After a year of being cooped up inside, adventure finally beckons! Months of binge-watching nature docs have readied you for the arctic tundra, the occasional Bear Grylls show for life in the remote wilderness. No cliff face is insurmountable, no peak unattainable. Just, you know. Once you’ve prepared a bit. After all, preparedness is next to godliness and part of that is making sure you have the right equipment.
While we’re perhaps not the best source to tell you which rope will best hold your weight on the Matterhorn, we can advise you on what you should bring as your most vital companion: your watch. So, whether you’re after something able to survive a rockfall, an everyday practical tool watch, or something with the prestige of the explorers of old, we have you covered for your next outdoors adventure.
The Beaters – Under £800
These are the watches that you expect to keep working no matter how much you knock them around – and you will be knocking them around. Sturdy and resilient yet accessible, these aren’t watches to be handed down, but instead used and abused.
Boldr Venture Wayfarer Black
Inspired by classic 24-hour subdial watches, designed for use by those who spent more time underground than any sane person should, Boldr’s dark, rocky take on their flagship Venture field watch doesn’t need the sun to tell you what time of day it is.
The organic, printed matte dial has something of a coal mine about it, paired with a black canvas strap for a mix of textures in what is otherwise a monochromatic piece. Between it’s field appropriate 38mm size and its titanium construction, it’s also the kind of outdoor watch you won’t notice until you need it – the perfect, well-designed tool watch. And if you do knock it a bit too much never fear; accessible doesn’t even come into it.
Case/Dial: 38mm titanium case with 200m (20 bar) water resistance
Movement: Miyota 8217, automatic, 40h power reserve
Strap: Black Nylon NATO
Casio G-Shock Mudmaster GWG-2000
You can run over one of these with your car and it’ll survive completely scratch free so no adventurer’s kit would be complete without one. This particular version looks liable to survive a tank. The first Mudmaster built from forged carbon is a beast.
It’s typically shock resistant of course – it can probably survive a jagged cliff face better than the rest of your equipment – but is lighter than ever. It also has everything the professional explorer could need, from a digital compass and radio to a barometer to check the changing weather. It’s mud resistant, water resistant and probably resistance to anything short of Armageddon. And even then it would be a toss-up.
Case/Dial: 61.2mm forged carbon case with 200m (20 bar) water resistance
Movement: Solar powered digital movement, up to 25 months of charge
Luminox Commando Raider
Oozing more machismo than an Expendables/ Fast & Furious crossover, the Commando Raider is the most tactical timepiece from Luminox, which given their previous track record, is saying a lot. Everything from the militaristic stencil numerals to the intimidating dimensions – the case measures in at 46mm across and chunky to boot – screams that this is a watch that longs to take everything you can throw at it.
The Commando Raider comes equipped with both a countdown and a compass bezel, along with a dual time zone hand. All of that is housed in an advanced CARBONOX case, making the watch about as rugged as it looks – which is to say a timekeeping tank.
Case/Dial: 46mm CARBONOX case with 200m (20 bar) water resistance
Movement: Ronda 515.24H quartz movement, 50-month battery life
Seiko Prospex Tortoise
“But the Prospex is a diver!” I hear you yell, and nine times out of 10 you’d be right. In this instance however, Seiko has swapped out the usual unidirectional diving scale for a compass, turning the famous shell-like proportions of the fan-named ‘Turtle’ into its land clambering cousin, the Tortoise.
It still has that famous Prospex crown at four o’clock, but the addition of the compass along with a few terra firma colourways – including a particularly handsome khaki version – and decidedly non-diver straps make the Tortoise a serious explorers watch. Don’t worry though, they still have 200m water resistance. Anything less would be a travesty.
Case/Dial: 42.2mm stainless steel case with 200m (20 bar) water resistance
Movement: 4R34 calibre, automatic, 40h power reserve
Strap: Stainless steel bracelet
Price: From £400
Christopher Ward C63 Sealander
I’m sure there are many collectors out there that see the Sealander as a substitute for when you can’t afford a Rolex and while there’s certainly some truth in that, it’s hard to knock as a watch in and of itself. Yes, it doesn’t exactly stray far from the Explorer’s overall design – or the Explorer II in the case of the GMT version – but that’s no bad thing, especially as it means no waiting list for the 2021 versions!
Still, even taken on its own merits, the Sealander is a solid timepiece. The white dialled version’s particularly handsome and the Sellita SW200-1 inside is a classic workhorse movement. It’s pared-back, unfussed and a huge amount of watch for the money. Even for Christopher Ward.
Case/Dial: 39mm stainless steel case with 150m (15 bar) water resistance
Movement: Sellita SW200-1, automatic, 38h power reserve
Strap: Cordura® and rubber hybrid
The Adventurers – £801 – £2,500
Style and substance both, these are the outdoor watches that elevate their utilitarian roots with cool designs and funky twists that will not only weather the storm, but look good doing so. Yes, they might pick up a ding or two, but at the end of the day they’ll be wearing their adventures on their – and your – sleeve.
Farer Field Automatic
Field watches are the perfect beater watches, built to be rugged, readable and ready for action. They do unfortunately have a tendency to be a little uninspiring. Enter Farer, who in a fashion that’s become typical of the British brand, has interpreted the humble field watch in their own unique style.
The Field Automatic – powered by a solid Sellita SW221-1 movement – comes in three variations: the green, militaristic Exmoor, the loch blue Lomond and the Pembroke, in nautical blue and white. Add in unusual flashes of colour and different dial layouts and you have, finally, a field watch that doesn’t look straight out of army surplus.
Case/Dial: 38.5mm stainless steel case with 200m (20 bar) water resistance
Movement: Sellita SW221-1, automatic, 38h power reserve
Strap: Leather strap, NATO strap and steel bracelet
Hamilton Khaki Field Titanium Automatic Far Cry 6
After spending the last 50 years or so getting more screen time than James Hong, Hamilton is making their way to the small, digital screen via the latest instalment in Ubisoft’s giant of an FPS franchise, Far Cry. This wouldn’t be the first time a product’s been created specifically for a game; check out some of the insane cars in racing games. But it is as far as I know the first watch.
That said, you might not know it’s a tie-in to look at it. The limited edition takes the tried and tested Khaki formula and adds a couple of Far Cry touches like the split six form of the game’s title screen on a black vinyl dial and the year the game is set – 1983. Otherwise, it’s the field watch we all know and love, just lighter and a touch cooler. Oh, and in case you were worried, it’s a freebie in the game. No paid DLC here.
Case/Dial: 42mm titanium case with 100m (10 bar) water resistance
Movement: Hamilton H-10 calibre (base ETA C07.611), automatic, 80h power reserve
Strap: Brown calf leather NATO with additional brown Nubuck strap
Price: £1,000, limited to 1,983 pieces
Ralf Tech Académie Veteran
If you know of Ralf Tech it’ll be through their serious, spec ops style dive watches so the Académie might come as a bit of a surprise. Yet this utilitarian undercurrent of a collection holds some of the brands coolest pieces, including the decidedly militaristic Veteran. With a silhouette inspired by the tool watches of the 1950s and 60s, the blueprint for the watch comes from Ralf Tech designer Frank Huyghe’s grandfather’s timepiece.
Those vintage roots are pushed back even earlier with the distinctive Dirty Dozen twang to the dial, including the broad arrow of the Ministry of Defence. Also, unlike some of the brand’s headlining watches, it has an automatic movement. Like I said, it’s not what we’ve come to expect from Ralf Tech, but I want to see more of it.
Case/Dial: 41mm stainless steel case with 200m (20 bar) water resistance
Movement: RTA003, automatic, 44h power reserve
Strap: “Navy” Vintage hand-sewn fabric
Price: €1,800 (approx. £1,532), limited to 100 pieces
The 220 Watch Company William Walker
While it’s not actually a diving watch, the William Walker from British watch brand, The 220 Watch Company, takes its inspiration from the brass and copper diving helmets of the early 1900s. The entire case is made from copper, which means that, similar to bronze, it’s designed to age over time, the kind of timepiece that’ll show off your adventures in every nick and dent.
In fact, it’s the copper in bronze that goes green, so expect some intriguing changes over time from this one. It comes on a canvas NATO strap for that vintage military look, but otherwise the blue dial and clean indexes speak for themselves, leaving it in the sweet spot between utilitarian tool piece and stripped back slice of design-led minimalism.
Case/Dial: 40mm copper case with 100m (10 bar) water resistance
Movement: STP calibre 1-11, automatic, 44h power reserve
Strap: Canvass with secondary blue NATO strap
Von Doren URÆD Green Sea English Weekdays
Inspired by the seafaring voyage of Norwegian innovator and nautical pioneer Ole Brude, the URÆD is designed to carry you across the Atlantic as surely and safely as its namesake lifeboat. Part tool watch, part ode to the Art Nouveau style of the early 1900s, it has everything a budding wayfarer could need.
That includes a solid automatic Swiss movement, a day date available in English (as here) or Norwegian and 100m water resistance to survive the rigours of life at sea. It also comes in a trio of handsome dials, of which the most attractive is most definitely the sea green. For Norway’s first serious watch brand, Von Doren certainly know how to make a splash.
Case/Dial: 40mm stainless steel case with 100m (10 bar) water resistance
Movement: STP 4-13, automatic, 44h power reserve
Strap: Silicone rubber and secondary stainless steel bracelet
Price: €1,379 (approx. £1,168)
The Gentleman Explorers – Over £2,500
Sure, these timepieces could survive a trek to the poles or a climb up Everest, but they’re not the pieces you’ll want to bash about without a care in the world. They are however some of the best-looking adventuring watches out there, drawing inspiration from the harshest environments with a complication or two thrown in for good measure.
Bremont MB Savanna
Anything built to survive the shock of 1) an ejector seat and 2) an emergency landing on uncertain terrain will probably serve you well, no matter what you put it through. That’s been the raison d’etre of Bremont’s flagship Martin Baker line since its inception and in the new Savanna version adds desert colouring to the mix.
It’s similar in look to IWC’s Mojave pieces but far more minimal and shock resistant, making it a far more appropriate beater watch. The titanium case is wonderfully lightweight and the movement is surrounded by an anti-magnetic Faraday cage. Funnily enough, despite having arid inspirations, it has everything a polar explorer could want.
Case/Dial: 43mm titanium case with 100m (10 bar) water resistance
Movement: Calibre 11 ½’’’ BE-36AE, automatic, 38-hour power reserve
Strap: Savanna rubber
Montblanc Geosphere UltraBlack Limited Edition
While this is indeed inspired by the lofty peaks and the men who risk life and limb to clamber up them, Montblanc’s dual hemisphere worldtimer is more for the gentleman adventurer than your typical adrenaline junkie hanging off the Dawn Wall. Between the compass bezel and twin globes, it harks back to the good old days before Google Maps.
This version of Montblanc’s flagship is the sleekest yet in full black, but with a seriously cool distressed stainless-steel case for more of an antique, in-the-wars kind of feel. It’s fittingly solid too, as is the movement inside, typical of Montblanc’s previously-Minerva manufacture. The Geosphere’s high end for a tool watch of course, but it’s worth it.
Case/Dial: 42mm distressed steel case with 100m (10 bar) water resistance
Movement: MB 29.25 calibre, automatic, 42h power reserve
Strap: Brown calf leather NATO with additional brown nubuck strap
Price: £5,600, limited to 585 pieces
Ball Engineer M Pioneer
Back in the early days of the American Railroad, Ball were responsible for the accurate timekeeping of the then-pioneering system. Now 130 years on and the Engineer M Pioneer is the successor to that original example of chronometric excellence, combined with the practicalities needed to keep it ticking wherever it goes.
Despite its deceptively elegant appearance, the Engineer M Pioneer has incredible resistance to both shock and magnetism (2,500 gauss to be precise) and a rainbow of H3 gas tubes that will light the dial up on the darkest of nights. It’s a whole lot of advanced watchmaking in a practical, utilitarian design – everything an explorer could need.
Case/Dial: 40mm stainless steel case with 100m (10 bar) water resistance
Movement: BALL calibre RRM7309-CS, automatic, 80h power reserve
Strap: Stainless steel bracelet
Price: £2,950, limited to 1,000 pieces
Rolex Explorer 36mm
The original adventure watch, the timepiece that first summited Everest and the flagship piece of Rolex’s 2021 line-up, the Explorer is one for the purists. Originally created in 1953, the latest version goes back to that vintage sizing with a diminutive 36mm case. Sure, bi-colour isn’t super practical (and was a little divisive when this was released) but it’s hard not to give it points for style.
While the outside is a carbon copy of the first Explorer, the 3230 movement inside is the latest generation Rolex automatic and has a specs sheet to match the prestige. Otherwise, this is the most understated watch in the brand’s catalogue – and other than the Air King, the most underrated. Just don’t expect that to negate a wait list. It is still a sports Rolex.
Case/Dial: 36mm Oystersteel and yellow gold case with 100m (10 bar) water resistance
Movement: In-house calibre 3230, automatic, 70h power reserve
Strap: Yellow Rolesor and stainless steel two-tone bracelet
Zenith Chronomaster Revival Safari
Zenith have continued their trend of modernising their revived archival pieces – rerevived maybe? – and of the various funky iterations of the 1969 original, this is possibly the most interesting. The microblasted titanium case is far darker than you might expect and the mix of the metallurgic grey and safari green makes for a seriously cool statement piece.
It’s equipped with the classic El Primero column-wheel chronograph of course and makes for a charming – if pricey – adventure-themed chronograph. It’s also pleasingly svelte at 37mm, true to its archival roots.
Case/Dial: 37mm titanium case with 50m (5 bar) water resistance
Movement: El Primero automatic movement, 50h power reserve
Also check out our article The 10 Best Military/Field Watches in 2021 if you found this interesting.