From Everest conquerors Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay, to the pioneering pilot Charles Lindbergh who made the first solo flight across the Atlantic, and to the more recent Ellen Macarthur, who sailed solo around the world in a record breaking time of just 71 days, adventurers in every field have a few things in common. The ability to dream big and believe the impossible is true. A fighting spirit when the going gets tough, and not to mention - a sturdy and reliable adventure watch to accompany them on their journey.
The origins of adventure watches
For as long as watches have been popular, adventurers everywhere have recognised the potential of a sturdy, reliable timepiece to keep them safe and give them the edge. In fact, there are examples of watches aiding explorers before watches hit the mainstream: in 1911 Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole using a deck watch, an early type of watch that allowed sailors to know the time at sea, without having to be below deck with the ship’s chronometer. But it was after the Second World War, when wristwatches had been standard issue for soldiers that adventurers of all stripes started to recognise just how useful a ‘tool watch’ could be.
A few famous examples include:
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual. The classic timepiece that accompanied Hilary as he scaled Everest.
The Omega Seamaster. Trusted by seafarers everywhere, including the aforementioned Ellen Macarthur on her epic journey around the globe.
The Zenith El Primero. The watch that kept time on the first ever British trans-Americas expedition.
Features of an adventure watch
So what makes an adventure watch? In truth, it’s a fairly broad category that encompasses a number of different styles of watch, including dive watches, military watches, and even some pilot’s watches. In short, any watch that is sturdy enough to take the knocks and bumps that may come with outdoor pursuits, has a reliable source of power (be in a mechanical movement, battery or solar power), and will help you keep time, find your way, know your depth/altitude and generally stay safe during your adventure.
As a minimum, an adventure watch should be:
- Shock and scratch proof
- Have a reliable source of power (be in a mechanical movement, battery or solar power)
- Comfortable and not too bulky
After that, it’s really a question of deciding what you mean by ‘adventure’. If a weekend hiking in the Cotswolds as much as you are likely to put the watch through, then you may be fine with a watch with a simple spec. If you are going to be relying on this at mountain summits or ocean depths, then you’ll need to be a little more considered in your approach. Think carefully about what you really need, then see what added bonuses you might be able to get for your budget.
Some useful considerations would be:
Go digital or stay traditional?
Digital, and more recently smart watches have come on an incredible amount in recent years, with some incredible features now available. Pinpoint GPS systems, heart rate tracking, distance and speed calculators and even built-in maps make digital adventure watches pretty useful if fitness or navigation is your aim. What’s more digital watches tend to be lighter, and often more slim line, so can be better suited to activities such as running or swimming. A great example of a functional, digital adventure watch would be the Suunto 7, which combines practical smart watch features with some excellent mapping capabilities.
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However, despite the many positives, there are a few considerations that might tip the balance in favour of the more classic, analogue watch, depending on your pursuits. Firstly, battery life. Modern features such as heart monitors and GPS tracking can be a real drain on battery life, which is not ideal if you are planning a trek in the wilderness without any handy charge points near by. What’s more, digital watches can be adversely affected by extreme temperatures or altitude.
For that reason, many modern adventurers are turning to more traditional, mechanical movement watches to accompany them on their journeys. It’s not just for the classic looks either; a mechanical watch by its nature does not need an outside power source, and is not affected by weather conditions. Power is generated whenever the wearer moves – something that any adventurer can expect to be doing a lot!
An example of mechanical watch being utilised in modern, extreme adventures is the Endurance model by Bremont, which accompanied explorer Ben Saunders as he retraced Ernest Shackleton’s famous Arctic Expedition in 2017.
This is of course a high-end example, but the reliability of a mechanical movement system needn’t be so expensive. The W-02 Vintage Mechanical Chronograph Military Watch by Geckota offers durability, classic style and a mechanical movement system at an affordable price point.
It goes without saying that an adventure watch needs to be a lot tougher than your average dress watch, but how tough, and in what ways are decisions you’ll have to make depending on your choice of pursuits. If you’re thinking that your watch might double up as a daily wearer (and why not, given how tough it is!) also have to decide how obviously you want your timepiece to reflect your outdoors lifestyle, or whether something more subtle, that nevertheless has what it takes in tough conditions is your style.
An example of a tough watch that isn’t afraid to shout about it would be the Victorinox I.N.O.X. Professional Diver Titanium. The steel grey metal certainly helps this watch talk the talk, but it can walk the walk too – in testing it was driven over with an eight-tonne digger and came away unscathed. If something more subtle is your style, then the E-01 Gen 2 Exploration Watch from Geckota nicely blurs the lines between practical sporty timepiece and smart daily wearer.Divers will obviously need to look for a watch with a good water resistance – we’d recommend something with at least 200m, like our G-02 ETA 2824 40mm Diver’s Watch for any serious water goers – but even if you’re not strapping on the oxygen tanks, a bit of water resistance is usually advisable in an outdoors watch. It’s also worth bearing in mind how quickly and easily you are going to need to see the dial. Divers and sailors may well need to make snap decisions, and so a clear, legible dial, perhaps with a lume finish for added visibility is a good idea. Hikers may well have more time, and so might go for extra features on the dial like chronographs to measure time between locations.
As with any good adventure, adequate preparation is the key when it comes to buying an adventure watch. Think carefully about what you will need it for, then take time searching for the perfect adventure watch to meet your needs.