What is a Pocket Barometer?

Sam Rafelson
Sam Rafelson
A pocket barometer.
A pocket barometer.

A pocket barometer is a handheld scientific device that measures atmospheric pressure, which can help predict short-term changes in the weather. Backpackers, hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts frequently use a pocket barometer to track prevailing weather conditions and to help plan their trips. Although a traditional pocket barometer would come in the form of a brass pocket barometer featuring an analog display, many modern pocket barometers are technologically advanced instruments with digital readouts. A pocket digital barometer often provides information on atmospheric pressure as well as temperature, humidity, the wind-chill factor and the ultraviolet (UV) index, a measurement of the sun's ultraviolet radiation.

Pocket barometers can warn hikers of approaching weather systems.
Pocket barometers can warn hikers of approaching weather systems.

Although conventional barometers had been in use since the 17th century, pocket barometers began to gain popularity in the 19th century, particularly in Great Britain. Advancements in technology allowed craftsmen to construct barometers that were smaller than conventional barometers and could operate without the use of mercury, which can be hazardous to the health of people if it is not handled properly. A traditional pocket barometer is designed so the barometer's pointer moves clockwise across a dial to indicate high or low atmospheric pressure. Certain models of pocket barometers manufactured in the 19th century are prized by collectors of antiques.

A hiker in a mountainous region may carry a barometer altimeter to measure his altitude.
A hiker in a mountainous region may carry a barometer altimeter to measure his altitude.

Many backpackers and hikers consider a modern pocket barometer an essential piece of equipment for a trip, along with items such as a pocket compass, a map, a knife, matches and sunscreen. A pocket barometer can be especially helpful for hikers charting a course in a mountainous region in which they could experience numerous changes in altitude. The primary consideration in reading a barometer is that rapidly declining atmospheric pressure indicates that weather conditions are about to take a turn for the worse, from mild and sunny to cloudy, rainy or snowy, depending on the location and its altitude.

Clear and calm weather conditions are indicative of high atmospheric pressure areas.
Clear and calm weather conditions are indicative of high atmospheric pressure areas.

A modern pocket barometer is often available in the form of a digital watch that offers various special features in addition to an atmospheric pressure readout. A digital barometer watch often includes an altimeter, a device that measures altitude. Hikers use an altimeter in conjunction with a topographic map to help confirm their location on a trip. Among other common features are an alarm that sounds to indicate a sudden drop in atmospheric pressure and a tool that tracks a hiker's rate of ascent or descent in feet per hour. Pocket barometers are available at outdoors shops and from specialty gear retailers.

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Discussion Comments

Clairdelune

This past winter, I saw at least three stories about people who were hiking in the foothills around the area where I live. They didn't return and searches were begun.

The evenings were cold and wet. It had been good weather when they started out. Fortunately, they were either located or walked out on the third or fourth day. If these hikers had been carrying pocket barometers, they would have been warned about the change to bad weather and they probably would have turned around and headed back.

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    • A pocket barometer.
      A pocket barometer.
    • Pocket barometers can warn hikers of approaching weather systems.
      By: Dudarev Mikhail
      Pocket barometers can warn hikers of approaching weather systems.
    • A hiker in a mountainous region may carry a barometer altimeter to measure his altitude.
      By: rupbilder
      A hiker in a mountainous region may carry a barometer altimeter to measure his altitude.
    • Clear and calm weather conditions are indicative of high atmospheric pressure areas.
      By: Iakov Kalinin
      Clear and calm weather conditions are indicative of high atmospheric pressure areas.