An Essential Not on the 10 Essentials List: The Wristwatch

Average read time 3 min

The wristwatch. Once, it was the way we kept track of time. These were the days before the smartphone or computer. Growing up, it was almost a right of passage into manhood to get a good timepiece. One Christmas I opened a present and there it was a pocket watch from my grandfather. What made this special was that he never bought any presents. However, for my grandfather, it was time for my brother and me to enter the world of men.

We needed to keep track of time.

Today we have access to time with ease. It’s on all our electronic devices. You can pull out your phone or glance down at your computer screen and get it. So why have a wristwatch?

The forgotten timepiece?

It wasn’t long ago; almost every man had a watch strapped to his wrist. It was not an option, and it just was a need for telling time. However, when the wristwatch or arm watch first made its appearance, it was used by women as a form of jewelry.

Sometime in the 19th century, it began being used by the military to coördinate field maneuvers. The early watches were known as mechanical watches and had problems with accuracy. They needed to be winded and were sensitive to position, temperature, and magnetism.

The next generation of watches was automatic watches that would self-wind, which improved the accuracy and lessened the user’s maintenance. The most notable of these is the Swiss Watch. Finally, the electronic or quartz watch was produced. This watch had only one moving part, the quartz crystal, which vibrates. Some electronic watches need a battery, and some models generate the power by the user’s movement. We should note that solar technology is used in some watches to recharge batteries.

Since the movement of the smartphone, wristwatch sales have dropped. Even though they have rebounded a bit, they have not reached their previous sales. So is the wristwatch dying? Probably not. Smartphones are not without problems. Batteries need to be charged. On multi-day outings, your time source may die. I know when my phone battery reaches critical, the time and date get all messed up and require internet sync to “reset” itself.

So with all this dependence on batteries and the internet, the wristwatch will remain the simple and most reliable timekeeping solution for me.

Going back in time and using a wristwatch

For those of you who are die-hard smartphone users, I ask you, how many times do you stop and take out your phone to check the time when hiking? If you’re like me, it would be just about every time you stop to break. That’s if you are interested in checking your progress on the trail.

I stopped using my phone and a few years ago and have gone back to using my watch. No need to get my phone out; just look at my wrist. Simple.

Besides a quick way to check the time, you can use your analog watch for navigation in a pinch (see an article from Backpacker click here). You can use the watch to check your cooking time as you stand over your stove. Also, if you get a watch with a bright backlight, you can use it in your tent to find stuff at night!

Here are some things you can look for in a watch that would offer functionality for and endure the backcountry rigors. Of course, different activities will have specific demands, and most of us can use a watch that costs between $30 – 50. But some activities such as diving will need more features and will certainly cost more. But here are some of the basics:

  • Leather, nylon or comfortable plastic band (we like the NATO style band)
  • Ability to change bands
  • Quartz movement
  • Water-resistant
  • Scratch-resistant, anti-reflective crystal
  • Stainless steel, brass or other metal housing
  • Backlight/Illumination
  • Large numbers
  • Compass points
  • Date

The next time you head out for your favorite outdoor adventure, if you don’t already, maybe consider keeping the cell phone stashed in your pack and get a watch for your wrist! I think if you do you’ll find it essential.

Happy hiking.