The Best Compass Buying Guide

A compass is a useful device – a navigational tool that indicates direction.

A compass uses the magnetic poles of the earth to find magnetic north. It is amazing to think that centuries ago, the Chinese first used compasses for spiritual purposes. They made use of the magnetic devices to design some of their buildings according to feng shui, which is also an ancient practice of harmonizing an environment.

The compass also ensured that sea explorers could find their way to their destinations, opening up a world of travel to people who had previously relied on nature – the moon, sun and stars – to guide them. Speaking of nature, it is mind boggling when you realize that there are certain animals, insects and birds that use the sun as a compass to help them find direction.

You can always Orientate Yourself with a Compass

If you’re a keen hiker or mountaineer, navigation can get tricky when mist rolls in. This is when you need the best backpacking compass. With a good compass, you’ll always be able to orient yourself.

You’ve got to decide on an analog or digital compass. Traditionalists usually fancy the analog compass because they don’t have a power source, such as batteries, and you’ll never be caught off-guard with a dead battery. Digital compasses have loads of features but they rely on batteries so you always have to be looking out to make sure the batteries are charged before you head out on any trip.

A Compass is Ahead of Modern Electronic Navigation Devices

Battling with poor visibility on steep mountainsides can be treacherous and one wrong step can send you plunging down to your death. Yes, GPS devices are useful, but the ancient wisdom of a compass puts it ahead of new electronic navigation devices.

A compass for hiking will need to have speed on its side, as bad weather will want you getting down a mountain as fast as possible. Hiking compasses come with features, such as a base plate with ruler and a declination scale which helps you make the declination adjustments for different areas so that the compass points to the true north instead of the magnetic north.

While compasses are mostly hemisphere-specific, some Suunto compasses come with a global needle which works regardless of location. These sort of compasses are ideal for those who take part in outdoor activities in different compass zones.

The Way Compasses Work

Compasses, as they were used to guide ships, may well seem antiquated in today’s modern world of GPS devices. There are three main parts to this old type of compass – the degree dial, the needle and the compass rose at the center. The design of this type of traditional compass has changed somewhat over the centuries, but the concept has remained the same.

These magnetic compasses have a magnetized needle that rotates and lines up with the Earth’s magnetic field. The colored part of the needle – usually red or green ─ should always be lined up with North before you can take a reading. You take a reading by identifying an object you want to reach, and holding the compass out in front of you or flat on your hand.

Adaptations have been made to compasses over the years, and magnetic compasses today come in different forms. The most basic are the portable compasses used by hikers. Then again there are some compasses that don’t use earth’s magnetism to indicate direction. The gyro compass, often used on aircraft and ships, for instance, uses a spinning gyroscope to follow Earth’s axis of rotation to point to true north.

Despite sophisticated GPS advancements with GPS, the compass, especially for hikers and mountaineers, is a valuable tool. Navigators on foot or even in small fishing boats use the best pocket compasses as a practical tool for guidance.

When all else Fails, the Compass Prevails

In fact, unlike GPS, compasses can still be used when electronic signals have their reception blocked. In a disaster like an earthquake, it’s the reliable pocket compass that will be called upon to help lost and dazed people around.

Let’s have a look at some compasses available to us today, starting with a pocket compass.

Coleman Pocket Compass

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An Experienced Outdoor Equipment Company

One of the best pocket compasses you can get is from Coleman. They are an experienced outdoor equipment company which has been in existence since 1900. They provide wonderful, outdoor products which simply help people have fun in the great outdoors. With its snap lid to protect its face, this pocket compass from Coleman is made of impact-resistant materials.

Liquid Filled for Speed

The simple black and white compass is perfect for those hiking and camping trips. It comes with an easy-turn needle which sits on a jeweled bearing. Its liquid filled design promises quicker accuracy. The compass comes with a glow-in-the-dark pointer so that you can easily see its 8 directional reference points: N, NE, NW, E, SE, S, SW and W. This pocket compass comes with a hang tag to keep it readily available from your belt loop. With dimensions 7.2’’ long x 0.54’’ wide x 3.4’’ high, this compass comes with a 1-year warranty.

[easyazon_link identifier=”B000Q9API2″ locale=”US” tag=”deadbullseye-20″]>>>Click to see the latest price for Coleman Pocket Compass<<<[/easyazon_link]

Ritchie Navigation Explorer Compass

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Affordability from an Experienced Company

With more than 3 decades in the business, the company Ritchie often gets breaks on pricing and they pass this on to customers from their many suppliers. Their products are robust and affordable. The Ritchie, 2¾’’ dial compass with bracket mount and thumbscrews means that the compass is both adjustable and removable. This is Ritchie’s most popular compass.

Speed is Critical in Survival Situations

The compass comes with internal, green, night illumination and has a movable sun shield. With its exclusive 5 year Ritchie warranty, this compass comes with built-in compensators to adjust for deviation. The compass is built with ultra-lightweight dial assemblies. The compass is filled with a highly-refined, low-viscosity dampening fluid which allows the dial to move smoothly and lock on to magnetic north faster than other compasses.

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Suunto MC-2G

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High-Performance from a Trusted Name

Whether you’re hiking or mountaineering, the robust, high-performance Suunto’s patented global needle works anywhere in either hemisphere. It surely one of the best backpacking compasses there are, and as a hiker, you’ll always be able to find your way. A great survival compass, you’ll get a magnifying glass with this compass and declination scale is adjustable with an adjustment key to account for the difference between magnetic and true North.

A Global Needle

With its tough construction, you’ll get resistance against dirt, shock and water. With a ruler, clinometer, sighting mirror and rotating bezel, the Suunto compass also features a global needle which works in all compass zones. Its equipped with luminescent indicators so night time usage is also possible. The Suunto MC-2G compass is the perfect choice for adventurers looking for a reliable compass that can lead them out of danger.

[easyazon_link identifier=”B000FEUCRW” locale=”US” tag=”deadbullseye-20″]>>>Click here for more info about the Suunto MC-2G Global Compass<<<[/easyazon_link]

Mini Pocket Liquid Compass

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No-Frills Compass

This outdoor, survival navigation tool is the perfect choice for anyone who wants the most simple, basic compass there is. Many hikers realize that reading a compass is a crucial skill that can save a life. Lots of compasses come with a host of features that many people don’t want. They just want a basic compass that will tell them where they need to go. Dedicated GPS receivers are also awesome tools but you can’t rely on it the same way as a compass.

This is a great “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” compass for all your outdoor explorations. The liquid-filled compass increases stability, and hikers and campers love this easy to understand tool with a diameter of 1.6’’ and weighing just 18g.

[easyazon_link identifier=”B01N9WY6AN” locale=”US” tag=”deadbullseye-20″]>>>Click to see the latest price for Mini Pocket Liquid Compass Navigation Tool<<<[/easyazon_link]

Silva Polaris

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Lightweight and Trustworthy

The analog Silva Polaris compass is an excellent compass for mountaineering, hiking, survival or hunting. The dimensions of the compass are 4 x 2’’and it weighs an ounce. Its Large sighting arrow helps you easily set your course and the large bezel and ergonomic design ensure this compass is easy to hold and to use. It has 2º graduations as well as large numerals at every 20º mark.

Affordable Excellence

Price is always an important factor when buying equipment for the outdoors, but the Silva Polaris is one of the best hiking compasses ─ less expensive and also liquid filled. With a rotating bezel, declination scale and ruler, this durable compass made with scratch-resistant acrylic comes with a hole to put it onto a lanyard which isn’t included.

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Cammenga Lensatic Compass

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Super Military-Type Strength

Excellent for hiking, military use, mountaineering and survival situations, this durable compass has been battle tested for shock, water and sand resistance. Constructed with a powder-coated, aluminum frame for strength and endurance, the compass is made in the USA. The compass also performs well in varying temperatures which range from 50° F to 150° F.

Slower Non-Liquid Compass

Making use of phosphorescent paint, the CMMG compass comes equipped with a magnifier, ruler, and clinometer. Every compass comes with its pros and cons, and this compass doesn’t have a mirror which opens the door for error. Some users also felt that because the compass isn’t liquid filled, the needle settles slower. It uses a copper induction-damping ring that settles and steadies the compass needle.

[easyazon_link identifier=”B00J094JKO” locale=”US” tag=”deadbullseye-20″]>>>Click here for more info about the Cammenga Lensatic Compass<<<[/easyazon_link]

Arino Military Compass

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Reference Table to Estimate Distance

This Army Green metal compass of 1.7 x 3.2 x 4.8’’ works in either hemisphere. It comes with magnifying lens and adjustable declination scale to account for the difference between magnetic and true North.1. The compass comes with luminous display inside for night time viewing. The compass also comes with a reference table to estimate distance and scope.

Inclination Gauge

There’s another feature called an “Inclination” gauge which allows you to measure degrees of incline of hills, etc. This waterproof, liquid-filled floating compass dial with 360°scale comes with a foldable metal lid. It can also be used in a low temperature of -20℃. The compass is made from high-quality metal and fits snugly into its military compass pouch. The compass uses a true sighting optic that allows you a direct read of the internal compass card housed in the fluid filled capsule.

[easyazon_link identifier=”B01N0AJ0DA” locale=”US” tag=”deadbullseye-20″]>>>Click here for more info about the Arino Military Compass<<<[/easyazon_link]

Ritchie Navigation Compass

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Sport About Hand Bearing Compass

With its bright International Safety Yellow Case, this compass is ideally suited for those taking part in water sports, such as sailing. You can tie the compass down to your boat with its mounting harness or you can hold it in your hand. The compass comes with small, non-electric, chemical light sticks, and 3 of these have been included which provides 18 hours of lighting at night. The compass comes with an easy-to-read dial which is 2″ in diameter.

Easy-to-Grip Silicon Casing

Lightweight and small, this 4-ounce compact marine compass is a hockey puck style hand bearing marine compass with the reading being taken by holding the compass at arm’s length. You line up the lubber line with the V-notch. The compass comes with a silicon casing that is easy to grip, even if the compass is wet. This compass comes with a 5-year warranty.

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Paracord Wristband with Compass

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The Ultimate Survival Wristband

Which adventurer wouldn’t love a compass that doubles as a survival bracelet? This interesting looking military grade survival bracelet from Revival Gear is hig- quality with its reflective and adjustable Paracord Bracelet wristband design. Lightweight and comfortable to wear, this bracelet-type wristband is the ultimate survival device, especially as it comes with an accurate compass.

With a paracord, fishing hooks, cutting tool, compass and much more, if you’re in the wilds without cell phone reception, this compass-cum-multi-purpose survival wristband is the perfect accessory for any hiker, camper or prepper.

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Thoreau’s Go Confidently Compass

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Quote Engraved Compass

Some people think this compass with its stamped leather case is too attractive to use on a hiking trip. With dimensions 1.75’’ high and 3’’ in diameter, the solid brass compass which is also fingerprint resistant comes with Thoreau’s Quote “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams and live the life you have imagined.”

Praiseworthy Gift

With a cover inscribed with the works “A Simpler Time,” the compass has a beautiful “ancient” look about it with a replica compass dial with a working, floating needle. Coming in a black gift box, this is the perfect gift for someone starting a new phase in their life. Do research because the compass and leather case varies slightly in size and style.

[easyazon_link identifier=”B00U2DYTD4″ locale=”US” tag=”deadbullseye-20″]>>>Click here for more info about the Thoreau’s Go Confidently Compass<<<[/easyazon_link]

Final Thoughts

Being lost and hopelessly off-course in the wilderness can be frightening, especially if heavy snow is starting to settle in.

Knowing how to use a compass can positively alter the course of events and save your life. A compass is an essential item in your survival kit.

Modern compasses include a clear baseplate with a magnetized needle in fluid-filled housing. There are many different hand-held compasses from leading brands, each with their own unique pros and cons.


There are, however, a few key factors to think about when shopping for a compass, and any serious outdoor adventurer will tell you that the best hiking compass isn’t one of these accessory-type compasses that might look fairly attractive as an accessory. These compasses, when it comes to serious navigation, drop you because they’re unreliable. Also, cheap compasses that don’t include fluids should be avoided.

Stick with trusted names, like Suunto and Silva, among others, so that you can lose yourself in the wilds and rely on a compass that can meet your every hiking and mountaineering need. No matter how many roads, paths and trails criss-cross the landscape, you’ll be led to safety and avoid nasty outcomes.


My name is Austin. I built this website to be a place where outdoor enthusiasts from everywhere come to share what they know! I love with the intense feelings of freedom and adrenaline that only the outdoors gives me. I hope you find the content on this site to be helpful in your search.

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