NATO watch bands inspire a love-hate relationship amongst watch enthusiasts. There is no middle ground. Some despise these nylon creations simply for their cheapness, especially when worn on, dare I say it a Rolex or Omega, while others appreciate all they have to offer.
Me? I love them!
If a watch has standard lugs I’ll retrofit one as soon a possible. Why? Because they are so versatile. They can be changed in a few seconds – giving an old watch a new look. They are very comfortable, lightweight and fit smaller wrists better than most standard bracelets or resin (but, I appreciate this is not always the case). They are impervious to saltwater and can be freshened up in the washing machine. Lets face it they look militarily cool on any tool watch!
The NATO strap design is about as secure as it gets. The band is composed of two parts. The strap with buckle (plus 2 rings) and an additional shorter nylon flap (beneath) which terminates in a stainless steel retaining ring. Fitting a NATO is easy. For example, with OEM strap removed and spring bars refitted, the main part of the strap is simply threaded through the spring bars (12 o’clock to 6 o’clock). The additional “flap” section gets threaded through the third ring (from above) to hold and secure the watch head in place. Should a springbar fail the watch will remain attached to the strap unlike a conventional two piece arrangement where it’d simply fall off your wrist!
How to fit a NATO watch band
The majority of NATO bands are unbranded – cheap imports. I have a few and they are absolutely fine. But when it comes to overall quality, serious consideration should be given to Maratac.
Maratac is a popular brand in the United States and encompasses a range of military inspired utility equipment, like flashlights and tactical bags, but for me they equate to watch straps!
Maratac manufactures a number of different watch straps including: Zulu, EXTREME, Elite, S-Series, Nitrox, Mil Series, plus the NATO version which we are looking at today.
The NATO watch strap line comes in 5 colours: Black, Olive Drab (green), ACU (gray/grey), Orange and Desert Tan and three standard lug widths 18mm, 20mm and 22mm.
I have quite a few 20mm lug size watches so I ordered one of each colour from:
Incidentally, this company ships outside the USA, which is handy as Maratac products are hard to source in the UK/Europe. Casio G-Shock adaptors are also available from this store, so that NATO style bands can be utilised on Casio’s non standard lug watches.
Compared side by side with a non branded NATO, there is a significant difference in feel. The Maratac band is much thicker and the fabric more tightly weaved. The band edges, which fray quite rapidly on cheaper versions, is more consistent and thus unlikely to look tatty as quickly.
Quick tip for all NATO style straps. Run a disposable lighter rapidly over any frayed areas to instantly melt them – quickly though – you don’t want to burn your strap!
I found the ballistic nylon soft to the touch, but quite rigid in form until worn a few times. It takes a day or two to break the band in (so to speak), but after that it is even more comfortable – you honestly can’t tell you are wearing it. There is a degree of stretch, but nothing significant – in as much as it won’t loosen after a few weeks wear.
The Maratac NATO is a 3 loop design, plus buckle (not to be confused with the Zulu version which has 4 rings, plus buckle making 5 in total), and all the hardware is non reflective brushed stainless steel. The buckle is laser engraved with the Maratac logo. The keepers (or loops) are stitched in place as opposed ultrasonically welded, however the “flap” ring is stitched and welded. All very solid and secure, military spec.
Total strap length is 30cm (12 inches) and there are 16 closely spaced ultrasonically welded adjustment holes to accommodate the smallest and largest wrist sizes (or for use over clothing or a wet suit if need be). Minimum wrist size is 15cm (6 inches) and the maximum opening is 24cm (9 1/2 inches). All sizes are approximate. When placed on the wrist, and adjusted to fit, the excess strap should be pushed through the keepers – there are a couple of ways to do this – over and under or reversed and inside (if that makes sense?!). Wrist size will determine how much excess strap there is.
The distance between the second and third rings (the space where the watch sits), is approx 65mm (the original MoD G10 requirement is 60mm), though the actual fitting distance is more like 55mm. In other words, this strap will take most watch head sizes (watch measured vertically, lug to lug) as long as it doesn’t exceed 60mm (which is absolutely huge).
Because there are two layers of nylon beneath the watch additional height is added. Again it will depend on the depth of the watch. Slimmer watches are less effected, obviously. Personally, I don’t find this problematic just worth mentioning. A major benefit to this arrangement is it’s more comfortable to wear in hot weather than steel or resin is.
As I purchased all 5 colours I can make a fair and honest judgement on quality control. I can confirm that each band was consistently produced and there was little if any variation between them. Fit and finish, all but identical.
I’ve been using them for quite some time now and can highly recommend them for their superior quality, durability and looks. Pretty much indestructible.
Footnote: I will delve a bit deeper into the NATO watch strap history in an upcoming review, when I’ll be looking at the genuine G10 strap as supplied by Phoenix, UK, to the MoD. Stay tuned for that one! Review here.