Not essential, not at all. But they're pretty useful. I know how fast I hike, so my watch can give me a pretty good idea of where I am between landmarks. If you know how to line it up with the sun, it's a quick easy compass I can use without having to dig out my real one. (This doesn't work with a digital!) Plus, I'm just used to having it.
REI member since 1978
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.