Do you ever get the feeling that technology is getting the better of us and actually ruining our lives rather than improving it?
Maps and compasses are a prime example – traveling has changed so much since the advent of the internet and smartphones.
And while there’s no doubt they’re invaluable today, sometimes it’s better to step off the grid and go old school.
For the best compass for hiking 2020, you’ve come to the right place. Or, for that matter, the best compass for any outdoor pursuit where one is required.
So, grab yourself an ordnance survey map, pick up one of these babies, and step into the great outdoors.
It’s time to leave your phone at home. (All the fancy terminology will follow in a buyers guide and FAQ section.)
- TOP 13 Best Compasses for Hiking & Backpacking 2020
- Coghlan’s Map Compass
- Sportneer Military Lensatic Sighting Compass
- SE CC4580 Military Lensatic and Prismatic Compass
- Coleman 2000016467 Compass
- Suunto A-10 Recreational Field Compass
- Ueasy Military Prismatic Sighting Magnetic Compass
- Diving Sighting Wrist Compass
- Bijia Professional Multifunctional Compass
- Suunto M-3nh Leader Compass
- Suunto High Grade Steel MC-2 Pro Compass
- Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Compass
- Silva Ranger S Compass
- Suunto MC-2 Compass
- Compass for the Great Outdoors Buyers Guide
- What Else to Look for Before Choosing a Hiking Compass?
TOP 13 Best Compasses for Hiking & Backpacking 2020
Coghlan’s Map Compass
Review: As an outdoor accessories brand, Coghlan’s need little introduction. You might well have already used one of their compasses at a school orienteering lesson.
Made from durable plastic, this compass is liquid filled with a see-through baseplate, jeweled needle and luminous pointer. The scale is in inches, millimeters and 1:25,000. A wrist loop is also included.
- Awesome price – it’s practically free.
- Simple to use.
- Great for kids.
- Super basic.
- Can’t adjust declination.
Sportneer Military Lensatic Sighting Compass
Review: Sportneer is a young company, a portmanteau of sports and engineering. This is a military grade hiking compass that is built to last – waterproof and shake-proof.
It has an inch and centimeter scale, sighting lens, a fluorescent dial and pointer and a handy table of measurement on the base.
A belt loop attachment and carrying case is included making it a super portable little device.
- Durable, sturdy construction.
- Great price for what you get.
- Level indicator.
- On the heavy side.
SE CC4580 Military Lensatic and Prismatic Compass
Review: Another clam-shell, boxy design that comes in a military color scheme, this is a hugely popular compass that is well built, sturdy and practical.
It weighs 3.7 ounces and comes with its own carrying pouch. The die-cast body is in a stylish camo green with a metal rotating bezel. It also boasts a tripod connection and sighting lens with adjustable diopter.
- Looks good.
- Great price.
- Not actually a military compass.
Coleman 2000016467 Compass
Review: Coleman is one of the best camping tent brands out there, so it was only natural that they offer up a compass to go with all that other gear the produce.
While not being strictly a hiking compass, its compact size and battery operated light-up dial make it possibly the best compass for survival on this list.
It won’t be suitable for orienteering or map plotting – but if you’re in a jam in the dark in the middle of nowhere – this piece of kit could be a lifesaver.
- Battery operated light.
- Lightweight and compact.
- Name you can trust.
- Suitable as a backup only.
- Difficult to get a truly accurate reading.
Suunto A-10 Recreational Field Compass
Review: A durable, clear plastic baseplate with high-grade steel needle and jewel bearing, this Suunto compass is ideal for orienteering.
It weighs just 0.6 ounces, is balanced for the northern hemisphere and is made by a reputable company who specializes in sports watches, dive computers, compasses, and precision instruments.
For the best compass for hikers, you can’t get much better than a Suunto model. You can certainly do a lot worse.
- Quality build
- Super lightweight.
- Fixed declination.
Ueasy Military Prismatic Sighting Magnetic Compass
Review: Constructed from aluminum alloy, this military-style compass is both waterproof and shockproof, making it suitable for a multitude of outdoor activities.
It has a luminescent bezel and pointer for use in low light after charging during the day, a handy lanyard, carry pouch and is available in a small choice of colors.
The compass weighs 6.2 ounces and also has a measurement backplate built in.
- Sturdy build.
- Choice of styles.
Diving Sighting Wrist Compass
Review: This stylish wrist compass is suitable for diving as it’s built to both shockproof and waterproof for up to 60 meters underwater.
Probably the best wrist compass for the money, it features a rotatable bezel, luminous display and observation window.
It’s very comfortable to wear and the nature of the design means it’s very portable. As much as you won’t get lost with this compass, you won’t ever lose it, either. Handy stuff indeed.
- Effortless to use.
- Ideal for water-related activities.
- Not the best hiking compass available.
Bijia Professional Multifunctional Compass
Review: Packing loads of features, this military-style compass offers the added inclusion of a slope indicator to measure angles of a slope, elevation or depression.
It’s rated to an IP54 water resistant/dust resistant grade, making it ideal for use in many conditions.
It also offers the usual bells and whistles for a compass in this design, including measurement table, tripod attachment, carrying case and fluorescent, UV-charged bezel.
- Sturdy build.
- Looks great.
- Another heavy compass.
Suunto M-3nh Leader Compass
Review: The second entry from Suunto sees this quality orienteering compass that offers everything you need for accurate map reading.
It has all the usual features, measurements and scales that you would expect from Suunto, as well as adjustable declination correction and a liquid filled capsule for stable operation.
The bezel and needle are luminous and it offers a magnifying lens on the baseplate to further assist your readings. Weighing just 1.62 ounces, this could well be the best compass for orienteering without breaking the bank.
- Classic, practical design.
- Built to last.
- Adjustable declination correction
- Make sure you know what model you’re actually getting.
Suunto High Grade Steel MC-2 Pro Compass
Review: Suunto look to dominate as we move up the rankings and into professional compass territory.
Pretty much everything from here on will be the best compass for backpacking – or any outdoor activity for that matter.
A step up from the previous model, this is a mirrored compass for super-accurate readings with a host of useful features including adjustable declination correction, clinometer and a a 2-zone geographic balancing system which allows you to use the compass in either the northern or the southern hemisphere.
- Top quality construction.
- Loads of features.
- Again, make sure you’re getting the right model.
Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Compass
Review: Eyeskey manufacture top quality optical equipment for when you’re in the field, including monoculars, binoculars and, of course, compasses.
This is one of their best, the Pathfinder model, which is made from a durable, tough, aluminum alloy that is water and shockproof.
Functional in temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit, it’s a stylish design that will do the job no matter the conditions.
- Attractive model.
- Built to last.
Silva Ranger S Compass
Review: Rivalling Suunto’s domination of the compass world is Swedish company Silva, who also produce top quality pathfinders – most notably because it was them that produced the world’s first liquid filled compass in 1933.
Their Ranger S model is one of the most popular in their range and rightly so, a professional standard baseplate, mirror compass that features an ingenious bendable scale on the lanyard and improved graphics for ease of reads.
This compass is super functional for all your orienteering needs.
- Bendable scale.
- Clear markings.
- Expensive for what you get – is it just for the name?
Suunto MC-2 Compass
Review: My final pick is this professional compass from (who else?) but Suunto.
This is a top-of-the-line model that is packed with features for impeccable, accurate, fast and reliable readings whatever the conditions. It’s got all the mod cons in a compact and lightweight build for global operation.
It simply does not get better than this.
- Top quality build and design.
- Accurate globally.
- Professional standard.
Compass for the Great Outdoors Buyers Guide
I’ll admit, in researching and writing this article, it’s put my head in such a spin I need a compass to find my way back to stability.
There’s so much to think about when purchasing a compass, so below I’ve done my best to break it down for you.
An FAQ section will follow.
Basic or Advanced?
Generally speaking, these are the two types of compass that are available. There are also accessory versions (such as a wristwatch with a compass built into the strap) but they’re generally useless for readings in the field.
If you’re serious about orienteering, backpacking or hiking – you’ll need one of the following.
Don’t misunderstand the terminology – a basic compass will still pack all the features you need for finding your way back to camp.
Basically, an improved basic compass. With an advanced model, you’ll find some extra bells and whistles to assist with improved navigation and positioning.
Below you’ll find an explanation of the features you’ll find on basic and advanced compasses.
What to Look for?
Baseplate compasses are the models where a clear plastic base allows you to read the map below it, while scale measurements assist in reading your bearing or location.
The compass dial itself will usually be raised off the baseplate – which is generally made of sturdy plastic.
This version is the “military style” compass, which is the clamshell design that is usually made from sturdy metal and is so-called because of the magnifying lens you use to take the bearing. This is often a feature of advanced compasses.
Which one is better comes down to the type of orienteering you’re doing and personal preference.
Either floating in a damping fluid or on a pivot, the magnetized needle will rotate to magnetic north – but make sure you don’t use it near any strong, magnetized devices or risk it near solar power banks or anything else that might mess with the reading.
Both basic and advanced compasses utilize this essential feature – you can’t take an accurate map reading without one. It will always be marked with 0-360 degrees.
Orientation Scales and Markings
Various scales will be marked on the compass for taking an accurate read. Orientation arrows help locate the direction of travel when used in conjunction with the right map.
It’s not absolutely necessary, but a baseplate compass that comes with a magnifying window is always handy. This will assist you in reading the small print on an orienteering map.
Many compasses, both basic and advanced, will offer what is effectively a posh word for ‘glow-in-the-dark.’
The longer a luminescent bezel and pointer has to charge up in the sun’s rays, the stronger and longer it will last when helping you take readings in low light or darkness.
Moving into the slightly more complex aspects of a compass, you have the declination correction. Some compasses have it, others do not.
Declination is the angle that is the difference between true north and magnetic north. It is used to give more accurate readings and if a compass has declination correction, it makes if much easier to find the difference between the two.
For more information on this, see the video below.
Declination correction is more often than not a feature of advanced compasses only.
Used for measuring the gradient of a slope, elevation or depression.
This is very useful if you need to know how steep your pathway is about to get. It might make the difference between continuing on or choosing another route.
It’s often referred to as strike and dip. For more information, please see the video below.
Again, a clinometer is usually found on advanced models.
Advance compasses will often have a sighting mirror inside the clamshell lid. This will help achieve a vastly improved (and speedy) reading by allowing you to see your target landmark, sighting line, and compass dial at the same time.
Sighting mirror compasses are also useful as survival devices, reflecting the sun to signal for help and assistance.
Something else to bear in mind though is that a sighting mirror compass can be all but useless if you can’t actually see the target – such as in poor weather with low visibility.
What Else to Look for Before Choosing a Hiking Compass?
Most compasses – and certainly those included in this list – are either made from a metal or metal alloy, or sturdy plastic.
Any compass worth it’s salt should be built to last, particularly if it needs to stand up to the rigors of being in the field.
Metal compasses will last longer and take more of a beating – but the obvious trade-off is the weight. Once again, it’ll come down to personal preference.
Not all compasses are waterproof/shockproof, and some will be more adept at handling the elements than others.
And remember, there is a difference between water repellent, water resistant and waterproof.
At the very least (since they’re obviously going to be used outdoors) a good compass should be able to repel a downpour.
If you’re doing your outdoor activity of choice in more tempestuous conditions, make sure you opt for one that is going to be able to handle it.
A compass can come in all shapes and sizes, with many baseplate models offering longer scales depending on what you’re looking for.
Larger models will obviously be more readable, but truth be told most will not hamper you so much that you run into difficulties.
They should all come with a neck lanyard anyway – which isn’t going to tax your physical ability anywhere near as much as your backpack.
Having said that – size and weight all adds up – so it’s worth taking a moment to consider these factors. Even the smallest electronic organizer might tip you over the edge!
Speed and Accuracy
Perhaps the two most important factors to consider before purchasing a new compass.
How accurate and how fast is it going to be?
You certainly don’t want to ever find yourself way off course.
If the weather suddenly changes, you might need to get down that mountain at pace.
Or, if you’re ever being pursued by a vicious animal or escaped convict in the wilderness – an unreliable compass might be the end of you.
The speed and accuracy of a compass naturally leads me onto the final consideration…
Like most things, a good compass isn’t cheap and a cheap compass isn’t good. However, there might be exceptions.
Which will entirely depend on what you need it for.
Consider this before making your purchase – hiking in the backwoods alone is different to leading a group of schoolkids around a town pinpointing landmarks.
But, once again, always buy the best you can afford.
How do I Take a Compass Reading?
While I do love using words, I often find videos are that much better – especially when it comes to a topic that can be complex and lengthy as this.
Suffice to say, many people find using a map and compass very difficult indeed, others will pick it up like a literal walk in the park.
For those who struggle – worry not – because practice makes perfect. Once you start to get it, it will all begin to make sense.
Check out the great explanation in the video below for more help.
And try this video if you’re looking to choose a lensatic compass.
Should I Choose a Baseplate or Lensatic Compass?
Ahhhh, the eternal question. It depends on what you’re going to be using it for and – once again – your personal preference.
Learn how to use both and then make your own mind up. I could write reams and reams here – but this article is already long enough.
What are the Best Compass Apps Available for Smart Devices?
If you insist on clutching your electronic device to your person at all times, then try some of the compass apps below for Android/iOS.
There’s a very famous quote by J.R.R Tolkien that travelers often adopt as their mantra.
And not all who wander with one of these compasses will ever be lost, either! I hope this article has helped you choose your best compass for hiking 2020.
And for more travel tips on safety, please download my eBook with might stop you getting lost in many other situations, too!
Get 50 Solo Travel Safety Tips eBook for FREE
No more reading loads of posts about solo traveler safety. Get your 50 point safety list in one eBook. Be ready, stay safe!