The NATO strap stems from a British Ministry of Defense Standard (DefStan) from 1973. This document described a nylon watch band with a special retaining piece meant to prevent a wristwatch from falling off the user’s wrist should one of the spring bars fail (see our more thorough history here), and has since proliferated into the mainstream watch community. NATOs are cheap, they’re practical, and they can inject new life into an older watch.
In my capacity as a watch editor and writer, I’ve been fortunate enough to test, well, a ton of NATO straps. Some of these are dirt-cheap, some are entirely American-made and are thus more expensive, and some are even made of leather rather than nylon. All are fun.
One NATO strap stands above the rest, however, and it’s one of the least expensive models I’ve purchased. It’s made by I.W. SUISSE/NATO International, and it’s only available (to my knowledge) on eBay — for $11.
So why this particular NATO? Is it that they’re cheap? Well, they’re certainly cheap. But I don’t mind spending more money on a quality product. It’s that this NATO gets everything else right: the NATO International G10 is woven of ballistic nylon, is available in myriad colors and patterns, comes in sizes between 16 and 24mm, ships on the user’s choice stainless steel brushed or high-polished hardware, and measures 300mm long. The G10 features 17 heat-sealed tongue holes, heat-sealed edges, and a non-taper buckle, and it 1.2mm thick. The stainless steel keepers are heat-welded in place with matching nylon stitching and the ends are also heat-sealed and stitched. The buckles are also inscribed on the inside with the strap width, which is unbelievably handy.
“And why, oh, Great Watch Editor, dare I giveth a shit?” you might be asking yourself. Let me explain.
I bought a quartz, analog-display watch from MWC to get me through the military, and it came on a grey NATO strap. The grey NATO was fine — iconic, even (again, see our history of the NATO), but in anticipation of doing, you know, military things with my military watch, I wanted something a bit more heavy-duty. I found the NATO International G10 while perusing eBay one day (as is my wont), and figured that for $11, I could spin the wheel and see what this thing was about.
Six years later, I can’t even tell you the original color of this strap — that’s how thoroughly used, bleached, and beat-to-hell it is, but I can tell you one thing — I’m convinced that this is one of the best values in watches. This strap has been through hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers of forced marches across all sorts of terrain. It was on my wrist whilst crawling through obstacle courses; crawling through sand in the desert; crawling up and down hills through the woods. Crawling, crawling, crawling.
It was on my wrist during advanced sharpshooter training, which, for a longwinded reason, involves frequent rolling on the ground; it was on my wrist during SCUBA dives, and during two weeks of jump course in the paratroopers. It has been in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Dead Sea, the Aegean Sea, the South China Sea, the Andaman Sea and countless lakes, waterfalls, rivers and other bodies of water too numerous to remember.
This NATO strap has been exposed to the following liquids: rain, seawater, freshwater, sweat, gun oil, blood and paint. I have used a butane lighter as well as matches to burn the tail when it admittedly began to fray from years of hard use, but that’s the beautiful thing about nylon — you can easily melt it to prevent it from fraying (which is also why 550, or “paracord,” is one of the most useful items known to Man).
The strap is stiff from exposure to all the aforementioned stuff and not as comfortable as it once was, but that doesn’t really bother me. I’m still marveling that this $11 piece of nylon has held up through years of (fairly serious) abuse. Imagine an old, decrepit version of this NATO strap getting together with all its fellow watch strap friends and regaling them with tales of its life. “I seen some shit, let me tell you.”
The G10 strap is 30cm long, which seems like an insignificant piece of information until you consider the following: having the end of a NATO strap flopping in the wind after it’s passed through the keepers is annoying. When the strap is 30cm long, you have enough slack to fold the end back over itself and back towards the buckle, keeping it safely out the way (you watch people know what I’m talking about).
Because the strap comes in solid colors that frequently feature in camouflage, it’s perfect for military use (though it also comes in regimental stripes, if you like that sort of thing, or happen to be English). And of course, all that heat welding and stitching means that this G10 isn’t going to fray.
I’m not gonna tell you which NATO to buy. As I said, I own a ton of them, and they’re cheap enough that you can really experiment and try out plenty of different models for not a ton of cash. But if this isn’t you — if you’re a one watch, one strap-kind of guy — well, then maybe I am telling you which strap to buy.
It’s $11 well-spent, I promise.