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Wristwatch buying guide

The wristwatch was invented in the 1600’s when a French mathematician used a piece of string to tie a watch to his wrist.

Timekeeping has come a long way since then. These days, watches are like mini-computers that can forecast the weather, help you find your way in the woods or even get you to class on time.

For professional adventure racer Travis Macy, 23, his watch helps with navigation and keeps his team on track during grueling multi-day races.

“If we’re doing a trekking section and we’re falling asleep on our feet, we’ll stop and sleep for half an hour,” says Macy, a former Cub Scout. “And then the whole race is hanging on my watch to wake us up!”

Dealing with that kind of pressure and the race on the line, Macy knows watches. He can teach you a lot about how to pick the best one for your time-keeping needs.

FEATURES

“Before you go to buy a watch, think about the features you’re looking for,” Macy says.

If hiking and camping is your thing, consider a watch with a compass and perhaps an altimeter and barometer. If you’re into jogging, find a heart-rate-monitor watch. Remember: Just because a watch is packed with features and functions doesn’t mean it’ll be easy to use. Try it before you buy to make sure it’s user-friendly.

ANALOG VS. DIGITAL

Most modern watches use tiny quartz minerals to keep the time. When electrified, the quartz crystal vibrates a reliable 32,768 times per second; those vibrations are translated to seconds, minutes and hours. Analog watches have a standard clock-like face with two or three (or more) hands that point at numbers, which is more classic yet can be tougher to read than digital watches. Digitals continuously highlight the exact time in numerals. Some watches have dual faces with both analog and digital readouts.

DURABILITY

If you spend much time outdoors, durability is a key factor in a watch. “Make sure it’s rugged,” Macy says. “If it has a compass swivel on top, try turning that to see if that feels like it’ll hold up. Play with the buttons. Are they easy to push? Take a look at the band and the buckle to make sure they’re flexible and will hold up to the elements.”

SIZE

You want the face of the watch and the numbers to be big enough so you can see them while you’re riding a bike or running. But in general, the bigger the watch the heavier and bulkier it will be. Try to find a size that’s comfortable.

“If you’ll have only one watch, think about whether you’ll want to wear a big watch to school,” he says. “I wear the same big watch for everything, but I’ve gotten used to it. Some guys will feel more comfortable with something smaller.”

THE WATCHBAND

The way your watch is strapped to your wrist is important. If you’re outdoors a lot, choose a polyurethane band. These bands are waterproof, won’t hold odors and are very durable, but they can also be sticky in hot climates. Another good choice is a canvas and Velcro band, which is more breathable.

“Velcro bands keep your watch snug against your wrist and you can wash it when it’s dirty,” Macy says.

Leather bands don’t perform well in wet environments, but they look cool. Meanwhile, metal bands can sometimes pinch your skin, though they are usually super durable.

WHERE TO SHOP

There’s nothing more helpful than going to a store and trying a watch on to see how it feels on your wrist. Of course, you’ll probably pay more at a store versus buying it on the Internet.

“Take a look online and see if you can find a better price,” Macy says. “There are search engines where you can type in the product name and a whole list of prices will come up so you can find out what’s a good price.”

If you buy online, make sure the store is reputable and beware of counterfeit or fake watches.

229 Comments on Wristwatch buying guide

  1. HippieScout151 // August 1, 2010 at 8:57 am // Reply

    COLEMAN DIGITAL ALL THE WAY!!!

  2. Dr. hippie // July 28, 2010 at 7:40 pm // Reply

    lot of great watches at sports authority

  3. 1234555666678900--- // June 29, 2010 at 8:47 am // Reply

    Timex expeditions are great watches because they are durable and most are water proof to 100 meters

    • agreed and it matches my class a for scouts, i keep it set on Camp Rainey Mountain time ( boy scout camp in clayton, ga)

      • Random Person in the comments // December 5, 2010 at 9:08 pm //

        I agree haha but i lost mine…. :( and, when i went to the dunes for camping i got a bunch of sand stuck in the button for the light… so that didnt work any more… but those watches are deffinately waterproof.

    • true

  4. Japanese made watches are usually always the best made watches!

    • MJ is wrong,japanese watches are some of the worst. They’re good if you want a watch that will fall apart the fastest but if you want a good watch buy american

  5. Be careful with your watches around water. I lost one watch completely to that, another from battery discharge, and my most recent one, I left a drop of water on the MODE button too long and it stopped working. I think I might have more luck with analog.

  6. field rangers are good $10 at academy

  7. Buy the Timex Ironman Triathlon

  8. Invicta watches are the best. They make the most durable Diver’s watches.

  9. Andy, I have a $40 dollar expedition that is waterproof to 150+ feet

  10. bob 009987 // March 4, 2010 at 6:39 pm // Reply

    I do not even have a watch!!! I want one so bad.

  11. I like the way you describe where to shop

  12. Timix ROCKS

  13. boyscoutB900 // January 21, 2010 at 4:53 pm // Reply

    my dad got a exspensive watch metal band snapped off in 3 minutes

  14. I want a water proof but are they expensive?

  15. I Like Analog Over Digital

  16. Band Geek #1 // October 27, 2009 at 6:25 pm // Reply

    The Timex ‘Expidition’ is a GREAT watch! It has a compass,chronograph(stopwatch),timer,and an alarm,along with the time,day,and date.The watchband IS durable.I’d recommend this watch to anyone!

    • I love those watches, I always either buy one of those, or the Timex Iron Man. Those watches never die. I just get a new one every couple of years because the batteries die, and I don’t want to bother replacing it. Plus the battery is a quarter of the cost of the watch itself, when you buy the watch on sale.

    • how much is the Timex ‘Expidition’?

    • Delta Force // April 5, 2012 at 2:04 pm // Reply

      My mom gets a new Timex expedition watch like every two months because the break so much!

  17. I’m looking at the G-Shock G100-1BV it has an Analog and digital face.

  18. I have a Casio watch that my grandma gave me . It connects to satelites to get the correct time all the time!

  19. Saxophone Player 859 // August 20, 2009 at 12:15 pm // Reply

    I like a wrist watch that has a watch alarm that plays a song such as Ludwig Beethoven’s song entitled, “Fur Elise (For Elsie)” or the Beach Boy’s song entitled, “Catch a Wave and You’ll Be Sittin’ On Top of the World”.

  20. Time Spacer321 // August 8, 2009 at 9:13 am // Reply

    The watches that have the numbers and watch hands that glow in the dark after shining your flashlight on the watch face are really neat when determining what time it is after sundown.

  21. I have only had the G-Shock for a week or so but i love it. the fact that it sets its self for times a day,solar charged battery,4 alarms, stop wach, shock proof, water resistant to 200m. All around its a GREAT watch

  22. I got a G-shock for $125. It is atomic (calibrated to Ft. Collins Wyoming), has four separate alarms, a compass, automatic time-zone conversion, second time zone readout (good for traveling), weather report with barometer, calendar set function (ex. you have a camping trip on March X, 20XX,: it will inform you of it if you forget), digital display, date (duh, considering that it must tell the date if it has a calendar), metal band, and some sort of special face treatment for durability. It also has a reflector for emergencies ( I make people mad by shining it in their eyes from 100 feet away and watch as they try to figure out where the light is coming from). It is made of a elegant, sporty blue and gray steel with composite coating, whatever that means. It is incredibly user friendly, and oh, did I mention that it is solar powered and waterproof. Yep, no battery changes. The reason I got it for $125 is yes, sorry, it has been discontinued as of 2009. : (

  23. spyscout123 // April 26, 2009 at 5:47 am // Reply

    I am wondering the same as falcon.

  24. Go Longhorns!! // March 20, 2009 at 9:53 am // Reply

    Any watch above $30.00 is great.

  25. Texas Scout // March 11, 2009 at 7:51 pm // Reply

    Colman watches (all of them) are great, inexpensive, and you can get ’em at Target

  26. I Got A Coleman Watch and it came with a waterproof case and a mini survivil tool.

  27. Something that needs mentioning here is that digital and quartz watches require batteries! If you choose one of these make sure to “Be prepared” with an extra battery in your gear if your going to need to depend on your watch in the wild. I prefer the “automatics” that use an off balance rotor in the back of the mechanism. The rotor is half of a disc that is weighted on one side and attached to the winding spring. The rotor is attached so that it is allowed to spin 360 degrees freely, and every time your wrist or arm moves, gravity makes the rotor spins to the other side, keeping the watch wound. Just make sure you get one that is waterproof or at least water resistant! These are usually measured in atmospheres (ATM). Each ATM is about 6 feet underwater, some watches indicate meters for water proof, which of course is metric!

  28. what are you guys talking about

  29. I have a Timex 1440 sports you can get them at Target it’s water resisant but it can go underwater JUST MAKE SURE YOU DON’T PRESS THE BUTTONS UNDERWATER!I’ve already ruined 1 watch doing that.

  30. I have a Luminox watch. It’s really durable! Mine has had to deal with being dropped in the Colorado river and submerged for almost 20 minutes if you don’t mind analog, is’t worth the price.

  31. I got an Iowa watch it has two types of stopwatches,2times(of course),alarm,takes your pulse,and it lights up at night!cool huh?

  32. Timeex makes great durable watches that will hold up forever. i had to throw out one watch because a button broke after 5 years of abuse.

    Also, if you do a great deal of aquatic sports (ie: diving or snorkeling) get a watch that is 200m water resistant.

  33. Underoath123 // July 30, 2008 at 9:06 pm // Reply

    I like a watch that tells time.

  34. bike 4 life // July 1, 2008 at 1:34 pm // Reply

    I have a timex ironman and it roxs

    i am looking for a watch that tells the temputer alltitude and directions go bikes and watches

  35. I like these but look at the prices!!! i got a off brand name for cheap and it works great

  36. i like the freestyle tide 200 and the nike cuff.

  37. The watches that are really cool are those with the wide leather bands. I never wore one before but I probably should start to wear one. I never had anything on my wrists before to wear so what would be the best one to get used to? someone said the wide bands are more comfortable too, are they?

  38. Baseball boy // July 11, 2007 at 2:41 pm // Reply

    Want the Suunto X3 HR.

  39. I want a Freestyle Tide 200 and a Nixson (dork) because their super-cool!

  40. Eagle man // May 2, 2007 at 8:48 pm // Reply

    Freestyle tide thing-AWESOME!!!!!

    The dork-MORE AWESOME!!!

  41. Hmmm… no Timex IronMan! That’s my favorite watch, it’s so durable for a great price. I’ve had one for over two years and it finally bit the dust.

  42. I LOVE THE SWEATBAND 1 IT AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  43. I agree with Bid T.

  44. I agree with Burger, even though I don’t LOVE Tony Hawk.(He’s ok)

  45. Im diging the ORIGO but the dork and the Casiso G-shock is tight to

  46. FALCON YO!

  47. great article

  48. Any idea if there’s a watch somewhere that has a stopwatch, multiple daily alarms, heart rate sensor, thermometer, barometer, and compass?

  49. i so want that nixon (the dork) watch because i love tony hawk.

  50. I’m glad you chose to talk about watches. I’ve always wanted a watch that’ll do everything. Thanks for the ideas!

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