Marine or not, being proficient at basic land navigation and understanding how to use a compass is absolutely essential for anyone who plans to venture into unfamiliar terrain.
Land navigation is a skill set that requires a lot of practice to become confident. In the Marines, we practiced land navigation constantly.
Even with all that practice, failure to complete land navigation exercises within set time limits was a major reason a lot of guys failed to graduate from advanced infantry schools.
I only bring that up because I want to emphasize how important it is that you practice using your compass after you buy it. Even the best compass is useless if the operator does not know how to use it properly.
I personally like using handheld GPS devices, for the most they’re reliable. Just keep in mind that even the fanciest GPS devices have limitations and require you to be moving to give you an accurate azimuth.
If you’re hiking long distances using a GPS, it’s a good idea to use a compass to double-check your GPS hasn’t totally lost it’s bearing. One of the fastest ways to check this is with a simple wrist compass, but any compass will do.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the types of compasses, compass terminology, tips on how to use a compass, and then I’ll review what I think are the best compasses currently available.
- What is a Compass?
- Types of Compasses – Which Should You Choose?
- Here Are the Best Compasses (All Types)
- 1. Suunto A-10 Baseplate Compass (Best Value)
- 2. Suunto M-3 NH Leader Compass (Editor’s Choice)
- 3. CMMG Military Tritium Compass (Best Lensatic Compass)
- 4. Eyeskey Multifunction Compass
- 5. Silva Ranger 515 (Best Mirror Compass)
- 6. Suunto MC-2 (Best Value Mirror Compass)
- 7. Suunto M-9 Wrist Compass
- 8. Cammenga Tritium Wrist Compass
- 9. A2S Protection Paracord Bracelet Compass
- 10. Bayite Button Set
- 11. Casio Pro Trek PRW3500 (Best Compass Watch)
- 12. Brunton TruArc 3
- 13. TurnonSport Hiking and Backpacking Compass
- 14. Brunton Nexus 7DNL
- 15. Suunto M-3 G
- 16. Cammenga 27CS
- 17. Vikano Survival Bracelet Watch
- 18. Casio PAG240T Pathfinder
- 19. SUUNTO Core Outdoor Watch
- How Do You Read a Compass?
- Parts of a Lensatic Compass
- Parts of a Baseplate Compass
What is a Compass?
A compass is a tool used for navigation, direction, and location. On a basic compass, you’ll find a compass needle in the middle of a diagram called the compass rose with the four main directions — north, east, south, and west. The compass’s magnetic tipped needle floats on an axis and points to the Earth’s magnetic North Pole.
Once the location of north is known, the user can then accurately travel knowing the proper direction to go relative to north.
Compasses have been used for centuries by explorers, militaries, sailors, and outdoor lovers to safely navigate unknown territory.
Types of Compasses – Which Should You Choose?
There are two basic types of compasses; clear base plate compasses used for orienting and lensatic compasses, which have sighting mechanisms that allow you to shoot more accurate azimuths at a distance than you could with a base plate compass.
Some base plate compasses also have a mirror attached them to shoot more accurate azimuths at a distance, these are called mirror baseplate compasses, or mirror compasses.
In the right set of hands, both types of compasses are very effective and will get the job done. For beginners, I would recommend a base plate compass without a mirror. Along with being a little simpler to use, they’re lighter, thinner, and don’t require a protractor for map work, like a lensatic compass does.
For most people, the small increase in accuracy with a lensatic compass isn’t significant enough to justify carrying a larger compass that’s a little harder to use.
However, if you plan on going deep into the wilderness or a long trek, consider a lensatic compass for the increased directional accuracy.
With a lensatic compass, you also have to open the cover each time you want to check your azimuth, which isn’t a big deal but can get annoying at times. Below, I’ll go into a little more detail about the differences between the two.
Baseplate Compass (Orienteering Compass)
Baseplate compasses are helpful because they’re essentially a compass and protractor rolled into one. On top of that, the base is transparent and allows users to see the entire map as they mark points. They provide the user with the basic essentials needed for land navigation. They have an orienting arrow, orienting lines, and a degree dial with graduations. They also typically have a ruler or scale on the edge of the base plate that can be used along with the map scale to determine distance.
Base Plate Compass with Mirror (Mirror Compass)
Mirror compasses are primarily base plate compasses with a mirror that allows you to shoot a little more accurate azimuths. In my opinion, the small amount of accuracy increase isn’t justified, and for beginners, I would recommend a standard baseplate compass.
Most navigation is relation navigation or contextual navigation. For example, after you know your azimuth, you’ll find an object in the distance, like a tree or a mountain top, and head towards it. These landmarks are usually large, and you don’t need to be accurate to 1 or 2 degrees.
With a mirror compass, you can keep the compass pointed directly at your target and manipulate the compass housing without ever having to take your compass off your mark to adjust it. This allows for slightly better accuracy.
Here is a great video explaining the difference between a base plate compass and a mirror compass if you’re interested in a more detailed explanation.
Lensatic compasses are the type of compasses used by the United States Military. They are easy to identify by their articulating pieces, including a cover that protects the floating dial.
Lensatic compasses have sighting mechanisms, including a sighting wire that allows the user to shoot accurate azimuths (azimuths) at a distance. You can shoot azimuths with a baseplate compass, but a lensatic compass is a little more precise. When traveling long distances, even a small amount of error in your azimuth can make a big difference, which is why the United States Military uses lensatic compasses for land navigation. The downside of lensatic compasses that they are bulkier. To use a lensatic compass with a map, you’ll also need a protractor, but don’t worry, they’re cheap.
Most lensatic compasses provide 3-degree increments on the dial, meaning there are 120 clicks in a full rotation.
In combat zones turning on a flashlight isn’t always the best idea, so military-grade lensatic compasses have either tritium or phosphorescent illuminating parts for night navigation at night. Compasses made with tritium are very expensive, I remember if someone lost a compass in the military, it was a big deal because they were very expensive. Cammenga, the company that makes the compasses lensatic compasses for the military, also makes a compass that uses phosphorescence instead of tritium.
Adjustable vs Non-adjustable compasses
Adjustable compass: Adjustable compasses allow you to account for declination. If you don’t know what declension is, don’t worry, we’ll cover that below. These compasses will enable you to change the relationship between the orienting arrow and the rotating dial to account for declination.
Non-adjustable compass: Non-adjustable compasses are fine for orienting to a general direction, or as a quick reference to make sure your handheld GPS hasn’t lost its bearing. In a survival situation, a non-adjustable compass is still very handy. You can look at a map, determine your location, and head in the direction of a road of stream, which you can then follow to civilization. They’re cheaper but not practical for use with a map. Using a non-adjustable wrist compass is still very practical in many situations.
Here Are the Best Compasses (All Types)
1. Suunto A-10 Baseplate Compass (Best Value)
My review: The A-10 Recreational Field Compass is a durable, reliable, and lightweight baseplate compass made by SUUNTO. If you don’t already know SUUNTO is one of the most reputable companies when it comes to compasses and precision instruments.
As a transparent baseplate compass, the A-10 works pairs well with a map. The baseplate markings are in bright red, making it contrast brightly against any map.
I like the quick detach snap-lock lanyard the SUUNTO A-10 comes with. When you’re on the move, keep the compass attached to you with the lanyard. When it’s time to deploy your compass, quickly detach the snap-lock lanyard from the compass.
The inch and centimeter markings make perfect for taking note of distances.
For those of you who plan on navigating at night, keep in mind there are no luminous markings or roamers marked on the baseplate.
This compass is reliable and accurate as long as you don’t abuse it.
Bottom Line: This is a great compass for basic navigation, just keep in mind it doesn’t have adjustable declination or luminescent markings.
Compass type: Baseplate compass
Weight: 1.06 ounces
Dimensions: 1.4 x 3.2 x 5.1 inches
Bezel Material: Plastic
Declination Scale: Fixed
2. Suunto M-3 NH Leader Compass (Editor’s Choice)
My review: The M-3 NH is another great compass made by SUUNTO that has a few nice features that the A-10 Recreational Field Compass reviewed above doesn’t.
These features include adjustable declination correction, luminescent markings for low light conditions, and a magnifying lens on a transparent base plate for easy use with maps.
The only downside is that it’s twice the price.
Compass type: Baseplate compassEach click of the bezel represents 2 degrees, this is adequate for people hiking on foot.
If you want to be really precise, you’ll be able to position the bearing mark between the 2-degree tick marks to measure 1 degree.
Thanks to the adjustable bezel, you’ll be able to get rid of any confusion of adding or subtracting declination adjustments.
Attached to the detachable lanyard will be a key tool that you use to adjust the bezel. Using the key, you are now able to set the inner bezel to the natural declination of your specific location.
A quick thing to note for night travelers is the dial is luminescent, while it isn’t tritium, it still makes lowlight navigation better.
The magnifying glass on the baseplate makes perfect for making small markings on maps more visible..
Compass Type: Baseplate compass
Weight: 1.62 ounces
Dimensions: 2.4 x 4.72 x 0.55 inches
Bezel Material: Plastic
Declination Scale: Adjustable
3. CMMG Military Tritium Compass (Best Lensatic Compass)
My review: This compass is made by Cammenga, the company that makes the compasses lensatic compasses for the military.
If you’re a mil-spec gear nut and want a compass that you can trust, the Official U.S. Military Tritium Lensatic Compass might be your best compass choice. It’s a little old-fashion, sure, but it’s still used by all branches of the Armed Forces for good reason.
The lit-up tritium markings make the compass ideal for night operations, no bright flashlight required that can give away your position.
It’s not the prettiest compass on our list, but it’ll get the job done reliably. How many compasses have been battle-tested since 1992? The UCMMG won’t let you down.
Absolute toughness, this Cammenga compass is sand, water, and shockproof.
If you’re concerned about weight and compactness, this compass may not be for you. It’s relatively bulky and has heft. If you can afford that, there’s no reason not to add this compass to your pack.
People may complain that the needle takes a couple of seconds to settle, this is because there’s no liquid in the compass. Instead, there is a copper induction dampening system to slow down the magnetic needle. It could be a complaint about speed, but it actually helps accuracy, with less shaking of the needle.
Compass type: Lensatic compass
Weight: 7.2 ounces
Dimensions: 6 x 4 x 3 inches
4. Eyeskey Multifunction Compass
My review: This compass, created by Eyeskey, is a serious lensatic compass option for outdoorsmen on a budget.
For a lensatic compass under $40, this compass is very durable. The casing is made from metal, not plastic to guarantee that this compass’s life will last through years of constant use.
Eyeskey created this compass with the high demands of guides, scouts, survivalists, and emergency rescue teams in mind.
The water and shake-proof design is meant for all-weather and prepared to take on the harshest of elements.
The fluorescent dial ensures that the compass display is lit and visible during night treks.
As an added feature, there is a level bubble to ensure you have the most accurate reading. This ensures that that compass is free-floating and not stuck.
To make this compass more portable, it comes with a lanyard, belt clip, and carrying case.
Compass type: Lensatic compass
Weight: 5.6 ounces
Dimensions: 5.8 x 4.2 x 3.5 inches
5. Silva Ranger 515 (Best Mirror Compass)
My review: From the well-known Swedish manufacturer Silva, the Ranger 515 is an excellent compass for any outdoor enthusiast, survivalist, or sportsman looking for a solid baseplate mirror compass option.
The Ranger 515 is great for night operations. A key innovation of the 515 is the extra-luminous watch grade that is four times more intense than competitor models and will not degrade over time.
With 2-degree graduations, you can get a sufficient level of precision for virtually all direction applications.
The sighted mirror attachment allows you to line up the compass with a visible landmark while keeping the compass face visible at the same time, so you can be sure your bearings won’t drift. The mirror can also serve dual-purpose as a survival signaling device.
The 515 has a built-in clinometer so you can judge the inclination of any slopes you might come across. The built-in magnifying glass helps you read maps with more precision.
A nice feature Silva added is padded silicone feet at the bottom of the compass to help keep the map from sliding around.
Compass type: Mirror compass
Weight: 6.4 ounces
Dimensions: 12 x 7.5 x 2 inches
6. Suunto MC-2 (Best Value Mirror Compass)
My review: The MC-2 by Suunto is a high-quality mirror compass designed for precise directional measurements. This compass is ideal for climbers and hikers that are traveling through mountainous terrain. The Suunto has a built-in clinometer capable of measuring the inclination of your route.
I’m a fan of anything compact, the less my gear weighs, the faster I can move. The Suunto MC-2 is small and compact and will easily fit in your climbing bag, backpack, or traveling bag.
The Suunto also includes a wrist-lock lanyard to keep your compass on hand as you trek the wilderness.
You won’t have to worry about the compass breaking during regular use. The compact plastic frame is durable and was made to stand up against any harsh elements you throw at it.
The MC-2’s needle is dialed in globally, so you can take it anywhere in the world.
The mirror sighting allows you to line the compass capsule up with any physical landmark, helping you get the most accurate azimuth possible.
For you to redirect yourself to true north, the compass has an adjustable declination correction tool.
Using the MC-2 in low light is also no problem. This Suunto can glow in the dark for a full 20 minutes after just a minute of exposure to natural light.
If you’re hesitant to drop your money on this compass, it comes with a lifetime warranty that will cover any damages and manufacturer errors.
Compass type: Mirror compass
Weight: 2.72 ounces
Dimensions: 1.7 x 5 x 3.6 inches
7. Suunto M-9 Wrist Compass
My review: The M-9 wrist compass by Suunto is designed for maximum usability while keeping your hands as free as possible. The one-handed ease of use makes it ideal for tactical applications.
This handy wrist compass comes with a nylon wrist strap that is perfect for navigating through rough terrain or just around town.
Since this compass is so convenient, it makes a perfect secondary compass.
However, I don’t recommend this compass for a primary because of its small size; it’s challenging to get an accurate bearing.
The compass features a side window for taking more precise bearings.
The ratchet bezel mechanism rotates in 1-degree increments for accurate bearings. The bezel has a serrated edge so you can grip and turn easily, even when wearing gloves.
A cool feature that Suunto added is a sighting notch. Just like the sights of a gun, you can align the card pointer needle to set an accurate direction to travel.
One complaint I have about this compass system is the strap. The strap is flimsy, so you’re better off replacing this with a watch strap.
Compass type: Wrist compass
Weight: 1.28 ounces
Dimensions: 7.1 x 3.6 x 1 inches
8. Cammenga Tritium Wrist Compass
My review: Cammenga brings the same mil-spec quality with the Tritium Wrist Compass that they do with their compasses issued to the military.
The tritium illuminated parts on this compass are really nice. You always want to get tritium illumination if you can. Having the ability to navigate using your compass without a flashlight is a huge benefit for stealth. Cammenga guarantees the lumination is maintenance-free for 10 years.
One trick you might find helpful; attach the compass to a flashlight or other essential items like a knife or firearm when you’re camping. The brightly lit tritium will make it easier to find whatever essential tool you attached.
Crafted out of machined aluminum and nylon, the Cammenga Tritium Wrist Compass is built to last and remains durable in the most demanding of situations. The sturdy aluminum frame will not dent, or scratch and the nylon wrist strap will not fray or snap on you.
This wrist compass was built for toughness and almost all environments. You can take this compass into a wide range of climates with temperatures ranging from -25 F to 125F.
The Cammenga also comes with an induction dampened needle for max stabilization and a quicker read.
Compass type: Wrist compass
Weight: 0.8 ounces
Dimensions: 5 x 5 x .7 inches
9. A2S Protection Paracord Bracelet Compass
My review: At just under $10 for a pack of 2, the A2S Protection Paracord Bracelet is a high-value and multi-use emergency survival bracelet.
The compass is just 1 of the 4 tools that his bracelet features.
My favorite part about the bracelet is that you can unravel the 12 feet of cord on the bracelet to use for emergencies. The cord itself is an ultra-tough military-grade 550 parachute cord that can easily hold up to 550 pounds.
Paracord is super handy, and every outdoorsman needs some for their EDC and adventure pack.
Along with the paracord, the A2S has a micro-compass, flint fire starter, fire scrapper, and emergency whistle that can produce sounds up to 100db.
The micro-compass won’t be the most accurate navigator because of its size, but what it will do is keep you from wandering off on the wrong path. It also makes a great backup option.
This specific offer on Amazon comes with 2 paracord bracelets, so now you and a partner can both have a multi-use survival bracelet.
The Protection Paracord comes in many different colors and sizes, so you are sure to find something that matches your style. Men, women, and children, the A2S comes in a variety of sizes to fit all writs sizes.
Compass type: Bracelet compass
Weight: 2.4 ounces
Dimensions: 9 inches long (adjustable)
10. Bayite Button Set
My review: These Bayite Compasses are designed to be slipped onto a paracord survival bracelet or a watch band.
You can get creative with these little compasses. You could attach this compass to a watch band, bracelet, or backpack to keep a compass on you at all times.
I wouldn’t recommend a compass this small to be your primary compass by any means. However, these neat little compasses make great backup compasses.
It’s an easy accessory that you can add to about anything to take with you in your daily life.
The compass rose does have some illumination as well, so your bearing can still be visible in low-light.
Believe it or not, these tiny things have more uses than just pointing to the north. If you’re ever in a desperate survival situation where you’re struggling to find good tinder; crack the compass cover, and the liquid can easily be lit up due to its flammable properties.
If you’re someone who makes their own paracord bracelets, you might as well add a mini compass for further use.
A quick tip to keep in mind if you choose to use this compass is that your reading will be affected by nearby metal objects, so make sure the compass is kept away from interferences.
Weight: 0.32 ounces
Dimensions: 0.94 x 0.94 inches
11. Casio Pro Trek PRW3500 (Best Compass Watch)
My review: If you happen to be in the market for a compass and a watch, you might as well invest in a watch like this Pro Trek from Casio.
Just like other compass-watch combinations, this watch is powered by batteries. This makes it not ideal if you’re looking for a non-electric dependent navigation option.
The watch being battery powered may be a con for some. On the bright side, not only does the battery lasts 7 months on a single charge, but all you need to do is expose it to sunlight for it to stay charged
A self-sustaining battery is always awesome.
The compass feature on this watch is part of the digital screen and holds a bearing for up to one minute. The watch has a stainless steel bezel to help you keep track of your bearing.
Even though the Pro Trek’s primary purpose isn’t to be a compass, it still has a think-free magnetic declination to keep you on the correct path.
Chances are you’re probably not a diver and most definitely aren’t going to take this watch 600 feet under the sea. However, even if you do, your Casio will still be working flawlessly under pressure. Take this watch into any wet environment you want.
Weight: 4.5 ounces
Dimensions: 9.8 x 2.2 x .6 inches
12. Brunton TruArc 3
My review: The TruArc 3 is a reliable compass for basic orienteering and mapping that you can take with you anywhere.
Its simple ease of use makes it ideal for entry-level navigators.
Or since it’s a compactly designed compass, it’s also an excellent backup compass. Because of the small design, this compass is also pretty tough and will put up with some neglect. Don’t neglect it, be smart.
If you do lack care for your TruArc 3, lucky for you, Brunton offers a warranty that will replace your compass, free of charge.
This compass may be under $15, but it still comes with a global needle. Now you can have a neat little compass that you can take with you literally anywhere in the world, and the needle will still move freely and precisely. No matter if you’re in the northern or southern hemisphere, your compass will be trusted and dialed in.
Unlike Brunton’s competitors, this compass’s declination adjustment is tool-free. Just a simple push and twist of your finger, and you can set for true north.
On the downside, none of the markings are luminous, making low-light navigation more difficult.
Regardless, for a compact and simple compass, you can’t go wrong in the daylight.
Compass type: Baseplate compass
Weight: 1.1 ounces
Dimensions: 2.5 x 3.5 x 0.5 inches
Bezel Material: Plastic
Declination Scale: Adjustable
13. TurnonSport Hiking and Backpacking Compass
My review: This compass by TurnonSport is fantastic for beginners and kids alike. With a price under $10, it’s going to take you a long way for the price.
I don’t recommend this compass to anyone looking for a serious compass that they want to travel to the ends of the Earth with. However, if you’re just getting started with land navigation and want something basic, it’s perfect.
It also makes a good backup compass to keep in your car or pack.
For the cost, it’s not going to have many bells and whistles, but what it will do is get the job done.
Weight: 1.6 ounces
Dimensions: 2 x 4.7 inches
Bezel Material: plastic
14. Brunton Nexus 7DNL
My review: For over 100 years, Brunton has been making trustworthy quality products that people can trust. The 7DNL is another proud product from Brunton.
The Brunton Nexus 7DNL is perfect for the outdoorsman that likes to keep weight and compactness in mind.
At under an ounce and no longer than 3 inches, if you don’t keep it around your neck using the lanyard, you might forget you even have this thing on you.
When setting the declination of the compass module, the action is really smooth with just enough friction to maintain the set declination.
The 7DNL is light and easy to use minimalist’s compass.
It’s not going to be the most deluxe compass on our list, but it will get the job done. Since the compass is so compact, you can easily store it in your pocket.
I’d recommend this compass for orienteering beginners along with people looking for a trusty backup compass.
Weight: .91 ounces
Dimensions: 3 x 1.94 x 0.44 inches
Bezel Material: Plastic
Declination Scale: Adjustable
15. Suunto M-3 G
My review: The Suunto M-3 G compass is a premium baseplate navigation option.
By no means do you need a premium compass to navigate terrain like an expert. The added features, however, do make use of your time a little more efficiently.
Suunto specifically added more features and used higher quality materials to create a compass that can withstand the most extreme of environments.
The “G” in the M-3 G stands for Global, which is for the global needle that comes on this Suunto. The global needle enables the compass to be pitched up to 20 degrees and still capable of moving freely. Even if you don’t travel somewhere like Antarctica, you’ll still be able to find this feature to make the needle more responsive.
The added clinometer enables you to be able to estimate slope angles in mountainous regions. You can also use it to measure the heights of objects that are high in the air.
Doing land navigation is going to require some mental math, no matter what. With the adjustable declination scale, you can erase a little bit of headache by adjusting the declination to true north.
I always recommend for people to properly take care of their gear, not knowing if their life could potentially be counting on that piece of equipment. However, with the M-3 G, you can feel safe that this compass is made to put up with your abuse.
Weight: 1.69 ounces
Dimensions: 4.72 x 2.4 x .55 inches
Bezel Material: Plastic
Declination Scale: Adjustable
16. Cammenga 27CS
My review: Cammenga offers the same military-grade quality with the 27CS as they do with the military-issued version.
The only difference is that instead of tritium, the 27CS uses phosphorescent paint for luminated visibility. This will get you by easier in low-light situations. The glow will be more prone to fading out the longer it is away from bright light sources.
This compass is for the adventurer looking for mil-spec quality but doesn’t quite have the budget for a compass that uses tritium.
The case is made from cast aluminum, making this compass capable of enduring your abuse and the elements you take it in.
This compass is basically weatherproof, able to stay functioning through extreme heat and cold. Cammenga made this possible by putting no liquid in the needle housing.
To make the needle settle as fast as possible, the compass has a copper induction-damping ring that slows the needle down.
Overall, the 27CS is a high-quality, durable compass that is easy to read dial and has sight clear enough for anyone. For military gear enthusiasts, it’s the next best thing to the tritium version.
Compass type: Lensatic compass
Weight: 6.4 ounces
Dimensions: 6 x 4 x 3 inches
17. Vikano Survival Bracelet Watch
My review: Minimalists will love this compass watch.
Carrying versatile gear is ideal for EDC, camping, hiking, or whatever outdoor activity you like doing. This compass-watch is actually a combination of 5 other useful tools.
If you’re someone trying to carry the least amount of weight possible, then the Vikano Survival Bracelet Watch is perfect for you.
One bracelet and you’re already prepared for multiple survival scenarios, all under 5 ounces.
The miniature compass is excellent for getting a general bearing, I wouldn’t use it as my main compass, but for something on hand, it’s all you need.
The paracord strap is adjustable, and when unwoven, it’s almost 10 feet long. Paracord is something any survivalist or well-prepared person should have, and when it’s on your person, that’s even better.
The watch has an added alarm and calendar feature. A cool thing with this watch is that the time is readable digitally and with analog hands.
The watch housing is made from aluminum alloy and actually has water resistance up to 100 feet underwater. This means as long as you aren’t taking this watch deep diving, you’ll rarely need to take it off.
Weight: 4.8 ounces
Dimensions: 10.2 x 2.4 x 1 inches
18. Casio PAG240T Pathfinder
My review: If you’re looking for a backup compass or a compass to keep on hand, you might as well get a watch that has a compass feature. The Pathfinder by Casio is an excellent watch with a well-working compass feature.
If you’ve ever looked into buying a watch or just glanced at a selection of watches, you know who Casio is. You can rarely go wrong with getting a watch from Casio.
The compass is displayed on the digital screen that moves dynamically when the compass is moved.
The compass feature has an angle indicator, direction indicator, and four direction pointers.
Casio uses a Quartz movement, which has less moving parts than a mechanical watch, making it more durable against abuse.
One of the main reasons someone would want to carry a compass would be to have a navigation tool that doesn’t rely on batteries. Unfortunately, this watch does depend on a battery to be powered, but at least it’s a solar-powered battery. As long as you’re outside in the light, you’ll be square.
The battery probably won’t be an issue though, granted that nothing fries your battery. The battery on the Casio Pathfinder will last for up to 6 months on a single full charge.
People who spend a lot of time on the water can also feel comfortable using this watch due to its water resistance up to 300 feet.
Weight: 4 ounces
Dimensions: 10.2 x 2.2 x .6 inches
19. SUUNTO Core Outdoor Watch
My review: Suunto is known for their well-made compasses trusted by outdoorsmen worldwide.
The Core is a good watch compass option for someone that wants a handy tool with a lot of features to give them data throughout the day.
This watch is battery powered, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wants a compass for the reason to have a non-electronic navigation option.
In everyday life, however, it’s terrific, you have a watch that is loaded down with features. The battery will last up to one year on a single full charge.
All of the features are displayed on a single easy-to-read digital screen.
A neat feature of the Core is the weather prediction feature. It’s able to use the weather patterns from 3-6 hours before to give you a reading of what type of weather the next few hours hold. When it detects a storm is rapidly inbound, the storm alarm alerts you with a flashing light an alarm sound.
With a water resistance of up to 100 feet, you can take this watch around and in water no problem. It’s not meant for diving, so don’t take it into deep waters.
Overall, this watch-compass combination gets many jobs done in one package. The versatility of this watch is simply impressive, especially considering the price.
Weight: 2.26 ounces
Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.9 x .6 inches
How Do You Read a Compass?
To get a proper reading of your compass so that you can navigate in your preferred direction, you must:
Step 1: Hold your compass steady and make sure that the baseplate is level.
Step 2: Point the direction-of-travel arrow straight away from you.
Step 3: Know the magnetic declination of the area you are.
Step 4: Find true north by adjusting the declination scale appropriately. If the declination isn’t adjustable on your compass, you’ll have to adjust for the declination by adding and subtracting mentally.
Step 5: If you want to go north, follow where the red arrow points. If you want to go another direction, turn the compass housing until north aligns with the compass needle, then travel in your desired direction.
What Size Compass Should I Get?
The size of the compass you should choose depends on the application you want to use it for.
A more compact compass is going to be more simple and easier to carry. On the negative side, you’re going to sacrifice accuracy. The graduations on small compasses are larger, making it more challenging to get the exact bearing.
Smaller compasses are ideal for EDC, backup compasses, and people that want to travel light, and an exact bearing to the degree isn’t necessary.
A larger compass is what you want if this is your sole navigation device, or your primary concern is precision. If that is what you want from a compass, investing in a larger compass will be worth it.
Parts of a Lensatic Compass
Thumb Loop- While sighting in on objects to get an azimuth, you can place your thumb on the thumb loop. It also helps keep the compass secure when in the closed position.
Cover- The cover has several purposes, along with protecting the delicate parts of the compass; it contains the sighting wire. When open, it can be used as a straight edge or ruler.
Sighting Wire- When taking an azimuth with a lensatic compass, you will align the sighting slot on the with the sighting wire. The sighting wire can be compared to the front post sight of a firearm.
Bezel- Is the central part of the compass that spins. It has a serrated edge and clicks while it rotates (each click moves the bezel 3 degrees).
Dial- Displays the direction in reference to magnetic north.
- Outer Scale: The black markings graduated in mils. There 6400 mils in one circle.
- Inner Circle: The red markings graduated in degrees.
Lanyard- A loop of braided nylon to secure the compass to a belt loop or around the neck of the user.
Index Line- A black line etched on the crystal over the dial used to read an azimuth.
Magnifying Lens- It allows you to read small lettering and details on a map. It’s also useful for reading the dial.
Parts of a Baseplate Compass
Orienting Lines- The lines that help you line up north on the map.
Baseplate- The clear housing of the compass that allows the map to be still visible when placed on top.
Index Line- A fixed line under the rotating bezel that marks your desired bearing.
Direction of Travel Arrow- An extension to the index line that keeps you on track once you’ve taken your bearing.
Orienting Arrow- The fixed arrow on the housing of the compass that indicates north on the grid.
Declination Scale- Some compasses will have a declination scale that helps you adjust from magnetic north to true north
Magnetic Variation- Allows accurate adjustment for magnetic variation and declination.
REI actually has a great video on the parts of a compass and how to use one if you’re interested.
Magnetic North vs True North
The North geographic pole and north magnetic pole are over 1000 kilometers apart.
The gridlines on a map are oriented with the north geographic pole (where Santa lives), not the magnetic pole. Let’s cover a few terms and you’ll see why this is all-important and how to account for it.
Magnetic North: Magnetic north is the direction your compass will automatically point.
True North: The preferred reference for maps and navigation and is based on the rotating axis of the Earth.
Magnetic declination: The difference between magnetic north and true north.
Magnetic declination will vary greatly depending on where you’re navigating.
If you’re on the east side of the united states, the magnetic needle will be pulled west. If you’re on the west side of the united states, the magnetic needle is being pulled east. By adjusting for this pull, your compass will align with true north, allowing you to use it properly with a map.
To use a map and compass together correctly, you must always know the declination for the area you are navigating. There are actually websites like this that will show you the declination for anywhere on earth.
Look for compasses with a liquid-filled dial. This will allow the needle of the compass to settle faster and prevent the needle from bouncing around. If you do buy a compass with a liquid-filled dial, be sure the housing does not have bubbles. If it does, this means some of the liquid as leaked out. Be sure the dial is moving smoothly and freely, but not too freely.
Every marine learns land navigation in boot camp, using a map and compass to navigate unknown terrain is a crucial part of their training.
Even if you aren’t a marine, knowing how to use a map and compass properly is a skill that no computer device could compensate for.
Don’t trust a battery with your life, and more importantly, never go somewhere unprepared. Get yourself a trustworthy compass and take it with you every time you’re heading into unknown territory.
A compass may not be your preferred choice for navigation, but it’s a hell of a backup that won’t ever let you down.
Corporal Wabo is a former Infantry Squad Leader with 3rd Bn 4th Marines that specialized in Mortars. In his free time, he enjoys hunting, hiking, running, shooting guns, and reviewing gear. He started this website while transitioning out of the Marines, and since has recruited several other Marines to help him work on the Marine Approved website. We are currently looking for former Marines that like to talk tactical gear, survival gear, hiking supplies, etc. For more information about us or to join the team, check out the “About Us” tab.