Best Compass for Hiking: Reviewed 2019 Update

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Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass

Best Hiking Compass

Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass - Orange

Our top award for best hiking compass goes to the Silva Ranger 2.0, pulling in good scores across the board.

Silva are known to produce some of the best mirror compasses on the market, and they don’t disappoint with the Ranger 2.0. Just flip up the mirror and align the sighting hole to accurately determine your bearing over long distances. This model comes with scales printed onto its lanyard to help accurately measure distances on your map.

Additional features include rubber grips to keep it slipping from your grasp, luminous markings that’ll help you navigate up to 4 hours after the sun sets and adjustable declination.

The one downside to the Ranger 2.0 is the occasional reports of bubble formation within the liquid capsule. However, unless it becomes severe this shouldn’t impact it’s accuracy greatly.

Bottom line: The best all-rounder, the Silva Ranger 2.0 compass takes our top prize for the best hiking compass.

Reviewed: The Best Compass for Hiking 2019 Update

On one (practical) level, hiking and backpacking can be defined by three simple questions.

Where are you? Where are you going? How do you get there?

I’ve said it elsewhere, and I’ll say it again. Learning to navigate is, in my opinion, the greatest and most important skill to learn if you want to spend time in the outdoors.

Learning to use a map and compass correctly, could literally save your life one day.

To help you decide which compass is the right one for you, we’ve put together this buyers guide and have reviewed our top 5 contenders for the title of best outdoor compass.

Looking for the Best Compass for Hiking

You’re in the right place! In this guide we will be covering the following:

  • Why you should always carry a compass when hiking
  • What to look for when buying a compass
  • How to care for your compass
  • 5 of the top rated compasses reviewed
Best Orienteering Compass
Best Hiking Compass
Best Cheap Compass
-
Best Survival Compass
Suunto MC-2G Navigator Compass
Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass
Brunton TruArc 3 Compass
Suunto A-10 Recreational Field Compass
Eyeskey Military Lensatic Compass
SUUNTO MC-2G Global Compass
Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass - Orange
Brunton - TruArc 3 - Base Plate Compass
SUUNTO A-10 NH Metric Recreational Field Compass
Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Lensatic Tactical Compass | Impact Resistant and Waterproof |Metal Sighting Navigation Compasses for Hiking, Camping, Motoring, Boating, Boy Scout (Green)
  • Great accuracy + sighting mirror
  • Global needle
  • Adjustable declination
  • Luminous outer rim
  • Sighting mirror
  • Adjustable Declination
  • Scales on lanyard
  • Very accurate
  • Tool-free declination adjustment
  • Inexpensive
  • Rotary Bezel
  • Straightforward design
  • Cheap
  • Sturdiest compass in the review
  • Great Accuracy
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Numbers may rub off the bezel
  • Cover is not the most durable
    • Somewhat prone to bubbles
      • No Sighting Mirror
      • No Luminosity
        • No sighting mirror
        • Can’t adjust declination
        • Don’t drop it - prone to break
          • Heavy
          $48.44
          $46.56
          $15.93
          $13.70
          $25.90
          Best Orienteering Compass
          Suunto MC-2G Navigator Compass
          SUUNTO MC-2G Global Compass
          • Great accuracy + sighting mirror
          • Global needle
          • Adjustable declination
          • Luminous outer rim
          • Numbers may rub off the bezel
          • Cover is not the most durable
            $48.44
            Best Hiking Compass
            Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass
            Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass - Orange
            • Sighting mirror
            • Adjustable Declination
            • Scales on lanyard
            • Very accurate
            • Somewhat prone to bubbles
              $46.56
              Best Cheap Compass
              Brunton TruArc 3 Compass
              Brunton - TruArc 3 - Base Plate Compass
              • Tool-free declination adjustment
              • Inexpensive
              • Rotary Bezel
              • No Sighting Mirror
              • No Luminosity
                $15.93
                -
                Suunto A-10 Recreational Field Compass
                SUUNTO A-10 NH Metric Recreational Field Compass
                • Straightforward design
                • Cheap
                • No sighting mirror
                • Can’t adjust declination
                • Don’t drop it - prone to break
                  $13.70
                  Best Survival Compass
                  Eyeskey Military Lensatic Compass
                  Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Lensatic Tactical Compass | Impact Resistant and Waterproof |Metal Sighting Navigation Compasses for Hiking, Camping, Motoring, Boating, Boy Scout (Green)
                  • Sturdiest compass in the review
                  • Great Accuracy
                  • Lifetime Warranty
                  • Heavy
                  $25.90

                  How to Choose the Right Hiking Compass for You

                  Why is It Important to Bring a Compass

                  Despite being originally published over 80 years ago, a map and compass are still listed as one of the mandatory components of the updated Ten Essentials. Even despite the large number of electronic devices with GPS these days.

                  Technology fails, batteries die and for this reason, even if you normally use a GPS to navigate, you should always take a compass and map as a redundancy.

                  As the saying goes “never trust your life to a battery”.

                  hiker reading a map

                  Anatomy of a Compass

                  A basic understanding of the key components of a compass will quickly alleviate the belief that a navigational compass is just a needle on a board. Being able to navigate successfully (and safely) requires knowledge about what each of the components is for, and how to use them correctly.

                  Baseplate

                  The flat transparent base that supports the bezel and needle. The baseplate will have a wide variety of navigational markings and typically a ruler along one edge to for measuring distances on a map. The straight ruler edge of the baseplate is great for drawing straight lines when triangulating your coordinates.

                  Rotating Bezel

                  The rotating bezel (or azimuth ring) is the moveable ring that forms the outer part of the compass housing (liquid capsule). This ring will be marked in degrees from 0° to 360° around its outer edge. You manipulate (rotate) the bezel to take bearings relative to magnetic north.

                  Magnetized Needle

                  The most easily recognizable element of a compass is, of course, the magnetized needle. The needle floats in a damping fluid and is attached to the baseplate with a jeweled bearing (which it pivots on).

                  The damping fluid is present to help steady the needle, making it more accurate than a needle sitting in air alone (especially if combined with shaky hands). This fluid won’t freeze, but you may over time see bubbles appear within the fluid – these won’t negatively affect the compasses accuracy (unless the capsule becomes more air than liquid).

                  Suunto MC-2G Mirror Compass

                  The magnetized end of the needle (typically painted red) will pivot along the Earths magnetic field, resulting in the needle constantly rotating to point to magnetic north. NEVER leave your compass near strong magnets or items that have strong magnetic fields (such as car speakers) as this could demagnetize the needle, rendering its readings inaccurate.

                  Orientating Arrows and Lines

                  The orientating arrow and lines (also called meridian lines) are found in the compass housing (sitting on top of the baseplate) and will move with the bezel as you rotate it. These assist in carrying out several basic navigational jobs.

                  Magnifying Lens (Optional)

                  Not essential to finding where you are going, but many compasses have a magnifying lens built into the baseplate. Handy for reading small, or crowded map details.

                  Important Features to Consider

                  Declination Adjustment

                  Unfortunately, using a compass isn’t as easy as just pointing it in a certain direction and it’ll tell which way north is. Depending on where you are located on the earth’s surface there can be a substantial difference between the north your compass is pointing at (magnetic north) and the actual North (True North).

                  World Magnetic Declination Map

                  This difference between True North and Magnetic North is known as magnetic declination, and is caused by local variations in the earths magnetic field. If you typically do your hiking/backpacking in the one region, you can normally adjust your compass to reflect the areas magnetic declination (found in the legend on good topographic maps) and forget about it.

                  However, if you do a lot of traveling, or you live in an area where the declination changes rapidly, then you’ll need to adjust your declination more frequently to account for the difference.

                  Wait. Magnetic declination changes over time as well as from area to area?

                  Everyone remember the science project where you had to build a model of the Earths interior layers? No? Well, I won’t revisit the agony of it in detail, but suffice to say the interior of the earth is comprised of multiple layers. The molten metallic region of the outer core is constantly moving fluids around. It’s this constantly moving distribution of fluid metals (some of which are magnetic) that causes variations to the earths magnetic field that we see at the surface.

                  With me?

                  Earth Magnetic Field since 1600

                  Moving away from geology and back to compasses – Not all compasses allow you to adjust for declination, and I would never ever recommend a compass that does not have this feature. Most compasses that I have used typically set the declination by turning a small screw in the back of the baseplate to create an offset between the orientation arrow/lines and the north arrow.

                  You could (in theory) subtract/add the declination every time you take a bearing. However, in my opinion, this is really setting yourself up for a monumental error that one time you forget.

                  Global Needle

                  Depending on which hemisphere you spend most of your time trekking around in the backcountry, you need a compass that is designed for north or south of the equator. Using a northern hemisphere compass in the southern hemisphere will see the needle dip substantially into the baseplate causing it to stick and not rotate smoothly.

                  Alternatively, some compasses have a global needle. This sounds fancy, but it is basically a feature that allows the compass needle to tilt more (up to 20 degrees) without it sticking on the baseplate. Thereby, allowing for smoother navigating whichever hemisphere you are in.

                  Sighting Mirror

                  To aid in more accurate compass readings, some more advanced models have a mirror located within the hinged lid of the compass. This works by allowing you to hold the compass away from you at arm’s length, and then tilting the mirror down at an angle so you can simultaneously see the needle/orientation arrow (in the mirror) and the landmark you are trying to sight. This simple feature substantially improves your ability to accurately read off bearings.

                  Clinometer

                  A clinometer is used to measure the vertical angle (steepness) of a slope (or rock bed for you geologists out there). Clinometers are often a small free moving arrow inside the liquid capsule, below the magnetized compass needle.

                  This feature is more geared for backcountry skiers and mountaineers to assist in assessing avalanche hazards. If you hike on well-maintained trails, then this is likely a feature you will be unlikely to use. Finally, for any and all geology students, this is a must-have feature for your fieldwork.

                  Luminosity

                  Navigating in dusk or near dark is tricky. Some models of compass have luminescent paint on the compass needle, bezel markings etc to assist you if the light is beginning to fade.

                  Durability

                  Thankfully something that I have never really had to worry about, nor should you if you stick to the more reputable manufacturers such as Suunto, Silva or Brunton.

                  Durability correlates strongly with cost and I think it goes without saying “that your compass is your ticket home on every trip”. As such your navigational system (compass & maps) is one area I wouldn’t try to save money on.

                  Further HIking & Navigational Reading

                  In addition to our guide to how to use a map an compass, try checking out some of or other guides on:

                  Learning to Use a Compass

                  It should be pointed out that owning a compass, and knowing how to use one correctly are two completely separate things.

                  Every year, an estimated 1500 people get themselves lost in our National Parks. Tack on other wilderness areas and the number becomes even larger. Many of these incidents could have been easily avoided by knowing proper navigational skills. In fact, in innumerable cases, the “lost hikers” have been found in close proximity to trails and tracks that could have led them to safety if they had the equipment and the skills.

                  Don’t become a statistic. Learn how to navigate properly!

                  You can get a head start by reading our article on compass navigating, but as with most practical things you only really learn by doing. Start out easy, such as practicing your navigational skills in an area you know well until you become more confident. In addition, there are many orienteering classes around the country, such as those provided by R.E.I.

                  Storing & Caring for Your Compass

                  As we touched on earlier, do NOT store your compass near any magnetic or electrical fields. These can demagnetize the needle rendering it useless when out in the field. In fact, its good protocol to double check your compass is working correctly before you head out on any trip.

                  Similarly when you’re out on the trails, do not keep your compass together with your cell phone, as this can also demagnetize the needle. I find it’s best to keep your compass near the top of your pack, in a large ziplock bag with the topographic maps.

                  The Best Compasses Reviewed – The Results

                  Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass

                  Best Hiking Compass

                  Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass – Orange
                  • See main description
                  • Item Brand: Silva
                  • Item Number: 37037
                  • department name: mens

                  Our top award for best hiking compass goes to the Silva Ranger 2.0, pulling in good scores across the board.

                  Silva is known to produce some of the best mirror compasses on the market, and they don’t disappoint with the Ranger 2.0. Just flip up the mirror and align the sighting hole to accurately determine your bearing over long distances. This model comes with scales printed onto its lanyard to help accurately measure distances on your map.

                  Additional features include rubber grips to keep it slipping from your grasp, luminous markings that’ll help you navigate up to 4 hours after the sun sets and adjustable declination.

                  The one downside to the Ranger 2.0 is the occasional reports of bubble formation within the liquid capsule. However, unless it becomes severe this shouldn’t impact it’s accuracy greatly.

                  • PROs

                    • Sighting mirror
                    • Adjustable Declination
                    • Scales on lanyard
                    • Very accurate
                  • CONs

                    • Somewhat prone to bubbles
                  Bottom-Line: The best all-rounder, the Silva Ranger 2.0 is a high-quality compass that will meet your hiking needs.

                  Suunto MC-2G Navigator Compass

                  Best Orienteering Compass

                  Sale
                  SUUNTO A-10 NH Metric Recreational Field Compass
                  • High grade steel needle with jewel bearing
                  • Balanced for northern hemisphere
                  • Fixed declination correction scale
                  • Liquid filled capsule for stable operation
                  • Detachable snap-lock lanyard. Easy to detach for working with the map

                  The best compass for orienteering is the Suunto MC-2G Navigator, which in our opinion is the most accurate compass we have trialed. The MC-2G has a large mirror with sighting hole, luminous bezel ring, and a global needle, enabling it to be used anywhere in the world.

                  The bezel is easy to grip and reads in 2-degree increments. As you would expect the baseplate has a magnifying glass and has a straight edge ruler with scale markings.

                  While we feel this is the most accurate model on our list, in our opinion, it isn’t as durable as the Ranger 2.0. Some users have reported cracked covers, and the markings on the bezel wearing off with frequent use.

                  • PROs

                    • Great accuracy + sighting mirror
                    • Global needle
                    • Adjustable declination
                    • Luminous outer rim
                  • CONs

                    • Numbers may rub off the bezel
                    • Cover is not the most durable
                  Bottom-Line: The most accurate model on our list, and would have taken the overall top spot if it was a bit more durable compared to the Ranger 2.0.

                  Brunton TruArc 3 Compass

                  Best Cheap Compass

                  Brunton – TruArc 3 – Base Plate Compass
                  • RELIABLE – Entry-level compass for your basic orienteering and mapping that…
                  • ADVANCED NAVIGATION – Resists magnetic interference better than any…
                  • GLOBAL NEEDLE – With the TruArc Global Needle system that is accurate in…
                  • MADE IN THE USA – Made in Brunton’s own facility in Riverton, Wyoming.
                  • EASY TO USE – Imperial and metric scales, tool-free declination makes the…

                  The American company Brunton is well known in orienteering circles, and its TruArc 3 Compass picks up our award as the best compass for the money.

                  A relatively inexpensive no-frills compass, it still features a rotatable bezel with orientation arrow. Straight edge rulers, both with metric and standard scales, and a global needle. The most impressive feature, however, is it has a tool-less method for adjusting the declination.

                  The no-frills design does come at a cost though, and (understandably) as it is a cheaper model, the compass has no sighting mirror, nor luminous numbering.

                  • PROs

                    • Tool-free declination adjustment
                    • Inexpensive
                    • Rotary Bezel
                  • CONs

                    • No Sighting Mirror
                    • No Luminosity
                  Bottom-Line: If you are looking for a no-frills, inexpensive compass for hiking or hunting then the Brunton TruArc 3 may fill those needs.

                  Suunto A-10 Recreational Field Compass

                  Sale
                  SUUNTO A-10 NH Metric Recreational Field Compass
                  • High grade steel needle with jewel bearing
                  • Balanced for northern hemisphere
                  • Fixed declination correction scale
                  • Liquid filled capsule for stable operation
                  • Detachable snap-lock lanyard. Easy to detach for working with the map

                  The Suunto A-10 recreational compass is a very basic compass which has a very straightforward design. The base plate has straight edges with the typical rulers in metric and standard scales for map reading. The rotating bezel is measured in 2-degree increments.

                  The biggest drawback of this model is the inability to adjust the declination, thereby requiring the user to mentally include this in every bearing they take. Additionally, the lack of a sighting mirror renders the accuracy a little diminished.

                  Finally, we have heard of many instances of the A-10 breaking from simple drops, so it isn’t the most durable model on our list.

                  • PROs

                    • Straightforward design
                    • Cheap
                  • CONs

                    • No sighting mirror
                    • Can’t adjust declination
                    • Don’t drop it – prone to break
                  Bottom-Line: The Suunto A-10 is a basic, and cheap compass. Not one I would personally recommend with the possible exception as a cheap demonstration or backup unit.

                  Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Lensatic Tactical Compass

                  Best Compass for Survival

                  Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Lensatic Tactical Compass | Impact Resistant and Waterproof |Metal Sighting Navigation Compasses for Hiking, Camping, Motoring, Boating, Boy Scout (Green)
                  • WATERPROOF AND SHOCKPROOF FOR ROUGH USE – The base and cover are…
                  • EASY AND ACCURATE READINGS – The floating compass dial has a 360 degrees…
                  • TAKING BEARINGS EASILY – Build with an optical eyepiece for sighting…
                  • ALLOW FOR CLEAR READING AT NIGHT – When exposed to enough light, the north…
                  • MORE FEATURES – A conversion chart for angle, gradient, and distance appear…

                  The last compass in our list is the Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Lensatic Tactical Compass, which picks up our award for best survival compass.

                  The Eyeskey compass is in one word. Durable. Make that two words. Durable and accurate. You can really feel the quality in the build, and it in the unlikely event that you do somehow break it, the manufacturer offers a full lifetime warranty.

                  The biggest downside with this compass is that it is almost double the weight of the other models in our review, weighing in at over 8 oz. This is unlikely to bother most folks, but for the ultralighters out there, picking one of the previous entries will save you some weight.

                  • PROs

                    • Sturdiest compass in the review
                    • Great Accuracy
                    • Lifetime Warranty
                  • CONs

                    • Heavy
                  Bottom-Line: A highly accurate, and sturdy compass perfect for your bug out bag, or a great compass to take hunting.

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                  Best Hiking Compass
                  Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass - Orange
                  Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass
                  Sighting mirror; Adjustable Declination; Scales on lanyard; Very accurate