Updated on: April 12, 2017
We all know and love all these new era gadgets that can tell at any time, accurately (most of the time, anyway), where you are on the surface of the Earth. Of course they are useful, but none of them can replace a detailed topo map or a compass- the primary tools when it comes to exploring the wilderness.
The compass tells you how to place your map, pinpoints your current position and you may not need it daily when hiking. But, when you take the wrong turn, it’s the tool that tells where to go next.
But, having a compass and a map doesn’t necessarily mean you know what to do with them and you need to practice a bit before going into the wild.
The basics on hiking compasses
There are several types of hiking compasses and you need to know a bit about them before getting yourself one.
The floating-needle compasses use a magnetized needle that aligns with the earth’s magnetic field. The housing for the needle is typically filled with a liquid that steadies the needle, giving accurate readouts. But this is the traditional type of compass and it divides in several other types.
The low priced model, suited for any beginning hiker, is the basic compass that has all the main components, but has no other features like a mirror or declination adjustment.
The advanced compasses have all kinds of features and many extras (mirror, magnifier) that are functional, giving precise readings. If you go very often hiking, they are the compasses to get.
The extras that your compass has, are not aesthetic, and they have a specific role that helps you take accurate readings.
What counts the most in a hiking compass?
The stability and speed of your compass are highly important and the faster the compass needle tells you where north is, the better. When you go mountaineering, having a fast compass is not that important as you move fairly slowly and you’re not in a rush. But, if a storm gets in the way, what use is a slow compass then?
The endurance of your compass has to be pretty good as chances are the compass is going to take at least a few dropdowns and get lost in your backpack a lot. The durability of your compass is therefore essential. You might be careful with it on a nice, sunny weather, but what happens on a heavy wind when you also need to hold the map? It’s almost impossible for a compass not to be dropped at least once in its lifetime…
Some features are more important than others on your compass, like a declination scale and a magnifier. The magnifier is helpful when reading small symbols on the map, whereas a ruler measures the distance.
You should go for a large bezel so that you can use it with gloves and keep in mind that a mirror minimizes errors when moving the compass from eye-level after sighting to waist-level for reading the dial.
You can measure slope angles with a clinometer, but this is already information for the more experienced hiker.
When you travel at night, some luminescent indicators are more than useful, on both sides of your orienting arrow or even on the bezel’s 4 cardinal points. And, if you travel in the Southern Hemisphere, a global needle is a feature to have for more accuracy. The compass needle spins freely in North America and it may tilt or drag in other parts of the world.
And, for practical uses, get a compass that comes with a lanyard. This piece of cord lets you attach the compass to a belt, your backpack or even on your wrist.
The most important part
Getting a hiking compass is not that difficult. You need to know your skill level, your needs and anticipate your hiking trails. If you only go hiking every now and then, maybe it’s better to get a basic compass, with few extras. But if hiking is your thing and you never lose a chance to go hiking, get a more sophisticated model, with plenty of extra features and functions.
Top 5 hiking compass reviews
Very easy to use, with many features and reliable readings, the Professional Multifunction Military Army Metal Sighting Compass is a great buy, especially when you run low on budget.
The compass is waterproof, shake proof and accurate for the readings. It features a reference table to estimate distance and scope and has useful sighting window with sighting line.
You can easily use the compass at night and in dim light as it features luminous display inside.
The compass is made of metal and glass and is long lasting. There is a solid, good built to the compass and the steel housing makes it ready for the heavy use.
There is a good grip for the compass, minimizing risks for dropping. The compass is precise and comes in a protective pouch.
Here are the most important pros:
- The compass is shock proof and waterproof
- The compass is easy to use and gives accurate readings
- The compass has luminous display inside, for easier reading at night
- The compass has a solid built and it’s hefty
On the other hand, there are also some parts we like less so here are our cons:
- The compass is on the heavy weight side
- The pivoting dial is a bit sloppy
- The compass has a cheap look
- The instruction is not very clear
All in all, as it’s quite easy to use, reliable, waterproof and shockproof, the compass is a great buy, especially if you go hiking or camping with your children.
For the more experienced hiker, who knows what’s the best hiking compass available, the Eyeskey Multifunction Waterproof Military Metal Army Sighting Compass is a reliable tool to get.
The compass comes with inclinometer and is great for hiking, camping, biking. The compass has a compact size and it gives accurate readings.
There are many features on the compass that recommends it as a good tool for hiking. The sighting window with sighting line is helpful and the dial has a 360-degree scale. The compass is made of metal material and is liquid-filled so the compass is long lasting.
The foldable metal lid is practical and the luminous magnet arrow makes the reading in the dim light or at night far easier. The lens is adjustable prism and the compass has a fully sealed design. The compass is waterproof, shockproof and very easy to handle and carry.
The workmanship on the compass is high quality, and the compass is not only efficient and accurate, but it also looks very good.
You don’t have to worry about metric conversion as the compass comes with CM and INCH ruler on each side. You can easily measure direction, longitude and latitude, horizontal and so on.
The compass comes with a useful English manual and a high quality carrying pouch and a strap.
The compass is very well made and is a sophisticated model.
Here are the most important pros:
- The compass is durable, compact and well made
- The compass is shockproof and waterproof
- There are many features on the compass that help with a precise reading as the compass is quite sophisticated
- The compass is easy to use and carry
When it comes to the cons, there are only few to mention:
- Some say the compass is heavy weight
- The compass has some problems with focusing, according to some
The compass manages to be easy to use by the experienced hikers and ready to take the heavy use as it’s shockproof, waterproof and durable.
A great, reliable and accurate compass for your hiking trips is the Phosphorescent Lensatic Compass. The compass is made in the USA and is waterproof.
The phosphorescent lensatic compass clam pack is efficient and the reading in the night is easy.
The compass comes with a carrying pouch and a belt clip, making it useful for the hiking experiences.
All moving parts of the compass are solid and the copper shell stabilizes movement. The compass is efficient even in extremer temperatures and is durable. It’s rugged, yet lightweight, which makes it easy to carry around.
The compass comes with a very long lanyard and a carrying pouch. When we talk about performance, the compass gives accurate readings even in most challenging weather conditions.
The compass is easy to use and is good to take when camping or hiking.
Here are the main pros:
- The compass is made in our USA
- The compass is easy to use
- The compass has a good built
- The readings are accurate
The cons on the compass are the following:
- The bezel is made of plastic
- The waterproofness is not reliable and some observed rusting on the compass
- The carrying case could be of better quality
The compass is a reliable, efficient, accurate tool ready to take the heavy use, in most challenging weather conditions.
As it gives accurate readings and is very easy to use, the SUUNTO M-3 G Compass qualifies as a good tool for hiking in so many situations, as it’s designed for both Hemispheres.
The compass is very well made, has a compact shape and is designed for precise and good direction taking.
The global needle has a very good balance and works everywhere around the world. The base plate has anti-slip rubber pads that add stability for accurate reading, but also protect the compass.
The compass is large and has liquid-filled capsule and adjustable declination correction scale. The ergonomic design, with rounded edges, gives a good grip on the compass.
The compass is efficient even in the cold weather as the serrated bezel ring turns easily in cold weather also. As it features luminous markings, the compass is efficient even at night or in dim light.
The needle of the compass zeros in on North easily and steady. The needle is strong magnetic type, with great performance.
The compass is non-battery operated and is reliable and easy to use.
Let’s highlight the main pros:
- The compass doesn’t need batteries
- The compass works all over the world
- The needle zeros in fast to North and steady
- The compass is accurate even in cold weather
As for the cons, here are ours:
- The instruction is a bit vague so you need to figure it on your own how to use all the features on the compass
- There is no scale for the clinometer
- The cover needs better quality as it looks rather cheap at the moment
As it’s versatile, accurate and reliable even in more difficult weather conditions, the compass is a good buy anytime, wherever you may be on this planet.
The K&R Meridian Pro Compass gives accurate readings and is a good choice for the sophisticated hiker, who knows how to use this tool.
The luminescent dial of the compass makes the reading at night or in dim light quite easy to do. You can read down to ½ to 1/3 degree with the compass.
The compass features ¼ mile graduations and 1 turn equals 12 miles. The step length is adjustable from 1 to 3 ½ feet.
The compass is made of durable aluminum body so the compass is quite ready to take the heavy use when hiking.
The compass also features a thermos elastic capsule for durable bubble free performance, so the compass gives more accurate readings.
When it comes to the extras on the compass, we also need to mention in integrated clinometer.
You don’t have to worry about running out of batteries with the compass, since it’s battery free. You only need easy math for estimation inclination and the compass is easy for sight reading.
There is a nice heft for the compass so the risk of dropping it is minimal. The compass comes in a black leather pouch that is not only protective, but also elegant looking.
Let’s pinpoint the pros:
- The compass gives accurate readings
- The compass is battery free
- There is good heft and easy sight reading for the compass
- You can read down from ½ to 1/3 degree
There are also some not so great things related to the compass so here are the cons:
- The compass has no declination adjustment
- The compass comes with no lanyard; you need to put it on your own
- The side measuring tape is not long lasting
All in all, the compass is reliable with its accurate readings and is an elegant, durable compass that fits the liking of the sophisticated hiker.
Best Small Compass for Hiking
Just because you are hiking and want a small compass, it doesn’t mean you have to settle for less performance, durability or reliability. The K&R Alpin Metric Compass is small and lightweight and has a plastic housing and a rotating counter.
The metals measuring wheel is accurate and the compass comes in metric scales. The compass comes with a mirror that is made of unbreakable polished aluminum and is efficient for sighting. When it comes to features, we have mention the compass also comes with clinometer (0-90 degree; 1-degree resolution).
The thermos elastic capsule gives long lasting bubble free performance for the compass, with metric scales.
The compass is great for map scales and distance measurements. The illuminated arrow point for North is useful all the time.
Here are the pros:
- The compass is small and lightweight
- The compass is accurate
- It comes with a mirror, clinometer
- The compass has a rotating counter
- It has metric scales
When it comes to the cons, we can only mention the price.
Despite its size, the compass gives accurate readings and is good get when hiking.
Best Basic Hiking Compass
For the hiker doesn’t want to get too complicated when using a compass and wants a less sophisticated model, the Suunto Mirror Camping and Hiking Compass is the compass to get.
The compact mirror compass gives accurate and reliable directional measurements. The compass employ’s Suunto’s two-zone system for precise readings in northern hemisphere. The fixed declination adjustment system is ideal for zones with big magnetic variation.
The compass features sighting notch for more precision. The mirror lid locks at 60, 120 and 180 degrees. The vertical line at the center of the mirror may be extended to the horizon, giving more precise target bearings. And let’s not forget you can always use the mirror for signaling for emergencies.
The compass is reliable and accurate and gives the basic features that a hiker is looking for.
Here are the most important pros:
- The compass is reliable and precise
- The mirror lid has 3 lockable positions
- The compass it for the northern hemisphere
- The compass has basic functions
Some minor issues need to be reminded though:
- The tight bearing needs improvement
- The lanyard is a bit short
All in all, as it’s reliable, precise and with basic features, the compass is a great tool to have when hiking.
Best Compass for Day Hiking
When you go hiking, you want a rugged, easy to read and precise compass, more than anything. The Silva Ranger 515 Compass is a great option since it has a large numbers and it’s not only easy to use, but also easy to adjust.
The compass has a classic bezel, lid and a mirror with more knurling that gives better and safer grip. The 1-piece mirror has etched sighting line down the center for an accurate readout of bearing when sighting. The compass gives fast, precise readings for long time.
The compass is luminous and is very easy to read. There is a 0-360-degree dial, with 2 degree graduations with luminous points for night use. The Silva Ranger 515 comes with a clinometer and map magnifier, which are great features when hiking. You can easily adjust the declination with the adjustment screw on the back side.
You can hike on any challenging terrain as the compass is easy to keep bearing in rough terrain also. The compass is protected against shock, debris and damages thanks to the snap lid. The silicone feet ensure a good grip on a map. The bright yellow bezel is easy to see at night and the compass is easy to use with a mirror also.
Additionally, the compass comes with a lanyard with screwdriver to set declination.
Here are the most important pros:
- The compass gives fast, precise readings for a long time
- The compass has a strong built and remains accurate even when hiking on rough terrains
- The compass has many great features: mirror, clinometer, classic bezel
- The grip is good and the compass is resistant to shocks
As for the cons, there are only few on our part:
- The declination arrow doesn’t have a different color, and that would have been great for easier reading
- The air bubble in liquid might get bigger in time
But, no matter if you are an experienced or a beginner hiker, the compass is not only reliable and precise, but also ready to take the challenges of heavy hiking.
Best Suunto Compass for Hiking
There are many models of Suunto compasses that are really popular as they are reliable and accurate, and we have chosen the Suunto MC-2G in Global Compass from all of them for presentation.
The compass is functional in either hemisphere and it’s a baseplate compass with magnifying lens, straight edge and inch markings for precise amp reading.
The declination scale on the compass is adjustable to account for the difference between magnetic and true North. The easy-grip bezel is laminated and features easy to read numbers. It also reads in 2-degree increments and features luminous outer ring for low-light reading.
The compass has a rugged built, and yet a smooth feeling and an elegant appearance. It features and additional sighting hole for more accuracy. The anti-slip rubber pads provide stability and the detachable snap-lock in lanyard makes it easy to carry around, in a safe way. You can easily detach it when working with the map.
The wristlock in the lanyard has Metric scales cm, inch. The manual that comes along is useful and quite instructive.
The half-moon window in the mirror helps with easier sighting and the inclinometer is efficient in the heavy snow. The mirror is replaceable and the lid snaps on the base tightly.
The compass is very well made, giving precise and sensitive readings.
Let’s highlight the pros:
- The compass has a rugged built yet a smooth and nice look
- The readings are accurate and sensitive
- The baseplate compass works in either Hemispheres
- There are many features useful: the laminated bezel, the key on lanyard and so on
As for the parts we like a lot less, here they are:
- The lanyard’s back plastic buckles add more weight to the compass
- The compass is a bit heavy
Apart from the minor issues, the compass stands out as a reliable, precise, rugged and timeless looking that suits every experiences hiker’s needs.
Best Pocket Compass for Hiking
If you are an experienced and avid hiker, who know his way around in the wild, the USCAMEL® Professional Mental Compass is the pocket compass that you really need to get.
The compass has many features and is waterproof. It has a compact size, is lightweight, easy to handle and carry around. It has a foldable metal lid and a strong, long lasting built. The workmanship is high quality and the compass looks professional, reliable and cool just as well.
The floating compass dial has a 360-degree scale and a luminous magnet arrow for easier reading at night or in dim light. The prism lens is adjustable. The compass helps you measure longitude and latitude, horizontal, direction and so much more. The ruler units on the sides measure both inches and centimeters. The back plate features conversion chart for angle, gradient and distance.
The compass has a fully sealed designed and is waterproof. The compass is well protected as it comes in a water-resistant nylon pouch. If the pouch doesn’t suit you, the string necklace might be of better help.
As it has so many functions and features, the compass might seem sophisticated for some. But it comes with a manual that explains very well and detailed how everything works.
The compass gives accurate readings and is designed for the heavy duty use.
Let’s pinpoint the important pros:
- The compass has a strong, metal built
- The compass is waterproof and ready to take the heavy use
- There are many useful functions and features on the compass
- The compass has a pocket size and gives accurate readings
As for the parts we’re not very fond of, we have none to mention. The compass addresses to the experienced hikers willing to learn and get the best use of the compass.