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How to choose a tough watch for Outdoor Activities

by james
30 August, 2011
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Demanding jobs and demanding activities call for a watch that can handle what is asked of it.

With many different options it can take many people many years to find the right watch they trust for their daily needs.

Breaking down features of what makes a tough watch can make choosing a watch much easier, matching it to what you need most.

Here are 4 tips on how to choose a tough watch for outdoor activities

Tip 1. Pick the right Movement

Quartz watches

A quartz movement is one of the best choices for a durable, no maintenance, and easy to use watch. Use a quartz watch for high amounts of jarring, especially when using a watch during sport.

Analog watches

Analog watches are extremely easy to refer to and read. Almost never having to be adjusted, they can be left alone without winding but will need the occasional date change on most models. Now this is where it comes down to preference, analog watches come as second nature to a lot of people and are easy to read if you are used to wearing one.

Digital watches

The digital watch is one of the most versatile everyday watches. With myriad options and functions digital is trusted by many military personnel and public safety officials. Being powered by solar or battery, and a quartz movement at its heart, they can take hard hits, abuse and sitting for long periods of time without losing time or having to be reset.

Digital watches are an easily readable watch for almost all. Choose digital for any activity that needs a quick read but remember, other functions will usually be displayed meaning it may not be as legible as an analog watch.

Automatic watches

Although more delicate than a quartz watch and usually analog in output, the right type of automatic watch can be used for many outdoor activities. Companies such as Sinn and Bremont have paid extra attention to durability using vibration testing and shock protection features to manage jarring from vigorous activities. If activities are not expected to be harsh, and limbs will not be moving in a quick or sudden fashion, then an automatic will not have any problems taking on the task.

Tip 2. The importance of visibility


Lume is one of the most talked about features for many watches. When using an analog watch high quality lume, Super-LumiNova is seen as being one of the best quality choices. The downside is that lume needs to be charged by a light source so it will diminish in brightness as soon as a light source is taken away. A company called LUM-TEC has developed a process of layering that has increased the amount of time that a watch can be read in the dark.

Lum Tec Lume glowing


When using a digital watch electroluminescent backlighting is the way to go. This process illuminates the LCD screen evenly. Some watches utilize an LED to wash light over the surface of the dial but usually end up missing critical points of need. If darkness is going to be lengthy then backlighting is a sure bet for mission critical applications.

The Lum Tec M9 watch face

High Contrast Coloring & Reversed LCD

When it comes to high brightness situations a watch can become a problem when attempting to read time quickly. Choosing a watch with a very stark color difference between the timing function and the background of the watch makes readability much faster and easier. Choose a watch with a black dial & very light or fluorescent numbers and markers.

Suunto Core sports watch

Digital screens in many applications can become unreadable in high amounts of sunlight. What digital watch makers have done for some time now is reversed the LCD screens on watches to make the numbering light and everything else in black. This allows light to be absorbed into the black section of the screen and reflected on the light colors. Whether it is light or dark, a reversed LCD screen will show up great in all situations.

Tip 3. The Protective Coating

Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD)

Coatings to metals have come quite a long way. Physical Vapor Deposition is one of the most common methods for coating a metal in a color, most often black. Tough and scratch resistant it is not scratch proof. If you don’t intend to hit a watch on anything and it will be covered most of the time, choose PVD.

Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC)

DLC is the next level up in scratch protection. One of the highest levels of scratch protection its tougher than PVD but will still scratch it pushed hard enough against a very hard material. If a strong protective watch coating is a must DLC is the way to go.

Polishing and Brushed Metals

Polishing is a process of making a surface as smooth as possible giving it a mirror like affect. It looks great but can be scuffed easily since the surface is so smooth, the upside is it usually can be re-polished.

Tip 4. Pick a Comfortable Watch Strap

Lum tec watch with changeable watch straps


One of the most comfortable and classic choices when choosing a strap is leather. Its comfortable and wears well. The downside is it does wear out, soaks up moisture and sweat, and is easily scratched. Choose leather when comfort is important and the elements are not an issue.

Metal Bracelet

Heavy and beefy, and tougher than nails. The metal bracelet looks great on a dress watch but also can be used in a high demand application. It’s the most durable choice, virtually never wears out, but is the heaviest option.


Rubber has gotten more and more comfortable from watch manufacturers over time with different durometers (which is a measure of the hardness of a material) and shapes that make it very comfortable and wear proof. The downside to a rubber strap is that they are usually hot and can tend to flake, feather or shine over time depending on the material. They will not soak moisture and can be used in any application.

Synthetic Fabric

Nato synthetic watch strap

Synthetic straps are a mixture of the flexibility and softness of a textile with the durability that rubber offers. The ever popular NATO strap (as pictured above) is one of the most widely popular straps that can be worn directly on a wrist or over a sleeve. A synthetic fabric strap is for a wearer that demands comfort but needs more durability than what leather offers.

So what do you choose?
Let’s break it down into what is needed:


  • Quartz Analog or Digital
  • Stainless Brushed or Matte finish to avoid scratching and scuffing
  • Rubber Strap

Hiking, Trekking, Camping

  • Quartz or Automatic is preferable
  • Stainless or Matte finish to avoid scratching and scuffing
  • Synthetic

Public Safety and Military

  • Quartz or Automatic depending on application
  • Dark DLC Coatings
  • LCD Readout with Backlight
  • Leather or Synthetic Fabric for maximum comfort


  • Analog Automatic
  • PVD or DLC Coating
  • High Contrast Coloring for easy reading in most all light
  • Leather or Synthetic Fabric for maximum comfort


Overall choose what’s right for you. Comfort and durability are the most important factors in what a tough watch has to offer. You may have to try a few or even own a few types of watches to match the different activities you enjoy most.

What trusted watch do you choose for outdoor activities? We would love to hear from you.

james | Website

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