Altimeter Watch buying Guide – for your climbing trip to Kinabalu

Timex Altimeter WatchI met a group of Mount Kinabalu international climbers last week, who are an educated bunch (one of them is a professor in mathematics), whom like to climb mountains from all over the world. They are very fanatics about being at the highest altitude of the mountain they climbed – and they even bring their own GPS on top of the mountain! Okay, you may not be as fanatic as them, but maybe an altimeter watch is a good companion for you to know at what altitude you are while climbing Kinabalu.

What is Altimeter Watch?
Altimeter watch is a compact and lightweight watch that shows altitude, or in the simple term, a watch that shows the height of the earth above sea level. The watch will calculate the altitude by measuring barometric pressure changes whilst compensating for the effect of temperature changes. A change in pressure of 1Hg represents an altitude change of 1,000ft and a good altimeter watch can sense pressure changes equivalent to a 3m altitude change.

For your information, it is not necessary for you to have an altimeter watch with your Kinabalu climb, but for those who are curious (or a hardcore climber who would like to top up their gadget), choosing a good altimeter watch can be a very daunting task. After some research, I hereby state to you 10 basic simple guides (mostly on the features) on how to choose your altimeter watch, so that it will be easier for you to get one from Amazon.

10 features to look for in your Altimeter Watch are:

  1. Make sure that the watch, in the first place can maintain and display accurate time. Watch which has a time zone will be better if you are coming from the other side of the globe and planning to summit Kinabalu. Choosing a durable watch with a good battery lifespan can be an advantage if you plan to be away for a long time. 12-24 hours time formatting with date, day, week and month calendar would be one of the main criteria of the watch.
  2. Barometer – one of the two main features of the watch which will be use to calculate the altitude. Current barometric pressure which is calculated continuously should be shown on the watch while you are ascending and descending. Special feature like 24 hours barometric pressure reading chart would be a bonus, and the working range of the altimeter should be from -1600 to 29500 feet (-500 to 9000 meters). I don’t think anything more is necessary (hint: Everest is 8800m asl). The units of pressure used are millibar (mbar) which are numerically equivalent to hectopascal (hPa).
  3. Weather and temperature – the other main features that is important on calculating altitude. Weather forecast feature is an estimate of the weather conditions for the next several hours and is determined based on past and current barometric trends. Make sure that it is possible to change the temperature units from Fahrenheit to Celsius.
  4. Altimeter – the main feature of the watch. To get the most of the altimeter, it should be able to:
    1. Displays a readout of the present altitude (resolution to 1 foot or 1 meter, with display range from -1600 to 29500 feet (-500 to 9000 meters).The watch can be changed to report the altitude in meters and feet.
    2. Tracks and stores maximum and accumulated altitude over time.(Maximum altitude is the maximum altitude attained since the measurement was last reset, and accumulated altitude is the sum of all individual altitude increases measured since the last reset – this is NOT the same as net altitude increase).
    3. Display the altitude history, at least for the past six hours.
  5. Compass – Most altimeter watch nowadays are equipped with a digital compass. It should be able to provide the degree reading (at least the resolution should be up to 1 degree) and an abbreviated orientation (N for north, W for west, NW for northwest) on the watch. However, digital compass is only recommended to be used for general navigation. In situations where exact direction and navigation is required, I would recommend that a true map compass be used.
    • For Muslim climbers, having a Qiblah compass (a special compass that could show them the direction on Kaabah, Mecca) when climbing Kinabalu is almost necessary. It is because you will arrive at Low’s Peak just before dawn, and most probably you have to do the Subuh prayer (solah) near the peak. Having said that, knowing the degree of Kaabah from north is an advantage, as you can use your digital altimeter watch compass to find your direction through, without the need of bringing a separate compass for Qiblah.
  6. Chronograph is an extra feature which almost every watches have it. Chronograph functionality will allow you to measure the elapsed time between various events. It is a good feature to have if you want to measure your elapsed time of your ascend/descend on Kinabalu.
  7. Alarm would be another good feature to have on your altitude watch, especially if it includes altitude alarm. Altitude alarm is an alarm that will inform you the level of altitude you are at, provided that you set it up first at the desired level.
  8. Must be water-proof – to some degree. Generally, altimeter watches for climbing CANNOT be use during your SCUBA diving trip to Sipadan (as example). It has a small opening on the body which house a barometric and temperature sensor for the calculation of the altitude. Salt water from your SCUBA diving trip will definitely kill the sensor.
  9. Durable – a difficult feature to assess, as only time could tell. However, you could get the feedback from the user of the known altimeter watches brands from various sources around the net. One of the best place to check out is Backpackgeartest.org.
  10. Other extra features are backlight, navi-bezel, vertical speed, number of runs, degree of slope, altitude log recording and rate of ascent and descent will complete your altimeter watch.
  11. Did I said 10? Anyway, the altimeter watch that you choose must fit your budget! It would be no use if you buy the most expensive altimeter watch, but unable to pay for you flight to Kinabalu!

There are a lot of altimeter watch in the market nowadays, such as Suunto, Polar, Cyclosport, Oregon, Synchronic and Timex which has different features and styles to suit your individual requirements. Wondering where to shop for your altimeter watches? Chitika eMiniMalls is a one stop center for online shopping. It has thousands of merchants that could show you the desired altimeter watches that you are looking for. Mine? I am going to get one ASAP!

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