Gear Guy

What's the best-constructed altimeter watch?

I've been doing some research on altimeter watches and have come across a lot of bad reviews for watches that I thought were good. Which watch would you recommend between the Casio Triple Sensor Pathfinder, the Timex Helix Works, and the Suunto Vector (some guy told me the workmanship on this was terrible and it fell apart)? Nadav Jerusalem, Israel

A: Well, of the three you mention, I've never been too fond of Casio watches such as the Triple Sensor ($199;, one of their altimeter models. I find them overly laden with gimmicks, difficult to use, goofy-looking, and not all that accurate (altitude is measured in 20-foot increments). I believe the Triple Sensor makes some improvements on these fronts, but not enough to sell me on it—yet.

The Helix ($130, Campmor has them for $60; is an interesting case. It's much less bombastic-looking than the Triple Sensor, measures altitude in ten-foot increments, and seems to have a fairly straightforward user interface. It's also more water resistant than some altitude watches, and is rated to 50 meters (although it's not a diving watch and not meant for extended submersion). I'd get one of these before a Triple Sensor.

Suunto's Vector ($199; is a highly rated watch, with a compass in addition to altimeter and barometer functions. I haven't heard of any reliability problems, although as a sophisticated piece of electronic gear I'm sure it's susceptible to breakdowns. But then, "some guy" always has a story about every piece of gear on the market. What guy? What were the circumstances? What was this guy doing at the time? Sometimes these reports need to be qualified.

Myself, I remain a loyal user of the Avocet Vertech Alpin II ($170;, now little changed for almost a decade. It's extremely accurate, easy to use, and has all the key features I need (no compass, but frankly I don't care about that). I suppose it too has some appearance faults, but that's because it was designed principally as an altimeter, with watch features given secondary importance. Other watches try to be a watch first, with other stuff grafted on. It's not terribly water resistant either, and getting a new battery installed is a pain (has to be shipped in), but otherwise I love it.

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