Every year, I like to recognize a piece of gear that has the biggest transformational impact on my hiking and backpacking experience by giving it the Section Hiker Gear of the Year Award. This year’s winner is the Casio PAG240-1CR Pathfinder Triple Sensor Multi-Function Sport Watch whose built-in barometric altimeter helped transform my off-trail navigation skills this year.
While the Casio Pathfinder PAG241-1CR is a fully featured sports watch and has many built-in functions, including a compass, barometer, thermometer, multiple times zones, sunset and sunrise times, various timers, alarms, data history storage, including a 110 page instruction manual, I only use the watch to keep time and as an altimeter for hiking navigation. I bought it because it was reasonably priced, under $175, and because I refused to pay the premium charged by other altimeter watches like the Suunto Core, which ranges in price from $299 to $500.
Navigating in 3-D
The value of navigating with an altimeter and a compass is that it gives you the ability to pinpoint your location on a contour map in three dimensions using a compass bearing and an elevation so you know precisely where you are even if you can’t see any landmarks. This is extremely valuable when hiking off-trail through thick brush where it is difficult to guess your location-based on speed of travel because it’s so slow and varies significantly on the terrain, group strength, and weather conditions.
For example, by reading an elevation off your watch along a compass bearing and matching it to a contour line on a map, you can find your exact location. This is invaluable when hiking off-trail, or bushwhacking as it’s called in the Northeastern United States. It’s the same information you’d get by using a GPS, but a compass and altimeter are more reliable tools because they don’t have the battery life or satellite connectivity issues that GPS devices experience. Besides using a map, compass, and altimeter is just more fun than using a GPS.
Being barometric, the altimeter has to be recalibrated once or twice a day at a known elevations to keep it in synch with changes in the weather and atmospheric air pressure. But as long as that is done, it’s usually accurate to within 20 feet of my actual elevation on a map.
Another key feature of the Casio PAG240-1CR Pathfinder is that it’s solar-powered, which means you never need to change the battery. The watch just needs to be worn under a light source, be it outside or indoors, to keep the battery charged. This is a big value point for me: I’ve never successfully changed the battery on any pervious sports watch I’ve owned, and having a watch with a solar battery means I never have to replace a battery again.
Being able to measure and track my elevation has enabled me to hike much more challenging off-trail routes and increased the accuracy and confidence I have in my off-trail navigational abilities. My navigational skills have taken a huge leap forward this year by using the Casio PAG240-1CR Pathfinder altimeter watch, and opened up all kinds of new avenues for adventure that I plan to pursue in the coming years. Things like scouting off-trail for trout streams in Northern New Hampshire or bushwhacking the border peaks along the US/Canadian border.
Let the adventures begin!
Previous Section Hiker Gear of the Year Award Winners, include:
- 2013: Solo Wood Stove
- 2012: Therm-a-Rest Alpine 35 Blanket
- 2011: Pacerpoles (Trekking Poles)
- 2010: Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy Sack
Disclosure; Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) purchased this product with his own funds. This post contains affiliate links.