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Reviews > Electronic Devices > Watches > Suunto Altimax > Owner Review by Cheryl McMurray

SUUNTO ALTIMAX ALTIMETER WRISTOP COMPUTER
OWNER REVIEW

June 2009

Name:  Cheryl McMurray
Age:  50
Gender:  Female
Height:  5' 8" (173 cm)
Weight:  145 lb (66.6 kg)
Email Address:  cherylswan@earthlink.net
City, State, Country:  Garden Grove, California, U.S.

BACKPACKING BACKGROUND

I've been backpacking and hiking for 3 years, mostly on weekends.  Backpacks are usually 2-3 day trips in the Eastern Sierras with 38-50 lb (17-22 kg) loads depending on the season and a distance around 30 mi (48 km).  One class 2 rock climb with a day pack is common.  I am working towards lighter weight loads.   Day hikes are 10-15 mi (16-24 km) in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains with loads of 15-20 lb (7-9 km).  I have camped in snow, freezing temperatures, winds (once was gale force), but mostly fair weather so far.

PRODUCT INFORMATION

Manufacturer:  Suunto
Manufacturer Website: www.suunto.com
Manufacture Year: 2000
Color:  Maroon with patterned maroon fabric wristband
Listed Weight: 2 oz (57 gm)
Actual Weight:  1.5 oz (43 gm)
MSRP:  $199 US
Warranty: 1 year

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

This is a large diameter wristop computer measuring 2 in (5 cm) in diameter designed for recreational use.  The size of the watch face makes the display large and easy to read.  It is maroon in color with a matching patterned maroon fabric strap.  I have a small wrist with a diameter of 5.5 in (14 cm) and my husband's wrist is 6.5 in (16.5 cm) and we are both able to comfortably wear the watch.  The manual states a weight of 2 oz (57 gm) but actual weight was 1.5 oz (43 gm).  The watch has 2 buttons on each side.  The left side has a "select" button on the upper left side and a "-" button on the lower left side.  The right side of the watch has a "mode" button on the upper right side and a "+" on the lower right side.  There is a mode indicator arrow that lets me know if I'm in the "time", "altimeter", or "barometer" mode.  There is also a barometric trend indicator in the upper left corner for tracking weather trends.  It takes a CR 2430 battery under a plastic cover that opens with any coin.

Suunto Altimax in time mode  Suunto Altimax in altimeter mode  Suunto Altimax in barometer mode

TECHNICAL DATA AND FEATURES (taken from website)

Altimeter
Altitude alarm: yes   
Vertical speed: yes   
Temperature compensation: yes   
Resolution: 5 m
Quick access to logbook: yes   
Recording intervals: 20s, 60s, 10 min, 60 min
Automatic 24-hour memory: yes   
Altitude range: -1600 ft to 29500 ft (-500 m to 9000 m)   
Difference measurement: yes   
History memory: yes   
Logbook function: yes   

Chronograph   
Countdown timer: yes   
Stopwatch: yes   
Max number of split times in memory: 2

Watch   
12/24h: yes  
Dual time: yes   
Daily alarms: 3

Weather   
Absolute barometric pressure: yes   
Temperature resolution: 1 F (1 C)
Weather memory: 4 days
Trend indicator: yes   
Temperature range: -5 F to 140 F (-20 C to 60 C)
Temperature: yes   
Sea level pressure: yes   
Difference measurement: yes   

Power   
Low battery warning: yes   
User replaceable battery: yes   

Other   
Operating temperature: -5 F to 140 F (-20 C to 60 C)
User replaceable straps: yes   
Water resistance: 100 ft (30 m)
Storage temperature: -22 F to 140 F (-30 C to 60 C)
Backlight type: Electro-luminescent Display

SET UP

The manual that comes with the watch is very comprehensive and easy to follow.  Calibrating the altimeter is easy by putting the watch in "altimeter" mode, press and hold the "select" button and use the "-" or "+" buttons to increase or decrease the altitude, then push the "mode" button and it is ready to go.  That is the only thing that I've found that I needed to calibrate in the field so once I had done it a few times, it became easy.  I did, however, have to go back to the manual to refresh my memory as to how to turn the alarms on and off, along with occasional time changes due to a new time zone or daylight savings.  The "log book" feature is easy to activate as well by starting in the altimeter mode and pressing the "-" button twice until a beep sound is made.  It then records ascent and descent for up to 12 hours.  These are the features I have used the most.

FIELD USE

I was given this watch from a friend who used it for about 4 years before getting something else and putting it in a drawer.  When she found out I was interested in using an altimeter watch she put a fresh battery in it and gave it to me in 2006.  I have used it on every hike and backpacking trip I have taken for the last three years.  Field use has been in the Eastern Sierras, San Gabriel Mountains and San Bernardino Mountains all in California.  The temperature ranges have been from 10 F to 98 F  (-12 C to 37 C) with elevations from 80 ft to 14500 ft (24 m to 4400 m).

FIELD TESTS RESULTS

TIME MODE

I have found the clock feature in the watch mode to be accurate.  I have not had to reset that feature unless I was entering a different time zone and changing that was very simple after I became familiar with the function of the four buttons on the watch.  I have used the stopwatch but not the timer feature.  The stopwatch has come in handy when doing navigation practice allowing me to time myself to the next point on the map.  I can quickly stop the watch if my pace gets interrupted and quickly start it again when I begin to move.  The day and date is visible in the "time" mode which I like.  It is common for me to forget what day it is when I'm out in the backcounty and it is nice to be able to remind myself.  It does have three alarms which I do set when I'm out camping but I rarely hear them as I sleep with ear plugs.  They are easy to hear, though, when I'm awake.

ALTIMETER MODE

I have used this mode mostly since that is what I wanted the watch for.  I like to be able to reference on a topo map where I am using my current elevation.  There are two ways to calibrate the altimeter.  The first way is to determine on a topo map where I am and manually calibrate it.  The second way is to set the sea level barometric pressure if known and the altimeter will adjust to within 200 ft (60 m).  When navigating in the backcountry, I feel that this is not accurate enough as my location can differ by up to four contour lines so I usually calibrate the altimeter at the trailhead where I know the current altitude.  

I did a hike to Heart Bar Peak in the San Bernardino Mts with a starting elevation of 7000 ft (2100 m).  The temperature ranged from the low 50s F (10 C)  to mid 60s F (16 C) with partly cloudy skies.  The original altimeter reading before calibration was 200 ft (60 m) low.  I calibrated the altimeter there and when I got to the peak, it read 8340 ft (2500 m).  The map said the peak was at 8332 ft (2550 m).  This is about as accurate as I can expect.  I did a hike up to Mt. Baldy in the San Gabriel Mts.  The temperature started in the low 40s F (4 C) and did not change most of the day.  I was in cloudy/foggy conditions starting out but rose above the clouds and had clear skies to the peak.  I calibrated the altimeter at the trailhead to 6200 ft (1900 m) and when I arrived at the peak it read 10010 ft (3100 m).  The actual peak is at 10064 ft (3050 m) thus reading 50 ft (15 m) low.  At home I live at an elevation of 120 ft (37 m) so I decided to try adjusting the sea level barometric pressure (one method the manual states) since I had access to that information.  After checking the altitude, it read 70 ft (21 m) high.  When I adjusted the altitude to 120 ft (21 m) the sea level barometric pressure dropped .10 inHg (3.3 mbar) from the readings I found on the weather website.

I find that the altimeter is accurate to within 200 ft (60 m) uncalibrated  which is what the manual states.  When the altimeter is left uncalibrated at the trailhead the altimeter will read up to 200 ft (60 m) low and remain that way up to the peak.  The most accurate altimeter readings I have been able to achieve is to calibrate it at the trailhead.  It will give me a reading at the peak to within 50 ft.

I have used the "log book" feature which will record total elevation gain and loss in a 12 hr period.  When I'm in the altimeter mode I press the "-" button twice and after the beep, it becomes activated for 12 hrs.  I have found this recording to be accurate to within 100 ft (30 m) high or low.  

BAROMETER MODE

I have not used the barometer mode except for determining temperature.  One thing I like to know when I'm out on a backpacking trip is the temperature in the tent at night and in the early morning hours.  I gave the Altimax a good test up at South Lake in the Eastern Sierras in early March.  I knew it would be well below freezing but was not sure how the watch would perform.  I hung it in the tent and whenever I woke up, would check the temperature.  Many times I had to rub the frost off of the face but it kept going strong and at the coldest time in the morning it gave me a low reading of 10 F (-12 C).  Some other brands of altimeters that friends had brought stopped working but the Altimax never failed.   The backlight feaure works well in the dark.  I press and hold the "select" button and the backlight will go on for three seconds and then turn off.  Although the Barometer Mode can be used for weather forecasting, I have not tried that.

DURABILITY

This watch is ten years old.  I have used it for the last three years on every hike and backpack trip (no less than 30 outings).  It has one scratch on the face which was there before I started using it.  It does not obscure any visibility and I have not added any new scratches even with numerous rock scrambling day hikes.  I have replaced the battery once and had to replace the battery cover at the same time.  Suunto does offer a battery replacement kit that includes the battery, cover, and a new gasket.  The slot in the old battery cover had become stripped from previous replacements and purchase of this kit became neccessary.   It was an easy installation and I've had no problems with it since.  

CONCLUSION

This is a durable wristop computer that has held up well for me over the last three years.  I have not replaced the original fabric strap yet which is still working and can also be cleaned very easily.   The watch is accurate to within 200 ft (60 m) but I can attain better accuracy if I calibrate it often at locations of_known_elevation along the way.  I have found the clock to remain accurate and the watch works well in temperatures as low as 10 F (-12 C) (the lowest I've tested it so far).  The stopwatch feature works well for calculating distance with time for navigation purposes.

THINGS I LIKE

Durability
Long Battery Life
Ease of use
Replaceable Battery Cover
Works in below freezing temperatures

THINGS I DON'T LIKE

Battery cover slot can be stripped easily as it is made out of plastic
Altimeter can require frequent calibration
Watch is bulky on the wrist
 
I do recommend the Suunto Altimax Wristop Computer.  It is a good navigation tool used along with a map and compass.





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