Watches | May 4, 2023 9:30 am

The 10 Best Field Watches

With their military origins, utilitarian design remit, and handsome looks, field watches are perhaps the ultimate everyday “tool watch.”

A row of watches.
Our favorite field watches.

During the First World War, soldiers were finding it difficult to check the time while also operating their weapons, moving equipment, communicating, and more. At some point, some enterprising soul was the first to solder on wire lugs to his pocket watch, add a leather strap, and wear the thing on his wrist. Shortly thereafter, watch companies began producing dedicated wristwatches for men — what were previously termed “wristlets” for women — adding luminous (and highly radioactive) radium paint, metal shrapnel guards, and more. Thus, the very first military watches were born, as well as the very first men’s wristwatches and the very first field watches.

Some 100 years later, the definition of “field watch” has become a bit murky. Given the plethora of dedicated watch categories these days — from dive watches to chronographs to dress watches and more — it’s tough to pin down what exactly constitutes a field watch. (If one wears a Patek Philippe Calatrava into combat, does that make it a field watch?) A G-SHOCK, perhaps the most ubiquitous contemporary military watch, is most certainly a field watch, though it’s also worn by streetwear types in big cities. And many soldiers during the Vietnam War (and some today) wore Rolex Submariner dive watches into the field. Does this make them field watches, despite the fact that they were designed for divers?

Of course, though the field watch takes as its inspiration the military field watch — which is generally a simple three-hander — we would argue that use in the military (or mil-spec attributes) isn’t a prerequisite today for “field watch” status. Mark II’s Cruxible, based on the WWII-era A-11, is most definitely a field watch, even if the only field one wears it in is behind one’s house, or the soccer pitch at one’s local high school. TL;DR, “field watch,” like certain other watch categories (think “dress watch”) is a rough designation, so we would urge you not to be too pedantic. (And don’t @ us.)

What follows is an example of some of our favorite field watches. From analog, battery-powered watches to high-end automatics to digital G-SHOCKS, these timepieces will serve one well for many years in harsh, outdoor environments — regardless of whether or not one is under machine gun fire. 

A picture of a watch.

G-SHOCK 5600 Series

Sure, there are other, more contemporary G-SHOCK collections, but the original 5600 series still holds up after 30+ years. Models with Tough Solar offer solar charging, and most offer multi-band atomic timekeeping, world time, five daily alarms, a countdown timer, a 1/100-second stopwatch, an auto-calendar, a power saving function, a battery indicator, an LED backlight, and more. (Oh, and they also tell the time!) Able to run for 10 months on a single charge, the 5600-series is water resistant to 200m, and its black colorway and matching rubber strap mean that it’s non-reflective — ideal for a watch that’s actually used by soldiers in the field. Is it any wonder, then, that so many men and women at arms rely upon G-SHOCK watches? 

  • Diameter: 43.18mm
  • Movement: Casio quartz
  • Water Resistance: 200m
  • Price: ~$126
A picture of a watch.

Seiko 5 Sports Field Watch

For many years, the Seiko 5 series, though widely available, was also somewhat stuck in the past. Nowadays, we’re spoiled with a glut of awesome, modern Seiko 5 field watches, including the Sports version. Housed in a 40mm stainless steel case and powered by an automatic movement, it certainly looks the part of a field watch, with lumed Arabic indices, a lumed sword handset, an inner 24-hour track, and lumed block, dash, and triangular indices. A day-date display provides crucial information, while a nylon NATO strap means you’re ready to take your Seiko 5 into the field without delay. Water resistant to 100m, it even includes a display case back — which, though perhaps gratuitous on a watch costing just a couple hundred bucks, makes for some fun, mindless movement-viewing pleasure. 

  • Diameter: 40mm
  • Movement: Seiko 4R36 automatic 
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Price: $206
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CWC British Military G10 

Much like Marathon and American Optical, Cabot Watch Company has expanded its remit to serve the wider civilian public, making its once issue-only designs available to a larger audience. Its G10 field watches, for example, can now be enjoyed by anyone: Beginning in 1980, CWC supplied the British MOD with hundreds of thousands of G10s, including 22,000 for the Royal Navy in 1991 alone. Now, there are several varieties of this humble, quartz-powered field watch available, but the simple black-dialed version is the most classic option. Measuring a comfortable 36.5mm and featuring fixed spring bars, it must be worn on a single-pass strap such as a NATO — but that’s half the charm. (It’s also only water-resistant to 50m, but that’s sort of the other half of the charm…especially at under $300.)

  • Diameter: 36.5mm
  • Movement: ETA quartz
  • Water Resistance: 50m
  • Price: ~$289
A picture of a watch.

Unimatic U2 Classic UC2  

Simply an unbelievable value, the UC2 is a modern take on the typical field watch from the mad scientist duo that is Unimatic. Minimalist and handsome, it strips the field watch down to its basics: 38.5mm stainless steel case; 300m of water resistance; oversized, screw-down crown; matte black dial with Super-LumiNova indices; a brightly lumed sword handset; a polished bezel; a 2.7mm-thick, double-domed sapphire crystal; and the Seiko NH35 automatic movement with hacking seconds. Paired to Black Unimatic nylon two-piece strap, the UC2 looks like the type of watch worn by an alpine commando who moonlights as a professor of Bauhaus design. (And yes — we mean that as a compliment.)

  • Diameter: 38.5mm
  • Movement: Seiko NH35 automatic
  • Water Resistance: 300m
  • Price: ~$440
A picture of a watch.

Bulova Hack Watch

Based upon the MIL-W-3818A from the mid-20th century, the Bulova Hack Watch is a handsome homage rather than a strictly faithful reissue. Measuring 38mm, it’s more wearable than its vintage counterpart, and its automatic movement much easier to engage with than the hand-wound version in the MIL-W-3818A. Its grey stainless steel case recalls the “parkerized” look of the MIL-W-3818A and other, similar military watches, while the red 24-hour track pops against the black dial. Given its proportions, this wildly cool watch is perfect for both men or women, and if you’re not crazy about the nifty, green leather strap — which is sort of a combination single-pass and NATO— you can always switch it out for something else. (Just keep in mind that water resistance is only 30m, so maybe take something else in the pool!) 

  • Diameter: 38mm
  • Movement: Miyota 82S0 automatic 
  • Water Resistance: 30m
  • Price: $450
A picture of a watch.

Nodus Avalon Sector Field Watch

Looking for a field watch with more of a contemporary spin? Check out the Nodus Avalon Sector Field. Designed and assembled in Los Angeles, it’s a thoroughly modern take on an old horological trope, complete with a wildly cool smoked dial in which the color fades from dark to light. Measuring 38mm in stainless steel, it features a flat-top sapphire crystal, a large, screw-down crown, blue-glow Super-LumiNova, and a matching, stainless steel bracelet. Water resistant to 100m and available in three awesome colorways with or without a date, the Avalon Sector Field is the field watch for someone who wants a durable timepiece that doesn’t scream, “I just flew in from Bagram, and boy, are my arms tired.” (Plus, the price is unbelievable.) 

  • Diameter: 38mm
  • Movement: Seiko TMI NH35 (date); NH38 (no-date) automatic
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Price: $450
A picture of a watch.

Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical

Some might argue that there’s little purpose for a hand-wound watch in the 21st century, but what happens when one’s watch battery suddenly dies in the midst of an operation, praytell? Though the tech might be antiquated, a humble, hand-wound field watch such as the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical requires no battery changes — twist the crown a few times each morning, and you’re good to go. Originally available only in stainless steel with a black dial, these days, it comes in all sorts of iterations, including bronze versions, ones with “tropical dials,” and more. Sized at 38mm and fitted with a Hamilton H-50 movement with 50 hours of power reserve, the “KFM” does an excellent job recalling its military-issued ancestors without seeming too stuck in the past. (And the price, we might add, is just right.) 

  • Diameter: 38mm
  • Movement: Hamilton H-50 hand-wound
  • Water Resistance: 50m
  • Price: $575+
A picture of a watch.

Marathon Steel Navigator w/Date

Available for many years in a lightweight composite material, the Navigator hasn’t been seen in steel in decades; now, it’s finally available again, this time with the addition of a useful date window. Based on a design from 1986 developed especially for pilots and parachutists, the SSNAV-D is a hard-wearing tool watch primed for action, housed in a 41mm stainless steel cushion case and topped by a bi-directional 12-hour bezel with the first 20 minutes fully graduated. Water-resistant to 100m, it can do double duty as a dive watch in a pinch, and comes on your choice of a ballistic nylon strap or a nylon DEFSTAN strap. And of course, being a Marathon, it’s illuminated by tiny glass tritium tubes on the dial indices and hands, which make for excellent legibility at night. 

  • Diameter: 41mm
  • Movement: ETA F06.412 high-precision quartz
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Price: $800-$830
A picture of a watch.

Tudor Ranger 

Reissued first in 2014 and more recently in 2022, the Ranger is a classic Tudor design based on a watch worn by the British North Greenland Expedition in the 1950s. Though it’s been upsized from 34mm to 39mm to suit modern tastes, it still wears like a dream, exhibiting the robust attributes and handsome looks we’ve come to expect from Rolex’s sister company. Powering it is the automatic Tudor MT5402 COSC-certified movement, while strap options include a matching stainless steel Oyster-style bracelet with T-fit safety catch; a leather strap; or a fabric strap. With 100m of water resistance and a subdued, highly legible dial design, the Ranger has the looks and feel of a vintage military watch, but could just as well be worn on a hike…or while exploring Greeland.

  • Diameter: 39mm
  • Movement: Tudor MT5402 automatic
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Price: $2,275+
A picture of a watch.

Rolex Explorer Field Watch

Perhaps the ultimate field watch, the Explorer (“I”) is still one of the most beloved, simple watch designs of the 20th century. For many years, it was only available in a 36mm size — then, it blew up into a 39mm watch, followed by a return to the original 36mm diameter. At Watches & Wonders 2023, Rolex brought it into line with many other Professional-series timepieces by giving it a 40mm case. But, the original 36mm size is still available, and we tend to prefer it for its versatility, comfortability, and historic integrity. A COSC-certified chronometer, the reference 124270 features an automatic movement, a Chromalight display, a Twinlock crown, and 100m of water resistance. And even if you don’t climb Mt. Everest in one, it would doubtless still inspire many notable adventures. 

  • Diameter: 40mm
  • Movement: Rolex Calibre 3230 automatic 
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Price: $7,250