Smartwatches Won’t Cut It: Benefits Of Tactical Watches

With each passing day, it seems our society becomes more enamored with ultra-high-tech gadgetry. This seems to be especially true of our younger generations. For those reading this who don’t know me, they are likely beginning to form an opinion that I’m a crotchety, old curmudgeon. Those of you who are my regular followers (all six of you) already know that I’m guilty as charged, having been around back when the sun was still running at 60 watts.

I’m also a bit of a watch enthusiast. Okay, maybe it’s a slight obsession. Hey, don’t judge me.

When they asked me to write about how tactical watches are better than smartwatches, I jumped at the chance, reasoning that this article was custom-made for me.

What’s a smartwatch?

Smartwatches are loaded with features that many people find useful and convenient. Some have GPS tracking and mapping so you can check out your workout circuit and ascertain the speed and distance traveled. These features can be helpful for hiking, running, or swimming. Some measure heartbeat as well as calories burned, steps taken, and other fitness factors.

Some smartwatches look sporty, while others are stylish. They come in all sorts of designs and colors, and some even allow users to readily change bands or adopt different colors.

A smart watch.
Smartwatches have many functions, sometimes including tracking workout routines with GPS, counting steps, measuring heart rate and other bodily functions, answering phone calls or texts, and more. They’re often stylish-looking, as well. Durability, however, is typically not high on their list of attributes, although some manufacturers are changing that.  [Photo: Lifewire]

Smartwatch Problems

My wife likes to wear smartwatches because they track her steps and let her know if her phone is getting a call if the phone is not with her. It will receive texts or messages as well. It seems as though her smartwatches are constantly crapping out on her. “My watch stopped working, I need a new one.”

Incredulously, I’ll reply, “What do you mean it stopped working? I don’t understand.” The truth is that, just like phones, laptops, and other techno-wizardry, the technology gets old and needs to be updated rather quickly. It seems like a self-defeating concept to me.

A Fit Bit smart watch.
Many smartwatches, such as the FitBit, are not known for their durability or longevity. [Photo: Walmart]
From my observations, smartwatches are far more prone to breaking. The bands are often not very sturdy, being more on the frail side and prone to breakage. Many have touch screens, which do not seem to stand up to any sort of abuse well.

There seems to be a trend toward making smartwatches more durable so that they’ll last through abuse. I believe time will tell whether they are successful. It doesn’t seem as though smartwatch makers want to make a smartwatch that will last for years or a decade. Perhaps that would be a bad strategy for them, as then people wouldn’t have to buy another one in six months or a year.

Are there any durable smartwatches?

Yes, there are some out there. Garmin makes some quality smartwatches, and they’re fairly well known in the tactical community. They are intended for simpler tasks than their “civilian” counterparts and are certainly more rugged. Some are even solar-powered, solving the battery issue. G-Shock also has some models that are smartwatches, and they can measure heart rate, steps, strokes in swimming, etc. They can also read the altitude and atmospheric conditions, tell direction, and more.

What’s a tactical watch?

The oft-overused term “Tactical” has become in vogue over the past few decades. At first, most tactical gear had to be all black. Later, that requirement turned to flat, dark, earth colors.

All joking aside, when we think of tactical items, we generally associate them with something to do with military or law enforcement. The gear that helps to successfully conduct such operations is tactical gear, possibly ranging from boots to weapons, knives, backpacks, vehicles, and, yes, even watches.

Several tactical watches in front of an HK USP Compact.
Here are several tactical watches. From left to right: Seiko’s Prospex PADI Special Edition, G-Shock Rangeman in OD Green, G-Shock Rangeman in dark grey/yellow, G-Shock Frogman, and the Citizen “Eco Zilla” Promaster Diver. The pistol in the back is the Heckler & Koch USP Compact. [Photo: Jim Davis]
Tactical watches, in general, are built to withstand tough conditions and rough abuse. They shrug off temperature extremes and high impacts. Their materials are made to withstand corrosion, scratches, and other insults. They’re also built to last; most often, because of their high-quality materials, they are intended to be used for decades. Tactical watches are also water resistant, commonly to depths of 200 or 300 meters, and sometimes even more. They also have a certain look, most often appearing rugged and large.

Their battery life is usually very long. I have several models that are solar-powered, so they never need a battery change and are constantly charging. And if there’s no power source, their battery storage is usually enough to power the watch for about six months or so without any light.

Far from being “dumb”, many tactical watches have useful features such as a compass, barometer, altimeter, and thermometer, as well as stopwatches, alarms, tide graphs, and a million other features. My favorite brands are G-Shock, Citizen, and Seiko.


If we’re talking electronic watches, then it’s G-Shock, hands down. They make the most durable watches on the planet, in my opinion. At the same time, they look cool too. I’ve worn them for years in the prison system, where they took a ton of abuse, including being slammed into steel walls and on concrete floors. I’ve never been able to kill one yet.

G-Shock Frogman.
G-Shock’s solar-powered Frogman has a certain presence on the wrist that is undeniable. It’s large and in charge! Users can record dives on this watch, and it will take a lot of abuse. [Photo: Jim Davis]
The creator of S-Shock threw them out of a window several stories up in a building. Once he figured out how to make them survive that abuse, he went ahead with refining the design. Talk about a serious proving ground!

I’ll add one more plug for G-Shocks (yeah, I’m a fanboy): the vast majority of guys whom I’m acquainted with who are/were in the Special Operations community wear G-Shocks. Some units are even issued items, which says quite a bit about the brand.

Citizen and Seiko both have some attractive-looking dive watches that have proven to be extremely durable. Most have a one-way rotating bezel for timing dives in the depths. The Seiko dive watch that I have is Kinetic, which means it charges the battery by the wearer’s motion.

Tactical Watch Problems

There aren’t any, other than the fact that they can be addictive.


A perusal of the interwebs reveals that both tactical and smartwatches can vary greatly in price. You can pick either up for relatively cheap prices, or you can go all out and spend a huge chunk of money.

However, you don’t have to spend as much money on a tactical watch to get something that will last a long time and function through numerous catastrophes. If you get a smartwatch on the cheap, you’ll most likely have issues with its function; i.e., you get what you pay for.

For instance, you can pick up an inexpensive G-Shock and expect it to function for a good many years. Don’t expect the same from a smartwatch.


Smartwatches have some interesting features and conveniences, including charting workouts, measuring body functions such as heart rate and calories burned, distance traveled, etc. They can text, message, and sometimes make and receive phone calls.

Available in a plethora of colors and styles, they are typically more stylish than their tactical watch cousins. And to be honest, not everyone needs (or wants) a watch that can withstand a HALO jump, followed by a combat swim onto a foreign shore.

If you happen to be after a bomb-proof watch, it’s best to go the tactical route, as they are made to last in a brutally abusive environment. They tend to have a simpler operation, although G-Shocks can have a bewildering array of functions if you choose to utilize them.

One thing is certain, however: we have a bewildering plethora of timepieces to choose from, whether your taste is tactical or techno, with prices ranging from bargain to obscene. The biggest challenge might be deciding which model(s) you want to go with. Happy hunting!

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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