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General Gear Discussion The General Gear Discussion forum is for the discussion of traditional and lightweight (ultralight) backpacking gear that is not covered in other Practical Backpacking™ forums. [Please post about Backpacks, Shelters, Sleeping Gear, Backcountry Kitchen (Food, Stoves) in those respective forum areas.]

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Old 09-03-2009, 11:45 AM
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ChadRice ChadRice is offline
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Join Date: Sep 2009
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Altimeter, Barometer, Compass Watches (Multifunction Outdoor Watch)

I have been looking at ABC (Altimeter, Barometer, Compass) watches for quite some time now, but haven't ever gotten comfortable enough with one to make a purchase. I know they are not super-accurate devices, but I like the geek-factor of these watches.

The models that I have looked at include the Timex Expedition WS4, Casio Pathfinder, and Suunto Core models. Does anyone have any recommendations on these watches - or even others in the category?
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Old 09-03-2009, 07:55 PM
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roverboy roverboy is offline
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I have a Sunnto Vector. It's been reliable. It's light at 1.9oz, but a bit large. Works well enough for me.
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Old 09-03-2009, 07:58 PM
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Rocketman Rocketman is offline
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I suggest that you try to actually wear and hold in your hand the different watches.

I use HighGear Summit model. I bought it unworn.

I find the compass difficult to use. Because they use a fairly heavy current magnetic sensor, the compass is only operative for a short time before automatic shutoff. I gave up trying to really use the compass function as a result. It would be good enough in an emergency to get straightened around, but it isn't as user friendly as a regular small magnetic bar pointing compass.

The temperature sensor for many of these watches is buried inside the watch. That means that to take an outdoor temperature, one has to take off the watch and wait a goodly number of minutes before the temperature reading could be an accurate representation of the air.

To my knowledge, all of the multifunction watches suffer from this although there may be a difference in degree. I do know that I can get an accurate temperature reading of the whirlpool water in a few minutes, but the heat transfer from the hot water is much faster than from just air of the same temperature.

You should know that there is no actual altitude sensing mechanism inside the watch. There is a barometer instead. The air pressure measured from the barometer can be driven by variations in air pressure due to high and low pressure systems, or it can be driven by a variation in air pressure as you vertically ascend or descend.

The watch does it's best job that it can in guessing what is going on, altitude change or atmosphere change. A rapid change in air pressure is often assigned to be due to elevation change, and a slow variation is assigned to atmospheric pressure system movement.

The logic behind this is that the atmospheric pressure movement (high and low pressure systems) is fairly small, maybe +- 10%, but in going to about 17,000 feet, the atmospheric pressure change is about -50%. A typical high/low atmospheric pressure system change is equivalent to only a few hundred feet of altitude change.

By the way, there is the absolute air pressure, and the air pressure reduced to sea level, which is the standard meteorological way to report the barometric pressure. My watch will let you view either one. But only the standard setting is useful in daily life.

All the multifunctional watches face this issue of two pressure change sources..

Therefore, for the altitude to be "accurate" you need to daily, or more often, reset the device whenever you are at a known altitude.

I would be happy to buy another combination compass/ altimeter/ thermometer watch when my current one gives up the ghost. This is in spite of the above negative remarks on the utility of the compass and thermometer functions.

I sometimes think that I would be happier with a more expensive watch combo, but never think that I would be as satisfied with a lesser expensive one.

Also, I have never worn any other brand for more than a few minutes, and don't feel that the brief exposure to these other brand allows for meaningful comment.

Good luck.
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Old 09-03-2009, 08:04 PM
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WildlifeNate WildlifeNate is offline
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Backpack: Osprey Atmos 50
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I have a highgear axis. I'm on my 2nd one. First one got lost in a move. The backlight on it has failed, though, and it needs to go back. Otherwise, it's not too huge (I don't like most b/c of their wrists are small), and once calibrated, the barometer/altimeter is close enough for me. It's also not so expensive that I worry about it if I whack it on something.
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Old 09-07-2009, 09:39 PM
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RidgeHiker RidgeHiker is offline
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I have used a Suunto Altimax for a number of years. It is bulky but works great.

I often use it to measure my total ascent and decent which does not depend on having the correct altitude benchmark.

I use it frequently.

Keep in mind that different watches perform different functions (like measuring trip totals, etc.). Also, different ones measure different minimum altitude changes which can dramatically effect total calculations.

The Altimax does not have a compass.
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Old 09-08-2009, 06:19 AM
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Outdoor_Jim Outdoor_Jim is offline
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Backpack: ULA Circuit
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I've got the Sunnto Observer. Cool but heavy.
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Old 09-08-2009, 08:21 AM
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TCheney TCheney is offline
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My experience with the High Gear Summit pretty much mirrors Rocketman's. Having to calibrate the compass, barometer and altimeter mid-trip to retain accuracy is a real hassle. If I needed to absolutely rely on the watch for those readings, I would be more inclined to carry a different instrument. I do find the barometer to be sensitive enough that it is useful for keeping track of the weather in real time. The bar graph can be displayed on the face of the watch along with the primary time keeping display. This is very handy where conditions can change rapidly, and it's great to have along when I'm fishing.

The thermometer is useless while the watch is worn. Mostly it confirms that I don't have a fever. Stowing it in a tent pocket at night might be good way to observe the temperature, but I haven't found myself needing that info at 0-dark-thirty. I'd probably opt for a cheap, light zipper pull thermometer if I really needed to know.

The size of the watch seemed huge when I first put it on, but I've gotten used to it, and I wear it quite often now.

Soon after I got the watch, the compass would not calibrate, so I sent it to High Gear for repair. They chose to replace the watch. No problems since.
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Old 09-09-2009, 03:37 PM
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Franco Franco is offline
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Mine is the Casio Pathfinder. Purchased that mostly because it is solar powered and I had access to wholesale prices on that.
On a recent trip in WA , the altimeter was accurate within about 10-40 yards in spite of not having it calibrated for months and on the wrong continent...
Not a big deal, but was nice, going up some very long switchbacks, to know how far (approximately) we were from the top.
At night I wake up several times so tend to check the time and temperature. I like that I don't have to worry about running out of power.
If for some reason I do want to know the daytime temperature, I attach it to a loop on the straps of my backpack.
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Old 03-02-2013, 04:12 PM
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Reality Reality is offline
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Any others care to join in? What multifunction backcountry watch do you use?

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Old 03-03-2013, 01:06 AM
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GGervin GGervin is offline
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Backpack: Gregory Shasta, Deuter ACT Lite 65+10
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Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: California
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I have an older Casio Pathfinder PAL 200 twin sensor (maybe 10-12 years old) which has altimeter/barometer and thermometer, but no compass. It's been a great watch, altimeter, and weather forecaster. Some of the numbers on the display are amazingly small. This is because the watch isn't a lot larger than a normal watch and they tried to cram a lot of info onto the screen. It seemed merely inconvenient at the time, but my eyes have changed a lot in the last 10 years, and now I can barely read the smallest info without magnification. I had 2, but one failed last year. I haven't been easy on them, so I'd say their durability in all weather including snow has been great. But I may have to replace it because of the display size issue.

TCheney mentions the thermometer being useless when worn, and I have certainly found my body heat influencing it when I wore it on my wrist. Due to issues with my skin and watchbands, I don't wear watches on my wrist anymore, I hang them from my belt on a carabiner (or in a waist bag in less temperate weather), and that's solved the problem.
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