Toughest Watches 2023 | 12 Durable Wrist Watches For Outdoor Use
If your adventures take you off grid, forget fancy smartwatches – you need a robust and reliable timepiece on your wrist. Here are the toughest quartz and mechanical outdoor watches out there
Watches have long been associated with adventure and exploration. When Ed Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to summit Everest on May 29, 1953, they both had Rolexes on their wrists. When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went to the moon in 1969, they were both issued with Omega Speedmaster Chronographs. Of course, luxury watches aren’t really a practical proposition for most wild camping weekends or multi-day backpacking trips. But it still proves the point that a rugged and reliable watch is a useful bit of kit. Indeed, Mountain Rescue advice is that whenever you head into the hills, at least one member of the party should have a dependable watch with them.
Increasingly, many hikers, runners and cyclists have turned to GPS smartwatches to fulfil this need. Their multi-functionality is undeniably useful, whether you use one for navigation or fitness tracking, motivating you to push harder, faster and higher – from step counts to calories burned. And of course, they can keep you connected, with social media notifications, music integration and weather alerts. The problem with many models is that if you venture off-grid for long periods, you’ll probably need to top up their battery life, which means carrying extra weight in the form of a portable charger or power bank. And as anyone who has tackled a long-distance trail will know, power is always at a premium on extended trips, especially if you’re not going anywhere near a mains-powered plug socket anytime soon.
Then there’s their temperamental nature. Firstly, lithium-ion batteries don’t like the cold, which could mean your device powers down without warning, leaving you with no clue as to what time it is (and whether you’re going to reach your planned camp spot before nightfall). Secondly, all that technology inevitably makes such devices both more complicated and more delicate – typically being pretty susceptible to impact, shock and vibration. And last, there’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple. Sometimes, escaping into the hills is all about leaving modern gadgets behind, relying on your own wits, knowledge and experience – in conjunction with tried and tested equipment like a good old-fashioned map and compass, and a classic analogue watch.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s definitely a place for GPS watches in the great outdoors. That’s why we put together our round-up of Best GPS Watches. But if you want an adventure companion that keeps things simple, or which you can rely on no matter what, it’s worth considering a tough, rugged and uncomplicated outdoor watch – so that’s exactly what we went looking for. You can think of these as the Arnold Schwarzeneggers and Jean Claude Van Dammes of the watch world (with a few slightly more understated, handsome-but-tough contenders thrown in too – think Daniel Craig or Liam Neeson).
The 12 Toughest Watches For Outdoor Use
We’ve scoured the market for the most-rugged watches out there, resulting in a wide variety of models at different price points. Here are our favourites:
G-Shock Mudmaster, GWG-2000 – Best Buy: The Best Rugged Watch Tested
Luminox Bear Grylls Survival Master Series
Victorinox I.N.O.X. ‘Autumn Spirit’
Elliot Brown Bloxworth 3HD
Nixon Regulus Expedition
Hamilton Khaki Mechanical Bronze
Nodus Sector Field Marina
Briston Streamliner Adventure
Nezumi Baleine Diver
TRIWA Ocean Plastic Sub
BEST BUY: G-Shock Mudmaster, GWG-2000
Price: £699 Weight: 106g Best for: Multi-sport use, mountain pursuits, hiking and backpacking Key attributes: Ultra rugged, solar powered, impressive features
The G-Shock Mudmaster is arguably the definition of a rugged outdoor watch. Its overbuilt design ought to outlast even the toughest smartwatch, and since the flagship GWG-2000 model is powered by a solar quartz movement, it’ll run for up to six months even in total darkness. And while it’s not quite as clever as a GPS-equipped smartwatch, it’s still pretty sophisticated, with a host of built-in tools such as a compass, altimeter, barometer and thermometer.
The super-tough case is made from carbon fibre resin, providing impressive shock and impact resistant as well as water resistance up to 200m. It’s a big old beast, and there are few concessions to style or looks. But if what’s important is pure performance – namely, rugged reliability in all environments, plus a fair bit of on-board tech – then there’s probably no better all-round outdoor watch out there.
Carbon Core Guard case with steel crown and steel/forged carbon bezel | Stainless steel case back | Tough solar quartz movement | World time, date, alarm, stopwatch, timer, altimeter, barometer, thermometer and compass functions | 200m/20 ATM water resistance | Sapphire crystal | Resin strap
Price: £865 Weight: 89g Best for: Mountain pursuits, camping, hiking and backpacking Key attributes: tough, lightweight, chronograph function, super-bright Tritium lume
Bear Grylls’ survival weapon of choice, this big, bold and burly tool watch draws on Bear’s unique brand of high-octane adventure in its striking looks and rugged build. But the sleek carbon fibre case means it feels very light on your wrist, while the tri-compax chronograph adds precision timekeeping functionality too. It has an impressive water resistance rating of 300 metres, while the rotating dive bezel is marked with both elapsed minutes and compass bearings for added utility.
However, our favourite feature is Luminox’s signature self-powered tritium tube luminescent technology, which offers fantastic visibility even in pitch black conditions. If you spend a lot of time night-hiking, caving, camping or bivvying, this is the first watch we’d grab. It makes a great all-round adventure watch. Admittedly, it is expensive, especially for a quartz watch, but it’s a unique piece, and we don’t think you’d be disappointed if you did decide to splurge.
Carbonox case and bezel with steel crown and pushers | Stainless steel case back | Swiss quartz movement | Chronograph and date functions | T25 Tritium tube luminous technology | 300m/30 ATM water resistance | Sapphire crystal | Rubber strap
Price: £549 Weight: 133g Best for: Camping, hiking and backpacking Key attributes: Robust, rugged and reliable
This tough, modern tool watch from Swiss brand Victorinox – yep, the same makers of the iconic Swiss Army Knives – was designed to survive over 130 endurance tests, including being driven over by a 64-ton tank, frozen to -57°C and heated to +71°C. It has an extra thick stainless-steel bloc case, a sapphire crystal, screw down crown, shock-resistant movement and a genuine 200m/660ft of water resistance. It also comes on a braided paracord strap, the same heavy-duty cord that is widely used by bushcrafters and campers, which can be unravelled and used for emergency gear repairs.
It has rugged, no nonsense looks and a muscular appearance that prioritises function over fancy features or design flourishes. The superb build quality means it ought to last a lifetime of drops and dings; not to mention countless adventures. In short: if all you really want is a watch that tells you the time, accurately and reliably, this will do so in a wider range of temperatures and conditions than almost any other watch out there.
Brushed stainless steel case with crown guards | Fixed steel bezel with polished highlights | Flat anti-reflective sapphire crystal | Screw down steel case back | Swiss made Ronda 713 quartz movement | 200m/660ft water resistance | Signed, knurled screw-down crown | Braided paracord strap
Price: £304 Weight: 97g Best for: Ultralight hiking and backpacking Key attributes: Tough, lightweight, highly legible
A modern and purposeful field watch with an adventure-ready titanium case, the RZE Resolute delivers premium looks, low weight and impressive durability. This is a watch that seems well equipped for use as a daily beater, and the versatile office-to-outdoor design only adds to that. This is a real all-rounder for modern adventurers; a field watch for post-millennials.
It’s also powered by an automatic mechanical movement, so this is a watch for which the notion of going ‘off grid’ does not pose a problem. The Grade 2 titanium case has a matte blasted finish with a scratch-resistant coating, which looks great and feels impressively light on the wrist. It’s nicely designed and well-proportioned too, resulting in a great little tough, rugged and handsome timepiece.
Price: £575 Weight: 127g Best for: Watersports and daily wear Key attributes: Well-built, reliable, striking looks, great lume
A no-nonsense, no-date, three hand diver with classic style and a rugged build, Elliot Brown’s newest offering is the ideal watch for adventurers with a sense of flair. Available in a range of colours and finishes, it’s undoubtedly handsome. But it’s also supremely well built, with meticulous attention to detail. You get an all-steel case, a ceramic bezel, a sapphire crystal, screw down crown, shock-resistant movement and a genuine 200m/660ft of water resistance.
In fact, this is one of our favourite Elliot Brown watches yet, and we’ve tested a fair few over the years here at OM. It’s very wearable, with a wrist-hugging rubber tropic divers strap, which fastens with a split buckle deployant closure. The dial is vibrant yet readable, and liberally splashed with lume too. This meant when dusk fell, it was among the brightest and longest lasting of all the watches we tested. Ideal if you’re descending into murky depths – or camping in a darkened tent.
In fact, whether your adventures tend to take place inland or on the coast, the Elliot Brown Bloxworth 3HD is well worthy of a spot on your wrist. It’s reassuringly chunky yet very wearable, with a bit of vintage mid-century diver style and some gorgeous details that elevate this above most tool watches.
Brushed stainless steel case with high polished elements | 120-clock unidirectional steel timing bezel with ceramic insert | Domed ‘Box’ anti-reflective sapphire crystal | Bolt down steel case back | Swiss made Ronda 713 quartz movement | 200m/660ft water resistance | Signed, knurled crown | Double folding deployant buckle on bespoke Tropic style divers rubber strap
Price: £230 Weight: 85g Best for: Camping, hiking, backpacking, trail running Key attributes: Functional, good features, practical, lightweight
Packing an impressive amount of functionality into its slabby, sturdy yet sleek case, the Regulus Expedition is a modern digital watch designed for those who venture off-grid. Adventure-specific features include an altimeter, barometer, and compass, with a high-visibility MLCD display. But it also has some fancy extras including a thermometer, activity session tracking and an innovative camp mode to alert you to incoming weather events.
The thermoplastic case and steel bezel 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. For night use, the display has a useful blue backlight. All in all, it’s a practical watch with reliable and accurate features. We’d pick this over the majority of smartwatches out there, not least because of its ability to function effectively off grid. And although it isn’t the outright toughest watch here, it’s still far more rugged than the vast majority of everyday watches, and one that seems well suited to active outdoor lifestyles.
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
Price: £720 Weight: 65g Best for: Daily wear and weekend adventures Key attributes: Lightweight, elegant, slim and compact proportions
A faithful reinterpretation of a mechanical military field watch with a twist, this Swiss-made classic has a unique trait: it will develop a one-of-a-kind patina the more you wear it. The bronze case will darken and age as it oxidises, so that eventually the watch on your wrist will tell a story of all the epic trips, voyages and journeys it’s been on. How’s that for a proper adventure companion?
With vintage looks and a hand-wound mechanical movement, this watch will appeal to those who love the golden age of exploration. Basically, if you prefer a good old map and compass to modern GPS, this is the watch for you. But it’s practical too: the dial is highly legible, while the movement has an impressive 80-hour power reserve, meaning when fully wound, it’ll run for just over three days before you’ll need to wind it again. The sapphire crystal is highly scratch-resistant, and that bronze case is fairly tough yet very light. A titanium caseback cuts further weight.
In short, it’s a great-looking piece with plenty of heritage appeal. If you’re attracted to the idea of owning a mechanical watch and are willing to splurge a little on a daily wearer with oodles of charm and character – one that’ll dress up for the office or down for weekend adventures – you can’t go wrong with this little Hamilton.
CuSn8 bronze alloy case (92% bronze and 8% tin) | Screw down titanium case back with unique serial number | Hamilton H-50 hand-wound mechanical movement | 80 hour power reserve | 50m/5 ATM water resistance | Single dome sapphire crystal | Aged Super Lumi-Nova | Leather NATO strap
Price: £330 Weight: 160g Best for: Daily wear and weekend adventures Key attributes: Stylish, robust, compact
A compact and classy interpretation of the classic field watch with an eye-catching dial, this is a robust and readable daily wear timepiece. Unlike many field watches, it’s not some retro throwback, but it’s made to be just as tough as the originals that inspired it. And it retains all the key elements of an authentic mil-spec field watch – namely, a small and wearable case, easy legibility, water-resistant construction and a 24-hour military time track.
The case is made of 316L stainless steel with an unusual, stepped bezel surrounding a flat sapphire crystal. The dial is full of colour, texture and depth thanks to its sandwich-construction ‘sector’ design. Hands and indices have an attractive blue lume at night. The watch has a screw-down crown and caseback too, giving the Sector Field a water resistance of 100 metres or 300 feet. The Nodus Sector Field is powered by a Japanese automatic movement that is known for being reliable, relatively inexpensive to maintain and shock-resistant. Every Nodus watch has also been regulated to improve its accuracy.
This is a fresh and modern looking watch that still has all the practicality of a traditional field watch design, made by an up-and-coming US microbrand that is attracting plenty of attention amongst watch collectors. It’s well worth a closer look.
316L premium grade stainless steel case | Screw down case back with unique serial number | Seiko NH35/NH38 automatic movement | 100m/10 ATM water resistance | Single dome sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating | Swiss Super Lumi-Nova: Premium grade BGW9 | Screw down, signed crown | Steel bracelet
Price: £299 Weight: 91g Best for: Daily wear and weekend adventures, water sports Key attributes: Vintage style, good spec, great lume
Taking design cues from vintage dive watches, this affordable automatic combines impressive build specs with classic looks – making it a handsomely retro adventure companion. It’s essentially a tribute to the classic ‘skindiver’, a watch popularised in the 1960s that was smaller, slimmer, lighter and far more wearable than the chunky professional dive watches of the time.
But as well as old-school style, it’s robust and capable enough to be a dependable adventure companion too, on land or sea. You get a fully lumed, ceramic bezel and a domed sapphire crystal for enhanced durability and scratch resistance. The case is built from industry standard 316L marine-grade stainless steel with a screw-down crown and caseback, delivering water resistance of 30ATM or 300 metres (990 feet). It is powered by a Japanese automatic movement that is known for its reliability. At night the hands, indices and bezel markings take on a luminous blue glow. It works brilliantly whether you’re checking the time in a shadowy tent at 3 in the morning, or actually diving. So, it’s a versatile beast.
All in all, if you want subtle vintage dive watch styling but modern functionality, in a well-made, nicely executed and no-nonsense package, the Monmouth is a compelling choice.
316L premium grade stainless steel case | Screw down case back with unique serial number | Seiko NH35A automatic movement | 300m/30 ATM water resistance | 120 click unidirectional ceramic bezel. Fully lumed | Single dome sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating | Swiss Super Lumi-Nova: Premium grade BGW9 | Screw down, signed crown | Three straps included: stainless steel Milanese, black Italian leather and black silicone rubber.
Price: £295 Weight: 85g Best for: Daily wear and weekend adventures Key attributes: Distinctive, functional, lightweight
This chunky ana-digi watch from French brand Briston channels the spirit of Casio and Timex classics from the 1980s, while adding a bit of outdoor attitude for life off the beaten track. The case is made of cellulose acetate, with stainless-steel internals, pushers, crown and caseback. So, it’s a very distinctive-looking watch that is also well equipped to withstand a few dings and scrapes, while also being very lightweight.
The two digital screens are both backlit, with a 1/100ths second stopwatch with a split lap timer, and an alarm function. The top display shows the day, date and month. The main dial has hour and minute hands and a layered outer ring with painted hour markers and a minute track. It’s powered by a reliable quartz movement. Simultaneously retro and modern, this watch has plenty of flair with some throwback elements that rekindle a bit of childhood enthusiasm and teenage rebellion. Or, to put it another way, it made us want to buy a BMX again. This feels like a watch with attitude – but it doesn’t take itself too seriously either.
Cellulose acetate case with stainless steel crown and pushers | Screw down stainless steel case back | Dual digital/Miyota 203A quartz movement | 100m/10 ATM water resistance | K1 mineral glass crystal | Signed, knurled crown | Velcro webbing strap with anti-scratch system
Price: £253 Weight: 79g Best for: Daily wear and weekend adventures Key attributes: Vintage style, good spec, lightweight
This retro diver from Swedish design house Nezumi Studios has charm, character and classic styling – the perfect watch to take you from the office to the great outdoors. As well as its handsome and striking looks, it boasts 200m of water resistance and a Japanese automatic movement housed in a 316L marine-grade stainless steel case. The face has a highly scratch-resistant double domed sapphire crystal, creating a vintage aesthetic that is also pretty damn tough.
Really, this is a watch for style-conscious types who love classic outdoor gear and the ‘old-school adventurer’ look. The legible dial and classic timing bezel add tool watch functionality. On the wrist it feels reasonably light and very comfortable. But what really sets it apart is its style. It’s a watch that we’d happily wear all week long and into the weekend too, whether we were hanging out at the beach or heading into the hills on a camping trip.
This is a fun adventure watch with a serious message. It takes the classic looks of a Submariner dive watch and reinterprets the design in eco-friendly ocean plastic, making a statement about sustainability, style and status.
On the wrist, it’s compact, comfortable and extremely lightweight. And while plastic won’t be as robust as stainless steel or titanium in terms of outright toughness, this is still a functional and practical outdoor watch. We like all the colourways, but were especially drawn to the ocean seaweed green version, which looks particularly ‘adventure-ready’, whether on land or sea.
It’s powered by a Japanese Miyota 2015 quartz movement, which is a cheap and reliable three-hand movement that pretty much allows you to set and forget the time. It also features a date window, placed at 3 o’clock on the dial.
Read our full TRIWA Ocean Plastic Sub Review.
TIDE Ocean Plastic 100% recycled case and strap | Stainless steel case back | Miyota 2015 quartz movement with date window | 100m/10 ATM water resistance | Mineral glass crystal | Signed ‘smiley face’ knurled crown | Nylon ‘Zulu’ two-piece webbing strap with metal keepers and buckle.
Most watches designed to be used outdoors share a few common features, all of which ensure the watch is rugged and robust enough to withstand shocks, impacts and water ingress. They’re often known as ‘tool watches’, since they prioritise functionality over aesthetics, unlike ‘dress watches’, which are typically made from precious metals and designed to look good with a suit or dinner jacket.
Many tool watches fall into two main categories: field watches or divers’ watches. Field watches originated in the military, and were intended to be readable, rugged and reliable. They are usually clean and simple in design, with highly legible dials. Divers’ watches were developed in the 1950s for use underwater by professional divers. As you’d expect, they are tough and highly resistant to water pressure – typically offering water-resistance of at least 20ATM, 20 bar or 200 metres depth (660 feet).
A quick glossary:
The case or body of the watch protects the internal workings. It needs to be made from a strong and ideally scratch-resistant material. The most common choice is stainless steel, especially 316L marine-grade, which provides good resistance to corrosion, even in saltwater environments, as well as being anti-magnetic. Lightweight alternatives to steel include titanium, which has an incredibly high-strength to weight ratio, or even carbon fibre, though impact-resistant thermoplastics and even other metals such as bronze are sometimes used too.
The caseback, on the rear of the watch, is a common failure point for water ingress. As such, outdoor watches usually have a screw-down or bolt-down caseback with an inner waterproof seal or gasket to ensure superior water resistance.
The bezel is a metal ring surrounding the watch face. On sports or tool watches, it also has additional timekeeping functionality and may rotate accordingly. The bezel of a divers’ watch, for example, can calculate elapsed time. It features a scale from 0 to 60 and was originally designed to time a dive. True dive watch bezels only rotate counter clockwise (known as a unidirectional bezel). This is a safety feature, as it means that if you accidentally bump the bezel while diving, you can only have less time remaining, never more, ensuring the diver did not run out of air underwater.
The crown is used to wind a mechanical watch and controls functions such as the date display and time. Outdoor watches usually have a larger crown to ensure it is easy to grip, but this is often recessed or protected by crown guards to avoid damage. In addition, a screw-down crown is usually fitted, typically with internal gaskets to boost water-resistance.
The primary function of a watch is of course to tell the time. So, the dial needs to be clearly legible and readable even in low light conditions or in bright sunshine. As such, outdoor watches typically have a high-contrast dial with few decorative elements. Illuminated or backlit dials also ensure good night performance – so even if you’re awake in a pitch-black tent or bivvy at 3am, you can quickly check the time.
The transparent face of a watch is called the crystal. Most are made of either acrylic, mineral glass or synthetic sapphire. All have different benefits – acrylic tends to bend under pressure rather than cracking or shattering, but scratches easily. Glass, especially hardened mineral glass, is more scratch-resistant and highly impact-resistant. Sapphire crystals are the most expensive, generally reserved for premium watches. It is an incredibly hard material, which makes it highly scratch-resistant. All crystals are usually finished with an anti-reflective coating to reduce glare and reflection, enabling you to see the dial even when viewed from oblique angles.
A movement is the internal mechanism that operates the watch. Movements can be either quartz or mechanical. Quartz movements are very accurate and powered by a long-life battery, with few moving parts. This means they are usually more rugged than most mechanical movements, though maybe not quite as cool. Mechanical movements use energy from a mainspring to power the watch. This spring stores energy and transfers it through a series of gears and smaller springs. Mechanical movements can be manual (hand-wound) or automatic (self-winding). An easy way to tell a quartz from a mechanical movement is by looking at the seconds hand. Quartz watches have a regular ‘ticking’ seconds hand, while mechanical watches have a smooth, sweeping seconds hand. All modern movements, quartz or mechanical, are usually shock-resistant, designed to pass a minimum standard, which is to survive a drop of 1m onto a hard floor. But additional shock absorbing components can be added to further protect the movement from more extreme impacts.
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