2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear Review: Casio Pathfinder Solar-Powered Watch

With solar power and atomic timekeeping, you'll never be late for a summit bid again.

by: Will Rochfort

Casio Pathfinder Solar-Powered Watch 1300B-4V (Courtesy Photo)
Casio Pathfinder Solar-Powered Watch 1300B-4V (Courtesy Photo)

The Specs:
Weight: 4.2 oz
Cost: $250-$450 (my model is $320, but I saw it for half off at the REI Outlet recently)
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.

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Jan 18, 2014

I love mine. While it has never been through a deployment, it did survive the slightly less traumatic rigors of Ranger school. I found the compass very useful for spot-checking my direction.

Jul 08, 2012

Sand mucks it up. Large case gets snagged with gear, straps, and cams. Can't get banged up. Not good for rough operations, too nice. Doesn't reflect so I'm not a bullseye or announces our presence.
Good civilian watch. Not good for rough deployment.

Jim A
Sep 08, 2010

I love my pathfinder, my wife purchased this watch for me almost 3 years ago for a Scout trip in New Mexico. Since that time it has been my constant companion to oceans, mountains and just daily work days. It has never failed me. I truly believe it is the best watch that I have ever owned. It is an expensive watch, but good deals can be had on the internet.

Sep 08, 2010

I saw a couple people referencing this as a good pre-deployment present, but didn't know if it could withstand the heat or conditions of Iraq/Afghanistan. I have been in country for over 6 months and I have yet to have one problem with my Pathfinder. It has reached about 137 here in the summer. It is a great watch and I wouldn't want anything else. The Solar ring will always keep it charged and it will never die.

Sep 07, 2010

what other countries does the atomic timekeeping feature on this watch NOT work in besides central america as one reader commented above? also can you then manually readjust the time?? any info. or help would be much appreciated. thank you.

Will Rochfort
Sep 07, 2010

@armywife: In my experience (albeit all secondhand through friends who have been over in the Middle East), most civilian equipment can't handle the conditions in Afghanistan. There are a lot of Mil Spec watches available, but I can't speak to their performance from personal experience. I can say, however, that I would probably lean towards *not* sending this watch overseas without confirming that it could handle the conditions. - WMR

Haz Dog
Sep 07, 2010

I wore my Pathfinder up Mt. Shasta two days ago and there was a small spot of condensation on the inside of the lens which made it very difficult to read. I've had my Pathfinder for over two years and this was the first time it's been anything but perfect. I use it as my primary altimeter and back-up compass while adventure racing and it's been very dependable.

army wife
Sep 07, 2010

I was wondering if this watch would survive on a soldier's wrist. It sounds like a great predeployment (Afganistan) gift. I'm not sure about the temps in Afgan, but Iraq reached 145 temps in summer - what the extreme temps didn't destroy, the sandstorms did. I would appreciate any advice on military grade gear.

Sep 07, 2010

I have a slightly older version of this series, but the solar power is an improvement over the three-battery thickness of the pre-solar Pathfinders. The really like the watch; it's tough (my is pretty scraped and dented, now that I look at it) and reliable for the outdoors.

However, I point out:

As mentioned, the thermometer is not very accurate if the watch is on your wrist, or under layers of clothing. If you wear the watch 24 hours a day, as I tend to do, it's not overly useful.

The atomic timekeeping feature is geeky fun, but the FM signal could not reach me during my Central American work, nor does it work in Atlantic Canada, so it's moot.

After having two Pathfinders over the years, I find that I usually use the watch for gee-whiz readings, relying on dedicated instruments (compass, altimeter) for more detailed work.

Sep 06, 2010

I bought one of these before a 2008 New Mexico Scout hiking trip and echo the comments above. It is tough, the solar battery keeps everything charged as long as the watch isn't stored in a drawer, and the atomic clock check means I never doubt if the watch is right. It is a superb watch. The barometer graph has helped prepare me for a few thunderstorms as well.

Sep 06, 2010

I bought one of these before a 2008 New Mexico Scout hiking trip and echo the comments above. It is tough, the solar battery keeps everything charged as long as the watch isn't stored in a drawer, and the atomic clock check means I never doubt if the watch is right. It is a superb watch. The barometer graph has helped prepare me for a few thunderstorms as well.

Sep 04, 2010

Thank you for the thorough article on this solar watch. As luck would have, I was in the market for a new hiking watch, and with all the brands out there I was without a clue where to begin. You not only outlined your personal experience with this watch, but where you found it off. After reading your article last night I immediately went to the REI Outlet online and bought one; thank you!!



Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Health and Fitness
2014 fitness updates
Posted On: Aug 21, 2014
Submitted By: RebeccaD
MYOG Alcohol Stoves
Posted On: Aug 21, 2014
Submitted By: Tigger

View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions