Testing out the Phalanx Sierra Zero One in the icy colds of Sweden...
Anyone who's into Scandi noir crime fiction will 'get' the city of Umea instinctively. Stieg Larsson, the godfather of the genre, lived and worked in Umea for a long time. In fact, he even left all his assets to the Umea branch of the Communist Workers League, according to a 1977 version of his will (28 years before he eventually died) that was subsequently disputed.
Umea is a quiet university town, not far from the Arctic Circle, with low houses that are covered in snow for much of the time. As well as the piercing cold, with temperatures south of minus 10 degrees centigrade for much of the time, the first thing you notice is the fact that every sound is muffled. It's what helps give the whole place an air of disorientating malice, with an eerie silence that leaves plenty of space for your imagination to roam: which is undoubtedly what helped to unleash Larsson's dark muse.
By night in particular, there aren't many people around - and who can blame them, with the temperatures plummeting to minus 20 or even below after dark? To survive in this harsh climate, everyone is trained in survival, and the typically Swedish utilitarian approach to life comes to the fore. Everything is fit for purpose: from your underfloor heating to your slab-sided Volvo.
So of course, you need a watch that is equally purposeful as well. That's why I brought the Phalanx Sierra Zero One to this inhospitable corner of the frozen north: to see if a watch that was born for tactical measures could perform in these challenging conditions.
Telling the time is something you don't want to do too often, as that involves de-gloving and exposing a chunk of skin to the elements. You can avoid this of course by using a Military Nylon strap to attach the watch outside your glove or jacket, but not being as well-prepared as the Phalanx itself, I didn't have this available: instead I wore the standard rubber padded tropical strap (the irony wasn't lost on me, watching the mercury plummet).
If this is how you are forced to tell the time, you want to make sure that it happens as quickly as possible, enabling your hands and wrists to retreat back into protective warmth immediately.
With its simple markers, off-white on a black background, the Sierra Zero One passes that test instantly. The other thing about northern Sweden at this time of year is that it gets light at around 9am and dark close to 4pm. Which means that you spend a lot of time in darkness. Hence the need for a powerful lume, which the Phalanx also provides.
Many local people wear two sets of gloves: a woollen inner glove, and a weatherproof outer glove. Unfortunately, I just had a ratty pair of old woollen gloves.
But, old or new, that still means you're constantly doing stuff and operating things in some type of glove. I adjusted my watch on the plane over, but should you need to do so on the hoof, it's reassuring to find a big crown with a textured grip (at the four o'clock position) so that you can easily do so without taking your gloves off.
Finally, there's the size and the construction of the watch itself, which feels like a miniature bank vault on the wrist. But it's not so big and metallic that you risk frostbite every time you put it on in cold conditions. It sits under your sleeve comfortably, and it's quick to warm up to body temperature. That sounds like an insignificant point, but there are some watches that never seem to stay warm in cold weather, tapping into your precious reserves of body heat. The Sierra Zero One has all the trappings of spec ops, with a subdued satin case and decimal time markers. It looks the part and feels indestructible.
I wasn't, needless to say, in Sweden on covert tactical operations, but most of the time, I didn't really notice that the Phalanx was there. It just fitted into my plans perfectly, doing whatever I needed it to do in these somewhat extreme conditions. And when the long walks home at night got creepy and you felt like a character in one of Larsson's Millennium trilogy novels, the Phalanx was a reassuring presence on the wrist: exactly the sort of dependable travel companion you want.
To my mind, that's the test of a good watch. You might not be aware of it all the time. But on every occasion you need it, you're very grateful to have that particular model on your wrist.
Side Note: If you're interested to see how much the watch can really handle, you can watch Geckota's brutal stress test on the Phalanx Sierra Zero One below.
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