This year I upgraded my wrist watch from a Timex Ironman to a Casio Pathfinder. With that upgrade, I went from having a simple time-keeper to a watch that can tell me if a low-pressure system is moving in, what direction I’m heading, the temperature, and altitude gain and current elevation.
My biggest question when I bought the watch was: is the $200 Casio Pathfinder really that much more useful than the $15 Timex Ironman?
The Pathfinder has a robust and durable construction. I’ve smashed it into trees and bushes while hiking and skiing. I’ve climbed granite cracks with it on my wrist. And I’ve dragged it through sand, mud, and snow. So far there are no scratches on the face, and the sensor is still accurate.
The face on my old Timex Ironman scratched easily and showed lots of wear and tear within the first months of use. Thus far the Pathfinder is the clear winner.
The Pathfinder has three sensors: barometer, compass, and thermometer. The barometer serves two purposes: to measure the pressure in the atmosphere and to create an elevation reading based on the pressure reading.
The barometer and altimeter can track readings, creating a log of the altitude gained/lost or the pressure dropping/rising. The barometer is useful for knowing if a storm is moving in or leaving. If the pressure drops, a storm could be moving in. And if the pressure goes up during a storm, the end could be near.
The altimeter must be calibrated before or during each outing. It is an easy process that requires your current elevation, pressing a button, and changing the elevation setting. With that done, you can monitor the altitude gained or lost and the current elevation.
While I definitely find the barometer to be an excellent tool in the mountains, I have wondered about the utility of the altimeter. Before this watch, I often thought, “Go up until you can’t go up anymore.” However, this attitude has gotten me into some precarious situations, especially when on a dicy ridge where I believe the false summit that is 500 feet above to be the real summit, which is actually 1,500 feet above me. 500 feet of scary climbing is a lot different than 1,500 feet of frightening climbing! The last time this happened, I was wearing the Casio Pathfinder. Knowing that there was 3X the exposed climbing as I hoped, based on the elevation, we retreated due to not having a rope. It was the right call.
The most difficult feature for me to master is the most basic: the stopwatch. I still can’t figure out which buttons to press to start the thing, stop it, and reset it. So I push all of them in random orders until it does what I want.
The Casio Pathfinder has a solar charged battery. The face of the watch is the solar panel. I have had no problems keeping the battery fully charged, but I am in sunny California. Casio says that the Pathfinder will last 6 months on a full charge under normal use, which includes using the barometer, altimeter, and compass a couple of times a day.
Do you really need a $200 watch?:
No. The features that give this watch its price tag are not necessary for the backcountry. That said, the Casio Pathfinder is a welcome addition to my wilderness toolkit, the features help me to stay a little more on top of the sitaution, and I have enjoyed using it.
If you decide to get a Pathfinder for yourself or someone else, consider using the Amazon link below, which helps to support the cost of maintaining the website. Thanks!