We recommend 5 amazing military smartwatches that are built for adventure. Tough, resilient, and packed full of tactical features, they won't let you down!
When you want to feel confident that your watch will be able to manage no matter what life throws at it, then choosing a military style smartwatch may be the answer.
We’ve made it an easy choice with our top five best tactical smartwatch recommendations in 2021.
There's also an in-depth buyer's guide so you can be sure you know what you're getting.
Our Recommended Tactical GPS Watches
In our opinion, these are the best tactical GPS watch choices of the bunch. There's our overall favorite, a great alternative, and the one that offers the best value for money.
You can read about all the details and our other recommendations too, in the following section.
OUR TOP PICK
Garmin Tactix Delta Solar with Ballistics
Built to military standards and enhanced with essential tactical features. Advanced mapping, ballistics software, and solar charging are just a few of the highlights here.
Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical
An incredibly tough tactical smartwatch that'll withstand whatever you throw at it. Complete with specialized tactical features like 'Stealth Mode', night vision compatibility, and waypoint markers
Amazfit T-Rex Pro Military
Another hard as nails smartwatch that's built to military standards of toughness. With health/wellness monitoring, powerful battery life, and amazing value at its core.
OUR TOP PICK
Garmin Tactix Delta Solar with Ballistics
Featuring a solar charging lens, specialized tactical features and AB Elite software for long range shooting in the field, it's hard to look past the Tactix Delta.
This tactical smartwatch really does means business and comes packed full of great features, including AB Elite software to help you calculate your long-range shooting and Applied Ballistics Synapse that will let you send ballistic profiles direct to your wrist so that you have all the information and support you need when you are out in the field.
This military smartwatch covers all bases with its night vision compatibility, stealth mode, and a kill switch (wipes the watch of all memory), allowing you to be confident that your watch won’t cause any commotion when you are out on ops.
It also comes with a Jumpmaster mode to support you as you jump and guide you to your landing point. It calculates release points at high altitude (according to military guidelines) to navigate you to your landing point once you've left a vehicle.
Navigational support is an essential feature in any military-style smartwatch, and this device will help you set a number of geo positions before you head out to provide you with projected waypoints as you move.
It also houses topographic maps and dual-format GPS so that you won’t get lost getting from one waypoint to another.
Other navigational features include multi-GNSS, Expedition Mode, ABC sensors, ski maps, public land maps, turn-by-turn navigation, and round-trip routing.
The multiple global navigation systems (GNSS) come in the form of GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo. This gives you fallbacks in more challenging environments when GPS alone is struggling for accuracy.
The ABC sensors are specifically:
- Altimeter - gives elevation data so that ascents and descents can be accurately tracked.
- Barometer - predicts changes in the weather by displaying recent trends in the air pressure.
- Compass - can be used when moving at low speeds and at a standstill to provide the direction of travel.
Besides the ABC sensors there is also a thermometer, accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate monitor, and blood oxygen saturation monitor. The blood oxygen monitor is a great tool for showing how your body is acclimating to altitude.
Expedition Mode may not be obvious to anyone that's not used a Garmin GPS device before. It's basically an energy conservation mode that turns off non-essential features so that a smartwatch can last as long as possible. All sensors and accessories are switched off but GPS is still enabled. The GPS tracks points just once per hour to maximize battery life.
Battery life is outstanding with this military style smartwatch and it offers some of the best numbers we've seen.
Here's a run through of the battery life you can expect in the different watch modes:
- Expedition Mode - 56 days
- Regular GPS Mode - 66 hours
- Battery Saver Mode - 120 days
- Regular Smartwatch Mode - 24 days
These figures represent the battery life you can expect with the 'Solar Edition', though the figures are still outstanding with the regular edition. Using a solar charging panel the battery life can be extended if the optimal conditions are available.
Optimal conditions meaning 50,000 lux of light for at least 3 hours each day. For reference, 2,000 lux of light would be an overcast day and 110,000 would be bright sunlight.
This watch is also packed full of health monitoring features to keep your body in check, including an Sp02 monitor, heart rate monitor, and respiration tracking.
You can keep an eye on when it is a good time to move by using the body battery monitor that will help you to optimize your performance throughout the day.
You can enjoy advanced sleep monitoring too and get access to details on your sleep stages, your Sp02 levels during the night, and accurate respiration data, all viewable from your wrist.
Finally, there is also robust lifestyle support so that you can pay on the go, get notifications, listen to music, and even alert emergency contacts if an incident occurs.
Ease of Use
Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical
A durable GPS smartwatch that boasts solar charging, tactical features, and a U.S. military standard build.
If you need a dependable military smartwatch but don’t want to pay exorbitant amounts to get it, then the Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical is a great choice and comes with a range of excellent features.
Its durable design is great in all climates. Designed to meet military standard MIL-STD-810 it is built to withstand a range of temperatures, knocks, and impacts. You can read more about the specifics of this military standard in our buyer's guide below, but basically military field equipment must adhere to certain levels of durability.
A Power Glass reinforced, scratch resistant lens is cased by fiber-reinforced polymer. Besides being tough, these are also lightweight materials. The Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical can be considered reasonably bulky on the wrist at 45 x 45 x 15.3 mm but remains very light at just 53 grams.
Besides being pretty darn strong, the Garmin Instinct is also waterproof to 100 meters. That means it's completely swim-proof and weatherproof.
The best military watches feature tactical modes that can be a huge help when out in the field. The Instinct Tactical comes packed with some of these great features.
- Night vision compatibility - daytime view and nighttime view are easily switched between. Nighttime view can be easily read by night vision googles.
- Stealth mode - enables you to "go dark". Stealth Mode stops storing and sharing GPS information and disables wireless connections and communications.
- Jumpmaster mode - according to military guidelines you can calculate high-altitude release points. This helps you navigate to your objective.
- Dual grid coordinates - Sync your location with others using both military grid reference system (MGRS) and universal mercator (UTM) together with latitude and longitude references. All on screen at the same time.
- Waypoint projection - create location markers on maps to log places of interest.
Health & Fitness Monitoring
Monitoring health and fitness has become a staple feature of smartwatches in 2021 and this watch is ready to help with a number of ways to monitor and measure your efforts over time.
As well as measuring your active minutes, the heart rate monitor will show you how hard your heart is working, and the blood oxygen saturation (Sp02) monitor will give you insights into how you are acclimatizing to altitude.
The body battery function will also allow you to keep track of your relative effort level and keep you aware of times when you could do with a rest. A stress monitor helps to promote wellness too.
The Instinct is also very capable when it comes to exercise and activity tracking. It's able to give very detailed statistics and analysis of your routines. Everything from running to swimming is profiled in typical Garmin fashion.
The Garmin Instinct Tactical offers some great navigation tools to ensure you're always aware of your location and also your destination.
Besides the dual grid coordinate system we discussed in the 'Tactical Features' section, there's support for multiple global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), waypoint markers, ABC sensors (altimeter for elevation, barometer for weather, and a compass), and trackback routing (where the same route to your starting point is saved) .
The big omission here and the main difference between this model and the previously recommended Garmin Tactix Delta model, is topographic maps. So using GPS you can still plot and view your route but you won't be able to see the detail that topographic mapping provides.
The battery life is outstanding with the Instinct Solar Tactical. The base model is already excellent but with the addition of solar charging even greater numbers can be achieved.
However, to get the true battery boost from the solar panel certain conditions must be met. Namely, 50,000 lux of light for 3 hours each day. It sounds a lot but it's actually just an average day with clouds in the sky. You'll be pushing your luck on overcast rainy days though.
Here's what it can do:
Smartwatch mode (regular): 24 days or 54 days with solar
Battery saving mode: 56 days or unlimited with solar
GPS mode: 30 hours or 38 hours with solar
Using maximum battery: 70 hours or 145 hours with solar
Expedition mode: 28 days or 68 days with solar
Expedition mode is actually another neat feature that's useful when out adventuring. It turns off all non-essential features and pings the GPS just once per hour to conserve energy.
Ease of Use
Amazfit T-Rex Pro
The Amazfit T-Rex Pro is as tough as they come. It won't let you down when you need it most.
Finding a military watch that is reliable and budget-friendly has always been a tough ask, so thankfully Amazfit entered the scene recently with the T-Rex Pro. It retains many of the essential features of watches twice its price.
Durability is where it really shines and the T-Rex Pro meets 12 military-grade tests for endurance in extreme conditions. These are some of the more relevant tests:
- 70 degree heat resistance
- -40 degree cold resistance
- Humidity resistance
- Salt spray resistance
- Ice resistance
- Shock resistance
In order to be this durable it must have reasonable bulk and the T-Rex Pro is certainly not a small smartwatch by any means (47.7 X 47.7 X 13.5mm). However, at just 60 grams in weight the polycarbonate body is not exactly heavy.
At 10 ATM (100 meter) water resistance it's totally weatherproof and can be used when swimming. Just remember these water resistance ratings don't cover saltwater (you'll need a diving watch) so be careful where you swim.
Battery Life and Display
With a 1.3" HD AMOLED screen that gives 360 x 360 resolution, the display quality is actually really impressive for a watch of this type. Military type smartwatches that need to be durable and with excellent battery life tend to have quite dull displays that don't sap unnecessary energy. But, that's not the case with the T-Rex Pro at all.
With battery life reaching 18 days, it's really impressive in this area. Now, 18 days isn't much in comparison to the previous two Garmin watches we've recommended but in the grand scheme of things it's excellent. It charges in just 1.5 hours to full capacity too.
Here's what battery life you can expect in the different modes:
- Heavy Use: 18 days
- Typical Use: 9 days
- Continuous GPS Use: 40 hours
Another, peculiarity with this smartwatch is the inclusion of 4 global satellite navigation systems (GNSS). The standard is usually 3, even with the most expensive tactical GPS watches
The T-Rex Pro includes:
- GPS (US satellites)
- Galileo (European)
- GLONASS (Russian)
- Beidou (Chinese)
The extra GNSS in question here is Beidou, a recently completed project (finished mid 2020) from the Chinese government. With Amazfit being a Chinese company it makes sense for them to get first access to the new positioning system and I wonder if we'll see it included with Garmin watches in the near future.
Essentially, what this means is that you have an extra backup satellite combination if you're struggling for accuracy with GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS. The T-Rex Pro allows the following combinations:
Using the GNSS in combination with each other offers superb accuracy as basically the more satellites in the sky the better. However, it does drain the battery more quickly. A nice touch with Garmin's tactical GPS smartwatches is the ability to use solely GPS (as well as in combination with others) which conserves battery life.
Fitness and Activity Tracking
With over 100 sports modes, the T-Rex Pro has got you covered when it comes to health monitoring.
A health assessment system combined with extensive sleep tracking keep on top of your day to day wellness and are guided by a built-in heart rate monitor.
When you want to evaluate your performance, you can simply head to the companion app to get the detailed insights you need, but this may take a bit of getting used to, as navigating the app can be confusing at first.
Ease of Use
Suunto Traverse Alpha
A GPS watch built for the outdoors. Features dedicated tools for fishing, hunting and hiking, including a moon phase calendar and shot detection.
If you need a strong tactical GPS watch that has been tested to military standards, then the Suunto Traverse Alpha is a strong contender.
It offers excellent GPS navigation to ensure coverage in every location you find yourself in.
The battery life can last up to 14 days, but if you need to use the GPS function, then this will drop significantly, requiring you to plug in and charge up every few days.
This watch is not just a good military companion, but it has also been built with fishing in mind for times when you are unwinding on your own or with friends.
You can learn what the barometric pressure trend looks like (for weather predictions), as well as accessing sunrise, sunset, and moon phases so you can plan your days or nights with confidence.
You can also keep up to date on your health and fitness with five sports modes, a step counter, and tools like the heart rate monitor, training load, and speed and distance timer.
There is also a built-in compass to help you when you need to navigate your way back to basecamp.
There is a Suunto companion app that you can download to get access to your phone notifications on your wrist, and you can transfer any required data via a USB cable or wirelessly, depending on what works best for you.
If you want to share your data with other apps, then this is possible too, allowing you to update your fitness to get a broader picture of your efforts over time.
Ease of Use
Garmin Fenix 6X Pro
A GPS watch with solid mapping. It offers extensive health monitoring, long battery life and a durable case.
If you love getting fit and want a watch that can support you and double up as a tactical watch, then the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro is well worth a closer look.
It has a 21-day battery life and has been designed to meet your outdoor needs with ease.
The rugged design and chunky casing are not heavy on the wrist, and the screen is readable in all different weathers.
When it comes to navigating your way, the multi-GNSS support system is robust enough to help you track your local even in the most remote and challenging places.
You can use the ABC sensors to understand the trail you are on, and there is a Climbpro feature that will give you the right support when you are heading for an ascent.
If you want to keep tabs on your health, then this is easy too, with the Sp02 monitor checking your oxygen saturation levels and the heart rate monitor sharing when your heart is working hard and when it is at rest.
There is a body battery and recovery time app, both aimed at giving you better insights into how you are coping with the pressure you are under and allowing you to better understand your body's response to exertion.
From contactless payments to golf maps and turn-by-turn navigation to notifications and music playback, you will always have everything you need to enjoy a fun life.
Ease of Use
Buyer's Guide: What You Need to Know
The very best tactical GPS watches have certain features that make navigation easier. They're also really strong and full of battery saving features.
In this section, learn about the essential tactical features that you shouldn't be without.
Military Standard 810
If you have heard of Military Standard 810 or found a watch that offers it, then understanding what it means can help you purchase with more confidence.
Put simply, MIL-STD-810 covers how well a device will cope depending on different environmental pressures.
More precisely, the testing methods are designed to work out:
- How long a device can withstand specific stress sequences
- How long a device should last
- The way in which a device copes when exposed to environmental stress
- Whether there are any specific deficiencies in the device
- If any specific advice needs to be given around the way the device is packed or maintained
- If the device is compliant with the military requirements.
A watch that is designed to meet these rigorous demands will be built to last whatever you throw at it. It will be shockproof, waterproof (to a certain degree), and able to withstand extreme temperatures and humid conditions.
You can read about it in detail here.
Watches that are made with Gorilla Glass offer protection from damage even in the harshest locations.
It has been made using a chemical strengthening system and is lightweight and easy to see through. The chemicals uses are hit potassium salt in an ion-exchange bath.
It is made in Kentucky, Korea, and Taiwan and is commonly found on mobile devices because it is so safe.
There are many competitors to this product, but none yet have the same reach as Gorilla Glass.
Another important aspect to consider when you are buying a new smartwatch is whether you will need it to be waterproof or not.
When your job takes you to new places, and you have to find your way, then there is a real possibility that water may make an appearance.
Take the time to work out what level of waterproofing you need before you buy.
Check out the following classifications to help you choose:
- 3 ATM = this means it is only splash-proof and rainproof
- 5 ATM = offers water-resistance down to 50m
- 10 ATM = offers water-resistance down to 100m
- 20 ATM = offers water-resistance down to 200m
Global Satellite Navigation Systems
When you have a smartwatch with GNSS, you have access to satellite navigation.
GNSS stands for global navigation satellite system and is an umbrella term for any system that provides satellite navigation.
The most common systems are GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo.
GPS, GLONASS & Galileo
When you choose a watch with a satellite navigation system, then this will be powered by either GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, or a combination of them.
There is a range of differences in the systems, but they all work to provide navigation.
GPS is an American-owned system with approximately thirty satellites in orbit.
Each satellite in this system circles the earth twice per day and offers a positional accuracy of up to five meters.
GLONASS is a Russian-owned system that is remarkably similar to GPS and circles earth just over twice a day.
They are slightly faster than GPS, but this is because they are slightly closer to earth. Their positional accuracy is between 4.5 meters to 7 meters.
Galileo is an EU-owned system and is new to the satellite navigation team and sits higher in space than GPS or GLONASS, meaning that it can only circle earth 1.7 times per day. This system offers positional accuracy of just 1 meter!
Most smartwatches offer these 3 systems in combination with each other. For example, the default standard Garmin set-up is GPS+GLONASS. You can change this in the menu but it works pretty well. A reason to change would be to save battery life. Using solely GPS would be less accurate but would use less battery.
Note: Chinese owned Beidou is now operational. It's China's new rival to GPS and is only available on some Amazfit smartwatches at the time of writing.
Stealth mode is a tool that allows you the ability to turn off tacking, logging, and wireless communication so that you are untraceable by anyone that may be looking for you.
You can still use the features to monitor your timing, pace, location, and elevation, but this info will not be saved to the watch in case it ends up in the wrong hands.
It's only available on the more premium tactical devices.
Night Vision Capabilities
Finding a watch with night vision modes might be an essential feature for you if you find yourself working in the dark.
Night vision mode not only stops your watch from emitting any light that can be picked up on by the enemy, but it also allows you to see your smartwatch clearly through your night vision goggles. Toggling between day and night modes is usually a quick and simple adjustment to make.
Any great tactical smartwatch will come with topographical maps to help you navigate your way in any country.
Topographical maps contain detailed information about the landscape. Contour lines represent elevation and terrain shape and symbols give more detail about the geography of a location.
Maps are usually preloaded onto the watch but can be updated when new edits are made.
Topo mapping is a feature that only the more expensive smartwatches have.
Using waypoint markers is a great way to familiarize yourself with a location. By setting markers you can remind yourself or notify others of points of interest. They're also great for navigational purposes, allowing you to find your way back on a familiar route.
Jumpmaster mode helps you calculate your high altitude release point and then automatically detects when you have jumped so that it can help to guide you to your desired impact point.
It does this by using the compass and the barometer for total accuracy, allowing you to have total confidence when you are ready to release.
This is a feature only a select few smartwatches will have. Again, it's a feature you'll pay a lot of money for.
ABC sensors are your altimeter, barometer, and compass on your smartwatch. They work together to provide you with the information you need when you are moving outdoors.
The altimeter will give you information on the elevation level you are taking for both ascents and descents.
The barometer provides information on local weather by assessing air pressure, and the compass works to help you know which direction you are heading.
These are staple features of any good smartwatch that's designed for military use.
If you are in a situation where you need to stop all communication and get rid of data, then the kill switch option is a useful tool.
It will wipe your watch quickly and allow you to keep your previous and future movements a secret from anyone that tries to find them out.
This feature is particularly useful for anyone that finds themselves behind enemy lines and can be the difference between giving away top-secret mission information and remaining as elusive as possible.
If you work with ballistics, then getting a watch like the Garmin Tactix Delta Solar (with Ballistics) will give you the support you need.
It comes with an applied ballistics calculator that will support you to aim precisely even with long-range shooting.
You can use the calculator in daylight or with night vision goggles to help you remain undetected when you are in the midst of an operation.
You simply input data like the weight of the bullet, distance to the target, elevation, muzzle velocity, and more to get the adjustments you need to be calculated in MIL, MOA, or inches.
It will even calculate the length of time that your bullet will be in the air before it reaches the target.
Tactical or military designed smartwatches typically have small displays that use few colors. There are a few good reasons for this:
- Small screens are tougher
- Lower resolutions use less battery life
- Touchscreens (that require big screens) are inconvenient as they aren't good when dirty or wet
But don't worry the displays are still crisp and sharp. They're just practical instead of flashy.
They're also designed to be clear to read in difficult conditions of low light or extreme brightness.
The higher your screen resolution, the more pixels there are per inch of screen. More pixels equals better image quality and allows you to interact with a crisp display that easy to read.
When the screen resolution is low, the pixels can become visible, making the display harder to read and less attractive.
When you have narrowed down your smartwatch shortlist, take a look at the screen resolution for each model and try to pick one with the highest score for the best user experience.
Remember that as smartwatch screens are very small the resolutions are small too. So something like 128 x 128 which would be unreadable on a computer screen can be really good on a smartwatch.
Keeping an eye on your fitness efforts is much easier with robust activity tracking as you can assess each activity you have taken part in and see how well you performed during the session, especially if you have tools such as heart rate tracking.
The other great thing about activity tracking is that you are able to see your progress over time, giving you the low down on how well you have progressed and giving you the right information to help with goal setting for the future.
Activity tracking is a staple feature on pretty much every smartwatch these days, no matter what its design focus is.
No one wants a device that runs out of charge too quickly, but there are so many different battery options now that finding the right one takes some time and consideration.
Thankfully, most smartwatches that are built for the outdoors have pretty good battery life these days.
If you want something that can be taken with you on a mission, then finding a long battery life with something like Garmin's Expedition Mode (an energy conserving GPS mode) will help you to get all the features you need without having to plug in.
It is also worth considering looking for a solar watch or solar backup, as seen on some of our recommendations.
This feature will not just keep you topped up but can extend the battery life by a week or more when used properly.
Just be aware that to see the full benefits of solar charging you'll need to meet daily thresholds of solar energy harnessing. Garmin watches typically require 3 hours per day at 50,000 lux.
With more places than ever before accepting contactless payments, having a device that supports this can really help to reduce the stresses of popping into the shop or grabbing something on the go.
Simply set up your account via the watch’s companion app and add the cards that you want to be able to use from your wrist.
When everything is up and running, all you need to do is activate the contactless on the watch when you are at the payment point for the transaction to be completed.
This feature is particularly popular with people when they are out training and need to stop on the way home but don’t want to have to take their card or wallet with them.