We have selected the best tactical watches on the market right now and have split them by price range. This way you can more readily browse the category you’re interested in.
Tactical watches are, in a couple of words, timepieces that are more robustly built to sustain the abuse they’ll be taking in outdoor or military activities. There’s a tough window that will be more resistant to scratches, and strong materials in the case, bezel and wristband. Other requirements are however comfort and a light weight. Since tactical watches are usually bulky, they tend to get heavy.
Modern materials come to the rescue here, with many watches being made of strong and flexible resins, plastics, and metals like titanium which is super strong but also light. Imagine a large entirely stainless steel tactical watch, in both case and band, that you carry around in tactical applications or outdoor activities, and in various conditions: in hot or cold weather, while wearing light or warm clothes. If you’re all sweaty, you don’t want a metal band with your watch, because it tends to stick to your wrist and become very uncomfortable. This is the reason why you see mostly resin, rubber, polyurethane, or leather wristbands on tactical watches.
On the other hand, if we are to stick strictly to terms, “tactical” will mean anything military or thereabout. Check out the definition of tactical from the Free Online Dictionary. You’ll notice how broad that is, because under the concept of military there’ll be many related areas: infantry, navy, marines, special forces, pilots etc. And so are tactical watches too! Field watches, operator watches, diver, navigator, aviator watches, they’re all under the umbrella of tactical or military watches. Here’s a resource specific to military watches. And here’s more, regarding military specifications, or mil-spec watches. AS you’re probably starting to see, you need to have a specific need in mind when you’re looking for a tactical or military-type watch, because if you don’t, you’ll soon lose yourself in the mass of models and functions. You might end up buying something based on looks, that has functions you’ll never use. And there’s plenty to chose from, no doubt about it. But use our guides and choose wisely.
Rangermade’s Top 5 of Tactical Watches
Out of the sheer number of tactical watch models available, we’ve selected 5 that stand out at different levels. Here they are:
1. G-Shock GA100-1A1
Build: Resin, Shock and Magnetic resistant, Water Resistant to 200M
Functions: 1/1000th Second Stopwatch with Speed Indicator, Countdown Timer, 5 alarms, World Time, 12/24-Hour Formats
Accuracy: +/- 15 seconds per month
Backlight: Auto LED light with afterglow
The GA100-1A1 is a classic from Casio’s G-shock line for an excellent price. Launched in 2010 at $125, it can be found under the $90 price mark as of the time of this writing. Check here for the current pricing.
It’s a tactical-looking design, built to military specs, quite assertive through size, but subdued by the black matte color. The analog silvery hands give it class. In short, it’s perfect for sports or the beach and the outdoors, but also around the city and even at the office. You can even contrast it to a dressier outfit. More than a few owners end up dubbing it their watch of choice.
At today’s standards, the functions on this watch are rather basic – for instance, it’s missing atomic time synchronization – but apart from that, what it was designed to do, it does very well. If you’re not looking for Triple-Sensor functions (barometer/compass/altimeter), the GA100-1A1 will be all that you require. The buttons are responsive and the time is accurate. It may need some adjustment once every couple of months, which is to be expected.
Being built to military specs, the lighting is rather discreet at night. Some people complain about the lack of visibility, but this is by design. You ought to be aware however of this. If you’re looking for a more luminous version, G-Shock has the GA100-1A4 in store.
All in all, this is a rugged watch that gets the job done and doesn’t need constant tending. It’s a true gem in the G-Shock line and the reviews it has gotten speak for themselves.
2. Casio Pro-Trek PAG240-1CR ‘Pathfinder’
Launched in 2011, the Pro-Trek PAG240 incorporates the first generation of the Triple Sensor technology from Casio. Four years down the line, this Pathfinder still offers a full array of functions and is an ever-popular and solid choice.
Looks. The PAG240 comes in the all-black version reviewed here, but also in black with blue cloth strap, and a titanium model. The rugged utilitarian and sporty look is consistent throughout, in keeping with the Pro-Trek lines.
Build. The watch has mineral crystal window, denser than glass, the same type used in the G-Shock line. The window will not scratch easily against metal and other hard objects. In fact, many owners say that their watch looks almost like new after years of use, with the window being scratch-free and clear, and the body hiding its scars very well. The watch weighs around 60g/2.12oz, which is very light for a watch of this size, and one can wear it all day without noticing it.
Screen visibility and backlighting. The display is very readable from the front and from most angles, except for the most extreme ones, where the view becomes fuzzy. The backlighting could perhaps be brighter, but the auto on feature when tilting the wrist is neat and works as expected.
Water resistant to 330 feet (100 meters). Don’t take this rating too literally. A watch rated such will be fine for swimming, and perhaps for snorkeling down to 20-30 feet of depth, but if you want to play safe, don’t venture with it beyond that.
Solar power. This is a solar-powered watch that charges in any light, not just sunlight. This will free you from worrying about battery life. The battery will outlive the watch itself in most cases.
Power save mode. This is an option that can be set to turn off the display after an hour of inactivity, to save power. This function kicks in at night only, between 10PM and 6AM. A slight tilt of the hand or of the watch will wake it up.
World time. The watch can be set to show two time zones simultaneously. When entering this mode, UTC time is displayed first, which will fit those military-type or aviation persons who constantly want to know Zulu time. There are 31 time zones and 48 cities, which means a city for most time zones.
Sunrise/sunset times. Once you enter your latitude and longitude, this function is very accurate.
Altimeter/Barometer/Thermometer/Compass. The precision of these measurings is quite surprising. There is a bit of tolerance included in the altimetry, but given that the watch uses a pressure+temperature function to compute altitude, the result is surprisingly accurate. This feature comes in handy, because it’s often faster to check the altitude on the watch than on a GPS device. As for barometer, you can compare its readings to Weather.com and it will be spot on. The best use for the barometer is to give a weather forecast. If pressure dips fast, you know a storm is on the way.
The thermometer is partly influenced by body temperature. To get an accurate reading, you need to give it a few minutes detached from your wrist. This will improve altitude readings as well.
The compass can be calibrated by entering your magnetic declination, and is a handy tool to tell you which direction you’re headed. The rotating bezel allows you to align the directions to a map.
For the newer Triple-Sensor ver. 3, check out the Pro-Trek PRG line.
The stopwatch, countdown timer and alarms complete the features. These are always to be found on the Pro-Trek and G-Shock watches, so they are pretty standard. What this Pathfinder is missing, is atomic time synchronization. If you really require that feature, you may want to have a look at the Pro-Trek PRW line.
This is a solid watch, that you can take hiking, biking, running, camping, hunting, and so on. It will withstand pretty much any outdoor application without a hickup. This watch can last you a lifetime.
3. G-Shock GW-9400-1CR “Master of G”
Anther G-Shock in our line-up! But hey, aren’t they dominating the industry, with the largest range of models than any other manufacturer? This is a G-Shock that’s gotten it all: solar power, atomic time, sunrise/sunset times, the newest Triple Sensor, good contrast and backlighting. In the G-Shock line, it’s usually backlighting that puts watches back a notch in user reviews, but the GW-9400 has plenty of white LED lume, without being tiring on the eyes.
The size of this watch is exactly right, it’s not huge as some people complain. It’s a little larger than the G-Shock Riseman, or than a Pro-Trek, and noticeably heavier. But it sits right and comfortably on the wrist, and the band feels more quality than a lot of other bands, including G-Shock ones.
The buttons are easy to reach even with a glove on, and they feel springy and robust. They’re not easily pressed by accident, although they respond quickly when pressed purposefully. The display is intuitive, and the setup is also very intuitive. In fact, if you’re a bit familiar with this type of watches, you’ll probably be able to complete the initial setup without the manual.
The sensor functions tend to be generally accurate, especially with calibration. Altitude should be reset and entered to a known value at the beginning of a climb or descent, just as with most any altimeter. On a gradual slope, the altitude will read correct values within 20 feet of tolerance. If the initial adjustment is not performed, the readings can be off by 50 to a couple hundred feet or more.
The barometer graph also works best when you gradually change altitude. A fast change in altitude, like when using the elevator in a tall building, will translate in a barometer drop or spike. But on gradual terrain, the graph is accurate and the storm alarm does its job well.
The compass works best if you’re stationary and if you reset it before taking a reading. Like always however, you should carry a second compass to compare. It can be adjusted to show true north, if you know your magnetic declination. With a topographic map, you could navigate using this watch’s sensor functions.
All the other functions like stopwatch, countdown timer, alarms, atomic time sync, world time and sunset/sunrise times also work great. The stopwatch is started with the press of a button, which is handy. Atomic time syncing works well if you follow the procedure in the manual. Sunset and sunrise times are correct within narrow limits if you enter your coordinates.
While one could get a Pro-Trek for less that does the same things, the G-Shock GW-9400 is more rugged and can withstand much more abuse. A true field or outdoors man’s watch, that will survive the mission.