The 2017 Military/Tactical Watch Buying Guide
- The 2017 Military/Tactical Watch Buying Guide
- What is a Tactical/Military Watch?
- What to Look For in a Tactical Watch
- The Best Military Watches
- Casio G9300-1 Mudman G-Shock – Best All-Around Military Watch
- Suunto Core Black Military – Best ABC Watch
- Columbia CT004-005 “Singletrak” – Best Tactical Watch Under $100
- Casio Men’s PRG-270-1 “Protrek” – Best Affordable Military Watch
- Luminox Recon Point – Best Analog Tactical Watch
- MARATHON WW194006 GSAR – Best Automatic Mil-Spec Watch
- Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR – Best GPS Watch for Military
- ArmourLite ISOBrite T100 – Brightest Analog Watch
- First Tactical Canyon – Best Digital Tactical Watch
- G-Shock Rangeman Master Of G Series Watch – Best G-Shock Watch
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a watch guy. I’m old school and a firm believer that
every man everyone should carry a watch.
Sure you’ve got a phone that tells the time but what about when your battery dies? Or you can’t get into your pocket? Or you need to navigate without a compass?
I’ve got a small collection of timepieces from my daily Fossil to dressier ones for formal occasions. The important part is that, while I like all of them, each one has a function. And I’m not taking my Michael Kors out into the brush.
Whether you’re hiking, camping, geocaching, or bugging out, having the proper watch is important. A true military watch can do much more than just tell time; it could be the difference between life and death.
And before you start to say that you aren’t going to stop to switch watches if you’re bugging out, I keep mine attached to my bug out bag strap, so it’s always ready to go. Stop being so negative, geez.
Don’t forget you can use the table of content links to jump to different sections. If we’ve missed something, let us know in the comments so we can make this longer even longer/more helpful!
What is a Tactical/Military Watch?
If you hadn’t noticed from the title, I’ll be using the terms tactical watch and military watch somewhat interchangeably.
For the most part, military watches meet military specifications (mil-spec) while tactical watches are a broader category.
I can’t stand overusing words so I’ll be alternating throughout this article.
Basically, a tactical or military watch is a watch that has certain features beyond simple timekeeping that are useful in tactical or military situations and can withstand a lot of abuse.
If you’re looking for a survival watch, you’re going to want to go with some sort of tactical or hiking watch.
What to Look For in a Tactical Watch
These watches offer a slew of features that can really save your butt in emergency situations. Here are a few options that you want to look for when trying to find the best tactical watch for you:
Needs to be durable enough to stand up to a lot of abuse. This ain’t no wine tasting, this is the wild wild west.
The case and bezel can be made from a number of different materials ranging from titanium to carbon fiber to military-grade plastics. Each material has its own pros and cons but typically you’re going to want something light and sturdy.
The band material can also vary quite a bit. Silicone rubber is probably the best for the applications these watches will go through. But if you’re looking for more of a ‘survival’ watch, there are bands made with paracord for handy cordage when you need it.
Personally, I’d rather carry a paracord bracelet and keep my watch on my wrist. Either way, it’s a good idea to steer clear from leather or metal bands.
Most watches these days are water resistant to a few dozen meters, but you may want something that can sustain higher pressures, depending on your situation.
Also, since you’ll be pretty active, I’d recommend looking for a shockproof model as well.
You might not have the luxury of being able to charge or replace your battery in the field. And when it dies, that’s just a pretty bracelet on your wrist.
The better models are kinetic or solar powered, but these options may not be available for all brands.
For something like the Suunto Core, the battery will last around 12 months with regular use but if SHTF and you’re still around after 12 months, good luck finding a replacement battery.
Mechanical watches have an advantage here because they don’t rely on a battery to keep time but rather they need to be wound daily to keep ticking. Automatic watches use your kinetic energy to keep the timepiece wound so they are a great compromise of not needing a battery and not having to remember to wind your watch every day.
A good military watch is purposely designed not to catch on equipment or clothing. Buttons don’t stick out beyond the case much, if at all, the bezel is more rounded than a typical watch, etc.
You don’t want to be worrying about snagging your sleeve in an emergency.
Some of the higher end tactical watches have a “negative display”, meaning the watch face is black and the text is in white. This allows you to read it without ruining your night vision or giving away your position.
Watches with red backlights, just like tactical flashlights with red bulbs, are also useful for this reason.
If you’re coordinating plans with others, you don’t want to show up late. That’s good advice for life in general.
Your best bet will be finding a model with an atomic clock like the Casio Rangeman that calibrates itself multiple times a day via radio signals.
Analog vs Digital
While digital watches may have all the fancy features and gizmos, analog watches aren’t just for your parents. The Rangeman and others like it may calibrate themselves to the atomic clock, what happens if an EMP wipes that ability out? Or the battery dies?
If you had a self-winding Swiss watch (that only loses about a second a month), you wouldn’t have to worry about any of that. Powered by nothing but precision engineering and elbow grease, these purely mechanical watches will keep on ticking as long as you keep moving.
And if SHTF, you’ll be able to use your watch to navigate via the sun. Which is more than those guys with digital compasses can say.
Things like a compass, GPS, barometer, altimeter, etc. You’d be amazed at what they can fit into a watch.
5.11 even has one with a ballistics calculator built in.
Sunrise/sunset times – When you’re out hiking, it can get dark fast. Good to know exactly how much time you have left to make camp.
Barometer – Watches with built-in barometers can alert you to upcoming storms, giving you time to find shelter.
Altimeter – For those of us in flat states, this won’t get much use but if you’re hiking in a mountain or, I don’t know, maybe jumping out of a plane, I’m sure you can appreciate this function. It’s also useful for navigation.
Compass – Speaking of navigation… Sure you can plot a course with an analog watch but it’s going to take a while and it won’t be as exact.
A number of military watches are equipped with digital compasses to give you a precise reading at the touch of a button. Or, in the case of many G-Shock models, just a glance.
Thermometer – In extreme temperatures, it’s important to keep an eye on your thermometer to know when to get out of the elements. Keep in mind that, since it’s on your wrist, your body heat will affect the reading.
GPS – Who needs maps and compasses when you have GPS?! Just kidding, you should always have a backup. But having a GPS on your arm is exceptionally handy in a number of situations.
The Best Military Watches
Of course, there is no single best military/tactical watch, it all depends on your needs and situation. These are our top picks:
|Model||Water Resistance||Features||Battery Type||User Rating (Out of 5)||Price|
Casio G9300-1 Mudman G-Shock
|660 ft||- Digital Compass|
- Moon Graph
- Shock Resistant
Suunto Core Black Military
|100 ft||- Altimeter|
- Storm Alert
- Weather Indicator
- Sunrise/Sunset Timer
Columbia CT004-005 "Singletrak"
|330 ft||- Digital Compass|
- 2 Alarms
Casio PRG-270-1 "Protrek"
|330 ft||- Low Temperature Resistant|
- Digital Compass
- Sunrise/Sunset Timer
G-Shock Rangeman Master Of G
|660 ft||- Altimeter|
- Shock Resistant
- Atomic Clock
Luminox Recon Point
|660 ft||- Walking tachymeter|
- Self-illuminating hands/markers
- "Sun compass" markers
Marathon WW194006 GSAR
|990 ft||- Mil-spec|
- Automatic winding
- Issued by USMC
Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR
|330 ft||- GPS|
- Storm Alert
- Weather Indicator
- Heart rate monitor (w/ strap)
- Speed, pace, distance monitoring
ArmourLite ISOBrite T100
|330 ft||- 4 times brighter than competitors|
- Ultra durable case and sapphire
First Tactical Canyon
|30 ft||- Negative display|
- Morse code guide
- Stealth Mode
- Digital compass
- World time
- 3 alarms
- Hourly time signal
- Countdown timer
Casio G9300-1 Mudman G-Shock – Best All-Around Military Watch
I’m pretty sure this thing has more computing power than my eMachines computer from high school.
Just look at that bezel. There’s so much going on!
At a glance, I know what day of the week it is, what the date is, which way is north, and what phase the moon is in. Oh, and it tells the time too.
Not only do you get a data mine of information but it’s packaged in a case that can withstand whatever you dish at it.
Shock resistant, water resistant, mud resistant, baby proof, and gluten free.
The best part about the Mudman is that it is solar powered so you’ll never have to worry about changing the battery. Unless the sun gets blotted out by some nuclear winter. But you’ll have bigger worries than watch batteries at that point…
I’ve paid a lot more for watches that do a lot less. If you’re serious about being outside, the G Shock Mudman is a very good choice for you.
I have no idea what a “moon graph” is but I’m sure it’s useful as well.
Pros: Resistant to everything but bad news, solar powered, stocked with a digital compass and thermometer, and comes in black.
Cons: Missing an altimeter and barometer. Not that I use these often but when you do need them, they’re very handy.
Verdict: If a tank and a weather station fell in love and had a baby, this is probably what it would look like. Don’t you want to strap that on your arm now?
Suunto Core Black Military – Best ABC Watch
If you’ve researched military or hiking watches at all, you’ve probably run across the Suunto Core before.
The amount of sensors, processors, gizmos, and doohickeys packed into the Core is staggering. Not only can it sense weather patterns, it can actually track and record them to give you the most accurate storm alerts possible.
Wow, I’m pretty sure I heard my weatherman say that exact phrase… maybe he has a Suunto Core.
For those of you information junkies who put an emphasis on the Know in Know Prepare Survive and don’t mind spending a bit more (depends on the model but typically less than $200), this is the watch for you.
Pros: Big display is easy to read, provides plenty of data, and is pretty well priced.
Cons: No GPS. It’s a big boy so if you’ve got small wrists, keep that in mind.
Verdict: The Suunto Core is the most advanced thing you’ll ever wear that isn’t loaded with iOS or Android software. It gives you every bit of information you need at a glance, can stand up to quite a bit of adverse weather, and doesn’t come close to breaking the bank. What more could you want?
Columbia CT004-005 “Singletrak” – Best Tactical Watch Under $100
And it does it for a pretty good price.
The Singletrak may not have the most features or be voted Most Likely to Survive a Nuclear Winter but it does what it needs to in quiet, efficient form.
I’ll be honest, the CT004-005 (that’s a mouthful) wasn’t my first choice. But this isn’t all about me, is it? I polled military and police colleagues of mine and was pretty surprised when the Columbia made the list.
For everything it’s not, the Singletrak is a solid military watch and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.
And if you’re a runner, the lap timer on the Singletrak has a 50 lap memory. 50. I only have a three lap memory and that’s laps around the buffet…
Pros: Trusted by Law Enforcement Officers, won’t dent your wallet too hard, and still has a digital compass and thermometer.
Cons: Negative display isn’t for everyone and it’s not the prettiest girl at the pageant. Also, it lacks an altimeter and barometer (if those are important to you).
Verdict: If you hadn’t noticed, we crowned the Singletrak the best tactical watch under $100. And that moniker doesn’t come lightly. It does what it needs to in an understated package and is extremely affordable.
Casio Men’s PRG-270-1 “Protrek” – Best Affordable Military Watch
While it can’t withstand the stupid amount of abuse that the G9300-1 can, the PRG-270-1 can take its fair share of licks and keep ticking.
And unlike its brute of a cousin, this Casio has some upgraded features like an altimeter, barometer, sunrise/sunset timer, and it even washes your car for you!
Ok… one of those isn’t true. But it’s still a lot of calculations and information sitting on your wrist.
If all of that isn’t enough for you, the PRG-270-1 is low temperature resistant, tracks world time across 31 time zones, has 5 daily alarms, a stopwatch and countdown timer, and comes with a military time option.
And, just to make the pot a little sweeter, the Protrek is a bit cheaper than the Mudman.
Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the looks on this military watch but if you’re using it right, you won’t be doing any turns on the catwalk.
Pros: The Protrek has a heap of sensors, is plenty enough durable, and costs less than most other watches in this category.
Cons: Maybe it’s just me but this watch looks like what designers in the 80’s thought would be stylish in 2017. I just can’t get past that…
Verdict: More features than almost all of the other watches on this list for a very reasonable price tag makes this Casio a great deal. Not the prettiest girl on the block but does its job well.
Luminox Recon Point – Best Analog Tactical Watch
Digital watches not your style? The Recon Point may be for you.
This Luminox was designed in collaboration with former Swiss Army Military Security NCO Andrea Michele, someone who has actually been in the field and knows what military operators need.
It’s simple, easy to read, and efficient. Which are all important things to have in a watch when every second counts.
But the Recon Point isn’t without a few bells and a whistle or two. It doesn’t have a barometer or 50 lap timers, it doesn’t even have an alarm. But it does have a walking tachymeter to keep track of the speed of your pace, a “sun compass”, and “Night Vision Tube illumination” (Tritium tubes) that is guaranteed for 25 years.
The point of the Recon was to aid in ground navigation for, as its name suggests, recon point men to patrol through enemy or hostile territory and make it back alive. Which makes it perfect as a military watch.
The anti-reflective sapphire crystal makes the face easy to read and won’t give away your position by glinting off light )I guess that could be a negative if you’re trying to use it for signaling). And the case is carbon reinforced polyurethane which makes it light and durable
Plus, the alternately colored “countdown zone” (the 9, 10, 11, and 12 markers) just look really cool at night
Pros: Simple, easy to read at a glance, don’t need to press a button to read it in the dark, and you can wear it in the field or to a black tie event without looking out of place.
Cons: Not as bright as the ISOBrite T100 and the luminescence only lasts half as long. No sensors or alarms.
Verdict: This is a good looking watch that does what it needs to do and only slightly more. If knowing the temperature, altitude, and air pressure at any given time is important to you, this isn’t your watch. If impressing people after you exfil yourself out of the Canadian wilderness is, you might want to check it out.
MARATHON WW194006 GSAR – Best Automatic Mil-Spec Watch
The GSAR (meaning Government Search And Rescue) is actually the only watch on our list that explicitly meets mil-spec (and ISO 6425/diving watch) standards. This watch is so legit it even has a NATO stock number printed on the back.
Not only that, this is the exact watch that is issued to US Marines. So you know it’s tough.
The GSAR is also the only watch on this list that doesn’t use a battery. It’s an automatic winding watch which means it uses your kinetic energy to keep this Swiss made timepiece wound up and ticking on time.
Just remember that if you take it off for more than 24-36 hours, you’re probably going to have to set it again.
Like the Luminox, the Marathon uses Tritium gas tubes to illuminate the hands and hour markers. These tubes don’t need to “charge” in the sun to stay bright at night and they are always on.
And will be for the next 25 years.
Also like the Luminox, the GSAR uses an anti-reflective sapphire crystal that is easy to read and won’t give away your position.
Pros: Issued and used by actual Marines in the field, simple and easy to read, and no need for a battery.
Cons: Have to keep it on or it’ll stop working, doesn’t have any sensors or other features. The biggest con, though, is the price tag. This baby ain’t cheap.
Verdict: If you’ve got the money and the need, there aren’t a lot of better choices on the market. Like a real Marine, the GSAR does its job, through thick and thin, and does it well – without any fanfare or dressings. It’s a watch you can count on when things get tough.
Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR – Best GPS Watch for Military
Unlike its brother, the Core, the Ambit3 does have GPS. And a heart rate monitor (though only when you’re wearing the chest strap).
So if the Suunto Core appealed to you but the lack of GPS was a deal breaker, the Ambit3 might just be the perfect bowl of porridge for you.
The addition of GPS shouldn’t be understated here. When you’re able to track yourself via satellites, there are more things you’re able to do than just see where you are on a map (though that’s a pretty big deal in itself). You’re also able to track your speed, pace, route, and distance as well as plan and track routes.
Armed with this watch and all of its sensors, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding your way home from anywhere on the continent.
The heart rate tracking also has survival uses and even includes an “activity based recovery time” calculator so you don’t overwork yourself and/or expend too many calories.
The major downfall of the Ambit3 is its dependence on a reliable network to provide GPS data. Though, even without a connection, the ABC sensors still work (thankfully, the compass is not GPS based).
Pros: Altimeter, barometer, compass, thermometer, GPS, heart rate monitor, and speed, pace, and distance monitoring. Plus weather info!
Cons: Won’t be very useful in the event of an EMP. Storm warning alarm isn’t as helpful or accurate as you might think.
Verdict: If you’re the kind of person who spends a lot of time in uncharted territory or hiking in places without trail markers – and you don’t think an EMP attack is likely – the Ambit3 Peak is an excellent watch. Unless the battery dies (it can last up to 200 hours), it’s almost impossible to get lost with this GPS enabled wrist computer.
ArmourLite ISOBrite T100 – Brightest Analog Watch
If you liked the Luminox and the GSAR but thought they still weren’t easy enough to read, you’re going to love the ArmourLite ISOBrite T100.
By quadrupling the amount of Tritium, its hands and hour markers (as well as markers at the 12 and 3 positions, for even easier reading in low light) are 4 times brighter and last up to 50 years – twice the life of the Recon Point and GSAR.
The T100 also has a massive 47mm case for even greater visibility.
The crystal is made of basically mil-spec level Gorilla glass, making it virtually bulletproof and almost completely scratch resistant.
The extremely lightweight carbon-fiber reinforced case combined with the scratch resistant sapphire crystal make the Armourlite truly live up to its name. This combination allows for a super light and durable watch that won’t mind when you forget you’re wearing it and bash it against a rock accidentally.
And the extra long band is made for wearing over an outer layer like a dive suit or jacket.
While the ISOBrite may be too bright – potentially giving away your position in covert ops – it can double as a low level light source for reading maps without the need for a flashlight.
Finally, the T100 (named for how much Tritium it uses – most others use T25) also shows military time on the bezel. You know, in case you’re not very quick with addition.
Pros: Extremely lightweight and durable. It can take a massive beating without being built like a tank. And it’s the brightest watch you’ll find at this price point.
Cons: Has exactly no sensors, alarms, or any other extra features.
Verdict: The ArmourLite ISOBrite T100 does one thing and it does it very well. It’s light, durable, and easy to read in any situation. For less than $500, you’re not going to find a brighter, lighter, and tougher tactical watch on the market. Any military personnel would be have a hard time complaining with this on their wrist.
First Tactical Canyon – Best Digital Tactical Watch
I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of the First Tactical brand. It seems they are somewhat new to the watch game. But they are coming in strong.
First Tactical’s motto is “MADE TO SERVE THOSE WHO SERVE OTHERS” and they really live up to it. Before designing a new product, they get feedback from real operators (EMS, LEO, and firefighters). Then they field test the hell out of it until they are sure it will perform in any real world environment.
That attention to finding out what people on the ground really want and need and then making sure their product delivers is what made the Canyon watch really stand out to me (and more than a few LEO friends of mine).
This digital watch uses a negative display for easy reading in low light conditions without giving away your position as well as a handful of other extremely useful features.
The “second hand” ticks around the bezel in little bars, making countdowns very simple and precise. There is a “stealth mode” available at a press of a button that mutes all sounds and alarms of the watch.
The 45mm case is easy to use even with heavy gloves and the silicone strap is extra long for wearing over base layers or thick jackets.
Oversized bezel lugs prevent damage and sleeve snagging and the digital compass keeps you headed in the right direction.
It keeps world time, has 3 alarms and an hourly time signal, comes with the option for 12 or 24 time formats, and includes a countdown timer.
And if all that weren’t enough, the back of the ventilated strap has ruler markings for inches and centimeters as well as a freaking morse code guide.
The First Tactical Canyon watch was truly made for the real world operator and, in my opinion, is possibly the best tactical watch you can buy.
Pros: Built from input from real operators. Has many features that are needed in the field (timers, compass, stealth mode, easy to use when wearing equipment) and a few that we never thought of like the “digital second hand”, morse code guide, and ruler.
Cons: No sensors so you won’t be able to tell how far you are from sea level or what temperature it is.
Verdict: The Canyon meets all of our requirements for an excellent tactical watch and looks damn good in the process. It’s also very reasonably priced.
G-Shock Rangeman Master Of G Series Watch – Best G-Shock Watch
I saved the best for last.
It’s one of the least expensive military watches on the list and good heavens, look at that thing (click on the image to see more pictures).
With the exception of whatever the hell a moon graph is, the G Shock Rangeman can do everything that the Mudman can do and more. And look like a total badass doing it.
Probably why the Rangeman is the preferred choice for military personnel around the world.
Also probably why it’s called the ‘Master of G’. Because out of all of the G-Shock watch models (and there are a lot), this is the king of the bunch.
The “Multi-Band Atomic Timekeeping” feature keeps you as punctual as a drill sergeant and the solar powered battery will make sure that never changes.
It’s shock, mud, low temperature, and water resistant to 200 meters and keeps perfect time across 31 time zones and 48 cities.
Some other notes about the Rangeman: It’s got a negative display, it’s lighter than you think it’d be (in a good way), it’s specifically designed to not snag on clothing or equipment, and it can be used for self-defense.
Because anyone wearing one of these is way too hardcore to even think about robbing.
Pros: Lots of features, solar powered, durable, can survive in harsh environments, looks badass, and well priced.
Cons: Negative display isn’t for everyone (If the negative display is a no-go for you, check out the GW-9400-1CR). Bit of a learning curve to figure out how to use all of the features.
Verdict: You already know what I’m going to say. This is my top pick. Altimeter, barometer, thermometer, digital compass, atomic clock, solar powered, and tougher than nails made out of adamantium, coated in unicorn tears, and blessed by the pope.
This G-Shock is so manly, I think I just got pregnant writing this review.
Little known fact; the Casio Rangeman would have gotten the Purple Heart Award except nothing has ever hurt it.
Well, there you have it. Our top picks for the best tactical/military watches of 2017. As I mentioned before, the best watch for you will depend on your particular needs and situation. Do you prefer analog or digital? Do you need an altimeter and barometer? Is readability more important than having a whole dashboard of data at a glance? Is GPS a must? How much do you want to spend?
For example, if you’re a law enforcement officer who doesn’t want to spend more than $150 and likes the “tacti-cool” look, your best choice would probably be the First Tactical Canyon.
However, if you’re an avid hiker who loves technology and data, the best watch for you would most likely be the Suunto Core or Ambit3.
Or, if you’re like me and want a great ABC watch that you won’t have to worry about getting dirty, you’ll probably lean towards the G-Shock Rangeman.
So which military/tactical watch do you prefer? Is it one we missed? Let us know in the comments!