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Gear Review: The Improved Casio Pathfinder PAW5000-1 GPS Watch

By National
Geographic Adventure Contributing Editor Steve Casimiro, editor of
The Adventure Life

When your phone has a GPS built into it, who carries a compass these days? But what about when the battery dies or you drop it in the drink and the fog rolls in and south looks like north? Short of carrying a dedicated compass, which all the experts recommend but few people do, the model built into the Casio Pathfinder PAW5000-1 ($450) is a solid option. The Pathfinder line is immensely popular, but not always so easy to use—there’s a lot squeezed onto those little faces—but this newest model adds a second hand, which doubles as a pointer to north and makes it an immensely usable device, not just a novelty.

ABC watches, which have an altimeter, barometer, and compass, generally opt for large, easy-to-read digital displays. The Pathfinder banks on analog style, which slips through the airlock between work and play easier than the typical ABC. Unless you’re competing in an adventure race, where you can’t slow down, but need to verify your deets, this is no big deal: With the Casio, you can grab the time of day on the fly, and the small digital output showing elevation, compass point, and air pressure is easily eyeballed, too.

There’s a learning curve to setting up the watch—don’t toss the manual—but once you’ve selected your home city, it doesn’t get much more low maintenance. The Pathfinder is solar powered and calibrates itself with atomic time-keeping signals from one of the six transmitters worldwide; the U.S. broadcasts from Fort Collins, Colorado, with a range of 3,000 kilometers–that covers you from the Yucatan to northern Hudson Bay.

The Casio hides a lot behind that face: There’s also a thermometer and an ascent/descent log and world clock and alarm. It’s submersible to 330 feet. And you can adjust the compass declination—because if you’re asking it to point the direction, you want it to be the right one. Can your phone do that?