You know those times when something feels obvious so you kinda just assume everyone else is on the same level? When a move or mod feels so small that it doesn’t even register as a pro tip or a true “life hack?” Well, here’s a NATO hack that is obvious, effective, and (I hope) useful for at least a few of you. You’ll need a NATO, a sharp pair of scissors, and a lighter.
Before we start slicing and dicing into that dusty NATO you couldn’t quite connect with back in the day, let’s look at a simple and common complaint when it comes to the standard nylon NATO-style strap. One day last fall, I was talking straps with Stephen, and I offered to send him a spare grey NATO with black hardware that would match his IWC Mark XVIII Edition “HODINKEE” (a watch that really sings on a NATO, as per the above image). I sent him the strap, and sometime later, he expressed that he didn’t really care for the way it sat on his wrist, specifically the thickness added by all of the fabric that is routed under the watch.
My reply? “Cut off the under keeper, baby” (probably not a direct quote). The result was enough of an on-wrist improvement for SJP that he asked me to write this post. In my mind, if nothing else, NATO straps should always be two things: straightforward and inexpensive (my fav example costs $ 21). With that in mind, the standard form of a NATO includes (1) the main strip of nylon that threads through the lugs of your watch and (2) a second piece that runs fully under the watch and accepts the main strip via a metal keeper.
This second “under keeper” strip forms a safety that prevents the watch from sliding off of the NATO when the strap is removed from your wrist. While still handy for vintage watches or watches with more of a case-to-spring-bar gap than is common, many more modern watches offer a fit that is plenty tight enough to secure the watch when you take it off, making that extra bit of fabric little more than added bulk. Well, let’s take that classic NATO and turn it into a crisp, cool, and svelte diet NATO. Grab your scissors.
If, like me, you love a watch that sits low and hugs your wrist, that under keeper needs to go. And if – unlike me – you haven’t been able to get into the NATO game because of the added bulk, this might be the ticket to a sweet low-profile diet NATO lifestyle. Grab your scissors and carefully cut away the under keeper nice and close to the seam where the piece of nylon is sewn into the main strap. Once done, close up the surgery by quickly hitting the soft fabric end with a lighter to lightly melt the edge and prevent any further fraying. Slide it through the lugs of your favorite watch and strap in to the same great NATO taste with none of the extra calories.
So there you go, you took a NATO and essentially made it into a DIY-ZULU strap. Could you just buy a single pass nylon strap like a ZULU? Yes. But if you already had a NATO lying around, then I kinda just saved you like twenty bucks (cha-ching). Would I normally recommend cutting your watch strap to get the most out of it? No. But NATOs are cheap, and I think this cut can be made with little to no concern for anything other than comfort. After all, I’m your pal, and I want you to be comfy.
I certainly didn’t create this mod, and I am sure that many of you already do this to your NATO straps, but on the off chance that some of you have yet to make the cut, here is this not-so-revolutionary (but hopefully helpful) tip. Keep it breezy, and be sure to NATO whenever possible.