Who Uses a Portable Altimeter?

Some trivia now, about the modern portable altimeter...

Are you up for some light reading? :-)

As you might have gathered from the Paragliding Altimeter page, altimeters are used by several different groups of people. Any such instrument could be taken with you in a paraglider.

Further down this page is a fairly complete list of how and where you might find an altimeter being used.

Paraglider pilots need a portable altimeter for obvious reasons. A paraglider is an aircraft, and all aircraft these days are equipped with at least basic instruments. A lot of the decision-making a soaring pilot makes is based upon altitude. Maybe not for soaring up and down the dunes at a local beach, but certainly for cross-country flying!


usually wear an altimeter on the wrist. Handy for knowing when it's about time to pull the ripcord! Actually, the instruments available to skydivers now do far more than show altitude. The fancier ones keep track of date, jump number, exit altitude, opening altitude, freefall time and speed statistics such as maximum and average speeds. Wow.

Alpine skiers, the serious ones, sometimes use a small portable skiing altimeter combined with basic weather functions. They get warning of bad weather, and if in zero visibility, they can find their way to lower altitudes using the altimeter. I think. I'm not an expert in that area!

Hikers and climbers would use altimeters for similar reasons to the skiers. There's a few units out there specifically aimed at this group. Obviously, light weight is a plus for these people since they are carrying quite a lot of stuff with them. All the grams (or ounces) tend to add up.

Deer hunters, apparently, have some use for a portable altimeter!

That's going by the actual name given to one altimeter device that has been on the market. It even had a 'deer activity' function, giving a reading of 0 to 10.

Believe it or not.

Imagine landing out, near some thicket of trees, only to find your altimeter reading '10' for deer activity. Desperately, you jump into a nearby depression in the ground while, seconds later, the herd thunders overhead... ;-)

Car drivers, at least a few of them, feel the need to know their altitude! Again, this is going by the name given to one unit that is commercially available. I guess if you're a heavy smoker, it would be handy to know when to crack out the portable oxygen bottle as you near the top of the pass as you drive though the Rockies... or the Himalayas. It's true actually, being a smoker increases your chances of getting hypoxia, that's oxygen starvation. For most of us, it's only a problem over 3000 meters (10000 feet) above sea level.

Endurance athletes sometimes use devices that combine a portable altimeter with biometrics such as heart-beat rate. Presumably to test or monitor performance at various altitudes. Important events can sometimes be held at very different altitudes to the athlete's training areas at home. Timing functions are popular too, with devices recording split and lap times for example.

Surveyers use altimeters, interestingly. The device has to be extremely accurate and reliable, so you won't buy one of these for under $1000. By using a magnifier to read the scale, you can read out altitude differences as small as 0.3 m (1 foot) over a plot of land being surveyed. These are probably the most accurate altimeters on the planet. Mmm wonder how accurate those radar altimeters in military and commercial aircraft might be?


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