15There’s a 76-foot elevation gain from my office to my favorite coffee shop. There’s no practical reason for me to know that my afternoon latte sits at exactly 2,252 feet above sea level, yet, there it is. One more piece of information I have about the world around me because of my fancy altimeter watch.

When I say it’s an altimeter watch, I’m actually selling the thing short, because it’s so much more. Altimeter, barometer, speedometer, compass, stop watch, wing man, confidant, therapist.  It does everything but cook my breakfast in the morning. It even tells time.

I got the watch for a single purpose: to keep from getting lost in the backcountry. Knowing your elevation and which direction you’re heading is key for “staying found,” according to all the backcountry gurus I’ve interviewed. And it’s helped immensely. I still get lost quite a bit, but it’s somehow comforting to know I’m lost at exactly 3,341 feet above sea level. But I’ve also started using the altimeter in casual, everyday settings. I’ll calibrate the watch before walking to get a coffee (76 foot gain) or before riding the escalator at Sears (40 foot gain), or walking to get the mail (six-foot drop).

But knowledge is a good thing, right? Wrong. The watch has a speedometer too, which has finally proven what a series of coaches have been trying to tell me for almost 30 years: I’m slow. I thought I was running a six-mile loop around my neighborhood at a blistering seven-minute-per-mile pace. According to my new watch, which I’ve dubbed Judas, that six-mile loop is more like 3.5 miles. My seven-minute-per-mile pace is a more humble 11-minute pace.

I can’t help but wonder if I wasn’t better off before having all this information at my wrist. Sure, the world around me was more subjective in terms of altitude and speed, but I had much better self-esteem.

Question for BRO readers: Do gadgets like altimeters and GPS’s enhance the outdoor experience, or do they take away some of the mystery and sense of adventure?