Gear Guy

Momentum Digital Altimeter VS-1     Photo: courtesy, St. Moritz

Q:

Which sports watch is the best for backpacking trips?

I was at a watch store today with the intention of buying a Suunto Vector for my backpacking trips. At the store they also had a St. Moritz Momentum VS-1. I've never heard of St. Moritz before, but the clerk told me it was a good company. What do you think of these two watches? Bryan Los Angeles, California

A:Whoops, it’s a clear case of watch freeze-up. That’s not surprising; there are lots of watches out there and lots of good choices.

Of course, the Suunto Vector ($199; suunto.com) watch—er, wrist-top computer—is a near-classic. It combines an altimeter, barometer, and compass with the usual watch tools… day/date, alarm, stopwatch, etc. It has been around several years, is tried and true, and would be a solid purchase.

St. Moritz is based in Vancouver, B.C. I’ve touted several of their watches over the years because they’re well designed and exceptionally rugged, with titanium or steel bodies and crystal faces. I used a Momentum VS-1 ($200; st-moritz.com) last year on several hikes, climbs, and long bike tours in the mountains and came to like it very much. Like all of these watches, sussing out the fine points of operation is a little tricky (not helped by the fact the VS-1 manual is printed in type that’s about three ink atoms in width). But generally it’s intuitive and the features are great. Besides, these things are as much for entertainment as anything else. And the Vs-1 has features such as little sun, rain, and cloud graphics, derived from its barometer function, which is surprisingly accurate. And it has a little bar graph that shows your relative altitude and the ups and downs of the past hours or miles.

One feature that I especially like is that if the watch doesn’t sense any vertical movement for an hour or so, it “locks down" the altitude so it doesn’t respond to barometric changes. Overall, its accuracy is extremely good. And it’s more ruggedly built than the Suunto. Price is about $200.

Myself, if I were shopping for a watch, I’d get the St. Moritz.

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