Nixon is a US brand with roots in action sports and culture, much loved by twenty-something snowboarders and surfers. Founded in California, it’s become known for its laid-back style, epitomised in a wide range of fashion-forward accessories and apparel. But the brand has long produced affordable timepieces too, including an extensive range that spans everything from retro LCD digital watches to classic analogue quartz models to mechanical automatics.
The Regulus Expedition is a little different though, being purpose-built for outdoor adventure. The brand describes this it as “a rugged workhorse you can depend on to deliver in the most punishing environments”. That’s not just marketing spin. The original Regulus watch, on which the Expedition version is based, was developed in conjunction with US Special Forces. The design utilised a custom digital LCD module encased in a protective PU jacket with Poron foam padding, resulting in a robust and shock-resistant shell.
The Expedition uses a similar construction but has been re-engineered and re-designed for added functionality. This includes new adventure-specific features like an altimeter, barometer, and compass, combined with a rugged case design. Triple sensor watches like this (i.e. those that boast an altimeter, barometer, and compass) are often known as ‘ABC watches’. They provide more functionality than a standard digital watch but lack the connectivity of a smartwatch. On the other hand, this also makes them far less fragile and temperamental, ensuring that even if you venture off-grid without access to a charging point or mains power, you’ll still have the vital information you need on your wrist. A high-visibility MLCD display provides this info in multiple modes.
But in actual fact, this watch does a little more than ABC alone. It also has fancy stuff like a thermometer, plus activity session tracking and an innovative camp mode to activate weather alerts while off grid. So, while the Nixon Regulus Expedition is intentionally not a smartwatch, it’s still pretty clever. And the tough build means it should reliably withstand the general scrapes and scuffs you’d subject it to while hiking, camping or trail running. It’s water resistant up to 100 metres too, so even if you take a dip – intentionally or not – it should keep on trucking.
Who is the Nixon Regulus Expedition Watch For?
It’s a watch for sporty, outdoorsy types who need a watch that suits their lifestyle: one that can take a few knocks when you hit the trail, delivering a similar feel to a classic G-Shock. However, it has a much cleaner and more contemporary look than most of its rivals, whilst retaining similar adventure-ready functionality to popular alternatives like the Garmin Instinct or Casio Pro Trek.
The case of the Regulus Expedition is made from injection-moulded TR-90, with an integrated stainless-steel bezel and a solid stainless-steel, screw-on case back. In case you were wondering, TR-90 is a thermoplastic developed in Switzerland. It is lightweight, durable and impact resistant, with good chemical resistance, low moisture absorption, high distortion temperature, and excellent flexibility.
The case incorporates four integrated pushers, one at each corner, which control the watch functionality. These sit flush to the case and have a high-grip textured surface. The display uses high resolution MLCD technology for clear readability, even in bright light. The screen is a flat acrylic pane, with rounded corners and a slightly bevelled edge to reduce the chances of it getting damaged.
The watch is fitted with a chunky 24mm free-swing injection moulded silicone strap, with a locking looper and a double prong buckle for security. Screw-in spring bars add extra resilience and are highly unlikely to snap or bend (a feature we’ve only seen elsewhere in premium G-Shocks and Elliot Brown watches).
With a large 47.5mm case, this is a sizeable watch – though if you’re used to wearing a smartwatch or GPS watch it probably won’t feel particularly oversized. At 15mm, it is relatively thick too, though again, nothing out of the ordinary compared to many rivals, like a Garmin Instinct, Casio ProTrek or a G-Shock. The design also has very short lugs, with a very flexible silicon strap. As such, it wears much smaller than it looks, meaning it will suit a wider range of wrist sizes than many watches of similar dimensions. Thanks to that TR-90 case, it’s also impressively light.
The custom digital module that powers the watch offers a remarkable amount of functionality. This is a classic ‘ABC’ watch for outdoor, fitness and sports use, in that it incorporates an altimeter, barometer and compass, but in addition you also get a thermometer, an off-grid ‘camp mode’ with weather alerts, a session mode to track activity, dual time zones in 12 or 24 hr format, plus date, chronograph and alarm functions.
The menus are pretty simple to navigate and fairly intuitive, though they require a fair few button presses to cycle between different options and sub-menus. By and large though, we were impressed with the practicality and accuracy of almost everything the watch claimed to do. The digital compass is particularly handy, as it instantly gives you a compass bearing and direction wherever you point the watch. Ideal if you need to navigate SSW off a mountain summit in cloud and don’t want to dig your compass out of your rucksack.
If we had a niggle, it’s actually with the most basic of watch functions – the time. The main display shows the time in hours and minutes, but there is no seconds count. Obviously, you can navigate to the chronograph for precision timekeeping, so it’s hardly a dealbreaker, but it’s an uncharacteristic oversight for a digital watch.
“Far more rugged than the vast majority of everyday watches out there.”
The Regulus Expedition is also rated at 100m/330ft water resistance, which ensures it’s well equipped to deal with daily life, including surface swimming. So that’s daytime activities on land and in water covered then.
How about performance after dark? Well, the display has a blue backlight that illuminates for about two seconds with a single press of the top left pusher. It’s easily legible even in the confines of a darkened tent – though of course it does need two hands to operate.
The watch is a Chinese-manufactured custom digital movement with an estimated battery life of two years. So, unlike a smartwatch, the Regulus Expedition is happy to go off-grid, with no need to worry about all the things that affect smartwatches – like Bluetooth connectivity and limited or temperamental battery life. Nor is there any need to carry a power bank or charging cables. Just strap it on and get out there.
This is a practical watch for outdoors use that covers the ABC essentials (Altimeter, Barometer, Compass) very well, with a couple of nice extras too. It is very well built, and though it doesn’t have the ultra-rugged all-steel construction of some more traditional watches, nor the technologically advanced carbon composite cases of flagship G-Shock and Luminox models, it still feels very sturdy. On test it took a few knocks around camp and in the hills without visible adverse effects. The silicon strap is a plus too. It is ostensibly similar to those found on many modern smartwatches, but the double-prong buckle and screw-in springbars add an extra dimension of ruggedness and peace of mind. After all, you don’t want to be negotiating a steep bit of downhill single-track or a tough, scrambly descent, only for your precious watch to fly off your wrist. It’s also light and comfortable to wear, while the screen has good legibility for an MLCD display.
Negatives were minimal. We had a slight niggle that the main display doesn’t count seconds in either 12 or 24hr modes. And though the Regulus Expedition has an expected battery life of around two years, it would be nice if it was solar powered, for true off grid longevity. In that regard it falls down slightly when compared to premium rivals like the G-Shock Mudmaster. Then again, at £230, it’s a third of the cost of a Mudmaster.
Overall, however, we were impressed with the Regulus Expedition. Most importantly, it offers practical features that work reliably and accurately, housed in a sturdy case that can take some punishment. Speaking personally, we’d pick this over the majority of smartwatches out there, not least because of its ability to function effectively off grid. Admittedly, it isn’t the outright toughest watch around – put it this way: if it went head-to-head against a G-Shock, a Luminox, a Victorinox INOX or an Elliot Brown Bloxworth in a game of watch conkers, we’d expect it to come off worse. But it’s still far more rugged than the vast majority of everyday watches out there, and one that seems well suited to active outdoor lifestyles. Good job, Nixon.
Price: £230 / TR-90 Thermoplastic case with stainless steel bezel / Screw in stainless steel case back / Custom digital movement / 100m/10 ATM water resistance / MLCD display with acrylic crystal / Silicon strap with locking keeper and double-prong buckle.