The 6 Best Backcountry Watches
Timepieces that help you do everything from call in the helicopters to dive (safely, of course) for hidden treasure
If you want a classic-looking watch instead of some digital gizmo but also want it to do more than just tell time, we have you covered. What follows are six innovative timepieces that help with everything from navigation to emergency rescue.
Alpina Alpiner 4 GMT ($2,495)
Best For: Backcountry hiking
Highly water- and shock-resistant, the Alpiner 4 will survive almost any foray into the backcountry—and its red-tipped Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) hand can serve as a compass. Place the watch flat on the ground with the GMT hand pointing toward the sun, and the 12:00 marker will point due north (or south if you’re below the equator). Then use the rotating compass-bearing bezel to find your way.
Breitling Emergency ($16,475)
Best For: Offshore sailing
Should you find yourself adrift after your boat capsizes while rounding Cape Horn, this is the watch you want on your wrist. The titanium Emergency lives up to its name by incorporating a position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) inside the watch. Extend the antenna, and the watch automatically sends an SOS with your position to satellites, alerting search and rescue to come and get you. Just don’t test it on your next weekend camping trip—false alarms can incur a nasty fine when the helicopters are deployed.
Citizen Altichron ($850)
Best For: Mountaineering
While most modern altimeter watches show altitude digitally, the Altichron uses brightly colored hands to show your current elevation, from minus 1,000 feet up to 32,000. Push a button to activate the altimeter, and the motorized hands swing into action while a rotating inner ring allows you to track the elevation change. One hand also functions as an electronic compass for analog wayfinding. The watch’s movement—solar charged and never needs a battery—is housed inside a lightweight titanium case, so it won’t weigh you down when grams are critical.
Oris Aquis Depth Gauge ($3,500)
Best For: Scuba diving
Elapsed time and depth are the two critical data points that a scuba diver tracks to ward off a nasty case of the bends. So Oris incorporated a depth gauge that uses no moving parts on the dial of this Aquis. Instead, the gauge makes use of physics (Boyle’s Law, to be exact). As water enters the channel carved into the watch glass, pressure compresses the air within, and the line where they meet indicates depth on the yellow scale. Meanwhile, the rotating timing ring tracks how long you’ve been submerged, so you can ascend in time without having to decompress.
Tudor North Flag ($3,675)
Best For: Polar exploration
Tudor watches were issued to members of the British North Greenland Expedition in 1952, so the company has a long history in cold, dark places. The North Flag draws inspiration from its pioneering days, but looks forward with a tough stainless–steel case and a self-winding movement that’s immune to the earth’s magnetism at the poles, thanks to a hairspring made from silicon. The white-on-black luminous dial and arrow hands are legible in any conditions, even long polar nights.
Omega Speedmaster Professional ($3,350)
Best For: Space travel
Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, the Speedmaster Professional helped explorers navigate to both poles, timed Apollo 13’s critical reentry engine burn, and is still the only watch NASA allows on space walks. The space agency famously torture-tested the hand-wound chronograph by subjecting it to high and low temperatures, vibration, shock, and an absolute vacuum to make sure it could survive the harsh environment of space. Should your future adventures include a one-way ticket to Mars, the Speedmaster is your best choice.