The reason I’m not basing this list solely on watches with the MIL-PRF label is simple. Those are limited, expensive, and likely more than what the average consumer is looking for. There are also some really cool watches which contain incredible features that I think the military could consider in the future!
Without fully explaining this at the expense of people that truly couldn’t care less, you can read up on this more here.
Above all, I expect a watch that is marketed as “military grade” to be exceptionally durable. Again, this is a bit subjective and it goes without saying that the more you spend, the better durability will likely be.
In the durability department, at the bare minimum, I’d expect a watch to survive a fall twice the height of where my arms hand to. That’s not a professional durability test, however, if a watch fails this test, I personally don’t believe it deserves to be named a military grade timepiece!
Military grade watches should, by default, have some level of waterproofing. Nowadays, even cheap Walmart watches can withstand a splash or two and survive, however, a military grade watch, in my eyes, should hold a water-resistance level of at least 3 atmospheres. This means the watch is submersible in up to 30m of water for a significant amount of time without incurring any damage. To make things simple: 1 BAR = 1 ATM = 10m = 32ft.
As an additional tidbit of information regarding waterproofing, remember that when you change the battery you have a high chance of altering the waterproofing of the watch. Ensure that you consult with the guide or a professional so that your watch continues to uphold its manufactured tolerance of H2O. Major damage to the crystal of your watch such as scratches and chips can significantly impact the durability of your watch underwater and reduce its ability to resist abnormal atmospheric pressure.
Military grade watches should also be constructed of nothing less than 316L steel. Watches that are primarily plastic or shotty metal work will most certainly succumb to abuse and the likelihood of them failing when you need them the most is far too high to outweigh any cash you might save. 316L steel also does not oxidize, ensuring your watch is protected from the elements for many years to come.
Not all watches are created equal and it should be no surprise that not all bands are created equal either. With most reputable watch companies, the band should have about the same standard of quality as the watch itself, but if you’re shopping in the cheapo territory, beware of garbage watch bands that come with your new timepiece.
I once had a cheap dive watch that I was wearing while cliff jumping. I was holding a GoPro with a strap which was located on the wrist above my cheap dive watch. The impact of the water on the GoPro gave the band a tug and without a very surprising amount of force, the tooth that locked the band in place bent, allowing my band to come undone and alas, the watch fell to the depths, lost forever.
If you choose to buy a cheap watch or throw a cheap aftermarket band on your timepiece, make sure that band is ready to rock and roll or you’ll be tossing away money.
There are over 20 different types of watch band construction materials so I’ll only list a few of my favorites and ones that are most popular.
Physical vapor deposition (PVD) is a layered steel watch band encases in a layer of oxides, carbides, or nitrides attached by an ionic vacuum. It sounds complicated and it is! All you need to know, though, is that these are among the most durable watch bands on the market.
Ceramic watch bands are great for good durability and a low cost of weight. These are especially scratch resistant and have a sleek modern look to them after they are polished.
Cloth watch bands are among the most comfortable to wear, but since this a military grade watch guide, I’d mostly advise staying away from them as they aren’t nearly as strong and durable as more other watch bands.
Leather bands are well known for their classic look and form-fitting capabilities. Leather is tough, but if you allow the leather to go unconditioned, it can dry out and crack over time, greatly reducing its durability. Leather bands also aren’t ideal for watches that will see a lot of water.
Nylon watch bands are not created equally and the quality can vary greatly. These are bands that are typically very inexpensive but they do have a few pros, one being that single piece loop designs are very protective of accidental slippages.
Plastic watch bands are among the most water resistant but like nylon, quality can vary greatly so try to find reputable brands to use.
Rubber watch bands, similarly to plastic, are incredibly water resistant and very comfortable to wear as they are among the softest watch bands available. These are best used on sport watches and activity trackers. Rubber bands are widely known as the cheapest option for durability.
Metal watch bands come in many different flavors and would almost warrant their own entire guide! These can be anything from gold, gold plated, silver, silver plated, titanium, copper plated, stainless steel, Ion plated titanium, etc. For the most part, I’d shy away from metal bands regarding military grade watches. Of course, there are many great outdoorsman watches with metal bands, however, these are by far the heaviest and most expensive options with little additional usage. If you must have a metal band, I recommend stainless steel or titanium bands.
Size Does Matter
I always encourage buying from Amazon as its the easiest way to compare prices, features, find the best deals and return defective items, however, watches should be treated similarly to clothes. The watch size, the band size, how it fits you, how it feels, how its materials interact with your skin, etc all play major factors in your watch wearing experience. The watch won’t do you much good if it easily slips off or is so uncomfortable that you choose not to wear it.
My recommendation would be to go and try on different watches in a physical store and then find you a good deal on Amazon on a watch that you know you’ll enjoy.
What should you primarily be looking out for?
Watch size has a lot to do with personal preference but if you want a good look, a watch size that fits your wrist size is important. Generally, female watches are a bit smaller than men’s watches and watches that have a lot of features tend to be on the larger side. There’s not a whole lot I can tell you about which size is best as it really depends on you, so go to the store and try different sizes on to see what you like best. Intuitively, watches that are larger are also going to weigh more and in most outdoor activities, the weight of your gear adds up and definitely makes a difference!
For starters, watch faces and their cases vary in size. Watches exceeding 45mm are generally considered to be “oversized” and watches smaller than 38mm are considered “refined” or “slim”. Medium classes of watch face cases reside in the 38mm – 42mm range and it’s inside of this range that most “military grade” watches will be.
If you can’t make it to a physical store, you can use a quarter as a rough estimator. A quarter is 25.4mm in width so place this on your wrist and perhaps by using a ruler or tape measure you can get a rough idea of what a watches size will feel like.
If that sounds like a terrible idea, because it is, you can always find a watch sizing chart to print out such as the one found here.
You’ll also want to consider whether or not you will be wearing the watch on a bare wrist, under a sleeve, with the cuff of a dress shirt, etc. The thickness of the watch will play a big roll in how your sleeves fit you and how it looks tucked under your shirt.
Generally, military style watches will be thicker than normal due to their excessive functions and tools, so plan ahead and perhaps buy a separate watch for pairing in formal attire.
As a last sizing matter, the band’s size should be carefully considered. If you think your wrist is among the average person’s size, you probably won’t have cause for concern, however, if you need to shop in the big and tall section or you can still fit into a children’s T-shirt, you may want to double check that the band you’ll receive can fit snuggly and comfortably. The sizing chart linked above also includes methods to measure your wrist and I highly suggest you do so before pulling the trigger!
In my opinion, a watch should not be classed as military grade without a handy compass integration. If you’ve served in the military then you already know the importance of having a compass on hand. No one should find themselves out in the wilderness without, at the very least, a functioning compass that you know how to use. It sounds trivial to some, but a compass can be the difference between lost and a little sidetracked and can literally save your life.
When shopping for military grade watches you’ll often come across the term “ABC Watch”. This means the watch comes equipped with a toolset consisting of an altimeter, barometer, and a compass. ABC watches are among the most ideal when it comes to an outdoorsman’s arsenal of gear, so be on the lookout for your ABC’s!
Watch compasses come in a variety of different styles and configurations. Some have a compass built into the mechanics of the watch, sporting its own hand for the compass functionality. Others have a digital display that, when prompted, will switch from the time to a digital compass. Some may just have a little letter or icon indicating where North is on its display. Smart watches can display the direction you are actively heading in.
However basic or technologically advanced the compass may be, it all comes down to simply having one that is reliable and having the knowledge to use it properly. Make sure you test your watch compass before taking it out in the field as some of them can be a little tricky and misleading if not used properly. Some may also require calibration or even firmware downloads to work properly!
As a cool little tip, you can use any regular non-compass equipped watch as a compass using the guide found here.
Or, you know, you could just buy a watch with a compass.
Altimeter and Barometer
In the compass section, I mentioned the term ABC watch. Of course, this is out of order in terms of the alphabet and that’s because I think the compass is the most important part, however, the altimeter and barometer functions found in ABC watches are still important and useful tools.
From the depths of the ocean to the maximum height of your skydiving plane, these tools provide vital information containing your elevation, atmospheric pressure, and positioning.
The measurement of altitude is called altimetry and you can use this data in many different ways across many different activities! I won’t go too far into detail but I’ll provide a few examples to give you an idea of why these are important tools to have on hand (pun intended).
As a scuba diver, knowing your depth is a critical piece of information that determines how long your air solution may last and how much pressure is being exerted on your body and the gear you have. There are very specific ranges that, if crossed without the proper gear and training, can be deadly, so having a display conveniently placed on your wrist can ensure you’re operating under safe levels of pressure.
Hikers, skiers, and climbers will implement the functionalities of ABC watches to find their position on the side of a mountain and determine optimal times to take high altitude medication or when they are deep inside a canyon that’s blocking their GPS signal. GPS is certainly a handy tool that I recommend having on hand when hiking, however, it’s not always accessible or accurate! Sometimes, if the GPS satellites available are near the horizon, your readouts will be extremely inaccurate! It’s not uncommon for regular GPS units to miscalculate altitude by as much as 400 feet when satellites aren’t in ideal location relative to you.
Skydivers may use ABC watches to determine their altitude when performing jumps. This data allows the skydiver to pull their chutes in optimum levels, allowing for an exhilarating free fall experience but keeping them high enough that their parachutes can safely land them on the ground. There are typically specially designed altimeters for skydiving and I would NOT recommend using a typical ABC watch as your only altitude display device. None of the devices on this list will be suitable as a standalone sky diving unit. Maybe I’ll make a guide in the future that encompasses altimeters suitable for skydiving, let me know in the comments section if you’d be interested!
These tools work by either using a logarithmic equation, using radar or using GPS. The equation calculates altitude by using temperature, the pressure at sea level, current pressure, gravity, and the molar mass of the air. I’m no math wiz so I’ll avoid diving further into the math behind it. Here’s the Wiki page explaining it if you’re interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altimeter
A lot of watches nowadays have a stopwatch but if it doesn’t, meh… I think it’s lame! This is, after all, a military grade watches guide and without a stopwatch, I think it’s safe to say that it isn’t deserving of that stature!
A stopwatch can provide critical information across many different activities both simple and advanced. On the simple side, you may need a stopwatch to time yourself in a certain activity.
For example, I use the Suunto Core to swim and instead of counting laps, I like to swim for a certain amount of time.
Also, if you’ve served in the military, you should be quite familiar with the uses of a stopwatch in standard training exercises.
Furthermore, you can use a stopwatch to calculate the speed or distance you’re traveling at. Using the dirty DRT equation, your stopwatch ensures you always have access to accurate T.
That’s probably a bit confusing so let me clarify using an example! Our equation (D=RT) is as such: D = Distance, R = Rate, and T = Time.
Your speedometer just went out and since you’re a law-abiding citizen who would never want to break the speed limit, you can figure out how fast you’re moving and adjust accordingly! Set your cruise control on and turn on your stopwatch. Observe your odometer. Convert the time to hours (Ex. 5 minutes = 0.83 hours). Now divide your distance number by the time you’ve used to observe the change in distance and there you have it, your speed (in MPH)!
You can also use your stopwatch to measure the height of a cliff and many other helpful applications. Stopwatches are a great tool for outdoorsman when you know how to use them and you’ll always have one with you with the purchase of a quality watch.
It wouldn’t be a military watches page without some serious tacticool talk! For those few of you reading this that are true tactical operators, it may come as a surprise that there are watches with NV compatibility modes. This means the display has a lighting setting that shows up on your NV but does not illuminate the area around it, thus not giving away your position in the dead of night.
Cool and handy if you actually have a use for it but if you don’t even own NV, you most certainly shouldn’t base your decision to buy a watch on if it has NV compatibility or not!
Wireless connectivity is a function that you’ll find in the higher tier of military grade watches and comes in the form of ultra-low power Bluetooth or wifi connectivity. These watches are capable of pairing with a computer or smartphone to use their functions in tandem with the power of your other devices. A lot of times these are best used for fitness tracking applications and also tracking your activities as a whole.
Wireless connectivity to me is one of those functions that, unless you know how you’re going to use it before buying, I don’t recommend just jumping into. I’ve owned many smartwatches with wireless connectivity and I ended up rarely utilizing these expensive additions.
That’s not to say they aren’t worth it, though. If you’re an avid hiker or runner who needs to upload their performance to their phone it may just be worth it! It’s also nice to have music synced across your devices and some watches are even capable of downloading maps and giving you turn by turn navigation.
To me, this functionality is for those who have the extra cash to burn on functions that would be considered a luxury. They are cool, but it’s likely you won’t parish horribly in the wilderness because you didn’t have it.
There are pros to having a watch that doesn’t have wireless connectivity aside from the cost benefits. Although ultra-low power Bluetooth technology has certainly come along way, it still requires significantly more battery power than watches without these capabilities. These watches also tend to have firmware bugs and can be damaged beyond repair significantly easier.
Also, I disliked having yet another device I need to charge almost daily. Maybe you don’t have a problem with this, but on major several day outings, this can be a huge problem. Load up on those external battery packs!
I know, this was a long one, but I sincerely hope that I have at least steered you in the right direction when it comes to finding a military grade watch.
Defining a “military grade” watch is like defining what a “fast” car is. It’s relative to what you have and what you do so make sure you plan accordingly and buy what you really need.
As you can see, the list varies by a lot and in no way does this list encompass every military grade watch available. I’m sure I’ve left out a few goodies so please let me know in the comments and I’ll try my best to add it to the list!
If you pick one of these watches up, don’t be afraid to share your experience with the rest of us, I really do enjoy seeing what people think of the products I have approved.
Corporal Wabo is a former Infantry Squad Leader with 3rd Bn 4th Marines. As an outdoor enthusiast, he has been testing outdoor and tactical style gear for over 20 years. He started this website while transitioning out of the Marines, and since has recruited several other Marines to help him work on the Marine Approved website. On this website, we only write about things within our range of expertise like tactical gear, survival gear, hiking supplies, etc. Check out the “About Us” tab to meet the team.