It’s not often here on Practical Travel Gear that we review a watch that sells for more than $250. But here’s something even more strange: I was wearing this on an airplane when I saw it on the cover of something I usually laugh about—the SkyMall catalog!
I’m not sure what that says exactly, but I’ll chalk it up to the fact that this Casio Pathfinder PAW2000 watch has an incredible amount of gadgetry built in. It’ll tell you which direction you’re going, read the temperature, tell you how high you’ve climbed, give you the barometric pressure, time your ascent, give you a heads up on when sunrise will be, wake you up in the morning, and oh yeah—tell you the exact time and date in multiple spots around the globe. All well and good, but it also does all this while recharging on solar power and being water resistant to 100 meters.
“Holy crap,” I thought, “this is going to be a royal pain in the rear to use.” That’s my usual reaction to digital watches with lots of functions and multiple displays. I usually get so frustrated with them that I end up gravitating back to a plain analog watch with one button and a dial. The hassle is not worth it.
Fortunately, I figured this one out without taking a semester to study the manual. It’s still a sizable manual, don’t get me wrong, but this watch feels like it was designed with the input of real users rather than just a team of engineering geeks. For one thing, the buttons are marked by what they do. To get altitude you just press the “ALT” button. To work the compass you press “COMP” and to light up the display you hit “LIGHT.” No, it won’t make Steve Jobs drool because of its sleek coolness, but it’s functional and clear instead of baffling. And here’s the cool part: to get back to just a regular time and date display, you can hit the MODE button or…just wait. After two minutes of no button pushing, it returns to the default. No fumbling around just to see what time it is.
Despite all this, it’s not very clunky though. It weighs noticeably less than some of my analog watches and is significantly thinner than many other sports watches. It’s comfortable to wear, though I have to say the resin strap doesn’t feel as durable as the watch itself.
But what about all those fancy functions. Do they work?
Well, I took this on a trip to the mountainous Coffee Triangle region of Colombia and since I had no idea where I was or where I was going half the time, I was able to try the Pathfinder PAW2000 out across the board. In my tests, the altimeter worked especially well, being within 10 meters of the official measurement in spots where that was known. The electronic compass also was accurate enough that it could have gotten me out of a jam if I got lost in the woods. I can’t read a barometer in the best of circumstances, but I could tell it was adjusting to changes in the pressure and cloud cover. If you do find the readings on any of these things are off, you can make some manual tweaks to adjust. The solar recharging, alarms, stopwatch, and atomic time updates were flawless.
The one clear failure wass the temperature gauge. It wasn’t even in the ballpark, telling me it was 95 degrees F out when it was really 65. I went back to the instructions to see what was wrong and found the following advice. “Remove the watch from your wrist, place it on a well ventilated surface out of direct sunlight, and wipe all moisture from the case. It takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes for the case of the watch to reach the actual surrounding temperature.” Sure, that would be fine, if only it wasn’t…a wristwatch! Maybe a detachable thermometer next time?
But hey, with a list of features this long, one minor dud isn’t a real setback. Chances are you don’t often need a watch to tell you whether it’s freezing outside or balmy. Everything else comes through strong and this is the first multi-function electronic watch I actually want to keep wearing.
See the official Casio Pathfinder watch site.
Tim Leffel is founder of the Practical Travel Gear blog, as well as the Cheapest Destinations blog and the narrative webzine Perceptive Travel. He is the author of The World's Cheapest Destinations (now in its 4th edition), Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, and A Better Life for Half the Price.