Relying on technology to navigate you in the wild is a gamble, so any experienced hiker or backpacker will tell you that it’s important to be ready with the right equipment. A compass ensures that you’ll make it to your intended destination, and it’s an excellent tool to keep handy regardless of your hiking expertise. Some are weather-resistant for harsh conditions, while others are equipped with numerous survival tools for worst-case scenarios.
Buying Guide for the Best Hiking Compasses
Why buy a hiking compass?
Nowadays, we rely on our devices for everything, and navigation is definitely one of them. Being able to read a map or a compass is a lost art, so when you’re out in the woods backpacking or hiking and there’s no reception, your phone breaks, or the batteries die, then having these crucial skills is imperative toward getting you back on track. A compass is an affordable and reliable device that you might never have to use, but when you do need it, it’s there for you. Some high-tech compasses provide so much more than just accurate directions, so be sure to invest wisely in a compass because it might someday save your life.
What should you consider in a hiking compass?
- Accuracy: There’s no doubt that the most important aspect of a compass is accuracy. Without this, you’ll literally be lost. So, make sure that the compass is effective and easy to read. You should also look for a magnifying lens that magnifies the card dial, has crosslines, and provides direction toward either true north (a fixed point called the North Pole) or magnetic north (an unfixed point, as it aligns with the Earth’s magnetic field).
- Hiking Experience: If you’re new to hiking, you should consider going on short trips to boost your comfort outdoors. Packing a simple pocket compass used by the Boy or Girl Scouts will do just fine on these smaller outings. They’re durable and simple enough for any novice hiker to read. If you’re planning to travel through tough terrain, then a more sophisticated baseplate compass will be nice, especially if you have a map with you. This type of compass has various navigational markings, including a ruler to measure map distances. For experienced hikers, we recommend a compass that comes with extra survival tools to help you out on long treks.
Are there any special features that you should consider?
As previously mentioned, some compasses have a ruler to measure map distances. Some can also come with magnifying lenses, which will come in handy for orienteering and reading map details. A waterproof compass is also ideal. You might drop your bag in water or get caught in the rain, so planning ahead is important in this regard. A sighting mirror isn’t a bad feature to have, either. This helps you aim more precisely and can double as an emergency signaling device when you find yourself in a jam. If you’re going to be hiking at night, consider a compass that features glow-in-the-dark qualities. Some other useful features that you can find in a compass include a fire starter, an emergency whistle, and a military-grade paracord.
Our Picks for the Most Dependable Hiking Compasses
TurnOnSport Orienteering Compass
This high-quality plastic compass is ideal for reading maps and features waterproof bearings.
Pros: This lightweight and durable compass is specifically designed for orienteering and is great for kids starting scouting programs or for adults who often go hiking and backpacking. It features a magnetic needle made by vacuum technology and filled with oil. It has a directional arrow, a magnifier, and a ruler on each side to help you read your map. It’s available in green and orange.
Cons: The dial face can’t be adjusted for magnetic declination (the difference in degrees between true north and magnetic north). Because declination varies depending on where you are in the world, an adjustable declination is an important feature to have. The magnifier is a bit small to be that useful.
Bottom Line: This inexpensive and basic compass will give you accurate readings and set you on your way, whether you’re an adult new to hiking or a child learning to navigate for the first time. It isn’t the most high-tech compass out there, but it’s good enough for beginners, and it’s not a bad choice to keep on hand as a backup.
Sharp Survival Best Camping Survival Compass
This old-school-looking compass will bring you reliable direction when hiking in the mountains.
Pros: This old-fashioned copper compass is one of the best bargains available, and its case protects the compass really well when it’s closed. It’s ideal for hiking, camping, and emergency preparedness, and it features a 360-degree rotating bezel for easy navigation and orienteering. It even glows in the dark, so you can read your compass in all weather conditions, day or night. It’s super accurate and looks awesome, making it a worthwhile purchase.
Cons: The glow-in-the-dark feature will only work if the open compass has been exposed to sunlight. Users have commented that it’s sometimes difficult to open. The dial is also a bit flimsy at times because it doesn’t always return to the same place when you spin it.
Bottom Line: Much like the previous compass, this is a basic, inexpensive device that will bring nostalgia back into your life. Its design is a major draw for many, and it works perfectly fine but doesn’t come with a lot of extra features. You’ll have to make sure the compass is open under sunlight before you set out trekking at night.
Sportneer Military Lensatic Sighting Compass
This army-green compass provides plenty of features that will keep your compass safe and you going in the right direction.
Pros: Sportneer provides the most durable compass, as it’s both shockproof and waterproof. It’s ideal for military use, but it also works great during emergencies, on camping or hiking trips, or wherever the beaten path takes you. The ergonomic design has a lensatic function that increases accuracy, and its tough and tenacious properties are built to survive the harshest of hikes. The interface glows in the dark, there’s a belt loop attachment, and it comes with a carrying case.
Cons: It’s quite heavy and robust compared to other compasses. Users have noted having trouble with the sighting window. The window itself is made of sharp glass, and if it gets scratched up, you can end up cutting your finger. There have also been issues with the alignment of the sighting notch.
Bottom Line: Besides the issues with the sighting window, this heavy-duty compass will withstand years of hikes and be a dependable and faithful tool on your trips. The green color and the military construction are a nice touch, and the extra accessories, like the carrying case and the loop attachment, will provide you with more comfort and security.
Atomic Bear Paracord Bracelet
Be ready for anything with these wrist straps that provide much more than a compass.
Pros: Each bracelet (one black and one orange) comes with a reliable compass and essential survival tools like a fire starter, a loud emergency whistle, a ferro rod striker, and 12 feet of military-grade paracord. The bracelets are also adjustable to fit the wrist of a child, a woman, or an NFL football player.
Cons: To get an accurate reading on this compass, you have to unclip the band from your wrist. The striker is magnetized, so it can affect the compass while it sits on your wrist. Users have also had trouble getting a spark from the emergency flint function. You have to be quite aggressive with the device to eventually get a spark.
Bottom Line: Although there are so many components to this device, the compass works well and doesn’t take up precious space in your backpack. Its extra survival tools are a major plus because one of these accessories could save your life. This is an awesome tool to have on hand, and it’s a great gift for outdoor enthusiasts.
Suunto M-3 Compass
A compass that combines advanced engineering and a thoughtful design to accurately navigate you.
Pros: The M-3 features a needle balanced for the northern hemisphere, an adjustable declination, scales in metric and imperial, luminescent markings for low-light use, and a magnifying lens to help you read maps. The ergonomic design is comfortable in your hands. The magnifying glass is also big enough to start a fire.
Cons: The declination screw is small, so it takes some precision to correctly turn it in the right direction. The clip attached to the lanyard is small and can easily knock off your compass. Users report that it’s not the most durable compass on the market, either.
Bottom Line: The quality of this Finnish compass is outstanding. It’s not the most rugged compass, but it provides an accurate reading. Although the declination screw is small, the fact that you can properly adjust it is crucial in any hiking scenario. Overall, it’s a precise device that will safely navigate you around the great outdoors.
In a world of electronic navigation, a compass is still your most reliable navigator in the wilderness. Some compasses provide advanced engineering and extra tools to make sure that you not only arrive at your destination safely, but that you also won’t have any trouble along the way. So be sure to find one that you’re comfortable with and that provides the extra features you’re looking for.