Out of Office: The Wandering Bezel of the Seiko Land Tortoise

Tool watches are, as the name suggests, utilitarian by design. When I bought an SRPG13, the green Seiko Land Tortoise with a compass bezel, I thought I was purchasing yet another tool watch with practical non-timekeeping functionality. After an overnight family backpacking trip, I’m not convinced my field watch is the useful tool I tried to force it to be.

The Land Tortoise is a tool watch- in the sense that it’s technically capable of tasks beyond displaying the time. True North can be found with any analog watch by pointing the hour hand at the sun, bisecting the angle between the hour hand, 12:00 and the sun to find South, and then locating the opposite point to identify North. A compass bezel is an enhancement that allows the wearer to mark North after finding it.


This summer our family of four is section hiking the entire Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway Trail; A 50 mile peak to peak path through New Hampshire’s backcountry. What better place to put this tool to the test than on the first section of the trip? The day before our first overnight section, as I organized gear, sprawling out sleeping pads, a tent, trekking poles and various knick-knacks across our living room floor, I made sure to put on the SRPG13. I pictured standing on a mountain top, getting the kids set up with a celebratory lunch, lining up the hour hand, and then bisecting with ease. With a real compass in my pack, I was excited to check my accuracy. 

Two miles away and 2000 feet above the parking lot where we left our car, the summit of Mt. Monadnock marks the southern terminus of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway Trail. My kids, the youngest hikers up there, were understandably exhausted as we stumbled to the top. If I had been hiking solo, I probably could have found the time to test out the bezel. But more pressing, actually important, tasks were at hand. Lunch needed serving. Down jackets needed retrieving to counteract the breeze. And, the map needed to be pinned down as I fought the wind to confirm the Dublin trail would lead us from the summit to the campsite six miles north.

We had gotten a late start to the day and did not sit long. Fed and somewhat rested, we began our descent down the North side of the mountain, carefully butt-scooting down the steepest sections of the descent, holding hands as the kids bound from rock to rock, watching the vegetation evolve as we sank back below the treeline. 

My wife, though she has amassed a solid collection in recent years by proximity to my obsession, was not wearing a watch. And so, as we watched the sun drop at a distressing rate, she asked for frequent time updates.

“What time is it now?” It was 3:30.

“What time did we leave the summit?” 3:00. Much later than we had planned on.

We met 10 years prior, almost to the day, heading north on the Appalachian Trail. Hiking northbound a decade later, as our kids carried (mostly empty) packs half the size of their bodies, seemed an appropriate trail anniversery. 

As we trudged through the woods mile after mile, with the kids taking meticulously planned steps over each rock on a trail made of only rocks, my Land Tortoise informed me we were moving at a concerning pace of one mile an hour. At each landmark, we checked the map and noted the time. 

“What time did we hit that last trail head?” We were there at 6:15.

“How many miles to the next road crossing?” Only one mile. But that single mile would eat up an hour of precious daylight. The kids, unaware that the math to reach camp before sunset was not on our side, gleefully examined the scenery along the way, admiring streams, a beaver dam and towering boulders. Though the looming sunset didn’t agree, they were a reminder to care less about the passing time. 

A change of plans was necessary. Alternating between carrying children and shouldering extra packs to speed up the pace, testing out the bezel had now fallen completely out of my mind and off my to-do list. Between the natural shade provided by the tall pines and the ever-lower sun, it wouldn’t have even been possible had I wanted to.

When I wasn’t monitoring the passing hours, my Seiko time-management companion waited unobtrusively on standby. The relatively slim 11.7mm cushion case sat unnoticeable on my wrist as I helped the kids traverse rock scrambles and jump puddles. Seiko shrunk this version of the Turtle to a 42.4mm case, down from the original 44.3mm, a sensible improvement for a field watch. And, while I’m not one to get hung up on accuracy, on a day where minutes mattered, I had the peace of mind knowing the 4R36 powering my particular watch has always stayed well within spec.

We eventually rolled into camp at 8:30, taking full advantage of the last remaining minutes of daylight. I set up camp by the glow of my headlamp while my wife made the best damn macaroni and cheese on the planet. By the time the bear bag was hung and the kids were in their sleeping bags, my Land Tortoise informed me it was 10:00.

Backpacking, a combination of walking, eating and camping, eliminates the pressure to be productive. At home, there is always laundry waiting to be folded, grass needing to be mowed, and homework to be checked. Retreating to the woods, even for two days, is an exercise in focusing on a single goal. While it sounds liberating to do nothing but eat your way from place to place until it is time to sleep again (and it is), backpacking is also strictly governed by time. Not necessarily the exact hour of the day, but more by daylight, speed, and time required to accomplish necessary tasks.

We slept soundly, and it was suddenly 7:00 AM. While the kids covered sticks in spider webs and chased each other around camp, the parents revised the day’s itinerary. The original plan was to simply retrace our steps, summit Mt. Monadnock again, and retrieve our car parked on the other side. While possible, we wanted the kids to have a positive first impression of backpacking. A relaxed, shorter day seemed appropriate.

When I was a kid we canoed the same river every summer. My dad dropped us off at the boat launch with our beat-up green canoe, drove the car to the river’s outlet at Lake Michigan, and then ran back to meet us. He did this while we played in the river without a care in the world. Just laughing and looking for crawfish, and then suddenly dad was back from his brisk Herculean feat. We decided to steal a page from his playbook, hiking just a few flat-ish miles to a parking lot trailhead, then sending me up for a quick solo summit and car retrieval. 


And so, with kids still preoccupied with spider web sticks, I read the instructions to treat enough collected stream water to keep them hydrated for the short day ahead.

Step one: Mix Part A and Part B in a separate container, and let sit for 5 minutes.

A flaw of the Land Tortoise’s friction fit bezel is its tendency to wander throughout the day. I always start the day with “N” at 12:00, but it’s usually hovering somewhere between 11:45 and 12:15 when I check the time. It’s a silent bezel, and I don’t hear it move. Annoying, but usually non-consequential. But when using the bezel to measure elapsed time, this inaccuracy can become hazardous. As I line up the “N” with the minute hand to time the next 5 minutes, I leave my watch on a log to ensure the bezel does not get bumped.

Step two: Combine your water treatment solution with your water. Shake. Wait 15 minutes. 

Again, I line up “N” with the current time. Again, leaving my watch where it can’t be disturbed. 

After a relaxing morning of packing up camp and eating oatmeal, we hit the trail. The sun was still rising. We jumped over the same puddles and admired the same scenery, this time without calculating speed or even checking the time. We ate some snacks, saw a salamander, played “I spy”, and then the trail head appeared.

Released just recently in 2021, time will tell how history will remember this Land Tortoise. Perhaps as a more wearable version of the Turtle, loved for its quirkiness. Or, maybe as a less practical alternative to the Seiko Alpinist. As for me, I’m inclined to believe it’s the second of the two. Sure it is comfortable and looks at home in the backcountry, but thankfully those aren’t hard qualities to find in a field watch- they are the bare minimum. And while I don’t need a compass bezel, I’m still romanticizing the idea of putting one to use for its intended purpose on the remaining 44 miles of this trail. But if that compass bezel is going to pull double duty and track elapsed time, I need to know I can rely on it to remain stationary- something I can never trust the wandering bezel on the Land Tortoise to do. Seiko

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Nathan Schultz is a New Hampshire based writer, equally obsessed with watches and outdoor gear. He specializes in dad jokes, breaking NH35s while modifying watches, and testing the limits of recreational equipment. Micro brands hold a special place in his heart, and he aspires to stop buying and selling so many darn watches.