Are you looking for an alternative to the Hamilton Khaki Automatic field watch? Perhaps you don’t want to spend $500? Or perhaps you just want something different? Or more rugged? Perhaps you’re like me and just don’t like that the Khaki Auto gets all the praise when really it’s a pseudo dress watch marketed as a rugged field watch!
I am going to list out several alternatives to the Hamilton Khaki Automatic, but first let me tell you why I don’t think you should buy a Hamilton Khaki…and why you should! Sounds crazy, I know, and maybe it is.
If you would like to skip the details, our top picks are right here. If want the in-depth guide to the our choices, keep reading, we go into details on each pick and why we think it’s better than the Hamilton.
Our Picks For The Best Alternative To A Hamilton Khaki Field Automatic
- Glycine – Combat Vintage 6
- Collins Watch Company – Hyperion
- Orient – Defender
- Certina DS Podium Automatic
- Steinhart – Ocean Vintage GMT
- Islander – Pilots Watch
- Alkin Watches – Model One
- Seiko – Neo Sports Automatic SRPC85K1
- Momentum – Fieldwalker Automatic
- Spinnaker – Hull California
- Seiko – Turtle
- Aquatico – Blue Angel
- Citizen Automatic NH7490-55E
At some point in your watch collecting, you make that jump from inexpensive Timex and Casio watches and you want to buy your first “real” watch. If you were to Google this question, or something along the lines of: “best Swiss watch to buy,” ultimately many results will point you to the Hamilton Khaki Automatic…and with good reason. It’s a beautiful looking, Swiss made watch that has all the history and lore of being a robust, reliable, authentic field watch…and maybe five or ten years ago that was the case.
Unfortunately, today, the Hamilton Khaki Auto is a mass produced watch with the same quality control issues as any other big brand, maybe even more so than some others. I personally have had two Khaki Autos go bad on me in the first 100 days of owning them. I think this is what has soured me and why I am apt to make a snide remark when people are asking for watch recommendations and the collective internet responds with, ”Buy a Hamilton khaki!”
So here is my dilemma: I absolutely love my Hamilton Khaki Automatic! It’s one of those things that I love to hate. On one hand, it’s the perfect watch, it looks awesome and does its job well. On the other hand, it’s an overpriced piece of junk. So, how can I say both things about the watch? Well, because in my opinion (and blog) they are true.
I recently have come to the conclusion that I’m a hater…because on some days I feel the same way about my beloved SKX (another watch I love to hate and one that I have multiple of). In the case of the SKX, however, I think I am more warranted in my gripes and someday I will lay them out.
Getting back to the Khaki Automatic, I think the issue lies in the modified ETA movement inside. The lure of the Khaki (for me) was the power reserve of 80 hours. I rotate through several watches a week and have a small case of OCD such that I don’t like to constantly set the time and date on my watch (because I have to synchronize them with the world clock).
I believe the modified movement has weakened the internals, or more specifically, the hair spring. (I am not a watchmaker, just remember.) I have been told by “watch experts” that my theory is not true, but in my real world experience and many threads on message boards, I think I’m right. Long story short…to get the power reserve, Hamilton changed the watch’s hair spring and slowed down the movement in beats. The hairspring that they used is a ‘weaker’ build and can’t take to handwinding.
Both Hamiltons I had suffered the same issue: the rotor stayed engaged when you tried to wind the watch. The first watch I would always wind it to keep it going when not worn, so I can understand the failure. The second one I never handwound and it resulted in the same fate. All signs that there is an issue with the “H” movements.
I will also note that the crown action on every Hamilton I have owned with a push/pull crown is garbage, especially my Khaki Automatic. I am not the only one who thinks this, just google it. When you pull the crown out all the way to set the time, you have to make a concerted effort to get it all the way out of the case and it lacks that succinct ‘pop’ of many other watches in the price range.
Why You Should Buy A Hamilton Khaki Automatic
For a guy with so many negative things to say about the watch, how the heck can I still say buy one? Well, it is a great watch in some regards. As I said, it just looks so awesome! The hands are beautiful and have a very cool syringe tip which makes it feel accurate and precise, like you’re ready to synchronize it with other men in your battalion for an attack!
It also just has a great, simple look, yet is easily dressed up or down. I am such a sucker for it that I have two of the same model just so one can stay on the bracelet and one on a nato strap. It really is the perfect watch for business meetings in the sense that it’s Swiss and a tad expensive, but it doesn’t look too fancy like you are putting on a show.
The heart of the watches weakness is also its greatest asset, that 80 hour power reserve! The whole reason I bought the Khaki Auto in the first place was I wanted something that went the whole weekend without needing winding or shaking and I didn’t have to reset it on Monday morning.
It also wears really well and comes in two sizes 38mm and 42mm, which should fit almost anybody’s wrist…but that is another point of contention. The factory bracelet is comfortable but really lacks a lot of micro adjustments and always seems to be too loose or too tight.
Here is the bottom line. The Hamilton Khaki Automatic is a beautiful watch with a long history and is fun to wear…in most situations. But, if you need something more reliable, maybe cheaper or a watch that is maybe not so popular, then read on.
Regardless of my moaning and groaning, let’s look at some better alternatives to the Hamilton Khaki Automatic. In order to be included on this list, the watches below had to have an authentic field watch look, be rugged and able to handle more than a day at the beach, and offer some solid benefits over the Hamilton Khaki Automatic.
I also keep a list of Hamilton Khaki alternatives to automatic watches. If it’s just the look you’re going for, there are a ton of quartz alternatives to the watch, but that list is for another day. For the most part, I stuck with watches that I own, have owned, or at least have a lengthy experience wearing. I did include a few watches that my close friends recommended for the list.
When we are speaking about price, I am not using authorized dealer price or full retail price of the Hamilton Khaki as a bar to judge the watch. If you pay full retail for it, you’re a fool. I think it’s important to look through the glass of actual cost for the watch. In this regard, you can rate the following watches more honestly against the Khaki.
Glycine – Combat 6 Vintage
The Combat 6 can be an absolute steal sometimes. It often makes an appearance on Mass Drop, and that is the time to buy it. Coming in a tad larger than the 42mm Khaki, the watch does exude that vintage field watch look. Its finishing is spot on, and the watch has a lot of nice details that really make you feel like you got your money’s worth. I think the Combat 6 would be the ultimate winner if it had a screw down crown, but it has almost everything else you could want, almost.
Why It’s Better: More watch at a lower price and outperforms the Khaki in accuracy.
Collins Watch Company – Hyperion
I recently had the chance to spend a few weeks with the Hyperion on the wrist, and let me tell you, it’s a ridiculously outstanding watch. You get a hand-assembled watch with impeccable finishing and a Sellita SW200 inside. It’s such a great take on a field watch with just enough refinement to wear in more dressy situations.
Why It’s Better: You get a USA hand-assembled and tuned watch with way better lume.
Orient – Defender
Right out of the gate, you can’t beat the value that Orient delivers. In the case of the Defender, you get a flat out amazing watch for $140. The first generation Defender didn’t have hacking, but it did have a screw down crown, almost adequate lume and original looks. The second generation added hacking and a new dial layout. Whatever version you choose, it’s a winner. The Defender has one of the coolest chrome dials out there, and the thicker hands and batons give it a more military look.
Why It’s Better: Sheer price and looks alone destroy the Khaki.
Steinhart – Ocean Vintage GMT
I reviewed the Ocean Vintage in depth here, and it’s truly a stellar watch! If you want a robust watch that can do the rough stuff, then consider this guy. It comes on a great bracelet that can be easily swapped to a nato strap for a more official field watch look.
Why It’s Better: The ETA movement inside is head and shoulders above the modified Hamilton movement of the Khaki.
Islander – Pilots Watch
I think the Islander is almost as close as you can get to perfection, if it only had a version with numerals and not just a traditional pilot dial. Screw down crown, great lume, and a trusty Seiko movement all add up to make a great watch.
Why It’s Better: At a retail price of $199, nothing on this list can come close to touching it for value and looks.
Alkin – Model One
I often talk about finding the perfect watch, and the Model One comes as close as any. It just checks all the boxes in an original package. Cool looking, simple dial, amazing lume, nice movement, and above all, a screw down crown and caseback.
Why It’s Better: It’s a true field watch in looks and rugged ability and matches the Khaki line for line…with a much smaller price tag!
Spinnaker – Hull California
You may wonder how the Hull made the list. Well, remember, I tried to stick to watches I have personal experience with and I’ve had the Hull for over a year. Part of the allure of the Khaki is that it’s so good looking. But guess what, so is the Spinnaker Hull and it can candle more abuse thanks to the screw down crown, better lume and (of course) more reliable movement. The square-ish case gives it a vintage feel, and if you keep it on a strap, the slightly taller case sits great on the wrist.
Why It’s Better: Original style with better lume, yet still a little formal. Plus, all the coupon codes out there make it half the price of a Hamilton Khaki.
Seiko – Turtle SRP777
Why is a diver on the list? Well, if you want a sturdy, dependable watch that can actually go out into the field, then the Turtle is for you. It has that retro feel with the cushion case and the dial layout lends itself to a more military feel. Of all my watches, I gravitate towards the Turtle for weekend warrior responsibilities and I have taken it everywhere from fishing and camping to a date night. It’s the real ‘do everything’ watch…and it does it all excellently!
Why It’s Better: You get a rugged watch, with a history to match the Hamilton, that is a flawless performer. It also has the same die-hard cult status as a Khaki Auto.
Aquatico – Blue Angel
This is the one watch on the list that I only had for a short time, but my experience with many other Aquatico watches tells me it should be just as reliable over the long haul. One of the less expensive watches on the list, yet it has the specs and build quality to rival many watches costing two to three times more. The Blue Angel is full of C3 Super Luminova, has a traditional military dial layout, screw down crown and a very nice Horween leather strap – all for under $200.
Why It’s Better: Original design and layout with a stronger spec sheet than any Khaki for much less!
Seiko – Neo Sports Automatic SRPC85K1
Thought I would put the SNZG15 on the list, didn’t you? You probably already know that’s a good watch, but this lesser known Seiko 5 is a killer. It comes on an OK steel bracelet, with great Seiko lume, total field watch look and, get this…the 4R35 movement!
Why It’s Better: This is the absolute value proposition here. History, looks and reliability.
Certina DS Podium Automatic C0014071605700
Wondering why a sister to the Hamilton Khaki is on the list? Well, this model has that traditional field watch look with an unmolested ETS 2824-2 inside, so right there, you know that it will be more reliable. You can find this watch in a bracelet version too, which I always suggest buying; that way the watch can be more usable and if you ever want to sell it, it will fetch a few bucks more.
The watch has a see-through caseback and a sapphire crystal up front. The black dial with white marking keeps it looking official, and the date window at 6 o’clock is always a bit of a ‘cool factor.’ On top of all this, if you opt for the leather strap version, it has a beautiful deployment clasp. Swap it to a nato for a more adventurous look.
Why It’s Better: You get a real, Swiss Made watch for less than its Hamilton cousin on a nicer strap with a tad better lume.
Citizen Automatic NH7490-55E
This is one of the watches that you might not even know exists until you stumble across it by accident. The cheapest watch on the list at around $100, it still has an automatic movement, comes on a decent bracelet and has better lume than the Khaki Auto. Now, it doesn’t have sapphire, but for the price, you can’t complain. The Miyota movement inside isn’t fancy, but they last forever and are known to be pretty rugged.
Why It’s Better: It’s all about price here, how can you go wrong for under $100?
Momentum – Fieldwalker Automatic
Here is another all around solid performer! The Fieldwalker doesn’t have the same dressy style as the Hamilton, but it was intended as more of an adventure watch. Stainless steel, tons of lume, sapphire, and 300 meters of water resistance all combine to make a truly hard-wearing watch that will take some abuse. The watch has a more utilitarian look to it, and I think that adds to the cool factor. A pilots triangle at 12 o’clock and numerals on the dial will be useful along with the screw down crown at 4 o’clock to make it easy to read and wear.
Why It’s Better: Stronger build that’s ready for some adventure, this watch won’t let you down in the field or on the water.
I recently did a video version of this article and looked at six watches that make a great alternative to the Khaki.
Reading through this list, you might still think that I’m not a Hamilton fan. That’s not true and I really do love my Khaki Automatic! However, I am a bit disappointed in the watch sometimes and really think the cult following is rather unwarranted based on my personal, real world experiences of owning it. Just head over to Reddit and the Hamilton Facebook group and you can find more than just anecdotal stories of movement failures and moisture intrusion.
Do I think you should buy a Hamilton Khaki Auto? Maybe. But I believe that I’ve given you some serious alternatives to consider. And I surely wouldn’t rely upon one as my only watch or actually go camping or hiking with it…it’s more dress than duty!