Weight: 4.2 oz
Cost: $250-$450 (my model is $320, but I saw it for half off at the REI Outlet recently) Pathfinder.casio.com
I’ve had the misfortune of two different watches’ batteries expiring while on backpacking trips, and after the second one caused some serious trouble, I vowed to avoid that experience again. Enter the Casio Pathfinder Solar Powered Watch line – with five months of power available at full charge, I’ll never have to go watch-less again.
There are fifteen watches in the Casio Solar Powered lineup with a reasonable variance in features. Fundamentally, they’re all the same: an ABC watch (altimeter, barometer, and compass) that gets its juice from the sun. The particular model I own, the 1300B-4V, has a laundry list of additional features: atomic timekeeping, solar power, digital compass, thermometer, world time, timer, and a calendar that’s pre-programmed through 2099 (just in case you really like the watch).
This watch has come on every trip I’ve been on since I received it as a birthday present two years ago. It’s been slammed against talus, held underwater, snowed on, hailed on, left in sub-freezing temps, left in above-100-degree heat, and it still works as well as the day I got it. I also always take it when I travel, as the compass function alone is just as useful in foreign urban environments as the wilderness. Do beware if you go to the southern hemisphere though, because you’ll need to re-calibrate due to the switch in magnetic poles.
For those who don’t prefer the chunky styling of many adventure watches, Casio also came out with a Pathfinder “Slim Series” that has a lower profile than its predecessor. I’m pretty ambivalent about watch size, but occasionally I get the comment along the lines of, “What is that, a laptop on your wrist?”
On actual backcountry trips, I use the myriad watch features on a daily basis. I’ve found that I do a much better job of checking my bearing when it’s just a quick glance at my wrist (the watch has the option to adjust for declination).
I use the timer as reminder for when to turn around on summit days, which has helped me avoid more than one afternoon thunderstorm, and I use the alarm almost daily to get me out of my sleeping bag (or at least acknowledge that I should start waking up).
Like most altimeters I’ve used that rely on barometric pressure, I’ll usually re-calibrate a couple of times per trip, but the function is still useful (and accurate) when you’re trying to gauge how really far you have to go to get to the ridgeline on the topo.
The thermometer is great for answering the ageless question of, “How cold is it?,” but I typically only use this feature in camp, as the heat from your wrist throws off the reading while hiking around.
The real differentiator for me, however, is the solar power. The watch beeks on my desk at home between trips, and I’ve never seen the charge indicator below two-thirds full while out on a trek.
Bottom Line: Combined with the ABC features, this watch has become one of the most dependable and useful tools I take out into the field.