Does anybody know what time it is?

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Does anybody know what time it is?

Post by balzaccom » Wed Sep 21, 2011 8:51 am

What time is it when you are on the trail? Does it matter? That seems like a kind of silly question in the backcountry, but on our last trip into the Ansel Adams Wilderness, my wife was disappointed to see that her watch had stopped dead.

Eh, who cares? Who needs a watch anyway?

And then we started to think about how we use our watches when we hike. And it turns out we do that more than you might think.

Now I have a watch with a built in altimeter, so I often check that function was we hike. In fact, I leave that function on as the primary display of the watch during these trips, so the time function is just a small footnote at the bottom. Still, I use it to get an idea of how we are doing on the trail. Navigation is more than just knowing where you are---it's also knowing how far you have to go, and how long it is taking you to get there.

That means knowing what time it is.

There are, of course, other ways of telling the time in the backcountry. The sun moves about the breadth of a hand at arm's length each hour (so does the moon, for that matter) so it's fairly easy to estimate time within an hour or so. If you are worried about making camp before dark, you should be able to do that just by looking at the sun, without the need for a digital watch.

And if you are a musician, you can certainly sing a few songs and keep track of the time that way--Bach's Bourree in E minor is almost exactly two minutes long, for example.

We also like to take pretty regular breaks on the trail, to keep up our water and food intake. Yeah, we could just stop when we are hungry or thirsty---but we've learned over the years that it's usually better to drink BEFORE you get thirsty, so we schedule our stops by the time, rather than by how we are feeling. You need a watch to do that. Otherwise, by the time you think you are getting dehydrated, you already ARE dehydrated.

And it's always helpful to synchronize watches when you are planning to meet again, later...

But where this really got our attention was when we started making dinner.

Those dehydrated meals always require a certain amount of time to regain their form, substance, and texture....and without a watch, my poor wife felt clueless. If you open the pot to check on them, they quickly get cold. Luckily, I was there with my watch, and was able to tell her how long exactly, to the second, the food had been rehydrating,

And I could tell her the elevation of our campsite, too.


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Re: Does anybody know what time it is?

Post by rlown » Wed Sep 21, 2011 9:05 am

Well said..

That being said, I have a drawer full of cheapo watches with dead batteries :( I use the "hand to the sun" method for determining how long I have left to get to camp or get back to camp from a dayhike. If I'm in a group setting, we all use the hand method, as not all of us carry watches.

The other aspect (again in a group) is to synchronize your camera date/times pre-trip so, if by chance, you want to sort all pictures by "date taken" onto a nice trip DVD stream of pictures, they will all sort in order from multiple cameras.

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Re: Does anybody know what time it is?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Sep 21, 2011 9:15 am

About half the time I do not take a watch. It definitely is a different experience. You live by the sun and actually get pretty good at estimating time. I recommend that everyone do this once in a while. I have lost track of days, but then all I have to do is figure out how many meals I have left to determine when I need to return! I never have asked someone I meet on the trail "what time is it?", but I have often asked "what day is it?" even when I carry a watch. (my watch is low-tech-- only tells time- no date function).

I used to have a little clock that would accidently get re-set while in my pocket. So I was always guessing the time. When I got out to a real clock, I was usually less than an hour off.

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Re: Does anybody know what time it is?

Post by markskor » Wed Sep 21, 2011 9:33 am

Decided long ago to never carry a watch while backpacking...
Just ballast and something else to break.
Like above, get into harmony with the wilderness and, after a few days, synchronized to Mother Nature's time.
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Re: Does anybody know what time it is?

Post by Troutdog 59 » Wed Sep 21, 2011 10:14 am

I'll probably take a little grief for this ;) , but I'm now more on board with your wife P. I used to be of the "never take a watch" mindset, but changed that many years back just due to what I saw as convienence. I have no gripes with those who wont take one, but I'll admit to liking having one along, especially on day hikes. I guess I wasnt that good at the sun thing and often found myself hiking the last mile or so in the dark, because I stayed a tad long fishing or wasnt aware actually what time it was and didnt leave enough time to get out. No real big issues, but some interesting last few miles on a couple of occasions. I now have one of the sport clip watches that I attach to my pack/daypack. I dont look at it often, but do start checking it if we are starting late in the day on a hike or we are dayhiking and want to get back to the car before dark. If laying over or doing short hikes into nearby areas, I basically never look at it, but if planning on staying late in a distant area and getting back to camp or car before dark, I do. Again, no gripes with those who dont want one. My brother actually says to not tell him the time as he wants to be more in one with nature. That said, I found it kinda funny that it was I this summer in the Kaiser Wilderness that had to tell him, that if we stopped to fish the lake he was suggesting, we wouldnt get back to the car until after dark, which he had earlier stated he didnt want. How did I know? Cuz my watch said it was 6:00 and we knew it would be about 2 hours to get out from where we were.
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Re: Does anybody know what time it is?

Post by desertdawg » Wed Sep 21, 2011 10:34 am

I don't even own a watch. I'm pretty good at estimating time from the sun. Luckily dusk lasts a while so when dusk begins I know I'd better set up camp.

I know I'm terrible as an early riser as I don't usually get out of mt tent until the sun hits it. I know that during the Falls it's well past dawn before the sun rises over the peaks. We use the dehydrated food and have never timed the soak. Just pour in the water, goof off some and then when I'm really hungry I eat.

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Re: Does anybody know what time it is?

Post by sparky » Wed Sep 21, 2011 12:50 pm

I used to get by fine without one too. Up and down with the sun. Now that I have a fancy phone with a decent camera, I bring it. With a full charge, it will last 5 days just taking pictures. I just got another battery, so I'm set. Its got the time, of course, but I pretty much just look at it when hungry out of curiosity. It is nice when rehydrating dinner.

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Re: Does anybody know what time it is?

Post by RichardK » Wed Sep 21, 2011 12:57 pm

An analog watch (one with hands) can be used as a compass in a pinch. Point the hour hand at the sun. South is half way between the hour hand and 12:00.

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Re: Does anybody know what time it is?

Post by packmule » Wed Sep 21, 2011 1:26 pm

rlown wrote: how long
Troutdog 59 wrote: often found myself hiking the last mile or so in the dark, because I stayed a tad long
I don't care what time it is, I like to carry one so I know how long it takes to get to point A to point B or how long I have to fish or have been fishing. I also like to get up before sun rise so I can be on the water at sunrise. So as far as what time is it, I could careless but if I only have a hour left to fish then I start to worry :D

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Re: Does anybody know what time it is?

Post by Cross Country » Wed Sep 21, 2011 1:45 pm

I'm really good at estimating time, but I still find a watch to be very important. With it I know how much more time I get to fish before I have to start back. It's invaluable if your fishing the San Joaquin River above Florence Lake and your on a day-hike. You need to make the last ferry across the lake.

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