Choosing which altimeter watch to buy is tough with the variety we are presented today, so let’s make it simpler with some basic advice that will help you decide.
This article is an extension of “Altimeter watch: Why it is important and beneficial to know your altitude?“. It is a recommended read for those that are unsure whether they need an altimeter watch or not.
Altimeter watches come in all shapes and sizes, and their features can vary greatly. Some don’t let you record your trips while others combine altimeter functionality with a heart rate monitor.
Making decisions – factors to consider
Two factors you need to really consider are your needs and your budget. The lower your needs and preferences are the less money you will need to spend and vice versa.
To beging the process make a list of your “watch needs”. What you want the watch to use for? What features should it have?
Here are some hints to get your needs list started:
- need to know only my immediate altitude
- want to record my trip/hike vertical profiles (logbook)
- want to know how many laps I skied today
- need to download data from the watch to computer
- and so on…
I use and suggest these functions with an altimeter watch:
- obvious – time, stopwatch, thermometer, alarm, immediate altitude
- vertical speed – shows your actual vertical speed you are traveling at; once you start following it you will find many uses for it – here is more on vertical climbing speed topic
- logbook – lets you record your trip/hike/workout including couple of parameters, mainly total vertical meters gained/lost
- chronograph – almost the same as logbook but more useful for workouts with heart rate monitor
Once you know your needs you can start looking for the solutions – different altimeter watches.
Note: One thing here though is that you may not come up with a certain need in your list because you simply don’t even know a watch can have such features. Therefore, you might adjust (expand on) your needs as you are already browsing different models.
Define your budget – will save you time
Even though it is obvious you know your financial status it is good to predetermine your budget. Come up with a price range, it will help you narrow down your choices and save time comparing different models.
Again like with the needs list, this can be a little tricky if you are new to buying altimeter watch. You may simply not know what altimeter watches are going for.
Altimeter watch prices vary greatly due to different features, their brand name (recognition, prestige) and materials they are made of.
To get an idea, here two examples:
- Altimeter watch with titanium housing and leather straps are expensively priced mostly because they are very stylish for everyday wear and they are also very durable.
- Watch that has a heart rate monitor and shows only the immediate altitude but has no further altimeter functionality (i.e.: recording accumulated vertical gains) is going to be more affordable than its titanium brother.
Altimeter watches – various brands
As far as your brand preferences go you will have many options these days. But here we will take a look only at those brands that have proven over long time they are worth their price, whether low or high.
Based on personal experience, Suunto is my favorite brand if the watch is primarily used as altimeter. Besides me, there are thousands of mountaineers swearing by Suunto.
Again based on personal experience, Polar is my favorite if heart rate monitor functionality is the most important. And again, millions of athletes swear by this brand too.
Everyone had a Timex watch at some point in their life. How was it? Mine was great. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone who has a Timex watch with an altimeter but the brand is definitely strong.
Other popular and casual brands
Then there are other brands that offer altimeter functionality in their watches as well but don’t have as much history with it: Casio, Highgear, Nixon, Freestyle USA and more…
Altimeter watches – introducing 6 models
Now that you have considered your needs and defined your budget let’s look at some actual altimeter watch models:
The name “Suunto Vector” is a legend among altimeters and it was the first altimeter watch I ever saw. I believe, Suunto improved it since then yet they are still keeping it at a very affordable price. This watch has scored many awards and has been used by millions of people that go further than a stroll around a lake. Most recently, Suunto added a new model to the Vector family – Suunto Vector HR – that includes a heart rate monitor.
I believe this was one of the first watches that was rated “for skiers” because the logbook was recording your day/trip and at the end you could see how many laps you skied. There are about four different styling options for it, however, not many stores carry more than two. Backcountry.com does.
I am using this is a watch past two years. (Before it was Polar.) I like everything about it except that heart rate monitoring is not as flawless as with Polar. Vertical speed, logbook functions and stopwatch recording are great. It connects to PC but the software is not as user friendly as Polar’s.
Polar is mostly know for their high quality heart rate monitors. My personal experiences support that 100%. This watch has basic altimeter functionality but great heart rate monitor features. It also shows your speed and tracks your distance via GPS. Polar comes from Finland, same as Suunto. And it connects to your computer.
This is as interesting watch because the styling doesn’t say anything about what’s inside. The Lumi looks to look cool at any situation and it must be. It has an altimeter, barometer and compass. Also, it speaks four languages: English, Spanish, German and French.
Suunto X-Lander is a great watch for anyone who is active outdoors but some times needs to head to a meeting right from the mountains. It has all essential altimeter functionality but with leather straps and aluminum body styling looks very “official”.
At different stores you will find different types/options/colors for different models, therefore you should check out more than one store:
- At Backcountry.com you have the biggest selection of altimeter watches online (brand, models and options) and you can easily compare 2, 3, even 4 watches side by side.
- At Altrec.com you will find less selection and different pricing than Backcountry.com.
- REI.com doesn’t offer too many choices for altimeter watches, but does for other multi-functional watches.
- MEC.ca offers about 10 different models.
Any questions re: altimeter watches?
If you have any questions or just want to leave a comment about this article or altimeter watches you can do so in the comments below.