Not All NATOs Are Created Equal: NATO Straps at 3 Price Points (Part 2)
Article By: Logan Hannen
WATCH101 | Jan 15, 2019
Welcome back, geeks, to our look at three different price points of NATO straps. In last week’s look, we went over each of the three options in detail. Today, we’re going to compare them all on two major categories: build quality and comfort. While we could discuss the design and looks, that’s ultimately incredibly subjective, and thus doesn’t quite fit the goal here. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Category 1: Build Quality
Build quality, when it comes to NATOs, can be measured in a few ways. Some of the major things that we’ll be taking a look at is how the buckle and keepers are installed onto the strap, how the holes are treated to prevent against excessive wearing, and how the whole thing is finished on the sides to keep from fraying. Let’s start with the buckle/keepers then:
From left to right: Walmart NATO, WCWC NATO, Bark & Jack NATO
As you can see in the above photos, the buckles and keepers of our three NATO options are all a bit different. On the far left, we have the $1 Walmart NATO, which, interestingly, is stitched. Typically, we associate stitching with more expensive NATOs, and heat sealing or glueing to be more common on cheaper variants. In this case, though, there is stitching, though it does already seem to be fraying some along the edges, and isn’t particularly substantial. Speaking of fraying, the area around the holes and tail of the strap is also starting to fray a bit.
The Wrist Candy Watch Club (WCWC) NATO is also stitched at the keepers/buckle, though the stitching here is definitely tighter than on the Walmart NATO. The thread being used is thicker than the Walmart NATO, and the holes, as mentioned in the article from last week, are heat sealed to prevent fraying, as are the sides and the edges. The benefits of this show, because after two or more years of pretty reasonable use, they’re holding up surprisingly well.
As for the Bark & Jack NATO, the stitching here is definitely the best of the three. It’s done using a much thicker and more substantial thread, and becomes clear upon inspection that it needs to be this way in order to secure the keepers and buckle in place when the seatbelt nylon is as thick as it is. The holes and edges, like the WCWC strap, are heat sealed as well, though this being the newest strap, it hasn’t been put through enough paces yet to see how this holds up long term.
Category 2: Comfort
When it comes to comfort, I’m really only concerned with two things – how soft is the nylon against the skin, and how much does the strap’s thickness contribute to the piece sitting taller on the wrist. Luckily, we have pictorial evidence of this:
So let’s just start with acknowledging the watch I’m using here – it’s a Mickey Mouse automatic that I got on my first trip to Disney World a couple of years ago. In thickness, the watch is between 11 and 12mm thick, though with a cupped caseback, it nestles pretty nicely into the wrist.
Now, the Walmart strap is obviously the thinnest by virtue of not having the extra layer like a NATO technically should. On those grounds, I’m going to not count it for that criteria, but don’t worry, because given how scratchy and generally rough the nylon is, it wasn’t going to be winning any comfort awards anyway.
The WCWC NATO, by contrast, does have that extra bit of nylon and, interestingly, still rides kind of thin in spite of it. Its nylon is very supple and though it isn’t necessarily luxurious in how soft it is, it is comfortable enough for an extended period of wear. After several hours on the wrist on a hot day, though, with sweat and grit, it does start to get uncomfortable, and at the very least kind of itchy.
The Bark & Jack NATO is by far the softest. That’s entirely down to the seatbelt weave of the nylon and the nylon that’s used, and clearly the better materials have paid off in a strap that I’ve been able to wear all day, even to the gym, with no real issue. At least on the softness front. There is a sacrifice that has to be made with nylon weaved this way and made to be this substantial – it adds a solid millimeter or two to the overall thickness of your watch. In the summer, this will likely be no big deal, but come the seasons when longer sleeves are in order, this could be the deciding factor.
Where’s the Value?
Value, like attractiveness, is predominantly subjective when we’re dealing with straps specifically. A well-made leather strap that you just don’t wear is less valuable to you than a $5 leather strap from eBay that you wear all the time, despite one being empirically “better” made than the other. The same can be said of NATOs. Therefore, all I can do is offer my opinion here, but it’s one that’s informed by all of the things that we discussed above and in last week’s article.
If I was to declare a winner of this specific race, I think it would have to go to the Bark & Jack strap. At $15, the WCWC strap offers a lot, but the Bark & Jack strap simply offers more in the way of higher grade (and more comfortable) materials, more solid construction, and an overall more enjoyable wearing experience for only a few dollars more, with the caveat that thicker watches will likely become too thick to wear on one of these if you plan to slip it under a cuff of any kind.
Let’s wrap this up, geeks. Have I allowed myself to become a NATO convert after all of this? Honestly, no, not really. I’m more inclined to wear them now than perhaps I was, and I certainly have more understanding of their place in the collector’s world, but for me, they still just don’t gel as an everyday option, something that I would be comfortable wearing in a ton of situations the way I know so many geeks are. So while I may be sticking to leather and steel, you can rest assured that, as long as you’ve got the confidence to pull it off, there’s no reason that a NATO strap can’t help you keep it classy, watchfam.
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