Seiko Alpinist field watch review: an update of a classic that still impresses

With its robust build, the Seiko Alpinist has the no-nonsense appeal of a tool watch, though refined design flourishes add a touch of class

Seiko Alpinist
(Image: © Matthew Jones)

Advnture Verdict

With its robust steel case and internal compass bezel, the Alpinist has the no-nonsense appeal of a tool watch, though refined design flourishes also add a touch of class. Now re-released with an updated automatic movement as part of Seiko’s professional “Prospex” line, the latest version of this classic makes a great “go anywhere, do anything” timepiece.

Pros

  • +

    Compact and wearable proportions

  • +

    Shock-protected automatic movement with long power reserve

Cons

  • -

    Slightly dressy looks

  • -

    Fairly thick case

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Seiko Alpinist: first impressions

Although the Seiko Alpinist isn’t a field watch with a military history like many of those featured in our best field watches buying guide, it has plenty of authentic outdoor heritage. 

Specifications

• RRP: $725 (US) / £650 (UK)
• Dimensions: 46.5mm (lug to lug) x 39.5mm (case diameter)
• Thickness: 13.3mm
• Weight: 84g / 3oz
• Movement: Japanese Seiko 6R35 automatic
• Power reserve: 70 hours
• Water resistance: 200m / 660ft
• Materials & features: Stainless steel case with crown guards / Internal rotating compass bezel / Anti-reflective sapphire crystal with cyclops date window / Screw-down exhibition case back / Knurled crowns / Stainless steel bracelet

The design first appeared in the 1960s and was inspired by Japanese Yama-otoko “mountain men”. As its name suggests, it was intended to be a robust tool watch for use at high altitudes. So, this is an unusual watch with enduring historical appeal, both aspects that have given it a dedicated following. Indeed, original vintage Alpinists are increasingly collectible (and expensive). Perhaps that’s why Seiko decided to rerelease it, updating the design and movement.

The latest version remains fairly compact, with a very wearable case size of 39.5mm, even if you don’t have huge climbers’ wrists. Many of the original design flourishes have been retained too, like the polished metal applied indices and the surprisingly dressy cathedral-style hands. In addition, you now get premium features like a highly scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, and Seiko’s in-house 6R35 movement, which boasts an impressive 70-hour power reserve.

Seiko Alpinist

The Seiko Alpinist is an outdoor watch you could happily wear to a posh party (Image credit: Matthew Jones)

At its core, the Alpinist remains an outdoor watch. The compass bezel, first introduced to the Alpinist line in 1995, is a distinctive feature that can be used in conjunction with the hour hand and the position of the sun to orientate the wearer. The watch’s water resistance rating of 200m also makes it suitable for use in or on the water. Still, it’s far more than just a tool, with an eye-catching dial and some elegant design flourishes that add plenty of style and elegance.

Seiko Alpinist: in the field

Seiko Alpinist

The Alpinist was originally designed for Japanese “Yama-otoko” mountain men, to be reliable in treacherous terrain (Image credit: Matthew Jones)

This is a very wearable watch, thanks to its compact dimensions, which ensure it slips easily under the cuff of a shirt or jacket. The short lug and sub-40mm case feel nicely proportioned, despite the fact that the 6R35 automatic movement and exhibition case back add a little thickness overall. 

On the flip side, this helps to give the Alpinist plenty of wrist presence. It’s an undeniably attractive and eye-catching watch, and though some might find it a little too dressy or fussy for a tool watch, the counter argument would be that it adds considerable versatility. In that sense, it’s a watch that could go easily from workday to adventurous weekend wear. 

The build quality is as solid as you’d expect from Seiko, and the finishing stands up to all but the closest scrutiny (though some buyers have complained about the brand’s quality control of late). On our test sample, all looked to be in order, and there was no faulting the dial finishing or the movement of the compass bezel. 

We also appreciated the scratch-resistance of the anti-reflective-coated sapphire crystal, which makes the new Alpinist more adventure-ready than ever. The date window is also fitted with a cyclops magnifier, and though some might grumble that this detracts from the clean look, it is undeniably practical in terms of added value and functionality.

Seiko Alpinist

The cyclops lens for the date may offend those of delicate aesthetic tendencies, but it’s undeniably useful (Image credit: Matthew Jones)

Flipping the watch around, the display case back offers a view of the automatic movement. For watch enthusiasts, it’s a fairly workaday movement, but for those new to seeing automatic calibers in action, it will no doubt be captivating. The movement itself is a great choice for a tool watch, thanks to its Diashock protection and extended 70-hour power reserve. This means that when fully wound, the watch will continue to run for a couple of days even if you take it off.

It's worth noting that there are several color variations of the new Alpinists. Our sample was the particularly handsome “Mountain Glacier” edition, which has a stunning blue-gray dial. It’s bundled with a good quality steel bracelet that feels sturdy and comfortable – though this is a watch that suits a leather or NATO-style nylon strap just as well.

Overall, this is a unique-looking watch that offers charm and character as well as practicality – which isn’t something you can say about most tool or field watches (and even more rarely about GPS watches, where ugliness is practically a selling point). It’s also well built, with a robust shock-protected movement and good water-resistance – features that ensure it’s a versatile outdoor companion too. All in all, this is a watch that is easy to recommend, with a purposeful yet playful feel.

An outdoors writer and editor, Matt Jones has been testing kit in the field for nearly a decade. Having worked for both the Ramblers and the Scouts, he knows one or two things about walking and camping, and loves all things adventure, particularly long-distance backpacking, wild camping and climbing mountains – especially in Wales. He’s based in Snowdonia and last year thru-hiked the Cambrian Way, which runs for 298 miles from Cardiff to Conwy, with a total ascent of 73,700 feet – that’s nearly 2½ times the height of Everest. Follow Matt on Instagram and Twitter.