Even with all the digital technology available these days, you can’t deny the usefulness of a good, reliable compass. A compass for outdoor exploration will never run out of battery or lose its GPS signal – it is the one sure-fire way to find your way in the wilderness.
Looking for the best compass for hiking and backpacking? We have put together a list of 8 of them best compasses on the market to help you out. Check out our buying guide at the bottom of this post for an idea of how to pick out the very best compass for you.
1. Silva Explorer Pro Compass
The Silva Explorer Pro is a multifunction compass that comes at a mid-range price. It is designed not only to point you in the right direction, but to help you find your way as a map magnifier.
The body of the compass magnifies maps, with adjustable scaling. It also doubles as a clinometer, and has a built in adjuster for magnetic inclination. The digits and markings on the compass glow in the dark so that it can be used at night.
The build of the compass is weatherproof and reliable for long term use. It also comes with a sturdy lanyard to wear around your neck or on a keychain.
- Scaling adjustments as map magnifier
- Easy to read during night and day
- Built to last
- Limited features
- Takes some expertise to use map-reading feature
2. Brunton – TruArc 3 – Base Plate Compass
The Brunton TruArc is a simple, affordable and reliable compass for everyday navigating. Unlike a lot of the more complex compasses on this list, this model is super easy to read and great for beginners. It would make a perfect present for a young explorer.
The compass operates on both the imperial and metric scale. It has tool-free declination that is easy for learners to figure out. The TruArc needle is designed to operate in both the Northern and Southern hemisphere – this is a good compass to travel with.
- Easy to read and understand
- Comes with reliable lanyard
- Great for kids or learners
- Limited features
- Does not glow in the dark
3. Silva Ranger 515 Compass
The Silva Ranger is definitely one of the more high-end, advanced options on this list of the best hiking compasses. This is a baseplate compass, with a durable case and sighting mirror. The etching on the compass is beveled black and glows in the dark.
Three scales on the baseplate help you to quickly and easily plot your way on a trail map. The compass grips the map with stable silicone feet, to ensure the best accuracy. Declination is fairly easy, and the screwdriver tool is included with purchase, as well as a lanyard.
At just 2.4 ounces, this is a great lightweight compass to take on a long backpacking trip. It is a little more expensive than other options, but the reliability is worth the price.
- Accurate map reading with gripping silicone feet
- Sighting mirror
- Durable compact case
- Simple and reliable declination
- Pricier than other options
- Sighting mirror may have some flaws
4. SUUNTO A-10 Recreational Field Compass
Suunto is one of the top names in compasses. They make high-quality, reliable products at an affordable price – this A-10 model is no exception.
The compass is super lightweight and made of clear, scratch-resistant material. It has a two-zone system that makes it readable in both the Northern and Southern hemisphere, and scales in centimeters and inches, so it is great for use at home or abroad.
A fixed declination scale makes the compass super easy to adjust. It would be a great purchase for a learner or a young hiker.
- Lightweight, easy to carry and use
- Durable material
- Affordable price
- Easy to use and adjust
- Limited features – no glow in the dark or map reading
- May lose accuracy over time
5. Cammenga 27CS Lensatic Compass
This is a rugged military-grade device that has been slightly altered for use as commercial compass. The Cammenga Lensatic compass has a cast aluminum body that is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions – even as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is not luminescent, but made with phosphorescent paint that absorbs and reflects light. So, to read the compass at night, you just need to shine light directly onto it for about 2 seconds. Copper induction housing prevents bubbling and any other problems that might make the needle less accurate.
Despite its rugged build, this compass weighs only 5 ounces, and is easy to carry. It comes with a belt clip and carrying pouch for easy transportation.
- Tough, military grade design
- Accurate copper induction needle
- Casing doubles as scaling map reader
- Peephole in case for sighting
- A little heavier than others
- Not self-glowing – needs to absorb light to glow in the dark
6. SE CC4580 Military Lensatic and Prismatic Sighting Survival Emergency Compass
This is another military-style compass, at a much more affordable price. The SE Lensatic compass has tons of technical features and is incredibly accurate compared to others in its price range.
The needle sits in a fluorescent liquid that glows in the dark for easy reading at night. The case has a transparent sighting lens, with a diopter reading in the base of the compass. It is fairly easy to read with a little training – great for someone who is learning more advanced navigation techniques.
The build of the compass itself is not as durable as others, but it comes with a waterproof nylon carrying case that will protect it from all weather conditions.
- Military-style design – camouflage cover and rugged build’
- Comes with waterproof carrying case
- Easy to read sighting lens
- Tripod screw holes in the base for more accurate readings
- Not as durable as other options
- Needle casing may be prone to bubbles
7. Ueasy Military Prismatic Sighting Compass
This next option on our list is another military-style compass. It is an affordable option, with a rugged design and plenty of technical features for the more advanced navigator.
The needle sits in a fluorescent casing that will glow in the dark. There is a clear sighting lens in the top of the case and a scaling ruler in both inches and centimeters. The casing is made of tough aluminum alloy – waterproof and corrosion-resistant, for use in all weather types. It comes with a sloping scale on the bottom of the case for easier reading.
All in all, this is a sturdy and fairly accurate military-style compass, at a great price.
- Accurate sighting
- Helpful scale on the case
- Glows in the dark for reading at night
- Super durable and weather resistant
- Heavier than other options (7 ounces)
8.Coghlan’s Map Compass
Last up on our list is a lightweight little compass and map reader that is perfect for the practical outdoorsman. Even if you already own a larger, military-style compass, wearing this little guy on a lanyard or keyring will give you an extra level of security.
The clear base plate of this compass doubles as a map reader, with accurate scaling in inches. The whole thing is tiny enough to comfortably wear around your neck or keep on the strap of a water bottle.
Even though it is smaller than most and very affordable, this is a highly accurate and durable compass – an ideal backup when larger, more technical navigation systems fail.
- Lightweight and easy to carry
- Doubles as an accurate map reader
- Comes with lanyard
- Instructions for navigating with the compass included in the package
- Does not glow in the dark
- No sighting or other technical features
How to Choose the Best Hiking Compass
Now that you have had a look at some of the top hiking compasses on the market, let’s talk about picking out the best one for you. There are a few necessary features you are going to want to look for before you make your purchase – we have broken it down by the features of a basic compass, and the features of a more advanced compass.
Basic Compass Features
A Magnetized Needle:
Let’s start with the most basic of the basic – a magnetized needle in a liquid or other form of induction casing is what makes a compass work. A needle with magnetized poles will always point toward true North, which lets you know where you are standing at any given time.
Most basic compasses for hiking are what is referred to as baseplate compasses – that means that they are mounted on a single flat plate.
In a hiking compass, your baseplate should double as a scaling map reader. Markings along the side will help you to read a map accurately, based on a certain scale (an inch or centimeter equal to a certain amount of miles or kilometers). This is one of the most basic and necessary features you should look for in a hiking compass.
The bezel is the rotating circle around the compass. It has degree markings around it to help you understand your bearings when you are navigating with a paper map. Without a rotating bezel, it will be a lot harder to navigate with your compass.
A lot of basic hiking compasses will double as a magnifying glass. This is especially helpful for reading detailed trail maps with a lot of fine print.
Luminescent, or glow in the dark paint on a compass, is a necessary feature of a good hiking or survival compass. Without it, you will not be able to read your compass in the dark unless you have a light handy.
Some compasses have fluorescent fluid, or luminescent paint around the needle, so that you can always read the markings. A more advanced compass might have a digital backlight that can be switched on and off.
Advanced Compass Features
A more advanced compass will come with some way of adjusting the declination according to a specific location.
Magnetic North is not always the same as true North. To make sure that your compass is perfectly accurate, you will want to know the declination of the area you are in and adjust the compass accordingly. Some advanced compasses have features that allow you to do this without any tools.
Sighting Lens or Mirror:
A lot of advanced compasses have a hinged lid with either a clear lens or mirror mounted inside. This helps you to plot distances in the landscape around you. A sighting mirror is helpful because, at a certain angle, you can look at your compass and your target destination at the same time.
Mirrors can also be helpful in a compass for survival – they can be used to start fires or reflect sunlight as an SOS signal.
A clinometer, or inclinometer, is a tool used to measure incline. In other words, if your compass doubles as a clinometer, you can use it to measure how steep a slope is.
Clinometers can be really helpful for backpackers on a long trip, who want to get an idea of exactly how steep and high a slope is before they climb it. They can also help with advanced navigation, when trying to identify certain peaks.
Not all compasses are designed to work in both hemispheres. Before you travel with your compass, you should check to see if it has a global needle, or a needle that will be accurate in both the Northern and Southern hemisphere.
Whether you are a serious backpacker, survivalist or just someone who likes to get out in nature whenever they can, a compass is a necessary tool. You never know when modern technology might fail you, and you will have to find your way on your own.
A basic baseplate compass is great for a less serious hiker. For heavy-duty backpacking and exploring, you might want to invest in a multifunction, military-style compass. Either way, as long as you have a compass on hand, you are ready to get out there and start exploring.