Explore the World with the Best Compass for Hiking (2020)
Compasses may be old-fashioned, but every serious hiker needs one. After all, you can’t always rely on modern technology to get you through tough conditions.
But how do you choose the best compass for hiking? Although compasses are simple equipment, there is a wide variety of models available. It’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by the selection.
We have prepared a list of high-quality, accurate compasses for hiking. Any of these can help you find your way in the wilderness. Additionally, we will offer a few words of advice that can make the shopping easier for you.
Table of Contents
Best Compass for International Hiking: Suunto MC-2 Compass
Are you planning to travel the world with your new compass?
The Suunto MC-2 comes with a global needle, allowing you to use it on both sides of the equator. It has 2-degree increments on the bezel, so you can make highly accurate measurements. Furthermore, this compass comes with a declination scale which makes it easier to adjust to new locations.
This compass is really versatile and it’s a great choice for inclines as well. The clinometer will let you measure slopes. Since the display is luminescent, you can use this compass before sunrise and after sunset.
Additional features include a magnifying lens, a ruler, and a straightedge. These will help you when it comes to reading your map. There is a sighting mirror for extra accuracy.
What about portability? This compass is easy to hold and it’s sure to fit comfortably in your backpack. It also comes with a lanyard.
Let’s take a look at some of the main upsides and downsides of this compass.
- Durability and a Lifetime Warranty
Suunto is well-known for making high-quality, reliable compasses and watches. This Finnish company cares deeply about your customer experience. Thus, you get a generous lifetime warranty on your product.
While minor cosmetic scrapes are possible, this isn’t a compass that will easily fall apart. You can take your MC-2 anywhere without having to worry about taking care of it.
- Global Needle Technology
Most compasses work only on one side of the equator. However, that isn’t the case with the Suunto MC-2. Since the magnet and the needle are separate items, your needle won’t get tilted by the magnetic field as you change locations.
- Ease of Use
This compass is easy to read even in the dark. Additionally, the easy-to-hold design means you are unlikely to drop it. It also comes with accessories which will help you read your map.
Since the Suunto MC-2 weighs around 2.6 ounces, it won’t cause problems even if you want to cut back on any extra weight. You can simply snap it closed when you’re done with it and then put it on the lanyard.
If you’re planning to hike across hills or mountains, you should definitely go with a model that comes with a slope meter. This will give you some extra navigating options and it will increase your accuracy.
- Sighting Mirror
Having a sighting mirror allows you to make very precise measurements but it’s useful for other reasons as well. You can always use your mirror for emergency signaling. Additionally, it’s useful if you need to shave or simply want to check your surroundings.
- The Cost
You can get similar levels of accuracy and durability at a slightly lower price range. If you don’t need a global needle or a clinometer, you may want to go for a less expensive compass.
- A Bad Choice for Cold Weather
The liquid in this compass fills with bubbles when it’s cold outside. While this isn’t a permanent defect, it could make it harder to use your compass when you really need it.
- Flimsy Plastic Casing
While the MC-2 is an extremely durable compass, the plastic casing it comes with cracks easily. Additionally, the markings around the edges of your compass might fade with time.
The bezel is made of plastic, so it’s less durable than the rest of this compass. On the other hand, this decreases the weight, which is very important for backpackers. Since the needle comes with high-quality jewel bearing, it will provide you with accurate measurements for a long time.
Who It’s Best for:
If you’re a globetrotter, the Suunto MC-2 is perfect for you. It comes with a number of extra features which will help you orient yourself under any circumstances. Furthermore, the durability makes up for the relatively high price.
For more information about this compass, please go here:
Best Affordable Compass: Sportneer Military Lensatic Sighting Compass
Going for a military compass can be a good choice. While these may not have every possible extra feature, they are usually a sturdy and reliable option.
This Sportneer compass is a great choice for any outdoor activity, from kayaking to mountain climbing. It comes with a slope meter which will allow you to orient yourself on mountains or hills. Additionally, it is waterproof and can withstand being shaken.
You get an attachment that will let you clip this compass onto your belt. There is a carrying case as well. Since the display face is luminescent, this is a good choice for campers who like to hike in the dark.
To make readings easier, the Sportneer Military Compass comes with inch and centimeter markings on the side. Furthermore, it has a tough metal casing that will protect it from accidents. This product is made for extensive use and you will receive a one-year warranty as well.
So what are the major upsides and downsides of this compass?
- Sturdy and Versatile
This is a great compass for camping in extreme conditions. It can withstand any weather. There is also a slope meter, making this a good choice for rock-climbing expeditions.
- Luminescent Display
The Sportneer Military Compass glows in the dark. It also performs well in cloudy weather.
- Convenient to Use and Carry
Beginners will like the simplicity of its interface. If you need to keep your compass at hand, you can attach it to your belt. You also won’t have to worry about dropping it, since it is a very durable piece of equipment.
- Lensatic Technology
The lens design guarantees accurate readings and also magnifies the dial.
- The Price
If you want to get a quality compass for an affordable price, this could be the best option for you. In addition to your compass, you will get a pouch and a lanyard for easier transport. There is also an instruction manual.
- No Global Needle
You can only use your Sportneer Military Compass in the northern hemisphere.
- Too Heavy for Some Campers
Since this compass weighs around ten ounces, you might want to choose a different model for lightweight backpacking. It can be too clunky and difficult to hold as well.
- The Carrying Bag Isn’t Durable
You might have to invest in an additional bag to make sure not to lose your compass.
This all-metal compass is quite sturdy. However, the carrying case isn’t up to scratch.
Who It’s Best for:
If you’re still a novice compass user, this could be the right option for you. It doesn’t come with many extra features. But it is a sturdy and reliable compass that will give you accurate results every time.
For more information about the Sportneer Military Compass, click here:
Best Compass for Accuracy: Brunton Pocket Transit International Compass
Here is an elegant and very durable compass which can provide you with very precise measurements anywhere in the world.
This compass has a global needle with sapphire jewel bearing. Thus, the compass works in both hemispheres. You won’t ever have to worry about the needle getting stuck.
Furthermore, the Brunton Pocket Transit International Compass is a great choice for rock-climbing and mountain hikes. It allows you to make vertical degree measurements, giving you more a better idea of the slopes you’re planning to scale.
To enable you to make surveyor and geologist-level of measurements, Brunton equipped this compass with a ball and socket tripod mount. It is made from non-magnetic materials and it will help keep your compass in place.
If you’re looking for an impressive gift for someone who loves hiking, the Brunton Pocket Transit International Compass is your best bet. This aluminum compass looks impressive and it even comes with a leather case.
Here is a quick overview of the pros and cons of this compass.
- Induction Dampened Needle
Most compasses need some adjustment time before the needle finds true north. Brunton has found a way to speed up this process considerably. So if speed is an important concern for you, this compass is a great option.
This needle is made to last. When you click the aluminum case closed, it will instantly stop moving. Hence, the sapphire bearing won’t get worn out even with frequent use.
- Vertical Angle Measurement
This compass is perfect for making precise vertical measurements. It covers 90 degrees in each direction.
- Sighting Mirror
Are you looking to increase your accuracy further? You can use the mirror, which has see-through sighting.
The Brunton Pocket Transit International Compass is sealed with silicone. Hence, it won’t fog up in any weather and you don’t have to worry about getting it wet.
- Attractive Design with a Lifetime Warranty
A compass can be a great choice for a gift. This one is extremely decorative and it is durable enough to make a good keepsake. Brunton promises a lifetime warranty.
- The Price
Even for a US-made luxury camping tool, the Brunton Pocket Transit International Compass is expensive.
- The Sighting Arms Aren’t Sturdy
Although they can help a great deal with navigation, the sighting arms on this compass aren’t durable enough. You can still use it if the sighting arms get damaged but your accuracy will drop.
This is an aluminum compass that will last a long time. The tripod mount is also made of aluminum. However, there are some less durable plastic components as well.
Who It’s Best for:
International travelers who like scaling mountainsides will enjoy this compass. It’s particularly great for campers who are in a hurry. However, the high price tag is a serious downside.
To learn more about the Brunton Pocket Transit International Compass, go here:
Most Compact Option: Suunto Clipper Watch Band Compass
Are you looking for a small compass you can strap to your wrist?
This Suunto product is made for diving but it’s a great choice for hikers as well. You can clip it to your watch or your sleeve. It also fits on your belt or on the strap of your backpack.
If you’re looking for a great deal of accuracy, this might not be the compass for you. The bezel has 10-degree increments. There is no sighting mirror or clinometer.
But if you want a super-durable compass you can always keep with you, this is one of the best options. It’s completely waterproof, making it a great choice for swimmers and divers as well as intensive hikers. Additionally, it isn’t sensitive to underwater pressure.
So what are the best and worst things about the Suunto Clipper Watch Band Compass?
- Luminous Points
Parts of the display are luminous. You can be sure that this compass will lead you home after sunset.
- Great for Extreme Sports
This compass is a very good choice for intensive hiking, as it weighs less than 0.3 ounces. You can also take it trail running or spelunking. It will stay on your wrist when you go swimming or kayaking as well.
Since the Suunto Clipper Watch Band Compass is made in Finland, you can trust the quality of every component.
When you keep in mind that you can take this compass diving, the price is fairly low. We recommend getting a comfortable and durable high-quality wrist strap to go with it.
- It Can Be a Problem to Find the Right Strap
It may take you a while to find a strap that’s the right size. But if you’re willing to risk the compass slipping off, you can always just clip it to the side of your watch.
- Easy to Lose
Equipment this size is easy to misplace. This is a major reason why getting a strap for it is a good idea.
- The Accuracy Isn’t Great
For a compass this size, it is accurate enough. It will serve you well in an emergency. But if you want to plan your trail, you will need a bigger and more precise compass.
This waterproof compass is equipped with a card needle with jewel bearing. It doesn’t tend to fill with bubbles.
Who It’s Best for:
Are you looking for a very simple compass that will provide you with directions even when you’re underwater? If so, the Suunto Clipper Watch Band Compass is a great choice for you. You can strap it to your backpack or even your bike. However, we recommend getting a second compass or a GPS for more precision.
Click here for more information about this compass:
Almost Made the Cut
Here are a few more excellent compasses you might enjoy using.
The Cammenga S.W.A.T. Tritium Lensatic Compass is a durable and US-made option. This compass can withstand the toughest environmental conditions. It also comes with an emergency light source that can briefly replace your flashlight. Unfortunately, it fogs over easily and the lens may fall out as well.
If affordability is an important concern for you, you might want to go for the Silva Polaris Compass. This compass is accurate and easy to hold, as well as small enough for lightweight backpacking. But it might not work well in extreme conditions.
Some campers prefer to use multifunctional devices. The Casio Men’s SGW100B-3V watch is extremely sturdy and it comes with an accurate compass. However, you can get digital compasses with stronger backlighting.
How to Choose the Best Compass for Hiking
Hiking compasses come in many different sizes, types, and price ranges. It can be very easy to get lost among all the choices on offer. Hence, we have prepared a step-by-step guide that can help you make your decision.
- Analog or Digital?
Analog and digital compasses both operate on the same principle. Both types of compass use the earth’s magnetic field to guide you. Hence, both types of compass can react badly to interference such as the presence of certain metals.
So what is the main difference? Digital compasses can offer better accuracy. They are also more useful when it comes to lighting your path in the dark.
However, digital compasses are battery-dependent. So we recommend going for an analog compass in almost every case.
After all, having a compass at hand is crucial in emergencies. You want a piece of equipment that will do well under any conditions.
If you want to use electronics in addition to a traditional compass, you should go for a high-quality GPS unit. These devices are much easier to use than compasses, but only if you have signal and battery. They usually contain a digital compass as well.
- How Important Is Accuracy?
Magnetic north isn’t exactly the same thing as true north. Depending on where you are, your compass may show some distortion.
Declination adjustment helps you find true north without much fuss. All serious compasses come with this feature and we highly recommend it. You won’t have to readjust your compass until you change your location.
- Does Your Compass Need to Have a Sighting Mirror and Magnifying Lens?
Sighting mirrors are a great addition to any compass. They will provide you with more accuracy when you read bearings. Furthermore, they can help you signal your location in a crisis.
A magnifying lens can help you read your map. While it’s not a necessary addition, it can help you avoid some frustration.
- Do You Expect to Use Your Compass in the Dark?
Are you likely to start your day before the sun is up? Do you prefer to keep hiking after sunset? If so, it can be a good idea to get a compass with a luminescent display.
However, you should definitely do most of your navigating during the day. Careful measurements are a crucial part of orienting yourself in the wilderness.
- How Far Will You Travel?
Every compass uses the Earth’s magnetic fields. But there are some major differences between northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere compasses. Most compasses won’t work well once you cross the equator.
However, there are models you can use all around the world. If that is important to you, you should look for a compass that has a global needle.
- What About Mountaineering?
If you’re planning to go mountain-climbing, you should definitely get a compass that comes with a clinometer. It will compensate for elevation and help you judge slopes. For one, you will find it easier to figure out whether you’re at risk of an avalanche.
- Durability and Other Concerns
A good compass can last you a lifetime. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Most compasses contain a liquid that lets the needle rotate with ease. You may discover bubbles forming in this liquid. These shouldn’t affect the accuracy and they will disappear in warmer conditions.
Demagnetization is a much more serious issue. Make sure to keep your compass away from external magnetic fields. Even the highest-quality compasses can get demagnetized if you’re not careful.
A Final Word
Do you really need a hiking compass?
You can get really inexpensive compasses as key chains or as souvenirs. These may respond to the earth’s magnetic fields but they won’t provide you with the accuracy you need. Digital compasses and smartphone applications may be accurate, but you can’t rely on them in a crisis.
Even if you prefer other means of navigation, your hiking compass will always serve as a reliable backup. It is easier to enjoy your camping trip when you know that you always have a sure means of navigation.