Back in the day, I wore an Altitude/Barometer/Compass (ABC) watch by Suunto. This was a dependable backwoods companion. I eventually gave it to my younger son. The plastic case was partially melted by 100% Deet overspray. At that time the basic GPS device was available but there were no internal maps so a paper map was essential.
Later, I backpacked with an individual who used only an ABC watch and a Topo map exclusively even when off trail. He was confident and skilled (I am not). At that time, I had added the Garmin 60csx (which is still a great GPS but no longer supported by Garmin). It utilized a detailed 24K memory chip for my area (CA). Where I had an advantage over my friend was the ability to determine how far we were to the next water source or point of interest indicated on a paper map. It also provided, based on average speed, time estimates to destinations.
As I traveled more by myself off trail hiking and backpacking, I felt the need to add a Satellite Phone for possible emergencies. Global Star worked until their satellites began to fail. I then went to Iridium. I began to think more about backup in terms of navigation if my GPS malfunctioned or the batteries died. Suunto came out with the GPS watch which provided exact GPS locations, heart rate and track back/find back features. In a sense, I had a 2nd GPS device without the maps. The subsequent Ambits (2 and 3) added performance features for fitness training. I keep a daily eye on my “steps” count.
One nagging problem was a need for a chest strap for heart rate data to ensure I kept my HR at a reasonable limit. Previously, I used one for training for marathons, Triathlons and ultra-marathons but not on hikes and backpacking. This became important after a diagnosis of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). This is where Garmin set the standard with wrist-based heart rate data which no longer required a chest strap. I recently bought a used Garmin Fenix 3 HR and hope it will be accurate enough. If so, it will be much more convenient and include the same navigational options as the Ambit 3.
Another change is going to the Spot Gen 3 and selling my Satellite Phone. The annual minimum fee is now $700,00. I found my use did not justify this kind of money. As I think about it now, after my year is up with Spot (Globalstar), I will buy a Garmin inReach Explorer+ which combines a map GPS with two-way text communication (Iridium) for much less airtime cost than my Satellite phone and a smaller package.
The current Garmin Fenix 5 series watches all have map capabilities and would make a nicer package but I want to see if wrist HR technology will work for me. If so, I would probably get the Fenix 5X not a newer 5 plus watch.
What would I like to see in a future wilderness watch? I would like to see a “peak finder”, which is already available as a smart phone app. oxygen saturation level (already available in the 5 plus). I would also like to see a solar recharge feature instead of squeezing more battery life by sacrificing accuracy. I would love to have voice communication too, via satellite.
I am not that concerned about the social network, tunes, photos and connectivity with a smart phone. I am willing to accept the weight of my cameras and lenses. I want a stand-alone device that does not need connectivity with a smart phone for full functionality.
As I look back many years to my 50’s this is all quite a contrast to the basic trail running equipment of shorts, tee shirt, running shoes, hammer gel flask, water bottle and water purification pills.