You never know how much you rely on something until it's gone. Whenever I am not wearing my watch, I find myself constantly staring at an empty wrist. But, a watch can be much more than just a timepiece. For those in the military or law enforcement, as well as hunters, shooters and outdoorsmen, having a durable, multi-function watch on which you can rely is great asset—if not a necessity.
Tactical watches abound, but only a few will meet the needs of the most discriminating user. Each of the following models offers a variety of functions and features to meet specific needs in a tough-as-nails package.
5.11 Tactical Field Ops Watch Computing power that used to fill up entire rooms can now be found on your wrist with 5.11's ballistic-calculator watch. This digital piece allows the user to input all the data necessary to make an accurate shot at distances out to 1,000 meters, including bore height, ballistic coefficient, muzzle velocity, range, temperature, altitude and angle. The SureShot calculator delivers results in mils, true minute of angle (TMOA) and shooter's minute of angle (SMOA) formats. You also get a digital compass, as well as the usual time, date, alarm and chronograph features. The tough polycarbonate body is water resistant to 100 meters and the watch includes an extended strap for use with gloves. It is available in black, OD green and coyote brown.
MTM Special Ops Watches I can't help but think that if one set out to build a watch from scratch to be as much like an Abrams tank as possible, this would be it. Built from titanium, the new Limited Edition Cobra may not have an onboard computer, but it is designed for the serious professional. This quartz watch comes with highly visible and luminous numbers and hands, as well as a chronograph function, alarm and date, all behind a non-reflective, tough, sapphire crystal. The crown also features a lock to prevent unintentionally changing the settings, and it is water resistant to 200 meters.
MTM's Vulture watch has many of the same features as the Cobra, but adds a unique lighting system with three LEDs on its face and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery you just put on a charging station. These lights provide map reading capabilities as well as an emergency strobe and ultra-violet modes.
Luminox Recon Point Man If it is good enough for the U.S Navy SEALs, it should be good enough for anyone. Luminox offers several choices for the discerning, but I found the Recon Point Man to be the most appealing. This analog watch features a tachymeter calibrated to measure walking speeds so distance traveled can be determined. The literature for this watch explains how it can be used as a compass by orienting the hour hand towards the sun and the halfway point between the hour hand and 12 o'clock is south (for those of us north of the equator, at least). I assume this can be done with any watch with an hour hand, and anyone who knows that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West should be able to determine direction anyway. Luminox also prides itself in the "always on" feature of the watch face and hands, which use luminescent tubes that last for 25 years and are clearly visible, even in no-light conditions. The Recon watch is encased in a reinforced polycarbonate with a sapphire crystal and is water resistant to 200 meters. With a four-year battery included, you won't have to worry about it for a long time.
Traser H3 Military There is a lot to be said for keeping things simple, and the Traser H3 Military watch certainly does just that. This may be why it has been adopted by several NATO countries. The Traser manages to make itself useful in low or no light with the use of green, tritium-filled hands and hour markers, so no batteries are need for illumination. The 12-o'clock position is actually orange tritium, so you can still tell the time if you were hanging upside down in the dark, for instance. As anyone with tritium sights on their gun can attest, this stuff is bright and will last for up to 20 years. This quartz watch is water resistant to 200 meters and built tough with a double case; a glass-fiber reinforced resin outer case and a steel inner case.
Suunto X-Lander Military Another feature-laden option in tactical watches comes from Suunto of Finland, which offers a military version of its sport products. This digital watch features an altimeter that will get you as far as the top of Mount Everest (or 29,500 feet) and includes a vertical-speed indicator and memory function, so you can set alarms for specific elevations and record each ascent. Of course, you will also need the X-Lander's barometer/ thermometer with four days worth of data and sea-level info for reference. If you get lost, it will be your own fault for not using the built-in digital compass with a direction-tracking function to keep you on your path. You get all this and it tells you the time and date as well with a pre-programmed calendar good until 2089, which undoubtedly some future generation will assume is when Suunto estimated the world would end. This watch will operate in -5 to +140 degrees Fahrenheit and is water resistant to 30 meters, all in a black aluminum housing.