Watches are a critical piece of survival gear. In first aid situations, noting the time of an injury or being able to track the duration of an illness is vital. Today, people use tactical watches for everything from basic timekeeping to assessing environmental conditions to monitoring physical stats and tracking their workouts.
There are several theories on the origin of the tactical watch. One suggests that members of the German Imperial Navy were the first to employ tactical watches back in 1880 (1). Another suggests that tactical wristwatches grew immensely in popularity during World War I (2).
Today, wristwatches are able to handle the harshest of environments and are increasingly resistant to wear and tear.
To help you find the best match for you, we’ve compiled our Top Ten Tactical Watches list. You can also check out our Buyer’s Guide to learn how to find the watch that’s best for how you’ll use it!
1. Casio G9300-1 Mudman G-Shock Sport Watch
People love the Casio Mudman because of its durability and collection of useful features. This tough solar, shock resistant model from Casio sports a resin case and band with a mineral dial window.
The Mudman’s digital display includes day, date, and month, in addition to offering Japanese-Quartz movement for accurate timekeeping. It also features a chronograph, dual time display, light, stopwatch, digital compass, thermometer, and moon graph. The Casio G9300-1 Mudman is water-resistant up to 200 meters.
2. First Tactical Fathom Stainless Steel Dive Watch
The Fathom selection from First Tactical sets itself apart with style and function. It features a stainless steel housing and bezel and both analog and digital displays.
All three hands of this Fathom watch are coated with super luminova coloring, which allows for easy reading in low light conditions. With a case diameter of 47 millimeters and 1-inch band width, the Fathom is also stylish enough to sport in non-tactical scenarios. That said, it’s also highly durable and water-resistant up to 200 meters.
3. Suunto Core Digital Display Quartz Watch
The Suunto Core is the perfect watch for the avid outdoor enthusiast. It is sleek and functional. Perhaps best of all, it is designed to track both weather and sun for you!
The Core features an altimeter to log vertical movement, a barometer that notes trends in air pressure, and a compass to assist in navigation. It also offers precise sunrise and sunset times for more than 400 locations globally and a storm alert that lets you know when to expect a significant change in weather!
4. Polar FT60 Men’s Heart Rate Monitor Watch
The Polar FT60 is a sophisticated record keeper and a personal trainer wrapped into a wristwatch! The Polar’s STAR training program (3) allows you to personalize your training with individual goals and objectives, and it rewards you when you meet them!
It displays calories, fat burn percentage, and boasts storage for up to 100 different training files. The Polar FT60 features a comfortable fabric transmission strap and coded heart rate transmission, which is designed to eliminate cross-talk in order to guarantee accurate readings. It is also capable of syncing with most digital gym equipment and includes a backlight feature perfect for indoor cycling classes.
5. Casio PRG-270 Pro Trek Triple Sensor Digital Sport Watch
This Casio-crafted masterpiece is the ultimate long-distance athlete amongst tactical watches. It includes a solar rechargeable battery and battery level indicator, as well as a power saving function. This watch’s battery life is an astounding 9 months on full charge without further exposure to light.
The Casio PRG-270 is manufactured with a stainless steel case, resin bezel, and mineral dial window. It offers Japanese-Quartz movement, digital display, and features a digital compass, light, stopwatch, altimeter, barometer, and thermometer. It is also resistant to low temperatures down to -10 Celsius and water-resistant up to 100 meters.
6. Armitron Sport Men’s 408209BLK Digital Watch
This model from Armitron is a cost-effective watch packed with useful features. The Armitron sports a black resin case with a polished top ring, printed graphics, and an acrylic dial window.
Chinese-Quartz movement ensures accurate timekeeping. The Armitron 408209BLK Digital Watch features day and date functions, an alarm, a chronograph, and timer. It is also water-resistant up to 100 meters.
7. Timex Men’s T49612 Expedition Shock Digital Compass Watch
This imported selection from Timex is designed for Outdoor Torture Tests and will withstand even the toughest conditions. It’s the perfect watch for climbers, mountaineers, and hikers alike.
It is shock resistant to I.S.O Standards (4) and features a digital compass for easy navigation. The watch’s resin case and strap with buckle closure are manufactured for comfort and durability and include an Indiglo light-up dial. The Timex Expedition Shock weighs just over 6 ounces and is water-resistant up to 200 meters.
8. Luminox Men’s 3001 Quartz Navy Seal Dive Watch
The Luminox Navy Seal Dive Watch is designed for superior underwater efficiency. It features quartz movement and carbon-reinforced polycarbonate case material.
The crown of the watch boasts a double-security gasket and the bezel offers a rotating 1-way diver. This Luminox watch also features a date function, a 22-millimeter band width, and weighs less than 16 ounces. The Navy Seal Dive Watch is water-resistant up to 200 meters.
9. Casio G-Shock Rangeman Master of G Series
The Casio G-Shock Rangeman is an excellent watch for hunting, fishing, and anytime you need to navigate in the outdoors. The case, band, and bezel material of this Casio watch are all resin-based and the dial window is mineral crafted.
The Rangeman features multi-band atomic timekeeping and receives regular time calibration radio signals to ensure the accuracy of displayed time. It also offers a manual calibration function and a handy altimeter. The Rangeman is resistant to low temperatures down to -10 Celsius or 14 Fahrenheit and water-resistant up to 200 meters.
10. Marathon WW194001 Military Issue Quartz Pilot’s Watch
Swiss-made Marathon watches have been expertly crafted in La Chaux de Fonds since 1939. Their military issue series is crafted to fit the needs of specific military personnel from sailors to pilots to ground troops.
The Marathon WW194001 is designed for pilots and paratroopers and features a lightweight, high-impact fiber shell case with domed acrylic crystal. It also boasts self-illuminating tritium gas tubes that glow without the need for charging from an external light source and is water-resistant up to 60 meters.
While the need for tactical watches arose from soldiers who simply wanted to track time while both hands were busy operating machinery, we’ve come a long way in adapting these watches for many uses. Today, tactical watches are more complex and useful than ever.
Major technological advancements have allowed watchmakers to pack more advanced features into smaller packages. Rest assured in the fact that whichever watch you choose will offer more than the traditional pocket watches soldiers were strapping to their wrists during World War I!
Your selection will ultimately depend on a number of factors but in the interest of making a timely (cough!) decision, we’ve done our best to narrow things down to three distinct features: timekeeping, resistance to the elements, and environmental awareness.
The primary function of a watch is to keep time. That’s no surprise. So it shouldn’t be surprising that this should be the first factor you consider when purchasing a new watch. You want the most accurate timekeeping possible and you want to ensure that your watch is going to stay accurate for years to come.
For reference, the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute, or COSC (5), considers a mechanical watch to be accurate as long as it doesn’t drift more than 6 seconds per day. In contrast, the COSC considers digital watches, most of which rely on quartz movement, to be accurate as long as they don’t drift more than 0.07 seconds per day.
This is quite a large difference and if you purchase a mechanical watch those 6 seconds a day will add up over the years of your watch’s life. Some of the watches mentioned above regularly receive digital signals to update time and date accuracy. Some also include a World Clock feature that will be essential to the frequent international traveler. First things first, make sure you find a watch that is going to accurately keep time!
Resistance to the Elements
As you put your watch through the paces you want it to stand up to anything you can throw at it. If you’re a professional diver, water resistance and case security are premium features. If you’re about to embark on an Arctic expedition, low-temperature resistance is critical. Knowing what you’ll primarily be using the watch for is essential when deciding just how resistant you need your watch to be to the elements.
In low light conditions, most experienced reviewers prefer a watch that includes luminescent hands or digits as opposed to a button that momentarily turns on a display light. Being able to read time in the dark without using a hand to hit the backlight button is a useful feature. Furthermore, that backlight often flips off after a very short duration, which makes it a nuisance to continuously turn it back on when you really need it.
While resistance to certain environmental elements can be vital to your watches usability, we’re also developing watches that work with the environment. A watch like the Casio PRG-270, for example, with its ability to recharge using solar energy and save power helps to ensure that your watch has sufficient battery life when you need it most.
Environmental and Human Awareness
Here we are referring to the watch features that will help you gain more information about your surroundings, and yourself. Knowing your elevation can be essential if dealing with altitude sickness. Checking the air pressure with your watch’s barometer can be great for anticipating inclement weather. A thermometer can be handy for a number of reasons and a moon graph (like the one featured on the Casio Mudman) may come in handy for predicting tides on an extended sailing trip.
When it comes to tactical awareness and outdoor survival, the general rule is that the more information you have at your disposal, the easier your decision-making process will be. More informed decisions are typically better decisions. This isn’t rocket science, and this includes information about you!
A watch like the Polar FT60, while it may not be able to tell temperature or altitude, can be useful in monitoring your own condition in a survival situation. Knowing your heart rate and measuring fat burn percentage, while useful to your daily exercise regimen, can be vital information in an unexpected survival situation.
Frequently Asked Questions
While we hope we’ve covered a great deal of information regarding the best tactical watches and how to choose between them, we recognize that you still may have questions, so here are a few of the most frequently asked questions concerning tactical watches and our quick answers to them!
Can you explain the term “movement”? Yes! Movement is also sometimes known as caliber. They both refer to the internal mechanism of a clock or watch. This is the mechanism by which the clock keeps time, and typically includes the watch’s power source. A watch with quartz movement measures the vibrations in a piece of quartz and is often battery-powered. Watches with quartz movement are generally considered more accurate than watches with mechanical movement.
What’s the best material for the display window? In this article, we’ve mostly mentioned watches with either mineral or acrylic display windows. Sapphire is a very common mineral used in watch displays and is the second hardest and most scratch-resistant mineral in the world. It is second only to diamonds. It is also relatively affordable which explains its widespread use in watch displays.
How ‘water-resistant’ are these watches? Most of the watches we mentioned here are on the more reliable end when it comes to water resistance. According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), it is not recommended to even go snorkeling with a watch that boasts water resistance up to 50 meters or less. If you’re going to be frequently submerging your watch, it is recommended to find one that is at least water-resistant up to 100 meters.
There are tactical watches out there for almost every function. Whether you’re in the military, an expert diver, or a die-hard mountaineer, a quality watch is an essential item for your survival toolkit. Aside from keeping time, you’ll find exceptional uses for all the features of a tactical watch, no matter how large or small your next adventure may be. As our technology only improves, so too do the features and usability of the world’s best tactical watches!