Gear Review: Suunto Core Altimeter Watch
MSRP Price: $299.00
Summary: A well designed altitude-barometer-compass watch that is full of features and is at home on any mountain enthusiast’s wrist
Weight: 2.26 ounces
I picked up a Suunto Core ABC (Altimeter Barometer Compass) Watch a couple of years ago to replace a beat up Suunto S6. Overall I think the Suunto Core is a nice upgrade that has stood the test of time. Is it perfect? No. But no watch is.
After plenty of research on altimeter watches, I chose the Suunto Core. It seemed ideal for skiing and mountaineering – although people use it for all sorts of outdoor activities. The Suunto Core was first released around 2007 and it is still a top seller. It comes in a wide variety of colors, styles, and materials. This means it has a wide range of price points ranging from under $200 to over $400. From what I can tell all of the watches use the same software, but have different appearances. I opted for a utilitarian Glacier Grey with a white background. I’m comfortable wearing at home, to the bar, and in the skin track.
I’ve taken my Suunto Core to numerous peaks, countries, and adventures. It’s been on almost every trip report I’ve written. It does exactly what Suunto designed it to do – be a technical, multifunction, sport watch. For a watch that only weights 2.26 oz or 64 g, it has a massive screen that displays lots of info all at once, is for the most part scratch resistant, has five easy to push buttons, and the menu is intuitive. I guess that’s what happens when you get a watch designed in Finland, made in China, and worn in mountains all over the world.
The three main screens scroll between time, altitude, and compass. For me personally, the watch may even have too many features – or maybe I have just avoided learning to use the additional functions. There is certainly a learning curve to get used to everything the Suunto Core has to offer. I rely on my watch primarily for the digital altimeter, time, date, total vertical ascent and descent, altitude log, countdown timer, and alarm. Some functions are great when I remember they are there, but they are not really on my radar all of the time such storm alarms or sunrise/sunset.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the functions of the Suunto Core Watch…
- Light – The backlight is a bit dim. It works great in the confines of my sleeping bag, when I’m going for an alpine start. It’s not the brightest around dusk or dawn, which can make it hard to see. Guess that’s why I also have a headlamp.
- Background – My old Suunto S6 had a black background with white numbering. I hated it. The white background with black numbering is much easier for me to see.
- Altimeter/Altitude Log – This is probably the feature I use the most. The log tells me how long I’ve been going, total ascent, total descent, current altitude, and a few other things. It works well. The one thing that is missing is the current vertical ascent rate. This is a great pacing tool. It’s available in the stored logbook after the log is stopped, but not on the fly.
- Barometer – I like my altitude info, which is available due to the barometer. If I’m in one place for an extended period, the watch automatically switches to the barometer mode to record trends.
- Countdown Timer – Set it for what you want. It’s a great way to time water breaks or cook times.
- Alarm – I recently read on another Suunto Core Review that the watch has 3 alarms. I can only figure out how to set one alarm on my Suunto Core. I wish there were multiple alarms for waking up, hitting the trail, and turn around times. The snooze function unfortunately works incredibly well, although the alarm can be quite quiet – especially in a sleeping bag.
- Compass/Bezel – I do not use this function very often. I find it to be inaccurate. I always carry a real Suunto MC-2G Global Compass with inclinometer in my pocket and rely on that for navigation. The bezel on the watch seems useless too. Mine is notched, but only has North marked. Some of the other Core models have degrees, so this may be more useful on those watches.
- Temperature – This function works, if you take your watch off and leave it out and about for 20 minutes. I don’t really have time for that. I carry a thermometer to measure temperature – crazy.
- Battery Life – For a watch that is constantly on the go, the battery life is decent. It lasts about 8 months with regular use. The watch lets you know when it’s dying and it’s easy to get replaceable CR2032 batteries. (You can get a Pack of 5 Energizer 2032 Battery CR2032 Lithium 3v for about $3 on Amazon.
- Size – The size of the Suunto Core is great for displaying multiple functions and data in an easy to see format. A tap of the button scrolls through other available data without changing the main display – time, altitude, or compass. On the flip side, the watch is uncomfortable to wear under most ski gloves – like my Kinkos. It’s fine with an overmitt glove, but can be hard to access under a cuff or jacket. Maybe I should just wear it as a necklace? This would also make it easier to climb.
- Water Resistant – The Suunto is water resistant to 30 meters / 100 feet. This is perfect because mine gets snowy all the time and I don’t have to stress.
- Button Arrangement – This is by far my biggest gripe about the Suunto Core. The buttons are easily hit by the back of my hand and wrist when doing things like shoveling, touring, breathing, etc. This changes the settings that I want to see regularly. It has even stopped the log, which makes it hard to monitor my progress in the mountains. Maybe I have floppy wrists or something because I have not seen others mention this, but it’s really annoying. The buttons are sensitive. Beware.
- Units – It’s easy to switch between Metric and Imperial. Something that is absolutely mandatory if you go anywhere outside of the United States. It’s hard enough to translate feet to meters – especially when all of the maps are in meters.
Overall the Suunto Core is a great watch. I don’t think there are really any mountain watch alternatives in the same price range with the same functions. The Suunto Ambit looks appealing. It is pricier and has a GPS. Many dedicated GPS devices have the same features, but they are not conveniently located on your wrist.
For what I want at this point in time, the Suunto Core accomplishes the job I need it to do. I wear it all the time. It’s as accurate as you can expect it to be. Always updating/correcting the altitude at known geological points is a necessity with any ABC watch. They are only tools for reference not something to solely rely on.
I do want to highlight how great Suunto Customer Service was. After having the Suunto Core for about a year, the watch began to develop condensation under the screen. It progressively got worse until finally it stopped working. I imagine the condensation somehow comes through the battery hatch against the wrist, but I’m not sure. I sent it to Suunto for repair. Within a week they had sent me a new watch with my original wrist band – no questions asked. Thanks Suunto!
There are plenty of other more in-depth Suunto Core reviews available online (like this one from Outdoor Gear Lab). The above is only my opinion. Everyone uses a tool like the Suunto Core differently. Weigh the options, the price point, and the functions of the Suunto Core for what you need. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. I would certainly recommend the Suunto Core. I may even purchase another eventually, but I’ll also look to see what else is out there.
Here are the Suunto Core – Glacier Grey Specs direct from Suunto:
- Storm alarm
- Sunrise / sunset
- Depth meter for snorkeling
- Multiple watch, date and time functions
- User-replaceable battery
- Multilingual menu (EN, FR, DE, ES)
- 12 month battery life
- 30 meter water resistance
- -20° C to +60° C / -5° F to +140° F
- Log recording
- Accurate to 29500 feet
- Weight: 2.26oz or 64g
If you’re in the market for a Suunto Core, here are some useful links to check out: