Altimeter

11:28 a.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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Hi,

I’m looking for a watch/altimeter/compass/thermometer that is all encompassed into a “watch style” unit. I have been researching this and I see that there are many different manufacturers and price ranges for these units. The units that I have been reading about on various websites (as well as this one) are made by Casio, Suunto, and HighGear. I am on somewhat of a limited budget, say around the $150 range (max). The Casio PAG40 series seems to be a pretty good unit for the price (at least that is what I have read). Have any of you seen or have any experience with this unit? Any suggestions/comments are appreciated.

Thank you,

Tom

12:35 p.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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mi77915, I don't have any experience with altimeters but I knew that this site ran some good deals. The attached link has the one you mention for $119.

http://www.departmentofgoods.com/altimeters

12:52 p.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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I am a firm believer in having mission critical equipment that doesn't rely on batteries or fancy electronics.  So if you think you want this device, I'd suggest at least acquiring a backup old fashioned compass.  Same sentiments if you believe the altimeter and thermometer are mission critical too.

Ed

1:18 p.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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I use a Suunto model and find it very helpful.  I use it to keep track of how many more feet I have to climb to get to the top a landmark along the trail, any high point, pass, etc.  However, one has to set the footage when you know the altitude of a certain point.  It can help locate your position on a map, just like a sailor can use a fathometer (lobstermen rely on them for navigating in the fog or locating pots).  

For hiking on the AT, I carry pages of a guide book that has the altitude of many trail junctions such as roads, streams, shelters, power lines as well as high points on the trail.

The watch also has a barometer which can be a guide for approaching weather, and a themometer.  I take the watch off my wrist at night and put in in a spot where I can find it to see how cold it is before I get out of my warm bag.  It is useless when on my wrist, because it picks up body heat.

One time when bushwacking, I came to the trail I was aiming for, and used the altimeter to double check, making sure I had not gone to low to another trail.

The battery lasts for about a year.

The altimeter on the watch is not as accurate as the altimeter on the Garmin GPS I have (Foretrex).

 

2:33 p.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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In the "all in one" wrist units, like anything else, you get what you pay for. Over the years, I have had a number of different altimeter, compasses, watches, and thermometers. And 2 of the 3 brands you mention, plus seeing the third one in use by other people.

First, I will echo Ed's (whomeworry) comment - if it has batteries, the batteries will die at a critical moment. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. So if it is mission-critical, have backups.

On the compass - electronic compasses, whether in the watch or a separate handheld electronic compass, do not begin to compete with an analog compass with a magnetized needle. Considering that you can get a compass that will serve all your needs short of surveying (and maybe competitive orienteering and telling the artillery where to lob their shells) for $10, just get a baseplate compass by Suunto or Brunton (US distributor of the Swedish Silva company). The JWA Silva (which are now made in China) are ok (originally Silva of Sweden supplied the JWA company with their compasses, but there was a trademark dispute that ended with JWA owning the US trademark rights to the Silva name). Just in case you travel to the Southern Hemisphere, you should know that because of the way the Earth's magnetic field works, you will need a Southern Hemisphere compass outside North America and Europe.

On the thermometer - the big problem with the thermometer in the wrist instruments is that it is reading the temperature on your wrist, not the free air temperature. You can get a backpacking thermometer that looks sort of like a pencil for $4-5. Get that instead, if you want reasonably accurate readings. And the "zipper-pull" thermometers are plenty good enough for most backpacking and hiking.

Ok, on the altimeter/barometer - Again, Ed is right that if you consider the altimeter and/or barometer to be mission-critical, get a Thommens analog altimeter. They are pricey, but they do not use batteries, and they are quite accurate (remembering that atmospheric pressure changes with the weather, so you have to learn how to do the calibration).

OK, so I haven't convinced you, and you still really really want a "wrist-computer". Having tried too many of them over the years and found that their effective lifetime is only 4 or 5 years at best, I will comment on my experiences -

You will grow dissatisfied with the Casio or HighGear pretty quickly. They are too limited in what they do. I had two Casios and found them to be pretty undependable and limited as far as the altimeter and barometer were concerned. Timex has some models that are pretty similar to the Casios, but more accurate and dependable (I use a Timex Ironman for my daily watch, and had a test version of the Timex WS-4 that I reviewed - it might suit your needs for not much above your price range).

Suunto's are pretty good and dependable. They do have the altitude, barometer, and compass functions you are looking for. I had a Vector for several years, then gave it to my son (he is still using it) when I got an X-6. I have used the X6 at some pretty extreme altitudes from Badwater in Death Valley (-200 ft or so) and up on tall peaks like Denali (20,320 ft) and Kilimanjaro (19,200 or so). The X6 has a computer connection, so you can see what your gain, loss, altitude vs time, rate of climb/descent, and barometric pressure are when you download after a hike. The Core series has many of the same features. And there are heart-rate monitor versions as well. I think Polar makes better heart-rate monitors that also incorporate the altitude and barometer functions. Both Suunto and Polar are pricey, but they are more precise (finer calibrations) and accurate in use. Both also come with GPS versions, if you get inspired to go that far. Polar's software is better than Suunto's for hiking and backpacking (that is, reviewing after you get back from the trip on your computer).

4:19 p.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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I own a Timex adventure tech altimeter/thermometer/barometer/etc

I reviewed it here: http://www.trailspace.com/gear/timex/adventure-tech-altimeter/review/20175/

The altimeter needs calibrated far too often, like six times a day.  Far too much.  Most GPS have an altimeter and I like these better. 

4:52 p.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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I'd say stick with the basics man. Save yourself the money and use the money to buy other gear you need. I understand the allure of the electronic altimeter (I thought about getting one once), but it's simply not necessary.

 

A basic compass is the best method, electronic ones can fail. You can buy a cheap thermometer that will hook onto your pack's shoulder straps. All you have to do is look down and see the temp. Lastly, use a pedometer and have an in depth knowledge of the area you're in for altitude. Use a good map, which has contour and altitude lines mapped out, and use your pedometer to determine how far you've been on the map.

 

Basic Compass - $15.00

Thermometer to hook on - $10.00

Pedometer - $15.00

Detailed Maps - $10-$20

 

Total - $50-$60 along with generalizable skills, versus $150 and dependency on electronics.

 

5:28 p.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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Wow, There  is a lot of GREAT info here!!!!! Maybe I'll have to rethink my inquiry. I do always carry a traditional compass when I am out for a hike, and I also have a pretty good pedometer that I also carry. I just thought it would be "nice" or "handy" to have most of these functions all rapped into one unit. Now, I'm not so sure that it is worth the money.

Thanks to EVERYONE who has contributed to this thread so far, you all have helped me make a more (and well thought) decision. I think that "iClimb" has a great (and least expensive) suggestion.

Bill S - you have convinced me NOT to invest in one of these units. Everything you said makes sense. Thank you.

Again, Thanks to everyone,

Tom

7:42 p.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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Hey, Tom, don't rule out forever even considering an electronic toy. They do serve a good function.

And a caveat - don't take anything I say or post overly seriously.

5:18 a.m. on November 2, 2010 (EDT)
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I am not ruling out owning electronic devices, in fact, I like them and they certainly have there place, but I think in this case, I will forgo the investment of this type of unit. Maybe I should invest in a electronic devise that might be more "practical", say maybe a good GPS unit that I currently do not own. That type of equipment may be more justified.

Tom

9:23 a.m. on November 3, 2010 (EDT)
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I am a little late chiming in on this post, but I wanted to say that I have an "all in one" unit by High Gear, I think it's the AltiTec model? It's not a watch/wrist style, but a beener style.

I have had it for about 3 years or so now I think, and I LOVE it.  It has a compass, altimeter, barmometer, thermometer, stopwatch, and the time/date/ alarms.

I rarely if ever use the compass, but it is there as a backup in case my dog eats my cammenga lol. I use the altimeter and barometer on this unit quite often. It is very accurate, the stated claim is +/- 3ft and I would say that is a dead on statement. I set the altitude at the beginning of every trip and then again whenever I am at a known elevation. It usually tracks along just fine but I put in a "fix" when I can more out of habit from the military than anything else, and it also helps with keeping the weather prediction/barometer accurate.

Unit weighs like 1.5oz and I keep it clipped on my pack strap so it is always right there and easy to access/use. Buttons are easy to operate with gloves. Unit is water resistant, I have had it out in really heavy rains on many occassions with no ill effects(I keep it on my pack strap no matter the weather). I want to say It cost like 100ish. The battery lasts roughly 1-1.5yrs, a little less if you use the compass alot.

I would highly recommend this one, it's a great tool to have along. I agree with others not to depend on electronic devices solely, but they are just one of the tools you can have at your disposal. I typically carry a cammenga lenstatic compass, the High Gear, and a Garmin Rhino GPS (which also has an altimeter but not nearly as good as the High Gear).

8:31 a.m. on November 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Scroll down you might see what TheRambler is describing, that is if you can get by all the other gadgets like the one that measures "air time"!

http://www.utahskiandsnowboard.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=150

 

10:47 a.m. on November 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Here is a good explanation how altimeters work :

http://www.thealtimeterstore.com/howtheywork.html

1:20 p.m. on November 4, 2010 (EDT)
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5:32 p.m. on November 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Thanks for your reply "TheRambler", that unit looks more like what i need then a "wrist watch" style. After a few of the replies, it finally dawned on me about the thermometer being influenced by my body heat, not a good thing. Also, someone mentioned that hiking with a "big" unit strapped to your wrist might also not be a good thing. However, the style that is listed above (can be attached to my backpack), well, that makes a lot of sense to me. I am going to look into one of those, that just might be a good "fit" for me. Thanks for posting the links!!

Tom

9:37 p.m. on November 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Np, I bought mine on sale at EMS a few years back, think I paid like 70ish I think. I have found it well worth the money. But it's one of those items that you buy after you have all your other gear. A "nice to have" but not mission critical.

3:45 p.m. on November 6, 2010 (EDT)
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I have a Suunto and it works fine for my basic needs, I also have an old Peet Bros. model 88 analog altimeter that has much better resolution (20 ft. increments) and I use it when I'm traveling off trail to help me navigate.

A couple of the cheaper altimeters I have looked at read in 100 Ft. increments and that makes it hard to fix your position on a specific contour line on your topo, you can get close, but it's still sloppy.

I personally enjoy using an altimeter, you learn a lot by using one I think.

I started using an altimeter years ago, one that was given to me by a hiking buddy, I don't remember the brand. It was a fairly cheap one, but I found it very useful and interesting, I wore it on my shirt so I could keep an eye on it, I also wore my compass around my neck on a lanyard for easy access. Having to constantly dig them out of a pocket or pack is troublesome, and they really should be easily accessible so you can use them and keep up with where you are on your topo.


Here is an old photo of me on the Cumberland Plateau in TN. The date on the photo is wrong, I didn't know how to set the camera correctly, that was either '88 or '89.

I am fully accessorized (haha) with my altimeter clipped onto my pack strap, my compass around my neck (tucked under my shirt) and a whistle. I had a fanny pack full of emergency gear, cheap camera, and maps; and my cargo pants were full of snacks.

That was just a dayhike on an established trail. I look at that photo nowadays and laugh. I looked like a poster boy for 'too much gear'.

2813678653_dc57c6aba8_m.jpg

Fun times!

7:30 p.m. on November 6, 2010 (EDT)
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If you like the HighGear that TheRambler listed, you might also consider the Timex WS4 that I mentioned before. Timex has a better reputation than HighGear, plus the WS4 carabiner style has a wide screen and shows graphical displays of the time history of the various parameters. This makes it pretty easy to see how the barometer changed overnight or how you progressed on your climb up the hill. It doesn't have a way to download to your computer (a big reason why it is much less than the Suunto or Polar). When I did a review of it a while back, the price got listed at $199.99, which is the MSRP. I think there are better deals than the Amazon link ($179) I gave above. More pricey than the HighGear but in watching others in use, I think the extra bucks for the added features and Timex's warranty and dependability are worth it. Of course, if you want to spend less, the HighGear may be better for you.

8:09 p.m. on November 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Just to clarify, the HighGear also has graphical displays of the time history for altitude, and also for barometric pressure, and for the weather history/prediction.

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