“It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” was a slogan coined by a watch company over 60 years ago. The motto may be old, but the idea it presents is as pertinent as ever. A reliable daily-worn wristwatch is an indispensible tool to have in just about any situation you might encounter. During mundane times, you can reference it to count down the minutes until your lunch break. In more challenging times, you can use it to do everything from guiding yourself out of the wilderness to calculating the ETA to an objective. With so many watches available on the market, how do you go about selecting which one is right for you?

Backup (Two Is One… )

Firstly, we suggest that you have more than one watch at your disposal. That piece of advice is more than just an excuse for you to go buy cool new “toys” — although it can serve as a bonus reason, we won't snitch on you. Having backups for any type of equipment is always a prudent move, especially when you have the responsibility of planning for the unknown. The obvious reason you want to have extra watches readily available is in case one malfunctions or breaks. The other is that if one powers down for one reason or another, it's very likely that your backup will still be going. In a survival situation, you probably won't have the luxury of asking a passerby what time it is. You have to supply that info for yourself. After you remedy the inoperable watch by changing its battery, winding its action, or charging it back to full power, you can reference your backup watch to get the correct time.


There are probably hundreds of thousands of watches floating around. Some are inexpensive dime-store models, and some can cost as much as a luxury car. Where do you begin your search? The key is to keep in mind that you are looking for a watch with features that suit your particular needs and is tough enough to survive abuse. Other factors to consider are what type of power it runs on, your budget, and its style (this final factor is important to some, less important to others). Let's examine some of the criteria that you want to look out for.


How does the watch fare in your intended environment? How much abuse can it take? All the elements of nature apply here — your watch should be able to withstand at least a moderate to extreme amount of heat, cold, sand, water, moisture, and impact force. You want a unit that you can rely on and that can take punishment. This criteria might be hard to figure out though, without actually abusing it yourself.

Some external factors to weigh are the manufacturer's reputation and warranty policies. Sure, if all hell is breaking loose, you're not going to call them for a warranty repair. But if a company offers a solid warranty and has a good reputation for making watches that stand up to abuse, at least you know they have confidence that their product will most likely function as intended. When in doubt, test it out yourself by performing your own endurance tests.


How is the watch powered? Mechanical watches require either manual or automatic winding for them to stay powered. That's great because you don't need anything but yourself to power it. It also means you shouldn't forget to wind it.

There are battery and solar types as well. Extra watch batteries are small and easily carried, so you should always have some in your pack of supplies. If things get apocalyptic, watch batteries would probably be near the last to be scavenged and might be easier to find than more common varieties. If you do opt for a battery-powered watch, also be sure that it's easily replaceable and doesn't require special tools to do so.

Solar watches can oftentimes be charged by artificial light in addition to natural sunlight. They can run for months and months on end between charges so if you crawl in a cave to hibernate, you needn't worry about charging your watch for a long time.


All watches tell time — after all, that's their primary function. Looking past that, you'll find watches that can do everything from telling you where you are via GPS to letting you know when the next storm is coming by forecasting the weather. What's your altitude on that mountain? What temperature is it? It also does you no good if your watch can tell you 30 different pieces of information, but you don't know how to access and understand them. Learn about what features a watch offers, weigh that with what your needs are, and how you can use that information to your advantage.

Let's take the barometer function for example. Many watches offer it, but do you know how it can be used? It measures atmospheric pressure, and one use for it is to generally tell what weather trends you are about to encounter. It gets complicated, but the basics are that by monitoring the rising and falling trends of a barometer, you can generally tell that a storm might be approaching (continuously falling barometer reading) or that better weather is likely to come (rising barometer). Truly understanding the many functions of your watch is imperative.

Do you want a digital display or an old-fashioned big-hand/little-hand analog model? Those are all personal choices that you'll have to make. Digital displays are easier to read with a quick glance, and some like having hands so that they can be used as a makeshift compass (see “No Compass, No GPS, No Problem” in OFFGRID Winter 2014). Some offer both. The choice is yours.


You don't need to break the bank to find a quality watch. There are plenty of affordable models that are dependable and have useful features. Keep that in mind if you're getting a backup or two in conjunction with your primary wrist-mounted clock. Sure, it would be nice to have several nice watches in your stable if you have the scratch, but it's not necessary.


We're not above saying that style counts. There are those out there that will say function trumps form every time, and we're certainly in agreement with that. But we also appreciate a good-looking timepiece and say that a little style doesn't hurt either. Consider all of the above factors when selecting a watch and also pick one that you like the look of as well. After all, you'll have it for a long time to come and will be looking at it at least a few times a day. You might as well pick one that's easy on the eyes.

Timepiece Buyer's Guide

  • Casio Pathfinder PAG240B

    Make & Model - Casio Pathfinder PAG240B
    Bezel Diameter- 1.92 in
    Band Material - Resin/cloth
    Power Type - Solar rechargeable battery (non-replaceable)
    Runtime - 6 months (without further exposure to light)
    Weight - 2.3 oz
    Water Resistance - 100m
    MSRP - $250
    URL - http://www.casio.com
    Standout Features - Solar power
    Triple sensor (altimeter/barometer, thermometer, digital compass)
    Sunrise and sunset data

    Casio's excellent reputation in the world of durable multi-function watches has long been cemented with its successful lines, including the well-known G-Shock and Pathfinder.

  • Garmin tactix

    Make & Model - Garmin tactix
    Bezel Diameter - 1.95 in
    Band Material - Elastomer
    Power Type - USB rechargeable battery (non-replaceable)
    Runtime - 50 hours (GPS mode) / 3 weeks (sensor mode) / 5 weeks (watch mode)
    Weight - 3.2 oz
    Water Resistance - 50m
    MSRP - $450
    URL - http://buy.garmin.com
    Standout Features - GPS positioning
    Automatic calibrating altimeter, barometer, and three-axis compass
    1,000 Waypoints and TracBac navigation

    The most high-tech watch in this guide, the Garmin tactix GPS watch is inspired by the Special Forces and their needs out in the field.

  • Humvee Recon (Olive Drab)

    Make & Model - Humvee Recon (Olive Drab)
    Face Dimensions - 1.5 x 2 in
    Band Material - Nylon
    Power Type - Battery (replaceable)
    Runtime - unlisted
    Weight - 1.7 oz
    Water Resistance - 50m
    MSRP - $40
    URL - http://www.humvee.com
    Standout Features - Shock-resistant body
    Countdown-stop timer, three alarms, 22-city world clock
    Scratch-resistant face

    With its polymer body and durable nylon and Velcro-style strap, the Humvee Recon feels like it can take a beating and then some.

  • Luminox Recon NAV SPC A.8832.MI

    Make & Model - Luminox Recon NAV SPC A.8832.MI
    Bezel Diameter - 1.81 in
    Band Material - Polyurethane
    Power Type - Battery (replaceable)
    Runtime - 5 years
    Weight - 2.5 oz
    Water Resistance - 200m
    MSRP - $495
    URL - http://www.luminox.com
    Standout Features - Tachometer is scaled to measure walking speeds
    Rotating one-way diver bezel
    Removable analog compass

    The Recon NAV SPC A.8832.MI is built with land navigation in mind.

  • Resco Instruments The Bullfrog, Sterile – SS

    Make & Model - Resco Instruments The Bullfrog, Sterile SS
    Bezel Diameter - 1.66 in
    Band Material - Nylon
    Power Type - Mechanical (self-winding)
    Runtime - unlisted
    Weight - 3.9 oz
    Water Resistance - 500m
    MSRP - $2,105
    URL - http://www.rescoinstruments.com
    Standout Features - Self-winding mechanism with ball bearing rotor
    INCABLOC shock absorber
    316L stainless steel bead-blasted case

    Owned and operated by a Navy SEAL, Resco is in the business of building handmade, sleek, simple, and rugged timepieces.

  • Seiko Core SSC095

    Make & Model - Seiko Core SSC095
    Bezel Diameter - 1.75 in
    Band Material - Metal
    Power Type - Solar rechargeable battery (non-replaceable)
    Runtime - 6 months (without further exposure to light)
    Weight - 5.5 oz
    Water Resistance - 100m
    MSRP - $395
    URL - http://www.seikousa.com
    Standout Features - Solar power
    Chronograph (60-min stopwatch, 12-hr alarm, 1/5-sec split time measurement)
    Date calendar

    The analog Seiko Core SSC095 chronograph never needs batteries, because it's powered by advanced solar technology.

  • Smith & Wesson Pilot Chronograph Watch

    Make & Model - Smith & Wesson Pilot Chronograph Watch
    Bezel Diameter - 1.55 in
    Band Material - Metal
    Power Type - Battery (replaceable)
    Runtime - unlisted
    Weight - 3.8 oz
    Water Resistance - 30m
    MSRP - $90
    URL - http://www.campco.com
    Standout Features - Chronograph
    Date calendar
    Glow-in-the-dark hands and hour markers

    The Smith & Wesson Pilot Chronograph Watch is a no-frills chronograph-style analog watch.

  • Suunto Core All Black

    Make & Model - Suunto Core All Black
    Bezel Diameter - 1.93 in
    Band Material - Elastomer
    Power Type - Battery (replaceable)
    Runtime - unlisted
    Weight - 2.26 oz
    Water Resistance - 30m
    MSRP - $299
    URL - http://www.suunto.com
    Standout Features - Altimeter, barometer, compass Storm alarm
    Depth meter for snorkeling/diving

    These watches are worn by combat troops worldwide, which should attest to their durability.

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