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The 7 Best Altimeter Watches For Soaring Higher

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Once functioning solely as a means by which to tell time, watches have evolved immensely since they were first created. Nowadays, it’s possible to get your hands on examples that are practically infinite in their capabilities. Of course, most folks realize that it’s much simpler and more beneficial to track one down that serves a specific function related directly to your life and activities.

While it’s hardly the most popular complication in the world, an altimeter has the potential to be an indispensable function for anyone interested in manned flight, mountaineering, and long-form hiking. With the unique ability to tell you your altitude (or height) above a fixed point, altimeter watches are an important tool that can help in logging your travels and navigation, and can even help save your life in a survival situation. We’ve rounded up the following collection of the best altimeter watches for men.

Best Altimeter Watches to Buy

What Is An Altimeter?

While not nearly as commonplace as, say, a chronograph function, an altimeter is still extremely valuable under the right circumstances. As you might have guessed from the name, those circumstances are any in which gauging one’s altitude is an essential bit of knowledge. After all, that’s what an altimeter does: tells the user their altitude (or height) above a fixed point. Most typically, that fixed point is sea level, but (in some cases) it can be changed to suit other needs — for instance, if you want to measure altitude change on a hike from a fixed starting point until the end of the trek.

How an Altimeter Works

Pressure-Based: Originally, altimeters worked by sensing pressure changes in the atmosphere. It isn’t an infallible system, but it’s generally pretty accurate. This is because the higher one climbs — be that on a mountain hike, in an aircraft, or otherwise — the less pressure there is in the atmosphere. The reason for this is simple: the Earth’s gravity pulls everything toward the planet’s center, even air molecules. So, the closer you get to the center of the planet, the higher the pressure.

Of course, readings can also be altered by weather and rendered less accurate, as the atmosphere is under constant change, but the general functionality remains reliable enough that the technology is still widely used today. Still, a barometric altimeter would need to be constantly calibrated for the best accuracy.

GPS-Based: While pressure-based barometric altimeters are still very common in things like analog watches, aircraft gauges, and even handheld devices used by skydivers, technology has advanced to the point that there are other types of altimeters nowadays — some which are still in use and others that are now defunct. The most common non-barometric altimeter that still exists and is commonly used is GPS-based. As you may already know, GPS uses a network of satellites orbiting the Earth to help triangulate a given device’s exact location on the planet. Knowing the limitations of your technology can potentially end up saving your life. While this is typically used to determine longitude and latitude on a map, it can also be enlisted to determine — you guessed it — altitude.

Downsides to GPS-Based Altimeters

Unfortunately, in practice, GPS has the potential for some pretty big flaws. For instance, if GPS reception is bad — the result of being out of the range of usable satellites (a circumstantial misfortune most of the time) — some hikers and outdoorsmen have found that their GPS altimeter readings can be as far off as 400 feet. That might seem like a small amount, but it can make a huge difference, especially in an emergency situation. Regardless of which type of altimeter watch you end up choosing, it’s important to keep these pros and cons in mind, because knowing the limitations of your technology can potentially end up saving your life, should you find yourself in an emergency survival situation.

What to Look for in an Altimeter Watch

There are still a lot of other decisions to make before settling on the perfect altimeter watch. If you’ve already decided which of the two most common altimeters you want in your watch, there are still a lot of other decisions to make before settling on the perfect altimeter watch for you. We’ve gone ahead and outlined a couple of the most important factors to consider, however, in the following section. As always, this is not an exhaustive guide, but will help illuminate many of the metrics to pay attention to when shopping for your perfect altimeter watch:

Analog, Smart, or Hybrid: Typically speaking, analog watches utilize barometric altimeters in their construction, whereas smartwatches rely upon GPS. If you’ve already decided on one or another — smart or analog, GPS or barometric — this is important, but will not likely alter your decision. There is a third option, however: hybrids. Hybrid watches often have analog movements with more traditional watch faces, but they utilize smart technology along with smartphone applications to access more complications and functions, like fitness tracking or topographical mapping. Like smartwatches, these devices most often use GPS altimeters in their construction — a symptom of the smart side of their functionality. This might not sway your decision, but it’s a helpful tidbit of which to be aware.

Alternative Functionality: Whether you want an analog watch or a smart one, it’s very important to know the alternative functionality of your device. While rare, there are some analog watches that will only supply you with the ability to tell time alongside an altimeter. More commonly, however, analog altimeter watches come with other complications built in — like chronograph functionality (for incremental timekeeping), an onboard compass (for directional navigation), a tachymeter (for determining speed by time or time by speed), or even a standalone barometer (a device that measures ambient air pressure without taking altitude into account).

Analog watches, even when loaded to the gills with complications, are severely limited when compared to smartwatches and hybrids, however. Thanks to technological advancements, smartwatches and hybrids can pack hundreds of potential functions into their cases — ranging from fitness tracking and heart rate monitoring, to GPS navigation, to storing and playing music or podcasts, to giving you access to text and email notifications or even receiving phone calls. The possibilities are practically endless. If maximum functionality is your bag, pick a smartwatch with an altimeter. If you’d rather keep your device focused and purpose-driven, opt for an analog.

Barometric vs. GPS: As mentioned before, most analog altimeter watches use barometric sensors for their altimeter functions, whereas smartwatches most typically rely on GPS. But this is not a hard and fast rule. There are some smartwatches that still use barometric pressure sensors to determine altitude. There’s no good way to tell the difference, however, outside of looking at the specifications of a given watch. If you can’t find the information, reach out to the manufacturer and they should be able to enlighten you.

What is an ABC Watch?

You may see the term ABC thrown around in this category and that’s for good reason. When a watch features an altimeter, barometer, and compass (hence the acronym), it’s referred to as an ABC watch. These are largely reserved for quartz- and battery-powered movements, as automatic watches with specific mechanical compass functions can be quite expensive for a tool watch.

Suunto Core

Suunto Core
Pros
  • Very durable
  • Lightweight
  • User-friendly
Cons
  • Only water resistant to 30m
  • Not a ton of extra sports apps

Best Budget Smartwatch: Built to survive in the great outdoors through loads of punishment, the Suunto Core is one of the best backcountry-ready smartwatches on the market. What makes it even more enticing is that, while it has digital functionality for things like activity tracking and GPS locating, it actually uses a barometric sensor to determine altitude, making it a lot more accurate than other options in its class. Mate that to the fact that it also has a durable and lightweight composite case paired to an elastomer strap, and it’s hard to understand why the brand is charging so little for so much. It’s also worth noting that, on top of an altimeter, it also boasts a compass and barometer, is water-resistant to 30 meters, and can withstand extreme temperatures.

Case Size: 49.1mm
Case Material: Composite
Movement: N/A
Water Resistance: 30m
ABC Watch?: Yes

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar
Pros
  • Solar-powered
  • Garmin has best loadout of activity apps
  • Two size options
  • Very durable
Cons
  • Not necessarily the best all-around Garmin watch

Best Smartwatch: Garmin has arguably the most impressive range of smartwatches, especially when it comes to those seeking out a little (or a lot of) adventure in their lives. The Instinct 2, in its solar-powered form, is truly designed for the outdoors. Available in 45mm and 50mm sizes, the wearable sports a fiber-reinforced polymer case that’s lightweight and tough, with scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass on the front so you can get rugged with some peace of mind. There are a ton of features on the watch, from fitness and sports apps to GPS navigation, with the latter bringing you elevation data, a 3-axis electronic compass, and a barometer for weather monitoring. There’s also an incident-detection feature that lets you send your location to your contacts if you get hurt or in trouble.

Case Size: 45mm, 50mm
Case Material: Fiber-Reinforced Polymer
Movement: N/A
Water Resistance: 100m
ABC Watch?: Yes

Citizen Eco-Drive Promaster Altichron Watch

Citizen Eco Drive Altichron
Pros
  • Measures heights up to 32,000ft
  • Stylish
  • 200m water resistance
  • Can be powered by any light, not just sunlight
  • Features a compass bezel
  • Layout good for lefties
Cons
  • Dial may be too busy for some

Best Dive Watch: There aren’t many budget-friendly options for altimeter analog watches on the market, but the closest you’ll get without sacrificing functionality is probably the Citizen Eco-Drive Promaster Altichron you see before you. The dial looks a bit busy, granted, but that’s because this watch is overflowing with complications that make it one of the most useful Citizen has ever built. For starters, it uses the brand’s signature Eco-Drive functionality, meaning it can be powered by light — any kind of light, not just sunlight — and never needs a battery replacement or a plug-in charge. With 200m of water resistance, it also features a compass bezel, has a date window, and can measure heights of up to 32,000 feet via the onboard barometric altimeter. Not only that, but the pushers are situated in a way that’s great for left-handed watch-wearers.

Case Size: 47mm
Case Material: Stainless Steel
Movement: Eco-Drive Solar
Water Resistance: 200m
ABC Watch?: Yes

Casio Pro Trek Quartz

Casio Pro Trek Quartz
Pros
  • Affordable
  • Goes from -2,300ft to 32,800ft
  • 2-year battery life
  • Links to smartphone via Bluetooth
  • Very durable
Cons
  • Screen is hard to read in low light

Best Quartz: If you’re looking for a rugged analog watch that’s easy on your bank account, it’s always a safe bet to look at Casio’s impressive range. While its Pro-Trek line has a few all-digital timepieces, the analog-digital hybrid options are great tweeners that cover the most ground, literally. The quartz-powered PRT-B50 you see before you is packed full of helpful tools to suit all your adventures. That includes a thermometer, barometer, digital compass, step counter, and, yes, an altimeter, all given to you via the digital readout at the bottom of the dial. Likewise, the altimeter itself has a range of –2,300ft to 32,800ft. With a 2-year battery life, 100m of water resistance, and temperature resistance down to 14ºF, the Pro Trek can also link to your smartphone via Bluetooth.

Case Size: 58mm
Case Material: Resin
Movement: Quartz
Water Resistance: 100m
ABC Watch?: Yes

G-Shock Carbon Mudmaster GWG2000

GSHOCK Carbon Mudmaster GWG2000
Pros
  • One of the most durable watches you’ll find
  • Mud-resistant
  • Accurate atomic timekeeping
  • Goes from -2,300ft to 32,800ft
  • 10-year battery life
Cons
  • Pricier than many other G-SHOCKs

Most Rugged: Casio’s sublabel G-SHOCK may be the very king of rugged quartz watches at affordable price points. Case in point, this Mudmaster GWG2000 features 200m of water resistance – up from the brand’s already-impressive baseline standard 100m – mud resistance, and temperature resistance to 14ºF. If that’s not enough, the incredibly rugged Carbon Core Guard structure boasts a composition of a forged carbon bezel, stainless steel pipes, silicone buffers, mud-resistant buttons, and a resin band. In terms of survival tools, there’s an altimeter, barometer, digital compass, and thermometer. You can also receive super-precise multi-band atomic timekeeping, along with a stopwatch and countdown timer. For nighttime wearability, the timepiece is given Super Illuminator double LED lights.

Case Size: 61.2mm
Case Material: Carbon Core Guard
Movement: Quartz
Water Resistance: 200m
ABC Watch?: Yes

Oris Big Crown Pro Pilot Altimeter Watch

Oris ProPilot Altimeter
Pros
  • Not too busy
  • Beautiful case and dial design
  • Easy to read
Cons
  • Case is large for an automatic

Best Automatic: The Oris Big Crown Pro Pilot watch is one of the best pilot watches in the world. It’s also one of the few that, surprisingly, comes with its own onboard altimeter function. Boasting a beefy, 3D-printed carbon case paired with an ultra comfortable olive textile strap, this horological masterpiece boasts an altimeter and barometer (alongside the appropriate markings on the dial), an automatic Swiss movement with a 56-hour power reserve, a waterproof rating that makes it good for depths of up to 100 meters, and a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. Apart from the barometer/altimeter, this watch is fairly uncomplicated. In this case, however, that’s a very good thing. This is a watch made for a man who knows exactly what he wants.

Case Size: 47mm
Case Material: Carbon
Movement: Automatic
Water Resistance: 100m
ABC Watch?: No

Bell & Ross BR01-96 Altimeter Watch

Pros
  • Striking design
  • Designed to resemble cockpit of an aircraft
  • Doesn’t have an abundance of features
Cons
  • Pricey just for an altimeter

Best Luxury Altimeter Watch: The Bell & Ross BR01-96 Altimeter Watch might be the most appropriately styled option on our entire list. And this is for the simple fact that it was designed to resemble the actual instrument gauges found inside the cockpit of an aircraft. It’s also a masterful piece of horological design, loaded with just enough to make it uniquely useful without bogging it down with a bunch of unnecessary additions. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s an absolutely stunning black-and-white design, either. It’s also a limited edition, with only 999 examples to be made. For a uniquely styled timepiece unlike any other, go no further.

Case Size: 46mm
Case Material: Stainless Steel
Movement: Automatic
Water Resistance: 100m
ABC Watch?: No

The Best Chronograph Watches to Buy

Best Chronograph Watches 0 Hero

If speed is what you’re after, check out some of the best chronograph watches around in our latest guide.