Ideal for use within the northern hemisphere. With a sighting hole for accurate bearings, it's sure to point you in the right direction. Equipped with a declination adjustment tool, this compass is trustworthy and the clinometer assists in navigating slopes, so you can spend more time hiking and less time questioning your compass.
Other navigators thought the placement of the SUUNTO logo made it difficult to read the smaller print and lines on the compass.
Built with a compact design, this map compass includes a built-in magnifier to enlarge smaller print or lines and comes with a lanyard upon purchase, allowing you to wear it while you hike! Set into durable hard plastic, this compass is built to last and won't break the bank.
While this is an affordable choice for those learning how to use a compass, it's not intended for more experienced navigators who need the most accurate readings.
A good overall choice to help you navigate the great outdoors. With a built-in declination scale, it provides precision and accuracy to get you where you want to go, and a rubber grip makes it easy to handle. Light-up markings on this compass allow it to be used at night or in dark conditions; simply shine a light on it prior to use to illuminate markings.
The declination scale on this compass is not adjustable compared to other compasses available.
This compass is built with a floating mirror design to provide ultimate sight bearings that can also be used for signaling. Equipped with a lanyard and whistle, this model is an all around safe-hiking gadget.
Some users noticed the hinge on the cover became worn or broken with long-term use.
Able to attach to most flat surfaces, this compass is compact and offers a push-button removal for the compass module, so it can be easily stored when not in use. Built-in green light allows for it to be used at night or in low-light conditions. It’s made with a deviation compensator to keep accurate readings.
While this mountable compass is also great for motor vehicles, some buyers noticed it had a hard time adjusting to quick changes of direction.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
A compass is an essential piece of gear for anyone hiking on or off a trail. If your smartphone loses connection to a tower or your GPS battery goes dead, this trusty, low-tech device can help you find your way home.
Despite being a necessary addition to every outdoor equipment list, whether for a day hike or a month in the backcountry, using a compass is a mystery to some people. Even an experienced backpacker may scratch their head when told to shoot an azimuth. (Hint: it’s not a furry critter.)
For something that seems so simple — essentially a floating magnet with indicators for north, south, east, and west — there’s a lot to unpack in this little device. While you’re looking, you’ll want to check the type, features, and which one would be best for the kind of trek you’re planning.
The strength of a compass is in its simplicity. Unlike GPS devices, which require electricity to operate and rely on triangulated signals from orbiting satellites to pinpoint your position, a compass takes advantage of Earth’s magnetic field to confirm the direction you’re facing. The floating needle inside the housing (typically painted two colors) orients itself along Earth’s north and south magnetic poles.
The smallest and most basic compass has indicators on its housing for north (N), east (E), south (S), and west (W). These are known as the cardinal points. They are important for figuring out the general direction you’re heading.
More complex devices have a bezel face with 360° markings. They may also include additional direction indicators like NE, SE, SW, and NW. They’re designed to complement a topographical map and be used together to pinpoint your location and direction of travel. For more on how to use a compass, scroll down to our Tips and FAQ sections.
If you’re spending a couple of hours on a well-marked trail in good weather, a basic compass is handy just in case you miss a trail blaze and need to get back on track without getting lost. Use it with a trail map or topographical map so you can orient yourself to key geographic features.
However, if you’re going on a longer trek, if the trails aren’t well marked and you aren’t familiar with the area, or if you want to try orienteering on your own, look for a compass that is designed specifically for orienteering or survival.
Getting disoriented and hopelessly lost can happen to anyone, regardless of their level of experience. The difference is that experienced hikers know this is a possibility and prepare for it. You might want to keep a compass in your car or purse because you’re in an area where your car’s GPS doesn’t work well (I’m lookin’ at you, Vermont) and you need to know the general direction you’re traveling.
Baseplate: This is an excellent starter model that incorporates a bezel with azimuth markings atop a see-through baseplate that can be placed on top of a map to match up headings.
Global: This versatile device can be used in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. It can tilt up to 20° while maintaining accuracy, so you don’t have to hold perfectly still to get the needle to settle on magnetic north.
Orienteering: This can be either a baseplate or sighting compass; it contains features like declination, inch, and millimeter scales, and often a magnifying lens to make it easier to read map features like altitude.
Thumb: This small device attaches to your thumb for quick bearings while on the go. It’s often used in orienteering to keep competitors on track without having to stop as often to take exact bearings. A comfortable thumb strap and a needle that settles down quickly (quick dampening) are important qualities to look for in this type.
Sighting: This type allows you to get more precise bearings by sighting a landmark and aligning the compass at the same time. There are four types of sighting compass: mirror, lensatic, prismatic, and optical.
Mirror: Flip up the cover on this type of sighting compass and you’ll see the underside has a mirror surrounding a small vertical notch. This allows you to sight a landmark through the notch and simultaneously read the bezel markings, giving you a precise indication of the direction toward the landmark.
Lensatic: This type trades the mirror and notch for a small magnifying lens and a sighting wire inside a long vertical notch on the cover. Hold the compass to your chin or cheek to sight the landmark and bezel at the same time.
Prismatic: Instead of a lens, this type reflects the bezel into your line of sight through a prism.
Optical: A lens built into the casing is held to one eye and shows the degrees of the compass while you keep your other eye open to sight the landmark.
A combination of features will help you pick a model that’s accurate to within a few degrees.
Quick-dampening needle: This is a needle that stops quivering and settles on magnetic north within a few seconds. Needles that constantly jiggle will try your patience.
More degree indicators: Azimuth and declination indicators with a low separation of degrees between each mark are more accurate. Look for a model with 2° per mark rather than 5°, 7°, or 10°.
Weather-resistant bezel: Freezing temperatures can affect the accuracy of the needle, so look for a thicker bezel that resists temperature changes.
A good compass incorporates several different features, but there is no single device that includes every possible feature. These guidelines divide the features between the most-used basic ones and specialized ones that may not be present on every type.
Give orienteering a try! Developed in 1901, this sport has contestants navigate to several control points using a compass and a map.
This will protect your device from scratches, drops, moisture, and temperature changes.
This is an essential accessory for any compass and a hiker’s best friend.
Considered a key survival accessory by many experienced hikers, using paracord (parachute cord) as a lanyard can be a game changer.
For anyone interested in the sport or those who want to teach others how to navigate by map and compass, an official course kit has marker flags and punches to set up your own course.
Beginners can start learning navigation with a baseplate-style compass that costs from $4 to $19. Devices in this range may have higher azimuth degree markings, lower accuracy, and less durability than pricier models.
Those looking for a feature-packed baseplate compass or who want to try out lower-end versions of lensatic sighting compasses can expect to pay $20 to $48.
More specialized devices like optical sighting compasses, clinometers, and military-grade cases cost between $49 and $129 depending on the included features.
A. There are two main uses for a compass: to determine which direction you’re heading and to pinpoint your location on a map. For basic direction finding (locating north, south, east, and west), hold the device in front of you at about chest height, making sure the directional arrow on the baseplate (or cover) is pointing away from you. Hold still while the magnetic needle settles, and let it naturally drift around to point toward magnetic north. Slowly turn your body, holding the compass still, until you’re lined up with the needle and it’s pointing away from you.
The next skills you need to learn are taking a bearing from the terrain around you and pinpointing your location on a map. These are essential for figuring out exactly where you are outdoors and which way you need to travel.
There are many instructional videos available online. You can also take a class at a local outdoor shop or through organizations like the Sierra Club, Green Mountain Club, or Appalachian Mountain Club.
A. While using a compass and map together is the best way to navigate accurately, avoid hazards like cliffs or rushing rivers, and get back on a marked trail more quickly, a compass can be used by itself too. For example, if you know that you need to head for a landmark that is west of your current position, and that landmark is obscured by clouds, darkness, or higher terrain, a periodic check of the compass will keep you moving in the right direction.
A. True north is the geographic North Pole. It’s always at the same point on a map. Magnetic north is the location of the north magnetic pole. The magnetic poles (north and south) continually shift by a tiny bit each year; the north magnetic pole is now more than 1,000 kilometers away from the geographic North Pole. The degree of difference between magnetic north and true north is called magnetic declination. To make things even more confusing, magnetic declination is different depending on where you’re located on the planet.
Fortunately, cartographers have figured this out for you. Topographic maps include a declination chart for the area on the map. Plus, you can look up magnetic declinations for specific locations and even calculate declination yourself on the NOAA website. Once you know the local declination, you can adjust your compass. Orient the device to magnetic north. Locate the degree of declination on the declination dial (the second set of marks on the inside of the dial; each mark is equal to 2°). Slowly orient the magnetic needle until it points at the declination mark. Now you’re facing magnetic north. The N marking on your compass is pointing toward true north.
A. Finding north and orienting your body and compass so that both face north is important to build a visual reference to the other cardinal points (west, south, and east) of the compass. It’s also important because all maps are oriented toward true north, so that your points of reference are the same whether you’re scanning the landscape or matching it up on the map in front of you.
A. Yes! Over time, the parts surrounding the magnetic needle can get chipped, frayed, cracked, or broken. Rough use and careless storage will accelerate the process.
The needle itself will slowly demagnetize over several years. However, the needle can be demagnetized or even reverse its poles if the device is placed next to items that contain strong magnets, such as your car speakers. Taking good care of your compass will ensure that it lasts for years and maybe even decades.