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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!
Casio Military Series Watch
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G-Shock Rangeman GW-9400
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G-Shock Rangeman Solar Assisted GPS Watch
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Garmin Fenix 6X Sapphire
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Garmin Tactix Charlie
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Here the Best Military Watches
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 life 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.
|Best Military Watches||USP||Amazon|
|Garmin Fenix 6X Sapphire||Editor's Choice||Click here|
|G-Shock Rangeman Solar Assisted GPS Watch||Best in Durability||Click here|
|Garmin Instinct||Best Under $300||Click here|
|G-Shock Rangeman GW-9400||Best under $200||Click here|
|Casio Military Series Watch||Best under $100||Click here|
1. Casio Military Series Watch (Best Under $100)
My Review: The Casio GA-100-1A1 is one of the most popular military watches out there right now for good reasons. It’s extremely durable and has a ton of handy features for a watch under $100.
This watch is sold at a lot of military exchanges and was the first watch I bought when I joined the Marines. It served me well and was around for many of my best and also most difficult memories! I put this watch through hell and even today it still operates like new.
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Unlike most watches at this point that only have a 24-hour stopwatch, this watch has a reliable 100-hour stopwatch and measures up to 1000th of a second. The stopwatch has two modes including a standard split time mode and an additional lap mode that you won’t find in many watches at this price point. In my opinion, this is easily one of the best military watches under 100 dollars. The only thing I wish this watch had is solar functionality, but with a 2 year battery life, I never found that to be a deal-breaker. This is hands down the best military watch under 100 dollars.
I’ve placed a video below that does a good job giving an overview of this watch. It’s pretty long but it does do a great job showing all the capabilities of this watch.
- Two-year battery life
- Easily switch between 12 or 24 hour time format
- Magnetic resistant
- 29 different preset time zones
- Digital and analog watch
- Automatic light setting if turned on
- Like all G-shock watches it is designed to resist mechanical shock and vibration
2. G-Shock Rangeman GW-9400 (Best Under $200)
My Review: I first came across the Rangeman when I was reading a forum post by a Navy SEAL who said this watch is very popular in the SEAL community. After checking out the Rangeman myself I see why. The Rangeman is in a class of its own and is more than just another iteration of the G-Shock series.
Of course, like the G-Shock series, the Rangeman is incredibly durable and is waterproof down to a whopping 600 feet (200 meters). The Rangeman is packed full of features including a quadruple sensor suite that encompasses a digital compass, altimeter, barometer, and thermometer and all of this is powered via solar charging. The sensors in this watch are designed and protected in a way that ensures they remain accurate even after exposure to heavy shock and 600ft of submersion. Each sensor mode has a unique audible mode that is set up so that you know which mode the watch is in without taking your eyes off the target.
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Having trouble telling the difference between the Rangeman and other G-Shock series watches, like the Mudman? Well, the Rangeman consists of resin-coated stainless steel while most of the other G-Shocks are made from aluminum which makes the Rangeman weigh a bit more but also handle shock better.
The buttons on the Rangeman are reinforced and are the most durable buttons on any G-Shock watch to this date and the buckles on the Rangeman are much stronger and are double-pin while most other G-Shock watches only have a single-pin buckle. The backlight on the Mudman is a luminescent-type light whereas the Rangeman has a white LED, which is my personal preference as well as many of the Special Forces guys I’ve talked to about this watch.
Finally, the Rangeman is a bit larger than the Mudman coming in at 55.2×53.5×18.2mm while the Mudman is 53×50.8×18.2mm. This, of course, makes for a weight difference where the Rangeman weighs 93 grams and the Mudman weighs only 68.5 grams.
Here is a good video overview of the Rangeman and its functions.
- Constructed of resin-coated stainless steel with an analog quartz movement
- Waterproof down to 600 feet
- 1000 hour stopwatch
- Multi-Band Mb6 Atomic timekeeping for the US, UK, Germany, China, and Japan
- Encompasses a white LED backlight
- Available in black with red accents or green with yellow accents
3. G-Shock Rangeman Solar Assisted GPS Watch (Most Durable GPS Watch)
My Review: The GPS enabled Rangeman is one of the most technologically advanced ruggedized watches on the market and boasts itself as one of the first premier solar-assisted GPS enabled field watches ever built. There is no competitor here, the G-Shock Rangeman is everything that the G-Shock lineup encompasses with incredible GPS enabled features that ensure you survive!
Now, my first question here was what solar-assisted was and how a GPS enabled watch that is waterproof down to 200 meters can be charged. In a nutshell, the watch runs on a lithium-ion battery similar to your phone. They’ve gone on to use a case backing that consists of ceramic and are only about 2mm thick so that you can attach a wireless charger to it, enabling charging without ever opening up the watch to water damage.
They claim you can expect to wirelessly charge the Rangeman for five hours and get up to thirty-three hours of GPS navigation functionality. Thirty-three hours may seem like a lot, but in the off chance you need more time, the solar-assist panels kick in and enable GPS functionality at a rate of 1 hour of use for 4 hours of solar charging under 50,000 lux lighting. I’ll admit, the solar-assist isn’t going to bring the watch back from the dead but if you really need one last look at the trip ahead, this could be a serious lifesaver!
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This technology is incredible and what they’ve managed to stack into this little thing is mind-blowing but if that screen gets a bit difficult to keep your eye on or track information, you can use the Bluetooth connectivity to link up with your phone and access all of the GPS enabled features such as route planners, backtracking, logging, 3D views, elevation information and much more.
Aside from the tech, the Rangeman is built tough just like all of the G-Shock watches we’ve come to know and love, except this one pushes the boundaries even further. Of course, water, mud, harsh temperatures, direct sunlight, and general abuse are no problems for the Rangeman but pushing the ruggedness a step forward, Casio has included a carbon fiber band and an insanely scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. The stainless-steel bezel itself is actually built with the GPS antenna inside of it, which I thought was pretty cool!
Of course, these are significantly cheaper but are still upheld to the same insanely durable and rugged standards.
- GPS enabled functionality with Bluetooth connectivity for trip planning, logging, 3D maps, etc
- 60mm stainless steel antenna-integrated case with sapphire crystal
- Wireless charging with solar-assisted charging giving up to 33 hours GPS enabled battery functionality
- Triple-sensor suite encompassing a barometer, altimeter, and thermometer alongside a digital compass
- Water-resistant to 200m
4. Garmin Fenix 6X Sapphire (Editor’s Choice)
My Review: The Fenix 6X Sapphire is easily one of the most high-tech and durable GPS enabled watches you can get today. The Sapphire in the name is indicating that the device comes with a sapphire crystal, meaning it’s extremely durable and scratch-resistant. The only GPS watch they sell above this model is the same set-up and features but with a solar charging function that’ll cost you another hundred bucks or so. I opted not to use the solar-powered version but if you think you might need a bit of extra battery life, go for it!
So we explained the Sapphire tag but what about the X tag? Well, the X just means its larger and has higher resolution. I like the larger screen and I would recommend spending the extra cash for the 6X (1.4 Inch 280×280) version if you plan on using the GPS features. Of course, the smaller versions work fine, but I really feel like the detail of the maps comes in handy and is far easier to use quickly and easily than the smaller screens. The 6S (1.2 Inch 260×260) is the smaller of the three options while the 6 (1.3 Inch 240×240) is 17% larger than the 6S.
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At the end of the day, these are very rugged and well-designed smartwatches with GPS as only part of the functionality but that’s what we’re focused on here. I’ve tried a lot of other smartwatches with GPS functionality but none of them compare to the full suite of tools offered by the Fenix. The watch is completely decked out like you’d expect a GPS unit to be with a full suite of sensors including a barometer, altimeter, triple-axis digital compass, gyroscope, pulse, and O2 sensors. The GPS is based on GLONASS, Galileo, and GPS satellites and provides just as good of coverage as many of the Garmin focus-based GPS units.
These watches are excellent for those of you training or setting out for optimum fitness excursions. The watch will track everything from calories burned to where on the map you struggled the most. Furthermore, these watches are ready to go across a plethora of activities and even come with TOPO maps for skiing.
Key Functions and Features:
- Constructed of stainless steel with a titanium or diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating
- The Sapphire version grants you ultimate scratch-resistance with a sapphire crystal. The other models are Gorilla Glass
- Battery life up to 21 days in regular smartwatch mode with a total of 15 hours of GPS functionality
- Expedition mode grants you up to 46 days of battery life and battery saver mode gives you 80 days of battery life
- The top tier version has a 1.4” screen with 280×280 resolution
- Full sensor suite including digital triple-axis compass, barometer, altimeter, Pulse, and VO2 sensors
- Pairs with the Garmin Explore mobile app on any modern smartphone or Garmin compatible devices
5. Garmin Tactix Charlie
My Review: 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 watch is loaded with features and has some significant upgrades from the Garmin Tactix Bravo reviewed below (the most notable being the colored map features and a built-in wrist heart rate monitor). You also get a night vision goggle compatibility setting that is useful and also extends battery life, waterproofing to 100m, a flashlight setting, save location, multiple watch faces, sunrise/sunset identification, and a whole lot more.
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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.
- GPS and GLONASS Functionality
- Night vision goggle compatible
- Heart rate monitoring and step counting
- Tells you the sunrise, sunset, elevation, temperatures, moon phase, and other important data
- Save points of interests and locations
- Solid black and non-reflective design
- Wireless connectivity with Garmin Connect App
- Water rating of 100 meters
- Tactical settings like Jumpmaster
6. Garmin Tactix Bravo GPS Watch
My Review: The Tactix Charlie reviewed above does have more features than the Bravo, but in terms of value, I still believe the Bravo is a better deal. We’ve still 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 above) 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!
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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.
- Night vision goggle compatible
- Water rating of 100 meters
- Wireless connectivity
- GPS and GLONASS positioning
- Non-reflective design
7. Garmin Instinct (Best Under $300)
My Review: 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.
I’ll link a good video review of this watch below, I recommend skipping to 7 minutes in.
- Responsive menus
- Screen visibility is great even on sunny days
- Accurate ABC sensors and tracking
- The buttons are recessed
- Great battery life so long as GPS is not enabled
8. Tactical Field Watch by 5.11
My Review: 5.11 Tactical makes some seriously awesome tactical gear and you’ll see us raving about their products all the time across many different categories. They didn’t start off making watches but it comes as no surprise they’ve gone out and given it a shot. I was skeptical at first as I’m a long Victorinox and Timex fan, but just like they do with their other products, they’ve impressed me once again.
They set out to make a purpose-built tactical watch and I think they’ve done just that. These watches are meant to be marketed towards military personnel and I’d say that including a heavy-duty extra-thick mineral glass face protected by a 44mm stainless steel case is probably the way to go. Yeah, it’s a little thick and a little bulky, but man do these things feel solid and durable and ready to roll into action right along with you.
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I typically prefer leather bands but to be honest, the Nato Nylon webbing band they’ve chosen to go with here is excellent and fits snuggly while still being far more comfortable than other nylon straps. I went with black but you can find these that come with tan (Kangaroo) straps as well.
These watches are extremely simple for the class and ruggedness they exude. 5.11 Tactical designed these watches to be easy to work on and change the batteries yourself and I really appreciate the attention to detail you find in its minimalist but rugged design.
- A very rugged and tactical design followed by simplicity
- Water-resistance up to 330’
- Comes with either a black or tan Nato Nylon band
- Your choice of a black or gunmetal gray 44mm case
9. Suunto Traverse Alpha
My Review: 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.
- GPS & GLONASS via SIRFStarV chip
- Compatible with Suunto Movescount App
- Tracks when and where you were when you take a shot
- Save locations and points of interests
- 14-day battery life in time mode
10. Seiko Prospex
My Review: Seiko does an excellent job on these rough and tough but classic diver-watch inspired timepieces and the Prospex is a whole new level of excellence. No, these aren’t padded in OD green or sit stealthily on your wrist in flat black but they do encompass a lot of the rugged and durable attributes we look for when choosing a timekeeper that we know will be face adversity.
You’ll find these in a beautifully polished stainless steel with a black and blue-accented face ring. These watches are known for their insanely efficient solar charging capability and keeping these watches running is something you’ll never need to think about. With water resistance down to 660’, I’m fairly certain any mission you undertake with the Seiko Prospex strapped on your wrist will fall within its attainable survivability.
- 43mm stainless steel case and strap with a triple fold-over double push-button clasp
- Water resistance rating of 660’ or 200m
- Solar-powered recharging under any light exposure
- Illuminated hands
11. Timex Ironman Rugged 30 Edition (Best Under $50)
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 is that it has very limited features, but for $35 you can’t expect to get it all.
- The rugged edition is primarily targeted towards the people who like these types of watches, which is great customer observation!
- Tried, true, and cheap as hell
12. Seiko 5 (Great Value)
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.
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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).
Also, the watch can slow down without regular movement, sometimes unnoticeable.
- Simple, low profile, and tough as nails. No wonder it’s a top choice for servicemen around the world.
- Top tier display in this price range
13. 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!
- One of my personal favorites for the money
- Tough as nails but lightweight and minimalistic
14. 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.
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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.
- Solar-powered for unlimited power
- Top of the line sports watch durability
15. Casio G-Shock Mudmaster
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?
- Toughest more rugged watch on the market by far
- Unlimited battery life so long as it receives light every few weeks
16. Citizen Satellite Wave Eco-Drive F900
My Review: When you’re in the military there is a lot going through your head when repositioning to a new area of operation and unfortunately, there have been some pretty unfortunate mishaps due to soldiers forgetting to change the time on their watches.
Now, I know you’re smarter than that and you would never make that mistake, but why chance it? The Satellite Wave Eco-Drive offered by Citizen is a self-adjusting watch that is in constant contact with the Japanese Michibiki Quasi-Zenith Satellite System. An invisible beam is literally being shot off of your wrist (no worries, the enemies won’t see it), and is received by some of the most technologically advanced GPS enabled satellites humans have managed to launch thus far to ensure your watch is displaying the correct time, every time.
As your mission requires you to operate across various time zones, your Satellite Wave keeps you up to date and in-sync in under 30 seconds each and every time any of the world’s 40 different time zones are crossed. Keep your head clear and never worry about adjusting your watch again! Trying to phone home while out on deployment? No worries, this watch has a “home time” function that allows you to quickly check what time it was wherever you left home.
Not only is this one the most interesting and most innovative GPS enabled analogous watches I’ve ever seen, but it’s also downright beautiful. This is my personal favorite Eco-Drive and is actually one of my favorite designs overall when it comes to rough and tough watches.
What you get here for what I would consider a steal of a price is a titanium-based case with Citizens proprietary Duratect. Duratect is a heat-treated coating that, when applied to titanium, raises the durability and hardness of the material up to 5x it’s original state. This is what Citizen calls “Super Titanium” and it hosts a 40% lighter weight profile than standard stainless steel while being significantly stronger and more durable.
This watch was released in 2011 and is the first watch ever to accomplish automatic GPS satellite-synchronized time adjustments. If you’re looking for a watch that is as tough as you are with the brains to back it up, these are literally out of this world and will not disappoint.
This all sounds difficult to power, I mean, your watch is literally in constant communication with pieces of technology that are in Earth’s orbit, so we’ll have to charge it up or change batteries often, right? Nah, Citizen has you covered and you have absolutely nothing to worry about as these are charged via solar power and will never need a battery replacement.
If you’re looking for something a bit cheaper but you like the concept being displayed here, check out the older 2014 model (F100) that you can find here at a significantly lower price. The main differences here are that the newer model is much thinner, the thinnest GPS enabled watch on the market at release, and aside from just GPS related time signals, the newer model also is capable of delivering basic GPS positional data as well.
- The thinnest and fastest satellite-enabled automatic time adjustments with reception across all 40 time zones
- Constructed of extremely light-weight but durable Citizen proprietary Super Titanium with Duratact
- Hosts a 43.5mm case with a Sapphire crystal and Japanese-Quartz movement
- Light-level and power bank indicators
- Water-resistant to 330’
17. Citizen Military Eco-Drive
My Review: Most people are well familiar with the long and reputable Eco-Drive offered by Citizen and although they’ve already had an excellent reputation of being well-designed and quite durable, the military version has taken it several steps further and offered a truly rugged masterpiece that won’t break the bank.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that the color palette they’ve chosen is an OD green configuration you’d expect to find on a military-inspired piece of tactical gear but unlike many of the other Eco-Drive offerings, these come with a high tensile strength nylon Cordura band and the face hosts a similar color palette to that OD green band.
Like many of the Eco-Drives you may have come across before, these utilize solar power and can operate for a very long time after the sun goes down due to their industry-leading rechargeable cell system. These, in theory, should run forever with periodic exposure to light!
The Japanese movement used in this watch is long known to be rugged and durable and with a water resistance rating of 330’, you are sure to run this watch through its paces and still tell the time when the dust settles!
This is one of the lowest cost Eco-Drive watches you’ll find that I would consider a “military watch”. It’s incredible the value and durability you get here at this price point and if you’re looking for something analog that is tried and true from one of the top watchmaking brands, this is the watch I would recommend. We will review more expensive Eco-Drive watches and of course, they are each different with their own characteristics but the Military Eco-Drive is one of the best values out of the Eco-Drives we will list here.
- Encompassing a long line of reputable and durable timepieces now themed for a military-esque color palette in OD green and black
- Water-resistance down to 330’ or 100m
- A very tough and durable Cordura Nylon strap and a 43mm stainless steel case
- Unlimited power via solar power that charges and retains energy under any type of light
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.
Want tactical, here you go. This is as tactical as it gets.
The only potential con:
It costs a lot, but so do a lot of other watches that aren’t nearly as durable.
19. Arctos Praezionsuhren GPW Infantry
My Review: When I want something extremely well-built, simple, and utilitarian, I always check what the Germans have concocted. I was not disappointed in my search for a German military watch and it didn’t take long for me to come across the GPW Infantry lineup of field watches.
First and foremost, they pride themselves a lot for being among the lightest titanium-based military watches on the market today. These bad boys come in at a very light 57 grams which is like a hundred grams lighter than your average-sized military watches, so that’s pretty dang light! Now, light watches are notoriously fragile watches, but not in the case of the GPW Infantry watches. These are all constructed out of titanium and come with a very thick anti-reflective sapphire crystal for ultimate durability and scratch-resistance.
These were originally designed for the German Crisis Reaction Forces and as such, they needed to be weighed down as least as possible by their gear. This watch was also intended on being heavily abused and facing harsh elements and so they set out to create a watch that, perhaps isn’t the most stylish, but is tough as a tank and is reliable no matter the circumstances. If you’ve had a long track record of destroying watches, I highly recommend grabbing one of these as they may just give your reputation a run for its money!
- A 42.5mm sandblasted industrial titanium case with a sapphire crystal
- Ultra-precise automatic momentum movement that is EMP-proof and functions without a battery
- 660’ of water resistance
- Illuminated hands with a very simple and elegant utilitarian design
- A plethora of strap options across leather, rubber, and Cordura nylon in various colors
20. 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
- A tank-like form factor that I would trust in just about any environment and any activities
- Solar and battery-powered for incredible power reliability
21. Victorinox Swiss Army Original XL
My Review: Victorinox isn’t well known for offering watches on a budget but for what you get here at under a hundred bucks, I’d say it’s dang near perfect for a classic and minimalist design. The Original XL comes with a classic stainless steel encasement and while the only option for the actual case is black, you may choose between several accent colors for that aluminum top ring around the watch face giving you options to make it your own.
Victorinox watches are well known for being exceptionally tough and durable and with this watch, you can be sure they’ve pulled no punches. Along with incredible durability and resistance to shock you’re also protected under the sea with up to 330’ of water resistance capability.
I don’t think I’ve come across a Victorinox watch yet that isn’t readable in complete darkness and here again, I am not disappointed. The hands are illuminated and there are markers near every hour indicator that allows for excellent visibility in low-light situations.
I will make one less than favorable comment here and that is that I don’t personally prefer the nylon strap. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that I personally like the feel and experience a leather band offers and as such, these watches can be found with leather bands, although it’s a little more tricky to find them than the nylon variant. I would suggest grabbing the leather band but hey, if you like nylon then that’s a perfectly good choice as well!
- A very durable and low-profile stainless steel platform with a beautifully elegant and customizable aluminum dial bezel
- Luminescent hands and hourly markers
- The option to choose between a nylon or leather strap and 8 color configurations for both the bezel and the watch face itself
- Water-resistant to 100 meters
22. Victorinox Swiss Army Infantry
My Review: A timeless design, Victorinox never disappoints and of course, the Infantry has to be on this list as one of the most classic field watches ever made. Victorinox has managed to blend both field ruggedness and class into a very technical but classic appeal with all of the same durability attributes such as 300’ water resistance and an anti-reflective sapphire crystal.
What you get here is a 44mm stainless steel case that comes standard with a genuine leather band. The watch accents are a nice field worthy beige color and although the face exudes a classic design, the hands are still illuminated nicely while maintaining that old school field watch style.
These watches are designed to last a very long time and what’s really cool about these watches is that, if you happen to damage them with scratches despite the fact that the sapphire crystal is ultra-durable, they actually start to look better! A little patina and a little wear and tear and these watches really shine in my opinion.
Remember, these genuine leather bands come really stiff and need to be loosened up before they fit quite right, which is the case when you grab one of these watches!
- 44mm Stainless steel case with a leather strap
- A sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating
- Swiss Quartz movement with a calendar window and illuminated luminous sword hands
23. 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 significant 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 the top tier is your cup of tea, you’ll love this watch.
Bottom line: It’s a Swiss Army Alpnach, Nuff’ said. Navy Seals have replaced Rolexes for this thing
The only cons I see:
It’s $2400, which makes it a bit expensive for most average sportsman to abuse.
24. 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.
- The most iconic timepiece ever constructed
- Survive a combat zone and survive a fancy rich dinner party, all without swapping watches.
25. Timex Expedition Field Chronograph Edition
My Review: The Timex Expedition has been around for quite some time now and it’s certainly well-known as a budget classic in the military watches category. At under fifty bucks, this watch packs a whole lot of value that you just don’t typically expect like a premium 20mm real leather strap, water-resistance all the way down to 330’, and a rather beautiful but rugged-looking 43mm brass casing that encompasses an Indiglo watch dial.
Normally, I’d be ecstatic to get just a couple of those features in a watch at this price point but with all of that packed into a timeless design and offering a rather rugged and durable encasement without looking beefy or weighing a ton, this is a solid choice. The watch doesn’t scream “I’m a hardcore tough mudder kind of guy” like a big and beefy G-Shock would but it certainly exudes a sense of exploration and curiosity of challenges that are certainly not mundane.
- This watch is available in six different color and band configurations and although I love the leather band, you can also get a synthetic fiber band if you so choose
- Backlit Indiglo watch dial ensures readability even with no light
- 100 meters of water resistance and a heavy-duty brass encasement
- Scratch-resistant mineral glass face
- Expect a battery life of roughly five years
26. Armitron Sport Watch (Best Under $25)
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 cheapest watch I’d recommend getting
- Bare bones style that is guaranteed to provide you the time accurately and reliably
27. G-Shock Military 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 brand sold.
This particular model is one of the cheapest models you’ll find that is worth owning as a military 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.
All G-Shock watches made by Casio are built tough and encompass top tier levels of durability, even in cheaper models like this one.
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.
28. Luminox 3081 EVO Navy Seal
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.
- Unlimited glow illumination without a light source
- Durable but inclusive of a more modern design than G-Shock styles
29. 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.
It’s not as durable as what I would consider “military grade” but alas, it does meet the military minimums.
- One of the most developer supported smartwatches to date
- You can pull off the rugged look as well as a classy look with interchangeable bands.
30. 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 ticking.
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.
One of the most affordable yet well-designed dive watches available .
The only potential cons I see:
Requires the proprietary Cressi boot to be used as a dive computer replacement
31. Marathon General Purpose Quartz WW194015
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, there’s nothing to hate on.
- The best overall timekeeper until the next Marathon watch on this list
- Specifically designed to be MIL-SPEC
32. Casio Pro Trek Resin GPS Smartwatch
My Review: 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:
The battery life is a bit lackluster.
- Fantastic full-color display with full detail mapping
- Every function an advanced hiker would ever wish to have
Military Watch Buying Guide: What Features to Look for in a Tactical Watch
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, similar 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!
Frequently Asked Questions
Military watches do more than just tell time. They are good in terms of durability, toughness and are able to tell directions and such other information. They should be able to withstand the effects of the elements and work in different conditions and climates.
Consider things such as water resistance, shock resistance, sensors such as barometer, compass, thermometer, tachymeter, alarm, and/or tritium gas. Different military watches at different price points will add or omit many of these useful features.
There are no specific brands or models that the SEALs prefer. Anything that may be useful for them during missions can be their choice or simply something that is military spec and military-issued.
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.