Having a watch when you’re in the wild can be a great asset. Being able to tell the time is useful for more than just seeing how long you have until the next Survivor episode.
Maybe you need to coordinate scouting missions with your group or maybe you need to time how long you’ve boiled your water to make sure it’s safe to drink.
A watch is a part of most people’s every day carry (EDC) whether they are aware of it or not. It should also be part of your bug out bag gear.
But what other uses can a watch have in a survival situation?
More than you think, actually.
Depending on what you’ve got on your wrist right now, whether you’ve got a fancy tactical watch with all sorts of sensors and doohickeys or just a plain old Casio that only tells the time, I am going to cover a few uses for a watch that you might not have thought of in this article.
A Few Notes Worth Mentioning
A lot of these suggestions will depend on what situation you’re in. Consider these questions:
- Is the watch still working?
- Is it digital or analog?
- What kind of band does it have?
- Is the crystal (glass) convex or flat?
- Does it have sensors or other features (altimeter, barometer, compass, thermometer, sunrise/sunset times, etc)?
This trick will only work with watches with a convex crystal.
Take a piece of paper or perhaps a long leaf and roll the watch crystal into one end making a cone shape. Look through the small end.
Because the crystal is convex on one side, it will magnify objects at a distance making it easier to scout areas, saving you time and energy (and keeping you safer).
A priority for your survival gear is to have a great compass on you at all times. Sometimes, we forget, lose, or break our compass which can get us into trouble.
Checking the position of the sun or looking for which side of the tree moss is growing on (this is a myth by the way) aren’t terribly efficient ways of determining direction.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to know which way is which, you can use your watch as a compass to get a fairly accurate reading.
*This only works with analog watches in the Northern hemisphere during the daytime*
- Hold the watch flat.
- Point the hour hand toward the sun.
- Bisect the angle (find the middle) between the hour hand and the 12 mark.
You have just found South. Now that you know one direction (not the boy band One Direction), you can easily deduce the rest.
For you guys (and ladies) rocking a leather band, you can use it as a strap to sharpen your knife.
If you’ve ever seen an old school barber sharpening his straight razor, you know what I mean. If not, check out this video:
Here’s how to do it (remember to use proper knife safety):
- Clean any gunk, dirt, or residue off the strap.
- Secure the end still attached to the watch so it won’t move.
- Hold the strap at a downward 45 degree angle from the secured end.
- Place your knife at the top of the strap with the sharp edge pointed away from you at about a 30 degree angle.
- Pull the blade toward you in a smooth, quick motion while applying light pressure.
- Turn the knife over (with the sharp edge pointing toward you) and pull it back toward the secured end.
- Repeat until sharp.
Remember, unlike when you sharpen a knife on a whetstone, you should lead with the spine of the blade, not the edge.
Most watches have a stainless steel backplate. With a minimal amount of polishing, this can be used as a signal mirror.
It won’t be perfect and you may have a difficult time focusing it but it does work.
Here's a video refresher on how to use a signal mirror:
Whether your watch crystal is convex or not, you can use it to focus sunlight onto tinder, starting a fire.
This will involve taking the watch apart but if you’ve got no other options, it can be very effective.
Basically, you just need to hold the lens at an angle until the light is focused into a small area on your tinder. Keep it there until you see smoke and then fan the ember until you have fire.
If your watch is broken or if food is more important than telling time, you can dismantle the timepiece and use the shiny metal innards as spinners for fishing.
Here is a good tutorial:
Obviously your watch parts won’t be as big as the ones used in the video but any shiny piece you can add to your line will help attract bites as well as give you a little bit of weight that will act as an impromptu sinker.
If your watch is still working, you can use it to determine distance traveled.
If you know your average speed and how long you’ve been walking, you can easily calculate how far you’ve gone by multiplying them together (you may need to take off your shoes to do all this math).
For example, if you know that the average walking speed for most people is 3.1 miles per hour and you’ve been walking for an hour, you can determine that you’ve gone 3.1 miles. That one was easy.
If you’ve been walking for 8 hours at that pace, you’ve covered almost 25 miles (3.1 x 8 = 24.8 to be exact).
If you need to use the innards of your watch but are worried about keeping time, you can turn your watch face into a sundial.
This one takes a little bit of knowledge. You’ll need to know your approximate longitude within your time zone and which direction is North.
- Bend the minute hand up to a 45 degree angle at the 6:00 mark.
- Now point the 12:00 mark towards North.
- Hold the watch flat
- See where the shadow from the minute hand lies on the watch face. That is your “starting time”.
- Then do this math: Count the number of degrees of longitude you live from the center of your time zone. Then for each degree you counted, if you live west of the center, add 4 minutes and if you live east of the center, subtract 4 minutes from the sundial reading starting time.
Even if you don’t know your exact longitude, you can get a pretty accurate approximation of the time.
So there you have it, 8 handy dandy life saving uses for a wristwatch:
- Knife Sharpener
- Signal Mirror
- Fire Starter
- Fishing Spinners
- Distance Calculator
I hope you learned some new uses for your watch in this article.
About the Author
Evan Michaels is the Chief Editor and Big Cheese at Know Prepare Survive. He enjoys hiking, learning new skills, and playing with sharp objects. When he’s not harassing his wife and kids about odd uses for household items, he likes to write about prepping and survival. Don’t forget to check out his Ultimate Bug Out Bag checklist over at Know Prepare Survive!