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The 10 Best Field Watches You Can Buy in 2020

Field watches should be reliable, legible and simple.

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For most tool watches, the requirements are pretty clear-cut. A dive watch needs to survive meters of water pressure. A racer’s chronograph needs to have the ability to record time. A pilot’s GMT should keep a second time zone. But a field watch? There are no real clear-cut rules — many watches can handle an outdoor excursion, but few are made specifically for the job.

So what should you look for in an ideal field watch? The same attributes the military found in classic general issue watches like the American A-11 or British W10 — that is, simplicity, durability and legibility. Dials should have big, contrasting markers and little else adorning them. Cases should protect movements from hard knocks. There should be lume aplenty.

And that’s pretty much it. The good news is that because they’re less complex than other tool watches, even the best generally come pretty cheap (though you can treat yourself to a $6,550 Rolex Explorer, if you wish). These ten are our favorites — take them camping, hunting, overlanding or simply to your next happy hour, and know that they’re ready for whatever you have to throw at them.

Timex Camper MkI

The MkI resurrects a watch that Timex made for the military in 1982. Powered by a quartz movement, the remake has a 40mm steel case rather than the plastic of the original — which was meant to be replaced after damage rather than repaired. The basic design has lent itself to myriad aesthetic variations, including this one made in collaboration with online menswear retailer Mr Porter. While only water-resistant to 30m, it’ll generally hold up well, and its field-watch design is dressed up with tasteful dial highlights, a black-coated case and a nice grosgrain strap.

Movement: Quartz
Size: 40mm
Water resistance: 30m

Buy Now: $110

Marathon General Purpose Quartz

Military-issued field watches aren’t really a thing anymore — most service people tend to prefer buying their own watches — but the tradition of mil-spec timepieces continues. Marathon’s General Purpose which is, thus, made to those specifications, and what you get is a stupidly simple watch with the classic military dial layout (though complete with tritium gas lume!) and a quartz movement housed in a modest 34mm case.

Movement: ETA F06 quartz
Size: 34mm
Water resistance: 30m

Buy Now: $200

Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical

Hamilton’s 2020 update to the ever-popular, bang-for-buck Khaki Field Mechanical is one of our favorites. Its affordable price and convincing vintage aesthetic harken back to the old Hamilton-made US military watches of the mid 20th century, and now a black case gives it a modern, serious feel. What’s more, the movement inside is a decidedly old-school hand-cranker, adding to those vintage vibes, but it’s also the Swatch Group’s latest, complete with a solid 80-hour power reserve.

Movement: H-50 (ETA 2801-2 base) hand-winding
Size: 38mm
Water resistance: 50m

Buy Now: $545

CWC W10

Cabot Watch Company (CWC) is known in the watch world for making many of the British military’s watches in the latter part of the 20th century. The watch here is based on the W10 design issued in the 1970s before the introduction of the quartz G10. This version uses an automatic in place of the original’s hand-winder, but it’s still close to the original.

Movement: ETA 2824 automatic
Size: 38mm
Water resistance: 50m

Buy Now: ~$557

Echo Neutra Averau

Young Italian brand Echo Neutra’s debut product, the Averau has the overall feel of a field watch with some little differences that keep it interesting. Refined design details that show the passion of a small brand make it fun to wear, and give it a shot of personality. Though a little larger than the average field watch at 42mm, solid specs like sapphire crystal and a Swiss automatic movement amount to a strong value for its price.

Movement: STP 1-11 or STP 3-13 automatic
Size: 42mm
Water resistance: 100m

Buy Now: $575

Seiko Alpinist

Originally designed for Japanese “mountain men,” the first Alpinist is often also considered Seiko’s first sport watch. It was long a sleeper in the brand’s collection, but the Alpinist returned in late 2019 with updates and refinements as part of the Prospex family. It’s got an upgraded 6R35 automatic movement with 70 hours of power reserve, sapphire crystal, a rotating inner bezel and restrained sizing of 39.5mm.

Movement: Seiko 6R35 automatic
Size: 39.5mm
Water resistance: 200m

Buy Now: $750

Timor Heritage Field

Among the famous 12 field watches made for the British military in 1945 and dubbed the “Dirty Dozen” are some well-known names as well as some obscure ones. Timor is one of the latter, and it’s been MIA until this year, when it reappeared on Kickstarter to resurrect the most notable watch in its history, now called the Heritage Field. It comes in an appropriately smallish case of 36mm with your choice of manual movement (like on the original) or automatic.

Movement: Sellita SW260 automatic or SW216 manual
Size: 36.5mm
Water resistance: 50m

Buy Now: ~$1,175

Sinn 856

Sinn is known for making tough, over-engineered watches, and the relatively basic 856 is no different. On the surface, it’s a legible time-and-date stainless steel watch, but note that said stainless steel has undergone a hardening process, leaving the case surface particularly scratch-resistant. What’s more, the brand uses a copper-sulfate capsule that absorbs and diffuses any internal moisture that enters the watch, preventing the crystal from fogging up and the degradation of the internal lubricants.

Movement: Sellita SW300-1 movement
Size: 40m
Water resistance: 200m

Buy Now: $1,770

Omega Railmaster

An oft-forgotten tool watch in the Omega lineup, the Railmaster’s legacy is some 60 years old. In its current guise (which debuted last year) the watch features the brand’s Master Chronometer-certified, co-axial movement, meaning it has both chronometer-grade accuracy and resistance to magnetism. It’s the watch’s dial, however, that stands out most — thick plots of vintage-hued lume surround it, creating a legible but handsome time-teller.

Movement: Omega 8806 automatic
Size: 40mm
Water resistance: 150m

Buy Now: $4,900

Rolex Explorer

Watch nerds know the Explorer as the first watch up to the peak of Everest (though a Smiths came along for the ride as well) and this fact, to many, makes it infallible. (Being a Rolex probably helps, too.) This reference is the most recent and boasts an automatic movement with the brand’s superaltive chronometer accuracy (as in it’s guaranteed more accurate than your standard COSC-approved watch), and features the brand’s proprietary Chromalight lume that glows a sharp blue in the darkness.

Movement: Rolex 3132 automatic
Size: 39mm
Water resistance: 100m

Buy Now: $6,550

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