When you’re on a hike, a compass, map and navigational skills are some of the most important tools you can have at your disposal. A compass can tell you where you are and the best way to get to where you want to go. If you get lost on a trail, and you don’t have cell service or your GPS device dies, a compass and a map might be the things that ensures you make it home safe. But how do you know what’s the best hiking compass for you?

One of our big goals here at The Adventure Junkies is to make your life easier when it comes to ticking of your hiking gear check list. In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to choose a hiking compass and show you our selection of the best models of the year.

For more of our top hiking gear recommendations, check out the Best Survival Multi Tools

hiking gift guide
Hiking Gift Guide

Quick Answer - The Best Hiking Compasses

  1. Suunto A10 Field
  2. Suunto M9 Wrist
  3. Sunnto MC 2G Navigator
  4. Brunton TruArc 3
  5. Silva Ranger 515 Compass
  6. Silva Polaris Baseplate Compass
  7. Celestron 48003 TrekGuide

Comparison Table - Best Hiking Compass

PictureNameAnalog/DigitalDeclination AdjustmentSighting MirrorPriceRating
Suunto A10 FieldAnalogNoNo$4.6
Suunto M9 WristAnalogNoNo$3.8
Sunnto MC 2G NavigatorAnalogYesYes$$4.5
Brunton TruArc 3AnalogYesNo$4.4
Silva Ranger 515 CompassAnalogYesYes$$4.5
Silva Polaris Baseplate CompassAnalogNoNo$4.4
Celestron 48003 TrekGuideDigitalYesNo$$3.4
PictureNameAnalog/DigitalDeclination AdjustmentSighting MirrorPriceRating

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Reviews - The Best Compass for Hiking

Suunto A10 Field

Specs
  • Analog/Digital: Analog
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Sighting Mirror: No
Features
  • Ergonomic design
  • Includes lanyard
  • Scratch-resistant
  • High-grade steel needle with jewel bearing

BEST FOR: BASIC NAVIGATING AND ORIENTING

PROS: Base plate with straight edge for map reading, waterproof

CONS: Doesn’t have global needle, fixed declination scale, non-luminous, bubbles may develop in liquid

Suunto M9 Wrist

Specs
  • Analog/Digital: Analog
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Sighting Mirror: No
Features
  • Reliable northern hemisphere readings
  • Serrated bezel ring
  • Black hook-and-loop wrist strap
  • Ratcheting mechanism for direction setting

BEST FOR: BASIC TO INTERMEDIATE NAVIGATION

PROS: Can be read from the top or the side, sighting notch and reading window, wrist strap fits wide range of sizes, can be removed from supplied band and placed on another wristband, housing can turn for direction setting, water resistant, luminous face

CONS: Must be kept very level to get accurate reading, doesn’t have a global needle, can be slow to orient, wristband might be too large for small wrists

Sunnto MC 2G Navigator

Specs
  • Analog/Digital: Analog
  • Declination Adjustment: Yes
  • Sighting Mirror: Yes
Features
  • Compact
  • Global needle
  • Easy-grip bezel
  • Base plate with magnifying lense

BEST FOR: ADVANCED NAVIGATION AND ORIENTING 

PROS: Base plate with magnifying lens, straight edge, and inch markings for map reading, global needle, adjustment key included on lanyard, bezel reads in two degree increments, luminous outer ring

CONS: Numbers rub off of the bezel after regular use, cover isn’t durable enough for heavy use, luminous outer ring doesn’t stay illuminated for very long, tool needed for declination adjustment

Brunton TruArc 3

Specs
  • Analog/Digital: Analog
  • Declination Adjustment: Yes
  • Sighting Mirror: No
Features
  • Tool-free declination
  • Global needle system
  • 2 degree resolution

BEST FOR: INTERMEDIATE TO ADVANCED NAVIGATION

PROS: Tool free declination adjustment, metric and standard scales, responsive needle, easy to hold, inexpensive, global needle, rotary bezel, baseplate with straight edge and inch markings for map reading

CONS: Non-luminous, declination marks are difficult to see

Silva Ranger 515 Compass

Specs
  • Analog/Digital: Analog
  • Declination Adjustment: Yes
  • Sighting Mirror: Yes
Features
  • Classic bezel, lid & mirror
  • Luminous points for night use
  • Clinometer, map magnifier

BEST FOR: ADVANCED NAVIGATION

PROS: Luminous points for easy reading; silicon map grippers; adjustment key included on lanyard, clinometer, rotary bezel, base plate with three scales, magnifying lens, and straight edge for map reading

CONS: Tool needed for declination adjustment, doesn’t have global needle, bubbles may develop in liquid

Silva Polaris Baseplate Compass

Specs
  • Analog/Digital: Analog
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Sighting Mirror: No
Features
  • Slim profile
  • Durability
  • Clear base plate with inch, millimeter and 1:24,000 scales
  • Friction-free sapphire bearing

BEST FOR: BASIC NAVIGATION AND ORIENTING

PROS: Red and black orientation lines, large sighting arrow, rotary bezel, inexpensive, easy to use, baseplate with straight edge and inch markings for map reading

CONS: No declination adjustment, bubbles may appear in liquid, not durable enough, doesn’t have a global needle, non-luminous

Celestron 48003 TrekGuide

Specs
  • Analog/Digital: Digital
  • Declination Adjustment: Yes
  • Sighting Mirror: No
Features
  • Compass Range of 0 To 359
  • 1-16 graphical pointers
  • Adjustable magnetic declination angle
  • Weather forecast icons

BEST FOR: GENERAL NAVIGATION AND ORIENTING

PROS: Delivers information on temperature, altitude, barometric pressure, clock, calendar, and alarm functionality, backlit display, water-resistant, bubble level, lithium battery

CONS: Difficult to set some functions, battery operated, no on/off button to save battery life

 

 

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST HIKING COMPASSES

ANALOG VS. DIGITAL

Digital compasses come with lots of extra bells and whistles and are a common feature on hiking watches. But are they the right device for you? 

Digital compasses are battery powered. You’ll need to be prepared to either change or charge the batteries. If you forget to bring your batteries or portable charger with you, then your device could fail. This could leave you without a navigation tool right when you need it most.

Analog devices have no external power source. You can store an analog compass for months (or even years!), and it will still work. With an analog compass, you have the benefit of not worrying that it will run out of power when you’re in a jam. These are things to consider when choosing the right compass for you. 

 

DECLINATION ADJUSTMENT

When navigating, you must be aware of “true north” and “magnetic north.” True north is the direction to the geographic North Pole. Magnetic north is the direction to the magnetic North Pole.

Declination is an angle that measures the difference in degrees between these two points. Declination is not a fixed number. This angle changes based on your location and can vary from year to year.

What does this mean? Even if you’re facing true north, your compass needle may point several degrees east or west towards magnetic north. For short treks, this may not make a difference in your navigation. However, for long journeys, ignoring declination could send you many miles off route.

Compasses equipped with a declination adjustment function can easily account for these changes. How? By adding or subtracting declination from the compass bearing. Once you make the adjustment, you can safely navigate without continuously calculating the declination. Here are some additional tips on how to use a compass

 

GLOBAL NEEDLE

Not every analog compass can work anywhere in the world. Many compasses are calibrated for the magnetic variance in a particular hemisphere. Take a U.S. calibrated compass to Australia, and you’ll see that its needle drags and sticks.

If you plan to use your compass while traveling around the world, then look for one with a global needle.

Global needles are designed to account for the changes in magnetic variances. These compasses perform successfully no matter where in the world you end up on a trail.

 

SIGHTING MIRROR

A sighting mirror lets you view your compass and your surroundings simultaneously. This feature makes compass readings more accurate and is ideal for advanced navigation. As a bonus, the mirror can be used as a signal in an emergency situation.

 

LUMINOSITY AND BACKLIGHTING

Will you be navigating at night? If the answer is yes, you’ll need to be able to see your compass in the dark. Look for models that are backlit or have luminous features on the face of the compass. These functions will allow you to see your compass without constantly using a flashlight.

 

DURABILITY

Your compass is an essential line of defense against getting lost on a hike. If it breaks right when you need it, you could find yourself trapped in an unsafe situation.

Whether you’re hiking in high altitudes or inclement weather, you need a compass that lasts. Be sure to select a model that’s durable enough to withstand whatever comes your way.

Looking for more ways to find your route while hiking? Make sure to check out the The Best Hiking GPS for information on how to find the best GPS unit for your hike.

 

 

READ MORE

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