These days it’s quite acceptable for a humble chronograph to also be an altimeter, a barometer, compass, radio, GPS, a heart rate monitor and even a fashion accessory, to name but a few. But sometimes, in fact most often, all you want to do is tell the time.
For those inclined towards adventurous outdoor activities, be it white-water rafting or trekking through the jungles of Burma, your average high-street timepiece just won’t do. You need something tougher, something rugged that was designed to tell the time while facing down the very harshest of natural elements. Enter stage left, the Traser H3 P6500 Navigator Type 6. I didn’t even make that up. This grand mouthful of a name really is quite apt. If this watch were a person, it would be Ranulph Fiennes, Bear Grylls and Mike Tyson rolled into one.
Traser H3 originally developed its timepieces for the military Special Forces. As such, each watch features ‘permanent light technology’, known in diving circles as gaseous tritium light source (GTLS) which harnesses tritium gas encased in tiny glass vials, secured to the watch face as luminous markers. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen able to create continuous visible light by emitting electrons through a process known as beta decay. In simple terms, when the electrons interact with a phosphor material, fluorescent light is formed. Being a radioactive material, each watch comes with a rather cool radioactive symbol on the face. The watch is perfectly safe to wear, just don’t go cracking open the vials and snorting the gas. Oh and they’re outlawed in Belgium, so you might have to go without it on your camping trip to the Ardennes.
The bonus of having this radioactive material in your watch, aside from scaring the Belgians, is that you can read the time in the dead of night without needing to press a battery-powered back-lighter or squint at barely visible phosphorescent markers. This could be quite crucial if you were mounting a midnight assault on an enemy position, but most of us will probably use it for marginally less exotic purposes, like seeing what time that hooting barn owl has woken you up at again.
The watch is also unaffected by strong magnetic fields and therefore approved for Explosive Ordnance Disposal tasks (bomb disposal to us civilians). Not especially practical for everyday use, but a good talking point at dinner parties to ensure that everyone regards you as the military-obsessed gadget geek.
H3 make a wide range of these tritium watches, and the P6500 Navigator Type 6 is the basic tough-guy of the line up. It features a nylon strap which is known as the NATO strap (due to NATO requirements outlined for the British armed forces), but there are also rubber and leather options available. Out of all the strap materials on the market, I’ve found nylon to be the most useful for outdoor pursuits, and it seems that NATO agrees with me. Unlike leather, rubber or metal, it doesn’t stick uncomfortably to your skin when you’re wet or sweating, it doesn’t get hot or cold, it’s tough as old boots and there are no springs or clamps to break.
The P6500 casing is waterproofed to 30 metres, meaning it’s adequate for getting wet but not suitable for aggressive swimming or diving, perhaps the only drawback of this watch. But then, it’s not designed as a dive watch. If you want a Traser dive watch, they make three different models, all waterproofed to 200m.
The case itself is made from polyester, a lightweight and durable material, and the lightness of this watch is another important factor – it scales in at a mere 40g – more Amir Khan than Mike Tyson. Out on the trail, you don’t want deadweight on your wrist as you’re scrambling over rocky outcrops or climbing a tree to escape an irritable buffalo. You want a watch that’s there when you glance at your wrist but out of mind at all other times. The watch is available with an optional date window too, just in case you want to keep track of how long you’ve been lost in the wilderness.
I’ve thoroughly tested this watch in varying conditions that are probably not recommended in the manufacturer’s handbook. It was left on a rotting scorpion-infested log in the middle of the African bush for two nights, enduring a violent thunderstorm followed by a baking hot day, accidentally dropped into the dying coals of the campfire and then trodden on with a walking boot for good measure. Combine that with the countless bumps it’s received during cross-country mountain biking adventures, being dragged over sand and hard gravel as yours truly slipped down a rocky hillside into a dense thorn bush (much to the amusement of my companion), and generally being treated like a throwaway toy, it’s stood the test of time and mindless abuse remarkably well. And I’ve not been poisoned by those radioactive isotopes yet, which is always a plus point.
If you’re looking for a super-tough, bomb-proof outdoors watch that simply tells the time both day and night in every condition imaginable, then the P6500 is the watch for you.
Available from various online and high street dealers, average price £155.