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Published Jun 7, 2022 9:37 AM

NATO straps are gloriously simple. Compared to a traditional two-piece watch band, the military-theme strap is a single piece of fabric that slips through both spring bars of the watch. It’s easy to add or remove and doesn’t require any tools. For many, the simple nylon strap is appealing because it’s comfortable, inexpensive, and offers a very casual look. 

And, yes, NATO watch straps have a legitimate military heritage dating back to the 1970s. Originally, the design was popularized by British troops who preferred it because it was cheap, easy to clean, and held up well against water. Across the pond, they called it a “G10” strap, but it was also given a National Stock Number, which is standardized for member countries in the North Atlantic Trade Organization. Thus, in common parlance, it is called a NATO strap.    

However, not all NATO straps are created equal. The best NATO straps stand out because they use better construction materials, design features, and more appealing aesthetics. With that in mind, here are some of the best NATO straps to fit any need and which look as at home on a G-Shock as they do on a Rolex.

How we tested

NATO straps are probably my favorite style of strap for wear with utility watches. I’ve worn NATO straps of all types, probably totaling around 10 to 12 purchases by this point, a lot of which I’ve given away as gifts to various friends, along with some watches. Because of this affinity, I’ve also developed an eye for what makes a good NATO strap, and I’ve spent countless hours researching who makes the best NATO strap. 

Using NATO straps, I’ve worn an Islander Field watch, an Orient Star Outdoor, an Orient M-Force, Islander ISL-22 Dive watch, Hamilton Khaki, Casio G-Shock, Sea-Gull Ocean Star, Nixon Regulus Mk1, and Seiko SNJ-025 “Arnie” among several others. These various styles, sizes, and shapes of these watches have informed my choices here today, and were tested based on their comfort, cost, variety of colors, and variety of sizes. All of these are watch straps that I have personally owned and would recommend in a heartbeat.

I love the Casio G-Shock, to the point where I wrote an entire article about how much I love it. I also know my audience, which is a lot of military and veterans who probably also own a Casio G-Shock, since it’s the unofficial watch of the War on Terror. However, the biggest complaint that I have about the G-Shock is the crummy resin strap that so many of them come with. After a week or two in the field, I’ll have a disgusting heat rash on my wrist because sweat can’t escape. A quality NATO strap solves the problem because it prevents the caseback of the watch touching your wrist.

The stock resin strap on the Casio G-Shock is probably the biggest limitation of the watch, given that it’s distinctly uncomfortable, inflexible, and rash-inducing. Adding a NATO strap is essential to prevent this, and allows you to simply remove the strap and throw it in the wash after a long field exercise. The adapter is essential because the stock G-Shock lug width is a puny 16mm, which means that most straps won’t fit, especially not durable utility straps. Thankfully, the adapters themselves are durable, made of steel, and include spring bars, so you have minimal set up issues. The best part here is that the included NATO strap is a solid 22mm strap on its own, so you can swap it onto other watches, or swap other straps onto your G-Shock.

The biggest issues with NATO strap adapters is that the Casio G-Shock is clearly not designed to use NATO straps, and any adapter is going to cause extra bulk and fitment issues. In addition, the adapter only fits certain watches, which do include most of the popular G-Shocks on the market, but it pays to make sure. Casio G-Shocks are not known for being especially small watches, and adding a NATO strap underneath adds to vertical bulk by a few millimeters. Additionally, the adapters also add lateral bulk, extending the lug width to a whopping 52mm, which is insane, and makes the watch borderline unwearable for people of slighter build. Finally, the adapters aren’t a perfect fit for even the watches that they’re designed for, and exhibit some play.

Odds are, this will be the most applicable NATO strap on this list for most of my readers, and this is a massive quality of life improvement for any G-Shock owner. It’s not a perfect fit, and it might not work for everyone who wears a G-Shock, but for my money, it’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made for my field watch.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Black or silver hardware; no limit on strap colors
  • Sizes: 22mm
  • Material: Seatbelt weave nylon
PROS

The perfect fix for a G-Shock

Comfort improvement

Allows you to swap other types of straps on as well

CONS

Only works with certain G-Shocks

Makes the watch much larger

Adapter isn’t a perfect fit

It’s a NATO strap. What more do you want? The Barton Ballistic Nylon NATO strap is a very complex name for what is basically the quintessential NATO strap. There’s nothing unusual about this strap — it’s just a pass-through strip of nylon in many different colors, ranging from utilitarian to sporty, and that’s basically it. Honestly, that’s all a NATO strap has to be, and that’s why Barton is one of the more popular brands for NATO straps. Best of all, the price is most definitely right.

Sometimes, one of the best options for the job is also the cheapest, like with how Swedish swimming goggles are some of the most popular options with hardcore swimmers, despite costing a fraction of the price of more expensive options. The Barton NATO straps just do their job, no matter what watch you have. You can put a Timex on one, or a Rolex. An Armitron, or an Audemars Piguet, and it’ll look like the same fun choice. You can throw a green NATO strap on for wear in cammies, and then swap to a red, white, and blue strap for the weekend, and it changes the entire character of the watch, and Barton offers something for everyone. The beauty that’s inherent to NATO straps is their military heritage. These aren’t expensive straps made of premium leather. They’re straps that are made to be worn in combat, so they’re delightfully simple, and most importantly, affordable.

Unfortunately, due to the utilitarian nature of this particular variety of NATO strap, it’s not going to be anything particularly luxurious. Fancier NATO straps will feature things like laser cut edges and holes, heavy duty buckles and eyelets, and complex fabric weaves. This is not the case with these bone-stock Barton straps. Another side effect of this, especially on the subject of different fabric weaves, is that the “ballistic nylon” fabric isn’t as comfortable as ribbed straps or straps with more complex and flexible fabric compositions. Finally, and this is mostly an issue with all NATO straps, this strap will make any watch wear taller, due to having two layers of fabric behind your watch caseback. This can be a massive negative if you’re wearing an especially thick watch, like when I tried to put my Seiko Arnie on a NATO strap.

This is a NATO strap. There’s very little else of note about it, and there doesn’t have to be for this to be the perfect embodiment of what a NATO strap should be. It’s a simple strap for a simple task, and Barton holds the budget end of the market down.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Black or silver hardware; no limit on strap colors
  • Sizes: 22mm
  • Material: Seatbelt weave nylon
PROS

A simple but effective watch strap

Available in a wide array of colors and sizes

Affordable

CONS

Edges aren’t finished as well as some others

Not as comfortable as more premium options

Makes watch fit taller

Arguably, “premium” and “military tool watch strap” don’t really belong in the same sentence, but here we are with a premium military tool watch strap. This one comes from British strap manufacturer The Strap Tailor and features a woven ribbed texture that helps the watch be more breathable and more comfortable, as well as better-looking. The interesting thing about this particular strap is that it’s not even technically a NATO strap, but rather a “Zulu” strap, which apparently just refers to the fact that it has improved hardware, which it does. Because of this, consider this my recommendation for our best Zulu strap as well.

The biggest advantage of shelling out for a strap like this is the sheer comfort that the heavier textured nylon brings. Rather than padding the strap or making it of more fragile materials, this strap retains the ease of use of a traditional NATO with something a bit…more. The other advantage to this strap is that the heavier weave makes it more resistant to tearing and fraying, and the improved Zulu buckle hardware makes it more secure and less prone to bending or breaking. This attention to detail means that these straps are truly a step above the other options on this list or even on the market, and you’re getting something special.

The $28 MSRP is pretty steep for what amounts to a spicy NATO strap, and that’s just the beginning. The Strap Tailor is a British company, and shipping from the U.K. to the U.S. is appropriately expensive, so that will further inflate the price. Another limitation is that this isn’t exactly the strap choice for people who prefer zany colors or patterns, with most of them being fairly conservative, and their wildest pattern being two stripes that run the length of the strap. This limitation extends to the hardware as well, because you can have it in any color that you like, as long as it’s silver, which limits military use, since there’s no option for subdued PVD black or anything else.

This is the pinnacle of NATO strap luxury, and it’s appropriately priced. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s seriously nice, and is a great choice for people who want something that brings a touch of class to their casual watch ensemble.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Silver hardware; black, gray, green, tan, red, yellow, blue, and striped straps
  • Sizes: 20 and 22mm
  • Material: Ribbed nylon
PROS

Extremely comfortable

Durable

A cut above other options

CONS

Costly to ship from the U.K.

Limited hardware colors

Limited colors

When I was looking for the best NATO watch strap on the market, I was looking for something that was super tactical, and I found it. One of my core requirements was that it have PVD coated black hardware in a matte finish to maintain a generally military character and avoid reflecting light, and that it come in a “tactical” color. Crown and Buckle delivered in spades.

The finishing on this strap is definitely supreme, with stitched strap leads, immaculately machined strap hardware, and even, perfectly smooth finishing on the metal parts. This adds to the feeling that you’ve purchased a premium strap, and justifies the price tag. The PVD coating is non-reflective, meaning that this will not only prevent undue light reflection, but also stand up well against scratches and dings. Finally, if you’re one of those people who have a watch with an unusual lug width like 19 or 21mm, Crown and Buckle has you, since it offers all these straps in those widths.

The issue is that while it offers unusual strap widths, it doesn’t offer much in the way of strap length variations, since the only size these things seem to come in is “super long.” While I know how to tuck my strap back into the keepers to fix the loose end, I’m also using the third from the tightest setting on the strap on my seven-inch wrist, and while you could theoretically poke more holes in the strap to make it tighter, it won’t be the same as the stock laser-cut ones. This is definitely not a strap for slimmer men or women. Another limitation is that this strap is pretty expensive compared to other options that are made of a simple nylon weave, priced similarly to our Editor’s Choice option, which had more ornate fabric and hardware. Finally, the strap is a little stiff from the factory, which is odd considering that it’s simple nylon, rather than being leather-lined or anything similar.

This is a cool, distinctly tactical strap, and it fits the military character of the watches I wear, particularly my G-Shock. And from a fashion perspective, the coyote brown that I got mine in complements the faded yellow accents of the lettering on the watch, so there’s that.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Coyote brown, black, green, gray, blue, blonde, and various stripes with silver, PVD gold, or PVD black hardware
  • Sizes: 19, 20, 21, and 22mm
  • Material: Ribbed nylon
PROS

Immaculate finishing

Matte black PVD coated hardware option

Unusual lug width options

CONS

Long strap doesn’t fit small wrists well

Pricey for simple nylon weave

Stiff from the factory

Our verdict on NATO straps

Not all NATO straps are created equal, and our picks today are the best in their class for a variety of reasons. The Barton G-Shock adapter kit is probably the best for our readers since we assume at least most of you own a Casio G-Shock, and this is the perfect way to prevent the wrist rash that comes with most of them. Barton also comes in clutch with their simple ballistic nylon NATO strap, no matter your tastes, for a great price. The Strap Tailor was the company that best achieved the “luxury NATO strap” that we could find, barring ridiculously expensive limited edition brands, and so we picked its ribbed nylon strap as something that takes the concept of the NATO watch strap and elevates it successfully.

What to consider when buying NATO straps

When buying NATO straps, it can be quite complicated in spite of the fact that these are relatively simple watch straps. There are multiple types of straps, different features, and factors that affect things like cost and wearability. In addition, there’s a right and wrong way to wear a NATO strap, further complicating matters.

Types of NATO straps

Single-pass

A single-pass NATO strap is a much older style of strap. It’s a simple single strip of cloth with a buckle on one side and eyelets on the other. The advantage is that they’re incredibly slim, so they won’t make your watch feel bulky, but the disadvantage is that because it’s a single strap, the watch will slide along the band. 

Dual-pass

A dual-pass strap fits like a single-pass version except the watch fits on a second strap attached to the main strap, so it won’t slide around the band. The inherent advantage is stability, but the disadvantage is the two layers of cloth make the watch noticeably taller. 

Two-piece

A two-piece NATO strap isn’t a NATO strap at all. While they have similar characteristics to NATO straps like nylon fabric, they’re just traditional watch straps, so each piece attaches to one end of the watch, which means you’ll probably need spring bar tools. 

Zulu

A Zulu strap functions like a NATO strap but uses different hardware. Instead of thinner, rectangular hardware, a Zulu strap uses hardware that’s thicker and rounder. It’s a more durable and interesting-looking NATO strap. The only downside to these is that the large hardware can be an annoyance for some, and they often cost more.

Pricing for NATO straps 

Because of their simplicity, NATO straps are fairly inexpensive. The price of the strap is usually determined by the material, so a NATO strap made from low-quality materials will cost less than one made from premium materials. On average, you can find a good-quality NATO strap like the ones listed in this article priced at around $25. However, they rarely cost more than $35. 

Tips and tricks

As with something you do for years, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and NATO Straps. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • The strap will almost always have excess length left at the end. Tuck this back into the keepers on the side of the strap.
  • The long part of the NATO strap goes through the lugs, and then it’s woven through the keeper of the secondary strap on the other side, not before.
  • Make sure you match the lug width of your straps to your watch, otherwise you can have issues with stability or be unable to fit the straps through.

FAQs about NATO straps

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: How do I install a NATO strap on my Rolex?

A: To install a NATO strap on a Rolex (or any watch with spring bars) you use a spring bar tool to remove the existing strap or bracelet, reinstall the spring bars without a strap, and then weave the NATO strap through those spring bars.

Q: Who makes the best Bond NATO strap?

A: My favorite Bond-style NATO strap comes from WatchGecko, given that it offers a wide variety of sizes and hardware finishes. Fun fact: James Bond didn’t wear a true NATO strap in ‘Dr. No’ like many people think he did. NATOs hadn’t been invented yet.

Q: How good are Omega NATO straps?

A: You can be sure the finishing and comfort on these will be immaculate, but I personally think $300-plus is a bit steep for steel and nylon in any combination.

Q: Are leather NATO straps good?

A: To me, leather NATO straps ruin the point of a NATO strap, given that one of my favorite characteristics of them is that I can just take them off and throw them in the wash. Additionally, leather needs to be thicker to stand up to hard use, so some watches may have fitment issues. However, they’re a neat way to shake things up and look somewhat dressier without having to break out the spring bar tool again to swap to traditional two-piece leather straps.

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