How to Pick the Best Tactical Watch for Your Adventures
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a soldier in the military, a first responder, a snorkeler or anything in between, you’re probably going to find yourself in situations where a normal wrist watch would not be able to hold up against all the adverse conditions you’re going to put it through.
This naturally calls for getting a more sturdy and reliable watch that will not fail you when you most need it. Tactical watches fit these conditions, and a good one will accompany you to the deep end without failing you during critical moments.
With that said, finding the best tactical watch is somewhat similar to solving a puzzle. You’ll need to know what to look for and whether or not it fits your needs. This is what we’ll mainly be discussing here, so without further ado, let us start off the list.
Preloaded TOPO mapping & dual-position GPS, loads of practical modes
Some watch screens can drain the battery fast
Right of the bat is a tactical watch from one of the best wearable manufacturers that we’ve ever tried – Garmin. A favorite tactical watch of ours for a good number of years, the Garmin Tactix Charlie Multisport GPS Watch wins you over with a rugged design and a plethora of features that will help you get over anything that gets in your way in the wild.
The durability in this watch is second to none, as the design is rugged with stainless steel buttons, a carbon-coated titanium bezel, and titanium rear cover. All those components contribute to making this fine piece of gear practically indestructible.
Want even better news?
Despite its rugged design, this watch is comfy and can be worn for hours with ease. Quite the complete pack, isn’t it?
Garmin Tactix Charlie Watch sports a moderately-sized, 1.2-inch screen that’s domed with a sapphire lens that’s quite intuitive as it offers two modes: daytime use, and night vision goggle compatibility, allowing the watch to be used any time of the day with ease. The screen components, including watch faces, widgets, and data sets, can be customized to your liking
There’s more to this watch than meets the eye though, as it packs loads of survival-oriented features, including basic ones, such as heart rate monitoring, and more advanced capabilities, such as preloaded TOPO mapping (a feature that hikers will appreciate for sure), waypoint projection, Jumpmaster, and dual-position GPS. When we put this watch to test, we were impressed by how well it performs, and how great of aid it can be.
As for the battery life, the Garmin Tactix Charlie Watch can easily last for up to 12 days in smartwatch mode, 20 hours in GPS mode, and 35 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode. In other words, this is a watch that won’t let you down no matter what. It’s worth noting that some watch faces may result in faster draining of the battery juice, so keep that in mind when planning a long trip.
Thanks to its wide range of tactical features, reliability, and the comfort it offers, the Garmin Tactix Charlie Watch gets the title of the best!
Best Military/Hunting Watch: Garmin Foretrex 701 Ballistic Edition
Applied Ballistics elite software for long-distance shooting
The glass can be easily scratched
Another tactical watch from the highly-regarded Garmin. Just like its sibling, which we reviewed above, the Foretrex 701 Ballistic Edition Tactical Watch features a rugged design and a 2-inch screen that’s compatible with night vision goggles. The construction is as durable as it can get, as it follows military standards (MIL-STD-810G).
Garmin Foretrex 701 offers a plethora of military-oriented features that make it the most powerful out of the reviewed batch. These features include several navigation sensors, including a 3-axis accelerometer, a barometric altimeter, and a 3-axis compass. Add all of that to the watch’s compatibility with GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo satellite, and you’ve got yourself a device that can get you home whenever you get lost.
More military features include an integrated applied Ballistics elite software that can calculate aiming solutions so that you can perfect your long-range shooting, making this tactical watch an excellent companion for your hunting trips.
When tested, the Garmin Foretrex 701 proved to be a beast when it comes to battery life, as it can last for more than two full days in navigation mode, up to a week in UltraTrac battery saving mode, and up to one month in watch mode.
The only niggle with this military watch is the screen, as it can be scratched quite easily. To circumvent that, we recommend getting a screen protector.
All in all, if you’re looking for a military-grade tactical watch that you can use when traveling, aiming, or doing outdoor activities, the Garmin 010-01772-10 Foretrex 701 Ballistic Edition can be the best tactical watch for you.
Tactical watches are not a privilege for men, as women can go tactical as well, and that’s why products like the Casio Baby-G Analog-Digital Watch exist. Although not rugged like the watches we reviewed above, the Baby-G is still pretty durable, which is to be expected considering the manufacturer behind it – Casio.
Aesthetically-speaking, the Casio Baby-G is quite appealing, with partially skeletonized rose-tone dial with both analog and digital displays to give you the best of both worlds. Even the delivery case is beautifully-made to cater to the needs of every adventurous lady out there.
Don’t let the feminine design of this watch fool you into thinking that it’s any less capable when it comes to tactical features, as it boasts a handful of them. Tactical features include shock-resistance, something that Casio is well-known for, water resistance (up to 330 feet), and a LED light so that you can use the watch day and night. All of those features make the Baby-G suitable for different kinds of outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, snorkeling, swimming, and scuba-diving.
All in all, the Casio Baby-G tactical watch is both beautiful and capable, making it the best tactical watch for women, and a great product if you’re looking for a gift for your lady.
Best for Diving: Citizen Watches Men’s BN0151-09L Promaster Professional Diver
Perk your diving arsenal with Citizen Men’s Promaster, which is comfortable, effective, and reliable. With a simple yet oh so beautiful blue design, this watch is all you need to take your swimming, snorkeling, and diving trips to the next level.
What sets this tactical watch apart from the rest of the reviewed products is its impressive water-resistance capability, as it’s water resistant for up to 666ft thanks to the stainless steel case and silicone bracelet with buckle closure.
For power, this watch leverages the Eco-Drive technology which is fueled by light, meaning that you’ll never need to worry about battery life if you decide to go with this watch.
In conclusion, the Citizen Watches diving watch is affordable, durable, and impressively water resistant, making it the best tactical watch for water activities.
Best for Budget-Seekers: Casio Men’s ‘G-Shock’ Sport Watch
Being on a budget doesn’t mean that you can’t get a tactical catch for your outdoor adventures. In fact, many big-time manufacturers offer affordable options for budget-seekers, which is the case for Casio with their G-Shock DW-9052 Sport Watch.
Despite its low price tag, this tactical watch, and our pick for the value-oriented product, from Casio does come with several survival features, including water-resistance for up to 650feet, which is nearly as much as the diving watch reviewed above. This watch also sports standard features that you’d expect to find in any product in this category, including Alarm, Stopwatch, Countdown Alarm, and Auto-repeat function.
The battery life is another department in which the Casio Men’s ‘G-Shock’ Sport Watch excels, as it can easily keep going strong for a couple of years. That’s because it doesn’t sport any advanced features, though.
For the price, the Casio Men’s ‘G-Shock’ Sport Watch is quite durable and feature-rich. Granted, it’s not on par with the rest of reviewed products in terms of features, but considering that you’re paying far less for this tactical watch, there’s nothing to complain about. In short, we would highly recommend this watch for the budget-seeker, occasional camper, and/or small-time adventurer.
The Fenix 5x Plus from Garmin is quite similar to the Garmin Tactix Charlie and has overlapping features such as heart rate monitoring and TOPO mapping.
But if you are in the Army, the Tactix Charlie is better equipped with military-specific features, such as the use of night vision, which allows you to see the watch with night vision goggles. It also has all black elements to reduce brightness and detectability.
The characteristics of the Tissot T-Race Chrono are inspired by the bike! The push buttons are engraved with the words Start and Reset recalling the setting of the controls of a racing bike. The silicone bracelet adds an extra touch to the biker style inspired watch design.
The Suunto Traverse Alpha has a robust, knurled stainless steel bezel, a durable nylon strap and a premium sapphire glass face. The unique MGRS (military grid reference system) is useful to always know where you are at with 1 meter on a military map.
This tactical watch is also great for hunting and fishing with its built-in auto shot detection to keep track where you fired the shots.
Palada Waterproof Tactical Watch for men is the best budget alternative to the Suunto Core watch. In fact, it looks just like the Suunto Core. Despite being extremely affordable, it boasts a surprisingly large number of features like water resistant up to 166 ft, LED backlight, auto calendar and more!
Made in the La Chaux de Fonds Switzerland, Marathon’s Diver’s automatic luxury watch is a gorgeous piece of hardware that turns lots of head.
The self-illuminating tritium gas tubes shine without the need for charging by an external light source and with water resistant of 1000ft, this is designed for search and rescue missions out in the ocean or under extreme scenarios.
The Rolex Submariner needs no further introduction. It is arguably the most iconic watch in the world. The build quality and accuracy are second to none. It easily gets compliments and submersible to a whopping 1000ft! If you can only choose one luxury dive watch, then this is the one to get.
Analysis and Test Results
This one is pretty much a no brainer. An excellent tactical watch should be durable. How durable should it be? Well, for starters, it should be able to handle whatever you throw at it, be it shocks, excessive movement, or even good ol’ smacks if need be. Durability is what sets tactical watches apart from the rest, and if it doesn’t stand out as incredibly durable, then all of the features and gimmicks of the worlds won’t save it.
Well, what should be the bare minimum for a watch to be called military grade? We believe that a military grade watch should easily be able to withstand a fall from one’s hand to the ground without incurring any damage. If a watch does not meet this criterion, then we recommend you avoid buying it if you’re looking for anything remotely durable, let alone military grade.
Another thing to look out for when it comes to durability is water resistance. Nowadays, most watches are water resistant to some degree. However, military-grade watches should have a water-resistance level of at least 3 atmospheres. Just to make things clearer, 1 BAR is equal to 1 ATM. This means that it should be able to stay submerged 30 meters (or 96 feet) underwater deep in water for a long period of time without sustaining any damage whatsoever.
While we’re on the subject of water resistance, it is imperative that you keep in mind that by changing the battery on your watch, you’ll be altering its water resistance. Knowing this, you should always be careful about switching batteries. We recommend consulting a professional in order to avoid tarnishing your watch’s water resistance over time. Other things that could negatively affect water resistance are chips and scratches which have a big impact on the watch’s overall durability as well as pressure resistance when underwater. We’ll go into more detail about water resistance later on in the article.
How do you know a watch is made to last? If it’s made from carbon polycarbonate or aircraft grade aluminum, then we can assure you that it’s on the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to durability. The lens is equally important as it also needs to be scratch, shock as well as impact resistant. We recommend getting a watch that has a lens made from sapphire.
Watches that are made from shoddy metal or plastic are highly susceptible to breaking down quickly and will run you a lot of money in the long run, so do not skimp on your watch thinking that you’ll be saving money as that couldn’t be farther from the truth. 316L steel is also a great material to look for since it does not oxidize meaning that the watch will be able to withstand harsh conditions without taking any considerable damage in the long run.
When testing the different watches on our list by exposing them to different weather conditions and using them when doing various outdoor activities, we found the Garmin Tactix Charlie Multisport GPS Watch to be the best in terms of durability thanks to its rugged, titanium construction. The Foretrex 701 from the same company is also a solid watch in terms of longevity as it boasts a military-grade design that’s hard to break.
When it comes to tactical watches (or any kind of watches for that matter), comfort boils down to two things: the sizes and weight, and the strap.
Size and Weight
This aspect is a bit tricky to talk about since it involves a lot of subjectivity, and opinions might vary. With that out of the way, the main thing that you want to keep in mind when you’re trying out a watch is the fact that you’ll be wearing it around your wrist for long periods of time.
Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if tactical watches weren’t known for their bulkiness, but that’s not the case, unfortunately, and it’s mainly a consequence of their durability. With that said, you’ll want to find a compromise between the weight, comfort, and durability of the watch to see if it really is the best tactical watch for you.
A watch is only as durable as the sum of its parts, and one of the most critical components that we haven’t mentioned up to this point is the band. The quality of the band should not be a worry if you’re buying from a reputable company. However, if you’re looking for a cheap option, then you best be on your toes when picking out which watch to buy. The band is a crucial part as it will be the one to sustain any and all intense movement and should be ready to take on whatever you throw at it.
We have compiled a small list of some of the band construction materials we recommend:
Ceramic watch bands: These bands offer the best value ratio. They are very resistant to scratches and look elegant.
Cloth watch bands: We recommend you stay away from these if you’re looking for a military grade watch, but they are one of the most comfortable options you can go for if you want a regular watch.
Leather watch bands: These bands will earn you extra style points, however, if you don’t maintain them, they’ll eventually fail you. We also don’t recommend them if you’re going to be in an environment with a lot of water.
PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) watch bands: these are layered steel bands that are encased in a layer of carbides, oxides, nitrides, all attached by an ionic vacuum. We’ll spare you the other details, but when it comes to durability, these are probably on the best options you can go for.
Rubber watch bands: these bands are very resilient to water and are equally comfortable. You’ll mostly find these types of bands on sport watches and activity trackers. Offering the best value out of all the watch bands out there, these are definitely worth considering.
Plastic watch bands: not unlike rubber bands, these are extremely water resistant. However, you’ll need to be wary as the quality of these bands can vary greatly from one brand to another.
Nylon watch bands: nylon bands are extremely handy thanks to their single piece loop design which minimizes to the risk of accidental slippage. However, keep in mind that the quality can vary a lot from one brand to another just like plastic watch bands.
Metal watch bands: last but not least, metal watch bands can come in many sizes and types. We won’t go into too much detail in this article, but metal watch bands can range from stainless steel, copper plated, silver, silver plated, gold, gold plated, titanium, ion plated titanium, and the list goes on. The sheer weight of these watch bands make the corresponding watches a bit impractical to use, but if you insist on getting a metal band, then we recommend titanium or stainless steel ones.
3. Water Resistant
As we mentioned earlier, water resistance is a staple of tactical watches. Nowadays, even cheap watches seem to have at least some degree of water resistance.
If your job involves a lot of working outdoors, then you’re probably going to need a watch that could resist contact with water, be it from rain, engaging in extreme sports such as surfing, or anything in between. We believe that a tactical watch should be able to be submerged at least 166ft (50 meters) deep with no damage.
A common misconception among a lot of people is that a watch with a water resistance of up to 98ft means that they can pretty much dive that deep with it without having any worries. However, things are not so clear cut, which is why we’ll be providing you with a list of what you should expect from each level of water resistance.
Up to 33ft: these watches should fare pretty well against rain or casual water splashes. You can expect them to handle everyday wear and tear, but don’t go out throwing this in water deliberately and you should be all good to go.
Up to 98ft: with these watches, you can take a shower without a care in the world. These watches can also resist an accidental drop in the water as long as you’re quick about getting them out of it.
Up to 164ft: well, you can wear these in the rain, while washing the dishes, while showering, but also while swimming in pools. Just don’t try it out while jet skiing.
Up to 328ft: now we’ll start asking the question “what can’t it handle?” instead, and the answer to that is snorkeling and scuba diving. As long as you don’t put it through either of the aforementioned things, you’re all good to go.
Up to 656ft: these watches can be used as diving watches, but they also need to have a very robust build such as a sapphire crystal, as well as other accessories. Just don’t go out of your way to put these watches in a high-pressure situation and you should be ace, that’s not to say that they can’t handle a 100ft dive though.
When testing the above products, our testers found that the Citizen Watches Men’s BN0151-09L Promaster Professional Diver offered the best water-resistance capability, as it can be submerged for up to 666 feet, which is why we gave it the title of the best tactical watch for diving.
4. Digital vs. Analog
When it comes to the analog vs. digital debate, we recommend you go with what you find more readable. There aren’t any objective benefits of one over the other. As long as the watch is readable in dim areas, then they don’t pose a problem.
On the other hand, if you want a watch that displays a lot of details, then you can get a tactical watch that provides both displays which are pretty standard nowadays.
5. Battery Life
Battery life is a critical factor. Having your watch die on your in the thick of things is a bad situation to be it. This is why you should take battery life into account when buying a tactical watch. Nowadays, your best option for long-lasting batteries are lithium-ion batteries, but even those will eventually run out after prolonged use.
If you see yourself spending a lot of time on the field, then you might be better off with a self-winding watch, or a watch winder that recharges from your movements or even a solar-powered watch that feeds off sunlight.
When it comes to battery life, two models clearly outshine the rest, which are the Casio Men’s ‘G-Shock’ Sport Watch, which can last for up to two years on a single charge, mainly because it doesn’t have any advanced features, and the Citizen Watches Men’s Watch, which is solar-powered, meaning that you don’t need to worry about charging/replacing batteries whatsoever.
6. Extra Features
Some watches may come with a built-in compass that will help keep you on track. If you’re going to be doing a lot of navigating around, you’re probably going to need this nifty feature in your watch.
Sailors, for example, can make excellent use of this feature. We would go as far as to say that a feature like this could mean the difference between life and slow, agonizing death if you’re left stranded in the middle of nowhere. Yes, it can be that important for the right people.
Thankfully, such a feature is not uncommon among tactical watches. In fact, most tactical watches display this information digitally. If you want a watch with this feature, then we recommend getting one that has the triple sensor technology which includes
An altimeter which is used to measure your current altitude by taking into account atmospheric pressures. This is a much-needed tool if you find yourself in a mountainous area. Couple this with a topographical map, and you can reliably determine your location on the map.
A thermometer which is pretty self-explanatory. Knowing the temperature is pretty useful. However, this sensor also has a cool feature which lets you predict the heat of the location you’re heading towards. Let’s say you’re at 4,000 feet and the temperature is 60°F, knowing that temperatures generally drop by around 3.6°F by going up 1000ft; then we can approximate that the temperature when you’ll be at 8,000 feet will be around 45.6°F.
A barometer which monitors the change in atmospheric pressure over time. If you know a thing or two about the weather, then you’re probably already familiar with the fact that there’s a correlation between weather changes and changes in atmospheric pressure. Knowing this, you should be able to predict the weather beforehand which is extremely useful. To keep it short and simple, if you see an increase in the pressure, expect better weather, if you notice a decrease, then the weather is probably going to worsen.
We highly recommend getting a watch with the triple sensor feature if your budget allows for it because it can give you a huge leg up and will dramatically increase the odds of your survival when you’re outdoors.
The main reason we decided to include this here is that we think it’s the most tactical thing for a tactical watch to have. When we say night vision here, we don’t mean that you can use your watch as a night vision (although it would’ve been extra tactical), we simply refer to the fact that the watch can toggle between two modes, one which is regular where the watch would emit light in order for you to see it.
The other option which is the night vision compatibility mode will make it so that it’s only visible in the dark if you use a night vision meaning that the light it emits is only visible if you use night vision goggles.
Here, our testers recommend the two Garmin watches, as both are beasts when it comes to extra features that proved to be pretty handy in the great outdoors.
Overall Performance Score
Watches have come such a long way, and with so many options on the market, and the emergence of the modern tactical watch, this handy gadget is no longer just a timepiece, but also a lifesaver in the right situation. The right tactical watches will help you navigate the harshest environments and increase your odds of survival as well!
Subscribe to Download our 7-Point Vacation Checklist (PDF) for FREE!
This checklist saves you valuable time by preparing for any vacation, taking care of vacation finances, securing your home while traveling, dealing with work and family matters, and getting ready to embrace your trip. Subscribe and get instant access now!
Price last updated on 2020-01-24. Links & images are from Amazon Product Advertising API. Our editors independently research, test and recommend the best products and services. We may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article at no additional cost to you.