If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, SPY.com may receive an affiliate commission.
Steel and leather are the two most popular materials for a watch band or strap, but they’re hardly the only options in your arsenal. One of the best alternatives is a NATO strap, a fabric watch strap that’s a decidedly more informal alternative. NATO straps are generally made from nylon, but not every fabric watch can truly be called a NATO strap.
What Is a NATO Strap?
Wristwatches became fashionable because of the military; it was impractical for soldiers to reference a pocket watch, hence the need for a timepiece that could be quickly checked while in action. And, like other military garments like t-shirts and khakis, the wristwatch quickly became popular among men (wristwatches had already been popular for women). Arguably the most military-inspired watch you can have in your collection is one that’s affixed to a NATO strap, especially if it’s a field watch.
The NATO strap originated in the British military, but it takes its name from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a Cold War-era military alliance still in operation today. More specifically, the watch strap is colloquially called NATO because of the Nato Stock Number (NSN), an organizational system that makes it easy to find military parts and equipment that is made to the same standard and specifications. Equipment in the NSN goes well beyond just weapons and machinery and extends to everything from pants to teaspoons to air conditioners to, yes, watch straps.
What’s Special About a NATO strap?
Because of the wide popularity of NATO straps for casual use, most of them that you buy online are not going to be true G10s (the shorthand name for the NSN reference number). But while they may not be made to the exact military standards, they still share some key features. The most convenient aspect of a NATO strap is the slip-through design. While most straps require removing the spring bars to attach the watch strap, a NATO strap simply slips under the spring bars and is then looped through the second lower strap.
This second strap on a NATO strap helps keep the watch from sliding down the strap while you’re wearing it and ensures that the watch can’t slip off the strap when the watch isn’t being worn. That said, there are quite a few single-layer slip-through straps that might be more your speed if you prefer a slimmer profile. NATO straps also have three metal loops, in addition to the metal buckle, allowing the wearer to more securely fasten the often over-long straps.
One of the major appeals of a NATO strap is comfort. NATO straps are ideal in the summer; the fabric is much more breathable than leather or stainless steel. Plus, since the watch sits on top of the strap, the case doesn’t make direct contact with your skin. This can be great for anyone who finds the feeling of a metal case against their wrist uncomfortable.
NATO straps also offer the benefit of durability. Sure, you might imagine that steel and leather would be stronger than fabric, but the links on a steel watch can break, while moisture can damage leather. A nylon strap, on the other hand, can only really be broken by intentionally cutting it, and you can throw the strap in the washing machine or take a dip in the water without worrying about moisture ruining the nylon. Plus, because a NATO strap is comprised of a single piece of material, as opposed to two separate leather straps, you never have to worry about the two halves of the strap getting separated.
Finally, NATO straps are generally pretty inexpensive, so you can cheaply replace them out once they wear down, or simply swap them out on a daily basis for a dose of personality. Some watch snobs say that a fabric strap cheapens the look of a high-end watch, but we beg to differ. A high-low combination is offbeat yet versatile and stylish, and the most important thing is to wear the watch (and strap) that makes you happiest.
Here are some NATO straps to check out.
1. Timex 20mm Fabric Slip-Thru Strap
Timex is one of the oldest watchmaking brands in the world. While many storied watch brands focus on pedigree and complications, Timex makes the most democratic version of a watch can be; inexpensive and practical, yet stylish and sturdy. This strap fits that model. It’s designed for watches with 20mm lugs, and it comes in blue and olive. It has three silver-tone loops and a buckle.
2. Barton Watch NATO Strap
Barton Watch is a brand to know, simply because of the ridiculous amount of variety the brand offers. This gray and black style calls to mind the enduringly popular strap donned by Sean Connery in Goldfinger. This strap has the traditional double-back design, but it swaps out the metal-free loops for a single fixed loop made from fabric.
3. Nixon 20mm FKM Rubber NATO Band
BEST RUBBER OPTION
Nixon has a surf-inspired sensibility and has continually innovated in the world of quartz watches. Their take on a NATO band is as unique as their timepieces. The brand swapped out fabric for rubber, making for a sturdy style that’s great for sports. Otherwise, it has a traditional design, including a double-layer strap and three metal loops.
4. Crown & Buckle Black and Olive NATO
Regardless of what kind of watch you have, there’s a Crown & Buckle NATO strap for you. That’s because they come in tons of colors, and they’re available in tons of sizes, from as small as 16mm to as big as 24mm. This particular option is 18mm, and it features a stylish striped design.
5. J.Crew 20mm leather watch strap
This watch is definitely pushing the limits of what a NATO strap is supposed to be. For one thing, it’s a single pass-through, rather than the traditional double strap design. And more obviously, it’s made from leather, rather than fabric. Still, it embodies the easy-to-use design and rugged look of a NATO watch strap.
6. Sid Mashburn NATO Strap
Georgia-based Sid Mashburn is a brand that imbues preppy staples with a rakish effortlessness, and this bright orange NATO strap is the perfect companion to a rugged diver or chronograph. It’s American-made from nylon and has an 18mm width.
7. Marathon Watch Company Watch Strap
Marathon has a focus on military-inspired timepieces, and their nylon strap is built rugged from military-spec nylon. The straps get a slightly modern upgrade in the form of flat, matte-free loops, as opposed to the round rings on a traditional NATO strap. It comes in black, tan and dark green.