10 of the greatest options for outdoor watches available today, right here!
The origins of the outdoor watch (or how it’s more commonly known in the industry as a field watch) come from an early 20th-century military requirement to create a reliable, standard-issue wristwatch that was cost-effective, easy to read, and resistant to the elements.
Bearing in mind the typically vintage styling of the genre and considering where most of us wear outdoor watches today, it would be a valuable exercise to challenge some of the accepted design definitions. Most current models specifically labelled as field watches tend to be designed and marketed as historical 1940s-50 homage re-issues, to such an extent that many capable outdoor watches, which could be considered perfect for the role, are being overlooked.
With all this in mind, we are here to share our ten best choices for currently available outdoor watches, all of which are under £1,000. Some models are 100% compliant with accepted field watch default specifications however others may not be what you were expecting.
Hamilton Khaki Field Watch Mechanical 38mm Outdoor Watch - £395
Drawing from their enviable (and well-marketed) WW2 heritage Hamilton can be considered one of the kings of field/outdoor watches with multiple options available. Our choice is the contemporary 38 mm Field Mechanical as this represents the archetypal watch of the genre.
Its specification could be lifted straight from the post-war model Hamilton made for US troops in Vietnam with a stainless-steel case, three hand display, dark dial with light numerals, triangular indexes with old radium colour Super-LumiNova with a durable military strap. The current edition features modern touches such as Hamilton’s unique ‘Earth’ coloured PVD case coating and a new H-50 hand-wound movement with an 80-hour power reserve. A thoroughly modern and practical watch with all the feel of FSSC 88-W-800.
To learn more about this watch, you'll want to have a read of our full review here!
Marathon Navigator Sage Outdoor Watch - £340
Marathon watches are well known in military and special forces circles and lend themselves perfectly to be outdoor watches. Their most recognisable military outdoor watch is the Navigator. It has a highly distinctive look, with simple “field” styling and is constructed to current US military specification MIL-PRF-46374G.
The 41mm case is made from a composite fibre material which gives the watch an overall weight of just 40g.
Sage would be our chosen colour which works well against the black dial and gives the watch a strong outdoor look. Sealed tritium vials on all indices and hands offer outstanding low light legibility. With a water resistance of 60m, there is more than enough protection for the ETA F04 High Torque movement. Standard issue to some of the most elite military units in the world, you cannot go wrong with a Navigator.
Are you interested in seeing the rest of our Marathon watches? Of course you are! Click here to see our full range of Marathon watches.
CWC 1987 SBS Re-issue Quartz Outdoor Watch - £899
The 1987 reissue edition dive watch is an exact copy of the first black CWC divers' watch manufactured for the British Special Boat Service with a day/date complication. The original 1987 is arguably one of the most sought-after Special Operations watches with only a handful of original examples remaining. The current derivative is still issued to Royal Marines.
While clearly a diving watch, the re-issue 1987 lends itself well to the category of outdoor watches due to its uncluttered design, supreme legibility, and reliable ETA 955.122 quartz movement. Super-Luminova vintage lume markings and sapphire crystal complete the package.
For the pure outdoor watch look we recommend the non-date version as it is more aesthetically pleasing and takes inspiration from military watches of old, however, if you want to own the exact SBS model then the day/date is also available. Whatever your choice, both 1987 designs are pure combat watches and perhaps the perfect 20th-century successors to early WW2 models.
Traser P68 Pathfinder GMT Outdoor Watch - £385 to £795
Hailing from the same military specification as the Marathon, a Traser P6500 won a 1989 US Special Forces contract and became the first tritium watch to enter armed service. Today the company stays close to its mil-spec history while successfully branching out into the relatively new genus of “survival and adventure” watches. Traser’s offering is one of these newer models to make it into our top ten - the P68 Pathfinder GMT, as reviewed by WatchGecko on 10 July 2020.
The Pathfinder looks like the kind of watch you would want on your essential equipment list as you hike the length of Britain. It has a unique second crown that unlocks and rotates a compass bezel allowing you to fix bearings for accurate direction of travel and set another time zone for parallel reading on your journey. All Trasers come to life with an impressive light show at night, the P68 glowing with green and blue tritium Trigalight. Super-Luminova has also been applied in a green ring around the watch and the cardinal points of the compass to offer differentiation dual illumination for optimal night use. The complex dial of the P68 may seem like information overload, however, once you master the functions of the circular bezel it is a highly capable addition to the outdoor watch category.
Bulova "Hack" 980255 Outdoor Watch - £289
This new Bulova can be considered the quintessential field watch. Inspired by the company’s US military heritage it takes its name from the “hack” function stipulated for all watches made under the original WW2 spec, i.e. the ability to stop the second-hand allowing synchronization of multiple watches.
The contemporary style of the 980255 features a three-hand 21-jewel automatic movement with a 42-hour power reserve. The gunmetal grey stainless-steel case with a black dial and luminescent hands are offset by a red centre track on the dial displaying 24-hour time. The watch is presented on a green leather military strap and like the original WW2 original it has a domed crystal.
The Hack is powered by a Miyota 82S0 automatic movement, a change from the hand-wound original, however, possibly the best aesthetic retention is the classic hand styles from the 1940s model. If you want your outdoor watch to look as close as possible to the iconic original models, and a genuine vintage is not an option, then the Bulova Hack is well worth a look.
Newmark 52 Field Outdoor Watch - £195
We took a close look at the 52 Field in October 2020 and again it is a classic field watch design that takes inspiration from vintage models – in this case, Newmark’s own 1950s designs. Three models of the watch are available with 1950s style dials in black, ivory, and black with gilt track accents. The black dials are unmistakably militaristic however the ivory option really stands out from our other suggestions and conjures a vintage era of exploration feel.
Heat-treated blue hands ensure perfect contrast and legibility against the matt dial and for low light readability, the Super-Luminova X1-C3 compound brings a long-lasting glow. The Newmark 52 Field is equipped with the relatively new Seiko VH31 movement. Whilst this movement is quartz, it is designed to ‘tick’ four times per second giving the visual aesthetics of a mechanical watch with the accuracy and reliability of quartz. The ivory version comes on a high-quality desert tan Military nylon strap.
The 52 is a favourably priced, well-conceived, outdoor watch that will more than meet all the requirements of someone seeking a sophisticated yet functional vintage look.
Hear more about the Newmark 52 in our hands-on look here.
The Luminox Bear Grylls Survival Series 3780 Outdoor Watch - £585
This is a watch I spent some real time with on our Online Magazine at the start of the year. It's a piece that massively opened my eyes to the concept of 'survival' watches rather than the traditional field or outdoor categories. From the ground up, this is a watch that is designed to help you survive in the most challenging environments. To start with, the strap is made from paracord which can be unravelled and used.
The fixed outer bezel is designed to help you calculate walking speed. There is tritium lume through the dial to ensure maximum legibility when you need it.
All of this wrapped up in a watch case made from Carbonox which is essentially compressed carbon powder. It is 6 times lighter than steel and 3 times lighter than titanium; non-metallic, anti-allergenic and anti-magnetic with strong chemical resistance. It does not get hot in warm temperatures or cold in extreme cold climates. It is the perfect material for a survival watch.
The Luminox Bear Grylls Survival Series 3780 is well worth reading more about, fortunately for you, we reviewed it in detail here.
Citizen Promaster Tough Super Titanium Outdoor Watch - £299
We couldn't create this list and not include Citizen. More specifically the ref: BN0118-12L. The original model of this watch will forever be colloquially known as the “Ray Mears” and it is impossible to write about outdoor watches without including the latest evolution. The watch has been subjected to several technical changes from the classic model of the early 2000s.
Made without compromise for the most extreme environments the first issue model is still considered to be one of the only purpose-built outdoor watches. The current version fortunately still benefits from that DNA. It is equipped with Citizen’s propriety (and almost indestructible) Duratech coated titanium, unique monocoque 38mm case and Eco-Drive power.
Water resistance is beefed up to 300m from the original 200m. One could argue that the new model lacks the sheer brilliance of the original, but it is in every way a thoroughbred modern outdoor watch, frankly under-priced, which we suspect will serve with distinction.
Glycine Combat 6 Vintage Outdoor Watch - £745
Glycine Combat watches have been popular with outdoor and sports enthusiasts since the 1960s and the company have worked hard to make the Combat 6 Vintage look like it was crafted in that era. Of course, it is a highly modern creation, but it has all the classic elements of an outdoor watch.
As the price suggests this model is a far cry from a standard-issue military watch with the well-made Glycine GL224 movement (modified 26 jewel Sellita SW200-1) visible through a smart crystal case back. The highly polished case and innovative 2-piece military-style strap differentiate this choice vastly from the more utilitarian outdoor looks in our earlier top ten options. The Combat Vintage can be considered a more mid-range luxury model in the world of field watches.
Christopher Ward C65 Sandhurst Outdoor Watch - £840
The C65 Sandhurst has the insignia of the British Army engraved on the case back. Be under no illusions, this is not a homage watch; it wears the badge with a pedigree as it has been manufactured in collaboration with the UK MOD and designed from the beginning to pay homage to the Smiths 1969 W10 UK military watch. Royal Navy and Royal Air Force siblings commemorating Cranwell and Dartmouth are also part of this range.
The Sandhurst draws on all of the expected design characteristics we have come to expect on a classic 38mm field watch with a textured black dial, white Arabic numerals boosted by TC-1 Super-LumiNova and an original specification white outer minute track. It is powered by a Sellita SW200-1, COSC-certified 26-jewel self-winding mechanical movement.
Both externally and internally this is a very well-appointed watch which is a good thing as it is the most expensive model in our top ten. If you want your outdoor watch to have true British military-inspired heritage the C65 is the only model to offer this sought-after layer of authenticity.
The Christopher Ward Sandhurst was the subject of a detailed review here on the Online Magazine - check it out for yourself to learn more.
Our Wildcard: G-Shock Rangeman Outdoor Watch - £300 - £800 depending on model
This is a million miles away from a classic “field watch” but as we suggested at the beginning of the journey if you wear a watch every day in the field, and it is a thoroughly tough reliable partner in exploration and adventure, then one can argue it qualifies to be included.
Unless you have a pathological dislike for digital “G” style watches it is hard not to concede that the Rangeman GW-9400-1CR is an impressive machine.
Equipped with a triple sensor that reads altitude, barometric pressure, temperature and additionally a digital compass, the Rangeman presents a compelling case for the most practical outdoor watch in this feature. The 9400 is solar-powered, which is extremely useful on extended expeditions, and Casio claims the battery has a 22-month life on a full charge, with no further exposure to light.
When you consider all these features are in a watch that is no bigger than many other Casio G-Shocks you begin to wonder why everyone does not own one of these! To successfully combine so many navigation and survival tools into the Rangeman is unquestionably a work of design genius by the famous Ryusuke Moriai.
What is an outdoor watch?
An outdoor watch is a watch that offers durability, legibility, good proportions on the wrist and is incredibly tough.
‘What is an outdoor watch?’ is an interesting question to think about regarding modern watchmaking. For example, if you wear a Rolex Explorer II while crashing through the jungles of South East Asia does that make it an outdoor watch? If you wear a fabric strapped Omega Speedmaster on a hike along Hadrian’s Wall does it become a field watch?
The inception of the field watch can be traced back to an original WW2 US military watch specification titled FSSC 88-W-800. A nondescript US equipment standard giving little away which underplays the impact it was destined to have on a genre of watches. Whether vintage homage or solar-powered, modern field watches still take much of their visual inspiration from this requirement.
This specification set new standards for military watches, ensuring they could take the harsh knocks associated with the battlefield and deliver operational accuracy. Qualifying models had to be equipped with a 15-jewel hacking, hand winding movement. The dial was required to have a track divided into 10-minute segments and have a clear second hand. Elgin, Bulova, and Waltham produced models under the new spec, all of which went immediately into military service by the thousand, each development being a subtly different interpretation of the same criteria. Hamilton also built a watch under FSSC 88-W-800, but their design was a more expensive option, superficially compliant, but with superior luminescence and an 18-jewel movement. Hence it was reserved for elite aviators.
Peacetime interpretations of these WW2 watches have evolved into archetypal field watches, perhaps typified by the recent issue Bulova Hack reference 98A255; a pure copy of their WW2 original now openly branded as a field watch.
When you look at the design parameters and the way watches are marketed today, the image of a field watch is often hemmed into fixed boundaries. With our considered selection we have tried to illustrate that the genre has the potential to be much wider, and many unusual models fit the requirements equally well.
Whatever your watch of choice, enjoy your explorations.
What is the best outdoor watch?
The best outdoor watch all depends on what you want an outdoor watch to do for you. If the only thing you're looking for is a tough, reliable, well priced and long-lasting watch then watches such as the Citizen Promaster Tough Super Titanium is the best outdoor watch.
What is the best adventure watch?
The best adventure watch is the Luminox Bear Grylls Survival Series 3780 Watch as it offers practical uses and functions in a wearable size.
What is the best-rugged watch?
The best-rugged watch would be the G-Shock Rangeman as its as close to bulletproof as you can get!