Tough, Rugged And Dependable – How To Choose The Best Tactical Watch?

When you go into the most testing situations, be that when out hiking, when in the mountains or even in a combat situation, you need a timepiece you can rely on and that can take all the abuse that comes its way – so you may want to consider buying a tactical watch.

If you need to know more about who needs a tactical watch or how to choose the best tactical watch for you, in this guide, you’ll find all the information you need before you make that purchase.

Buyer’s Guide

What Is A Tactical Watch And Who Needs One?

Male Soldier Wearing A Tactical Watch In The Woods

A tactical watch is a military-grade watch that is designed to perform in even the most demanding situations or environments that may occur. A soldier needs a timepiece that can be relied upon even when subjected to the most rigorous treatment.

However, it is not just soldiers who can benefit from owning a tactical watch as the same qualities required by a soldier are also important to those working in law enforcement. Furthermore, anyone involved in outdoor pursuits may prefer a tactical watch.

This means that tactical watches could also be a good time-keeping solution for hunters, backpackers, mountaineers, divers and campers – as well as anyone who just likes that military style.


Features To Look For When Buying A Tactical Watch

There are many features to consider when choosing the tactical watch that best suits your needs. While some are common to all good tactical watches, some may be more or less relevant to you. Here I’ll look at the most important ones.

Toughness

Tough Tactical Watch On Old Wood

Clearly, if you are going to be in any trying situation from combat to hunting or backpacking, you are going to need a watch that can withstand whatever gets thrown at it. You want a watch that is tough, scratch resistant and shock resistant so that it keeps going, no matter what.

Many of the best watches feature a sapphire crystal face which is more scratch resistant than regular watch faces.


Waterproof

Luxury Military Watch In Water

Even the most basic of tactical watches need to have at least some degree of water resistance which will protect them in adverse weather or if you fall into a river or lake.

Many watches have the ability to be submerged up to various depths. Some watches can survive as deep as 1000ft but bear in mind that the maximum depth for recreational diving is less than 130ft, so unless you need it for very specialist purposes, this is probably not necessary.


Analogue Or Digital?

Digital Sport Watch On Nature Background

A Digital Sport Watch

At first glance, you might imagine a digital watch is much better, being the modern version. However, analogue watches are preferred by many as the dials can be easier to see without resorting to using a backlight – which may give away your position.


Altimeter And Barometer

Traveler Checking His Altitude With Tactical Watch

Checking Altitude With Tactical Watch

An altimeter is a device which can tell you your altitude which may be useful for people active in mountain environments. A barometer measures atmospheric pressure and can help you predict changes in the weather, also a vital ability in some situations.


Quartz Or Mechanical?

Wrist Watch With Metal Gears And Cogwheels

In the past, most watches were mechanical, but these have mostly been replaced by quartz watches which are much more accurate than their predecessors. Choosing a quartz watch will allow you to keep track of time much more reliably.

To learn more, check this video:


GPS

Young Man In Fitness Clothing Check His Watch

Some tactical watches include a GPS feature which allows you to track your position via Global Positioning Satellites. Many are able to give you your coordinates according to the MGRS, the most common system used by modern militaries.

The advantages of GPS are clear if you are out in the wilds and you need to find your way. The major disadvantage is that the battery life of a GPS watch is far, far shorter than a non-GPS version that can last at least a year with no change of battery.

Compass

Hiker Looking At Electronic Compass Smart Tactical Watch

Hiker Looking At Electronic Compass Watch

Not everybody needs GPS on their watch but nobody would want to be lost in the woods without a compass. You may choose to carry a separate compass but many tactical watches include a compass feature which represents a practical and convenient solution.


Battery life

Macro Of Replacing A Battery Watch

Whether or not you have a GPS watch, the battery life from model to model may differ significantly and you may wish to choose a watch with the longest battery life possible so this may be a feature to consider.


Color

Black Tritium Tactical Watch On Camouflage Cloth

Tactical watches should not be flashy and conspicuous. In a combat situation or any other situation where you wish to avoid been noticed, it is best to have drab and unremarkable kit. Most tactical watches come in colors like black, brown or camouflage to help you avoid being seen.


Other Features

Beyond these basic features already mentioned, there are many other features which may make any tactical watch a more attractive choice. These include things like a world clock that allows you to see the time in different time zones and a countdown timer which could also be very handy.

Watches might include special pathfinding features, a backlight or many other functions. Depending on what use you require the watch for, some of these other features may be important for you.

Reviews

Suunto Core All Black Military Watch

Suunto Core All Black Military Men's Outdoor Sports Watch - SS014279010

Via Amazon.com

Quality

Price

Our Rating

This black Suunto watch is just bursting with features. It includes an altimeter, a barometer and a compass. It tracks the weather and is able to give an alarm if it detects an approaching storm, it includes sunrise and sunset times for over 400 locations – and many more functions.

First of all, this watch looks really stylish. It is not an overtly military-looking watch but has a big and sleek-looking face. However, despite this classy look, it is also a rugged timepiece that will stand up to rough treatment under water, in the mountains and in any kind of weather.

I love the features on this watch as they are all really useful for outdoor activities. The weather predicting abilities are great when you are outside and need to know about incoming bad weather. If you’re in the mountains or out hiking, this is essential information.

I have a couple of minor issues with this watch. It is only waterproof down to 30 meters which is only enough for shallow diving. The battery life is affected by running different functions and you will need to change it once or twice a year. Also, the band is fragile and replacements are not cheap.

This is a good watch for people who enjoy outdoor activities and who will appreciate all the information this watch can provide. You won’t need all the features if you spend your time in a city but it still looks cool. I wouldn’t recommend this as a diving watch.

Pros

  • Sleek design, looks stylish
  • Loads of useful features
  • Rugged
  • Good compass

Cons

  • Using different features eats up battery
  • Fragile band expensive to replace
  • Only waterproof to 30 meters

G-SHOCK The GA 100 Military Series Watch

G-SHOCK The GA 100 Military Series Watch in Black,Watches for Men

Via Amazon.com

Quality

Price

Our Rating

This black tactical watch from Casio’s G-Shock range is shock resistant and water resistant up to 200 meters. It has both digital and analogue readouts and includes a world time feature with 29 time zones. The battery lasts around two years and accuracy is +/- 15 seconds per month.

This watch is large and chunky and has a rugged appearance. Casio’s G-Shock watches are designed to stand up to rough treatment and this watch will survive pretty much anything you can throw at it. Despite being a big watch, it is quite light for its size and not at all uncomfortable to wear.

Although I don’t expect many people to ever need a watch that is waterproof up to 200 meters, I like the fact that this gives you confidence it won’t break if you get it wet. I also like the combined analogue and digital readouts.

The biggest problem with this watch is the backlight. I can’t quite work out why Casio have done this but the light is positioned so that it doesn’t illuminate the digital readout which means you can’t read it in the dark. I think some of the numbers, for example the date, are also a little small.

This is a solid no-frills watch that will appeal to those who want a tough watch that looks the part and at a reasonable price. This watch doesn’t have any advanced features and is not the best tactical watch who needs something more specialized.

Pros

  • Looks great
  • Tough and rugged-looking
  • Affordable price
  • Water resistant to 200 meters

Cons

  • Badly designed backlight
  • Small numbers

Timex Men's Ironman Classic 30 Full-Size Watch

Timex Men's Ironman Classic 30 Full-Size Watch

Via Amazon.com

Quality

Price

Our Rating

This is a simple digital watch from Timex designed to do the basics well. It has a shatter resistant acrylic window lens and a tough resin case. It can be submerged in up to 10 meters of water and has a feature to record laps when running.

This is an attractive, reliable watch with a simple and uncluttered layout. Like all of Timex’s watches, it is a good quality timepiece that does its job well. I particularly like Timex watches’ “indiglo” backlight which is super clear and yet gentle on the eye in the dark.

The only real problem with this watch is that it is only supposed to be a very basic watch and so offers very little else in the way of extra features. It tells the time and has a stopwatch – and not much more. Also, the strap could be a potential weak point.

This is a high-quality watch that would be ideal for someone looking for something that will stand up to some rough treatment and do a simple job reliably. It is probably not the best watch for someone looking for a tactical watch with plenty of extra features.

Pros

  • “Indiglo” backlight
  • Simple, uncluttered design
  • Reliable watch
  • Reasonable price

Cons

  • Lack of features
  • Strap may not last as long

Casio G-Shock Camouflage Watch

Casio G-Shock Camouflage Digital Dial Multi Quartz Men's Watch GDX6900TC-5

Via Amazon.com

Quality

Price

Our Rating

This digital G-Shock from Casio is a beast of a watch. It can stand up to all the rough treatment you can subject it to, is water resistant up to 200 meters and has a Super Illuminator backlight. It also features Alpha Gel® which increases the watch’s shock absorbing ability.

This is a really attractive timepiece which screams military and I love the camo coloring. The digital display is clear and easy to read and the backlight system is effective. Another positive is the fact that the battery is supposed to last ten years so you won’t need to change it too often.

The watch has alarms and a world time ability with 29 time zones.The drawback with this watch is its lack of features. Casio have obviously designed it to be minimalist and simple but if you want a watch that does more than just tell the time, you might want to look elsewhere. It doesn’t even feature a compass.

This is a meaty and obviously military-style watch which will appeal to people who want a tough watch that looks the part. It is probably not the best watch for someone looking for a something that provides more information than simply the time.

Pros

  • Big, rugged, no-nonsense military watch in attractive camo color
  • Very solid and can take punishment
  • Waterproof to 200 meters
  • Good backlight
  • 10-year battery life

Cons

  • Lack of features
  • No compass

Garmin Fenix 3 HR, Gray

Garmin Fenix 3 HR, Gray

Via Amazon.com

Quality

Price

Our Rating

The Garmin Fenix is a GPS smartwatch with loads of features. It has a sapphire glass front, is waterproof up to 100 meters and includes a chroma display making it easy to read in sunlight. It has an altimeter, a barometer and a compass and is also able to measure heart rate.

This watch is very pleasing to the eye and you can even change the appearance of the display according to your preference. It can give you all kinds of information and as it is app-based, you can download lots of apps for the kinds of activities you enjoy.

This watch really excels when used as a fitness tool as it can track your runs, swims or treks and help you achieve fitness goals.

One negative point is that it is large and heavy and may not suit everyone - it’s a unisex watch but I think it is way too big for most girls. This watch is not cheap so you won’t want to damage it and if you want a tactical watch that will take some punishment, you may wish to look elsewhere.

Overall, a lovely timepiece that is superb for sports and outdoor activities such as hiking but maybe not the best choice for someone who wants a watch that will survive rough treatment in harsh conditions such as combat environments and other military situations.

Pros

  • Beautiful stylish watch
  • App-based, can be adapted and personalized
  • Plenty of features
  • Easy to read display

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Large and heavy
  • Needs to be used with a phone

Conclusion

These are all excellent tactical watches and all can be recommended, depending on what you’re looking for. Both Casios are no-nonsense tactical watches with a rugged look while the Timex is a reliable timepiece that won’t let you down.

The Garmin Fenix is a beautiful timepiece but perhaps too expensive to mistreat – so for me, the best tactical watch from these five, a watch with plenty of features that can also take a lot of punishment, is the Suunto Core.

Do you have a tactical watch? What features do you need? What extra features would you like? Please leave me a comment as I’d love to hear from you – and if you liked reading my article, don’t forget to share!

Julie McClain
 

Chief editor here at Outdoorzer. I'm an outdoor lover and ever since I was a little girl, I've worked hard to learn all I could from my Dad about Camping, Hiking, RVs and surviving in the woods.

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