Finding the best military watches or tactical watches for your needs requires an understanding of the essential features of each option and then separating the best from the rest.
In this guide, we’ve taken a look at the very best military watches to help you find the perfect timepiece that you can rely on every minute of every day.
If you’re in the market for the best military watch around, the chances are that you’re looking for a solution that’s able to meet a number of exacting demands and perform through a wide range of potentially extreme scenarios.
The best tactical watches are a cut above the usual timepieces in that they’re ultimately designed to go through an entirely different set of circumstances, taking the idea of ‘wear and tear’ to a whole new level.
We’re talking about being able to count on split-second precision alongside the ability to endure shocks and knocks, extremes of temperature and of course, a high level of water resistance, all of which are features that the best tactical watches need to offer at the entry level.
Many of the top military watches will go above and beyond this base level of expectation and deliver some really amazing features in addition.
Put simply, the best military watches need to be able to survive almost anything you throw at them and then do a whole load more.
It’s this criteria list that sets the bar much higher for military and tactical watches and as a result, makes them perfectly suited for a variety of demanding and exacting roles ranging from mountaineering, sailing and aviation, through to use by emergency responders and military personnel in the harshest environments.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is a Military Watch?
- 2 Tactical Application
- 3 What Makes Military Watches Different from Others?
- 4 The Perfect Fit – Finding The Best Military Watch for your Needs
- 5 What to Look for in a Tactical Watch
- 6 The Best Tactical and Military Watches by Budget
What is a Military Watch?
One of the things you’ve probably noticed about Military or ‘Tactical’ watches (more on this later), is that they are often larger than their traditional counterparts and the thing is, they really have to be.
Not only do these kinds of watches offer a feature list as long as your arm (no joke intended!), but the level of punishment that these timepieces are designed to endure would almost certainly signal the untimely end of lesser watches.
Wading across a river before lunch and then scaling a rock face in the afternoon?
Just another day in the office for many of the best military watches out there.
With that said, the best tactical watches also look amazing, sacrificing nothing in the pursuit of high durability and legendary reliability.
This ultimately means that an investment in a high quality military or chronograph watch will provide you with a solution that is as at home in a fancy restaurant or work environment, as it is outdoors or in a disaster situation.
It’s this hybrid characteristic and the ability to switch effortlessly between situational use that makes the best tactical watches such an attractive option for so many people – a timekeeping solution that adapts whenever it needs to, every time.
Watches of the type we’re talking about in this guide can go by a lot of names but one of the most common descriptors is tactical.
But what exactly does this mean and what makes a watch tactical?
Tactical, as a term, is often used in a military sense and while this means military and tactical can often be used interchangeably when describing these kinds of watches, the idea can be taken slightly further when looking at the requirements of a high performance timepiece.
When it comes to looking at the best tactical watches, we’re really talking about looking at the ability to perform continually and reliably through an almost endless combination of real-world scenarios and under stress.
Whether you’re looking to source the best tactical watch or tactical flashlight, this underlying set of objectives remains the same when it comes to sourcing a piece of military grade hardware.
It’s good to know that however tough the going may get, your watch will never let you down.
What Makes Military Watches Different from Others?
Whether you’re on a date, in an interview, out hiking or suddenly find yourself needing to react to an unfolding emergency situation, a military watch is the timepiece of choice and definitely what you want to be wearing on your wrist.
Key Features and Functionality
There are a few distinct criteria that set military watches apart from regular timepieces and as a foundation, the best tactical watches will incorporate the following basic features as standard:
- Water Resistance and Waterproofing
- Shock and Scratch Resistance
- Pressure Resistant
The best military watch is one that contains a high performance feature set without looking over the top or out of place with your everyday repertoire.
This consideration makes a tactical watch the perfect compliment to a wider everyday carry kit that never leaves your side and means that – as with the other gear you leave home with on a daily basis – your watch will always be there to help get you out of a fix.
While durability and the ability to operate under extreme conditions are certainly foundation requirements of the best tactical watches, many will offer a lot more in terms of feature set, with the following additional features not uncommon in the very best military watches:
- Multiple Time Zone Functionality
- Perpetual Calendars
The Perfect Fit – Finding The Best Military Watch for your Needs
Military and chronograph watches quite literally come in all shapes and sizes, so assessing (and deciding on) the optimal choice for your specific requirements is a key consideration when looking for the best tactical watch tailored to meet your particular needs.
Choosing the perfect watch is, like other purchasing decisions, a highly personal decision based on a range of factors from individual preferences for style through to the use case (how and where it will see most action), budget,, and of course, feature requirements.
Start by thinking about how you intend to use your watch:
- Will it be worn at all times/different occasions and need to fulfil multiple ‘roles’?
- Will your work or ‘main use’ scenario require particular levels of durability or water resistance?
- Will it be exposed to continual extreme conditions such as changes in pressure or temperature?
- Will there be a specific feature set that you’re looking for, such as a thermometer, altimeter or world clock functionality?
As with other purchases of this kind, the spectrum of military and tactical watches varies considerably, both in terms of budget and in functionality and so having an idea of what you’re looking for ahead of time will make it much easier to find the right watch for the job when you’re making the final decision.
What to Look for in a Tactical Watch
As mentioned earlier, there are a few basic considerations that pretty much represent the entry level for the best military watches or tactical timepieces but once you’ve covered these points, what else should you be looking for on an individual basis?
If you’re looking to invest in a watch that will double up as the perfect solution in a survival situation, the basic considerations of rugged durability, water resistance and ease of use are priority factors and with this in mind you’ll certainly want to be considering a military watch for the job – after all, they’re designed to operate in exactly these kinds of conditions.
Outside of the basics, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the following areas of whatever watch you look at:
Power and Battery Life
Battery life is everything when it comes to high performance tactical equipment and that rule applies more than ever with military watches.
You ultimately want to end up with a watch that will operate at all times with as near to zero possibility of failure as possible.
Many of the best tactical watches will operate on some form of dual-power system supplementing a traditional, long life battery with a combination of either solar power or kinetic energy provision.
Ultimately, the overall accuracy of your timepiece will only be as good as the power source feeding it, so ensuring you have a continual and reliable energy input for your watch is absolutely critical. Factor this into your buying decision as a priority consideration if your watch is destined for more than simple timekeeping in your everyday life.
In our opinion, the best chronograph or tactical watches require minimal input from the user to work accurately and effectively.
When it comes to taking specific readings and providing a true and accurate account of the time, you’ll be looking to go for a watch that automatically updates and re-calibrates on a regular basis.
The top military and tactical watches achieve this using radio and will update everything from time zone changes to daylight savings without you ever having to lift a finger.
After all, who’s likely to remember to change the time in the middle of an emergency situation or disaster?
When we talk about the design of a tactical or military watch, you can really think of the subject in two ways.
On the one hand, the aesthetics of the watch (how it looks) are obviously a key consideration if you’re intending to use the watch for a variety of situations.
This may rule woodland camo out of the equation if you need a survival watch that you can wear to meetings or weddings.
Secondly, design comes down to the practical considerations of how the watch is actually constructed.
Here, we’re talking about things like the type of band (around the wrist), as well as the actual body of the watch.
For these factors, it’s about not only the visual aspects, but also the functionality and ergonomics of the watch (how easy and efficient it is to use from a practical standpoint).
The main areas of the watch design to think about here are:
The strap of your watch needs to be both comfortable and durable. Assess the band of the watch you’re considering for potential issues, paying attention to elements such as the material (metal, leather or rubber?) and the clasp used to secure the watch.
How easy is it to control the essential functions of the watch? Are the buttons and other interface points easy to access or are they small and impractical? If the latter is the case, this could represent a strategic disadvantage if you need to use the watch in adverse conditions.
The exterior case (also known as the body) of any tactical watch is where all of the action takes place. Contained within the body, are the full workings of your device so you need to be absolutely certain that the case is resilient enough to take whatever punishment comes its way.
On an analogue watch, the dial refers to the front plate or face that displays the details you need to see (hours, markings, date etc). The best survival watches will display multiple sets of information on the dial or display, so when opting for a highly specified timepiece, ensure the face is clear and easy to interpret, no matter the conditions.
The Best Tactical and Military Watches by Budget
In this section of our guide, we’ve broken down the top high performance watches by cost to give you an idea of the best in class within each price bracket to help you find the perfect timepiece, whatever your budget.
Best High End Military Watches
If you’re looking for the ultimate tactical watch that can handle absolutely anything thrown at it while offering accurate measurements at the glance of your wrist, then the timepieces in this range have got you covered.
The best high end tactical and survival watches typically include a feature set that will leave you in awe of what they can do, and as such, they are often the timepiece of choice for emergency first responders, military operators, divers, mountain climbers and aviators.
Watches in this category are therefore perfect if you’re looking for a timekeeping solution that both looks good, and contains a feature set to help you contend with any challenge in any conditions.
You’ll also find that when it comes to striking the perfect balance between unrivalled performance and considered design, the watches in this price bracket have every base covered.
With the best military and tactical watches featuring a high durability construction to ensure maximum integrity, you should expect a watch within this price range to be built from the very best materials for lightweight strength such as titanium or stainless steel.
These watches are quite literally designed to provide maximum functionality wherever you find yourself and whatever situation arises.
Understandably, some of the very best military watches are those actually issued to military and tactical units for use in the field, and one of the leading examples of is the TSAR Divers Quartz from expert Swiss watchmaker Marathon.
The Tritium Search and Rescue (TSAR) watch is handmade in Switzerland, where it is manufactured to US Government Specs and has been issued and worn by service personnel on active-duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
With these facts alone in mind, you know you’re dealing with a serious piece of wrist wear when it comes to the TSAR.
Combining the durability and toughness required for military operations with a high precision and good looking timepiece, it’s really no wonder this tactical timepiece is favored for military and governmental use in the field.
Unlike other tactical watches that require initial and regular exposure to a light source in order to ‘recharge’ any illumination on the watch face, the Marathon features a set of self-illuminated tritium gas tubes which provide backlighting for up to 25 years.
Constructed from a body of 316L surgical grade stainless steel, the Marathon TSAR is also water resistant up to 300 meters/1000 feet (30 ATM) and includes a front made of scratch resistant synthetic sapphire in place of glass.
Best Mid-Range Military Watches
There are some amazing options to be found in the mid-range bracket and some of the best value (on a feature to cost ratio) can be found here. If you’re looking for a cut above a budget watch and don’t want to sacrifice on functionality, the watches in this price range are worthy of serious consideration.
In terms of build quality, the biggest difference between mid-range and higher price point watches will generally be found in the materials used, with polycarbonate bodies edging slightly ahead of stainless steel options when it comes to finish. With that being said, these watches are incredibly lightweight and offer excellent durability with the ability to operate under extreme conditions as well as being water, dust and shock resistant.
You need to expect a lower feature set on the best mid-range survival watches, although we’re really talking about the absence of advanced functionality only available on higher priced models. You’re still going to find an excellent variety of features for multi timezone and measurement taking as well as top quality chronograph functionality.
With these factors in mind, the best mid-range military watches offer an excellent balance between price and operational capability making them ideally suited as a highly dependable survival watch or a utility watch for use both at work and during play.Hamilton Khaki X-Wind Automatic Watch
Originally designed with pilots in mind, the Khaki X-Wind from Hamilton is a prime example of the best chronograph watches on the market today and includes much of the advanced functionality you’d expect as a result of this.
Featuring 3 sub dials and Swiss automatic movement, the Hamilton X-Wind is a clear competitor to other high quality brands such as Omega or Rolex and crams a lot of hardware into a body designed for both formal settings as well as outdoor activity.
A 44mm stainless steel case houses the internal workings of the X-Wind and adds a good level of protection from shocks and dust, while also providing water resistance up to 100 meters (about 330 feet).
One of the major appeals of the Hamilton X-Wind for many will be the design which does an excellent job of blending dress watch style with the feature set you’d expect of the best military watches or chronograph solutions.
Best Budget Military Watches
If budget is the main consideration when choosing the best military watch for your requirements, then you’ll be looking to find a timepiece that provides the maximum bang for your buck.
The great news here, is that there are plenty of options that fit the bill.
When it comes to assessing the best budget tactical watches, the compromise often comes in a reduced feature set alongside cheaper materials and slightly reduced operational stats (for example reduced water resistance).
Although that may be the case, there are still some excellent options in this price range if you’re looking for a watch that needs to perform reliably under pressure without breaking the bank.
You’ll find that while they may offer less advanced functionality than high-end alternatives, reduced accuracy is never going to be an issue, even with lower priced military or tactical watches and where precision timekeeping is concerned, every one of our suggestions will perform equally well in the field.Casio GA100-1A1
If you’ve ever owned a Casio or G-Shock watch in the past, you’ll know just how indestructible these things are.
While this may be a budget watch, if you’re after a tactical timepiece that will always bounce back, no matter how much punishment it takes, the GA100-1A1 could be the choice for you.
The GA100-1A1 features a resin body and an anti-magnetic structure, meaning it’s able to operate with minimal deviation even if it’s exposed to a magnetic field.
Not only does the Casio provide auto LED lighting, shock resistance and water resistance up to 200 metres, but it also offers a surprisingly wide range of features from an auto-calendar good until 2099, through to the ability to switch between 29 time zones with a daylight saving mode built in.
Rugged, durable and practical with a strong functional offering, if you’re looking for a watch in the sub $100 range that’s built for those kinds of situations that might see your watch take a beating or a drenching, then you can’t go wrong with this piece.