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 a chronograph function. 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 $6,500 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 what you have to throw at them.
Additional Contribution by Shane Griffin
The tried-and-true Seiko 5 has come in various iterations over the decades, including divers, dress watches and, of course, field watches. This SNZG1 variant has all the hallmarks of a classic field watch: a stainless steel case, a simple, legible dial and a healthy dose of lume on the hands and hour markers. Further, the Seiko is powered by a simple, durable automatic movement: the 7S26, which has been known to run for years and years without any need for service.
With a much better strength-to-weight ratio than stainless steel (and hypoallergenic, to boot), titanium is a fantastic material for making durable watches. Usually, the price of titanium watches reflects this. But indie watchmaker Bertucci makes well-priced titanium filed watches for under $200. Bertucct’s A-1T, then, is a great option for outdoor excursions, lightweight for comfort, an ETA quartz movement inside and bold Arabic numerals coated in SuperLumiNova for legibility.
Since the ‘70s, Cabot Watch Company has supplied watches to all branches of the British Military (including chronographs for the RAF); its G10 arrived in 1980 as a general issue field watch for soldiers. CWC still makes the G10 to the same spec today, a using an ETA quartz movement and tritium lume.
Hamilton Khaki Field Titanium
One of Hamilton’s more recent entries to its “Field” line is the Khaki Field Titanium, which wears nicely on the wrist and can take a beating thanks to its lightweight titanium case. That 42mm case has also been treated with a black PVD coating, making it a great option if you’re lusting for a murdered-out look. As per usual, Hamilton uses the reliable ETA 2824-2 calibre, which makes this watch the whole package: light, tough and dependable.
Sinn 556 A
The Sinn 556 A is as straightforward as they come: steel case, restrained and legible dial, a tried-and-true Swiss automatic movement inside. Based in Germany, Sinn is widely known for their over-engineered tool watches, made with tough-as-nails Tegimented cases made to keep working in extreme temperature ranges. The 556 A drops all the fancy stuff, opting for a more accessible plain steel case (still made in-house), and simple dial design. Measuring 38.5mm in diameter, the Sinn 556 A presents little drama on the wrist, while packing all the functionality you need in a field watch.
Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze
Lum-Tec is based in Ohio, where the company designs and assembles a range of tool watches that feature its own proprietary luminescent material on the dial. The dial on the Combat B18 takes full advantage of the hefty 43mm bronze case, with big Arabic numerals and prominent hour and minute hands, plus a huge amount of lume material for great brightness in the dark. The coin-edge bezel is a unique touch, and the case shape will easily accept any manner of nylon, fabric or leather strap. That it capitalizes on the increasing trendiness of bronze as a case material is simply icing on the cake.
Damasko DA37 Black
German watchmaker Damasko puts much of its engineering prowess to work in its outstanding cases. The material is nickel-free stainless steel, ice-hardened throughout to 710HV on the Vickers Scale (316L stainless steel, which is used in most watches, is only around 140HV), making it almost entirely scratch- and dent-proof. Further, Damasko touts its watches as being both shock resistant and antimagnetic, keeping the automatic ETA 2836-2 movement inside ticking in any environment, and features a dial entirely coated in lume (rather than just markers and hands) which should be plenty legible in low-light situations.
Ball Engineer II Marvelight
Ball is a legacy American watch company now operated in Switzerland, and while the brand is willing to flaunt its history of use by railroad workers, Ball is most known today for two things: durable engineering and tritium gas tubes. That’s why this seemingly simple (and somewhat dressy) watch is ideal for field duty — the tritium gas tubes on the hands and hour markers light up super crisp and clear late in the dark, and Ball says the watches are shock resistant (great for surviving knocks out in the wilderness) and antimagnetic (should a wild Magnemite appear).
Tudor Heritage Ranger
Tudor’s revival has been almost purely driven by bringing back former references — or at least the design elements of former references. With the new Heritage Ranger, they pumped life and a little extra bulk into a seemingly lost legend. Increased from 35mm to 41mm wide, the new Ranger maintains its field watch roots while adapting to modern tastes. It’s a particularly great remake because vintage Rangers are some of the most faked Tudors, making it difficult for anyone other than experts to get their hands on a legitimate example.
If you’re into history, the Explorer is the cream of the crop when it comes to field watches. Arguably (thanks to Smiths) the first watch to make it up Mt. Everest’s peak in 1953, the Explorer today continues Rolex’s tradition of outstanding build quality. Recently updated, the new watch comes in at a modest 39mm case made from 904L stainless steel (which is more corrosion resistant than 316L) and features a COSC-certified automatic movement. One of the newest additions is Rolex’s proprietary Chromalight, which glows an intense, sharp blue in the absence of light.