Buying Right: Backcountry Watches

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, April 1995

Buying Right: Backcountry Watches
By Gordon Black

The wristwatch with a flip-out corkscrew has yet to appear, but there are backwoods timepieces that you can call tools. Whether you want to check your direction of travel, predict the weather, or just see what time it is in a dark tent, there's a watch for your wrist.

Why choose one over another? Aesthetics is an obvious factor, and it's not just a matter of vanity. Some watches, for example, are bulky and tough to get a sleeve around--and yet bulk is often the price of sophistication. If you don't like instruction manuals, don't choose a watch that'll give you meteorological reports--you'll never be able to decipher them. However, if you're mainly looking for good water- and shock-resistance, you're in luck: You've got the run of the litter to choose from.

The Avocet Vertech Alpin ($130) has been a hit with mountaineers for its aircraft-accurate altimeter. The watch digitally measures your rate of ascent in 100-foot-per-hour increments and stores vertical feet covered for the day and year. Tracking your "verts" is great for bragging rights, but the altimeter can also be used to supplement a compass and topo map. There's a thermometer and a barometric-trend indicator, too. The Vertech's big buttons are easy to use, but the casing isn't easily slipped under a shirt cuff. From Avocet, 415-321-8501.

Casio's Triple Sensor ($250) has more bells and whistles still. A compass joins the altimeter, thermometer, and barometer, and you can program the watch to tie most of these functions together with the time to give you readings at fixed intervals. Like the Vertech, the Triple Sensor is bulky. From Casio, 800-962-2746.

The trick Vuarnet Cup ($995) is a little more dressy. By itself the watch is a well-crafted, stainless-steel Swiss timepiece: waterproof to 330 feet, shockproof, and scratchproof. Pony up for the optional diving bezel ($150), compass ($195), or countdown timer ($395), and you've got a modular instrument for the backcountry. From Vuarnet Watches, 800-858-9222.

The FreeStyle Night Vision ($80) offers the time and date. That's it. But the metal-cased watch will survive plunges in cold lakes and accidental encounters with rock faces. One other cool feature: Push a button and the analog face is backlit brightly enough to steer you toward a tent door. From FreeStyle, 805-388-1001.

The Timex Expedition puts the essentials in a lightweight, slim package. It has an analog face, plus a digital readout for alarm and stopwatch functions. It's waterproof to over 150 feet. So the compass bezel is designed more for looks than function. By spending only $40 on the Expedition, you'll have enough left over to buy the finest compass around. From Timex, 800-367-8463.

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