Field Testing the Casio Pro Trek Smart Outdoor Watch

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Other than being round and attached to a wrist strap, the Casio Pro Trek is not really a watch. It is a computer equipped with  a thermometer, barometer, altimeter, and GPS sensors. It connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone, which is also a computer with GPS connectivity and apps that will emulate all the Pro Trek’s sensors via cellular data. Assuming you’re within cellular range, the Casio Pro Trek doesn’t provide any information that your phone can’t.

The question of redundancy has plagued the smart watch since its inception, and in urban settings the answer seems to have been simply that some people find a wrist-worn smartphone useful. There are also new health-tracking features on the Apple Watch (and now models from other brands) that require the computer to be strapped to your wrist to read your pulse and to monitor movements, such as a fall. The Casio Pro Trek lacks these health-tracking features. So why would one want the Pro Trek? And why would one want yet another computer along when adventuring in the great outdoors where, I assume, most folks aim to interact with nature, not computers.

I turn to my badass mountain man nephews as a reference point for the relevance of the Pro Trek and its myriad apps. Mark Farmelo is a Level 3 Ski Patroller at Vail (basically an EMT on skis) who uses his phone to log daily and annual vertical feet skied, as well as his average and highest speeds (I’m forbidden to reveal the latter). Peter Farmelo is a professional white water guide and a real m-effer of a kayaker who uses his phone to track miles traveled, deploy maps, and so on. Neither owns a watch of any kind. When I showed them the Pro Trek, they were interested in it, but soon set it aside because, basically, they’re already covered by—and accustomed to using—their phones. Many digital natives likely feel the same way, but I imagine that would be different if smartphones weren’t so omnipresent in our lives, and, as I point out below, in some scenarios typing up one hand with a phone just doesn’t make sense.


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Here are some possible reasons why one might want to use the Pro Trek:

  • You want to keep your phone in your pocket, and receive messages and notifications, read maps, look at a compass and GPS maps, timers, etc. on your wrist.
    Activities: running, hiking, skiing, dog sled mushing, and so on.
  •  You need hands-free reference to any of the functions and apps available.
    Activities: rock climbing, rescue work, etc. 
  • You are working in wet conditions that would mess up your phone.
    Activities: whitewater kayaking, long distance swimming, mountain biking, etc. 
  • You are trekking beyond cell phone service and still require an accurate map. Many phones will do this, but the Pro Trek’s maps will work with the onboard sensors when your cell phone is out of service range, which makes it an extremely useful feature to have.
    Activities: long range hiking, mountain climbing, etc.
  • You know that your smart phone’s battery is going to eventually die and you require maps and so on. The battery life is pretty long on the Pro Trek, and the solar charging panel will keep it going during the day, provided you keep it outside a shirt or jacket cuff.
    Activities: camping, long range hiking, etc. 
  • You’re a tech-nerd who wants to play with a cool device with rad screen images and GUI.
    Activities: just about anything
  • You’re afraid of breaking your expensive, fancy, new phone. Remember, this is a Casio device, so it’s battle-ready tough!
    Activities: whatever frightens you in terms of phone damage

The Pro Trek works on Google’s Wear OS platform. This allows integration with your smartphone for email, text, and other notifications. There is also a massive selection of apps that will run on the platform. Want to play electronic chess against a Russian opponent while on top of an American mountain, you could do that. More likely you’ll use the onboard tools, which one selects by simply pressing the button at 2:00. Functions include an altimeter, barometer, compass, thermometer, tidal meter, and so on to help you navigate the great outdoors.

A note on altimeters: these are useful devices, but you have to calibrate them on a regular basis because they track changes in barometric pressure, which is always in flux. I recently used the Pro Trek while skiing at Vail in Colorado, where I was repeatedly bouncing between ~8500’ and ~11,000’ of altitude. Because I knew my altitude, I could calibrate the altimeter and let it do its thing, but—and this is as true of a mechanical barometer as it is of a digitally interfaced one—if the weather changes, you’re going to lose calibration. In Colorado the weather is fickle, changing in minutes from clear skies to heavy cover, such that your reference barometric setting only lasts as long as the current weather conditions. Because of this, my smartphone was better at telling me how much vertical I had achieved; it relies on GPS locations cross referenced with known altitude to do this. Had my phone died, or had I not been skiing next to Vail’s massive cell tower, my smartphone wouldn’t have known where, or how high up, I was. The Pro Trek would at least have a shot at telling me that, provided the weather stayed stable.

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On the flip side, if you’re staying at a given altitude, changes in barometric pressure can help you predict the weather, and there are apps that will aid in this. Predicting weather is incredibly useful—perhaps even life saving—when you’re outside cellular range. We humans have been trying to master reading the weather for eons, and let’s presume, via Darwin, that our ancestors who lacked the ability to predict the weather died off long ago; in this context, the Pro Trek is a fascinating extension of an ancient quest to predict weather—and still not able to thoroughly read Mother Nature’s mind.

The Pro Trek is enormous: 57.7 millimeters across and 15.3 tall. It is made of G-Shock-style polymers and is, in typical Casio fashion, tough as nails. It’s neither ugly nor beautiful, but cool in a utilitarian way. Think G-Shock. The LCD touch screen has reasonable resolution at 320 × 300 pixels, and the touch-functions are remarkably responsive and accurate, especially given my chunky, guitar-calloused finger tips. There aren’t many adventure-oriented watches that I’d trust as much as a Casio.

The only thing that routinely bothered me about the Pro Trek is that the charging cable attaches with a magnet that, over and over, would get knocked out by the tiniest bump. In the confines of my office this was maddening enough, but among the nest of charging cables for multiple cameras, a laptop, two ski boot warming batteries, my phone, and Bluetooth earbuds, I was constantly finding the Pro Trek’s charger disconnected. Some locking mechanism would be appreciated, especially if Casio is expecting someone to use their solar charging kit (currently free with the purchase of a Pro Trek) in a mountain-hung hammock, a crowded tent, or some such.

For reasons previously stated, my nephews and I were not super interested in the Pro Trek because it was redundant for us, but my brother, a seafaring man selling boats in Connecticut, had recently asked me about watches that track tides, which greatly impact the rhythm of his days. Of all of us, he is more likely to be out of cell phone range on any given day. The Pro Trek provides location-based real-time tidal info handily. I can totally understand my brother not wanting to refer to a phone when out boating, not to mention the possibility of dropping it or just getting it wet while netting a fish or whatever. For many like my brother, the Pro Trek will offer up solutions that make good sense, and it is hard to fault Casio’s unparalleled pedigree in making tools that are ready to take a serious beating from war zones to mountainsides to the decks of yachts.

There are many models of the Pro Trek available. I tested the WSD-F20BK, which retails for $500, but there are currently 35 Pro Trek models and 9 Pro Trek Smart models to choose from ranging in price from around $200 up to $550. Casio Pro Trek

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At age 7 Allen fell in love with a Timex boy's dive watch his parents gave him, and he's taken comfort in wearing a watch ever since. Allen is especially curious about digital technology having inspired a revival of analog technology, long-lasting handmade goods, and classic fashion. He lives in a one-room schoolhouse in The Hudson Valley with his partner and two orange cats.
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