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Best Compass for Hiking (+10 Runners-Up) Buyer’s Guide / Terms Explained

Heading out into the woods in search of birds is an amazing feeling. But forgetting your way back … not so much. In this post, you'll learn how to choose the best compass for hiking. And I share my choice for the best hiking compass. I also include 10 other options (including four wrist compasses) so you're sure to find the one that meets your specs.

Best compass for hiking

 

Best Compass for Hiking (+10 Runners-Up)

When you’re hiking, you may not always be able to rely on fancy tech to help you find your way. Your phone won’t always get service, and GPS systems rely on digital signals that might not always be available. And tech can fail.

Learning to read a compass is a vital skill. Make your attempts as successful as possible with our list of compasses suitable for hiking and birding. A compass is a tool you’ll use again and again. Let’s take a look.


Our Top Pick: Suunto MC-2 Compass

1. Suunto MC-2 Compass

Our top pick is the MC-2 by Suunto. This model features a delicate housing with a clear base, giving you an unobstructed view of your map. It uses a magnifying lens for those tiny details and features a global needle, which is convenient for world travelers.

  • Analog / Digital: Analog
  • Sighting Mirror: Yes
  • Price: Check current price
  • Declination Adjustment: Yes (includes screwdriver)
  • Clinometer: Yes
  • Global Needle: Yes
  • Weight: 2.65 ounces
  • Waterproof: Water resistant
  • Fogproof: Fog resistant
  • Other features: extra sight hole for better accuracy

The mirror is wider and has a clear sight line to make landmark grounding easier. Declination adjustments are fixed for an easier time during travels where the area itself is interfering with your compass’s functionality.

It features a simple bezel, but luminous points give you night time capabilities. It also includes metric scales and a detachable lanyard for map viewing. It secures to your wrist when not map reading.

Best compass hiking

Choosing the Best Hiking Compass (Buyer's Guide)

There are a few things to consider before buying your next compass. Let’s take a look at all the different factors, so you know you’ve got the right one.

What Kind of Compass Do You Want?

This category isn’t about digital or analog compasses. Most of the time, analog compasses are going to be a better option than digital because they don’t fail based on a signal.

There are a time and a purpose for a digital compass, but everyone needs an analog compass.

Basic or Hiking Compass

Basic compasses are often the first model you get when you’re learning how to orient yourself in the wild. They feature a few basic things that can help get you started.

  • Needle: The needle should be magnetized and have a low dampening time, meaning it settles quickly. When the weather is bad, you need a readout on North quickly. The needle should be in a liquid filled housing to prevent jerky readings, but make sure the liquid is freeze proof.
  • Bezel: Bezels have degrees from zero to 360, and more detail often translates to more expense. Balance your budget needs with the most detail you can buy to make it easier to read.
  • Baseplate: The baseplate should be transparent so that you can orient yourself quickly on a map. It’s also a good idea if that baseplate can illuminate and magnify small details in the map itself.

A hiking compass doesn’t have to survive a nuclear apocalypse, but it should be durable enough to withstand some moving around in a bag or pocket and shouldn’t shatter with minor drops. Choose one with a lanyard to help keep it in easy reach and pick a compass that can handle a variety of weather.

Orienteering Compass

These are the next step and features everything above along with a few extras. These can help you plot a course more effectively.

  • Declination: If you travel to areas where true north isn’t always an accurate read on your compass, you can account for these inconsistencies by adjusting the declination. A tool can adjust this screw, allowing you to customize your compass for where you are.
  • Clinometer: This tool can help you measure the slope of a hill or mountain. It’s highly useful for determining safety, whether of your trail or the risks of an avalanche.
  • Sighting Mirror: A proper sighting mirror allows you to see the bezel even when using landmarks in the distance as sight lines. It’s more accurate and will enable you to adjust your position more quickly.

Some hikers who spend a lot of time out in the wild also use a thumb compass as a backup to their main compass. It stays tight on your thumb and can be an excellent emergency tool if your main compass fails or breaks.

You could also look for a compass that shows opposing degrees if you want to make it easier to determine your exact position on a map.

Survival Compass

Survival compasses are for people who spend weeks out in the wild (or make their lives there permanently). These contain all the features of primary and orientation compasses but also have a few things that can make it easier to survive the worst case scenario.

  • Luminous points: Compasses aren’t any good if you can’t read them in the dark. Luminous points help with location even in the dead of night. They shouldn’t be so bright that they ruin your night vision, but bright enough that you can get an accurate reading.
  • Whistle: You can signal your location to other hikers or rescue teams with a whistle built right into your primary tool.
  • Global needle: Most compasses are oriented for a particular hemisphere (usually the one where the compass was sold). A global needle is suitable for both hemispheres and is excellent if you travel the world in search of your next great outdoor adventure.
  • Condition proofing: Not all compasses are waterproof, fog proof, sand proof, or shockproof. If you often travel in humid weather or experience drastic temperature changes, fog could make it difficult to read your compass. Likewise, if you travel in sandy conditions, the sand could interfere with the needle’s movements. Make sure your compass is suited to the environment you often find yourself in.

How Do I Care For My Compass? 3 Tips

Your compass should be durable enough to withstand the conditions you’ll be in, but that’s not the only consideration. Your compass can be compromised by a few poorly chosen storage choices as well.

  1. Store away from magnets and electric fields: The magnetized needle can demagnetize over time if exposed to constant interference from other magnets. You should also avoid putting it in your pocket next to your cell phone because of slow interference over time.
  2. Don’t use your compass around ferrous metal: This includes metals found in your car. These slight influences can affect the quality of your readings and lead you seriously astray. You’re also in danger from other electrical fields such as your running car and the iron from a lava field (for those of you hiking within range of an active volcano).
  3. Avoid Impacts: Compasses that are dropped consistently or come in hard contact with surfaces can slowly knock the needle off balance, break critical points of the bezel or otherwise degrade over time. Treat your compass like you’d treat your expensive cell phone.
Best hiking compass

Best Hiking Compasses: 10 Runners Up

We’ve given you our top pick already, but here are a few contenders for the best spot. Let’s take a look.

2. Suunto MC-2G In Global Compass

Suunto’s option is an aggressively styled choice that includes a sighting mirror and a two-zone geographic balancing system that allows you to make adjustments depending on your hemisphere. It consists of a clinometer for better bearing predictions and an adjustable declination scale for precise measurements.

The lanyard is detachable for when not in use or inconvenient (map reading), and the two color bezel ring helps make it easier to read along with luminous points for night accuracy. The housing is built to withstand some less than ideal conditions without cracking or failing.

  • Analog / Digital: Analog
  • Sighting Mirror: Yes
  • Price: Check current price
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Clinometer: Yes
  • Global Needle: Yes
  • Weight: 2.65 ounces
  • Waterproof: Water resistant
  • Fogproof: Fog resistant
  • Other features: snap shut mirror

3. SUUNTO A-30 Compass

Our third option is yet another from this famous brand. It also has a transparent housing for easy sighting during map reading. It’s lightweight and a good backup for your more expensive compass. It features a two-zone system for easy readings regardless of the hemisphere and offers fixed declination correction scales.

The jewel bezel is easy to read and luminous for nighttime readings. The lanyard is removable, and the housing is a sturdy acrylic that resists scratches. It has sight holes and markings for both metric and imperial scales. There’s no sight mirror, but it’s thin and should be great as a backup or a beginner’s compass.

  • Analog / Digital: Analog
  • Sighting Mirror: No
  • Price: Check current price
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Clinometer: No
  • Global Needle: Yes
  • Weight: 1.1 ounces
  • Waterproof: Water resistant
  • Fogproof: Fog resistant
  • Other features: extra sight hole for better accuracy

4. Eyeskey Multifunction Compass with Inclinometer

This is a heavy duty compass that makes up for the extra weight in functionality. It may not be suitable for beginners, but it can offer a lot for those of you who have a lot of hiking and locating experience.

It has been condition proofed: water, fog, sand, and shock – so you can take it out in a variety of situations. The housing can operate in extreme temperatures as low as -20°C  to as high as 50°C.

It features a clinometer, large sighting mirror, and a true sighting optic. The back has tables for calculation, and the sight eyepiece gives you a quick read without having to open it all up.

  • Analog / Digital: Analog
  • Sighting Mirror: Yes
  • Price: Check current price
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Clinometer: Yes
  • Global Needle: Yes
  • Weight: 7 ounces
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Fogproof: Fog resistant
  • Other features: Includes the lanyard

5. Eyeskey Multifunction Compass with Distance Calculator

Our next Eyeskey compass is another military grade compass designed to be all weather resistant and highly durable. It features an adjustable diopter sighting lens and a conversion chart for making easier calculations without pulling out a paper or chart. It has a built-in bubble level for measuring slope.

It doesn’t have a declination adjustment, so you’ll have to consult your chart. There’s no clinometer either, but the housing is a highly durable base that protects the delicate interior. It’s stripped down, but extremely rugged and comes with a sturdy nylon case for storage when not in use.

  • Analog / Digital: Analog
  • Sighting Mirror: Yes
  • Price: Check current price
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Clinometer: No
  • Global Needle: No
  • Weight: 7 ounces
  • Waterproof: Water resistant
  • Fogproof: Fog resistant
  • Other features: adjustable diopter sighting lens

6. Reliable Outdoor Gear: Boy Scout Compass

Another basic compass, but excellent to have in an emergency is this model by Reliable Outdoor Gear. It’s suitable for beginners and features a thin, transparent body that makes it easy to read maps or slide into a pocket. It includes ruler notches and scales for reading topographic maps and a magnifier for spotting small details.

It glows in the dark with enough light input during the day. It’s ultra lightweight and comes with a lanyard for storage. It measures true north and can measure slope reasonably well with an adjustable clinometer. Holes for drawing points on maps are a convenient addition to the body of the compass.

  • Analog / Digital: Analog
  • Sighting Mirror: No
  • Price: Check current price
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Clinometer: Yes
  • Global Needle: No
  • Weight: 1.6 ounces
  • Other features: adjustable diopter sighting lens

7. Brunton TruArc 10 Baseplate Compass

This model is a simplified compass that shows north quickly and isn’t affected by magnetic interference because of a rare earth magnet. If you aren’t sure where you’re going to end up, this one is an excellent primary or backup option.

  • Analog / Digital: Analog
  • Sighting Mirror: No
  • Price: Check current price
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Clinometer: No
  • Global Needle: Yes
  • Weight: 1.76 ounces
  • Waterproof: No
  • Fogproof: No
  • Other features: tool-less declination adjustment

It features a clear acrylic body for reading maps and an adjustable declination that can adjust without the use of an extra tool. It uses a global needle and features high visibility clings that allow you to get an accurate reading even in low light.

It has both metric and imperial measurements and has a small magnifying bubble to help read fine map details. The numbers can rub off the sides easily, and it doesn’t have good temperature resistance. Use this one in fair weather.

Best Wrist Compasses for Hiking

The convenience of a wrist compass is an excellent backup or training tool. It doesn’t jostle around in your pocket and is less likely to get broken from an impact.

Let’s take a look at a few of our favorite wrist compasses that can help round out your tools for heading out on that hike you’ve been dreaming about or finally spotting that rare bird.

8. Suunto M-9 Wrist Compass

Suunto is at it again with this simple wrist compass. It features a solid black band and housing with a simple two-zone system for accurate readings in both hemispheres. The bezel is serrated and turns easily even when you’re wearing gloves.

  • Analog / Digital: Analog
  • Sighting Mirror: No
  • Price: Check current price
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Clinometer: No
  • Global Needle: No
  • Weight: 1.28 ounces
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Fogproof: Yes
  • Other features: small read window on the back

The face is two-toned and easy to read. It features a luminous face and five-degree increments for pretty good accuracy considering its simplicity. It has a brass buckle and is suitable for operation in temperature ranges from -30°C to 60°C. It’s designed for maximum usability and can be adjusted to wear over a light jacket.

9. Casio Men's SGW100B-3V Digital Compass

Casio is a classic name in watches, and this simple option features a digital watch plus digital compass for those whose main explorations involve city life. It can help you get your bearings to head back to your hotel in unfamiliar terrain but switches back to a watch for most of its usability.

  • Analog / Digital: Digital
  • Sighting Mirror: No
  • Price: Check current price
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Clinometer: No
  • Global Needle: Yes
  • Weight: 1.92 ounces
  • Waterproof: Water resistant
  • Fogproof: Yes
  • Other features: date, time, and temperature readings

It’s a rugged option that’s impact resistant and water resistant up to 200 meters. It’s suitable for swimming around or those sweaty urban explorations set up for your summer travel plans.

The buttons are easy to push but won’t get bumped accidentally, and the automatic declination helps improve accuracy. It’s never going to be as accurate as a high-quality compass, but it can give you a better idea of where you are.

10. Oceanic Wrist Mount Compass

This compass is a bit more heavy duty and features a quick response time with smooth movements. It’s possible to read from the top or the side, and there’s also a high visibility lubber line. It’s highly luminous, absorbing more light and reflecting it back out much longer than standard materials.

  • Analog / Digital: Analog
  • Sighting Mirror: No
  • Price: Check current price
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Clinometer: No
  • Global Needle: No
  • Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Fogproof: Yes
  • Other features: large, easy to read bearings

It has a large ratcheting bezel that can make reading underwater a lot easier and more reliable. It also has easy to read bearings that are large enough to read accurately even in water distortion. The floating card is bright, and the entire design is best for those who dive regularly.

11. Suunto Core Compass Watch with Altimeter, Barometer

Our final compass is a digital, all-purpose tool with quite a few measurement options. It can tell you direction, altitude, pressure, and depth on a clear and easy to read display. It features a weather tracker and alarm that can help you plan activities better and will also tell you sunset and sunrise times for over 400 locations.

  • Analog / Digital: Digital
  • Sighting Mirror: No
  • Price: Check current price
  • Declination Adjustment: No
  • Clinometer: No
  • Global Needle: No
  • Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Waterproof: Mildly water resistant
  • Fogproof: Yes
  • Other features: altimeter, barometer, and alarm

It comes in a variety of colors and styles and offers a multilingual menu. You can change the batteries easily yourself and options also include lightweight aluminum housing or heavier but more durable stainless steel.

Hiking compasses

Final Thoughts

Your compass is a vital tool for navigation and staying safe while you’re hiking or bird watching in unfamiliar territory.

Learning the basics is a critical part of survival and having a good model compass can be a great way to get that ability in. Make sure you’ve practiced a little bit before heading out, and you should be able to protect yourself from getting lost. Stay safe out there!

Meet the Author

Drew Haines

Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast, travel writer, and content marketer. She loves to share her passion through her writing. She is the founder and owner of EverywhereWild Media, EverywhereWild, and co-founder and owner of JustBirding. She also guest blogs on LatinRootsTravel and GringosAbroad. She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.

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