I have a Casio 1675 (Alti Thermo Pathfinder II, 150 USD) that I've found to be completely satisfactory for my purposes. If I wasn't myopic, I might like bigger numbers. The Casio is only a bit larger than a typical man's wristwatch; I carry it as my only watch on vacations. Even those that are not primarily hiking.

I didn't do much research to select it. Of the models I examined, it was the only one that specified the altimeter temperature sensitivity coefficient, i.e., +/-330 ft/18 deg F. The coefficient for my watch is less than half the specified value. The repeatability demonstrated on my North Dome trip (Yosemite Valley) is typical; over 9 hours and a dramatic weather change, the parking lot elevation repeated to 60'. Some altimeter watches have compasses. I suspect that might be useful and convenient, but I'd carry a conventional compass just in case the watch quite working.

Several years ago, I descended from St. Andrews Rock on the west side of Mt. Rainier in thick fog. It was uneventful, but only because we had a mechanical altimeter and a compass. That experience made me a believer.

In automatic mode, the watch logs 50 time/elevation/temperatures triplets at 15 minute intervals (12 hours of data). In manual mode, data is stored whenever one of the buttons is pushed. The log can be viewed while hiking and provides answers to questions like "When did we reach the summit?" and "How long 'til we get back to the car?" You can enter an altitude offset if you wish. The offset is 200 to 400 feet for my watch. It's most often about 300 feet.

I find the graph displayed on the watch useful. The 28x8 dot array displays altitude over the previous 28 minutes of time. Each dot represents 2 minutes of time and 40 feet of elevation. A 45 degree slope corresponds to a rate of 20 ft/min or 1200 ft/hour, a comfortable ascent rate for a fit day hiker. Sometimes, when I'm impatient, I'm reassured to glance at my watch and see a very reasonable ascent rate.

I have a GPS that my brother and nephews gave me that I rarely use. It is too heavy and bulky for hiking, doesn't seem quite sporting, and one tends to be more observant if one depends partially on memory to retrace ones route. The new GPS's are light enough (5 to 6 oz) to consider, however.

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Date created: 2002.03.04
Last modified: 2002.06.26
Copyright © 2002, Walter A. Siegmund

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