7 minutes

The Top 5 Watches for Mountain Climbers: Swiss Timepieces That Will Take You to the Top

By Barbara Korp

Have you ever heard the mountains crying out to you? Then you know that absolutely nobody can resist the urge to respond. And those who truly love to adventure outdoors never set off without the right plan. Like with any sport, equipment matters too, and we’re not talking here about just shoes and clothing. You also need a reliable watch that can withstand the demands of mountainous terrain and high altitudes. You have to plan your ascent and descent precisely, coordinating complex expeditions down to the last detail with your team members. Timing is everything here, and sometimes the right watch can make all the difference.

So what exactly does the right watch look like that you’ll be taking on your mountaineering adventures? It will have to absorb scrapes along rocky surfaces, have good water resistance, and stand up to low temperatures and rough weather – anything and everything are possible. This watch also needs to perform reliably and have great legibility. Good thing, the land of great watchmaking is also the land of beautiful mountains. Swiss brands have a variety of models that are more than up to the task of accompanying you on your next trek into the mountains. Set off on a hike with me today into the world’s alpine regions. Who knows? Maybe one of these Top 5 mountain climbing watches will be on your wrist during your next trek.

The Pinnacle of Mountain Watches: Rolex Explorer

The undisputed number one watch for those adventurers storming the summit is of course the Rolex Explorer. Even though it’s typically known as the watch that was on the wrist of the first person to reach the top of Mount Everest, that hardly comes close to telling the entire story. In the 1930s, Rolex was equipping all kinds of expedition teams exploring the Himalayas and other regions. Based on these experiences that put their timepieces to the test of extreme conditions, Rolex was able to continually improve their watches. Rolex outfitted the expedition team of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay that reached the top of Mount Everest in 1953, the same year the Rolex Explorer was released – the timepiece that would go on to be the ultimate watch for adventurers, thanks to Rolex’s decades-long development.

You might easily mistake today’s Explorer model with the original: a black dial, Arabic numerals at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, and a large inverted triangle at 12, with luminescent indices. To be sure, Rolex no longer uses radioactive material for this, and the caliber has also been updated. The Explorer’s water resistance and robust stainless steel impress just as much now as they did with the original model. And at 36 mm, this watch is a great size for literally anyone out to experience their next adventure.

The ultimate watch for adventurers – the Rolex Explorer

Continuing Success: The Rolex Explorer II

You read that right: another Explorer. This model is getting its own mention not just because of its one-of-a-kind design, but also because it was worn by adventurers on some of the major expeditions of modern times. It adorned the wrist of Ed Viesturs as he ascended all the world’s eight-thousander mountain peaks (without the use of supplemental oxygen, by the way), and was at his side to help manage his expeditions – letting him know how much time he had until sundown, or the best time of day to use or preserve life-saving energy and oxygen.

Rune Gjeldnes, who traversed Greenland, the Arctic, and Antarctic, had a Rolex Explorer II on his wrist. Time becomes relative in the so-called “eternal ice,” meaning you need a reliable watch there that helps get you through your day. The Rolex Explorer II has a date and 24-hour feature, optimally letting you know when to trek and when to rest; and when it’s time to set up your tent at the next camp. These are truly great things to have under these kinds of harsh conditions, when even the best of the best might need a hand keeping track of the time and date.

The Explorer II’s outstanding legibility, tried-and-true Oysterlock folding clasp, and robust build quality make it the perfect watch, whether you’re climbing the side of a mountain, or playing with your kids in the yard. It’s the watch to have on your wrist for more reserved occasions as well. Its orange 24-hour hand and 24-hour bezel scale are stylish touches that are sure to turn a head or two. I personally think the Explorer II looks its very best with a scratch or two on it. When you think of it, isn’t that the perfect look for a timepiece created for adventurers? Let your Explorer II get banged up a little, and leave traces of your past expeditions as you experience life to the fullest.

Rolex Explorer II – chapter two of your success story

The Sustainable Mountain Watch: Norqain Independence Wild ONE

You just knew that Norqain would have to be on this list. You after all can see mountains in the logo of this relatively new Swiss brand, and its founders love the Swiss mountains. They know exactly what a mountain watch requires – as evidenced by the Norqain Independence Wild ONE. Perhaps the timepiece’s most impressive quality is its light weight, made possible through the manufacturer’s own groundbreaking material Norteq: three and a half times lighter than titanium, anti-magnetic, and corrosion-free. Everyone who loves the nature – and most mountain climbers do – wants to preserve it. That’s why the material left over from Norquain’s production process is 100% recycled. The company’s passion for adventure, after all, is matched by its concern for the sustainable use of resources. Norquain’s watches are produced in accordance with a CO₂-neutral certification, and their straps are certified vegan.

Mountain bikers will love this watch as well. Its integrated shock absorber gets you through even the wildest of rides. The three-layer, laser-cut dial is perhaps the most eye-catching aspect of this watch, featuring a mandala-like pattern reminiscent of mountains and snowflakes. The 9 o’clock side of the case has a plate allowing you to engrave e.g. your top performance achievements, or best times, or both, and thus make this timepiece truly your own. Individualists, extreme athletes, people with a passion for the environment, and really any adventurers are going to want to experience this remarkable watch.

For adventurers and nature lovers alike: Norqain Independence Wild ONE

The Second Watch for Anything and Anyone: Swatch Unisex GE712

The Swatch Unisex GE712 stands in for almost all of this brand’s timepieces, even if most watch lovers have a Swatch “only” as their backup. This is the watch they strap on any time they leave the watch at home, like when they set out on their next hike. Now, I’m not saying you should wear a Swatch the next time you tackle an eight-thousander mountain peak. But if we’re honest, we’re more the Sunday walk types than extreme athletes. Although our watches might get the occasional scrape from a tree branch as we pass by, we don’t need to check how much oxygen we have left for our descent. What we do need is a reliable at-a-glance watch that saves us the hassle of having to get a smartphone out of our backpack or back pocket.

It’s of course a good idea to leave your expensive luxury watch at home. The great thing about the Swatch you’re wearing in its stead is that most of these are thin enough to not get caught on anything, water-resistant enough for the outdoors, and affordable enough that, even if you lose them, or they get damaged, you won’t be left out on the street. Swatches are also reliable and comfortable. Whether you opt for a plain-colored model, or one that pulls out all the design stops, a Swatch is a high-quality quartz watch that does its job very well. It’s a timepiece you can wear for the occasions and events when you want to leave your other, more expensive watches at home.

For Aficionados: Montblanc 1858 Geosphere

Montblanc is world-famous for luxury pens and pencils. So when the brand began making watches in 1997, it was clear they were going to have to do this with the same level of excellence. Today, Montblanc manufactures a number of first-class watches and a wide selection of models. And a Swiss company with a mountain in their name? That should make pretty clear what the alpine world means to this manufacturer, which is why it comes as no surprise that their catalog includes watches dedicated to mountain climbing and hiking. One of these is the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere, which pairs tradition with the spirit of adventure.

A watch for climbing to the summit of a mountain? Well, not exactly. Even if it’s technologically capable of doing so, the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere is simply too elegant for outdoor adventures. It is however the perfect watch for people who love everything alpine, with this special edition dedicated to lovers of everything vintage. This is manifest first and foremost in its wide leather strap. Combined with a bronze case, which over the course of time takes on a unique patina, its look recalls the bygone years of early mountain climbers. Like the other models in this series, the watch displays the Northern Hemisphere at 12 o’clock and the Southern Hemisphere at 6 o’clock, with the Seven Summits marked in red. This timepiece lets its wearer dream of the adventures of yesteryear, or even better, the ones to come.

Montblanc 1858 Geosphere Limited Edition – Perfect for aficionados

About the Author

Barbara Korp

The moment I learned that watches were a lot more than just simple jewelry, I was hooked; I become enamored with the elegance of timekeeping. But there was one small hitch: most models were just too big for me to wear! That didn't discourage me, however. In fact, I developed quite a niche interest.

Read more

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