Some people don’t even bother with a watch, preferring instead their mobile phone. So how could you choose the best outdoors watch if you don’t even really need one? Well, there are a few things that good watches do that mobiles don’t (yet) – although the gap is closing.
In fact, if you stripped away all your creature comforts leaving you with just a couple of items to help you survive, it’s your watch that might win the day. In our search to find the best outdoors watch, here’s the basics you should look for.The Tissot T-Touch solar – one of a new generation of tech outdoor smart watches
The best outdoors watch
Modern digital watches can do just about everything, and they even tell the time…take a look at some watches and you’ll find wave counters, altimeters, swimming lap counters, digital compasses and even in-built GPS functions.
Great if you want to trek Annapurna, but not much point on shorter excursions. And as useful as these tools may be, there’s an altogether simpler solution: Choose an automatic or solar powered analogue watch because it doesn’t need batteries – and it works as a compass (more on this in a minute).
While digital / analogue preferences vary, here’s the basics we’d look for if we had to choose the best outdoors watch and a few cracking examples.
Watch batteries fail, and we’ve not spotted a model that has a power gauge so you don’t know when this will happen. So go for a quality automatic model (generates its own power from your movement) or a solar powered one. While you shouldn’t discount battery-powered watches (the new G-Shock below has a battery good for 10 years), when it comes to the best outdoors watch, we’d still say keep it simple, keep it automatic or solar.
Analogue not digital
Unless you need all the bells and whistles, pick an analogue watch (traditional hour and minute hand). You can get some great dual-display watches, with both analogue and digital, but you have to ask yourself if you really need a countdown timer, a stopwatch…and a wavetimer.Citizen Promaster. Diving watches have many of the features of a great outdoors watch, but are usually super chunky
Not only are analogue watches easy to read at a glance, you can use one as a basic compass should you need to. Simply hold the watch in front of you, point the small hand at the sun and a straight line between the hour hand and 12 o’clock on the watch face points south. Now do that with a digital!
The more the merrier in terms of depth, but there’s no need to limit your choice to watches good for 200m scuba trips if you’re not a diver. Any watch that’s good for 30m is probably good enough to be an outdoors watch. You want to be able to go coasteeering, jump off a cliff, swim a lake but probably not go scuba diving a reef.G-Shock combine both analogue and digital, with newer models featuring a 10yr battery life.
Watches do get bashed – every caught your watch face when taking your rucksack off? Happens all the time. So as well as weatherproofing, look for sturdy build qualities and solid casings. For really rugged designs, look out for mil-spec standards. That said, you don’t need huge diving watches or the monster G-Shocks if that’s not your thing.
Make sure the tips of each hand are covered in light-reflective coatings and perhaps the hour gradients too. Just take care to check it’s clear which hand is which when you look at your watch at night – its surprisingly easy to make a mistake!
Many watches have low light features, some are also backlit – you push a button and everything’s illuminated from behind. Traser watches are an interesting example where they use trigalight (tritium gaseous light) illumination technology. While not cheap they have an excellent range.Classic military G10 watch from MWC with replaceable strap. Simple, tough but no solar version
Watch straps get damaged over time. So, not only should you choose one made with strong material, you should consider one that can be easily replaced without taking it to a jewellers. In this case, look for models with simple bindings where you can easily – and cheaply – replace the strap you freyed on those rocks in Crete. The classic G-10 issue watch has inspired lots of recent designs through its distinctive strap and it’s a great choice for an outdoors watch.
If you ever venture far from the beaten track for any stretch of time, you’ll be well advised to have a watch as well as your other travel gadgets. The best outdoors watch needs to be durable and reliable before it is bling and showy. In the end it’s often cost and personal preference, but hopefully you’ve a few tips here to help you make that choiceSmart outdoor watch, the Nixon Mission, but do you really need the features?
Now if you really can’t do without new tech, the Nixon Mission may be the best outdoors watch for you. Yes, there’s a new generation of watches coming through, however it’s just back to the same old question: Do you really need all the additional functions?
Next time I’ll look more in detail at what’s on offer with some reviews of what each of the manufacturers has to offer.