Last weekend I was hiking a section of the Long Trail in Vermont and I met up with an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who asked me what time it was. I was a little surprised that they guy wasn’t wearing a watch and stuttered out an answer. Now, I can understand the relief of not wearing a watch while you are on vacation, but if you are backpacking, a watch is a really important navigational tool that you should bring with you. I use mine a lot more than my compass.
For example, I normally hike at a 1.5 to 2 miles per hour pace. If I’m on a well defined trail, I can usually figure out where I am with surprising accuracy, simply based on how long I have been hiking. Furthermore, if you know where your next water or shelter stop is, knowing the current time is crucial to determining whether you will make it before sundown or whether you need to decide on an alternative course of action. There are a lot of super fancy gizmo watches like the Suunto Vector Altimeter or the High Gear Alterra with built-in electronic altimeters, compasses, and barometers. But the reality is that you don’t need a very fancy watch to stay found. I bought one of these watches once, but the manual still sits unread on my office desk. Instead, I prefer wearing cheap plastic analog waterproof watches that cost around $25, like the speedo watch shown above. It also really helps if the watch you are wearing has an analog dial, because if you become disoriented, it is easy to tell which way is north or south by aligning the watches’ hands with the sun. If you have an analog dial, you should point the hour hand showing the current time at the sun. South will be halfway between the hour hand and the number 12 on your watch in the Northern Hemisphere. Cool huh?