One problem with all the electronic stuff on the market these days: Some of the pieces available are so complicated, theyre almost useless. I mean, who really needs to constantly update/download/sync/forecast and all that stuff? I dont even think GPS units are all that useful for things such as everyday hiking. Off-trail use, maybe, as you can mark" your path. And, of course, to mark precise locations for things such as favored fishing spots.
One really good buy in an altimeter watch is the High Gear Summit, which retails for $160 but is available at Campmor (www.campmor.com) for $90. Its a pretty good packagealtimeter with one-foot resolution, barometer, compass, thermometer, the whole shootin match. And its water-resistant. Ive used High Gear products and the interface is reasonably intuitive and easy to learn.
In the next price range, Suuntos Vector ($199; www.suunto.com) is the standout. Suunto almost owns this category these days, and the Vector has lots of excellent features, including altimeter, ascent/descent readouts plus a counter for ski runs, barometer with four-day memory so you can track trends, compass, watch functions, and more. And its water-resistant. Silvas Tech4 (retails for $199, but available at REI for $175; www.rei.com) offers very similar functions. I might suggest getting the two of them side by side, if possible, so you can get a sense of what seems most practical for your own needs.
This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I remain devoted to my ten-year-old (replaced once) Avocet Vertech Alpin (www.avocet.com). Its remarkable how well this watch has held up. I still find its interface and button arrangement superior to almost everything else, and its fast updates of rate of ascent or descent are extremely useful, if only to know how much longer the agony continues until one reaches the high point of the days hike. The Alpin has an awkward battery replacement procedure (you have to mail in the watch and a $20 check), is only marginally watertight, and lacks a backlight. But for $170 its still worth a look.
The votes are in: Check out the winners of Outside's 2006 Gear of the Year awards, including the year's hottest GPS unit.