The Best Altimeter Watch Review

We tested five of the best altimeter watches on the market in side-by-side tests over a year. These watches feature the key functions that hikers, backpackers, and climbers use the most: altimeter, barometer, digital compass, and standard time-keeping features. They all performed well but their user interface, display, and many custom features vary greatly between models. All will get the job done and are recommended, but if you are going to spend $200+, you want the best or at least the best value, right? Read on.

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Review by: Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab February 25, 2014

Top Ranked Altimeter Watches Displaying 1 - 5 of 5 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Suunto Ambit2
Suunto Ambit2
Read the Review
Suunto Core
Suunto Core
Read the Review
Video video review
Suunto Vector
Suunto Vector
Read the Review
Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1
Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1
Read the Review
Casio Pathfinder PAG240T-7
Casio Pathfinder PAG240T-7
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award     
Street Price Varies $300 - $600
Compare at 9 sellers
Varies $188 - $299
Compare at 9 sellers
Varies $157 - $199
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $122 - $200
Compare at 3 sellers
$220
Compare at 1 sellers
Overall Score 
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User Rating Be the first to rate it
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22% recommend it (2/9)
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Pros GPS, crazy amount of features and options, nice display options.Most accuarte altimeter we tested, easy-to-use menus, lots of great featuresNice display, inexpensive, easy to read in intense light.Good value, labled buttons and fairly easy to use interface, solar powered.No batteries, labled buttons and fairly easy to use interface.
Cons Low battery life, expensive, a little overwelming at first as a result of so many features.Display is a little dark, expensive.Doesn't have as many features.Feels big on your wrist.Expensive, feels bulky on your wrist.
Best Uses Mountaineering, backpacking, trekking, ski touring, running, training.Mountaineering, backpacking, trekking, ski touring.Mountaineering, backpacking, trekking, ski touring.Mountaineering, backpacking, trekking, ski touring, hiking.Hiking, mountaineering, backpacking, trekking, skiing.
Date Reviewed Feb 12, 2014Mar 24, 2013Mar 24, 2013Nov 14, 2012Nov 09, 2012
Weighted Scores Suunto Ambit2 Suunto Core Suunto Vector Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1 Casio Pathfinder PAG240T-7
Features - 35%
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Ease Of Use - 30%
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Display Quality - 20%
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Accuracy - 15%
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Product Specs Suunto Ambit2 Suunto Core Suunto Vector Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1 Casio Pathfinder PAG240T-7
Battery life 16-50 hrs 1 year 1.5 years forever forever
Alarms 3 time, 1 weather 3 time, 1 Alti 3 time, 1 Alti 5 time 5 time
Elevation interval 3 Ft 3 Ft 10 Ft 20 Ft 20 Ft
Thermometer Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Interchangeable straps? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Compass Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Other cool features Rechargeable battery, GPS Altitude log (7 days), underwater buttons, sunset alarms Altitude log (24hrs) No Batteries!!!, 25 altitude logs No Batteries!!!, 25 altitude logs
Barometer Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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  • All Reviewed Products
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Suunto Ambit2
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Suunto Core
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Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1
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Casio Pathfinder PAG240T-7
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Criteria For Evaluation

Number of Useable Features
There were several features common to all the watches we tested but how they functioned and were displayed was very different. We compared each of these features through a series of tests above 20,000 feet, gaining and losing nearly 10,000 feet in a single day, and also with testing in the lab. The Suunto Ambit2 came out on top but all the watches were pretty close in the scoring. They all have features such as date, stop watches, count down watches, storm (i.e. barometric pressure) trackers/graph, etc. But it's often the extras like the Ambit's GPS and computer graphing features that make the difference.

Time
All the models tested had a stop watch and a timer (timer counts down, stop watch counts up) and alarms. The Ambit2, Core and Vector have three alarms while the Casio Pathfinder has five. Besides having fewer alarms, a bigger deal was that the Suunto alarms weren't very loud; we had to put the watch close to our head to make sure we heard it. Some of the watches had other time features like world time and dual time The Pathfinder and the Core had the ability to set sunrise and sunset alarms depending on your preset location.

Altimeter
The Ambit2 score just a little higher than the second place Core because it had the best altimeter plus a built-in GPS. The Core scored second highest because along with the Ambit2 it has the smallest (three-foot) increments. The Vector has 10 feet and both Pathfinder models have 20-foot increments. Each of the models we tested had an altitude log. While this doesn't seem like a big deal, this is one of their most-used features. These feature lets you keep track of your total ascent, descent and number of runs. For skiers, it logs how many laps you take. For hikers and climbers on trails that go up and down, it will tells your true vertical elevation gained.

Again the Ambit2 stood out with its ability to easily transfer data to a computer and graph your entire trip. Also on your computer you can combine your elevation change with times and GPS locations.

Our Top Pick, the Suunto Core, had the next best logging ability; it could keep track of up to seven days worth of information at a time. The Vector has a 24-hour log that will store up to 100 logs. The Pathfinder models can only hold up to 40 logs.

Barometer
Why should you care about barometric pressure? Well for folks at most middle latitudes (i.e. contiguous United States) in a 12-hour period if you loose four millibars then it's going to storm; minus six millibars, then it's going to storm pretty bad; eight or more millibars, go home and save yourself! Sadly it doesn't work the other way for predicting when the bad weather is going to end and the good weather is going to arrive. All the models we tested could graph the barometric pressure, with the Suunto Core and the Ambit2 having the nicest graphs. Both Casio Pathfinders had decent graphs and the Suunto Vector had by far the most basic.

Compass
This is again where the Ambit2 shined with 3D compass technology. With a traditional compass, you need to hold the compass level to get an accurate reading but the Ambit’s 3D compass compensates for any tilt, allowing you to get an accurate reading regardless of the angle of your wrist. All the other watches we tested had digital compasses as well. They will work for people who just need a compass for a general point of reference but if you are doing more serious cross-country travel we'd recommend you also bring a normal compass because it will be far more accurate.

Ease of Use and Interface
The Ease of Use and Interface is how easy it is to go through the functions of the watch. The Suunto Core's well-labeled functions and easy-to-understand menu was our top pick. The similarly laid out interface of the Ambit2 was good but with so many features it took more time to get accustomed and as a result wasn't quite as easy to use as the Core or the Vector. Both Casio Pathfinder models were almost as good with well-labeled buttons and nearly as easy-to-understand menu items. The Vector had fewer features, which gave you less to be confused by, but it had a less easy-to-understand and less well-labeled interface.

Display
Our display score measures how easy the watch is to read in bright light, in low light and in the dark while using the watch's backlight feature. The display score also counts how well the information is laid out. The Ambit2 features both black-on-white and a white-on-black options combined with big easy-to-read numbers; it was our top pick for display. The Casio Pathfinder with its easy-to-read double layover screen was a close second to the top pick for best display. It also had by far the best backlight in the review, making for easy reading at night. This is where we thought the Suunto Core really suffered the most; we struggled to read it on bright glaciers or near dusk.

Accuracy
First off, a few things the user needs to understand: all barometric based alti watches are subject to changes in the weather, causing a change in the pressure, which in turn causes a change in the elevation. After our extensive side-by-side testing, and with this fact in mind, the Suunto Core and the Ambit2 were the most accurate because, unlike both Pathfinder models and the Vector, the Core has the altimeter and barometer functions linked together. It measures elevation in three-foot or one-meter intervals compared with the Pathfinder's 20 feet or 5 meters and the Vector's 10 feet or 3 meters. The altimeter/barometer feature in the Core is sweet. It calculates long-term pressure trends to give you a more accurate reading. For example, when you are ascending it gains elevation with you as the barometric pressure changes at a rate far faster than the barometric pressure changes with weather. Once you stop gaining elevation for a while (i.e. sleeping) it realizes that and sees any slight barometer pressure changes as weather change and not elevation gain/loss. This is a pretty cool and fairly effective feature; it works sometimes but not always in our real world tests. Even with this feature aside, after extensive side-by-side testing we thought the Core was the best at providing the most accurate elevation reading.

Editors' Choice: Suunto Ambit 2
The Suunto Ambit2 is the best on the market. It's stacked with an unbelievable number of useable features combined with the best display and one of the best user interfaces. The ability to transfer and view data along with managing some of the more complex features on the watch via your computer is quick and easy. With the only bummer is its short battery life (but it does come with a rechargeable battery) and at $500 for the standard or $550 for the HR (heart rate version) it is almost double the price of all the other altimeter watches we tested.

Top Pick for Common Features: Suunto Core
The Suunto Core is our top pick because it excels at the most commonly used features. It has the most accurate altimeter, the best log, and the best barometric weather graphs. The Core also had the best version of other features like sunset/sunrise times and waterproof buttons so you can take it snorkeling or shallow diving. The interface of the Core was our top pick and was easy to use with well labeled menu items. The drawbacks to the Core were the price at $300, not featuring a GPS, and a screen that was a little hard to read in bright light (on a glacier or snow) or in low light…but it wasn't too bad.

Best Buy: Suunto Vector
For the money, you can't beat the tried and true Suunto Vector. While the Vector didn't have as many features as the Core or the Pathfinder, it does have all the features that people use the most and had a more accurate altimeter than the Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1. The Vector was nearly as easy to use and is $100 less than the Suunto Core or the Casio Pathfinder PAG240t-7.

Ian Nicholson
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