Last updated: 16/10/2022

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For people who love extreme sports and adventure, an altimeter is an indispensable tool. The ability to monitor the altitude, and its variations that occur along the way, is a very useful management tool for your next expedition. Plus it also helps you to get to know the environment you are in.

However, an altimeter is not just a useful instrument for adventurers and extreme sportspeople, it is also a big help to any nature lover who loves going out bush on camping trips. So it’s not surprising that these devices often include other useful features such as a compass, thermometer or barometer.


  • Altimeters are devices used to determine the difference in altitude between your current location and another reference point. Most commonly, sea level is generally used and the value is given as meters above mean sea level or MAMSL.
  • There are two main types of altimeters: barometric and radioelectric (or radar altimeters). Each type offers a range of particular features, and are more or less precise depending on the conditions in which they are being operated. The main reason for choosing between one type or the other, should be based on where and how you plan to use it.
  • You don’t need to be an extreme sportsperson, like a base jumper or a mountaineer, to benefit from all of the advantages that altimeters have to offer. Their various functions can be just as useful to you, no matter what kind of activity you are doing out in nature.

The Best Altimeter: Our picks

The following list ranks the best altimeters available on the market. We have made a special effort to include a wide-range of different models, and to also show you the products that we think offer the best value for money. Here we present you with the most relevant information about each one.

Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about altimeters

There are a few important factors you definitely need to keep in mind when you are buying an altimeter. Don’t forget that there are lots of different models of altimeters out on the market, and they are not all high-quality products. To help you make your choice, we answer the most frequently asked questions about purchasing an altimeter.

What are altimeters exactly ?

Altimeters are instruments that are used to measure the difference in altitude between the position in which you are currently located, and another point of reference – which is usually the level of the sea. They are precision instruments, with some of their applications being for aeronautics and extreme sports.

Altimeter and woman

Altimeters are instruments used to measure the difference in altitude between two locations.
(Source: lzflzf: 71763064/

What are the advantages and disadvantages of altimeters?

There are lots of important advantages to using an altimeter. Primarily, they let you know the altitude of your current location, without you needing to have a large amount of technical knowledge. No matter the model, they are all very simple to use once they have been setup. They are especially useful for bushwalkers, adventurers, extreme sportspeople and anyone who loves camping and being out in nature.

Another important advantage offered by altimeters is their ability to be synced to mobile phones. Of course, there are a few tiny disadvantages. Their functionality can be affected by the climate, they most commonly do not have touchscreens and they are often not designed for use in extreme conditions.

  • They allow you to know the altitude with respect to the sea level
  • Very easy to use
  • They can be synced with other electronic devices, such as mobile phones
  • A useful device for orienteering
  • They most commonly do not have touchscreens
  • Their functionality can be affected by the climate
  • The most basic models are not designed for use in extreme conditions

Is it really worth buying an altimeter?

For certain extreme sports, such as skydiving, altimeters are an indispensable tool to help you determine your current altitude and position. This information can be used to help you to plan your activities better and potentially avoid mishaps. Altimeters are instruments that are a extremely useful, both for professionals and weekend warriors who love being outdoors doing their favourite activity.

Friedrich NietzscheGerman philosopher and poet
“The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.”.

What type of altimeters are available?

There are two main types of altimeters: radioelectric and barometric. Radioelectric models (or radar altimeters) are used mainly in the field of aviation, while barometric altimeters are used more commonly for activities and sports like cycling, mountaineering, orienteering and parachuting. In general, models that use GPS are usually the most precise.

Type Characteristics Principle Uses
Barometric It functions by calculating the relation between atmospheric pressure and the altitude Parachuting, hiking and flying aircraft
Radioelectric It uses electromagnetic waves to measure distances Mainly for flying aircraft, although can be used for lots of other activities if required

How does an altimeter work?

The most common type of altimeters these days are multifunction digital models. These are the most popular devices because they display all the information on a screen, and because they can also perform many other functions apart from measuring the altitude. These handy tools incorporate an inbuilt barometer, and a mix of other measuring instruments (like GPS), which gather their readings from the exterior and display the results on the screen.

The information displayed can be things such as the atmospheric pressure, temperature, coordinates, altitude, location and even the weather forecast. Specifically in regards to altimeters, the variation in altitude is measured from changes in atmospheric pressure.

Pilot with alimeter

For certain extreme sports, such as skydiving, altimeters are an indispensable tool.
(Source: Aliaksandr Alin: 50413999/

How does a barometric altimeter calculate the altitude?

As we have mentioned, the process for calculating the altitude is done by measuring the relation between atmospheric pressure and the altitude. In general, pressure diminishes at a rate of 1hPa (hectopascal) every 8.2 meters. Although, this value can vary depending on the current meteorological conditions. Also take into consideration the sea level, which can vary depending on latitude.

How does a radioelectric altimeter calculate the altitude?

Radioelectric altimeters (or radar altimeters) function differently. They measure the distance between an aircraft and the surface. In order to do this, they calculate the time it takes for emitted pulses of electromagnetic waves to be bounced off the surface and received back again. This way the altitude of the aircraft can be calculated.

Shopping Criteria

The time has arrived to make your purchase, so it’s important you keep a few things in mind when making your choice. To help you with this task, we have chosen to highlight the most important factors you need to know, to save you time and make the process easier. We hope that this buying guide gets you the best value for money possible when making your purchase.


How you plan to use your altimeter is one of the main things you need to take in mind when making your purchase. In the case that you need a device for your vehicle, you should look for a model that is specifically designed for automobiles. If you just need an altimeter for your trips when you’re out camping in the bush, you could go for a barometric altimeter.

If you’re an avid mountaineer or into parachuting, you might be interested in instruments designed with professionals in mind. For parachuting, radar altimeters are definitely the best choice. For aviation, pressure altimeters or sensitive analogs are the way to go. However, if you’re usually making flights at low altitude, you would be better off with a radar altimeter.


As we have just seen, one of the questions you need to ask yourself is what type of altimeter do you need. As we also mentioned previously, there are two main choices you can go for – either a barometric or radioelectric model. Also it is very important to decide whether you want a device with GPS incorporated, as this will increase the price. However, the precision of the readings and how they are measured will be enhanced.


The additional functions performed by the device is another important criterion you need to keep in mind. One of the most commonly included functions is a compass, which will help anyone who does orienteering. Another feature often integrated into the device is a barometer, which can advise you of any possible variations in climate. Some altimeters also include things like calendars, chronometers and alarms.


In regards to the design, you should first make sure that it is very robust. It is most likely that you are going to be using it outdoors and probably in bad (or at least challenging) conditions. So it’s a good idea to check what materials have been used in the construction of the device, and what type of atmospheric conditions it is capable of supporting.

Most importantly, if you plan to use the altimeter outdoors, it is vital that it offers adequate protection from water and dust. Of course, it is equally important that it is nice and easy to use at the same time. In most cases, altimeters have a functional design ranging from wristwatches, to a more classic shape similar to a small pocket radio.


The first question you need to ask with respect to powering a device, is if it operates with removable batteries (most commonly AA) or if they are integrated and rechargeable. Removable batteries are not usually included with the purchase of a device. Generally speaking, altimeters need long-life batteries, but it’s never a bad idea to check to see how much performance you are getting from the type you are using.


A very interesting extra is the possibility for Bluetooth connectivity, to synchronise an altimeter with a mobile phone. Some models also include a very handy flashlight that will get you out of trouble if night falls suddenly. Altimeters designed for cars have an adhesive surface.


Altimeters have a wide-range of uses and applications. They are a great tool for extreme sportspeople and aviators, as well as for those that just love being out in nature. As well as being able to measure the variations in altitude above sea level, often they include other interesting functions.

Choosing the correct altimeter for your needs requires considering various criteria, the most important being how you plan to use it. This will help you to decide whether you should go for a barometric or radioelectric model. The next thing to decide is if you want any of the extra features such as inbuilt battery,  a particular design or Bluetooth connectivity.

If you have found this guide to be useful in helping you make your choice, please leave us a comment or share it on social media.

(Source of featured image: lzflzf: 71763064/