Best Compasses for the Outdoors: Reviews

Whether you spend a lot of time outdoors bowhunting, kayak fishing or hiking just for fun, an adventure can quickly turn into a dangerous situation requiring you to have a well thought out arsenal of survival tools. A sudden shift in weather, an accidental injury or any other unexpected event can mean you’ll need to find civilization quickly, and nothing is better for that than picking the best compass out.

There are a few tools that every outdoors enthusiast should have in their arsenal.  This list usually includes but isn’t limited to a first aid kit, a pocket knife, a good walkie-talkie or two way radio, a water purification kit and enough food to last at least two extra days over your planned trip.

One additional key item you can add to this list is a good compass. With a compass, you’ll always be able to orient yourself and determine where you need to go.

Not all compasses are created equal which is why we’ve given you a detailed breakdown of the features on 10 of the highest rated compasses for camping, hiking and backpacking on the market today.

Our Comparison Table:

View on Amazon:Type:Our Rating:
Cammenga Phosphorescent Clam Pack LensaticMilitary/Survival
SE CC4580 Military Lensatic Sighting CompassMilitary/Survival
Eyeskey Military Compass with InclinometerMilitary/Survival
Suunto A-10 CompassBasic
Neon® Metal Waterproof Pocket Military CompassMilitary/Survival
Coleman Compass with LED LightBasic
Gerber Bear Grylls Compact CompassMilitary/Survival
Ultimate Survival Technologies Deluxe CompassBasic
AUFO Military Waterproof CompassMilitary/Survival
PPbean Classic Pocket Style Camping CompassBasic

How to Choose a Compass:

Many hikers, campers and other nature enthusiasts – even experienced ones – are leaving the compass at home and relying only on a GPS. This is actually a pretty dangerous mistake. A GPS can run out of power or lose signal. If you need to navigate through unknown (or even known) terrain, there is nothing more reliable than a topo map and a compass.

With a compass, you can pinpoint your position, identify geographic features and orient a map. You’ll want what’s called a “floating needle compass.” This is when the needle housing is steadied inside the compass by a liquid (usually alcohol or a type of oil). While digital compasses do exist (even in watch form), they pose the same power-related problems found with GPS devices. For a compass you can depend on, choose either a floating needle or a dry compass. A dry compass is like a floating needle compass only without the liquid.

The magnetized needed in a compass aligns with the Earth’s magnetic core. This means you need to store you compass carefully otherwise the needle can become demagnetized. Avoid storing your compass near any stereo speakers, since speakers contain powerful magnets. Also keep your compass away from your smartphone.

The Three Basic Types of Compasses:

1. Basic Compass:

These are no-frills compasses perfect for day hikers, backpackers, fisherman and other people who aren’t going off-trail for days at a time. A basic compass has all the features you need for navigation and orientation.

2. Advanced Compass:

These are compasses with additional accessories beyond the basics. Usually these accessories help improve navigation and accuracy. Some features you might find include a signaling mirror, a magnifier, a flint and other survival tools. These compasses are usually more expensive but they’re worth consideration.

3. Accessory Compasses:

These are small compasses usually found on a keyword or watch. They’re usually small globes which don’t have a base plate. While they’re accurate enough to point you towards magnetic north, an accessory compasses isn’t something you want to rely on while navigating through the woods. You can pick up a basic compass for roughly the same price and that will serve you much better in an emergency.

Compass Features To Consider:

Durability: If you’re carrying around a compass for emergency use, you’ll want something which can withstand cold, water, snow, wind or other hazardous elements. Additionally, since you won’t be using this compass during every outing, you’ll likely store it in a backpack, glove compartment or other out-of-the-way spot.

Your best bet here will be metal, although some hard polymer compasses will also be very durable. Be careful, too – not all compasses are waterproof! You’ll want water-resistant at the very least.

Size: You’ll also need to consider the size of the compass. The compass should be small enough to comfortably carry or hang around your neck with a lanyard. At the same time, a larger compass is more readable.

Most compasses are a circular shape. However, some compasses are rectangular. We’ve even included a kidney-shaped compass on the list below. Sometimes extreme weather conditions can make handling the compass a bit difficult. We recommend using a lanyard or cord. This way you can loop the compass around your wrist or neck and it won’t drop to the ground in wet or windy weather.

Luminescence: A sudden storm can darken even the sunniest skies. So even if you never plan on camping or hiking at night, you probably want a compass which you can read in the dim light or even total darkness.

There are generally two types of illumination: battery-powered and light-powered. Light powered compasses use either the sun or portable light, such as a flashlight, to hold a charge. As long as you properly charge the compass, this type of power can be renewable as you hike.

Battery-powered compasses also work find. In many cases, they actually create more light for the compass. The downside is that batteries will eventually run dry. If you don’t use your compass too often, batteries can be easy to forget about. 

Type of Arrow: You can choose between either a fixed orienting arrow or an adjustable arrow. A fixed arrow requires you to make manual adjustments for each new measurement. An adjustable arrow allows you to set the compass once.

Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to use a compass. All of the compasses listed below include basic instructions. Learning how to use a compass might seem difficult, but most people pick it up pretty quickly. Let’s take a look at some compasses you should consider:

The Top 10 Compasses for Camping, Hiking and Backpacking:

1.  Phosphorescent Lensatic Compass by Cammenga

Cammenga Phosphorescent Lensatic Compass, Clam Pack 27CS

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This compass is accurate, indestructible and suitable for military and other high-stress situations. You can take this compass anywhere.

It’s waterproof with both a carrying pouch and belt clip. The luminescent paint lets you use the compass even in the pitch dark. Simply shine a flashlight on the compass for a few seconds and the dial will glow for several minutes.

This is a dry compass with a sapphire bearing. The entire dial turns with the direction arrow – which is a feature not found in every compass.

Navigation is very easy and dependable. While this is a higher priced compass, it’s also suitable for heavy-duty use in the toughest conditions.

2.  SE CC4580 Military Lensatic Sighting Compass with Pouch

SE CC4580 Military Lensatic and Prismatic Sighting Survival...

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SE is known as a manufacturer of low-cost, reliable compasses. Their CC4580 is no exception. A relatively compact 3” by 2” by 5”, this compass weighs a light 3.7 ounces.

The compass has an attractive, functional metallic-gray color. It can be easily attached to a backpack or the included 36” lanyard.

The compass face is 2 1/8” marked in 5-degree increments. The compass is accurate and durable while the cost is affordable for practically any budget.

This probably isn’t the compass you want to take along if your main outdoor activity involves orienteering. But it is a compass you can pack with you while on camping trips and walks through the wilderness. If you need a compass, the CC4580 is one you can rely on.

3.  Eyeskey Multifunction Military Army Sighting Compass with Inclinometer

COSTIN Multifunctional Compass, Metal Military Waterproof...

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The Eyeskey Multifunction is compact, lightweight and extremely accurate. Built for all climates and conditions, this compass will guide you up mountains, down the trail or wherever your adventures take you.

Made of sturdy metal, the compass is a portable 287g. The compass is green with a military-like style.

There is a notable difference between this compass and a traditional military one, however. This compass does not have a flip-up optic, like what you’d find in a lensatic compass.

Instead, this model has a true sighting optic. You can read the internal compass card in the capsule directly. There’s a clinometer to measure height differences, too. If accuracy is one of your main concerns, this compass is worth checking out.

4.  Suunto A-10 Field Compass

SUUNTO A-30 NH Metric Compass

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This compass isn’t going to win any design awards. But as long as you have a topographical map and some basic orienteering knowledge, you just need a compass which you can count on. And you can count on the A-10.

This is a solid, straight-forward compass which is practically indestructible. You can take it with you through basically any condition including rain, snow, ice and heat.

This compass is white with clear red centimeter and inch measurements. The dial is easy to manipulate and the compass easy to use even under severe weather conditions.

The compass includes an instruction pamphlet. If you’ve don’t know how to read a compass, don’t worry – the pamphlet will tell you everything you need to know.

5.  Neon® Metal Waterproof Professional Pocket Military Army Geology Compass Navigator with Foldable Metal Lid

360 TACTICAL NEON Metal Waterproof Professional Pocket...

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This compass is ready when you need it – even in pitch dark! The special fluorescent light lets you use all the features and read the data in the dark.

Even better, the fluorescent light charges up in the sunshine so you don’t need to worry about battery failure.

This compass is also extremely durable. The high-strength metal matrix stands up to rain, wind, snow and other harsh weather.

You can safely take this compass out on the water, into woods and practically anywhere else! The bubble level is also extremely accurate. Also includes a detailed instruction booklet on compass use.

6.  Coleman Compass with LED Light

Coleman Compass with LED Light

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This compass is small, powerful and ready for any situation. The push-button LED backlight lets you use the compass in the dark.

The light is also useful for personal navigation. Note that the light is powered by a CR2016 coin-cell battery.

This liquid-filled compass shows the eight directional points and a rotating bezel. Users can mark the compass in two-degree increments.

A lanyard is also available. This is a small, dependable compass you can pack away as a back-up device for emergencies.

7.  TurnOnSport Compact Compass

Orienteering Compass - Hiking Backpacking Compass - Advanced...

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This compact compass is a portable, durable compass which works well as a reliable back-up.

Perfect for hunting, camping, industrial use and practically any other situation. Each product is field tested.

This isn’t a compass you’ll want as a primary compass for exploring the unknown. This compass can easily be stored in a pocket, backpack or on a boat.

This makes it very useful as an emergency compass.

8.  Ultimate Survival Technologies Deluxe Map Compass

UST Deluxe Map Compass with Raised Base Plate and Swivel...

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Not every situation calls for a compass with all the fancy bells and whistles. The Ultimate Survival Technologies Deluxe Map Compass has everything you need at a very affordable price.

The extended, clear base plate allows for improved map reading.

There are also multiple measurements scales which allow for accurate route planning. The swivel bezel lets you move the face easily even in cold, windy conditions.

This low-priced, reliable compass is perfect if you need to buy multiple compasses for a camp, troop or school.

9.  AUFO Tactical Waterproof Professional Multifunction Military Army Metal Sighting W/Inclinomete

Ueasy Compass,Hiking Boat Military Compass - Multifunction...

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This is a heavy-duty military compass suitable for practically any situation. There are a variety of features including a thumb hold, magnifying viewer and a sighting window with line.

Made of sturdy metal, this compass can withstand rain, snow, mud and more.

The AUFO is “old school” and proud of it. There are no batteries, electronics or anything else which might lose power. This is a compass perfect for military use or extreme outdoors adventure.

At the same time, it’s reliable and easy to use, which makes it perfect for less strenuous outings such as fishing trips and day hikes.

10.  Classic Pocket Style Camping Compass

PPbean Classic Pocket Style Camping Compass

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This compass is inexpensive, durable and has a classic, unique style.  Approximately 2” by .5”, this compass can easily slip into a backpack, jacket pocket, tackle box and more.

The compass has a sensitive precision dial and is made from a strong aluminum alloy.

But the look of this compass is really what makes it stand out. With a classic gold color and circular shape, this compass resembles an old-fashioned pocket watch.

More than simply decorative, this compass not only looks great, but performs well and is extremely durable.

Important Elements of a Compass

Learning exactly what the various parts of a compass do is possibly the most critical part of purchasing a compass that suits your needs. It’s nearly impossible to understand which compass to choose when you don’t know how the features work, what they mean, which ones are most important, and how they vary. In this section, I want to walk you through the intricate details of a compass and how they work together to accomplish their mission and get you on the right track, facing the right direction. No matter how extensive or how intermediate your knowledge of compasses is, these simple explanations of the various parts that work together will be helpful to you.

To figure out the direction, or bearing, from one point to another, you need a compass as well as a map. For the most part, all compasses are marked with the four cardinal points —North, East, South, and West—but some are marked with the number of degrees in a circle (360 north is 0 or 360, east is 90, south is 180, and west is 270) as well. Both kinds of compasses are easy to use with a little practice.

A compass tells which direction to head in. When paired with a map, you can find where things are, and how to get to them. Whether you’re hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, a compass is a great tool. These devices help you understand the shape of the land with a map. Maps used alongside compasses define and locate natural and man-made features like woodlands, waterways, important buildings, and bridges in the direction of true North. These pairings show the distance between any two places, and they also show the direction from one point to another.

1. Scales

Scales help measure distance on a map. It is smart if you check the common scale for the maps in your area before buying a compass. If you can get them to match, this can make working with a map a little easier. If your compass and map scales do not match, most orienteering compasses have centimeter and inch scales- so choose one of these!

2. Orienting Arrow

The orienting arrow portion of the compass is marked on the bottom of the housing, inside the tool, and it rotates with the housing. It lets the baseplate align relatively to the magnetic needle. In order to take a basic field bearing, the housing is turned until the orienting arrow and the magnetic needle are aligned. These two parts are then kept in alignment while following the bearing.

3. Declination Scale

Declination is the difference in an angle which differentiates between magnetic north and true north. This aspect of a compass, the declination scale, makes it easier to adjust between the two. More advanced compasses often have an adjustable declination scale that can be set, usually by way of a tiny screw on the bottom of the compass.

4. Direction of Travel

This is the arrow that is marked on the baseplate of a compass. It guides your direction of travel while following a bearing in the field you’re in.

5. Dial

The dial is part of the housing of the compass and is marked in two-degree portions. When the dial is turned, the orienting arrow, declination scale, and orienting lines also rotate as part of the compass’s housing.

6. Index Line / Bearing Marker

This is where a bearing is read, which is a very important part of the compass reading. A bearing is basically an angle relative to true north (which is true bearing), or magnetic north (which is magnetic bearing).

7. Magnetic Needle

The magnetic needle is a magnetic strip of metal that is on a pivot in the center of the housing. The north end is usually painted red, while the other end is often white or black.

8. Orienting Lines

These lines are marked on the bottom of the housing and rotate with it, the same as the orienting arrow. They are also often called meridian lines and north-south lines. When taking a bearing from a map, the orienting lines are aligned with the north-south map grid lines.

9. Housing

The housing is a liquid filled capsule that contains the magnetic needle.  Orienting lines are etched on the bottom of the housing, and the dial is fixed to the top of the housing. The liquid helps dampen the needle movement, making it easier to get a more accurate reading.

10. Base Plate

A base plate was created to take a bearing on the map. The edge is placed between two points of the compass and the orienting lines and dial act as a gauge to give the bearing. The base plate is marked with scales, the direction of travel arrow and index line.

Once You Pick the Best Compass, What Do You Use It For?

So you know all about the best compasses on the market. Maybe you even choose yours! But if you are unaware of what compasses are used for as well as how to use them, they are no good to you!

Shows Direction

A magnetic compass will align with North. A compass will show you which way is North, South, East, and West.

Map Orientation

You can orient a map by sight when you do not know the land features, or you can use a compass to orient the map instead. For beginners, using a map is the better option.

Triangulation

If you are not sure where you are but the features around you match those of your surroundings, a compass can pinpoint your exact location. This is done through triangulation. The way this works is by taking two bearing measurements from two land features and plotting them on a map. These lines will intersect, and that will show you where you are standing.

Get Your Bearings

If you are trying to figure out where you should go, shooting a bearing of your destination is a great way to do it! As you are traveling wherever you are, orient your course in order to stay in the direction of your bearings.

Directions

All in all, a compass is used to keep you on the right track and keep you from getting lost at all times. HIkers, backpackers, and travelers of all kinds use compasses to get them to their destinations. No matter where you are, truth North always stays the same.

Wrap Up & Decisions:

Whether you are a bass fisherman, beginning bow hunter or an avid survivalist, a quality compass is an absolute must have for anyone that ventures into wild consistently.

They make a great addition to any hiker’s backpack for basic hiking but can also be a great compliment to any hunter’s arsenal of top notch hunting gear.

Whenever you plan your next excursion into the great outdoors, you should always bring a top quality compass with you – just in case.

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