Hiking and camping are great ways to get exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and explore the wonders of nature, but nothing can dampen your adventure more than getting lost. Most of us rely on our smartphones for navigational help, but when you’re miles from civilization, the best way to stay safe is with a good, old-fashioned compass.
If you’re off the grid, you need a navigation device that will ensure you get home safely without relying on batteries or wireless signals. At SafeWise, we want all of your outdoor adventures to end happily. To make sure you can always find your way, we’ve already done the comparison shopping for you. After evaluating a number of compasses for value, utility, user friendliness, and customer reviews, we identified the top compasses that will keep you hiking and camping in safety.
What to look for in a compass
Traditional compasses tend to be lighter and more durable than electronic GPS devices—and best of all, they don’t rely on batteries, cellular service, or a Wi-Fi signal. This means that no matter where you are or how long you’ve been there, you can rely on an old-school compass to lead you back to camp. Compasses use the four cardinal directions—north, south, east, and west—to help you find your bearing and triangulate your location when used with a map.
If you’ve relied on your phone’s GPS or another GPS-navigation device, you may not know what to look for in a compass. Here are the key elements you need to make sure you can wander and explore in safety—even if your phone dies or your GPS device runs out of juice.
Declination Adjustment: This allows for accurate bearings by adjusting for the offset of true north from magnetic north.
Glow-in-the-Dark Markings: You need a compass that you can read in low-light settings. Look for luminescent and phosphorescent features.
Water Resistance: The outdoors have a way of getting wet, so it’s important to have a compass that works even if it’s exposed to water.
Less Bulk: A compass that is less bulky will be lightweight and easy to carry either in a pocket, on a lanyard, or on your waist. This is even more important for backpackers, where every ounce counts.
Various Scales: Look for a compass with both imperial and metric measurements.
Global Needle: If you plan to trek across hemispheres, a global needle will keep your readings accurate no matter which side of the equator you visit.
The top 7 compasses
Now that you know all you need to look for in a compass, take a look at these the top seven compasses we recommend.
The Suunto Field Compass is the perfect combination of value and utility. Selling for less than $20 and with a 4.5-star rating from customers on Amazon, this compass can be relied upon to keep you and your entire party safe when you’re in the wild. This no-frills navigation device comes with thorough directions that even the most navigationally challenged will be able to follow. It’s durable, and the baseplate is large enough to draw lines on a map to triangulate your position.
The ergonomic design fits easily in your palm, and the compass comes with a lanyard for extra ease and security when you’re hiking. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, the Suunto Field Compass is a quality device that will get you safely home every time.
This military-grade compass has been a long-time favorite of armed forces, government agencies, and outdoor adventurers across the globe. It also receives top marks from customers who report high quality and durability in all conditions—it keeps hikers safe and on track even in torrential downpours.
Dial graduations in both degrees and mils ensure highly accurate readings, while phosphorescent paint and waterproof casing guarantee durability in all conditions. The Cammenga compass is designed for serious navigating, and even though it may have a bit of a learning curve, we love that it can completely replace the need for satellites and cell service at just around $50.
According to hundreds of positive online reviews, the Polaris is a favorite of orienteering and navigating instructors, with many using it for classes and recommending it to students. We like it for how easy it is to read—you never have to guess at the measurement—and the great value. This user-friendly compass makes sure you can find your way for less than $20.
The needle’s action is smooth and very responsive, plus the fixed declination scale is great for quick adjustments to field headings and map bearings. It’s easy to plan a trip or find your way back to the trail with the inch, millimeter and 1:24,000 scales on the base plate. For a survival kit or a scouting adventure, this is a compass you can count on.
This compass is user friendly, well reviewed, and reasonably priced. Brunton’s compass includes a global needle, metric and imperial scales, plus tool-free declination adjustment. When you’re off the grid without GPS navigation, this affordable compass will keep you on the right path.
The Brunton TruArc is small enough to fit in a pocket, and we like the strong, accurate pull toward north that is much more pronounced than other, more expensive compasses in the same price range—and this one is just over $10. It’s also quite sturdy: it withstands no damage when users sit on it. The compass comes with a lanyard, but can also be worn on your waistband or belt for easy access.
5. SE CC4580 Military Lensatic/Prismatic Sighting Compass
We recommend this bargain compass for beginners. It’s easy to use, making it a low-risk way to learn and practice off-grid navigation. Because the price is so reasonable—it’s less than $10—there’s no fear of a newbie dropping or damaging the compass. It also comes with a tripod mounting screw and plastic base to keep the liquid inside free of air bubbles for more accurate readings.
For those learning how to use compass navigation, or for those who want a backup to GPS, this compass is a great buy. However, some users noted inconsistent construction, so invest in a more durable compass for hard-core mountaineering.
6. Eyeskey Multifunction Military Army Sighting Compass
Compact, lightweight, and including a rugged metal case, this compass is designed with true outdoor adventurers in mind. Even though it’s sturdier than others, it is still affordable at around $30. The price and utility, combined with positive online reviews, make it a solid choice for your next hike.
We especially like the luminous magnetic arrow and how easy it is to use for sighting objects and taking bearings. The Eyeskey compass is a favorite of both newbies and experienced navigators, and it holds up against navigation devices that sell for two or three times more. The addition of an inclinometer, which measures slope angles and elevation, is a nice bonus for hikers and bikers.
Hikers and mountaineers rely on the Suunto MC-2G for its durable construction, and its global needle works in all compass zones without the hassle of completely leveling it each time for a precise reading. This is the most expensive compass on our list at around $70, but it’s worth it.
Its reliable performance, easy-to-use features, and positive customer reviews make it a sound choice, especially for globetrotters. We really like the sturdy construction, adjustable declination, and how easy it is to read the measurements in low-light situations. It’s also lightweight and easy to manipulate, even with thin gloves on.
If you’re ready to hit the great outdoors, staying safe is a top priority. It’s time to add the extra security of an off-grid GPS navigation device to your wilderness safety essentials. Head over to Amazon for all the details on our favorite compasses and find the perfect match for your next big adventure.
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past six. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month testing and evaluating security products and strategies. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her work and contributions in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, HGTV, MSN, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips. Learn more