Having evaluated all types of survival tools in our jungle training school, it’s rare that I run across an electronic instrument that I like. If you’re a regular reader of this column, you already know I’ve given some pretty low scores to big names in the GPS market. The bottom line for me is: if you’re going to build a tool designed for the dangers of being alone in the wilderness, then it had better work as advertised. Anything less and you’re endangering lives.
During my last jungle training class for a group of GeoPhysical survey pilots, I took along a pocket weather meter made by Kestrel. The 4500 Pocket Weather Tracker is capable of monitoring a whole host of meteorological parameters, such as barometric pressure, wind chill, heat index, humidity and dew point. The unit is also capable of providing wind direction and speed, headwind/tailwind, crosswind, altitude and even has a digital compass built in to monitor your direction of travel.
All of this data can be stored in a customized format using up to 1400 data points. Basic specs of the 4500 include: 5.0 ” x 1.8″ x 1.1 ” size, 3.6 ounce weight and powered by 2 AAA batteries with an average battery life of 400 hours. The unit is waterproof and floats.
Now that you know what it will do, the real question is, does it work as advertised? After spending some time with it in the jungle, I found it to be very handy for quick direction finding. As a side note, the unit is capable of storing your magnetic variance (declination) so you can operate in “true north” mode instead of magnetic north.
I also compared the barometer to another trusted pressure gauge I’ve carried for years, and it seemed to be very precise. The main reason I carry a barometer is for weather prediction. Once the pressure starts heading south, you can just about bet that rain or storms are moving in. Having the 4500’s ability to chart the pressure makes your weather predictions more accurate. In my opinion, that’s important survival info for those who may spend days in remote terrain.
After returning home from South America, I decided to further test the Kestrel’s navigation capabilities with a day of basic map and compass navigation. While the unit is not suited for plotting courses like a base-plate compass, it is a quick way to keep yourself found on a topo map when using the digital compass in conjunction with the altimeter. After calibrating a known altitude into the device, you can keep up with where you are by comparing the Kestrel altitude readings with your map’s contour lines.
The barometer and compass alone make this a desirable tool, since predicting weather and keeping myself found are pretty high on my list of things I need to know in the wilds. But the good stuff doesn’t stop there.
If you’re a serious shooter or sniper, you will appreciate the 4500’s ability to calculate crosswind. By inputting the direction to your target (very quick and easy to do), then measuring wind in the normal way (by pointing the unit into the wind), it will display the effective crosswind or headwind. And even though I don’t consider myself a precision shooter with a need for such knowledge, I know that S.W.A.T. Editor Denny Hansen uses a Kestrel 4500 to enhance his shooting ability.
If you’re a military professional, Kestrel also builds a tactical Olive Drab model that incorporates an optical filter to preserve night vision. Personally I like the standard bright yellow packaging, since I’m always laying something down in the bush and losing it.
Perhaps the best thing about the 4500 is that, even with all its bells and whistles, the unit is straightforward to program and use. After learning the most basic setup procedure, the user can go on to advanced techniques without using the owner’s manual.
While I don’t consider any electronic device as “first-line” remote survival gear, the Kestrel 4500 would top my list in the accessory gear department, even ahead of most GPS units. On a scale of one to ten, I give it a nine for overall quality and toughness, ten for overall design and nine for user friendliness. I’m very impressed with this unit and seriously doubt there’s another pocket weather machine out there that can top it. It’s definitely found a place in my jungle bag.
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