A good timepiece keeps your phone safe from battery drain and harsh elements. Plus, it works as a makeshift compass in a pinch. Here are five budget-friendly, hiking-ready watches, perfect for the outdoors.
When I think of hiking, a few pieces of gear spring quickly to mind. There’s my pack, shoes, knife, and hydration system, of course. But after that, a good wristwatch is one of my favorite outdoor tools — especially ones that are solar or mechanically powered, since it feels like they’re living a bit of the adventure with you.
And while the point of hitting the trail may be to “get away,” there are real-world uses for a watch in the field. For one, you won’t be wasting your phone battery by pulling it out to check the time. There’s also the water resistance, which keeps your expensive handheld from weathering the elements or slipping into the lake or creek.
Then, maybe most practical of all, is their ability to function as an improvised compass.
Best of all, you don’t need to spend a lot to grab one of these versatile pieces of kit. Below are five candidates, each of which should prove a worthy companion to your summer adventures.
This isn’t a ranking, per se, but they have been arranged from lowest-priced to highest. Check ’em out!
5 Hiking-Friendly Wristwatches
Casio ‘Tough Solar’ AQS810W-1AV
Let me rattle off some highlights for you: 100m water resistance, LED lighting, five alarms, a world timer, and a combination analog/digital display. And if that’s not enough for your $30, then how about this — solar power.
That’s right — for less than the cost of a good night out, this little Casio boasts around 90% of the features of its big brother, the G-SHOCK. You might be wondering, what else do I need? Well, for some folks, the answer might be, “a little less.”
This is the biggest watch on our list, with a lug-to-lug measurement of around 52 mm. And with the way the band arches out from the top and bottom, functionally it wears even a bit bigger.
Still, it rides fairly well on my average-sized wrist. The 13.7mm height feels proportional, though it might be enough to snag a strap when removing your pack.
Size aside, it’s hard to argue with the value you’re getting here. I’ve worn my Tough Solar for years, and it’s still one of my favorite outdoor and gym watches. They’re also widely available on retail shelves, so check your local big box store if you want to try it before you buy.
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Casio G-SHOCK DW5600E-1V
If we’re going to include an “almost” G-SHOCK, then why not pay tribute to the genuine article? Modeled on Casio’s original design from 1983, this watch ($39) is a real blast from the past.
The features here are largely the same as those that made its ancestor famous. The 45mm resin case houses a stopwatch, timer, alarms, and backlight beneath its mineral glass. There’s also a full day-date function and calendar, meaning you won’t have to reset the watch in short months.
The 200 m of water resistance is the best on this list, and the square setup is as iconic as it is functional.
Downsides? Well, it does run on a battery, unlike the upgraded solar models. Still, you’re looking at about 2 years of life on a standard CR2016 cell. You’ll also have a difficult time swapping out the strap, as it’s (mostly) integrated into the design.
There are kits available to solve this, if you must, but for the most part, the stock resin band is eminently comfortable. I’d recommend buying, wearing, and holding onto this piece of history for a long, long time.
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Citizen BM8180 Eco-Drive
When people ask me, “What watch should I buy?” this little Citizen ($118) is usually the first suggestion to pass my lips. Why? Because it’s small, well-made, and bursting with excellent design touches.
There’s the 100m water rating, which should be more than enough to weather a storm. It’s also solar-powered, courtesy of Citizen’s legendary Eco-Drive. But in addition to these mainstays, the company has packed a lot of thought into the 37mm case.
Take the red second hand, for instance. It offsets the black dial nicely, providing a great burst of color. There’s also a crown guard, and a day/date window positioned at 3 o’clock.
But one of my favorite things about the BM8180 is its lume. This glowing compound drinks in the same light as the Eco-Drive, and sends it back to you once the stars are out. It’s super-legible, even in the lowest of light.
If there’s a weak point here, it’s the stock canvas strap. While certainly comfortable, I did upgrade to an aftermarket band. And with a lug width of just 18mm, there are plenty of aftermarket options available.
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Timex Expedition North Field Post
Remember this one? It was featured on GearJunkie a while back, just after its launch. Here’s what we had to say at the time:
“After several disappointing experiences with Timex in the past, I feel like the brand is finally onto something here. The Field Post ($229) is an attractive, well-made, and affordably priced watch with noble intentions.”
The recommendation stands. In the months since the watch’s release, it’s proven to be a reliable companion at home and on the trail. The hand-wound mechanical movement ticks along with aplomb, and the leather band remains comfortable. Even the sapphire crystal has managed to avoid getting scratched, despite an impact or two with a doorknob.
In short, there’s a lot to love here. The 100m water resistance and 38mm case are in the same mold as the Citizen above, but with the added charm of a mechanical. Just be sure not to overwind the crown, or else you’ll have to wait to screw the darn thing back into place.
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Islander ISL-83 Field Watch
That’s right, we’re listing two pieces at the same price. But try as I might, I just couldn’t resist the call of Island Watches. I’ve been a fan of its retail store for years, and now its home-brewed offerings have really come into their own.
Though ISL-83 Field ($229) costs the same as the Timex, you’re getting a bit more for your money. One mm more, for instance, with a case measurement of 39. Plus, while the Field Post does hack (meaning the second-hand stops when you pull out the crown), its power comes from hand-winding alone.
But that’s not so with the Islander. Its NH38 mechanical movement is automatic, with an internal rotor that spins as you move your arm. It also features sapphire crystal and 100 m of water resistance despite its exhibition case back.
What sets the Islander Field apart is its lume. Most of the watches here have this compound painted across their hands and numerals. This one, however, plasters it across the entire dial.
True, it may lack the day/date feature of some of the others. But when you need to know the time in the middle of the night, this one is the way to go.
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