Imagine this scene. You’re driving down the highway on a dark and stormy night when suddenly you get a flat tire. You pull over to change the tire in the pouring rain. While outside, you look down at your watch, but you have no idea what time it is because you can’t read it. Even worse, it gives you no indication of when the storm will be finished. It also can’t illuminate the area for you or really provide you any help at all. Even worse, when you get back in your car, you realize the rain has permanently damaged your expensive watch. This scenario would have gone a lot differently if you had been wearing one of the best tactical watches.
What is a tactical watch? These watches boast a rugged design with features that may help you survive in challenging environments. They’re made to keep operating in the world’s toughest conditions. That’s why they’re often worn by military personnel, law enforcement officers and explorers.
Whether you’re a businessman or an avid fisherman, you need a watch that works in all weather, on all terrain and at all altitudes. So, when shopping for your tactical watch, look out for the following:
- Durability: Most tactical watches include a rugged design that won’t break under pressure. You may want to look for a watch with shock resistance.
- Water Resistance: Tactical watches should at least be able to function properly in the rain, but many may also be water-resistant down to 1,000 feet below the surface.
- Luminescence: You may want to access the features on your watch in the dark, so make sure it has some sort of luminescence. This might come in the form of battery-operating backlights or glow-in-the-dark numbers and hands.
- Analog/Digital: Tactical watches are available in both analog and digital formats. The former tend to be more reliable timepieces, while the latter has more modern features. Choose whichever you prefer.
- Size/Weight: This type of watch tends to be quite bulky. If you want a feature-heavy timepiece, the watch will be bigger and heavier on your wrist. Deciding on the trade-off between size/weight and features is probably the most important decision you’ll need to make when buying a tactical watch.
- Power: Some of these watches run on batteries, which may run out during crucial moments. Others have self-winding functions. Pick your power source carefully.
In addition to the above, you’ll also need to think about which features you want your watch to have. Below we’ll run through a few of the most common.
Tactical Watch Features
The best tactical watches have some of the coolest features in the watch world. The most basic of these watches usually feature:
But more advanced tactical watches may also boast:
While these bonus features are super cool, it’s important to remember that the point of a tactical watch is that it functions in extreme environments. So, it’s most important that the watch is rugged and water-resistant, allowing you to tell the time in any situation you find yourself.
Ready to buy your next tactical watch for all your outdoor adventures? Read on to learn more about the eight best tactical watches on the market.
1. Casio Men’s G-Shock Master of G Rangeman Watch
With years of experience creating rugged watches, Casio’s G-Shock line is considered to be the best of the best in terms of technical watches, and we’re big fans of the G-Shock Master of G Rangeman Watch. This piece features carbon fiber inserts in the watchband and an attractive negative display. Beyond its beauty, the Master of G Rangeman boasts a special triple sensor button. This easy-to-find button activates the sensor screen where you can find readings for temperature, barometric pressure and altitude. These features are encased in a shock-resistant face that uses solar power to function. For an attractive watch that doubles as a handy tool for the outdoorsman, you can’t beat the G-Shock Rangeman series.
2. FANMIS Men’s Digital Backlight Watch
While you could drop more than $1,000 on a high-end tactical watch, you certainly don’t have to. In fact, the FANMIS Men’s Digital Backlight Watch, which is still one of the best-reviewed tactical watches on the market, costs less than $15. Admittedly, this watch won’t give you the durability and all the bells and whistles of a more expensive watch, but it does still have a backlit display, water resistance to 164 feet and a military-style design. On the watch face, you’ll find readings for the time, a display for the day of the week and a chronograph. Plus, this tactical watch is available in seven different band colors.
3. Armitron Sport Men’s Digital Chronograph Watch
For more than 50 years, Armitron has been creating affordable digital watches. The Armitron Sport Men’s Digital Chronograph Watch is certainly no exception. This watch gives you an exceptional number of features yet costs less than $25. It boasts a 46-millimeter case with quartz movement and is water-resistant up to 330 feet. The face, which boasts a backlit display, shows the time (in either 12 or 24-hour format), the date and the day of the week. The built-in stopwatch and alarm are also helpful features for outdoor activities. Altogether, this isn’t the most feature-heavy watch, but it’s a lightweight digital watch that can compete with some of the more expensive tactical watches on the market.
4. Timex Men’s Expedition Field Chronograph Watch
The first analog watch on our list, the Timex Men’s Expedition Field Chronograph Watch is inspired by vintage military-issue watches. The 43-millimeter brass case houses an impressive timepiece that not only shows the time. It also has displays for the date and a 30-minute chronograph that can measure time to 1/20 of a second. As an added bonus, the included Indiglo light-up system completely illuminates the watch face in the dark without draining the battery. This watch can be worn in 330 feet of water but is generally not suitable for diving. And, while this watch comes with an attractive leather strap, the same watch is available with a range of strap materials and colors.
5. SUUNTO Core Military Men’s Outdoor Sports Watch
BEST WEATHER TRACKER
As we move up the price scale, you’ll notice that each watch starts to include more and more features. That’s certainly the case for the SUUNTO Core Military Men’s Outdoor Sports Watch. This is one of the best tactical watches to buy if you’re concerned with tracking the weather. The watch itself includes a weather trend graph and a storm alarm as well as pre-set sunrise and sunset times for locations around the world. In addition, this watch boasts a barometer, a compass and an altimeter which shows both ascent or descent and records them as sessions. All of these fascinating bells and whistles are included in a sleek, digital watch face with a silicone black band, although other designs are available.
6. Garmin Tactix Charlie
For men who need to navigate challenging environments, the Garmin Tactix Charlie is an excellent choice. This watch has features of both a tactical watch and a smartwatch. In particular, it boasts routable TOPO maps in full color, dual-position GPS formatting, waypoint projection, a heart-rate monitor, fitness training graphs and night vision goggle compatibility. The watch face comes preloaded with a compass, a barometer, an altimeter and a gyroscope, but you can customize it by adding data fields, apps or widgets through the Connect IQ store. Plus, the watch is made using a carbon-coated titanium bezel and stainless steel buttons for superior ruggedness.
7. Marathon GSAR Military Issue Diver’s Watch
BEST WATER RESISTANCE
The Marathon GSAR Military Issue Diver’s Automatic Watch is built for use by actual military personnel during at-sea rescue missions, so you know it can take on whatever tactical operations you throw at it. Because the watch is built to government specifications, it comes stamped with a NATO stock number on the back. The Swiss-made watch boasts self-winding mechanical movement as well as self-illuminating tritium gas tubes that require no external power source to operate. As an added bonus, this watch is water-resistant down to 1,000 feet below the surface. While it might not be the cheapest watch on this list, this is a gorgeous timepiece that will last for years to come.
8. Breitling Emergency Beacon Black Volcano Titanium
The Breitling Emergency Beacon Black Volcano Titanium is on every true explorer’s wishlist. You might be wondering what justifies the price of this extraordinary watch. It costs so much because it’s the first watch in the world to include an authentic dual frequency distress beacon. This means that no matter where the wearer is in the world, it can launch alerts to the proper authorities and help rescue operations home in the area. In addition, the watch’s technical prowess is only bolstered by the fact that it also features a titanium multifunction electronic chronograph, a rechargeable battery and an integrated antenna system. As stated by Breitling, this is a “survival instrument for professionals and adventurers.” Don’t leave home without it.