Choosing An Altimeter


ALTITUDE RANGE

The first thing you will want to consider is the maximum range of the altimeter.  For most hikers and backpackers, this is not critical.  But for climbers, a high altitude range is a necessity.  Here are a few general altitude references to help you decide what range of altimeter you need, based on your needs:
  • 0 to 2,000 ft (sea level to areas of general vegetation)
  • 2,000 to 4,000 ft (rolling hills, small mountains, foothill of large mountains)
  • 4,000 to 6,000 ft (mountainous areas)
  • 6,000 to 10,000 ft (high mountains)
  • 10,000 to 14,000 ft (very high mountains, decreasing vegetation)
  • 14,255 ft (the highest summit along the Rocky Mountains)
  • 29,028 ft (the height of Mt. Everest)

ACCURACY

The accuracy can vary greatly from one altimeter to the next.  The old adage “You get what you pay for” usually works pretty well with altimeters – especially the analog altimeters.  Generally speaking, the bare minimum for acceptable accuracy is +/- 5 percent.  Anything less than +/- 1 percent is very good.  Not all manufacturers will publish accuracy ratings, but when they are available, we will definitely include them for your review.

APPLICATION / FEATURES

What you are doing while you are using your altimeter will play a large part in deciding on which altimeter to purchase.  Depending on your application, some features may be more important to you.
  • Hands Free Use. If you need to have the current altitude and barometric trends at arm reach, even when you’re busy with your hands, you may want to consider a wristwatch version.  There are even wristwatch altimeters with additional functions such as a digital compass or heart rate monitor.
  • Backpacking. For typical hiking you may not need a wristwatch version, but as when packing for any length hike, size and weight always matter.
  • Data Trend Capture. If you want the altimeter to automatically track trends in barometric pressure or altitude, then you will definitely need an electronic altimeter of some sort.  Some electronic models even offer the option to download your logbook data to a personal computer.  
  • Battery Free. If you need to be in the wild for months on end, you’ll probably want an analog altimeter, so you don’t have to keep replacing batteries.  Although, to be honest, the battary life of a typical digital altimeter is usually measured in months, not days. 
  • Skydiving.  If you are skydiving, you will definitely want an altimeter designed for your task; one to quickly register altitude changes, clearly define the “danger”zone altitudes, and easy to read while your bloodstream is full of adrenaline.



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