Ready for adventure

These Are the 25 Best Outdoor Watches You Can Buy


December 18, 2018 Buying Guides By

This is a guide to the best outdoors watches you can buy in 2018. It also covers the basic history of outdoors watches.

Prefer to skip directly to the picks? Click here.

Table of Contents
The Short List

Introduction
Timeline of the Outdoors Watch
Buying Guide

The Short List

Best Value Mechanical Outdoors Watch: Ball Fireman Night Train III

Ball Watch started making durable watches for rail workers in 1891, and today it’s still known as a compelling watchmaker offering tough timepieces at prices that feel like a steal. The Fireman Night Train III is a simple three-hander plus date with an ETA movement surrounded by the brand’s “Amortiser” shock-absorbing, anti-magnetic system. At night, thanks to 61 tritium tubes, its straight-laced dial lights up like a firework.

Movement: ETA 2824-2
Case diameter: 40m or 43mm
Water resistance: 330 feet

Best Shock Resistance: Bremont MB-2

British watchmaker Bremont created the MBI in collabortion with Martin Baker, a company that makes fighter plane ejection seats; the watch had to withstand the same the same testing rigors as the ejector seats themselves, success in which involved encasing the movement in an anti-magnetic Faraday cage and anti-shock mount. Unfortunately, most of us can’t buy this watch: Bremont limited customers to those who have ejected out of fighter jets. If you want the MB-2, though, you don’t even need to have flown first class, and it’s just as tough.

Movement: Modified BE-36AE automatic chronometer
Case diameter: 43mm
Water resistance: 330 feet

Best Military-Inspired Outdoor Watch: Marathon Pilot’s Navigator with Tritium

As noted in our latest Field Watch buying guide, military issued watches are not so much a thing anymore; our soldiers tend to buy their own watches. However, Marathon’s Pilot’s Navigator, like many of its watches, is still made to American military specification. It has tritium tubes for visibility, a fibershell high-impact case with stainless steel back, and is both water- and shock-resistant to the level needed by a pilot or parachutist. All for under $300.

Movement: ETA FØ6 high-torque 3-jewel quartz movement
Case diameter: 41mm
Water resistance: 200 feet

Best Diver: Seiko Marinemaster Professional Diver’s Watch “Tuna Can”

As legend has it, Seiko’s “Tuna Can” diver came about after a letter from a commercial diver arrived at the brand’s headquarters, pleading for a watch that could withstand the rigors of the undersea job. The result was the Professional Diver’s Watch, nicknamed the “Tuna Can.” The name comes from its most obvious feature: a titanium shroud covering most of the watch’s (also titanium) case. The watch is also anti-magnetic, anti-corrosive, and has a tough, dependable Spring Drive movement. (It’s also available with a quartz movement.) In short: Good luck breaking the thing, below or above water.

Movement: Seiko Spring Drive (also quartz)
Case diameter: 50.7mm
Water resistance: 2,000 feet

Best ABC Watch: Casio G-Shock GPRB1000-1 Rangeman

The G-Shock specialty watches (Frogman, Mudman, etc.) are favorites of US special operations personnel, which tells you all you need to know about their place as sports and adventure watches. The Rangeman has a “shock-resistant triple sensor” that gives altitude, barometric pressure, compass, and temperature readings; its GPS provides directional guidance through a paired app. The watch is solar-powered, shock- and mud-resistant, and can withstand temperatures down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Its case is also enormous (60mm) and basically unbreakable. If you plan on beating the hell out of your watch, this is as smart as your watch needs to be.

Weight: 42 grams
Case diameter: 60mmm
Water resistance: 600 feet

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Introduction

In our recent guide on field watches, we asked what exactly constitutes a field watch, and the answer we arrived at is a solid one: a field watch should be simple, durable and legible. “Dials should have big, contrasting markers and little else adorning them. Cases should protect movements from hard knocks. There should be lume aplenty,” we wrote.

All this is true of a watch that can perform in the great outdoors. But the category of Outdoors Watch is so large that its very definition is somewaht hazy. We spend time outdoors for thousands of different reasons. Almost no watch can cover every pursuit; even the powerful new smart “ABC” (altitude, barometer, compass) watches, with GPS and heart rate tracking, don’t rate for SCUBA diving or are too bulky for say, bouldering.

So we have to ask ourselves: What do we decide fits the bill? Is a $10,000 Rolex that can keep perfect time despite being knocked on a rock but that any sane person would not risk knocking on a rock to begin with an outdoors timepiece? Is a $50 Timex made to be roughed up but that could easily break any more of an outdoors watch?

In order to answer this question, we’ve provided you with a wide range of watches that fit into as many outdoor pursuit categories as we can: The mechanical beauties that befit a summit photo; chunky dive watches whose brawn make them ideal for the deep sea but also help them survive above the treeline; affordable watches powered by quartz movements, less flashy but more suited to shock survival; or the aforementioned ABC smartwatches, a potent tool for the trail runner looking to log his miles and the hunter hoping to find his way to camp. There is no perfect outdoors watch. But somewhere on this list is the perfect watch for your next adventure.


Notable Moments in Outdoor Watch History


Sir Edmund Hillary Summits Everest with a Rolex Explorer: In 1953, Edmund Hillary became the first man to summit Mount Everest, and on his wrist was a Rolex. As he described it, this watch “experienced considerable extremes of temperature, from the great heat of India to the cold temperature at over 22,000 feet, and seemed unaffected by the knocks it received on rock climbs.” His “pre-Explorer” can still be seen at the Beyer Watch and Clock Museum in Zurich.

The Enicar Seapearl Summits Everest Just a Few Years Later: A much different-looking watch made it to the summit of Everest shortly after Hillary. The Enicar Seapearl, a dive watch with a gaudy color scheme and no rotating bezel, was worn by several members of a Swiss team that summited Everest in 1956. Enicar afterward added the “Sherpa Guide” moniker and started a line of tool watches. Sherpa itself became insolvent in the 1980s and was sold to a Hong Kong company, which still distributes its watches.

An Omega Speedmaster Professional Saves the Day: There’s the outdoors, and then there’s the outdoors — in 1970, when an oxygen tank exploded aboard the Apollo 13 service module, the astronauts onboard were dealing with the latter. Without navigational and targeting computers, they had to aim their ship back home using a manual burn. Jack Swigert timed the 4-minute, 24-second burn using his Omega Speedmaster’s chronograph.

Seiko Straps Its Dive Watches to a Submarine: In 2014, Seiko grabbed two of its Marinemaster Professional Dive Watches off the assembly line and strapped them to the hull of the KAIKO 7000II, a deep-sea submersible on its way to one of the deepest parts of the ocean. The quartz version didn’t stop until it reached 3,284 meters, and the mechanical watch kept on ticking until it reached 4,299 meters down. Both watches are rated to only 1,000 meters.

A Rambo Watch for the Blueblood: Sly Stallone famously loves Panerais. But it was Richard Mille he teamed up with in 2014 to create the “Rambo” watch released in 2018. Price tag: $983,000. Its features are a bit above and beyond standard survivalist tools: a tourbillon and a titanium compass-lid bezel that can be equipped with a bayonet mount.

Buying Guide

It’s difficult to say what constitutes an “outdoors” watch exactly, and thus we’ve opted to divide this list into several distinct categories, all of which can be utilized for different types of outdoor activity. Some of the picks may overlap into different categories, but this only means that these watches are particularly versatile.

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Mechanical Field Watches

Mechanical movements, incredible machines though they may be, are no longer the best movements suited to withstand the rigors of the wild — quartz movements, though perhaps less interesting to behold, do this job better. Fortunately (because we do love mechanical watches), a few companies have toughened up their mechanical movements with anti-magnetic soft iron cages, anti-shock mounts, and hardened bezels and crystals.

Seiko Alpinist

It’s maybe the dressiest-looking watch on this list, but don’t let that fool you: the Alpinist is a dark horse favorite in the outdoors. Seiko makes a dependable movement, and though the watch comes on a leather strap that looks ready for cocktail hour, it also has an inner rotating compass ring for navigation and a thick, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal; throw it on a NATO and you have an instant watch for adventuring.

Movement: Seiko 6R15 automatic
Case diameter: 39.5mm
Water resistance: 660 feet

CWC Navigator

CWC has been making watches for the British military for decades. This one is based off a model from the 1970s, and has all the Ministry of Defence specifications aimed at helping it survive in the field: Luminova on the hands and hour markers, a two-piece stainless steel case and water resistance to 5 atm (164 feet). (For a more affordable option, check out the quartz-run G10 version.)

Movement: ETA 2824-2
Case diameter: 38mm
Water resistance: 164 feet

Luminox Atacama Automatic Field 1901

The rest of the Atacama lineup from Luminox has chunkier numerals and quartz movements — consider this one a slightly more refined option. At 44mm, its stainless steel case is a sizable hulk, and its tritium gas tubes illuminate the dial beautifully.

Movement: SW220-1 HH5 automatic
Case diameter: 44mm
Water resistance: 660 feet

Ball Watch Fireman Night Train III

Ball Watch started making durable watches for rail workers in 1891, and today it’s still known as a compelling watchmaker offering tough timepieces at prices that feel like a steal. The Fireman Night Train III is a simple three-hander plus date with an ETA movement surrounded by the brand’s “Amortiser” shock-absorbing, anti-magnetic system. At night, thanks to 61 tritium tubes, its straight-laced dial lights up like a firework.

Movement: ETA 2824-2
Case diameter: 40m or 43mm
Water resistance: 330 feet

Damasko DA46

Damasko is a German watchmaker that flies below the radar but makes very tough, simplistically sharp timepieces. The DA46 Steel has a dial and bezel that are crisp and legible, but its beauty in the outdoors is more than skin deep. It’s made to take a beating without showing it, thanks to Damasko’s patented hardened stainless steel and its multi-layered DAMEST coated bezel.

Movement: ETA 2836-2
Case diameter: 41.9mm
Water resistance: 328 feet

IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Heritage

The Mark XVIII Pilot’s watch is the descendant of IWC’s Mark 11, a legendary watch first worn by British pilots in 1948. The Mark XVIII carries on the legibility, simple style and toughness of that forebear; the Heritage version adds a titanium case and keeps the automatic movement sheathed in an anti-magnetic soft iron case.

Movement: IWC 35111
Case diameter: 40mm
Water resistance: 200 feet

Omega Seamaster Railmaster

The new Railmaster debuted just last year and is far too often overlooked. After all, it has a movement that is both chronometer-certified (long story short, it’s very accurate) and super resistant to magnetism. And its new dial is lumed to the max.

Movement: Omega 8806
Case diameter: 40mm
Water resistance: 500 feet

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional

What’s an outdoors watches list without the watch that went so out-of-doors that it escaped the earth’s atmosphere? You’ve heard the story a million times before: When NASA was looking for the right balance of accuracy and toughness in a watch for its missions in 1965, the Speedmaster won out. Astronauts wore their Omegas on spacewalks, and eventually, onto the surface of the moon. Jack Swigert later used his to time a vital burn while getting Apollo 13 back to earth. If this isn’t a watch you can trust for a weekend in the backcountry, what is?

Movement: Omega 1861
Case diameter: 42mm
Water resistance: 167 feet

Bremont MB-2

British watchmaker Bremont created the MBI in collabortion with Martin Baker, a company that makes fighter plane ejection seats; the watch had to withstand the same the same testing rigors as the ejector seats themselves, success in which involved encasing the movement in an anti-magnetic Faraday cage and anti-shock mount. Unfortunately, most of us can’t buy this watch: Bremont limited customers to those who have ejected out of fighter jets. If you want the MB-2, though, you don’t even need to have flown first class, and it’s just as tough.

Movement: Modified BE-36AE automatic chronometer
Case diameter: 43mm
Water resistance: 330 feet

Rolex Explorer II

If the Explorer II had been available in 1953 when Hillary summited Everest, chances are he might have had this white-dialed beauty on his wrist. Originally devevloped for spelunking, it has a 24-hour fixed bezel, lumed indices and a bright orange-tipped 24-hour hand for absolute clarity when darkness and low oxygen levels threaten to overcome you. Its 3187 movement also features ehanced shock resistance.

Movement: Rolex 3187
Case diameter: 42mm
Water resistance: 328 feet

Quartz Field Watches

When it was first released in 1969, the quartz movement threatened mechanical watches in part because both its accuracy and toughness were superior to that of its mechanical counterparts. That hasn’t changed. They’re also usually — but not always! — more affordable than mechanical movements, which is a good thing when there’s a risk your watch could fall off your wrist into a volcano.

Timex Expedition Gallatin

It costs just shy of sixty bucks, so don’t expect the Expedition Gallatin to deliver the goods like other more expensive watches on this list. Still, Timex does here what it does best: provide a decently constructed beater watch, in this case made with a resin case, a large, grippy bezel, and an INDIGLO night light for visibility. And you won’t cry if it falls off a cliff.

Movement: Quartz (unspecified)
Case diameter: 44mm
Water resistance: 164 feet

Victorinox I.N.O.X.

Victorinox built the I.N.O.X. with all the design subtlety of a dumbbell. If you can get past that, the chunk of stainless steel is a great watch to survive a beating, including, according to the company, being driven over by a 64-ton tank and then tossed into a washing machine. Survivalists can also buy it with a paracord strap.

Movement: Quartz (unspecified)
Case diameter: 43mm
Water resistance: 660 feet

Marathon Pilot’s Navigator with Tritium

As noted in our latest Field Watch buying guide, military-issued watches are not so much a thing anymore; our soldiers tend to buy their own watches. However, Marathon’s Pilot’s Navigator, like many of its watches, is still made to American military specification. It has tritium tubes for visibility, a fibershell high-impact case with stainless steel back, and is both water- and shock-resistant to the level needed by a pilot or parachutist. All for under $300.

Movement: ETA FØ6 high-torque 3 jewels Quartz movement)
Case diameter: 41mm
Water resistance: 200 feet

Bertucci A-3T Navigator Pilot

Bertucci watches, with their affordable prices, solid construction and even, in some cases, hard plastic covers, are favorite watches of folks whose hands take a beating daily. The A-3T combines a classic WWII aviator-style design with a titanium case that’s light and strong, a hardened crystal and a thick zulu nylon webbing band.

Movement: Swiss quartz (unspecified)
Case diameter: 42mm
Water resistance: 330 feet

Breitling Emergency

Technically, this is an upgrade of Breitling’s first Emergency watch, released in 1995. Besides being a beefcake on the wrist (consider the “why-not-make-it-indestructible?” black titanium- cased version), it has a dual-frequency distress beacon that you can activate to get out of any tough situation. Barring a real scare, you can always use its SuperQuartz movement to power the included chronograph, countdown timer, second time zone, and alarm (the normal, wake-up kind).

Movement: Breitling 76 SuperQuartz
Case diameter: 51mm
Water resistance: 64 feet

Dive Watches

Dive watches really are great for a lot more than diving. Building a watch that can survive hundreds of feet below the ocean’s surface tends to also make it tough for hiking, biking, and backpacking, and a tradition of bulky designs and chunky tool bezels make for a watch case that can take a beating.

Orient M-force Bravo

Orient is a Japanese brand known for delivering solid mechanical watches at affordable prices. The M-Force Bravo is just that: its case is anti-magnetic, shockproof, and good down to 660 feet; its bezel is PVD-coated for good measure. If you want an affordable, tough watch with some character to boot (its orange dial has pops of yellow, red, and blue that somehow work well together), this is it.

Movement: Orient 40N5A automatic
Case diameter: 45mm
Water resistance: 660 feet

Marathon TSAR Quartz Medium

Just like Marathon’s Pilot’s Navigator, the TSAR (Tritium Search and Rescue) is made to military specifications regarding shock and water-resistance, illumination markings, and spring bar strength. It has a Swiss quartz movement, a steel case with a unidirectional bezel, and tritium gas tubes for easy reading in the depths (or just the dark). As Jon Custis, a former Marine who wore one while stationed in Iraq recently wrote, “Despite the abuse endured on operations, my TSAR hasn’t skipped a beat.”

Movement: ETA FØ6 quartz
Case diameter: 41mm
Water resistance: 1,000 feet

Sinn UX

With the UX, German watchmaker Sinn tackled the water resistance problem by filling the watch’s case with a special oil. The benefits are twofold: first, the oil makes the dial, hands, and crystal appear all on the same plane, making the watch extremely legible from any angle underwater. Secondly, and more importantly, the oil negates the main problem depth causes underwater in a gas-filled watch — namely, immense pressure, giving the UX a depth rating of something like 16,000 feet. If you want to wear it above sea level, you’ll still benefit from its hardened, scratch-resistant steel bezel and a case that’s anti-magnetic and shock-resistant.

Movement: ETA 955.652 quartz
Case diameter: 44mm
Water resistance: 16,000 feet

DOXA SUB 6000T

A modern take on the legendary DOXA divers from the 1960s and ‘70s, the SUB 6000T is a monster with a 45mm case, bright orange dial and 5,900 feet of depth rating. It has all the makings of a great, tough outdoors watch: shock resistance, the ability to take a dip and an entirely unique look. If you’re a Jacques Cousteau fan, it’s a no-brainer.

Movement: Soprod A10 automatic
Case diameter: 45mm
Water resistance: 5,900 feet

Seiko Marinemaster Professional Diver’s Watch “Tuna Can”

As legend has it, Seiko’s “Tuna Can” diver came about after a letter from a commercial diver arrived at the brand’s headquarters, pleading for a watch that could withstand the rigors of the undersea job. The result was the Professional Diver’s Watch, nicknamed the “Tuna Can.” The name comes from its most obvious feature: a titanium shroud covering most of the watch’s (also titanium) case. The watch is also anti-magnetic, anti-corrosive, and has a tough, dependable Spring Drive movement. (It’s also available with a quartz movement.) In short: Good luck breaking the thing, below or above water.

Movement: Seiko spring drive (also quartz)
Case diameter: 50.7mm
Water resistance: 2,000 feet

Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea

The Sea Dweller was a legend in its own right long before James Cameron drove a submersible wearing a specialized version of the Deepsea on its mechanical wrist down to 35,000 feet. The Deepsea you can buy can descend to 12,800 feet (that ought to be enough) thanks to a movement that’s shock- and magnetic-resistant, a hardened ceramic bezel, a 5.5mm thick sapphire crystal and a helium escape valve. (Whether you’ll take a $12,000 watch under the waves is your own choice.)

Movement: Rolex 3235
Case diameter: 44mm
Water resistance: 12,800 feet

ABC/Smart Watches

Time to learn your ABCs: altimeter, barometer, compass. On a watch, this is a life-saving trio, great for any adventurer no matter what their pursuits. Most ABC watches today have digital smartwatch interfaces, too.

Suunto Traverse Alpha

The Traverse Alpha the only watch on this list built specifically for hunters and anglers. Atop Suunto’s (already excellent) outdoors features, like an altimeter, barometer, compass, GPS, weather alerts, and activity tracking, it offers three modes: hiking, hunting, and fishing. Automatic shot detection marks your exact time and location every time you fire a gun; sunrise and sunset alerts and a moon phase calendar provide important information for anglers. All this comes inside a stainless steel case that’s built to military standards.

Case diameter: 50mm
Water resistance: 330 feet

Garmin Tactix Charlie

The Tactix Charlie features a huge, 1.2-inch high-resolution digital screen, ready to be filled ith all the information Garmin smart watches provide: ABC, GPS and GLONASS with TOPO mapping, heart rate, swimming, cycling, running, and golfing-specific modes, and more. Even though it’s loaded with tech, it’s still built to last, with up to 12 days of battery life and a DLC-coated titanium bezel. Plus, you can customize its appearance and settings through its paired app.

Case diameter: 51mm
Water resistance: 330 feet

Casio G-Shock GPRB1000-1 Rangeman

The G-Shock specialty watches (Frogman, Mudman, etc.) are favorites of US special operations personnel, which tells you all you need to know about their place as sports and adventure watches. The Rangeman has a “shock-resistant triple sensor” that gives altitude, barometric pressure, compass, and temperature readings; its GPS provides directional guidance through a paired app. The watch is solar-powered, shock- and mud-resistant, and can withstand temperatures down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Its case is also enormous (60mm) and basically unbreakable. If you plan on beating the hell out of your watch, this is as smart as your watch needs to be.

Case diameter: 60mmm
Water resistance: 600 feet

Alpina AlpinerX

Alpina is known first for its sporty, Swiss-made luxury watches, so the AlpinerX was a serious departure. The brand paired an analog dial and quartz movement with a digital readout for the ABCs, plus GPS, thermometer, sleep tracking, and more via a paired app. With a black fiberglass case and a rubber strap, it’s hardy enough for your next adventure.

Case diameter: 45mm
Water resistance: 330 feet


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