The NATO-style watch strap has become more than an essential watch accessory — it’s practically a necessity if you love watches. And it’s not hard to see why: a NATO is cheap, it’s durable, it’s simple to swap in and out, it’s easy to clean and its military-inspired looks play into the whole tacti-cool trend that refuses to die. The point being, if you have a nice watch consider getting a decent watch band of the NATO variety. Or a handful.
So what to buy? Well, you can spend a few bucks on a cheapo NATO. But if you spring for premium, you get an expertly-crafted, comfortable way to keep your fancy timepiece safely affixed to your wrist. There’s a bevy of aftermarket options from small brands you can find online. Admittedly the formula remains pretty much the same, and many feel very similar, but look closely and you can see that each is unique when it comes to the small details, while two seemingly identical-looking straps can actually feel very different.
The Short List
What to Look for in a NATO Watch Strap
As simple as a NATO strap is, there are multiple factors to consider when buying one from its material and design to its thickness, weave and hardware. With the strap style's rise in popularity, there's more variety than ever.
NATO straps are generally made of nylon, but you might be surprised at the different possible qualities, textures and looks that are possible with this material. The originals can be relatively stiff, while some premium modern NATOs are built more or less like soft but strong seatbelts — and there's a range in between. Different weaves can affect the look and texture, as well as adding a sense of detail. Some people like a thick NATO (if you like really thick, try leather) while others prefer less bulk (I'm in the latter camp), and the quality of hardware like the buckle and keepers can vary significantly.
Don't get too hung up on every one of these details, though: NATO straps are usually cheap enough that you don't need to overthink every purchase. Moreover, it's largely down to comfort and preference when choosing a strap, and knowing what you like comes from experience — so shop away.
A Note on James Bond's NATO Strap
For a fictional character, James Bond has an outsized influence on watches and style in general. In the 1964 film Goldfinger, the camera lingered on his Rolex Submariner worn on a single pass strap that was actually too small for the watch's lugs. That's not considered very style-savvy today, but its striped pattern has become iconic: black with two green center stripes bordered by red. Many strap makers offer options in this style or something similar. It's often referred to as a "Bond NATO." The other kind of Bond NATO you'll see is black with two gray center stripes as worn by the Daniel Craig James Bond. The striped NATO comes in all manner of color combinations however and offers a twist on the military look.
And if you're looking for some watches to pair your NATO straps with, we've got you covered, of course:
Some Watches That'll Look Great on a NATO
Crown & Buckle Supreme NATO
Crown & Buckle has made aftermarket leather and NATO straps for years, but the Supreme is their take on the high-end “seatbelt-style” NATO strap. The Supreme’s tight, thick nylon weave delivers on the promise of a seatbelt-like feel and the overall effect is a NATO that is both durable and smooth against the wrist. There are a couple of other seatbelt-style NATOs on this list that feel extremely similar, but the Crown & Buckle Supreme wins out for the quality of its hardware. The keepers have lovely beveled edges and, most importantly, the buckle is thin and lithe while still feeling sturdy.
Worn & Wound ADPT
While the Worn & Wound ADPT is the priciest option on this list, it's also the only one to boast Made-in-the-USA status. The dedication to quality shows through mostly in the nylon portion of the strap, which is thick, dense, hard-wearing and cleanly cut (we particularly love the orange stitching). It’s not the most comfortable out of the box, but it’s also the most likely to soften with wear (and earn those patina points). A sticking point: the buckle on this one feels wobbly, which is out of line with the rest of the strap’s otherwise high-end fit and finish.
The Maratac is one of the cheaper straps on this list but is not lacking in quality — it’s based on the standard G10 design and then improved. The strap’s nylon weave is tight, cleanly cut, and while it’s not exceptionally soft, it’s more comfortable than some other standard-style NATO straps. The hardware, while nothing exceptional, still feels solidly woven into place and features a nice brushed finish. Rest assured, if you don’t want to spring for one of the pricier options on this list, this strap will still make you very happy.
The Phoenix G10 is, for all intents and purposes, the classic NATO strap. While the brand didn’t invent the NATO, it’s made them for the British Ministry of Defence to their specs since the 1970s, so the G10 wins out over others just for cred. But wear the G10 and you’ll realize how far the NATO strap has come since the original; the strap is thin, densely woven and a bit rough in texture. It’s not bad, but it’s just that the other straps on this list felt better-made and more comfortable. Still, it’s as authentic as you can get, and that’s got to count for something.
Moose Strap Co. Premium Slip
Moose Strap Co. is a small strap brand based (as you probably guessed from the name) in the Great White North. The brand’s Premium Slim is, as the name suggests, particularly thin, which lends itself to comfort. Also helpful is the fact that the nylon weave feels silky smooth. This, out of the box, is one of the most comfortable straps on this list, and for just $20 it's one of the cheapest, too. If there’s a sticking point it’s that the buckle feels a bit too bulky, but we’re sure most people would be willing to overlook that fact (or even prefer it) given the comfort and the price.
Hodinkee UTE Nylon
It's a classic NATO strap, but produced with all the details and factors that true watch enthusiasts get nitpicky about — and watch authority Hodinkee, which sells it, would know. Is this the perfect NATO strap? It just might be, with special attention given to things like quality hardware, thickness and comfort but with the traditional, n0-nonsense vibe in four basic color options and 20mm or 22mm sizes. If you want the most versatile and historically accurate look, try the version in gray like the original G10 strap.
B&R Bands Xtreme NATO
Each of B&R Bands' range of watch strap options is well-executed and easily recommendable. Among the brand's nylon NATO-type straps — which include "Classic," "Woven Fabric" and "Seat Belt" — the "Xtreme" is our favorite. A refinement of the seatbelt style, it has a super-dense, durable weave with a smooth texture and details that take it up a notch. You'll notice the fine weave with subtle edges — they're slightly different between solid colors and "Bond"-style striped variants — and the hardware is nicely brushed. Thin, tough as a seatbelt and comfortable as hell, they also come in color options that'll effortlessly elevate the look and feel of a tool watch.
Haveston Invasion A2
A caveat: this is not technically a NATO strap, but rather a single pass-through strap (a true NATO has a second piece of nylon that passes under the watch). Still, it’s a great option, with a soft texture, a properly-finished nylon weave and exceptional hardware (the buckle is especially nice). The second keeper in the strap is also adjustable, a nice touch that few other straps here have. The best part, though, is the design, which adds some regimental stripes, and if you don’t like this specific color scheme there are a few others on offer (Haveston also sells a proper double-pass NATO if the single pass-through is somehow a turn-off).
Another seatbelt-like strap. The nylon is thick, smooth and tightly-woven — overall, it’s soft and smooth and comfortable. The keepers and buckle are well-made too, though a bit on the chunkier side. Still, it’s an excellent option, and the massive amount of color options available make this a winner.
Triple Aught Design x Todd Rexford Quantam
Much of a NATO strap's appeal is in its affordability, but you can also go high-end if you want. A collaboration between the maker of gear and apparel Triple Aught Design and knifemaker Todd Rexford offers a completely American-made product (from American-sourced materials) that's perfect for the likes of luxury sport watches. Triple Aught lends its expertise in nylon while Rexford mills the faceted titanium hardware in Colorado. In terms of comfort, it's average, but it does feel built to a high standard and a bit special.