The Best Watch Straps For Summer — A Comprehensive Guide
Today, we’re talking about the best summer watch straps. I love spending time in the ocean, and I take my watches with me, so water resistance is something I keep in mind when wearing them. And in our recent series on GADA watches, it was clear that for many of my fellow editors and contributors, “go anywhere, do anything” (GADA) watches had to be water resistant to a degree. My GADA choice was the IWC Mark XV, a watch that I would call a modern classic. It’s also a watch with good water resistance and one I have taken swimming in the past.
This got me thinking though about straps. Why? Well, because a strap is as important as the watch in the wearing experience. Some might even say that a strap is the most important aspect of it. But as someone who regularly swims with his watches, researching waterproof or water-resistant options has been a bit of a personal journey and one that I’d like to share with you all today. So in the name of watch science, I have conducted an “empirical” experiment. I went swimming in the ocean with several different water-resistant strap options to report on the pros and cons of each for you here. Before you go any further, though, feel free to see what strap options you can find on the Fratello Shop.
Classic NATO straps
One of the unspoken advantages of wearing a NATO-style strap is you can adjust it very easily depending on your wrist size. It also seems that the nature of the way that the strap wraps around your wrist allows you to wear it more loosely without that annoying (well, annoying for me, at least) feeling of a dangly watch. Some people like wearing their watches loose, but I’m the opposite and enjoy a snug fit, particularly when I’m doing active things like swimming.
NATO straps also provide a safety mechanism when wearing them into the ocean for a swim or a surf. Since the strap threads through both of the watch’s spring bars, if one of them fails, the watch will still hang on to the other. This is a seriously useful trait. Another key feature of NATO straps is their relative affordability. You can find decent examples for around €5–10, so they are inexpensive options that you can experiment with. And since they tend to be quite long with a ton of adjustment holes, they are also easy to fit over something like a wetsuit.
One of the biggest disadvantages of a NATO strap, I find, is that the material stays wet for a while after ocean immersion. This can be uncomfortable as your skin dries much more quickly. For this reason, I usually don’t wear NATOs while swimming. Honestly, they’re not my first or even second choice when going into the sea.
Rubber NATO straps
A rubber NATO strap has all of the positives of a regular NATO with the added advantage that it is made of rubber. Therefore, in contrast to nylon webbing, it dries much faster than the fabric of a regular NATO strap. I recently acquired a Bonetto Cinturini 328 rubber NATO strap from Holben’s Fine Watch Bands in the United States and have taken it swimming and snorkeling to try out as research for this topic.
In short, the rubber NATO is good in theory but, for me, falls short in practice. Along with the upside of the rubber material comes a major downside for those of us with smaller wrists. On this strap, the watch floats much higher off the wrist than it does on a regular fabric NATO. Furthermore, the thickness of the material prevents folding the tongue of the strap back onto itself. While these rubber NATOs are excellently made, if you have smaller wrists, it may be difficult to pull them off. If you have wrists around 7″ (17.75cm) or larger, though, you should be fine.
Rubber two-piece straps
Now we get to the category that ties for first place in my book when it comes to regular ocean immersion — rubber two-piece straps. These have the advantage of a material that dries quickly and can look fantastic. But there are, frankly, an overwhelming array of options out there, so which should you choose?
My advice here is to go for genuine, quality rubber, not silicone, which seems to discolor very rapidly. Fratello stocks high-quality Tropic-style straps that are good for medium to larger size wrists. I like the Tropic aesthetic, but I prefer the clean look of the Hirsch Pure series, which comes in a short size for smaller-wristed folks. The Hirsch Pure, in short, is my most frequently worn ocean-going strap. It can even look almost formal in some situations, and I’ve often worn it to work without thinking twice. Go for the look and quality that suits your needs, and if you find the right strap, you will never look back. For me, the Hirsch Pure fits that bill. I just wish there were a short option without quick-release spring bars.
Stainless steel bracelets
Here we have the other top-ranking category in my “empirical study” of regular ocean swims with different straps. While bracelets are, technically speaking, not straps, sports watches often come with a bracelet option, so I had to include them. Now, this is a difficult category to judge because so much depends on the build quality of the metal bracelet. Nevertheless, a stainless steel bracelet is generally quite a good method of attaching a watch to your wrist for an ocean trip. Consider the strength of steel in comparison to a flimsier rubber option as well as the general aesthetic that should suit any situation. Also, take into account the practical benefits of a material that can be dried in an instant with a towel.
The cons can be unexpected, though. Here in Australia, the Sun can feel pretty hot. Steel can heat up to an uncomfortable degree here on the wrist if you’re out in the sunshine for too long. Another issue is micro-adjustment, so much can depend on the quality of the clasp and whether the fit is appropriate for a wrist that fluctuates in size as the temperature changes. But on my Tudor Black Bay 58, the steel bracelet is my most worn option for diving and swimming.
A recent journey for me has been experimenting with sailcloth-style straps. I’ve tried the Artem sailcloth strap, which I bought from the company here in Adelaide, Australia, and I have taken it swimming on my Doxa Sub 600T Pacific (pictured here). It’s quite a handsome-looking strap. It doesn’t quite have the slenderness of the thinner rubber options out there, so it sits in third place on my list, but it’s a strap style that I’m warming to. I expect it will get more wrist time as I get more opportunities to take it swimming.
Final thoughts on the best watch straps for summer
There you have it! If I were to rank my findings in order of preference, the list would be:
Tied first/second place: Two-piece rubber straps and steel bracelets (but only the high-quality kind)
Third place: Sailcloth straps
Fourth place (for smaller wrists): NATO straps
Fifth place (for smaller wrists): Rubber NATO straps
You could swap the fourth and fifth options around if you have wrists 7″ (17.75cm) in circumference or larger.
A strap is a critical factor in how we feel about a watch on the wrist. When you get in the ocean or the pool, you want something that won’t take long to dry and will look just as good out of the water as in it.
As a slimmer-wristed watch wearer, I would be interested to hear about some of the options you all wear when heading to the sea for a swim or some other aquatic activity. In your opinion, what are the best watch straps for summer? Do you agree with my impressions? Let me know in the comments.