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Watches with altimeters
I've got mostly general observations to make about altimeter watches...
Because many altimeters are based on barometric pressure, you cannot expect pinpoint accuracy. 10' vs 20' intervals will not make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things because a small change in barometric pressure is going to change the elevation reading by more than that anyway.
The trick with barometer based altimeters is to pay attention to your known elevation points. Even if you do not recalibrate at every known point (boring - yawn), just paying attention to the relative direction the real elevation is going in relation to the elevation displayed on your watch is enough to tell you a bit about what's happening with the weather. Also, you know that if you calibrated the altimeter in the morning and it's reading too high an elevation a couple of hours later, it's likely to continue to read high as the day goes on. This, of course, means that low pressure is moving in - something that you really can't tell just by looking at the barometric pressure unless you aren't moving anywhere over time.
Then again, if you wake up lower than when you went to sleep, high pressure is moving in and perhaps some good weather with it.
As for temperature... any watch that has a temperature sensor requires the watch be moved away from your body for an accurate reading. Either that or just make sure you hike in temperatures that are similar to your wrist temperature. ;-)
While it's certainly possible that some watches may have the sensor on the face and may therefor be more accurate than a watch with the sensor on the side, you're still talking about the sensor being a fraction of an inch away from your skin. If the sensor is good enough to bother with, you should expect that it be affected by your body temperature. Should you be wearing the watch and want to get an accurate temperature reading, be prepared to give the watch timek to get to ambient temperature.
As for compass functionality, I think they can be useful on a watch, but I wouldn't put myself in a situation where I had to rely on a compass watch. Besides, if you really have to use it, it's hard to place on a map for bearing purposes. :-) But, if you carry a standard compass, the convenience of the watch compass might allow you to keep it in your pack when you're just using the compass for general information.
I owned a Casio Weather Station/Barometer watch. At the time I purchased it in about 1990, there were only one or two watches commonly available with an altimeter. I don't believe this watch is made any longer. It did not have a temperature sensor on it and the elevation is limited to about 14,000'. I think most current watch altimeters go to at least 19,000' now.
All this being said, it was a great watch. The crystal got scratched a bit over the years. I think replaced the batteries (there are two in the watch) three times - maybe four over the years. Once you open the watch, even if only one battery is dead, you replace both. As with any waterproof watch, it's best if you can make sure the gasket is replaced each time the watch is opened. This was my watch's downfall. I never bothered to have the watch pressure tested after each battery replacement. After the first few replacements, it was still plenty waterproof for swimming and skin diving, but I wouldn't have done any scuba diving with it. Unfortunately, the last time I had the batteries replaced in 2003 while in Australia, the jeweler failed to reseat the gasket properly and water got into the watch.
As a woman with tiny wrists, it was one of the smaller altimeter watches I have ever seen. And yet I still found it bulky. But, I was willing to put up with that for all the other functionality I get out of it.
Last updated, January 11, 2005.
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