The Best Compasses for Hiking


Silva Ranger 515

Silva Ranger 515

Navigation on hiking and mountaineering trips can be tricky due to poor visibility and/or indistinct landscape characteristics, and although handheld GPS deviceswatches with built-in GPS or Smartphones can come in handy, there is nothing more reliable than an “old-school” compass. Compasses have many advantages over electronic navigation devices; they are lighter, not dependant on batteries and more durable. A compass shows you the four cardinal directions (North, East, South and West), bearing and other measurements important for navigation. You can also do triangulation with it to determine your location and so a compass can be a very powerful tool together with an appropriate map. However, you do need some basic navigation skills to successfully use it.

In this article we selected and reviewed the best currently available compasses for hiking. We hope that this review will make your buying decision a little easier.

This selection was updated on the 9th of November 2016.

1. Buying a Compass for Hiking – What is important?

Stability and speed:

The faster the compass needle shows north, the better. Older compasses are slow and thus they can slow you down. Some might say that the speed of a compass is not important when hiking or mountaineering because you are not in a rush – unlike for example participants in orienteering races. However, if you are in the mountains in bad weather you definitely want to find your way (down) as fast as possible.

Durability:

A compass for hiking must be durable because there is a high possibility it will get bumped in your backpack or fall out of your hands and down on the ground at some point. This happens more often than you might think, especially because you might also be fiddling around with a map at the same time as using the compass. Add a bit of strong wind and a pair of gloves to the equation, and the risk of dropping the compass increases significantly.

Features:

A compass for hiking should have certain features, such as a declination scale, rotating bezel and a base plate with ruler. A declination scale helps you make the declination adjustments for different areas so that the compass points to the true north instead of the magnetic north while the rotating bezel allows you to easily measure azimuth. A ruler comes in handy when measuring map distances.

Other useful (but non-vital) features include a sighting mirror, magnifying lens, clinometer and luminescent indicators. A sighting mirror is a handy feature as it reduces possible errors when moving the compass from eye-level after sighting to waist-level for reading the dial. A clinometer allows you to measure slope angles (steepness) and is useful for assessing the heights of objects as well as avalanche hazards. A magnifying lens helps you to spot minor details (e.g. symbols) on a map. Luminescent indicators allow you to easily use the compass in the night.

Compasses are in general hemisphere-specific which means that you need one kind of compass for the northern hemisphere and another for the southern hemisphere. However, some Suunto compasses are equipped with the so-called global needle (developed and patented by Suunto) which works perfect no matter the location and thus such compasses can be used anywhere on earth. This is possible because the needle handles tilts of up to 20 degrees and therefore doesn’t drag on the top or bottom of the capsule due to variations in the earth’s magnetic field in different locations.

Compasses with global needle are particularly suitable for those who often travel and do outdoor activities in different compass zones (there are five different zones which approximately encompass: 1) North America, Europe, Caucasus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Japan and northeastern China; 2) Mesoamerica, North Africa, the Middle East, India and the rest of Asia except the Indochinese Peninsula, which instead belongs to; 3) together with sub-Saharan Africa until equator  and South America minus Chile and Argentina;  4) Sub-equatorial Africa, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Chile and Argentina; 5) Australia).

An additional benefit of such compasses is also that they don’t have to be completely leveled for precise measurements (the needle handles tilting). However, they are also pricier than other compasses.

2. The Best Compasses for Hiking Review

Best Hiking Compasses

Best Hiking Compasses

  1. Suunto MC-2G
  2. Silva Ranger 515
  3. Suunto MCA-D
  4. Suunto M3-G
  5. Silva Polaris

Comparison

Feature/Product Suunto MC-2G Silva Ranger 515Suunto MCA-DSuunto M3-GSilva Polaris
Weight75 g 68 g41 g44 g 28 g
Liquid filledYesYesYesYesYes
Declination scaleYesYesYesYesYes
Rotating BezelYesYesYesYesYes
RulerYesYesYesYesYes
ClinometerYesYesNoYesNo
Magnifying lensYesYesNoYesNo
Sighting MirrorYesYesYesNoNo
Luminescent indicatorsYesYesYesYesNo
Global needle YesNoNoYesNo
Suunto MC-2G

Suunto MC-2G

1. Suunto MC-2G

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Forestry
  • Hunting
  • Military use
  • Survival
  • Any other outdoor use

The Suunto MC-2G is a high-performance compass and is thus highly popular among hikers, mountaineers and other outdoor enthusiasts. The compass has a very robust construction and therefore it offers great resistance against shock, dirt and water. When it comes to features you won’t be disappointed – the compass is equipped with a rotating bezel, ruler, clinometer, magnifying lens and sighting mirror. The declination can be easily adjusted with the adjustment key that is attached to the lanyard. Additionally, the Suunto compass also features a global needle so that it works in all compass zones and doesn’t have to be completely leveled for precise measurements. As the compass is equipped with luminescent indicators, it can be easily used in the night. The Suunto MC-2G compass is best for those who need a highly accurate and reliable compass for their outdoor adventures in all corners of the world.

 

Pros:

  • Functionality
  • Global needle
  • Durability
  • Accuracy

Cons:

  • /

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Silva Ranger 515 Compass

Silva Ranger 515 Compass

2. Silva Ranger 515

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Forestry
  • Hunting
  • Military use
  • Survival
  • Any other outdoor use

The Silva Ranger 515 is as great a compass as the Suunto MC-2G above; the main difference is that it does not feature a global needle. The Silva compass may be a little pricier than the compasses listed below but it’s worth every cent as it is easy to use, has many features and is protected against shock, dirt and damages by its snap lid. The features include all those you are looking for in a hiking compass; it is liquid filled, has a rotating bezel, ruler, luminous points (in low visibility), magnifying lens for reading the map, clinometer for measuring vertical slope angles as well as a sighting mirror for more accurate measurements. The declination can be set with the adjustment screw on the back side; you simply correct it with the adjustment screwdriver which is attached to the lanyard. The best thing about the Silva Ranger 515 compass is its speed, accuracy and durability. This compass is perfect for those who want a reliable compass for hiking or any other outdoor activity.

 

Pros:

  • Functionality
  • Durability
  • Accuracy

Cons:

  • /

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Suunto MCA-D Compass

Suunto MCA-D Compass

3. Suunto MCA-D

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Forestry
  • Hunting
  • Military use
  • Survival
  • Any other outdoor use

The Suunto MCA-D is a compact mirror compass with a fixed declination scale. . The compass is durable and extremely accurate which makes it perfect for activities such as hiking and mountaineering. The compass’ mirror lid locks open at 60°, 120° and 180° degrees and remains securely shut when the lid is closed – thus protecting the compass against dirt and damages. It has a ruler, rotating bezel and is filled with liquid. The sighting mirror can also be used for emergency signaling. Unfortunately this Suunto compass is not equipped with a clinometer or magnifying lens. This can be a problem if you are planning to measure slope angles and it might also take you more time to read any map symbols without a magnifying lens. All in all we think this is a great choice for a recreational hiker or outdoor enthusiast who needs a solid compass with basic features. The best thing about the Suunto MCA-D is its durability and quality/price ratio.

 

Pros:

  • Price/quality ratio
  • Accuracy
  • Durability

Cons:

  • No clinometers
  • No magnifying lens

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Suunto M3-G Compass

Suunto M3-G Compass

4. Suunto M3-G

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Hunting
  • Survival

The Suunto M3-G compass is best for outdoor enthusiasts who need a reliable but simple compass. The compass features a baseplate that is anatomically designed and equipped with anti-slip rubber pads. This compass is less protected than the compasses listed above because it doesn’t have a lid, but the anti-slip pads at least assure it stays firmly in your hand. The compass is equipped with a clinometer, ruler and global needle. Compasses equipped with global needle work in all compass zones as they can handle the tilts caused by the variations in the earth’s magnetic field in different locations. The compass is liquid filled and has a magnifying lens for easier map reading. Unfortunately this Suunto compass is not equipped with a sighting mirror which does otherwise reduce errors when moving the compass from eye-level after sighting to waist-level for reading the dial. All in all Suunto M3-G is a great compass for those who need a simple and reliable compass for their outdoor adventures.

 

Pros:

  • Accuracy
  • Functionality
  • Global needle

Cons:

  • No sighting mirror

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Silva Polaris Compass

Silva Polaris Compass

5. Silva Polaris

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Hunting
  • Survival

The Silva Polaris compass is great for those who are new to hiking and mountaineering as it is very easy to use. Furthermore, it is also the least expensive compass in this review. The compass is equipped with a declination scale, ruler and rotating bezel. It is fairly durable and made of scratch-resistant acrylic. It is also liquid-filled and therefore the needle settles quickly. Unfortunately, this compass doesn’t have a clinometer, magnifying lens or a sighting mirror. Also the lanyard is not included. However, the compass has a hole for the lanyard and we would thus advise you to simply use some paracord for the lanyard – that way you are also free to determine the color, length and thickness of the lanyard. The Silva Polaris is all in all a great compass for beginners and for other outdoor enthusiasts who need a compass without too many advanced features.

 

Pros:

  • Price
  • Easy-to-use

Cons:

  • Missing some advanced features
  • No luminescent indicators

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3. The most attractive product in the review

Which product is the most attractive?
Cast your vote to see the results of this poll!

4. Honorable Mentions

The below listed products were once included in our best five selection but eventually moved into this section.

CMMG Phosphorescent Lensatic Compass Clam Pack

CMMG Phosphorescent Lensatic Compass Clam Pack

CMMG Phosphorescent Lensatic Compass

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Forestry
  • Hunting
  • Military use
  • Survival
  • Any other outdoor use

The CMMG Phosphorescent Lensatic compass is best for those who need an extremely durable directional instrument. This compass is battle-tested and shock-, water- and sand-resistant. A similar model has been used by the US Army for decades. The only difference between the US Army compass and this one is that this version uses phosphorescent paint instead of self-luminous tritium.  The CMMG compass is equipped with a ruler, clinometer and magnifier, but unfortunately not a mirror and is therefore more likely that you will make errors using it. The compass is not liquid filled which means the needle will settle slower, but at least has a copper induction damping system which slows the rotation of the needle (unlike similar compasses where you will stare at ever-rotating needle for a while). The CMMG Phosphorescent Lensatic compass is listed here because it is basically indestructible. The downside of it is its weight. But if you need something that will withstand severe conditions this might be the perfect navigation tool for you.

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Pros:

  • Durability

Cons:

  • Price
  • Needle doesn’t set quickly
  • Heavy

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