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Illustration for article titled The Best Inexpensive Watch Bands for Your Smartwatch
Photo: Whitson Gordon

One of my favorite things about smartwatches is their ability to morph their appearance depending on the day. Between all the watch faces on the Play Store, you’re covered for whatever look you want to achieve. You might not realize it, but the same applies to watch bands, too.

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Many smartwatches, like Fossil’s Gen 5 Carlyle (arguably the best Android Wear watch you can buy right now), use standard lugs, meaning you can use any regular ol’ watch band with them. You don’t need something specifically made for Fossil (or Withings, or Huawei, or whoever). There are some exceptions, but for the most part, most Android watches are standardized—and Apple Watch users can use regular watch straps with the help of an adapter. So if you’re looking to shake things up, here are some affordable, great-looking bands for every situation.

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The Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle (and this Barton watch band I have it on) are both 22mm.
The Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle (and this Barton watch band I have it on) are both 22mm.
Photo: Whitson Gordon

Before you buy a new band, you’ll need to look up your watch’s lug width—this will need to match the width of your strap, or it won’t fit properly. Since a lot of smart watches tend to be a bit larger to house big batteries, I find many of them use a 22mm lug width, but some may use a 20mm width instead, so look up your specific watch and see what it uses—and make sure your prospective strap has the same measurement.

In addition, you may need some extra tools, depending on the band. Some bands use standard spring bars, which will require a spring bar tool to get it off. (If you plan on getting any metal bands, I recommend a full link remover kit, which comes with a spring bar tool alongside extra tools for resizing metal bands.) Other bands are “quick release,” meaning they have a little lever you can pull with your finger to detach it from the watch. These are much more convenient, but tend to be a bit more expensive. I usually try to turn my standard watch bands into quick-release bands with some extra spring bars and a leather punch tool, though, and it’s worked well.

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The Hadley-Roma MS-906 in brown.
The Hadley-Roma MS-906 in brown.
Photo: Whitson Gordon

Leather is one of the more common materials you’ll see in watch bands, but not all leather bands are created equal—some may be cheaply stitched or glued, some may be softer or rougher, and others may use padding—which is a bit dressier, but I also find it’s harder to get them to conform to my wrist.

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Hadley-Roma makes some of the best affordable leather bands I’ve used. They range from about $16 to $30 depending on the style, but even the cheaper ones feel soft, with just enough padding to look nice without being too stiff. This model has a nice texture to it, while this model has a smoother, more tapered look.

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I also like deBeer for their wide selection and, in some cases, snugger fit (I have skinny wrists, okay?). They have standard stage coach leather alongside patterns like lizard grain and crocodile grain for pretty cheap—though if you want real lizard or crocodile rather than a print, it obviously costs a bit more. Fluco is another good brand for leather straps—I have one of their suede straps and it’s lovely.

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Annoyingly, though, none of the above straps use quick release pins. If you want something that comes on and off in seconds, I recommend checking out some of Barton’s leather straps. They’re a bit more expensive and don’t feel quite as nice as the above bands, but they still look good and come in a ton of (slightly more casual) styles. Still, I recommend them if it fits the look you’re going for. Fullmosa has a huge selection of quick release bands for much cheaper, though they also look and feel a bit cheaper, so there’s a tradeoff there. (They do, however, have a lot of sizing holes for many different size wrists, which is nice.) Fossil themselves also have a large selection of quick release leather bands.

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If you can buy your watch with a stainless steel bracelet, do so.
If you can buy your watch with a stainless steel bracelet, do so.
Photo: Fossil

Metal watch bands—which are technically called “bracelets” in the watch world—are my personal favorite, but they’re tougher to shop for. In general, if you want a stainless steel bracelet, you should buy the version of the watch that comes with it, because it’ll usually fit the watch better than third-party options, which may not conform to the watches curvature. The built-in bracelets are also higher quality than anything you can buy cheaply. Fossil, for example, sells some of their stainless steel bracelets separately, but they cost around $45—even though the stainless steel version of the Gen 5 Carlyle costs the same as the leather-clad one. High-quality bracelets from companies like Strapcode can cost a pretty penny, but they’re also more comfortable, less noisy, and less likely to painfully rip at your arm hair.

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There are cheap bracelets out there, and I’ve used off-brand models from amBand and CBIN in a pinch. But at that price, they’re going to feel flimsy, and this one from Ritche even fell apart on me within 24 hours. Milanese bands may fare a little better, but I haven’t tried them. This is one area where you have to either buy it on the watch, or spend a bit more after the fact rather than cheaping out.

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Going for a run with one of Barton’s Elite Silicone bands.
Going for a run with one of Barton’s Elite Silicone bands.
Photo: Whitson Gordon

Silicone straps may not look quite as nice as leather or steel straps, but they have their place: if you’re going out for a jog and want something comfortable and sweatproof, or if you’re headed to the beach and want something that’ll hold up well in water, rubber is perfect. Barton’s $20 silicone straps are available in a ton of different colors, have quick release pins, and even come with two different lengths to fit any size wrist. They’re crazy comfortable, and I highly recommend them.

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Fullmosa also offers some silicone straps for closer to $12—they don’t look quite as nice as the Bartons, but they keep the quick release pins for easy detachment. And if you want something with a diver-style clasp, you can grab those cheaply as well.

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Nothing says summer like a good NATO strap. (This Bond Olive one from BluShark is currently mis-pictured as orange on Amazon, but it looks great in person.)
Nothing says summer like a good NATO strap. (This Bond Olive one from BluShark is currently mis-pictured as orange on Amazon, but it looks great in person.)
Photo: Whitson Gordon
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Finally, nylon straps have become popular with some folks looking for more fun bands in different colors and patterns. NATO-style straps come in more colors than you can count, they’re easily washable, and work well in the water, though they don’t dry off as quickly as rubber straps.

My personal favorite, for the price, are BluShark’s one-piece NATO straps, which come in a variety of colors for only $16. Clockwork Synergy makes good ones too for a similar price, though with a slightly different look thanks to the curved metal hardware. I’ve even grabbed some super-cheap NATOs off AliExpress before, with surprisingly decent results (after the month-long shipping wait, that is). You can wear NATO straps in a few different ways, with this video providing two of the most common—though I personally prefer a variant of the second method, where I thread the band through bottom-to-top, instead of top-to-bottom. Experiment and you’re sure to find something you like.

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If you like the idea of nylon fabric but don’t like the one-piece look, there are also two-piece variants, as well as sailcloth-style straps like this one from Barton (which I found a bit stiffer than their other straps, so it wasn’t for me—but some people may like that). Hadley-Roma makes these as well, and while I haven’t tried them myself, I can only imagine are fantastic given how great their leather straps are—though again, these aren’t quick release.

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Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and all-around tech nerd. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn't get grease on his mechanical keyboard.

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