Do you use an altimeter?


Well-known member
Jul 26, 2004
Central PA
I have been trying to decide if I want to spend $80 or so on an altimeter for my backpack hunt in ID 20a this fall. How many of you use an altimeter while hunting? Is it a big advantage? I had considered buying a GPS with a built in altimeter, but I still have trouble justifying the weight of a GPS when I am very comfortable using a compass & maps. I can see some benefit to knowing your precise elevation, but how helpful have you found it to be?
I have been a guide in unit 27 since a988. I never have had a GPS or altimeter until last fall. Its really cool, and fun to play with, but I don't see any advantage to knowing your precise elevation. The Outfitter never allowed us to use a compass or pull out maps, as he wanted hunters to think we knew where we were going. Particularly in Idaho Its always twice as far and twice as steep and takes twice as long to get there as it looks like it should. Being from PA, I think it would be good for you to get a GPS. They don't really weight much, and will allow you to hunt much farther from camp than you otherwise would when you know you can find your way back. If you are good with the maps and compass, as it sounds like youa re, then you'll probably be OK, but the GPS units are pretty fun.
I have used my GPS altimeter feature several times. Mainly as "Gee, wonder how high I am" rather than using it for actually hunting certain elevations. Sometimes it is fun to see the elevation changes you hike through on any given hunt.
Thanks, ARCAT. I've thought about a GPS, and I am sure you are right about the "fun" factor. Any difficulty with reception/signal in the rugged stuff?
BTW, did you ever get "temporarily disoriented" due to that no compass/no maps policy? I would think that, in those shoes, I would be less likely to venture as far, especially the first years while you get to know the area.
As you can imagine, I was wondering around hunting new country often. Some times the ponies were a little farther away at night than I figured. Hunters would say whats it like over that far ridge and I'd either say lets go check it out, or "Its looks about like this."

The worst was one time we were stalking a group of elk that were bedded in 2 ft of snow. There was about 50 head and a few nice bulls. They were bedded in a big meadow, and it started snowing in a whiteout. I told the hunters this is perfect to sneak in on them, and it was. When the snow let up I told to chamber up, the elk were less than 50 yards from us, so get ready. we must have "sneaked" for 2 miles through the lodgepoles, probably an hour at least before we got to where we could shoot. It was a little embarassing, but you can never be too careful, and we did blast a couple 6's.

As to the weather affecting the GPS, its does, alot more than I thought it would. It is deadly accurate, but moderatly heavy clouds, and thick timber will cause you to lose a signal. Its NOT as reliable as I had hoped. But since I know how to work it now I'll never go into new country without it. I think a GPS will give you some confidence. In unit 20a if you can keep the creeks and rivers straight with your maps, you won't get lost.
I know my hunting areas like the back of my hand. But still picture this. You have tracked a bull in deep snow. You have worked up on him, and it has taken all day. You shoot him! That is the good news. Bad news is the guide, and you both know where you "think" the horses or camp is but who is right? At times like this I pull out either my Etrex legend or the camo unit. I have already taken a waypoint on the truck, horses, camp, trail head, what ever. Maybe it is closer to just head for camp instead of the truck, or horses. The map models give you more options. You can load TOPO maps and have them at your disposal.
When the outfitter asks where is the bull. You pull out your map, and using the UTM ticks on the map, point out the exact location of the bull.
Finally, I have used mine to "project" a way point to a herd of deer or elk. I found a herd of deer with a good 170 class buck. It was across a canyon and i was going to have to circle the buck to get to him. I "projected" the way point to the deer and used that way point to go to the deer after I crossed the canyon down stream about two miles. I have also done this with elk. Fact is the GPS will keep track of miles walked, incline or decline, time traveled, and so much more. I won't go anywhere with out mine. Oh ya, it is dark. You are walking out and you find a herd of elk in the dark. You don't spook them but you do set a way point. Lets say your guide has broken his leg, IN THE DARK, and it is a compound break. You go to camp using the GPS and use a satellite phone to call for help. The chopper needs a location. Well, it is right here in my GPS! Etrex yellow, 100 bucks, the Legend is 150 with rebates. What are they worth when you need them? Priceless! Ron
While backpacking on several occasions I was concerned with my precise location. Thick Old Growth Timber on the Washington coast. Bailed off the ridge in the wrong place several times, enough times that I subscribe to the theory that one cannot have too much information when headed to the back country. You may not be able to rely on any one part of what you take with, map (to use the map you must either have a way to visually see reference points or have an accurate way to measure the distance you have traveled), compass (I have had several that have come apart or where lost in the field), altimeter, or gps. But by putting together the information gathered with the others, you can save yourself a lot of head, and other aches. Most of the new gps units not only show you precise location, but also altitude and a compass heading. I still carry a map and compass when using mine.

I still have trouble justifying the weight of a GPS

Here is the size and weight of my Garmin Etrex Legend.
Size: 4.4"H x 2.0"W x 1.2"D (11.2 x 5.1 x 3.0 cm)

Weight: 5.3 ounces (150 g) with batteries

Not a lot of weight to consider on a piece of equipment that can be invaluable. I have been hunting the same area since 1990 and I still use my GPS each and every time I go in there. For rhe same weight and size, I also carry my cell phone. Always have and always will. Each is very little weight and can fit into your shirt pocket and never know you are carrying it. Does 5 oz really mean that much to you?
Ok, Uncle! I'll reconsider the GPS thing.

Elkhunter, 5 oz here, 5 oz there, soon adds up, so yes, 5 oz does mean a lot to me. The GPS just may not be the right 5.3 oz to cut out. And I am planning to carry my cell phone (not sure I'll have a signal tho).
Thanks for the replys, guys.
PA, Once upon a time in the Mountains above Colorado I dropped off 4 of my buddies to hunt for elk. I then went to an area, parked my truck, grabbed a few items and walked down a snow covered trail. We were by then supposed to meet up in about an hour and a half. I got along a creek and did some cow calling as I went along. Well a white-out hit, my buddies met back up at my truck, but no Draftstud! They called me on our radio channel and I told them that quite frankly I was turned around and could not see 15 yds! I gave them the code to my truck and instructed them to blow the horn, I could not hear it, well now they fired my 44 into a tree. I heard that and took out walking toward the sound, well a sound has many lives in the mountains....I walked straight towards the ECHO! Seven hours and eight miles later I arrived on the valley floor where the Helicopter crew found me. They had been blown off the Mountain four times, I know because I saw them each time, do you know how empty a feeling that is, not that I was lost, but the fact that somewhere on the Mountain people were looking and worring about me. So if maybe I had taken my GPS out of the center console I could have saved everyone a lot of grief. If you want to lose 5 ounces, take a dump before you hunt, but take the GPS. John
You mean not everyone HAS to take a dump 5 minutes after they hit the woods?? :confused: I thought that was just how it works.
Great, now I'm startin' to think I'm weird or somethin.
Gastro Gnome - Eat Better Wherever

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