CAMPING & HIKING

Best Compass: Know Where You’re Going & How to Get There

A small compass held in hand
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

Do you have a tendency to lose track of where you are? Or are you afraid that you will lose your way once you are in the wilderness? Never fear, the best compass the market offers will help!

Navigating your surroundings is key when you’re out in the wilderness! If you’re out in the forests, all the trees tend to look exactly the same and it can become extremely easy for you to get lost. That’s why you should definitely consider including a compass with your gear so that you can ensure that you’ll always know where you are and how to get safely back to camp.

More and more people have moved to using GPS devices in order to navigate the area instead of a map and a compass, but there are drawbacks to relying solely on this piece of technology. For one thing, its use depends on the juice that is left in the batteries, and if they run out while you’re out on the field, you’re going to have a hard time getting back home.

A compass held in hand

An orienteering compass, on the other hand, doesn’t depend on anything else but the pull of magnetic north. So before you decide to go on a backpacking trip, you should get some experience with your compass and a map beforehand so that you can learn how to go about navigating and charting the landscape so that you won’t get lost.

Now that you know how beneficial a compass can be to have on your side, what kind of compass should you get? We are going to show you the different types of compasses, what to look out for and give you some reviews so you can make a purchase that you are happy with.

Our Top Picks

Product nameWeightWaterproofingMaterialSpecific featuresPrice
Cammenga Phosphorescent9.6 ozYesAluminumMagnifying lens, shock proof, carry pouchCheck price on Amazon
SE CC4580 Military3.7 ozNoAluminumConversion chart, bubble level, water resistantCheck price on Amazon
Eyeskey Military14.4 ozYesMetalBubble level, shake proof, liquid filledCheck price on Amazon
Suunto A-10 0.32 ozNoAcrylicLanyard, conversion scaleCheck price on Amazon
Neon Professional6.34 ozYesMetalRulers, bubble level, prism lensCheck price on Amazon
Coleman LED1.6 ozNoMetalLanyard, rotating bezelCheck price on Amazon
Gerber Bear Grylls0.3 ozNoPlasticLanyard, zipper pullCheck price on Amazon
UST Deluxe1.8 ozNoMetalConversion scales lanyard, liquid filledCheck price on Amazon
Aufo Tactical13.6 ozYesMetalSighting line, bubble levelCheck price on Amazon
Ueasy Portable2.4 ozNoMetalCarrying bag, lights up in the darkCheck price on Amazon

Things to Consider Before Buying

There are some basic features that most, if not all, traditional compasses have a magnetized needle that points to magnetic North (this is different from true North, where all the longitudinal lines meet), a liquid-filled housing so that the needle can move easily, and a rotating bezel on the outer edge that provides you with an accurate bearing and tells you the direction you’re traveling. The smaller the degrees on the bezel, the more accurate your readings will be.

Compass on the ground

Now, we will go over the many features that traditional and non-traditional compasses have.

Types of Compasses

What is considered the best compass for hiking is a matter of debate, given that there are so many different kinds to choose from. For example, there are the traditional floating-needle compasses and digital compasses.

The former employs the use of a needle that is suspended in a housing filled with liquid so that the needle can freely move to tell you what direction you’re heading in. Even with traditional compasses, there are a few differences.

  • Basic – These are the most common kind that you find in stores, and are the best choice for beginning campers. They have the most basic of features without any of the fancy features that you may or may not need. They’re best used for hikers who are used to sticking to trails.
  • Advanced – These possess a lot more features that are more beneficial to seasoned hikers who know what they’re doing. These compasses are best used for those who tend to wander off trails and are more interested in doing deeper into the woods.
  • Accessory – These aren’t really designed for serious navigation, as they are extremely small and have no base plate. They’re a good reference guide, but shouldn’t be relied on too heavily for serious navigation.

Compass features

The first two kinds of compasses are what this article is going to focus on so that you know what you should invest in when it comes to finding the best compass for hiking.

Base Plate and Ruler

A good compass will have a transparent base that allows you to read the map through it so that you can accurately record your travels.

The inclusion of a ruler is usually etched on the straight edges of the plate so that you can know how far you’ve gone and how much distance you have left to cover. The most common map scales on a compass are 1:24,000 and 1:250,000.

Declination Adjustment

Declination is the angular distance of a point north or south of the celestial equator. Because the planet is tilted on its axis as it goes around the sun throughout the year, this angle changes, requiring you to compensate your measurements with an adjustment tool to ensure you’re going in the right direction.

Magnetic declination compass

The adjustment requires the turning of a small screw on the compass housing so that the arrow is no longer parallel with the north-south meridian lines. New adjustments can be made for each trip to provide you with accurate readings.

Digital Compasses

These handy devices come with the same features as traditional compasses, as well as a lot more, such as GPS. The display of a digital compass is easier to read, but their first use does require some calibration in order for it to be accurate.

There is also the limitation of batteries, but button batteries tend to last a long time, so it may be a while before you have to change them. And when you do, these small batteries don’t take up a lot of room in your backpack, so you can always stock a few ahead of time just in case.

Celestron digital compass

The way a GPS works, is that it measures the direction of movement, providing you with an accurate recording of where you’ve already been. This can be handy if you need to head back to camp, or travel back to a site you found the previous day. This can be extremely beneficial on days of thick fog or falling snow.

This is an advantage over a compass, in that when taking a reading from the latter, you may have to stray from your path in order to go around obstacles, making it more difficult for you to recalculate and find your bearings. A GPS, however, allows you to get a new bearing and you can reset your compass with this revised line of direction in mind.

Other Features

Some of the other features that are worth keeping an eye on include the following:

  • Meridian lines – These are usually located at the bottom of the compass housing and allow you to move your compass along the North-South lines on your map.
  • Magnifying lens – Very useful for reading the small markings on maps.
  • Sighting mirror – Helps you get precise reading by matching the bearing and your sight on a distant landmark at the same time.
  • Luminescent indicators – There comes a time when you may have to travel after the sun has set, and having a compass that has glow-in-the-dark indicators makes it easier for you to read.
  • Clinometer – An instrument for measuring angles of slope (or tilt), elevation or depression of an object with respect to gravity.
  • Lanyard – Allows you to keep your compass on hand and minimizes the chances of losing it.

Other compass features

Best Products on Today’s Market

You have now arrived at the portion where we will review several compasses so you can choose the one that works best for you. Keep in mind the smaller details with these reviews so you can get exactly what you need. We hope this guide is helpful in your new purchase.

Cammenga Phosphorescent Lensatic CompassCammenga Phosphorescent Clam Pack Lensatic Compass

Price: Approx $55

Weight: 9.6 ounces

Specific features: Waterproof, shockproof, sand proof, carrying pouch, belt clip, works in temperatures from -50°F to 150°F, magnifying lens, sight wire, glow-in-the-dark paint for easy reading.

Best use: Land or water

Description: The Cammenga Phosphorescent Lensatic Compass was built to withstand a lot of rough treatment, as its housing is built from lightweight aluminum. What’s different about this compass is that there is no liquid in the housing.

One would think this would make it more inaccurate, but its performance definitely dissuades those concerns. With a weight that’s just a little under a pound, you’ll have no problem keeping this handy compass in your pocket. It incorporates a copper induction-damping ring that steadies the compass needle quickly, allowing you to get your readings and bearings at a much faster rate.

It’s on the higher end of the spectrum in terms of cost, but you’re definitely paying for quality and a lot of functionality with this navigation tool. And when you order your compass, you can choose which hemisphere you plan to use it in.

PROS:

  • Waterproof
  • Comes with pouch and belt clip
  • Accurate

CONS:

  • Index line is not centered
  • The compass can have excess glue on the dial

Related: Before you go out in the wilderness, you should learn how to navigate and read maps. By reading the Map Reading and Land Navigation, you will become educated on this topic and ready to navigate yourself in the wilderness with a map and a compass.

Check the price on Amazon

SE CC4580 Military CompassSE CC4580 Military Compass

Price: Approx $10

Weight: 3.7 ounces

Specific features: ¼ inch sighting lens, sighting lines, water-resistant nylon pouch, 3-foot lanyard, bubble level, tripod screw hole, included ruler, conversion chart, rotating bezel ring.

Best use: Scouting, hiking, camping

Description: If you’re looking for a more affordable compass on the market, then you might want to consider the SE CC4580 Military Compass.

It does mark measurements in 5 degree increments, which is a little less accurate than the more expensive compasses, but can still be handy if you don’t plan on venturing too far from your camping site. It’s made from sturdy aluminum, so it can withstand a lot of rough treatment.

This compass, includes a thermo elastic capsule that is filled with liquid and has a dial that floats. One other nice feature that it includes is a screw hole on the bottom for the use on a tripod. It also has an adjustable diopter for the sighting lens, which includes lines on the cover.

Overall, this compass comes with a low price tag considering the quality and it is very simple to use. Definitely worth considering as a buying option.

PROS:

  • Affordable
  • Floating dial
  • For use on tripods

CONS:

  • Bulky
  • Not good quality
  • Not super accurate

Related: While you are enjoying the outdoors, you need to remember to stay hydrated. The Coleman Military Style Canteen is durable and clips to your belt.

Check the price on Amazon

Eyeskey Multifunction Military CompassEyeskey Multifunction Military Compass

Price: Approx $25

Weight: 14.4 ounces

Specific features: Waterproof, shake-proof, water-resistant pouch, sighting window with sighting line, inclinometer, liquid-filled, bubble level, waterproof, rotating bezel ring, ruler units and scale.

Best use: Hiking, trekking, navigation

Description: Made from sturdy metal, the Eyeskey Multifunction Military Compass was designed to help you navigate your surroundings, no matter where you are in the world.

The added inclinometer also tells you how high you are, and has a true sighting optic rather than a flip-up optic. With all of these added features, you’re definitely getting a deal for all the versatility it provides, so it’s definitely one to include in your wish list.

Light and compact, this compass is built to last with a rugged case. You can go anywhere and find your way out with the accurate portrayal of the compass. It includes a magnifying viewer and room for your thumb to rest.

All in all, this is not a very expensive compass for all that it does. It includes a sighting hairline, floating dial that lights up and it’s filled with liquid so you can read it more quickly.

PROS:

  • Affordable
  • Many features
  • Accurate

CONS:

  • Bulky
  • Ring can fall off
  • Too big for some

Related: Consider getting some hiking poles so you can keep yourself sturdy. The BAFX Hiking Poles are made of durable materials, are affordable and come in a blue color!

Check the price on Amazon

Suunto A-10 Field CompassSuunto A-10 Field Compass

Price: Approx $20

Weight: 0.32 ounces

Specific features: Lanyard, declination correction scale, rules and conversion scale.

Best use: Scouting, navigating in the wilderness

Description: The Suunto A-10 Field Compass couldn’t be a better companion on your hiking trip, especially if you’re looking to maximize the space in your backpack. It’s made from scratch-resistant acrylic, allowing for lightweight carry and very little bulk.

It can fit easily in your back pocket, just as long as you don’t have any ferrous material or electronic devices in there as well. It’s easy to use, even in the most adverse of weather. One small drawback is that it doesn’t have any phosphorescent indicators to make it easy to read in low lighting.

With an ergonomic design, this compass will fit comfortably in your hand, and it includes a lanyard for easier use. This compass also comes with a jewel bearing, and has dual scales for inches or centimeters. One other great feature is that it has a fixed declination correction scale.

Overall, we like the affordable price, as well as the ease of use and ease of carrying.

PROS:

  • Affordable
  • Ergonomically designed
  • Jewel bearing

CONS:

  • Needs to be adjusted a lot
  • Some say the durability is low
  • Not for higher elevation, takes longer to read

Related: Stay safe outdoors with an emergency medical kit! The Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman Series Whitetail First Aid Kit is under $40 and comes complete with many items you need for blisters, burns, sprains and more.

Check the price on Amazon

Neon Professional Pocket CompassNeon Professional Pocket Compass

Price: Approx $15

Weight: 6.34 ounces

Specific features: Bubble level, luminous arrow, adjustable prism lens, waterproof, rulers, carrying pouch

Best use: Positioning, boating, plotting

Description: Need something bright to help you navigate at night? The Neon Professional Pocket Compass will keep you heading in the right direction with its fluorescent face that allows you to see your compass points.

The appearance of this handy compass is quite attractive, and the durable metal that was used in its construction will withstand a lot of abuse. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket, and even has a lanyard cord that you can use to hang it around your neck.

This compass, includes features such as a bubble level for accuracy, and can be used in all types of weather. You can use this on land or sea, so you can go boating and hiking, knowing this compass will work for you.

Overall, we like this compass because of the accuracy, fluorescent lighting and the low price. And, we highly recommend it.

PROS:

  • Can be used nearly anywhere
  • Built in bubble level
  • Strong

CONS:

  • Heavy and bulky
  • Doesn’t float
  • Rotating ring comes loose

Related: In some emergency situations, you will need to build yourself a fire. Therefore, you need a fire starter. The Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter is affordable, includes a lanyard and has a metal striker.

Check the price on Amazon

Coleman LED Light CompassColeman Compass with LED Light

Price: Approx $10

Weight: 1.6 ounces

Specific features: Push-button backlight, liquid-filled, rotating bezel, lanyard, requires two CR2016 batteries (included)

Best use: Scouting, hiking

Description: The Coleman LED Light Compass can steer you in the right direction, and is very helpful to have on your person if you’re going for a simple half-day hike. It’s great for beginner campers who want an easy way to know where they’re going.

It doesn’t include a lot of features that an experienced camper would need, such as a ruler and conversion chart, or any sights. The helpful LED light will help you to see your cardinal points after the sun has set, helping you to stay on track after dark.

For a reliable reading, this compass is filled with liquid and does include a lanyard for hanging around the neck for easy and quick use. Inexpensive, this compass works very well for the price, while it is basic. Overall, we like this model because it is durable and works so well, and it lights up.

PROS:

  • LED lights
  • Reliable, accurate
  • Affordable

CONS:

  • You have to set the directional dial
  • Plastic portion is cheap
  • Too big for some

Related: Since this compass is pretty basic, you can purchase a magnifying glass that some other compasses have. The Backyard Safari Magnifying Glass has 4x magnification, a connected carabiner, and has an easy grip.

Check the price on Amazon

Gerber Bear Grylls Compact CompassGerber Bear Grylls Compact Compass

Price: Approx $17

Weight: 0.3 ounces

Best use: Day use, dry land

Specific features: Zipper pull, lanyard

Description: Need something compact that will help you get around? Used by the explorer Bear Grylls himself, Gerber Bear Grylls Compact Compass is designed to provide you with accurate measurements that will keep you from getting lost. It has an attractive look, with its black housing and dark orange highlights that will prevent it from getting lost if you accidentally drop it.

The handy cord can be attached to a jump ring or carabiner, so you can keep it on your backpack or your belt loop. It is made out of plastic, so care should be taken so that it doesn’t break when you drop it.

Overall, we like this compass because it is small, the lanyard is handy, it is affordable, it definitely gets the job done, and you will be happy for being able to find your way no matter where you are. Plus, it makes a great gift!

PROS:

  • Affordable
  • Looks good
  • Connects to backpack or belt loop

CONS:

  • Does not light up
  • Not super accurate
  • Seems cheap

Related: In a survival situation, you may find that you need some para cord. The Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Bracelet is under $15 and has 12 feet of para cord that unwinds and is 11.5 inches around.

Check the price on Amazon

UST Deluxe Map CompassUST Deluxe Map Compass

Price: Approx $8

Weight: 1.8 ounces

Specific features: Liquid-filled, clear base plate, conversion scales, lanyard, adjustable marching line, swivel bezel

Best use: Camping, hiking

Description: If you have simpler tastes, the UST Deluxe Map Compass could be exactly what you’re looking for. It has everything that you’ll need in a simple tool and at a very low price. The clear base plate makes it easy for you to decipher your map and tell you just how far you’ve traveled as well as how much distance you have left.

This deluxe compass, includes a ruler and a lanyard, and it is liquid filled and has a marching line that you can adjust. You can get a precise route with the different measurement scales and it does have a bezel that swivels.

We also have to mention that this compass is easy to use and is basic enough for kids. Furthermore, it’s made fairly well, and has a low price. It can be a great backup compass in case electronic ones fail.

PROS:

  • Includes ruler
  • Liquid filled for accuracy
  • Various measurement scales

CONS:

  • The needle can get stuck
  • May not always go to True North
  • Too low tech for some, doesn’t light up

Related: If you need to filter water, consider using the Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System as it is affordable and comes in various sized packs. It easily filters water to a safe drinking level, which is great for survival.

Check the price on Amazon

Aufo Tactical Waterproof CompassAufo Tactical Waterproof Compass

Price: Approx $17

Weight: 13.6 ounces

Best use: Backpacking, scouting

Special features: Magnifying viewer, sighting window, sighting line, rules, bubble level, luminous display

Description: The Aufo Tactical Waterproof Compass is a heavy-duty military grade compass that is guaranteed to keep you on the right track, even if you’ve already strayed from it. It’s made from durable metal that’s designed to withstand rain, snow, and mud, so it will last for a very long time.

It was designed with “old school” in mind, so there are no batteries and no fancy doodads to distract you from the task at hand. It’s perfect for both the casual hiker as well as those who are looking for a bigger thrill by going off the beaten path.

There are many features to this low priced compass, including a magnifying viewer and a thumb hold. It is a floating compass that has a 360 degree scale and includes a reference table for scope and estimated distance. A nice bonus is the ruler that slides out.

PROS:

  • Affordable
  • Many features
  • Floating compass

CONS:

  • Not super accurate
  • Bulky

Related: The 14 inch Fiskars X7 Hatchet can come in handy when you need to chop up wood for a fire. It is under $30 and has a great power to weight ratio.

Check the price on Amazon

Ueasy Portable Camping CompassUeasy Portable Camping Compass

Price: Approx $15

Weight: 2.4 ounces

Specific features: Loop allows for a lanyard or jump ring, carrying bag, luminous effect in the dark.

Best use: Hiking, mountaineering

Description: The Ueasy Portable Camping Compass is an old-fashioned looking compass has the style of a pocket watch, making it perfect for those who want a bit of flare when they go camping. This lightweight metal compass provides reliable and accurate readings that will keep you from getting lost, which can be dire for any hiker.

Its bronzed finish gives it an even more classic look, so it looks more expensive than it really is. And after the sun goes down, you can still tell where you are with the glow-in-the-dark feature. Just charge it up with sunlight or fluorescent light, and you’re ready to go.

In the end, we have to highlight that we like how durable this compass is, the appearance it comes with, and the price. It is easy to use and great for many outdoor activities and its accurate and reliable. We definitely recommend this compass as a buying option.

PROS:

  • Classic style
  • Light weight
  • Accurate

CONS:

  • Can break
  • May be a few degrees off
  • Not enough features

Related: Having some carabiners can come in handy during your hiking adventure. The Carabiner Clip Snap Hook Keychain is under $10 and it comes with a built in miniature thermometer and compass, which you can use as a backup.

Check the price on Amazon

Wrap Up

We have reached the end of our article. Now that you’ve seen what traditional compasses are capable of, which features are most important for your consideration, we are pretty sure that you have a good idea about which model to choose.

Compass, watch. knife and other objects

If you’re a casual hiker, then you may want to consider a cheaper compass that is easy to read, but if you do plan on forging your own paths away from the ones already set out for you, a more detailed and costly compass may be what you need. They also come in such a variety of styles and sizes that it will be easy to find the best compass that incorporates everything that you’re looking for.

Did you find this guide helpful? What kind of compass do you have? Please leave your thoughts and comments below, as we love to hear from you!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Linda Green

    Coleman Compass with LED Light is great backup compass! Needle is consistently accurate and swings freely without having to hold the compass level – good for quick orientation while on the move. Also, can be improved to waterproof compass (use some duct tape around the perimeter of the plastic housing, and over the two lanyard holes)

  • Mark Foster

    I love all Coleman products! They are crowd-pleasers and have given consistently great performance throughout the years. One of the few stellar brands around that can be trusted.

  • Millie Anderson

    My son is a massive Bear Grylls fan so, naturally, we were drawn to the Gerber BG. Ended up buying one for part of his birthday present and I’m glad we did. We all got lost on a hike on a camping trip for his birthday weekend but, luckily, he had the compass on him. We weren’t majorly lost but it definitely cut down on the time it would have took for us to find our way back to camp. Seems we’ve got a little Bear Grylls in the making!

  • Mark Foster

    Wow! That’s great to hear! Those English adventurers have it all and I’ve seen his TV series myself. I’m pleased that your son has a good role model and loves the outdoors. It’s disturbing that most teens today prefer being cooped inside their own world when there’s a lot to see and experience outside their comfort zone.

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