How to Read an Altimeter

How to Read an AltimeterAn altimeter is a handy device that provides a reading of your altitude. It is a valuable tool for navigation as well as tracking vertical feet climbed or descended. You can use either a stand-alone altimeter or one built into a watch or other device.
 

Instructions

Difficulty: Easy

Step 1
Set the altimeter. This is usually done by manually entering the known altitude or air pressure of the location where you currently are. Altitude can be ascertained by using an easily identifiable landmark on a topographic map (base of a mountain, intersection, trailhead). Altitudes are also often marked on signs for cities and trails.
Step 2
Find the altimeter setting. If you're using a watch, GPS or other multifunction device, you'll need to pull up the altimeter function. Toggle through functions until you've reached it.
Step 3
Familiarize yourself with the units and increments of your altimeter. Altimeters display your elevation in meters, feet or both. Set it to display the units that you are most comfortable with and that correspond to how your topographic map is marked. Also be aware of the increments that an analog altimeter uses for measurement (100 feet, 200 feet, etc.).
Step 4
Get the digital readout. If your device is digital, you will get a simple, numerical reading of your elevation in feet or meters.
Step 5
Get the analog readout. Some altimeters feature a mechanical face, similar to that of a clock. In this case, a rotating needle will point to the current altitude. The lines between numbers will be drawn in specific increments to provide the most-detailed reading. For better accuracy, some analog altimeters have a lower upper elevation and lower, more precise increments. For these, the revolutions of the needle must be factored to get the total elevation. For instance, an analog altimeter that reads up to 3,000 feet but has three revolutions indicates an altitude of 9,000 feet plus any additional footage indicated by the needle itself.
Step 6
Reset your altimeter often. Barometric altimeters rely on air pressure to gauge altitude. They can be affected by storms, other changes in weather and changes in location, so they should be manually reset when traveling to new places and during individual hikes. Reset based on altitude designations from maps and signs to maintain the most accurate readings.
 

Tips & Warnings

 
Altimeters can be used to predict weather and storms. For instance, a rise in altitude relates to a drop in air pressure. If you're not actively gaining altitude when your altimeter displays a gain, that means that the air pressure where you are is dropping on its own, indicating a storm approaching. GPS units may feature one or two types of altimeter. The first type uses satellite readings from at least four separate satellites to give you an elevation reading in addition to longitude and latitude. Some GPS units also contain a barometric altimeter, which is more accurate. When purchasing an altimeter, make sure that it will display elevations high enough to meet your needs. Some altimeters only go up to certain altitudes, which may be lower than what you might require.
 
Altimeters can be used to predict weather and storms. For instance, a rise in altitude relates to a drop in air pressure. If you're not actively gaining altitude when your altimeter displays a gain, that means that the air pressure where you are is dropping on its own, indicating a storm approaching.
 
GPS units may feature one or two types of altimeter. The first type uses satellite readings from at least four separate satellites to give you an elevation reading in addition to longitude and latitude. Some GPS units also contain a barometric altimeter, which is more accurate.
 
When purchasing an altimeter, make sure that it will display elevations high enough to meet your needs. Some altimeters only go up to certain altitudes, which may be lower than what you might require.

Article Written By Joe Fletcher

Joe Fletcher has been a writer since 2002, starting his career in politics and legislation. He has written travel and outdoor recreation articles for a variety of print and online publications, including "Rocky Mountain Magazine" and "Bomb Snow." He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers College.

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