Outside magazine, June 1998
At a party at maxim's in 1907, aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont lamented to a friend that he couldn't access his pocket watch while flying. Not long thereafter, the friend, Louis Cartier, produced for him a sturdy timepiece on a leather wrist strap — the original sports watch. Needless to say, the breed has since proliferated, with models that cater to every sporting niche, real or imagined.
When choosing a modern sports watch, consider whether you prefer a digital or analog face. The former packs in features unobtrusively, while analog watches are easier to read at a glance but get busier with each added function. Whatever your taste, the ten watches we reviewed should provide a healthy range of options.
Alongside handy built-in features such as a 50-lap memory, the Timex Ironman Triathlon Watch with Data Link ($70; 800-367-8463) comes with software for a PC. Enter essential phone numbers, appointments, and target interval times, and then download them into the watch. Six months later, halfway through a 10k, it'll beep to remind you that you've forgotten your anniversary yet again.
Whether or not the plastic-bodied FreeStyle Compass Watch ($80; 800-949-1563) will keep you from getting lost, it will certainly leave you with one less excuse. Sight across 12 o'clock, press a button, and it displays the direction you're facing. It wouldn't do in a tight orienteering contest, but it's certainly more reliable than looking for moss on tree trunks.
To the extent that any plastic-cased, battery-powered watch can be considered a classic, the Casio G-Shock ($100; 888-294-7462) fits the bill. Introduced in 1983, this square-bodied model pioneered the sports-timepiece genre with its multifunction alarm, stopwatch capabilities, calendar, and more. Now it features a backlit display too.
If you prefer a multifunction sports watch suitable for a night on the town, consider the hybrid St. Moritz Format 2 Ti Chronograph ($165; 800-663-1881). Recessed into the conservative analog dial, two digital readouts offer functions such as an alarm, a countdown timer, and dual time zone displays. With its combination of titanium casing and rubber strap, the St. Moritz should be plenty durable, yet light enough to wear running.
On the surface, Polar Electro's SmartEdge heart-rate monitor ($199; 800-227-1314) looks and acts like a regular digital watch. Of course, its talents run deeper when you strap on the chest transmitter: It calculates your target heart rate, tells you how many calories you've burned, and, alas, prevents you from conning yourself into believing that you're overtraining.
Among the more significant functions of the Citizen Titanium Aqualand Duplex ($595; 800-321-1023) is a stopwatch, with which you can time yourself as you study the 60-page manual. There's much to learn. The bulbous titanium case holds a digital depth gauge, and you can also check water temperature and set an alarm to sound if you're ascending too fast.
In contrast to the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach of Swiss Army Brand's knives, its Original Watch ($135; 800-243-4057) is wonderfully stark. Story-book numerals stand out on a white face, and luminescent hands march to quartz movement. The band is tough nylon with leather shoulders, and although the hide may not take to prolonged immersion, the watch is water-resistant to 330 feet.
The brushed stainless-steel body, deep-blue face, and date window on the Hamilton Khaki Sub III ($275; 800-234-8463) lend it a handsome, businesslike appearance. Remarkably, the watch is equally appropriate for an impromptu meeting with coral and anemones: Its screw-down crown seals out water to 660 feet, the rotating bezel keeps track of your remaining air, and the expanding-link bracelet slips easily over a wetsuit sleeve.
Despite its name, the TAG Heuer Formula 1 Chronograph ($895; 800-321-4832) can do much more than time laps at Monaco. In addition to an analog stopwatch that counts up to 12 hours or down to tenths of a second, the Formula 1 is water-resistant to 660 feet, and its bracelet expands to accommodate a wetsuit. The finish is flawless and the mechanics are peerless: Every function works with a precise, satisfying click.
Rather drive a '68 Land Rover than a new one? Then you'll appreciate the titanium Sector 950 Chrono Automatic ($1,750; 800-994-3452), which is fashioned in Switzerland the old way, with precision gears and self-winding springs. Of course, no mechanical watch can match the predictable oscillations of a quartz crystal and battery power. But this is a small sacrifice, given that the Chrono Automatic is the closest thing (save perhaps the Energizer Bunny) to a perpetual-motion machine.
Photograph by Clay Ellis