Best Survival Watch | 2023 Reviews & Buying Guide

In survival situations, timing can be imperative. You have wall clocks, smartphones, laptops- plenty of ways to tell time… but one outperforms them all when it’s strapped to your wrist- the survival watch. Since the 15th century, we’ve had mobile timekeepers, but the best survival watch does more than just display time: it endures every situation you endure. There are thousands of watches to pick from and hundreds of watches in the survival category.

This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best survival watches, put them to the test, and now the results are in: the overall best, a budget option, and an upgrade option. If you need a watch to keep time and more, one of our picks will add some survival versatility to your wrist.

Contents (Jump to a Section)

SUUNTO Core Black Watch

The Best Survival Watch

Suunto Core Black

Stand-Alone, Full Function, and Durable

This versatile watch that lasts a year on a single CR2032 knows everything about the outdoors.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Suunto has established themselves as the go-to outdoors brand, and the Core bundles up all of their best-known features into a surprisingly simple watch. It’s not going to talk to your smartphone, but it will last a year on a single battery. All while giving you some of the best outdoor data you can get on your wrist.

Here is how the Core measures up:

  • Charge/battery life: 12 months
  • Water resistance: 30 meters
  • Outdoor Features: Sunrise, Sunset, Storm Alarm, Temperature, Alti/Baro Profile, Pressure Resolution, Move Altitude Graph
  • Movement: Quartz
  • 49mm watch face
  • 2.26 ounces

With simple versatility and reliable durability at an affordable price- it’s easy to see why the Suunto Core Black Watch is the best for survival.

Casio G-Shock Watch

Budget Survival Watch

Casio G-Shock

Simple, Rugged, and Proven

The original G-Shock hasn’t evolved much over the years- but given its track record, it hasn’t had to.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

This Casio beater has been around for a while and is well known by pretty much everyone. It lasts almost a decade on a single battery and doesn’t let anything get in its way of telling time. That includes it being virtually waterproof (200m) and shockproof.

It is a tactical option that many operators use when they upgrade to the all-black carbon fiber GA-2100 G-Shock, including Navy Seals. It costs about twice as much as the model we show here but just goes to show how trusted the G-Shock family is.

Here is how G-Shock measures up:

  • Charge/battery life: 36 months (up to 96 months reported)
  • Water resistance: 200 meters
  • Movement: Quartz
  • 35mm watch face
  • 2.4 ounces

If you are looking for an inexpensive survival watch, the Casio G-Shock Sport Watch is what you need.

Garmin Instinct 2 Survival Watch

Upgrade Survival Watch

Garmin Instinct 2

Solar, Smart, and Durable

This smartwatch bred for survival can solar charge – a clear function advantage over other smartwatch brands.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

It wasn’t the first solar smartwatch, but Garmin did make a splash when they added solar charging to their Forerunner smartwatch. Now (thanks to a second iteration with many updates) solar is on the survival-oriented Instinct model. This is game-changing for survivalists looking to get cell-connected power without the drain of short battery life.

Here are the full specs:

  • Charge/battery life: 48 hours (can be supplemented by solar)
  • Water resistance: 100 meters
  • Outdoor features: 3-axis compass, barometric altimeter, global navigation satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo)
  • 45mm watch face
  • 1.83 ounces

If you are looking for the hands-down best survival watch, get a Garmin Instinct 2.

Everything We Recommend

SUUNTO Core Black Watch

Suunto Core Black

This versatile watch that lasts a year on a single CR2032 knows everything about the outdoors.

Where to Buy

$199* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Casio G-Shock Watch

Casio G-Shock

The original G-Shock hasn’t evolved much over the years- but given its track record, it hasn’t had to.

Where to Buy

$48* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Garmin Instinct 2 Survival Watch

Garmin Instinct 2

This smartwatch bred for survival can solar charge – a clear function advantage over other smartwatch brands.

Where to Buy

$439* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

The Watches We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to several brands and types of watches that we compared: Garmin, Apple, Suunto, Samsung, Casio, Timex, North Edge, Luminox, 5.11, Citizen, M-Tac, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the What to Look For section, with an explanation for each.

We considered a huge range of watches keeping an eye on survival functions and durability for the most part. Added versatility, durability, and EDC functionality are a few of the main points that separate regular watches from those worthy of a ‘survival’ designation.

We’re always looking for new and better gear, so if you have a survival watch that you swear by, let us know in the comments. We review most of our tested gear annually so we can try to get it in the next roundup round and see if it will beat out our top picks.

What to Look For

The best survival watches have several important features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Survival Applications
  3. Battery Life
  4. Size & Material
  5. Durability

When you get the right blend of these, you can find a timepiece that you can rely on in survival situations. Below, we break down what each of these features means for the survival watches that truly set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like a survival timepiece shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. If you already have a watch and a slim budget, your existing watch could work for you.

You never want to spend too much money on one thing when it comes to gear for your kits. It’s better to diversify your gear and budget to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios.

Survival Applications

The functions you want to see in a watch for survival can extend past precise timekeeping. Outdoor stats, weather info, biometric monitoring, GPS, and communication are possible with watches nowadays and it’s important to remember that you can leverage these tools in survival situations.

Battery Life

Battery life can vary widely by the type of watch. Smartwatches are known for their low battery life since they have power-intensive connectivity functions. Typical watches can last much longer, making them appealing for survival.

You can also find watches not powered by batteries, but instead use winding or kinetic movement for energy. The main downside with these watches when it comes to survival is that when you miss a single wind or have a kinetic watch sit still for too long it can lose its time. Without a backup timepiece (which may not always be available in a survival situation), this could make it very inaccurate.

Smartwatch companies starting to incorporate solar charging is an encouraging sign for things to come. Solar-powered smartwatches are the best of both worlds and may soon not require external power generation at all to keep your watch going.

Size & Material

Watches are always a balance of size and function, but as with most survival gear- size matters. You don’t want your watch to be big and clunky- heavy without added function. Almost all of the watches we compared weighed between 1-3 ounces, ideal to go unnoticed on your wrist.

The material of your watch also contributes to its durability. Gorilla glass faces and rugged rubberized bezels are some of the better materials for protecting the watch function.


A cracked watch face or just a broken watch altogether won’t help you out in a survival situation. Make sure your watch is durable enough to keep up with your tasks. The material used, as we mentioned above, can make a big difference but also just being aware of your watch limitations can help as well. Understanding the water resistance and impact resistance is crucial to protecting the internals too.

How to Use a Survival Watch

A watch can be a useful tool for survival situations. Here are several ways you can utilize a watch for survival:

  1. Telling time: Knowing the time is crucial for navigation, coordinating activities, and managing resources effectively.
  2. Navigation: By understanding basic navigation techniques, such as using the sun’s position, you can estimate direction and approximate your location based on the time of day.
  3. Signaling: You can use the reflective surface of your watch to create a makeshift signal mirror. Reflect sunlight towards a target to attract attention or communicate over long distances.
  4. Determining cardinal directions: If you have a watch with hands, you can use it to find north by pointing the hour hand towards the sun. Halfway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock will point approximately south in the Northern Hemisphere.
  5. Estimating remaining daylight: By observing the position of the sun relative to your watch, you can gauge the amount of daylight remaining, allowing you to plan activities accordingly.
  6. Countdown timer: Use the timer function on your watch to keep track of time intervals for various activities, such as checking traps, rotating shifts, or conserving resources.
  7. Measuring distances: By timing your walking or running pace, you can estimate distances traveled. For example, if you know your average pace is 5 minutes per kilometer, you can time yourself and calculate the distance covered based on the elapsed time. Not as precise as ranger beads, but a good skill to learn nonetheless.
  8. Water resistance: Many watches are water-resistant to varying degrees. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to cross bodies of water, a water-resistant watch can help you monitor time and avoid potential hazards.
  9. Improvised cordage: The watchband or strap can be disassembled to create a length of cordage for various purposes like securing gear, building shelters, or creating snares.

While a watch can be a helpful tool, it’s essential to prioritize other survival essentials such as shelter, water, food, and first aid. Follow the survival rule of threes and you’ll be golden.

Who Needs a Survival Watch?

My father taught me the importance of being on time, and the military reinforced that. It’s a modern marvel that we can collaborate around the globe with time accuracy down to fractions of seconds, even if we’re in remote locations.

Still, just because I value watches doesn’t mean they are essential for everyone. Watches don’t hit the main survival pillars, but they are a darn useful tool nonetheless.

For that reason, we merely suggest you add a survival watch to your loadout:

Survival watches are also great for camping, hiking, and backpacking as well. Heck, you don’t even have to get outdoors to appreciate the functions some of our picks provide.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. You can support us through our independently chosen links, which can earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best survival watch are useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical survival experience:

Darmwal, R. (2015). Wrist Wars: Smart Watches vs Traditional Watches. Telecom Business Journal. Volume 8. Issue 1. Pages 69–79. (Source)

Kimm, H., et al. (2016). Improved Track Path Method in Real Time by Using Gps and Accelerometer. IEEE. 2016 15th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing and Communications and 2016 International Symposium on Cyberspace and Security (IUCC-CSS). (Source)

Wright, R., et al. (2014). Wearable Technology: If the Tech Fits, Wear It. Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries. Issue 4. Pages 204-216. (Source)

The Final Word

It’s time to get a watch that will keep up with you. With a broad range of price points and features to pick from, hopefully, we’ve helped you narrow down your search for the best survival watch. They keep on improving, so check back next year when we see if any more can beat our top picks.

Here are a few other guides and reviews our subscribers have found helpful:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found the Suunto Core Black Survival Watch to be the best option given its value, survival applications, battery life, size/material, and durability.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

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The Best Survival Watch

Rusty Collins

I am an engineer, Air Force veteran, emergency manager, husband, dad, and experienced prepper. I developed emergency and disaster plans around the globe and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

One thought on “Best Survival Watch | 2023 Reviews & Buying Guide

  • I would like to have your team perform an evaluation in our MEERKAT alert system.We offer people piece of mind knowing the security of their property. Our MEERKAT Alert System requires no cell service and no batteries. It is Bluetooth and solar that has a range of 1/2 mile. It also has unlimited sensor capabilities with seven zones. .


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