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Survival Watches 101: What They Are, Features to Look For, and Tips for Buying


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Survival watches are an important piece of gear for anyone who wants to be prepared for any situation. With so many different brands and models on the market, it can be difficult to figure out which one is right for you. In this article, we will explain the key features you should be looking for in a survival watch, plus additional tips while to consider while you consider before investing in a watch.

As outdoor enthusiasts, we love watches with functionality that mimics what trail runners, hikers, and backpackers are always looking for. It is what we use. Check out our article on the best hiking watches to see our current recommended top watches on the market.


What Is A Survival Watch?

A survival watch is a type of watch that is designed to help you in survival situations. They typically have features that other watches do not, such as a compass, altimeter, barometer, and thermometer. Some survival watches also have GPS capabilities or can even be used as a two-way radio.

When choosing a survival watch, it is important to consider what features are most important to you. Do you need a watch that can track your location? One with a built-in compass? What about a watch with a two-way radio? Consider what features would be most useful to you in a survival situation, and then look for watches that have those capabilities.


Key Features All Survival Watches Should Have

There are a set of features and functionality that all “survival” watches should have.



A good survival watch needs to be able to withstand all kinds of extreme weather conditions and terrain, from heavy rain and snow to cold temperatures and even high altitudes.

With a reliable waterproof design, your watch can continue to keep you informed in even the harshest environments.

There are many different watches on the market that claim to be “waterproof” or “water resistant”, but in reality, these labels can mean many different things.

Look for a watch with specific water depth ratings. At a minimum, look for a watch with a rating of 50 meters. This will ensure that your watch can handle being submerged in water, rained on, or even getting pulled through the rapids of a river.



A good survival watch needs to be able to withstand all kinds of extreme weather conditions and terrain. But durability goes beyond just water resistance; it also encompasses the overall build quality of the watch.

For example, a watch with a stainless steel case is going to be much more durable than one with a plastic case.

Similarly, a watch with a sapphire crystal or gorilla glass is going to be more scratch and shatter-resistant than one with a softer glass.

When it comes to durability, a survival watch doesn’t necessarily need the top end glass. Some types of adventurers should definitely elect for the harder glass, for instance, rock climbers. Because they are constantly putting their watches in close proximity to rock walls, having a glass that won’t scratch or shatter on those rock walls is highly recommended.



In a survival situation, being able to read your watch is critical.

There are a few things to consider when it comes to readability.

  • First, think about the size of the watch face. A larger watch face is going to be much easier to read than a smaller one.
  • Think about the brightness potential of the screen. In sunlight, your screen may need to be able to get very bright in order to read effectively.
  • Also consider the font and design of the display.

There isn’t necessarily specifications to look out for with this consideration, but make sure you watch videos on the watch, or test the watch in the store to make sure the readability for you is easy.


User Interface

Some watches are touch screen, some are buttons only, some are a mix of both. Know what works best for you. Know that touch watches have trouble while wet, and buttons externally can sometimes be accidently clicked.

Kayakers may want to elect for a non touch watch, and mountaineers in cold environments also likely don’t want a touch watch.

Hikers and backpackers in warmer climates may love the ease of use of a touch watch, so simply consider your situation when it comes to the overall user interface.



A good survival watch should do more than just tell time; it should be packed with features that can come in handy in a pinch.

This includes everything from measuring altitude, temperature, and atmospheric pressure to tracking GPS coordinates, saved maps, being able to collect sleep and heartbeat data, and even starting a fire.

By having multiple functions all in one place, you can help ensure that you are always prepared for whatever situation you might find yourself in during your outdoor adventures.

Survival watches need to have GPS capabilities, compass functionality, and saved maps. Other features can be helpful as well, but minimally, GPS, and downloadable maps can be hugely valuable in the backcountry.


Long-lasting Battery Life

One of the most important features to look for is long-lasting battery life.

After all, if your watch runs out of power in the middle of a survival situation, it will be of little use.

There are a variety of different ways that manufacturers achieve long-lasting battery life in their watches. Some use solar charging, while others have special power-saving modes that can extend the life of the watch.

In general, you can expect a survival watch with long battery life to last for several years on a single charge. Smartwatches can range from a full day, to multiple months before needing recharging. If electing for a smartwatch with a shorter battery life, you may want to bring backup battery sources.

It is always a good idea to review the battery life of any watch before making a purchase. This way, you can be sure that you are getting the watch that best suits your needs.


Tips For Survival Watch Shopping

Now that you know what to look for in a survival watch, here are a few tips to help you narrow down your choices and find the perfect watch for your next adventure.


Know your budget

Survival watches can range in price from less than $100 to several thousand dollars. By knowing how much you are willing to spend, you can narrow down your choices and find a watch that fits both your needs and your budget.


Use Sales & Time Of Year To Your Advantage

Just like with any other type of gear, you can often find survival watches on sale during the off-season. For example, winter gear is typically cheaper in the spring and summer months, while summer gear is typically cheaper in the fall and winter.

Likewise, you can often find sales on survival watches around major holidays like Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Black Friday. By taking advantage of these sales, you can save a significant amount of money on your purchase.

Also, many watch brands release an upgraded version every year or two years. Right before or right after an upgrade, can also put the previous season’s watch on significant sale.


Know What You Plan On Using Your Watch For

Before making a purchase, it is important to know how you plan on using your watch. Are you looking for a watch to take on backpacking trips? Are you an avid runner who wants a watch with GPS tracking?

Or are you simply looking for a survival watch to keep in your car or bug out bag in case of an emergency?

Different watches have different features to specific adventures. Climbing watches, ultra marathon watches, hiking watches, triathlon watches, biking watches, golfing watches, and more all exist. These will often all have the essential survival features you would want, but also additional features specific to your activities.



Survival watches are a great investment for anyone who wants peace of mind while being prepared for the unexpected.

So once you start to review the best survival watches on the market, be sure to look for a watch that is durable, easy-to-read, and multi-functional, with long-lasting battery life.

This way, you can help ensure that you are always prepared for whatever situation you might find yourself in.

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about

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