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Thread: Altimeter Watch

  1. #1
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    Default Altimeter Watch

    I've always wanted one, and finally got one. Casio Model 3439, $50 at Costco. It's got an electronic compass, too.

    Anyone here have experience with altimeter watches?

    It seemed to work OK on last weekend's little hike in the White Mountains. The altitude readings seemed about right, and the reading returned to within 50' of the where it had been when we got back to the car.

    Parked here at home, the altitude reading follows the barometric pressure. Weird and amusing to see. Best I can figure, here at sea level, 0.1" of Hg (norm = 30") corresponds to about 92 feet of altitude change. All I know is the indicated altitude has wandered over hundreds of feet, with the watch sitting on my dresser.

    As a barometer, the reading seems to agree with official numbers to within 0.05 in. Hg. Probably can't expect much better than that.

  2. #2
    Registered User Turtle-2013's Avatar
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    I use a different brand of altimeter ... but they have to be reset at every opportunity. That is the nature of a true altimeter (as compared to altitude from a GPS). When you are hiking use the given altitude points on the map, or in the guide to reset it. Since an altimeter is just a barometer accurate enough to give you altitude change ... all changes in the weather will affect it. NOTE: Even an un-set altimeter will give you a pretty good altitude "change" number during an assent or descent of a mountain.

  3. #3

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    That's about it... with barometer-based altimeters the reading is only as good as the last reset, depending upon the weather system. If you really, really need accuracy, it is a good idea to confirm and possibly reset every time you arrive at a known elevation.

    I have the Pathfinder (similar Casio module) and what I've come to find most useful is the barometric graph... check the overnight trend in the morning and get a feel for what's up with the atmosphere.

    For a set-and-forget solution—which I really never need any more—the best option has been something like a Garmin eTrex 30 with the altitude auto-calibration feature enabled. It is basically a barometer-based altimeter but resets itself when it gets a bunch of very strong satellite signals that are a certain variance from the current altitude reading. It then resets itself from the satellite data and resumes barometric readings. It is almost always spot-on, but I rarely carry the eTrex these days.

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    I had one years ago, before GPS were common, yes it does take time and maintenance, just something you get used to. You end up resetting it when you are at a known elevation or if you somehow know the barometric pressure. Usually noting the elevation before bed and resetting it to that in the morning.

    On the plus side it is highly accurate and if traveling up's and downs can pinpoint your location on a topo map easily, but not so much for flats.

    It can also be used for relative elevation change for times you don't want to calibrate it, such as it's reading 2390 ft and you are at 2790 ft, you known you have 2000 ft to ascend, just leave it alone and know your destination on the watch is at 4390.

    Also the electronic compass eats batteries, even with their occasional instant read use.

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    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    I'm trying to mentally count, I think im on my fourth, but our primary activity is climbing mountains, where altimeters are of course extremely useful. A quick look at a wrist is more convenient for me, at least, than dragging out a phone or a gps, etc, and the newest barometric altimeters (like your casio) are almost as accurate.

    My first was an ancient mechanical thing, not a watch, hung on a biner on my pack, I dont remember it being very accurate. The next two were suunto vectors, decent instrument, fairly accurate, but tended to drift low roughly 7 percent when climbing, a few hundred feet over 4000 feet on vertical. Easy to mentally compensate though. I finally think i figured out why; made in Finland, the atmosphere profile changes significantly at much higher latitudes.

    Both suunto's finally died (leaky seals after battery change), and maybe 5 years ago I bought a Casio for 60 beans, and it is by far the most accurate altimeter I've owned, even bought two more for wife and son. So, assuming yours is similar, great choice!

    So useful for navigation, weather forecast, etc, i never leave home without one. Literally, it is my regular-life watch too. It goes without saying that one should calibrate at known altitudes quite often, when one remembers, that is.
    Last edited by colorado_rob; 03-30-2017 at 08:44.

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    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_rob View Post
    I'm trying to mentally count, I think im on my fourth, but our primary activity is climbing mountains, where altimeters are of course extremely useful. A quick look at a wrist is more convenient for me, at least, than dragging out a phone or a gps, etc, and the newest barometric altimeters (like your casio) are almost as accurate.

    My first was an ancient mechanical thing, not a watch, hung on a biner on my pack, I dont remember it being very accurate. The next two were suunto vectors, decent instrument, fairly accurate, but tended to drift low roughly 7 percent when climbing, a few hundred feet over 4000 feet on vertical. Easy to mentally compensate though. I finally think i figured out why; made in Finland, the atmosphere profile changes significantly at much higher latitudes.

    Both suunto's finally died (leaky seals after battery change), and maybe 5 years ago I bought a Casio for 60 beans, and it is by far the most accurate altimeter I've owned, even bought two more for wife and son. So, assuming yours is similar, great choice!

    So useful for navigation, weather forecast, etc, i never leave home without one. Literally, it is my regular-life watch too. It goes without saying that one should calibrate at known altitudes quite often, when one remembers, that is.
    I still have my Suunto Vector. It paid to buy the maintenance packs, which included batteries and O-rings and other stuff. I'm on my second band, the first one just kind of started randomly cracking and literally fell off the watch. But, it did last 10 seasons....

    It's just too much fiddling with to get the same data from my phone or my GPS. It was fun for recording total elevation while skiing, although my smartphone does a far far far far superior job at recording GPS data and tracking elevation with the right app....

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    The Vector is too much fiddling with to get the same data...

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    At $50, it's pretty hard to lose. When hiking, I almost always wear a watch as part of my navigation kit (ie, 30 min = 1.25-1.5 miles). Rather than my Timex, I could see myself buying the Casio with the altimeter.

    In terms of actually using the altimeter, I currently just use my phone, and I don't use it often. On a few occasions, if you know that there's a cabin in the woods at 1900 metres, then it's good to monitor how close you are to where you need to enter the woods. Last year, I walked right past a cabin where I notionally wanted to spend the night because I was a little lax about checking altitude. I wouldn't generally need to look at it as often as I glance at my watch, but for $50, what the heck.

  9. #9

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    I have used them for 20 plus years. They are not a forever watch they wear out. The full featured casios frequently try to do to much and the displays on some models are fairly small. The buttons tend to wear out on Casios. Its takes few years but eventually one of the frequently used buttons will get hard to use and eventually stop working. There was brand "altigear" that made good fully featured ones with large displays, they appear to be out of business. I currently have a Suunto. It looks nice with black background but the contrast with the light colored numbers is poor. Its adjustable but the adjustment doesn't help much.

    Changing the batteries is usually a major trauma to these watches. I generally guess that a battery change is going to half the life. There are Orings that in theory need replacing but I expect few watch shops (if they still exist) would have the right one. If I get two battery changes on watch I feel lucky.

    All the observations of the accuracy is spot on, the barometric pressure changes and if you don't keep the watch set to known points it will be off on elevation, this obvious depends on weather, if there is steady high pressure above it can be dead on all day, if there is weather coming in with change in air masses it can be off quite a bit over the course of the day. That being said most of the time I am hiking its close enough for my purposes which is mostly to answer the dreaded "when are we going to get to point X" I also use mine for bushwhacks.

    Some folks use GPS altimeters as an alternative but they to have a fundamental flaw that the earth isn't round and there are areas that have dips and hills due to various geologic phenomena . The GPS has a model of the earths surface in it but its not going to pick up the dips and hills so the altimeter read the altitude to theoretical mathematical model of the earth versus an actual one.

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    GPS altitude is more accurate than pressure altitude. Period.

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    During our most recent trips, my two friends had an electronic watch each, including a barometric altimeter.
    All in all we had three ways of knowing the altitude, their watches, one dedicated GPS and my smartphone GPS.
    My smartphone usually had just a rough guess about the altitude (like +/+30m), the dedicated GPS was the most accurate and the watches were somewhere in the middle.

    The most useful feature on the watches was the graph of barometric pressure change, to be used as a weather forecast. The one time it indicated a constant and heavy drop in air pressure over the day we had a thunderstorm in the evening.

    I dont really know why the dedicated GPS got the altitude so precise. The GPS System per se is not accurate in that, by design its more focussed on the position than the altitude.
    Maybe the high altitude precision stems from a stored 3d model of the earth surface.

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    Registered User tarditi's Avatar
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    I wear a Casio G-Shock Riseman... frankly, I got it because it was a good deal on a solar tough watch at the time (no pun intended!).
    Most of the data acquisition features are useless to me because you need to know some arcane sequence of function button click, and some are only accurate when motionless and/or the watch is off of your wrist (like the thermometer). Too much fuss for me, personally.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ScareBear View Post
    GPS altitude is more accurate than pressure altitude. Period.
    With respect, I just haven't found this to be the case, and our GPS unit is a very recent model.

    If calibrated at a known (but lower) altitude and the day's weather is stable, my latest altimeter usually locks in to the nearest 20-30 feet at a summit even after a multi-thousand foot climb, and I've found GPS's can be off more like 50 feet or so on summits of known height (or other times spot-on, but then again, my altimeter sometimes is spot on as well). As Leo just said, GPS's are remarkably accurate for position, but less so for altitude. A look at GPS triangulation geometry shows why this is.

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by ScareBear View Post
    GPS altitude is more accurate than pressure altitude. Period.
    I agree that a GPS with WAAS implemented will give you a more accurate altitude if you have good signal. The GPS's I have used attempt to keep a WAAS lock but when in marginal signal territory (dense cover and mountainous areas), it will revert to a non WAAS signal and then the altitude can get less accurate. The trade off on most GPS units is that battery life is less with WAAS enabled. I expect its caused by the GPS making requests more often for a position fix as WAAS is ultimately was designed for aircraft positioning where altitude is critical and thus I think they check every 5 seconds for the DC. All I know is if I go out doing AT boundary with WAAS enabled I burn up a set of batteries in a day, with it off I get a couple of days.

    Its non issue for me as I don't bushwhack actively with GPS, far too likely for it to get caught on a branch and fall off or attempt to hang me plus I am not a fan of burning batteries where a altimeter watch does all I need my arm.

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    First time I hear about WAAS, and reading the short Wikipedia article it seems to be somewhat similar to DGPS, namely a set of ground stations constantly sending correcting signals that take care of atmosphere inconsistencies and similar negative influences for the GPS signal.
    Using WAAS drains the battery faster because its a signal separate to the original GPS signal (separate receiver circuit listening) and needs additional computing power.
    Available only in North America.

    As we, Europe-based, had been in the Middle East, WAAS sure had not been present.
    My wild guess is still, that dedicated GPS Units (good ones) have a world wide elevation map built-in.

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    I have the Casio and I like it. I find it useful in giving me an idea of how much further to the top or bottom of the mountain. I usually recalibrate the elevation once a day while hiking.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by ScareBear View Post
    GPS altitude is more accurate than pressure altitude. Period.
    Suunto Ambit uses GPS referenced/corrected baro pressure. best of both worlds - accurate but doesn't chew battery by staying in constant sync with GPS...

  18. #18

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    For hiking, I prefer an altimeter watch that hangs on a cabiner rather than my wrist. I leave it hanging off a d ring on my shoulder strap. Flip it up when I want to look at it. On a defined trail with a good map, makes it easy to find where you are.

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    I use a Casio Pro Trek 3500 and I love the damn thing. It lives in FL, and has been up to 12k footers in Colorado and on the Knifes Edge in Maine. I have never reset it and have had consistent readings that are within 25 to 50 feet of published altitudes.

  20. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by CoolBobby View Post
    I use a Casio Pro Trek 3500 and I love the damn thing. It lives in FL, and has been up to 12k footers in Colorado and on the Knifes Edge in Maine. I have never reset it and have had consistent readings that are within 25 to 50 feet of published altitudes.
    You have a watch like no other, for sure.

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