This year, I took two watches around the world. On international trips from Iceland to Nepal, watches from Suunto and Timex served as ever-ready, wrist-mounted gauges. Time, weather, direction, heart rate, and altitude were among the read-outs on my wrist as I pushed through wilderness and up mountain peaks.
By far, the Suunto Vector HR watch was the most useful of the tested two. It has tools for outdoor adventures and physical conditioning. Time, altimeter, and heart-rate are the main three functions I use on the Suunto. It also has a barometer to monitor weather, a digital compass, and other tools. A heart-rate monitor strap is included in the Suunto box. You wear it during workouts, and your heart's beats-per-minute are displayed in real-time on the watch face. In my tests, the Suunto watch (suunto.com) never skipped a beat. Its functions were accurate, and its rugged build has kept the watch looking new after much abuse.
One downfall: The Suunto's alarm is too quiet. More than once, the tiny beep has failed to wake me when I was depending on it to get out of a sleeping bag for an early start.
The Suunto Vector HR is not cheap. It retails for $329. But online, the watch goes for as low as $249. It is a solid investment if you need a bomb-proof outdoor watch that also has heart-rate monitoring capabilities to help you train for your big adventures at home.
The Timex Expedition E-Altimeter watch, the second timepiece in my half-year test, is marketed as being appropriate "from base camp to the board room." The watch, which comes in four designs, from $199 to $224, is handsome and hefty. Its wide stainless-steel case and solid band make for a unit that weighs 5.1 ounces on my scale. (The Suunto, by comparison, is two ounces.) Its girth and its analog face--including a half-dozen small hands, numbers, a date box, tick marks, degrees, and tiny text--create a striking design that can indeed do double duty outdoors and for formal functions alike.
But the same attributes that make for its unique look also overly complicate the watch. It's hard to quickly glance at the E-Altimeter for a read-out. The big design also feels heavy on the wrist.
I wore the E-Altimeter off and on in Nepal this spring. While trekking in the Himalayas, the watch's altimeter proved accurate and reliable. It can store and recall high and low altitude points reached on a climb.
The company (timex.com) touts the watch as "designed for the outdoor adventurer with sophisticated taste and the desire for something different." The analog instrument is indeed different. It lacks many of the tools an outdoorsy person may need, including an alarm and a compass. There is no heart-rate option either.
But Timex has a neat offering with the E-Altimeter watch. For the right crowd, the missing features may not matter. For some sacrifices, Timex lets you ditch the digital face and go with a more classic look.
--Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.