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What Is an Altimeter Watch and How Does it Work?

An altimeter is an instrument used to measure the altitude of an object above a fixed level. That’s a fancy way of saying it’s like a GPS, but better if you’re in the middle of nowhere. GPS navigation is ideal for streets and cities that have been accurately mapped, but for those who like to spend their weekends or vacations exploring the great outdoors, an altimeter is a must-have accessory. More reliable and accurate than a GPS when it comes to measuring altitude, an altimeter is the preferred mode of navigation when outdoors for several reasons. The GPS on your phone or watch may lose a signal if you’re deep in the woods, exploring a canyon, or in the middle of a lake while fishing, an altimeter is better equipped to give an accurate location because it does not rely on nearby cell towers or satellites.

Because an altimeter uses barometric pressure, which changes with the weather, users may have to recalibrate their altimeter when climbing extreme altitudes. Altimeters are not only important for helping hikers pinpoint their exact location, but they’re also important tools for forecasting the weather. Like the GPS found in our phones, our weather apps also rely on nearby signals and a cabin in the woods may not have a cell tower within range. An altimeter can tell you the exact altitude you’re currently sitting at, which is a necessary number for calculating the atmospheric pressure. High pressure means good weather, low pressure means bad weather, and for those who are avid hikers, you know that weather can be the difference between an enjoyable day outside or a life and death situation.

Whether you’re hiking for a day or embarking on a week-long adventure off the grid, adding extra bulk to your pack is a big no-no. That’s why we love these altimeter watches that feature several additional benefits to help keep you safe and get a great workout in while exploring the beautiful scenery around you.

1. Garmin Foretrex 601

The perfect tool for those who hike, hunt or camp in unmarked areas, the Garmin has an altimeter and high-sensitivity GPS that not only gives accurate readings of your location, it can also track your routes and waypoints so that you can easily find your way back to your starting point. The Garmin comes with a variety of options for reading location. A big pro of the Garmin is its long battery life, lasting 17 hours (pack replaceable AAA batteries for long treks). You can also store your routes to help find your way back to locations at a later date. Using the Garmin Connect website, users can upload their routes and activities and track their hikes on Google Earth.

PROS: Long-lasting battery. Night vision goggles accessibility.

CONS: Not waterproof.

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2. SUUNTO Core All Black Military Men’s Outdoor Sports Watch

The Suunoto can provide accurate measurements to depths of 30 feet, making it ideal for cave explorations. The watch features an altimeter, barometer, and compass and can track the weather and sun, with an intelligent storm alarm that alerts you to bad weather, activated by a rapid drop in air pressure over a three-hour period, a huge pro for hikers and campers. The Suunoto’s weather tracking is its biggest pro, with the built-in weather trend indicator giving accurate predictions and helping users determine how to dress and what to pack before leaving their car or campsite. The watch is water resistant to 100 feet, provides sunrise and sunset times, and time and calendar functions, making it the perfect watch for camping and everyday wear.

PROS: Displays sunrise and sunset time.

CONS: Buttons can begin to stick after excessive usage.

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Image courtesy of Amazon

3. LAD-WEATHER Altimeter Watch

The LAD features all the benefits of a Chronograph watch, including alarms, date and time, lap timers (only up to 10 laps) though the watch face can be difficult to read in low lighting. LAD has a thermometer in the watch, but the watch must be removed from the wrist in order to give an accurate temperature reading, with the watch defaulting to body temperature when being worn. The watch also doesn’t have Bluetooth connectivity available for syncing to your phone.

PROS: Water resistant

CONS: Takes a good amount of calibration to set it up for your specifications.

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Image courtesy of Amazon