Suunto is a Finnish company known for sports watches, dive computers, compasses and precision instruments. In 1936 Tuomas Vohlonen began production of the M-311 wrist-mounted, liquid filled compass and Suunto was born. Since 1936, Suunto has expanded their product offerings considerably and has been at the forefront of wearable instruments. The company has won multiple awards for their products and design innovations. For instance, in 1998 Suunto released the Vector, arguably the first ABC (Altitude, Barometer, and Compass) function watch in the world.
The Suunto Core Alu
Suunto released the Core series in 2007. It provided an expanded offering of features to the Vector’s ABC watch design. The Suunto Core Alu offered further upgrades to the base Core design. The Suunto Core Alu’s bezel is upgraded to a brushed aluminum material and uses mineral crystal glass. In comparison, the Vector’s case is made of a composite plastic and the glass is acrylic. While this makes the Core Alu heavier, it upgrades its durability by leaps and bounds.
The Core Alu adds a Storm Indicator function, Depth Meter and Sunrise/Sunset times. This is in addition to the altitude logs, altitude difference measurement, barometric pressure changes and compass functions.
Design and Build
The Core Alu is designed and built brilliantly by Suunto. The production is outsourced to China, but the standards are fantastic. Out of the box, the watch has some weight to it due to the Aluminum used in the watch case and real glass used in the bezel. All pieces fit together super tight and there is no rattling or loose parts, nothing rattling around inside. The aluminum and glass came perfect, free of any visible defects or blemishes.
The watch’s design is clean. It will fit in a business or adventure outfit on your next ascent equally as well. I have worn this watch to weddings and received compliments on it and have also had it on me on my ascent of Ben Nevis in Scotland. It’s a super versatile design that will fit any occasion.
Bezel Material: Aluminum
Glass Material: Mineral Crystal
Case Material: Aluminum
Strap Material: Silicone
Weight 79 g / 2.79 oz
Water resistance 30 m (according to ISO 6425)
Battery life in time mode 12 months
Battery type CR2032
Watch Functions– Standard time/date, Alarm, Stopwatch, Countdown timer, Dual time, Lap/Time logs
Altimeter– The watch uses barometric pressure to gauge altitude. The higher the altitude the lower the barometric pressure, and the opposite for lower altitudes. The altimeter function includes a total altitude gained reading, altitude graph, and even a log function. The log function will log altitude gains/losses in 1, 5, 10, 30, and 60-second intervals. The altitude range is -500 – 9000 meters.
In testing, I found the altitude readings of this watch to be very accurate, when comparing to GPS calibrated devices. Even on an occasion where we forgot to calibrate the watch before an accent, I was still able to use the total elevation gained and log function to get a very accurate gauge of my progress. The only complaint would be with the altitude graph, which I didn’t feel provided much use because of the size of the display.
In order to get accurate readings, you must recalibrate the watch regularly. To calibrate the watch you would use a topographic map, sea-level reading, or other indicators of your current altitude and input that number. Along the route, if there are altitude markers you can use them to recalibrate for a more accurate reading. It is important to note that because the watch is determining your altitude by using barometric pressure readings, these readings will be affected by changes in weather.
Barometer– By using the same barometric pressure reading in barometer mode you can track weather changes. Weather changes are accompanied by changes in sea-level air pressure. We found this function to be accurate. Although I am not a meteorologist so I couldn’t really track weather patterns well with the watch. But when a thunderstorm would move in on me the watch would often show a spike in the barometric pressure that corresponded with the storm.
Part of the barometer mode is a storm alarm. When turned on the watch should alert the user when a big storm is moving. In my experience, the storm alarm has varying degrees of success. It has gone off while in my apartment with no storm in sight and has stayed completely silent as a rainstorm opened up on me in the field. On the flip side, it has alerted me to a thunderstorm 5-10 minutes later.
Temperature– The temperature sensor on the watch can be set to either Fahrenheit or Celsius. If you move the watch away from your skin and allow it to sit naturally it is very accurate to the ambient temperature. Your body heat is going to throw the temperature reading off by 10-15 degrees (F) when worn on the wrist. After you are aware of it this it’s not much of a problem. I quickly became accustomed to looking at it and subtracting that number from what I was seeing.
Compass– The watch features a digital compass mode that Suunto boasts is within 5 degrees of accuracy. Frequent recalibration will improve the accuracy of the compass. Imputing the declination angle before setting out on a trek will improve accuracy further. We found the compass accurate and loved that it included the ability to set a bearing for orienteering.
Sunrise/sunset– One timekeeping function. When setting the watch up, you choose a reference city and based off of that reference date and time the watch will calculate the general sunrise/sunset time. Much like the other data points provided by this watch, this feature proved to be very accurate.
Depth Meter– One great thing about Suunto Core Alu is that unlike a lot of other “ABC” watches, the Core has a waterproof rating of 30 meters (100 feet). This waterproof rating is good considering this is a backcountry watch. Yet Suunto goes one step farther and adds a depth meter for free-diving or snorkeling. The depth meter is accurate up to 10m or just over 30 feet. You won’t be using it as a dive computer on your next deep scuba dive, but it was fairly accurate during our testing.
User-Replaceable Battery– The Suunto Core Alu uses a CR 2032 watch battery and is easily replaceable. Either use your fingernail to unscrew the back or a flat-head screwdriver off of your multi-tool and pop the new battery in, easy. The product page claims a 1-year battery life for the watch in “time mode”. We found that we had to change it in more like 8 months. Using the advanced functions on the watch regularly will drain the battery faster. The fact is, this isn’t your “smartwatch” that you will need to recharge every couple of days. So you won’t worry about bringing a backup portable power bank to charge.
Multilingual Menu– (EN, FR, DE, ES)
I have had my Suunto Core Alu for over 2 years now. Despite almost daily wear, I haven’t had to replace the band yet and it shows no signs of needing replacement anytime soon. The aluminum watch case has some dings and scratches on it but they are hardly noticeable. The mineral crystal glass has held up super well also and doesn’t have any noticeable scratches in it whatsoever. Despite knocking it against rocks or hard surfaces on a regular basis while, climbing, hiking, and everyday wear.
I highly recommend the Suunto Core Alu. The watch is highly functional and super versatile in its application as a piece of EDC gear. Its multitude of functions makes it an indispensable piece of gear for any outdoor activity you participate in and looks good enough to compliment most wardrobes. To operate this watch at its full potential it will take a bit of time playing with it and the user manual, as well as educating yourself a bit on proper compass use, and altimeter and barometer knowledge. These are all highly useful skills and knowledge sets for any outdoorsy person to have regardless.
The Suunto Core Alu isn’t an inexpensive watch with a$429 MSRP on Suunto’s website. Since its release has dropped significantly in price. You can find this watch from third-party sellers for as low as $286 as of most recent searching. For the functions, design, and durability that you get for the money as well as the reliability backed by the Suunto brand and their long heritage of making fantastic instruments, this watch is hard to beat.