7 Best Compasses for Hiking (2022)

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    Relying on location markers that are placed on developed hiking trails can be a costly mistake. Just because a hiking trail is well-developed with directional and location markers doesn’t mean you are safe against veering off-course.

    That’s why you need to keep a compass on you at all times while hiking, and we have included a thorough review of the 7 best compasses for hiking in 2021 to help you make your decision.

    Looking for something more advanced? Check out our review of the Best Handheld GPS Units next.


    Best Compasses for Hiking – Winners

    Check out our quick recommendations here, or keep scrolling for detailed reviews:


    Best Overall Hiking Compass

    1. Suunto M-3 D Leader Compass

    Quick-View Information

    • 3 ounces
    • Analog
    • Declination adjustment
    • Fixed declination scale
    • Rotating bezel

    The Suunto M-3 D Leader Compass weighs a lightweight 3 ounces, is 2 ⅜” W x 4 ¾” L, and can easily fit in your pocket or backpack. It is an analog compass built within a ruler, making it a great multi-use tool for hiking and camping.

    It has adjustable declination, which many hikers prefer over a compass without adjustable declination. Simply turn the rotating bezel on the compass, and you can hike in the direction you need to go.

    Some other great features about this compass include the built-in magnifying lens, luminescent capabilities for dark conditions, built-in declination scale, and a transparent base plate.

    Pros

    • Lightweight
    • Adjustable declination
    • Rotating bezel
    • Luminescent capabilities

    Cons

    • Pricey

    View on Amazon >>


    Best For Hiking on a Budget

    2. TurnOnSport Orienteering Compass

    Quick View Information

    • 76 ounces
    • Analog
    • Declination adjustment
    • Rotating bezel
    • Fixed declination scale

    The TurnOnSport Orienteering Compass is the best budget analog compass because it’s affordable yet doesn’t lack any features. But let’s talk about the dimensions of the compass first.

    It’s small and lightweight, weighing only 3 ounces and measuring 4 inches long by 2.4 inches wide. It comes with a convenient nylon lanyard for you to easily attach the compass to your backpack or place it around your neck or wrist while you’re hiking.

    As far as features go, it’s got everything you need. The acrylic base plate has a built-in magnifying glass that makes it easy to read the fine details of a map. It has a rotating bezel for you to adjust the declination to make it easy to stay the course on your hike.

    The declination scale is also another feature that makes it easy to navigate hiking trails.

    Pros

    • Affordable
    • Adjustable declination
    • Rotating bezel
    • Lightweight

    Cons

    • No illumination capabilities in low light

    View on Amazon >>


    Most Durable

    3.  Sportneer Military Lensatic Sighting Compass

    Quick View Information

    • 4 ounces
    • Analog

    If you’re looking for a durable analog compass that will get the job done, then the Sportneer Military Lensatic Sighting Compass is what you need. It doesn’t get more durable than this.

    The compass is made of metal rather than plastic like many analog compasses. Best of all, it isn’t bulky. While it weighs more than plastic compasses, it’s still less than a pound, weighing just 7.4 ounces. It is ergonomic and made with a belt loop attachment for you to attach it to your belt as you hike. When it’s not in use, you can store the compass in its convenient carrying case.

    What this compass offers in durability, it lacks in features. It doesn’t have a rotating bezel or adjustable declination, but that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. It has a variety of other features that make up for these inadequacies.

    The dial is fluorescent and will glow in low light conditions after being exposed to a light source, making it a great option to use if you will be hiking after dark.

    Other features include a built-in level indicator, an inch and centimeter-scale, a sighting lens, a clear sighting line, and a measurement table on the bottom of the compass.

    Pros

    • Durable and rugged
    • Affordable
    • Luminescent
    • Additional features include a built-in level, scale, and measurement table

    Cons

    • No adjustable declination
    • No rotating bezel

    View on Amazon >>


    Best For Advanced Navigation And Orienteering

    4. Garmin 0101141720 Elec. Compass

    Quick View Information

    • 4 pounds
    • Digital
    • +/- 2-degree heading accuracy
    • 10Hz heading and rate-of-turn output

    The Garmin electric compass is a digital compass that uses a 9-axis Heading Sensor that provides near-perfect heading accuracy with an accuracy of +/- 2 degrees no matter what speed you are hiking.

    Because it’s a digital compass with precise technology, it’s pricy. There’s just no way around that. However, this compass is great for multiple uses, especially if you have a boat. It can be mounted to your boat to help you navigate all types of water and weather conditions.

    Back to hiking, it’s extremely accurate and relatively lightweight, considering how durable the compass is. It has a waterproof rating of IPX7 which means it can be fully submerged in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes.

    Pros

    • Accurate
    • Waterproof up to 1 meter for 30 minutes (IPX7 rated)
    • Lightweight yet durable
    • Great for multiple uses (boating, hiking, etc.)

    Cons

    • Pricey

    View on Amazon >>


    Best for Kids

    5. Coghlan’s Function Whistle

    Quick View Information

    • 6 ounces
    • Analog

    The Coghlan’s kid’s whistle with compass has four total functions combined into one convenient compass. Aside from the analog compass, it has a whistle, magnifier, and two-scale thermometer. There is no declination scale or rotating bezel with the kid’s version.

    Another great feature of this kid’s version is the built-in whistle. This is a great signaling device when kids are camping, hiking, or kayaking. It also has a convenient lanyard that will keep the lanyard on the child at all times without getting in their way while outside.

    Pros

    • Affordable
    • Multi-functional (whistle, compass, magnifying glass, and thermometer)
    • Built-in signaling device
    • Lanyard for easy carrying

    Cons

    • No rotating bezel or declination adjustability

    View on Bass Pro Shops >>

    Also Available on Amazon >>


    Best for Snow Sports

    6. Brunton TruArc7 Sighting Mirror Compass

    Quick View Information

    • 24 ounces
    • Analog
    • Sighting mirror
    • Adjustable declination
    • Clinometer
    • Rotating bezel

    The Brunton TruArc7 is a great analog compass for all types of outdoor activities but especially snow sports. The clinometer makes it easy to navigate the elevation of the terrain as you ski, snowboard, or snowmobile.

    It has a rotating bezel so that you can adjust the declination from true north to make it easier to stay the course that you’re traveling. The sighting mirror is another great feature that makes this compass one of the best overall compasses, even if you won’t be using it for snow sports.

    The sighting mirror gives you a clear view of the compass dial and the background simultaneously.

    Pros

    • Full of features (rotating bezel, declination adjustment, sighting mirror)
    • Versatile
    • Lightweight
    • Affordable

    Cons

    • No lanyard

    View on Amazon >>


    Best for Travel

    7. SUUNTO MB-6 Global Compass

    Quick View Information

    • 4 ounces
    • Sighting mirror
    • Adjustable declination
    • Clinometer
    • Rotating bezel

    The SUUNTO MB-6 Global Compass is one you shouldn’t overlook. You can use it for any navigating application, but we recommend it when you travel because of how accurate, lightweight, and functional it is. It’s great for hiking, fishing, kayaking, and camping.

    It has adjustable declination, so you can easily rotate the bezel to dial in the direction you want to go. The sighting mirror keeps you perfectly on course and makes it easy to read the directional arrows.

    Lastly, it’s lightweight and comes with a lanyard, so you don’t have to worry about dropping the compass or misplacing it on the trail.

    Pros

    • Sighting mirror
    • Adjustable declination
    • Rotating bezel
    • Sighting mirror

    Cons

    • Slightly pricey

    View on Amazon >>


    Benefits of Compasses for Hiking

    Any tool that helps you stay on course is always recommended, and that’s exactly what a compass does. Its primary use is to point you in the right direction and ensure you know how to stay on that path.

    When you use a compass for hiking, there’s no second-guessing what direction you’re heading. The compass will indicate which direction you’re heading, so it’s important that you know how to read the compass, especially if it has a rotating bezel.

    Compasses are also great for hiking because they are lightweight and don’t require batteries. If the compass has luminescence (which oftentimes many compasses have), it’s because it is built with illuminating properties that will glow in the dark after prolonged sun exposure.


    Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Compass for Hiking

    As you’ve seen from our list, there are many different compasses you can choose from, so it may be difficult to know where to begin.

    That’s why we’re here! We’re going to help you choose the best compass for hiking in this buyer’s guide.

    Types of Compasses for Hiking

    There are three different types of compasses for hiking. They are baseplate, lensatic, and electronic, and they each have very different components that affect how they function.

    Baseplate Compasses

    A baseplate compass is a basic, liquid-filled compass. It’s called a baseplate compass because the compass is enclosed in a baseplate. The baseplate is usually designed with various markings and measurements. Some baseplate compasses may also have a thermometer built into the baseplate.

    A baseplate compass is typically the most affordable, so if you’re looking for a simple compass that’s easy to use, you won’t go wrong with a baseplate compass.

    All you have to do is take out the baseplate compass and determine the direction you need to go; it’s that simple!

    Lensatic Compasses

    A lensatic compass is much more durable than a baseplate compass. They are often referred to as military compasses because they are used by the United States Military.

    What makes lensatic compasses so durable are the three components that make up the compass. They have a base, a reading lens, and a cover.

    The base of the lensatic compass will have the dial, bezel, and thumb loop.

    The cover serves two purposes; to help protect the compass and to help guide you in the right direction. The cover is what encompasses the sighting wire, which is the wire that will help you determine your direction.

    The reading lens is folded out of the compass, which is what gives the lensatic compass its name.

    Using a lensatic compass is a little more detailed than using a baseplate compass. First, the compass folds in two, so you’ll have to open the compass to begin sighting. Since lensatic compasses are made for the military, they work best being held out in front of you so they don’t interfere with any gear you might be carrying.

    Hold the compass in front of you with the lid facing out. When you have located the object you are sighting, you will rotate your entire body to point towards the object. You will rely on the sighting wire of the compass to align the object you’re sighting with the compass. 

    Look at the number on the inner dial as well as the directional arrows on the compass. You can then close the lid of the compass just enough to allow you to see the sighting wire on the cover as well as the directional arrow. Place your thumb through the thumb loop of the lensatic compass, and you are ready to navigate.

    Electronic Compasses

    Electronic compasses, also known as digital compasses, use sensors to determine the magnetic field. This information is read and displayed digitally on the compass.

    To use an electronic compass, you will hold the compass straight in front of you at waist level, making sure not to tilt the compass left or right.

    Make sure that north is pointing directly in front of you so that the sensors in the electronic compass can find your bearings. Once found, a number will be shown on the screen between 1 and 360. This number measures your bearings in relation to the direction you’re pointed.

    Basic Compass Features

    When purchasing a compass, there are some basic features that you’ll want the compass to have. These features, while basic, will help you navigate from point A to point B easily and effectively, so you should pay attention to what type of features the compass has.

    Needle

    The needle is a steel magnet balanced on a pivot and will rotate to point north no matter which direction you turn the compass.

    You will want to choose a compass that has a needle that is smooth and accurate. The needle should smoothly rotate to north and stay in that position with only a 2-degree deviation.

    Housing

    The housing holds the magnetic needle, orienting arrow, and the rotating bezel of the compass.

    The housing is important because this is what will give you a clear view of the needle, bezel, and any directional markings on the compass.

    Bezel

    The bezel is the ring around the compass that can rotate 360 degrees and includes all compass points.

    A rotating bezel is a great feature to have on a basic compass because you can set your compass to point you in the direction you want to go.

    Orienting Lines

    Orienting lines are parallel lines that run north-south and are painted directly onto the housing floor and base plate.

    When the dial is turned on a compass with orienting lines, the lines turn with it. This helps you align your map north to south so that the orienting arrow aligns with north.

    Orienting Arrow

    The orienting arrow is located within the housing of the compass. It is a fixed arrow that is aligned with north.

    The orienting arrow is important because it is the outline that the magnetized end of the needle will fit into when pointing north.

    Direction-of-Travel Arrow

    The direction-of-travel arrow is an arrow that is fixed to the side of the baseplate. It is a separate arrow that points away from the compass. Often, the direction-of-travel arrow will be near a built-in magnifying glass.

    The direction-of-travel arrow is an important feature to look for in a basic compass, especially if you’re a visual person because you simply point it in the direction you will be going. 

    Index Line

    The index line (also called an index reader or a read-bearing mark) is located directly above the bezel. It acts as an extension of the direction-of-travel arrow.

    Magnifier

    A magnifier is a small magnifying glass that will help you read the fine print of a map. The magnifier will be embedded into the baseplate of the compass.

    A compass with a magnifier is a great feature to have on your compass. It will help you read the small print within a map.

    Compass Scale

    The compass scale is the ruler on the baseplate of the compass that you can use to measure distances on a map. The compass scale is often indicated in both inches and centimeters.

    A compass scale will help you measure distances on a map, but you can also use it for other small measurements. The compass scale will only be as long as the compass’s base plate, typically less than 6 inches long.

    Key Features & Considerations

    Before we go, we wanted to leave you with a few key features and considerations you should take a look at before making your decision.

    The above features are found in almost all basic compasses, but if you’re looking for specialized features, take a look at these.

    Declination Adjustment

    There will be a slight difference between magnetic north and true north. This is known as declination, and some compasses allow you to adjust for this. This is a great feature on a compass, especially if traveling in various locations where magnetic north can be slightly off from true north.

    Sighting Mirror

    A sighting mirror gives you the ability to view both the compass dial and the background of the compass at the same time. Sighting mirrors aren’t necessary for navigating, but they do make it much easier.

    Clinometer

    A clinometer on a compass will measure the slope or tilt of the terrain that you are traveling. Using a compass with a clinometer is best for outdoor activities where the elevation can quickly change. This is great for hiking, camping, snow sports, or motorsports.

    Global Needle

    A global needle can compensate for variances in magnetics up to 20 degrees. If you plan to travel abroad to various countries, you should consider a compass with a global needle.

    Durability

    The last feature you should consider for a compass is durability. While a durable compass may be heavier or cost more, you won’t have to worry about the compass becoming damaged simply from being used.

    Final Thoughts

    There are a variety of compasses you can choose from. The type of hiking you will be doing will determine what type of compass you should choose.

    If you plan to do moderate hiking in nearby locations, you should choose a basic compass. However, if you are considering traveling to various parts of the country or even the world, you are best using a more rugged compass like a lensatic compass or an electronic compass.


    FAQ

    Do I need a compass that has a rotating bezel?

    No, a rotating bezel is not a requirement to successfully navigate while hiking. It’s a convenient feature that may make it easier to follow the direction you need to go, but it’s not a requirement for any compass.

    What is the difference between a digital and an analog compass?

    A digital compass uses sensors to give you a directional reading in numerical form. This number indicates your relation, in degrees, from the direction you’re pointing.

    An analog compass uses a magnetic needle to find magnetic north which will tell you the direction you’re pointed.

    Whether you’re using a digital compass or an analog compass, you will use the reading to help you determine which direction you need to travel.

    Caleb Cole

    I grew up in Montana, spent my free time camping, hunting and fishing. I began writing as a side hobby while camping. Very happy to be working with the guys here at Outdoor Command and look forward to providing best in class outdoors content for you.