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Weather Instruments
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Jon Solomon
(areality) - F - MLife

Locale: Lyon/Taipei
Weather Instruments on 04/17/2006 06:20:48 MDT Print View

Unusually, I purchased almost on the spur of the moment a Kestrel 4000 Weather Tracker that is selling on sale at for US$199, a pretty good deal compared to other on-line retailers.

I was thinking how intriguing and useful it might be to know details about humidity and dew point and wind speed, particularly to learn about the performance of various shelters in varied conditions on regular routes that I backpack.

But then I look at the size of the unit (like a larger cell phone) and its weight (4 ounces), and I'm thinking, am I really going to take this neat instrument packing with me?

Has anybody used these? For what purpose?


Okay, now here comes the background that makes this into a long post about watches and weather intsruments. If you have the patience to wade through this, I thank you for your patience.

A Suunto Vector that a friend gave to me since those things first came to market yeas ago died on me last year...I've found that the compass and temperature functions are fairly useless on a watch (I always carry an analogue compass for navigation anyway), and I never much cared to spend time with the log book functions, so that left just the altimeter function as useful *for me*. I tried to replace the Vector with a Nike Oregon series altimeter watch that was on closeout while I was in the States, but found there were problems with that watch, too.

Through this process, I've decided that I just don't like the bulkiness of the "wrist-top computer" style watches. But I do like the handy altimeter function. So I decided to replace it with a Momentum (St. Moritz) Topograph analogue altimeter watch (covered in an Outdoor Retailer blurb on this site) in its sapphire crystal incarnation at MEC. I've always worn cheap watches, so this is a departure in style--and price--for me. I'd be happy to let others know more about it when I get it.

I was thinking I would augment the Topograph watch with the Kestrel's weather instrument abilities. But the Kestrel's "cool, neat-o" factor is matched by a relatively bulky package by UL standards. So, I'm wondering, is it really worth it? Will I really use it?

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Weather Instruments on 04/17/2006 12:20:19 MDT Print View

I use a Brunton ADC Pro which is 1.7oz and a bit smaller than the Kestrel 4000. Over the last few years I have found it useful.

It has been useful a couple of times to warm me that a storm was coming due to a large change in barameteroic pressure.

Mostly though, I have found it useful to have an objective measurement to calibrate what I am feeling. This has helped me tailor what I take on trips. Assuming I have had enough to eat and drink, I pretty much know exactly what the comfort range of my clothing is give various activities levels.

Furthermore, I have a much better model of how weather in the locations I am backpacking differ from the nearest weather stations... because after a trip I compare the the graphs on the ADC to the weather station and see what the delta was.

Now that my system is well tuned I don't find the weather instruments as useful as it used to be. But I am a weather geek so I still carry it on most trips, if only to be able to answer the question "How cold did it get last night".


Mike Storesund
(mikes) - F
Re: Weather Instruments on 04/17/2006 12:36:57 MDT Print View

As far as weather instruments go. I have the Vector and a Brunton ADC as well. With my Brunton, I can get the wind speed and wind chill, but I get teased by others when they say “Just get your finger wet, stick it up in the air and find out that it’s freaking cold”. I believe that unless you have a real need for finding out wind conditions a Brunton ADC or a Kestrel 4000 Weather Tracker is just a novelty item for those of us that are geeks by nature.
In short, the functions of the Vector are sufficient for my needs. I realize the thermometer is inaccurate unless it is off the wrist for about 20 minutes. I am okay with that since I hang it above my head through the night so I can hear the alarm easier, and see the temperature when I get up. The barometer will indicate a rise or decrease for changing weather indications fairly accurately. The altitude log is better than my GPS because it does not rely on satellite tracking. As far as the compass, it is nice not to have to break out my trusty Silva to verify I am still somewhat on course. I still bring that Silva to calculate heading on the map, use the scale and mirror, etc.

Edited by mikes on 04/17/2006 12:44:01 MDT.

Bill Cooper
(bwcooper) - MLife
Re: Weather Instruments on 04/17/2006 12:59:35 MDT Print View

A couple of nice extras with your Kestrel 4000:

- It has a barometer/altimeter. If you want to take an altimeter for assurance during winter alpine conditions then it can sub for your bulky watch.
- It has a data logging function. You can put it out at night to record min temps, etc.

I've played with using measured dew point to decide whether to pitch a shelter (to keep the dew off my bag/quilt) or sleep under the stars, but that's iffy. In other words, the dew point (corresponding to absolute humidity), stays fairly constant for a given air mass. If you get a dew point reading of 40F degrees and you don't expect the temps to drop that low then you could go without the shelter. But to use the dew point that way you need some predictive indication of weather changes. If a cold or moist air mass moves in during the night that changes everything.

The likelihood of condensation is also sensitive to ground moisture and wind. Wet ground/vegetative cover and light or still winds are more likely to cause dew at a given dew point than dry ground and brisk wind. Bottom line, there are too many variables to assure accuracy with a point measurement in the field. But it can be fun to try and may help build deeper intuition.

That said, I think the Kestrels are fine instruments. In my experience they are excellent weather instruments and exhibit fast data acquisition rates, e.g., less than one minute for temperature. In contrast, I've used some unnamed (B) devices that have acquisition rates so slow you couldn't trust the mesaurements.

Think of it as a learning instrument. Use it to quantify your impressions. It's always fun to measure the wind speeds your shelter stood up to or fell against! And you can justify the price just for the altimeter functions alone.

Jon Solomon
(areality) - F - MLife

Locale: Lyon/Taipei
Re: Re: Weather Instruments on 04/17/2006 20:00:52 MDT Print View

Those are all helpful responses. Thanks. First off, I can see I'm effectively joining the "weather geek club". Nice to know who I really am! Next, it seems clear to me that the intruments have a place and provide useful data. I still cannot say however whether they have a place in my pack or not. But I'm sure it would be helpful to begin to be able to quantify certain experiences in order to be able to extrapolate future scenarios. Plus, since I often go repeatedly along the same routes, the comparison between trips could be useful. On paper anyway, the Kestrel seems better than the Brunton. Mark V's weight of 1.7 ounces is significantly lower than what is quoted for the Brunton ADC Pro. (it's not the old Sherpa model, is it?). The Kestrel's impeller is consumer replaceable, it uses AAA batteries (making it compatible with my headlamp), there are more graphs on the display (in particular, I like the altitude graph, which the Brunton doesn't have), and it has user-defined screens. And, as Bill says, the Kestrel has great acquisition rates. I've never seen any altimeter watch that was as sensitive as this. If you move it one meter up or down it tells you right away. Same goes for temp and humidity readings.

Too bad it wasn't just a quarter of its current size.

I still am torn about "weather or not" to keep it?!

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Re: Weather Instruments on 04/18/2006 10:09:10 MDT Print View

1.7oz is the correct field weight for my ADC Pro (it is about the same size as the Sherpa). It's 2.4oz with the lanyard. The Kestrel's impeller is nicer (the Brunton's is somewhat tricky to use and get an accurate reading... tends to be a bit low). I got around 9 months of use out of one set of button batteries, so I am not too concerned about sharing batteries. There is room for improvement with the Brunton's display modes and data collection (I really wish it won't do the low volume beep each time it collected data)... but it's good enough for my purposes.


Bill Cooper
(bwcooper) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: Weather Instruments on 04/18/2006 16:41:00 MDT Print View

Ah, yes, weather(!) to take the device. One problem is that we tend to think of technical gadgets partly as grown-up toys, and kids love their toys. The fact they're too cute and fun to use doesn't help when trying to prune to essentials.

To be honest, I don't usually carry a weather instrument. I take one about as often as my GPS which isn't much.

So when would I take one? When the instrument is my altimeter and I need to carry one against the prospect of bad weather in the mountains. When I'm "into" maps and want an altimeter to confirm position or track elevation gain and loss. When I'm expecting winds and I'd like to say just what they were. When I want to quantify environmental conditions while testing equipment or to train my senses. When I'm curious about nightime lows and the data logging function let's me sleep through rather than crawl out to read my little keybob thermometer. :-)

In other words, I take one when the conditions warrant or the intellectual/entertainment value is there. Otherwise, I don't. Like other gear with specialised use I wouldn't part with it but it doesn't always make it into my pack.

Unfortunately, this logic frequently fails. Toys are toys. But I will say the longer the hike the more likely I am to leave things behind unless I have a clearly anticipated use.

David Targan

Locale: New England
weather instruments on 04/18/2006 21:27:56 MDT Print View

In my park ranger job I have to frequently report weather over the radio, and since conditions above treeline are important facts for hikers to know- i.e. what clothes to bring, etc., I'm thinking of getting one of these- but have not begun researching them. Any advice is useful- mostly need wind, gusts, temp. But wouldn't hurt to have graphs of temps, altitude and other features that your Kestrel has.