A Guide To Buying NATO Straps
By: KC Ng

The progression of the NATO strap from obscure military tool to mainstream fashion item may seem rather strange to some, but it is hardly the first to make such a journey. Consider the ubiquitous modern flieger or dive watch, both originally tool watches designed for a specific purpose, now seen on the wrists of everyone from the boardroom to the beach.

In my opinion, the key attractive quality that these “tools” share is a functional aesthetic, which gives them a tough and rugged appearance. For the modern man stuck in an office all day, slapping one of these military-themed items on the wrist is the closest many can come to an adventure. At the very least, they hint that the wearer is always prepared for one.

To retell an oft told story, the NATO strap originated as a standard issue strap for the watches of British servicemen. They originally had to fill up a Ministry of Defence form known as the G1098, which is the origin of the other name of the NATO strap, the G10. The strap was designed with security in mind, with its pass through nature meaning the failure of a single spring bar (or the contemporary fixed bar) would not result in a catastrophic loss of the watch as it would still be secured by the remaining spring bar.

Given its rich history and practical design, it really is quite understandable why the NATO strap has become so popular among WIS and non-WIS alike. But with great demand comes overwhelming supply, and the sheer range of straps available on the market today doesn’t just span across colors and sizes, but even material, thickness, weave and hardware, not to mention price. You can find everything from cheap, scratchy $5 dollar straps to incredibly expensive, leather lined OEM options from the likes of Blancpain.

With the sheer variety of NATO straps on offer and a dearth of guides about them, I have laid out a non-exhaustive list of commonly available NATOs that I have personally had in my possession, along with the vendors I got them from with the price at the time of purchase, and some thoughts about the overall quality and feel of each one. These straps were all bought by me (as you will see, I have a real strap addiction) and I have tried to be as impartial and unbiased as is possible for something as opinion-driven as this.

Crown and Buckle Standard ($12)

Among the first NATO straps that I bought, these are pretty much the standard issue NATO straps that you can find from most vendors. The hardware is in polished stainless steel, secured with heat welds/seals. The standard weave is moderately stiff, and fit is standard for a NATO: comfortable. The lack of stitching also means there’s no risk of an errant thread sticking out and irritating the skin.


 
 

As a basic NATO, this strap does all of the essentials but nothing more. No premium dense weave, customized hardware, or stitches to be seen here. What you get is a plain NATO exactly the way it was meant to be: simple, rugged, and tough as nails. From their base of operations in Florida, Crown and Buckle provides a pretty decent selection of patterns and colors, enough to cover most basic requirements.

Crown and Buckle Premium ($15)

These are a small step up compared to their standard NATO, with a matching price hike. These have a tighter weave, stitching as opposed to heat welds, and slightly different hardware. Let’s go through these differences one by one. To start with, the weave is ever so slightly denser compared to their standard NATO. It is quite subtle, but the weave is definitely smoother to the touch. An unfortunate side effect is that it does make the strap just a little bit stiffer. Depending on your preferences, this either makes the strap feel more solid or less comfortable. This one is a personal call, but I lean towards the former. The stitching is done very well, with no sharp edges poking out. And it subjectively feels more secure as compared to a standard heat seal, although I would think that they are functionally similar and equally unlikely to fail. As for the hardware, they are essentially the same design as the standard NATO but offered in different finishes: polished and brushed steel, as well as PVD gold and black.

Overall, the strap is a nice upgrade over the basic version. The slightly smoother weave does improve comfort on the wrist, while the different hardware finishes on offer allow you to match your watch. The stealth look of an all black watch would be ruined if you wore it on a strap with polished hardware, so having the option for matching keepers opens up new strap options for your watch. Unfortunately, there are less color and pattern options available for the premium straps, presumably due to production costs, but the variety on offer is still enough to cover most basic needs.

ToxicNATOs ToxicShiznit ($28)

For NATO collectors, the nylon watch straps from this Colorado-based outfit need no introduction. Known for their beefy and heavily customized hardware, the ToxicShiznit seat belt NATO strap combines their signature hardware with a thick yet smooth herringbone weave fabric to produce a strap that is a significant step up in producing a “premium” NATO. The fabric here is what is popularly known as a “seatbelt” fabric, which ToxicNATO chooses to call a herringbone weave. Smooth to the touch, it is about as thick as the Omega OEM NATO at about 1.4mm. The relatively heavy fabric means a very secure fit for most watches, with minimal slippage even with vigorous movements. Their signature angled hardware also gives a very unique touch to the straps and is unlike any other strap on the market that I know of.

If there is one weakness, it would probably be the thickness. The relative thickness of the strap makes it likely to overwhelm smaller wrists and watches. But given that NATOs are meant to be worn on tool watches, the ToxicShiznit represents a good fit more often than not. For purists, the use of a removable pin buckle may also be a factor as an original NATO strap ideally comes with a sewed in buckle to reduce points of failure.

NATO Strap Co ($13.75)


 

The guys at NATO Strap Co. have probably one of the widest selections of NATOs around from their home base in New York. You can find practically any combination of size, color and hardware that you can imagine. The one I purchased from them is the original James Bond regimental strap in black/red/olive with brushed hardware. I also have a few other straps from them, and I have noticed that there is some variation from strap to strap, possibly as a result of getting them from different suppliers. The classic James Bond NATO that you see here has a dense weave and is stitched together. The overall feel and stiffness is quite close to that of the C&B premium straps. I also have an 18mm olive green NATO from them, but that strap is currently with a Hamilton that is in for a service so I did not have an opportunity to take photos of it. What I can tell you is that it is heat welded, with a weave closer to that of the basic NATO.

If you have an uncommon lug size, need different hardware finishes, or simply want a pattern that is not commonly available, NATO Strap Co. is a pretty good store to check out. With their wide selection of straps, including Zulus and RAF style straps, they’ll most probably have what you are looking for. But do keep an eye out for subtle variations between the straps before pulling the trigger, most of which are adequately described in the details given on their respective pages.

DialsAndStraps ($7.25)

D&S is a relatively newcomer to the scene. Based in Malaysia, they offer international shipping and have an expanding selection of straps. Their NATOs have a slightly looser weave with stitched joints and are available in various hardware finishes. One nice touch is their signature D&S etched onto the buckle of their straps. These guys offer an interesting selection of colors and patterns, including several that aren’t commonly found with other vendors. One example is the strap on show here: grey, white, and navy. This one comes from one of the older batches and thus doesn’t have the engraved logo that can be found on their newer straps. Most of their NATOs were originally offered in the common 20mm and 22mm sizes, but they are stocking an increasing number of 18mm and 24mm straps as well. Overall, D&S provides solid straps with a nice personalized touch, stock several cool color combinations, and offer the lowest prices among the vendors on this list.

WatchObsession #SpeedyTuesday Edition ($19 equivalent in GBP)

 

The latest strap in my collection comes from WatchObsession, a strap retailer based in the UK that is best known for their large collection of Hirsch straps. This particular NATO comes in a black and white regimental pattern reminiscent of the one released for the Omega Speedy Tuesday Limited Edition Speedmaster, with customized hardware to match. The main differences from their ordinary NATOs are the removable buckle and the #SpeedyTuesday engraving found on the strap keeper. All the hardware is brushed to match the Omega strap it is inspired by. Otherwise, the weave is the slightly looser weave of a standard NATO, with similar qualities in terms of softness and flexibility.


One small but distracting detail on this strap is the removable buckle and how the included tang does not seem to match it. The buckle itself has a small groove etched into it to house the tang, but the tang is much longer and does not fit into the groove at all, giving an overall impression that they came from two separate sets of hardware. It is a small detail and does not detract at all from the utility of the strap, but it can be a bit of an eyesore. The folks at WatchObsession are aware of this problem and have told me that they will get back to me when they find out more.


Check Out The TBWS Podcast

Wrist Watch Podcast