Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Thru Hiking watch-which is best?
Display Avatars Sort By:
Peter Sustr
(czechxpress) - F - M

Locale: Boulder
Thru Hiking watch-which is best? on 12/07/2012 10:12:02 MST Print View

I have a Suunto gift card I need to use by the end of the year so I am debating between the Suunto Core and the Vector. Anybody have any thoughts or experience with either of them?

Suunto Core:

Suunto Vector:

If not a Suunto which one?

Thomas Conly
(conly) - F

Locale: Lots of canoeing and snow
AT? on 12/07/2012 10:53:53 MST Print View

Gotta be honest. I debated what watch to get when I was thru-hiking the AT in 2011. Debated GPS watches with altimeters, etc. In the end I just didn't have the money and went with the Wally World $20 thing I was already wearing. If you're hiking the AT, the trail is so well marked, the books are so detailed and you'll get such a feel for the weather anyway that all that extra jazz will probably be extra weight on your wrist. I didn't even once use the compas that I carried then entire time. I'm still wearing the same watch too so durability wasn't even an issue. I'd say go with the cheaper one if you have the gift card anyway. Although, if you're hiking a different trail it might be different.

Edited by conly on 12/07/2012 10:55:31 MST.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
None on 12/07/2012 11:28:45 MST Print View

Use your phone

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
watch on 12/07/2012 11:53:48 MST Print View

Don't know if it is "the best" (I truly don't think there is any "best" gear..but that's another discussion ), but I'd have had excellent luck with a Timex Indiglo.

It tells the time. It has the date. It glows in the dark. :)

Unlike a phone, I don't have to recharge it. ;)

A map provides elevation. The watch lets me do dead reckoning. And a watch is handy when you have to take a pulse and resp rates (which, believe it or not, did yesterday at work for my boss..but that's another story. He's OK..just scared the crap out of us).

I like to others may want something different.

Edited by PaulMags on 12/07/2012 11:54:31 MST.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Thru Hiking watch-which is best? on 12/07/2012 12:03:02 MST Print View

I use a Timex Ironman for hiking. It is light, cheap ($20 on sale), gives the time, date, all kinds of timer functions, an alarm and a backlight.

I don't like digital compasses at all. An altimeter might be interesting in a lage Suunto style watch.

Yuri R
(Yazon) - F

Casio ProTrek (former Pathfinder) on 12/07/2012 12:17:42 MST Print View

And this is not because suunto isn't good or some such nonsense, but simply because if you are buying a watch - you want to make sure it will last and work well.

Suunto uses user replaceable batteries with plastic cover, which is the most likely point of failure. Not only that, but good luck finding a battery down on AT when you do it again in 4 years (if you do it in one shot and battery goes).

Casio (and many others) make Solar charging watches, so you don't have to open it and mess up a seal or cause a short. ProTrek/Pathfinder have all the right features and work great. And they can be had for as little as $150 from costco and others.

Suunto makes great watches, but i personally think that one should either get a solar (practical) or automatic (nostalgia and fascination). Everything else is great and will work...but solar watches just make so much sense. Plus it's good for environment not to throw away those batteries every so often.

I do have to agree with others that i would rather bring a real Suunto or Brunton compass instead of the watch, but the altimeter function is quite useful.

Despite all that, my favorite is the fully mechanical, non-automatic piece my parents gave me when i was 16yo. It needs to be wound up every 24 hours, doesn't do anything but show time. Hoping to pass it to my son when he is older.

Edited by Yazon on 12/07/2012 12:21:08 MST.

Kenneth Jacobs
(f8less) - F

Locale: Midwest
Timex Expedition on 12/07/2012 12:51:46 MST Print View



Mike R
(redpoint) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Suunto on 12/07/2012 13:12:49 MST Print View

I have no direct experience with Suunto outdoor watches, but I've used their dive computers a lot and they're terrific. If I were to buy a hiking specific watch, it would be a Suunto. You basically have 3 choices [you mentioned two]: Vector, Core, and Ambit. The Vector is the oldest, it's been around a very long time, 10 years at least. The Core is only a few years old, and the Ambit is a brand-new fully featured GPS watch. I'd say get the Ambit, b/c it gets good reviews etc., but if you're using the GPS regularly, it'll need to be recharged somehow. Just using the watch/altimeter functions I believe it will last a month or so. The Core is probably the best value, but I've read a lot online about reliability issues [might want to read some reviews]. The Vector is the cheapest and the most proven, but the technology is older. The biggest reason for getting one of these watches is the altimeter I would say. The Vector and Ambit are made in Finland and the Core is made in China - if that's important to you. If the battery life and price of the Ambit works for you, that's what I'd get.

Edited by redpoint on 12/07/2012 13:14:54 MST.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
prefer cheap watch now on 12/07/2012 13:23:59 MST Print View

I've owned three altimeter watches, and at this point I feel a bit of fool to have done so. The first required that I mail it back to have a new battery put in every 18 months or so, an expensive option --- so watch out for that, get one with a user-replaceable battery.

The other two eventually both got wonky on me, i.e., at some point the elevation readings just got unreliable, regardless of how carefully I recalibrated at known points.

On a thru-hike, at some point your legs get so strong that you just don't care as much (you still care, just not as much) about elevation deltas --- you'll obsess on this less. I found that I just didn't tend to look, whereas for trips when I wasn't in good shape I would sometimes find myself looking at the elevation all the time on a long climb.

If you have a smartphone with a built-in GPS (that doesn't require cell towers to work), on an infrequent basis if you really want altitude (or location) you can get it that way. And if you need it frequently then, IMO, in most cases that means that either "you're doing it wrong" and/or you would find it worth carrying a standalone GPS unit.

The other thing I like out of a watch (besides current date/time) is an alarm clock (quite infrequently). My smartphone does a much better job of that too, watch alarms often don't wake me up. In fact, one could perhaps just omit a watch in favor of a cell phone. I do like having a very light, cheap Casio on my wrist when hiking but it's not an essential.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Thru Hiking watch-which is best? on 12/07/2012 13:34:45 MST Print View

Peter, you have a gift card-
Buy a Suunto!
I own 2 Core's, I like them. I also have a Timex expedition analog, it only tells time, it doesn't do what the Core does. For me the Core is worth having, but I also know how to use it and what its strengths and weakness are
I don't have any experience with a Vector so I can't say anything about it.

The Core has a metal back (not plastic as said above), It doesn't leak and the batteries need changing about once a year on average (I have a 4 year history to base this off from). For a long Thru hike put an extra CR2032- the size of a quarter, in your supply box and you will be good.

There is a learning curve to these type of watches. I use mine everyday.

I gave a Core to my son-in- law and he said the "storm alarm went off during church" and when he got outside it was sunny. I told him- don't wear your watch in church and wait a few hours, the weather will change; it did. Remember the learning curve.

Here is a thread on Multifunction Watches

Edited by bestbuilder on 12/07/2012 13:40:03 MST.

Katy Anderson
(KatyAnderson) - F
Cheap is the way to go on 12/07/2012 14:11:50 MST Print View

Spend $5, or $10, max $20. Features to look for: tells time, lights up in the dark, has an alarm - that's it.

You don't want to rely on your phone for telling time as you want it turned off as much as possible while hiking to conserve battery life. And you'll definitely have your phone turned off at night, and that's when you really want to know what time it is in addition to possibly using the alarm function.

For the few times that you need something fancier such as altimeter, compass, weather, gps or whathaveyou, you turn on your phone.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Thru Hiking watch-which is best? on 12/07/2012 15:17:26 MST Print View

I have a Vector that is almost 8 years old and has proven reliable and extremely durable. I have only replaced the battery twice in that time (recently the second time). It is a daily wear for me as well. Love it. Pay the extra for durability.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: Thru Hiking watch-which is best? on 12/07/2012 15:51:12 MST Print View

Suunto? Pfff.

For the most extreme outdoor walking scenarios, every hiker must put a genuine gold Rolex at the top of their time keeping device list.

Don't take chances with time or quality, go big or go home.

Kenneth Jacobs
(f8less) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Re: Thru Hiking watch-which is best? on 12/07/2012 16:10:46 MST Print View


Rolex - Bling on the adventure!

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Thru Hiking watch-which is best? on 12/07/2012 16:15:27 MST Print View

The BEST Thru hiking watch is the one you can get with your GIFT CARD!

Kyle Kuschel
(kkuschel) - M
Core on 12/07/2012 17:53:50 MST Print View

My Suunto Core died shortly after the 2 year warranty was up. I liked it well enough, but they are pretty damn big, so take that into account. Also, the batteries only lasted about 5 - 6 months. On the plus side, its easy to read and the alarm is great!
I think for hiking long distances, the chopped down $10 dollar Timex watch strapped to my pack is the best. Lights up, has an alarm if you need it, tells you the date and the time. You get good at judging your time vs miles + elevation gain/descent after awhile and don't really need a watch. I think not having one on your wrist actually helps the miles go by. Get up when you're awake, go to sleep when you're tired.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
we don't need no stinking watches ... on 12/07/2012 18:07:57 MST Print View

the "best" hiking watch is the one you left in your tool chest at work.

the sun comes around every day. it makes a big 'ol revolution of the world.
now, if we call that circle it makes 360°, and divide it my 24 hours, it cometh out to about 15° per hour.
using such upper math, we can see that if noon is south (or there-abouts), then it is dead easy to keep track of things such as 6am is 90°
thusly , using a compass is a sure fire, never-fails way to tell the time.

if the sun is not shining and it is raining, it is time to get wet.


Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Thru Hiking Watch on 12/07/2012 18:51:20 MST Print View

I know there is 24 hours in a day but I like to keep track of the minutes on my breaks and plus in full motion on a 3 HR session.

"Timex Expedition" with two hands and a alarm (0.7oz) It's good to wake the "F" up early and get going!

Edited by Creachen on 12/07/2012 20:33:00 MST.

Ryan Dorn
Watch on 12/07/2012 21:53:05 MST Print View

I use the Casio SGW100 with a compass and thermometer. Rugged and only around $40. I've beat the crap out of it and it still looks great.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Suunto on 12/07/2012 22:00:39 MST Print View

Do NOT buy a Suunto VECTOR. They eat through batteries like mad. (Don't ask.)

But for the teensy extra weight of a "navigating" watch I'd get a good Casio that does all the tricks of the Suuntos but with likely greater reliability. I still have an ancient Casio form the '70s.

Dustin Smith

Locale: Bethesda, MD
Anyone read much? on 12/07/2012 22:08:53 MST Print View

It's like no one even read the original post. He has a Suunto gift card so why is everyone recommending non-Suunto watches? I have a Core and love it. It needs a new battery and I've had it since February so that's probably the biggest downside. Otherwise it'll serve almost any purpose you'd need a watch for (time, compass, altimeter, etc.) on the trail.

Edited by dsmith87 on 12/07/2012 22:09:30 MST.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Just the titles on 12/07/2012 23:12:11 MST Print View

and then rush in with opinions.

The Core looks nice.

The OP could have chosen a better title. Which Suunto model is better?, comes to mind.

But then there is that last sentence in the original post to consider. It's all just too confusing. What time is it anyway?

Happy Holidays and enjoy your watch.

Edited by kthompson on 12/07/2012 23:16:25 MST.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Suunto on 12/07/2012 23:18:27 MST Print View

"Do NOT buy a Suunto VECTOR. They eat through batteries like mad. (Don't ask.)"

You got a lemon.

Re-read my post. 2 sets of batteries in 8 years. Really just nibbles.

Eugene...indeed. Rolex looks really good with my Cuben pack.

Ryan Gabriel
(rgabriel) - F

Locale: Bay Area
Suunto Core on 12/08/2012 09:28:07 MST Print View

Another vote for the Core. With proper calibration, it does exactly what it needs to do. If you are a Ronco rotisserie "set it and forget it" type person, look elsewhere.

Beside trail wear, the Core is my daily "beater" watch. I find myself wearing the Core more often than my mechanical watch, which, five years ago, i vowed to my wife that I'd wear/use it everyday (same excuse I often use for camping gear). Oops. I do recommend a Zagg film protector for the Core's face.

I also like the fact that the user can change the battery - battery life becomes less of an issue for me. I have full confidence in the water resistivity as I've taken it as low as 10 ft when swimming with no issues. I don't plan on taking this watch any deeper than that.

I have the negative display all black Core. Some people have issues with screen visibility. I don't. I prefer the look of the all black version. Just a personal preference.

Edited by rgabriel on 12/08/2012 09:32:32 MST.

Peter Sustr
(czechxpress) - F - M

Locale: Boulder
Thru hiking watch on 12/10/2012 10:18:36 MST Print View

Thanks for all the great responses. My gift card is for $75 bucks so its not like I'm locked down into getting a Suunto watch but, I thought what the hell and took a look at what they had.

I'm hiking the CDT, so I liked the Core for the 'Storm Alarm', the digital compass and altimeter. I'm not going to trust all of these features 100% but, I thought they would be nice to have. The storm alarm going off in church is worrying as is the China product and battery life issues.

The main things I need from this watch is time, date, alarm (loud) and altimeter. This will be a tool to help keep me 'found' on the trail. I know how far I can hike in an hr, so keeping track of the time/distance will help me 'find' myself better on the maps.

I have 4 months to learn how to use the watch but, at the same time should it take me 4 months to learn how to use a damn watch!!?

Edited by czechxpress on 12/10/2012 10:19:08 MST.

j lan
(justaddfuel) - F

Locale: MN
Re: Thru hiking watch on 12/10/2012 10:47:35 MST Print View

Suunto Vector's alarm is super super quiet. I would say it is the watches worst quality.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Ah, the CDT on 12/10/2012 11:28:32 MST Print View

"I'm hiking the CDT, so I liked the Core for the 'Storm Alarm', the digital compass and altimeter."

I presume this isn't your first dance then. The issue then becomes whether you have a stand-alone GPS or not for the trip. Not needed on PCT or AT, and there isn't even concensus on the CDT but I'm in the camp that says "take one". Even if you're pretty good with map and compass, you'll use a GPS on the CDT if you have one. Whether or not it "saves your life" it can certainly save some time/effort, and just make you a bit happier by giving confidence at times that you really are doing the right thing. I particularly appreciated mine a bit over a year ago when sudden onset of snow/sleet/etc in near white-out conditions made it damned difficult to navigate coming out of the south San Juans.

A gps chipset in a smartphone is plenty for the AT and PCT. On the CDT I particularly liked having a dedicated GPS because then I had a dedicated power source just for that, and spare lithium AAs are pretty light to carry.

In terms of digital compass: while I am a gadget type of guy, I'm old school enough to want an analog compass.
Storm alarm: you're walking in the weather, you'll get a good feel for the afternoon storms as the roll in. I, at least, wouldn't see a need for such. I just don't see it as accurate enough to help much with a "climb up and over that thing vs. hunker down low and wait" decision. FWIW, thunderstorms never stopped or slowed me much, i.e., I didn't personally encounter situations where I felt it was too dangerous to proceed (I certainly did experience quite a number of afternoon thunderstorm events of varying intensity).

IF you end up with a standalone GPS unit --- then an altitude watch is IMO less of an issue. Yes, you have to fire up the GPS to get that data, but I suspect that a fair number of times when you would even care that you would be inclined to do so.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that my approach and attitude is universal (!), just what made sense to me on that trail.

Best of luck, and I hope you don't have a high snow year! :-)

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Thru Hiking watch-which is best? on 12/10/2012 23:02:24 MST Print View

Peter, you have a gift card-
Buy a Suunto!
I own 2 Core's, I like them. I also have a Timex expedition analog, it only tells time, it doesn't do what the Core does. For me the Core is worth having, but I also know how to use it and what its strengths and weakness are
I don't have any experience with a Vector so I can't say anything about it.

There is a learning curve to these type of watches. I use mine everyday.

I gave a Core to my son-in- law and he said the "storm alarm went off during church" and when he got outside it was sunny. I told him- don't wear your watch in church and wait a few hours, the weather will change; it did. Remember the learning curve.

Here is a thread on Multifunction Watches

Paul Mountford
(Sparticus) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic Canada
Re: Thru hiking watch on 12/11/2012 01:07:03 MST Print View

I have the Core and have come to truly appreciate the storm alarm. It took me a while to get past the price of the watch, but now that I have had it for more than a year, there are no regrets.

The storm alarm has proved accurate in Scottish Highlands during two different trips this year. The algorithm in the watch seams to do a good job at separating the changes in barometric pressure caused by your changes in altitude and vice the changes in barometric pressure caused prior bad weather. In fact during my first trip I discounted the storm alarm because I assumed that it was only being caused by my constant changes in altitude. I was later hit by quite the winter storm.

I do not use the compass at all, but I will note that the user manual cautions that constant use of the compass will reduce battery life. That might be cause of some of the battery drain stories you hear about Suuntos.

Yes 1000
core on 12/14/2012 19:03:29 MST Print View

Just got myself a core last week, its cool looking but the main reason for buying it was to keep track of altitude. I tried setting the reference altitude several rt times but in a day it starts to show some random number.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Casio on 12/15/2012 12:15:50 MST Print View

I've been using a Casio PAW1300 for ~3 years now and it's been great. $140 new on eBay. It's the 'slim' option (ie non-huge) in their line of solar powered 'triple sensor' watches. The solar charging is extremely nice and the altimeter has been very trustworthy, which are the main things I expect from it. Only complaints are that the alarm is a bit quiet, so I usually set 2 to make sure I wake up. And secondly, I don't really trust the compass if I haven't calibrated it lately, but that holds for any of these watches.

I don't know that much about Suunto watches, but the hefty price tags and lack of solar charging are a downsides for me. Not a huge deal, but solar charging is the way to go. When I was looking for watches, all the Suunto's I looked at were expensive and bulky.

Regarding the "storm alarm" feature on Suunto's, this is an alarm that goes off if the barometric pressure drops a certain amount in a certain period of time (3 hours I believe). Since changing elevation affects the pressure (they're both just measuring pressure), this feature is useless and automatically disabled if you're changing elevation (ie. hiking in the mountains). If your pressure is only changing slightly (ie. changing weather while at camp, or hiking up a slight incline) then the watch tries to guess if it's the weather or elevation that is changing. The point is, this feature is only handy when you've been sitting around camp for a while or somehow at a constant elevation. A 'storm alarm' may be most useful when you're gaining elevation near a pass or treeline, and unsure if the weather is going to hold for the period when you're exposed, but this is precisely the kind of circumstance when the alarm won't be unable to tell you anything. I'm not sure if Suunto watches do this, but Casio's just give you a nice graph of the pressure and then if you see a nose dive on the graph you can decide yourself if it's because you gained elevation or because the weather changed.

Edited by dandydan on 12/15/2012 12:41:38 MST.

wiiawiwb wiiawiwb
(wiiawiwb) - F
Suunto, not on 01/28/2013 19:45:57 MST Print View

I've had both an Avocet Vertech and a Suunto X3HR. Hands down the Avocet was a much better watch in terms of accuracy and ease of use. Too bad you can't get them any more.

My gripe with the X3HR was it was much too complicated to use. It was also a smooth-surface watch with 4 areas to depress in order to select, read or change settings. It was a real pain to use. Maybe the new Suunto models aren't like that but I will gravitate to another manufacturer other than Suunto when my Avocet kicks the bucket.

Edited by wiiawiwb on 01/28/2013 19:46:43 MST.