Hikers without watches - the 'new normal' ??

2:35 a.m. on April 12, 2014 (EDT)
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I just hiked the Juan de Fuca trail (coastal BC) where the time (and height) of the high tides can affect the route. I keep a pretty close watch on the time when I'm hiking anyway- I want to monitor my pace (and remaining daylight if I'm slow!) and make sure I don't skip snack and water breaks, etc.

I was surprised when I met several hikers without watches.

I was trying to get some info on section hiking time from one of a pair of hikers who were travelling in the opposite direction from me:"What time did you leave this morning?" "Well, there's no cell coverage out here, so I shut off my phone so I can't check the time..... and my friend doesn't have a watch either. I think we left pretty late..."

The next day on the trail I was overtaken by a much quicker hiker. We had a quick and pleasant talk. Said I: "Wow, you are really moving and making good time!" "Oh, I guess so. What time is it?"

Admittedly, I was in the 'grandpa' age group for most of these nice folks. Should I now consider my wristwatch another symbol of advancing decrepitude?


11:05 a.m. on April 12, 2014 (EDT)
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I'll admit that i no longer wear a watch. My last one broke when my pack strap caught it when putting on my pack. Honestly, I havnt missed it. I usually keep my iphone on airplane mode and will check it periodically. I can usually estimate the time fairly accurately based on where the sun is.

I actually like not being concerned with what time it is when I am out. If it gets dark before I reach my destination for the day i will either just stop and find a suitable place to camp or press on in the dark.

1:24 p.m. on April 12, 2014 (EDT)
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I like watches and wear a old fashioned oen with a clock face instead of a digital watch. I don't usually carry my cell phone when hiking because its a cheap Net10 one that usually doesn't get a signal in backcountry areas.

I like it more for the simple compass use, where you face the 12 towards the sun then see that east is where the 3 is and west is towards the 9 generally speaking.

Like Rambler though I have had many a watch pop off when it catches on my pack strap as I slip it on my shoulder. Lost one in Alaska while slipping my pack on midstream and it was washed away before I could retrieve it.

I don't check the time much for snack or water breaks. I just stop when I feel the need to drink or eat. I always try to drink fluids at least every 30-60 minutes even if just a few sips.

And I often on long backpacking trips stow my watch in my pack after a few days when I realize again that I don't need to keep a timed schedule like I seem to when in town. And outside as Rambler said its generally easy to decided the approx time by the sun or moon once one has been out for many days.

When I was in boy scouts and seemed to be the only one wearing a watch, I used to hate it when every 5-15 minutes someone would ask what time it was, I got into the habit of saying "Its time to buy a watch" or I would give up my watch to someone else after tiring of hearing the question too much.

I do often judge distance traveled by how long it took to go so far in so much time, or when bike touring to clock the time it takes to go 1/10 of a mile or five 1/10 of a mile markers to see how fast I am averaging while riding. Or to know the sun comes up at a approx  certain time when I wake in the middle of the night to see how long before sun comes up. Or to time the heating period for cooking pasta.

10:35 p.m. on April 12, 2014 (EDT)
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The only times I used to wear a watch was when we had to be mindful about snow travel safety issues. Nowadays I need one to remind me of my meds schedule: Otherwise I don't desire to be bothered with anymore of civilized contrivances while camping than absolutely necessary.


12:28 a.m. on April 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I have always worn a watch and always will.  I only use an analog watch, can't stand digital.

It is a sign of the times for people not to have watches in town.  Most young people today use their cellphones for timekeeping, and few wear watches any more.  Since I don't have a cellphone, I can't use one for timekeeping anyway.

10:13 a.m. on April 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I too wear an analog watch when I am out on the trail.  I use it to help me keep track of my pace and mileage.  I also find it easier to check the time in the middle of the night by looking at my wrist rather than fumbling around for my phone.

11:52 a.m. on April 13, 2014 (EDT)
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And my watch has hands that soak up light during the day then glow lightly at night enough to see without using the build in light. I have gotten used to seeing at at early hours when its pitch dark out, especially in my tent.

12:46 p.m. on April 13, 2014 (EDT)
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GaryPalmer said:

 I have gotten used to seeing at at early hours when its pitch dark out, especially in my tent.


Early hours are a good time for a watch, for me. Body sends the 'gotta go' message ;-) and the decision list is:

a)get up and then go back to bed/sleep

b)get up, 'go', start packing up gear and getting dressed

c)maybe I can stay in the sack for another 30 min??

One time on a backpacking (not climbing) trip (my watch mustn't have been on my wrist) I sleepily packed up my gear and was all ready to get going when I realized it was only 0300! Backcountry version of sleepwalking, I guess..

2:41 p.m. on April 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I wear a digital watch that's also an altimeter.  I find that second function helpful when doing things like countouring to find a lake off trail, for example.


And it's solar powered so I never have to wind it or get a battery.  Glows in the dark when I ask it to do so.


And yeah, we use it to get sense of where we are on the trail, compared to where we want to be.  Since I learned navigation as a sailor, dead reckoning is hard to leave behind.  It's less important when you can see exactly where you are...but cloudy weather, fog, or lots of trees can limit that...

4:25 p.m. on April 13, 2014 (EDT)
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JohnAbercrombie said: a)get up and then go back to bed/sleep

I don't get up to go if all I have to do is pee, I use a old bottle for that so I don't have to crawl out of my tent or sleeping bag. 

Usually I wake up about 4 in the morning when nature calls. Otherwise I get up with the sun when I see it pop over the horizon.

My watch I bought from Timex with the hands style is odd, about once every two weeks the hour hand moves it way past the next number on the dial than the actual time really is, sometimes it tricks me into thinking its an hour later than it really is. Then I end up pulling the set dial out and resetting it. If I don't I get confused whether its the time it says or an hour earlier. But I also carry a cheap Net10 cell phone and often cross check the time when especially early in the morning it is later that it really is.

7:25 p.m. on April 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I do wear a watch when I'm navigating off trail, I use the stop watch feature to time myself from waypoint to waypoint. The watch I have also has a tidal graph so I know the time of low & high tides of the day and up to a year in advance.

I also get tidal and lunar info on my GPSr which I use all the time.

When I'm on a trail in non tidal areas I just use my phone for the time of day.

Once I am at camp I like to completely unplug from these devices and just be on 'Nature Time' as I like to call it.

10:03 a.m. on April 14, 2014 (EDT)
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I wear one because I am slow and need to know the time to plan. Not good estimating how much longer the sun will fly.

11:32 a.m. on April 14, 2014 (EDT)
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You know you can use your fingers to judge time before the sun sets? Holding your hand at arms length from your face aline the sun untop or just behind one finger (so you can see the other fingers) Then with your hand held fingers out stretched along side each other cout as many of them as it takes between the suns bottom edge and the horizon, each fingers width is about 10-15 degrees which represents 15 minutes of time, The amount of finger widths between the sun and the horizon tells the approx amount of time before sunset. Works best about 1-2 hours before sunset.


Something we learned in boy scouts 45 years ago.

I tately use the stopwatch on my phone, but it would/could be easier to calculate distance vs time when cycling and hiking.

12:15 p.m. on April 14, 2014 (EDT)
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Actually just used your aforementioned method of calculating daylight this past weekend, Gary - and it's surprisingly accurate. 

I wear a watch all the time.

Though my hammock does have its own built-in "shelf" where I know the phone will be, all I have to do is glance at my wrist instead of fumbling through gear. Much easier.

Far as power is concerned, my watch is solar-powered and I'm not wasting battery life checking the time with it.

Alarm function comes in handy, too, making sure I don't accidentally ever sleep in when I should be back out hiking. 

2:07 p.m. on April 14, 2014 (EDT)
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Yeah I'm in the group that wears a watch. It's one of my essentials for pacing on a solo trip with long days. I only wear one on trail and only use cheap ones as I'm likely to damage it or lose it.

4:06 p.m. on April 14, 2014 (EDT)
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I wear a watch on and off trail...but as Eric mentioned...because of battery-life a watch is significantly more practical for measuring time than a phone on trail...and in your sleeping-bag at night. Also...like Pat...I wear a cheap water-resistant watch (currently a Timex) because the batteries last years...I can swim and shower in them...and I do not care too much if my 15.00-20.00 watch gets lost of damaged. I have used more expensive watches with added functions (alt + temp + compass)...but I found I rarely needed these functions...and when I did my phone was either equal or superior to my watch.

10:57 a.m. on April 15, 2014 (EDT)
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Eric said: Far as power is concerned, my watch is solar-powered and I'm not wasting battery life checking the time with it.

One could always get a sundial watch like I think Fred Flintstone had. :) 

I wear a Timex watch as well, is battery powered and is water proof to 100 meters, not that I will ever dive that deep. Only thing I don't like about it is it has a velcro watchband which from the start never stays together,especially when it is wet from the shower, I put a small rubber band around it to hold the velcro together.

3:55 p.m. on April 15, 2014 (EDT)
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i always wear a watch.  don't own any digital and don't really like that.  in fact, i try to avoid watches that use a normal battery. 

most of the time, i wear a fairly straightforward seiko dive watch.  waterproof, easy to read at night, a form of automatic watch that self-winds while you move around.  it happens this one has a capacitor, so it doesn't stop if you don't wear it for a few days and builds up a charge that will last a few months.  because it has a steel bracelet, i switch when it's colder to an equally simple citizen eco-drive dive watch with a nylon military strap - waterproof, thick glass, big numbers. 

it's pretty hard to damage a decent dive watch.  both of these watches are several years old and have taken a significant beating.  yes, they are a little heavier.  but they don't break, don't fail, and do exactly what they are supposed to.     

9:46 a.m. on April 16, 2014 (EDT)
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I use a watch..Iam a runner besides a backpacker and I pace myself when backpacking..When I know its a long day I like to break it down to time intervals..A cheap Timex is what I use..

1:58 p.m. on April 16, 2014 (EDT)
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I'm in the school where the watch tells me how far I've hiked.  Good or bad when you need to check what time it is in the winter.  It's only that time?!!!


3:22 p.m. on April 16, 2014 (EDT)
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John A,

What you experienced is how dependent people are on their cellphones.

For casual trips in good weather I like to leave the watch at home. But for trips like the coast of Vancouver Is, trips in the winter with short hours of daylight, or hunting trips when we are out until the light fades a watch is very useful. I like to know when I wake up in the dark if it is 0400 or 0630.

7:37 p.m. on April 16, 2014 (EDT)
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I read an article a couple months ago about how the cell phone has made watches obsolete.  I still wear one almost all the time.  I always wear one while out on outdoor adventures.  I would feel lost without it.

9:18 p.m. on April 16, 2014 (EDT)
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As most here know, I do competitive orienteering. A few years back, at a meet where I was the SAR person, we had a man who had not shown up by the stated "no later than" time. At first we were not too perturbed, since he is a member of a well-known, highly competitive orienteering family (several members have placed highly in international meets). But after a while, we began to worry - if he is not back, he must be injured, since experienced orienteers just do not get truly lost. A little disoriented maybe, but not that lost.

So I sent out pairs of the top orienteers (all blue and red level runners, for those familiar with the US orienteering classes) to go forward and backward on the course he was supposed to be on, plus a team cutting across to the mid-course area (courses are usually loops with the start and finish near the staging area, typically a parking lot). While the search teams were out (now 2 hours after the "return by" time), he came wandering in to the finish area. It turned out he had been using his cell phone for a watch. At some point he had apparently lost the phone, but did not know where. So he spent a lot of time wandering around looking for the phone. He also had dropped his map.

Needless to say, we were all a bit annoyed, especially since we had put in the first stage alert call to the local sheriff's office. We later found out that, despite the rest of the family having a healthy quota of "orienteering genes", this fellow was the exception in the family and had a very poor sense of direction (and just maybe responsibility to others).

Orienteers pretty much universally wear watches, often with heart rate monitors in them. GPSRs are verboten for navigation in competition - only map and compass are allowed. Watches are needed to stay within the time limits, and everyone is supposed to wear a whistle in case of emergency.

9:48 a.m. on April 17, 2014 (EDT)
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I don't consider myself that old, but count me in the watch wearing group. I actually would feel a bit undressed without it. I typically have a digital one on while running, hiking, skiing, whatever.

Even if I'm not timing myself on a run, I like to have a general idea of how long I've been out and about what time I'll get to where I'm going.

Maybe I am showing my age here, but when I have my phone with me it is off and packed away for use in an emergency only. For me, I personally feel that turning on the phone or other electronics breaks the mood of being outdoors, even just to check the time. So, for my own experience, I keep it out of sight and mind.

11:18 a.m. on April 17, 2014 (EDT)
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Gary, your method of using the fingers of one hand to calculate time is best used at the Equator. As one travels north or south from this point its accuracy diminishes greatly. North of the 60th Parallel the inherent inaccuracies are exaggerated to the point of rendering the technique useless. Within the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t set, obviously raises another issue.

Many of my really long trips, before the advent of GPS, I would take two watches, both analog. One was set to Greenwich Meantime the other to local time. Calculating the difference between the two times would give me a number, in hours, either positive or negative. Each hour difference represents 15 degrees from Greenwich England (which is the Prime Meridian or 0) allowing me an estimate of how far along an east-west line I travelled.

I have owned many watches in my life, from cheap analog ones, to digital to veritable navigational computers, although I can’t really say I have used them much. Mostly they are just there on my wrist. My most recent acquisition, a Suunto Chronograph wrist computer (!) lies in my dresser drawer, its batteries dead. I don’t know why I purchased it in the first place. Now I have been watchless for the past year or so and frankly don’t miss it all. I find when in town that the time is apparent everywhere I go. When on hikes I walk until I get tired and then set up camp.

I also don’t own a cell phone.

12:14 p.m. on April 17, 2014 (EDT)
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I often use the finger sunset method most everywhere I hike/camp in the lower 48 with reasonable accuracy. Just gives me an idea when the sunlight will be gone. I usually always stop to make camp whther hiking or biking at least 1-2 hours before sunset so I have time to set up camp, make dinner and relax with a book before it gets dark. I rarely read after sunset, though may listen to a windup radio for entertainment once its too dark to see with out a headlight. I like to conserve batteries for when my light is better needed in an emergency or to explore caves in the daytime. 

5:03 a.m. on April 18, 2014 (EDT)
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I no longer wear a watch since I have a phone with me all the time, or at least most of the time. However, for hiking, I have a Casio digital watch with no band on it that I will put into a little "tool bag" for lack of a better term along with a compass, matches, and so on that I can get out when I need it. I don't rely on a phone in the wild. I have a GPS with a clock on it as well, so if I have that with me, that is about as reliable as it gets, assuming the batteries are charged.

8:19 p.m. on April 19, 2014 (EDT)
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Having a watch this past week helped my team make it to a diner for a hot dinner before it closed..."C'mon guys, we've got to pick up the pace, or it's Ramen tonight!"

8:46 a.m. on April 20, 2014 (EDT)
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Admittedly, even though I actually have a collection of watches (10+, I know I have a problem with random collecting of whatever I happen to be into at the moment) with several purchased specifically for hiking.... I typically dont take one for day hikes.... especially in winter where it can get caught on my sleeves and be a nuisance. I really should wear them, but for some reason it always gets overlooked, and I know my phone's battery will last the day.

9:53 p.m. on April 20, 2014 (EDT)
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G00SE said:

Having a watch this past week helped my team make it to a diner for a hot dinner before it closed..."C'mon guys, we've got to pick up the pace, or it's Ramen tonight!"

Something tells me you would have found some other way to appeal to these guy's gut, short of holding them hostage to a watch!  Pizza was always my personal carrot.  Later in life throw in a beer.  Decades later it still works.


5:13 p.m. on April 23, 2014 (EDT)
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I've never worn a watch.  Not in daily life.  Not while in the outdoors.  But I'm someone who is irritated by a phone and several time pieces in every room of a house.  It's something I notice.  If I had to know tides or such, I would amend this self-emposed rule.  Otherwise, no thank you.  I don't need to know the time.  It's one of the many things I'm glad to escape when I'm out there.

10:36 p.m. on April 23, 2014 (EDT)
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It's interesting how divided (respectfully, of course) people are on this topic. I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum I guess. Sometimes I wear a watch, sometimes I don't. Typically, I don't like wearing one when the weather is hot and humid. During the summer, the less I have on my body, the better. With more hours of daylight in the summer I probably won't need one anyways. However, when daylight hours are fewer and the days are cooler, I typically wear one. 

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