Up Close With The Tissot T-Touch Solar Expert, The Perennial Hiking Watch For Geeks

For years the Tissot T-Touch line has been Switzerland’s unique answer to the quartz hiking watch. While other manufacturers offered analog quartz pieces, Tissot has been the only company that has tried to take on the altimeter-barometer-thermometer uber watches made by Casio, Seiko and Citizen. And they’ve done a great job so far.

The latest model is the Tissot T-Touch Solar Expert. It is a direct successor to the T-Touch expert except that it has a rechargeable battery and a solar face that creates a trickle of electricity that will keep the watch running without a change for years.

As the name suggests, the T-Touch has a touch sensitive face that allows you to activate various features by tapping near the labels around the bezel. This model has a compass, timer, altimeter, and barometer which includes a fairly accurate external thermometer. When you tap the function both hands immediately swing into action at a surprising speed. The coolest feature is undoubtedly the compass which whirrs into place and then begins showing your orientation.

The T-Touch has long been a great trekking watch but, at $1,150 for the model with a rubber band and $1,250 for the metal band, it’s a pricey proposition. The most expensive Casio Pro Trek, for example, costs $200 for similar features and makers like Suunto and Citizen have been building excellent pieces with similar pieces – including GPS time setting – for far below $1,000.

As a watch snob, however, I still prefer the T-Touch’s understated face and unique interface. Tapping the screen activates the little hands quickly and accurately and the watch is easy to set because the hands move in minute increments for the first 60 minutes and then advances one hour per second for setting international time zones. It’s a lot of fun. The solar feature is admittedly nice but Tissot doesn’t offer much of a discount on the non-solar versions. Sadly, the vagaries of Swiss pricing means that even the non-solar version of the watch costs $1,200, which means your only recourse in getting this cheaper is to look for a used model online.

At 45mm this new model is also a bit bigger than the previous 43mm watches and may not be right for smaller wrists (although my wife wears my previous gen model). I also miss the orange strap in this series, a feature that made the original T-Touches pretty cool. These are small things but overall I’m impressed by the size, the light weight, and the durability of this line.

If you’re planning on doing some real hiking you’ll probably want to get something a bit more complex than this watch and it is decidedly not a good running watch. Think of it as a Casio that you can wear with a suit. Tissot hasn’t advanced the state of the art with this watch but as a simple alti-baro-compass watch this is well worth the investment, especially if you’re directionally challenged and enjoy seeing the spinning hands make their merry way across the watch’s honeycombed solar face.

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