A tactical watch is more than just an ordinary timepiece. Tactical watches are designed for survivalists. They can withstand the elements and stand up to enormous amounts of abuse; you know that even if the power fails, a good tactical watch won’t. The best of these timepieces are scratch, shock and water resistance, and many come with path-finding or navigational features too.
Historically, our preference is for traditional analog models. These have greater longevity and reliability, which is essential if the worst were to occur. The developments in digital watch technology, however, can make even the most hardcore traditionalist change their mind about a digital watch. If you are set on picking up a digital watch, you can usually expect the battery to last about a year. You might want to consider one that has kinetic or solar charging function. However, as with all good survival equipment, the best tactical watches do not come cheap.
What to look for in a quality tactical watch
When looking for a new tactical watch for personal use or as a gift for friends and family, there are a couple of factors that to keep at the forefront of my mind. As mentioned, the watches’ power source should be considered. You will also want to take a critical look at the materials that the watch is made from. The watch’s main frame (the outer casing) should be metal (preferably titanium steel), carbon fiber or a military grade plastic. These will usually be covered in a hard silicon rubber or a similarly effective shock absorbent material. These materials are all hard wearing and, crucially, light weight.
Watch design isn’t just a matter of personal preference; you are going to want to choose a tactical watch that clearly presents key information and allows the user to quickly and reliably access additional features. Some more expensive tactical watches make use of a so-called ‘negative display,’ a deceptively simple black and white display that makes the information presented really pop out.
What follows are my personal recommendations for the best tactical watches, based on the criteria that I outlined above.
1. Garmin Forerunner 230
We said above that we prefer analog watches over digital tactical watches, but the Garmin Tactix packs a large number of useful features for survival enthusiasts and serious preppers. Amazingly, this watch packages an effect GPS system, presented through a crisp and clear negative display screen. Garmin has included an interesting ‘backtrack’ feature, meaning that if you lose your way in the wilderness, this tactical watch will help you retrace your steps and rejoin your path. There is also a compass and barometer, and the watch’s lens is scratch and glare resistant.
Despite all its fantastic features, some preppers might feel that relying on GPS and satellites might not be a great long-term bet. Most serious survival enthusiasts will also be competent using a map and compass, too. However, if your budget will stretch to it and you’re looking for a feature packed digital tactical watch, you cannot go wrong with the Garmin.
2. Casio G-Shock Rangeman GW-9400-1ER
The Casio Rangeman is not the easiest tactical watch to set up, but once you get it running, you will find that it is absolutely packed with features. Another digital watch, it boasts an altimeter, barometer, thermometer, data on sunrise and sunset times and a handy digital compass. Its combination of resin and stainless steel give the Rangeman a distinctive look; obviously, a Casio watch but definitely one build with survivalists in mind.
The watch is durable, functional (once set up) and, in our opinion, a distinctive and stylish piece. The display is large and legible, and the backlighting is strong and effective, which is a significant bonus. Most importantly for a digital tactical watch, this Casio model is solar powered. This makes it a fantastic choice for those of you looking for a digital watch but have concerns about their longevity.
3. Casio G-Shock Analog Digital Dial Black Resin Mens Watch GA100CF-1A
Sticking with the Casio G-Shock range, this combined analog/digital watch comes highly recommended. It includes a small digital display for dates, along with alarms and a stopwatch. The display is crisp, and the LED backlight is clear, which assists after sunset.
G-Shock has a range of solid watches, the two above are very solid, and work well for almost all situations you may find yourself in. In the end it you may even just make your decision based on aesthetics as they all have solid options and functions.
4. Timex T49928 Men’s Expedition Digital Compass Watch
Timex has offered a fantastic, inexpensive digital tactical watch for preppers and survival enthusiasts who don’t want to compromise on quality but are on a tight budget.
The watch comes packaged with a surprisingly effective digital compass, lap counter, countdown and configurable alarms. It doesn’t sport the wealth of features included with the digital Casio models (there are no altimeter, barometer or thermometer here), but it is a great tactical watch with incredible durability. Some users report that they find the display unclear, although this isn’t a problem that I’ve personally experienced.
5. Suunto Core
Calling the Suunto Core a watch doesn’t do the device justice; this tactical watch has more in common with a desktop PC! The Suunto Core includes a barometer, compass, altimeter, thermometer, and sunrise/sunset information for over 400 locations. The accuracy of the information provided by the Core is second to none. You might think that a large number of included features could make this tactical watch cumbersome and complicated to use. Nothing could be further from the truth; the Core’s intelligent and intuitive negative display and the interface allow you to access the features and information that you need quickly. However, I found the outer rotational ring is initially quite stiff and difficult to turn.
The Suunto Core boasts a high-end design belies a durable and rugged tactical watch. The watch is comfortable on the wrist and can take any amount of punishment you throw at it. A word of warning, though, the battery lasts for about a year, so if you’re planning on using the Core as a long-term survival tool, then you will want to stock up on batteries (luckily, these are easily replaceable by the user).