The best compasses you can buy
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- If you love to hike and go off the grid, you need a great compass.
- The Suunto M-3 Leader is our top pick for your go-to compass because it has a practical Finnish design, a durable baseplate protractor, a quick and highly accurate steel needle, and good price tag.
You've probably used your smartphone's GPS to find your way around on more than one occasion. Many phones today even have built-in magnetometers that allow the phone to effectively function as a compass by pointing you toward magnetic north. When you're in the wilderness far away from civilization, however, your electronics can run out of juice, get wet, lose their signal, or fail in other ways, and getting lost in the great outdoors can be a serious hazard.
Even if it's not a matter of life and death, being unable to find your way around can quickly ruin an otherwise enjoyable camping or hiking trip. It, therefore, behooves the modern scout to invest in a good analog compass and to learn how to use it. Aside from practical safety concerns about not getting disoriented in the wild, land navigation can offer a lot of plain old fun for those who enjoy practicing and mastering old-fashioned skills.
Modern compasses used for land navigation fall into two general categories: Baseplate compasses and lensatic or prismatic compasses. Baseplate compasses feature a needle suspended in a liquid-filled housing on top of a flat see-through protractor marked with various measurements for calculating distance and plotting a course when placed on top of a map. Some also feature mirrored lids for added sighting and signaling functionality.
The lensatic/prismatic compass is a slightly more old-school design: Favored by a number of military forces including the US Army, lensatics use a rotating disc instead of a floating needle and feature a lid with a sighting notch. This allows the navigator to align the sight with a distant landmark while establishing a bearing (or azimuth) using the dial. No matter which design you favor, any well-made compass will be durable, accurate, and feature precise gradations to help you plot a good course.
The biggest compass brands today are Suunto, Brunton, and Cammenga. Another name you may see is Silva, but the US-based maker is completely different than the original Swedish-made Silva compasses, and so we don't recommend these. You're good to go with any of the "big three" compass makers, but which type you need depends on your intended use and budget.
We've rounded up the top five compasses you can buy, from a basic budget-friendly baseplate to a military-grade lensatic.
Here are the best compasses you can buy:
- Best compass overall: Suunto M-3 Leader compass
- Best budget compass: Brunton TruArc 3 baseplate compass
- Best mirrored compass: Suunto MC-2 mirrored compass
- Best compact compass: Brunton Tag Along Zip compact compass
- Best military-grade lensatic compass: Cammenga 3H tritium lensatic compass
Updated on 05/02/2019 by Les Shu: Updated links, formatting, and prices. Added related outdoors guides.
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The best compass overall
The best budget compass
The best mirrored compass
The best compact compass
The best military-grade lensatic compass
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