The Gear Junkie: The Adventure Wristwatch

A timepiece with added outdoorsy features--say an altimeter or a built-in compass--is mandatory gear on most adventures. I swear by the Suunto t6, a standby performer that's clicking strong for me after a year-and-a-half of outdoors abuse.

But two new watches--the Highgear Alterra and the Wenger Deep Diver--have graced my wrist as of late for a test on the adventure circuit.

Like the Suunto t6, Highgear's $170 Alterra features a digital face with an altimeter, a barometer and chronograph functions for tracking splits during workouts or competition. It has a few features the Suunto leaves out, including a digital compass, a thermometer and a "ski chrono" function for tracking downhill runs.

However, the Suunto watch--which claims an MSRP of $399 but can now be found online for as little as $249--has a heart-rate monitor and an accompanying computer program for analyzing workout data. Highgear does not have either.

I put these two watches head to head during a recent climb on Mount Shasta, testing for usability and comparing altimeter readings at various points on the mountainside. The Highgear ( fared well against its more expensive competition, with few performance discrepancies.

The Alterra's altimeter was accurate within a 20-foot range, which is good enough for any type of mountaineering. Its digital compass worked fine, too, spinning to all points with little hesitation, though calibrating it is a slight annoyance that takes about a minute before each outing.

Overall, Highgear gives Suunto a literal run for its money.

My other wristwatch test this summer has been with Wenger's Deep Diver, which is a stainless-steel analog ticker that does not perform technical tasks like the other watches here. There's no altimeter, no stopwatch, nothing much more than three clock hands on a face.

But what this $375 watch does have is quality and class. Its suave and simple design does double duty as a formal timepiece or something to wear while SCUBA diving.

Indeed, the aptly named Deep Diver's most impressive feature is its overkill waterproof rating of 1,000 meters. Yep, that's 3,300 feet under the sea. Take it with you next time you're heading to the Mariana Trench.

Beyond its resilience with deep depths, the Wenger watch ( has a rotating bezel; Swiss quartz movement; a date display; glow-in-the-dark hands, numerals and markers; a mineral crystal face; a screw-down crown to ensure waterproof-ness; and a stainless-steel bracelet.

In sum, a solid package all around, though for many users the attractive Deep Diver might be more bling, less business in the great outdoors.

Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.

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