If you spend a lot of time outdoors, work a difficult job in the field, or simply want to prepare for emergencies, one of the best gear investments you can make is in a tactical watch. The best tactical watch is a tool that you can keep on your wrist at all times and forget about it until you need it, but that is invaluable if and when you are disconnected from the grid.
Tactical watches offer a lot more than just timekeeping – they are similar to multi-tools in that they offer a variety of highly useful functions, like a compass, alarm, or GPS. Plus, unlike using your cellphone for these purposes, with a tactical watch you don’t have to worry about damaging your device every time you take it outside. Tactical watches are highly durable, typically safe to submerge, and will work in temperatures from below freezing to scorching hot.
What kind of tactical watch you need and what specific features beyond timekeeping are most important to you can vary widely based on the situations in which you plan to use the watch. Accordingly, there is a huge variety of tactical watches on the market sporting a range of features, and no watch is perfect for every user. When looking for the best field watch, there are a few significant qualities to watch out for:
BEST TACTICAL WATCH
BEST MILITARY DIVE WATCH
BEST COMPASS WATCH
BEST TACTICAL DRESS WATCH
BEST GPS SURVIVAL WATCH
A tactical watch should be able to stand up to just about anything you can imagine your arm surviving – after all, you’re looking for a field watch, not a Rolex. Resistance to a huge range of temperatures, shock proofing, and a scratch-resistant screen cover are all critical features. Typically, stick to reputable companies that offer multi-year warranty periods as a sign that they stand behind the quality of their products. Waterproofing and pressure resistance down to at least 30 feet is essential if you plan to take your watch into the water at all, and pressure resistance down to 300 feet is essential for dive watches.
Digital vs. Analog
The choice between a digital and analog watch face isn’t purely aesthetic – it affects how easy it is to see the time, especially in the dark. Digital watch displays can be hard to see from an oblique angle and will typically require you to use your other hand to touch the LCD light button. Analog watches, on the other hand, take more mental translation but may have glow-in-the-dark markings to make it easy to read the time at night. Some tactical watches have both digital and analog displays on the same face to offer the best of both worlds.
Although traditional mechanical watches are aesthetically pleasing in the way the hands move around the face, the best tactical watches use quartz timekeeping mechanisms. The advantage of quartz mechanisms is that they last for years on a single battery and are highly accurate.
Depending on your anticipated use, additional features such as a built-in compass, barometer, or thermometer can also be essential components of a tactical watch.
With these features in mind, we rounded up five of the best tactical watches available today for a variety of uses.
Best Tactical Watch
Casio G-Shock GD-100-1B Watch
The G-Shock from Casio has mastered the basic functions of a tactical watch without including any unnecessary features. The watch has a large digital display face that is easy to see even in the dark thanks to the blue and white LED backlight. In terms of functionality, the watch is able to display times for up to four different time zones, has a built-in stopwatch and countdown timer, includes a fully automatic calendar, and can be programmed with up to five independent daily or one-time alarms.
The real advantage of the G-shock as a tactical watch comes in its durability – this is a watch that will simply not let you down. The display face is scratch resistant and users have found that it can stand up to being knocked against walls and other hard objects without leaving a mark. It is also waterproof and pressure resistant up to 200 meters, far deeper than any diver will go, as well as shock resistant in case of a drop. Best of all, the watch battery will last for at least 7 years – military users have reported going multiple deployments without changing out the battery.
The watch casing and band are all matte black, which also gives it a tactical yet stylish look for everyday wear. Users found that the watch face was not as large as they expected, which made the watch feel more comfortable on their wrists and less obtrusive. However, the buttons are large enough to press easily, although you will need to use your opposite hand to operate almost all functions of the watch.
Best Military Dive Watch
Seiko Prospex Divers Solar Watch
This watch from Seiko is specifically designed with divers in mind and incorporates several design aspects that make it perfect for underwater use. First, the watch is analog rather than digital to make it easy to read in dark underwater conditions. The hands are coated with a luminous material to make them stand out, while the time markings are painted silver to contrast against the black face of the watch. The casing is waterproof and pressure resistant down to 200 meters, which is far beyond the depth of any traditional dives.
The watch itself is powered by a solar-recharged battery rather than by a traditional lithium battery. This means that the watch is charging whenever you are above the water’s surface, and users have found that the charging function works just as well from indoor lighting. Once fully charged, the watch battery lasts for up to 6 months so there is little chance of running out of power and losing track of time.
The watch has few additional features beyond keeping time, but it does keep track of the day of the month in a small display window within the watch face. Adjustments are controlled by an easy to use knob on the side of the watch. Thanks to this stripped-down design and the fashionable bevel, the watch is stylish enough to wear for formal events – not just in the water.
Seiko backs this watch with a three-year warranty for peace of mind, which is important considering the relatively high price of this watch compared to other tactical watches.
Best Compass Watch
Farsler Men’s Compass Watch
Don’t let the budget price on this compass watch from Farsler fool you – it has all the features typical of a tactical watch and the durability to match. The watch face is a large, fully digital display with the time and date displayed largely so that it is easy to read even when looking in at an angle. The watch also has an LED backlight that illuminates the time for night use. The screen cover is scratch resistant and the watch is waterproof and pressure resistant down to about 150 feet so that it can also be used for shallow diving.
Like other digital tactical watches, this model includes a stopwatch and countdown timer, three independent alarms, and the ability to display time for multiple timezones. What sets this watch apart, though, is the included digital compass. The watch displays your deviation from north in a circular display around the edge of the face at all times and it is possible to click through to a display that gives your direction in degrees. Users found that the compass was relatively accurate and quick to calibrate.
The main issue that users had with this watch was its size. The watch face is 50 mm by 47 mm, making it larger than the width of most people’s wrists and thus slightly uncomfortable to wear for extended periods. The buttons also protrude out from the watch slightly, so it is possible to hit them accidentally if the watch knocks against walls or other objects. However, the polyurethane resin strap is soft against skin and adds back some comfort to the watch while also adding durability.
Best Tactical Dress Watch
Timex Men’s Expedition Field Chronograph Watch
This watch from Timex has the classical fieldsman’s look of an outdoor watch, lending it the perfect style no matter whether you’re in a formal setting or out in the wilderness. The analog display is elegant and clear to read, plus has an indiglo coating to make it luminescent for easy reading in the dark. Adding to the style of the watch, the watch band is made of genuine leather and could easily be found on a formal dress watch. The leather is durable yet extremely comfortable against the skin. Another advantage to this watch for both formal and outdoor settings is that the face is large enough to read, but no larger – it is smaller than the width of most men’s wrists and thus is less prone to banging against things.
Within the watch face are three smaller faces for the chronograph, which can measure up to 30 minutes in subdivisions of minutes, seconds, and 1/20th of a second. However, users who are not familiar with using a chronograph may have a much more difficult time reading this quickly than a digital stopwatch. The rim of the watch face also includes a simple tachymeter for measuring speed, which can be useful for estimating hiking speed during backcountry trips.
The watch is highly durable and will run for years on a single battery thanks to the quartz timekeeping mechanism. Although the leather strap can eventually be worn down and discolored by water exposure, the watch itself is waterproof and pressure resistant down to 330 feet for those who plan to use it for swimming and diving.
Best GPS Survival Watch
Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Watch
Garmin designed the Fenix 3 with athletes in mind, but many of the features that athletes love it for work just as well for backcountry enthusiasts and especially survival situations. The advantage of the Fenix 3 comes in the GPS capabilities, which allow you to track your movements through the wilderness by leaving a breadcrumb trail of waypoints. In addition, the GPS can read out your exact location in latitude and longitude to make it easy to find yourself on a map – and you can save up to 1,000 of these locations as waypoints within the watch as you go. Best of all, once you have waypoints saved, you can navigate back to them easily using the built-in direction and distance display. Altogether, these features give you the ability to find your way if something goes wrong and you get lost in the backcountry.
Additional advantages of the Fenix 3 as a tactical watch are the included altimeter, barometer, and compass. When used together, these features can be perfect for pinpointing your location and plotting a course on a topographic map. In addition, the barometer can track short-term changes in air pressure to alert you if a storm may be coming.
The only downside to this watch in the backcountry is that the advanced GPS tracking features significantly limit the battery life. In full tracking mode, the GPS will only last about 20 hours, while in watch mode only it can last for up to six weeks. However, since the watch uses a rechargeable battery, it is possible to keep it powered in the backcountry via a portable battery if you don’t mind the extra weight in your pack or a portable solar panel (check out our top pick here).
A tactical watch has a myriad of uses and is the perfect tool for both the backcountry and everyday life. Investing in a durable tactical watch that provides critical information you need can be the difference between turning an emergency situation around or not, or even just being able to tell the time in unusual situations like diving. These five tactical watches represent the best of the huge variety of tactical watches available on the market today. Happy Prepping!