Time to go Hiking?

posted Sep 20, 2011, 11:07 AM by Paul Wagner
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, M 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. 
P has a watch with a built in altimeter, so he often checks that function was we hike.  In fact, he leaves that function on the primary display of the watch during these trips, so the time function is just a small footnote at the bottom.  Still, he uses 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, as P well knows. 
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...M hard at work, boiling water in the kitchen.
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, poor M felt clueless.  If you open the pot to check on them, they quickly get cold.   Luckily, P was there with his watch, and was able to tell her how long exactly, to the second, the food had been rehydrating,
And he could tell her the elevation of our campsite, too.  
Is it dinner yet?