True North: The 7 Best Compasses

Thinking that a compass is a compass is a compass is a good way to get lost in the wilderness. Relying solely on your handheld GPS is another great way to die miles from help and headed in the wrong direction. Not only should you have a quality compass and a map, you should be intimately familiar with their use. A decent one¬†will be shock and impact resistant, because one crack in the housing will cause it to leak fluid which can not only make it inaccurate, but completely worthless should it hemorrhage too much. It needs a rotating bezel, also called an azimuth ring, with small, accurate measurements so you know precisely where you’re going.

In addition to the basics, it can also help you on your way if your compass has a few accessories, such as a magnifier or base plate with a straight edge. You’ll want orienting lines that go along with your topographical map so you can figure out where you are and plot a route to where you are going. Globetrotters will also want a global needle for working in the southern hemisphere, where the closest pole is an entirely different direction. Sighting mirrors, declination adjustment, and luminescent hands are just a few of the other major features you need to have on your compass. So that you’re never lost we found the 7 best compasses for accuracy and features that will always get you home safely.

Suunto M-9 Wrist Compass

Suunto M-9 Wrist Compass

Pro: Serrated bezel
Con: Inexact graduation due to size

Always On: Out of the gate, we’re going to say that a wrist compass is not a replacement for a true piece of path finding equipment. This should act as a supplement to your other gear for fast and dirty directional work. Built into it is a ratchet for setting your direction so it’s always ready at a glance. Though small, it does have a bezel that turns easily even if you’re sporting a pair of bulky winter gloves. Using a two zone system it will give you reliable readings in the north, but will become useless if you take it down under. It resists water like a trooper, so no need to hide it when the rain starts or you hop into your kayak for rollin’ on the river.

Purchase: $22

Silva Lensatic 360

Silva Lensatic 360

Pro: Engraved dual sighting lines
Con: Precision is limited

Budget Lensatic: Looking for a military-style lensatic compass that won’t cost you more than a few bucks? Then Silva has a marvelous, affordable choice. This is ideal for the lensatic newbie but has all the bells and whistles appreciated by an old pro. Wrapped in an aluminum case coated with black powder it resists oxidation, even from seawater. Luminous points on the rotating bezel permit easy directional tracking when the sun has gone. Broken into 2 degree increments with a magnifying lens for exact readings, it is possible to blaze a trail both near and far, though continuous adjustment is needed for true accuracy.

Purchase: $23

Suunto M-3 DL Pro

Suunto M-3 D/L Pro

Pro: See-through base plate
Con: Does not come with instructions

Smooth Operator: While some compasses will jitter and shake their way to pointing in a direction, the large liquid reservoir of the M-3 allows the needle to move and settle seamlessly, never trembling like Indiana Jones in a snake pit. It also allows it to stop much faster than air compasses. Boasting exceptionally accurate designations coupled with adjustable declination, this can cope with both true and magnetic north for quick alterations in utility. Even in the cold the bezel moves smoothly making adjustments a quick action. A transparent baseplate allows you to orient it to your map and the handy dandy lanyard means it shan’t ever be far from your reach.

Purchase: $37

Silva Ranger 515

Silva Ranger 515

Pro: Almost never develops bubbles over time and hard use
Con: Declination screws can be wobbly or stripped out of the box

Most for the Money: Starting off with a snap-down lid that doubles as a sighting mirror, this is protected from harm and from the elements while also enabling you to create a lengthier plan without the need to check again and again. Luminous points let you stay on target even when the lighting conditions are low or mother nature gives you an overcast day. Liquid-filled, the needle floats right to the point with nary a wiggle. Silicon feet grip your map rather than sliding around so your directions stay true even when setting a way in difficult conditions. Ruler, magnifier, clinometer, and a rotating bezel make this a must-have accessory for your hiking backpack.

Purchase: $45

Brunton Eclipse 8099

Brunton Eclipse 8099

Pro: Hard case complete with soft rubber boot
Con: Does not use lines for checking the sighting mirror

Waterborne: Made for heading into the back country where inexact rout planning can have dire consequences, the Eclipse 8099 is a beautiful piece from the big heads at Brunton. Dampening time (how long the needle requires to settle) is nearly nonexistant, turning quickly and smoothly as you do. Includes both a sighting mirror and a magnifying lens for tracking your path both near and far. Alignment is handled by a concentric circle system so operator error is reduced dramatically. It even comes with field reference cards for anyone new to the compass game.

Purchase: $51

Cammenga 3H Tritium Military Compass

Cammenga 3H Tritium Military Compass

Pro: Truly lensatic
Con: Extremely heavy

Recon Ready: Licensed and produced for the United States military, this is standard issue for grunts and made for the hairiest circumstances. Fully spec’d to meet the requirements for MIL-PRF-10436N certification, it’s shockproof, waterproof, sand proof, and can withstand the hottest day in Death Valley and the coldest night (down to fifty below fahrenheit) anywhere outside of the arctic circle. Tritium micro lights allow you to navigate even in low-light conditions without needing your tactical flashlight. The magnifying lens, sight wire, and precise gradations on the azimuth ring make navigation simple.

Purchase: $65+

Brunton International Pocket Transit Compass

Brunton International Pocket Transit Compass

Pro: Dual levels allow for finding the perfect balance point.
Con: Protrusions prevent low angle strike measurements

Go For Gold: Pole tracking is done via Alnico V magnets and the polished sapphire jewel bearing with accuracy down to 1/2 a degree for meticulously acute navigation. Made with the world traveler in mind, the needle doesn’t suffer from dipping when employed in the southern hemisphere so readings won’t tell you lies no matter where the road takes you. The body is waterproof cast aluminum that works just as well at sea as it does on land for charting across troubled waters. Graduations are broken into single degrees with readable 10 minute demarcations for additional correctness. Almost indestructible, the included leather case adds sophistication to the already stylish instrument.

Purchase: $295

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