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. Check them out.
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. Check them out.
Ute Watch Co. Shiznit ($28) (Formerly ToxicNATOs)
For NATO collectors, the nylon watch straps from this Colorado-based outfit need no introduction. Known for their beefy and heavily customized hardware, the Shiznit 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 Ute Watch Co. 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. Check them out.
NATO Strap Co ($13.75)
The team 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. See what’s available.
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 #SpeedyTuesday strap.
WatchGecko Prototype Striped Edge ($20)
While the prior entries represent the most common form of NATO with minimal variations, this WatchGecko Prototype strap from the eponymous England-based company represents the first strap with a significantly different type of fabric. The weave here is significantly tighter and smoother, almost silky to the touch. It is also the thinnest of all the NATOs in this guide, at only 1mm thick.
This particular strap comes with a colored edge, available in grey as seen here, as well as orange, blue and red. The hardware used is stitched in place and is similar to the standard NATO hardware, available in either a matte or polished finish.
The material used here makes it the softest and most pliable strap among my entire collection of NATO straps, but this is a double edged sword. Used with lighter and thinner watches, the strap is very comfortable to the point where you might forget you have a watch on at all.
But when used with a heavier watch the material is just a little too smooth and too pliable to keep the watch head in place, leading to a tendency for the watch to slip around the wrist. This is simply my personal experience, of course, and your mileage may vary, but it is something to keep in mind prior to purchase.
Another thing to note is that I purchased the strap while it was in its initial prototype stage. The model is currently available as a standard production run. The full production version may have changes that would not be reflected in this review. See what they got in stock.
A German based online retailer, the NATOs on offer from the folks at WatchBandits are something of a blend between the premium and standard C&B NATOs. They have the tight weave and stitched joints of the premium straps, but are limited to polished hardware only. They do offer a slightly personalized touch, however, as the company name is engraved onto one of the metal keepers.
The strap is also slightly thinner, although this has a rather large effect on making the strap softer and more pliable. Overall, if you prefer a softer strap and can live with polished hardware, these are a pretty good option. Selection is a little more limited compared to other stores though, with less color options on offer.
Note: this review is relevant to the straps that I bought from them a few months ago. The latest straps on offer seem to have heat sealed edges according to the photos on their website, so I can’t comment on them (or at least not yet!). Check them out.
The Phenomenato started life on the WatchUSeek forums, as the Hungary-based founder was searching for a strap with qualities similar to that of the Omega OEM, but at a cheaper price. Finding no clear cut options, he opted to produce a run of his own straps while getting opinions from fellow strap addicts on the forums. I personally followed his journey from idea to execution and was one of the first people to place an order.
Fabric wise, the Phenomenato finds itself placed between the WatchGecko and ToxicShiznit at approximately 1.2mm thick. The fabric has a similarly tight weave, but with a less glossy finish compared to the others. While still smooth to the touch, the matte finish makes it feel comparatively grippier.
The hardware is also custom made, rectangular with sharp corners and a floating second keeper, making it very similar to the Omega OEM. One major difference is the buckle, which is a custom-made sewed in buckle somewhat similar to a thumbnail buckle.
Overall, this is one of my favorite aftermarket NATOs. The fabric is an ideal blend of smoothness and grip and the moderate thickness allows it to pair well with nearly any watch in my collection. The hardware feels very premium, although I’m not a big fan of the buckle which feels a little lacking relative to the other parts of the strap.
They even provide two different lengths to choose from to accommodate people with different wrist sizes. But all this comes at a price, as this strap is also the most expensive aftermarket option on this list. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
Omega OEM NATO ($200 approx.)
This strap is the $200 dollar elephant in the room, so to speak. It was included with my purchase of the Omega Speedmaster and represents my personal benchmark for a NATO strap. While many who have not handled one of these may ask how much difference could there be in a NATO strap, those who have tried one on are often pleasantly surprised by this strap.
The fabric is about as thick as that of the ToxicShiznit but has the densest weave of any strap on this list by a significant margin, allowing it to be softer and more pliable than its thickness would suggest. The hardware is flawless, with sharp and clean edges polished to a mirror finish. The adjustable second keeper (from which the Phenomenato drew inspiration) allows you to fold back your excess strap without any unsightly bits sticking out. The buckle and keeper on the extra loop of the NATO are branded with the Omega logo and brand name respectively.
There are, however, three weaknesses to this strap. The first is the size. In a questionable move to save costs, Omega have opted to produce this strap in two sizes: 19.5mm and 21.5mm. The 19.5mm is supposed to fit both 19mm and 20mm lug widths, while the 21.5mm version covers 21 and 22mm lug widths. In practice, the fit of the 19.5mm NATO on my 20mm lug width Speedmaster is very close to perfect, but close simply doesn’t cut it at this price point.
The second is the keeper for the extra loop, seen here bearing the word OMEGA. It has a relatively strange construction, appearing to be a three-tiered metal buckle, with the fabric looped around the middle tier and stitched around it, leaving one end to function as the keeper and another on the inner side pressed against the wrist.
During long wearing sessions, I have found that this inner part can occasionally press on the skin and put enough pressure to cause some irritation. Given, those are minor issues. The last, however, is the biggest problem: the price. You could purchase 5 Phenomenatos, or close to 30 ordinary NATOs, for the price of a single OEM NATO.
Yes, it is possibly the best NATO available on the market today, but whether or not it is worth the asking price is a personal decision best made after trying one on in person. I personally enjoy wearing this strap, but I do wonder if I would have bought one were it not included with my Speedmaster.
Having spoken at some length about all the straps in my NATO collection, I will provide some closing thoughts and suggestions to anyone who is overwhelmed by the number of options available.
Absolute favorite NATO:
The Omega OEM is my favorite NATO strap by some margin, with the overall quality, fit and finish able to overwhelm the mentioned drawbacks. If you’re looking for the best NATO strap on the market and price is not a factor for you, look no further. You won’t be disappointed.
Best premium NATO on a budget:
If you want something as close as possible to the Omega NATO, but $200 is simply too high a price tag to swallow, the next best choice is the Phenomenato. With a similar hardware setup and very comfortable fabric weave, the Phenomenato offers an experience that is very close to that of the Omega at a fraction of the price. The ToxicShiznit is an extremely close second and would be my first recommendation if you are looking for a strap that is thicker or more robust.
Best standard NATO:
Given the relatively minor differences between the standard NATOs, I would strongly suggest comparative shopping to look at which vendor provides the best combination of price and options for you. This may depend on your location or what sort of straps you’re looking for. I personally use NATO Strap Co for their sheer variety of options on offer, and DialsAndStraps for some of the more oddball choices in my collection.
Disclaimer: All of these straps were purchased by me and I do not have any personal affliations with any of the above sellers. The opinions on the straps are based on my own personal opinion and wearing experience after at least 2 weeks of wrist time per strap. I have not received any free straps, discounts or other personal advantages for writing the above. For the sake of consistency, I have also tried to standardize all the pictures taken as far as lighting, angles and zoom is concerned. But given my limitations as a photographer and the multiple sessions required to take some of these photos, there may be minor inconsistencies on a picture to picture basis.