Many view wristwatches as outdated technology—a holdover from our parents’ generation, when you had to find a payphone to call for help if your car broke down. Now, of course, we’re perpetually carrying our phones with us—even into the field when hunting. But as many have discovered, it’s frustrating to have to dig around in a pocket or pack for that phone, risking dropping it out of a tree stand or into the marsh, just to figure out when legal shooting time begins or when it’s time to meet up with the rest of our hunting party back at camp. A well-made wristwatch can endure harsh conditions without burdening you with much extra weight, and can be counted on to do one essential thing well: tell the time. But what kind of wristwatch is right for hunters and outdoorsmen? Aesthetics aside, there are a few crucial things to consider.
A watch’s movement is essentially the essence of the timepiece, the mechanism that makes it tick. This is among the most crucial decisions you’ll need to make when selecting a watch, as each mechanism type comes with unique advantages and drawbacks.
- Quartz (battery powered)
- Pros: Affordable and very accurate. Even the cheapest quartz wristwatches frequently maintain accurate time within +- one second per day.
- Cons: Runs on a battery that typically lasts 12-18 months. You’ll never know exactly when that battery will die and transform your watch into little more than a functionally useless bauble. It’d be a real punch in the gut to be way out in the backcountry when this happens.
- Pros: Powered by an internal rotor that oscillates freely as you move, so, assuming you wear the watch daily, it will largely wind itself.
- Cons: More expensive and generally bulkier than quartz, as the watch case needs to contain all of the added parts needed for such a complex mechanism.
- Hand-wound mechanical
- Pros: Simple and durable. You wind the watch’s stem each day, and that powers the watch. They’ve been making them that way for nearly 200 years.
- Cons: Requires discipline to remember to wind it each day. Modern mechanical watches often have large power reserves that will feed the watch for as much as 80 hours, but you will need to stay on top of winding it if you want it to keep accurate time.
- For the sake of argument, there are some oddballs that don’t fit neatly into the three main categories above. For instance, Citizen’s Eco-Drive watches are powered by light—any kind will do—that is converted to energy and stored on an internal power cell.
This attribute is a tougher one to quantify, as there’s not really a simple metric by which to rate watches for their durability. It’s not even a matter of more expensive watches being consistently more durable; sometimes even the most pedestrian wristwatches can withstand years of torture and still keep ticking (Timex made this part of their brand’s mantra). But to start, look for a watch with a sapphire crystal (the transparent shield that covers the dial); this resists shattering and scratches better than any other material on the market. Also, look for case bodies made of stainless steel, titanium, or an aluminum alloy, as they’re decidedly more rugged than plastic-bodied watches.
Quick tip: Did you know an analog watch can also work as a crude compass in a pinch? Hold the watch in your palm, point the hour hand in the direction of the sun. Halfway between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock position is (approximately) south.
Unless you’re planning on going swimming with your watch, moderate water resistance—which most wristwatches now feature—will be more than adequate for your purposes. If the watch states “water resistant” on the back of the watch case, it’s only suitable for limited exposure water (sweat, the occasional light rain, etc.). If, after the words “water resistant” there’s a number and the letters ATM, the watch has been tested to a more extreme level of water resistance. A watch rated for 5 ATM is suitable for wearing in the shower. A watch rated for 10 ATM or higher is suitable for swimming.
The tradition of luminous watch dials and hands goes back to World War I, when wristwatches first came onto the scene and began replacing pocket watches. Soldiers needed to be able to read their watches in low-light conditions, not unlike many hunters today. Fortunately, unlike back then, luminous dials are no longer made using radioactive radium paint, so you can rest easy knowing you’re not going to set off any Geiger counters with your new timepiece.