How to Choose a Compass - aLittleBitOfAll
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How to Choose a Compass


How to Choose a Compass

Even though we live in the modern era of the GPS and other electronic navigation devices, the compass is still an essential part of any survival and camping gear. The ability to navigate with a map and compass is a crucial skill that can save your life by telling you where you are, what’s around you and the best way to get to your destination. Having the right outdoor compass is very important when you are out in nature, on-trail or off.

Why Do You Need a Compass?

A compass is a reliable tool for backcountry navigation. It tells you what direction you are travelling in, usually with a needle that points north. When combined with a topographical map, your compass can help you take a bearing and head in the right direction, even in poor visibility as bad weather may present unexpectedly sometimes.

Getting lost is one of the most unsettling and frightening things that can happen on the trail. Even if you do everything right, somehow you can still find yourself unintentionally off course. You can choose an outdoor compass that can help you get back on track. So, how to find the perfect compass for your needs?


Tips on How to Choose the Right Compass for Your Outdoor Adventures


Compasses aren’t as breakable as a GPS, but that doesn’t mean that your compass won’t bump against something in your backpack or that you won’t drop it accidentally. Make sure to pick a sturdy model that will not break easily and will last for a long time. Choose a compass that has been proofed to resist harmful conditions, including water, sand and shocks.

Magnetised Needle

It is the end of a pivoting compass needle and it points to the magnetic pole. It’s usually coloured red or white. Most needles float in a damping fluid that helps steady their movement. Confirm that the liquid doesn’t free in a low temperature as your compass should be able to guide in any season, including winter.


It’s a flat transparent base that allows you to see the map beneath it when you place one on the other. It comes with a wide variety of navigational markings, including a ruler to help you measure map distances, median lines, direction arrow and magnifying glass for finer map details. It has at least one straight edge for taking bearings and transferring them to your map, so it can help you orient better and plan your trek with ease.


High-Resolution Bezel

The bezel is circular and moveable, it surrounds the compass housing and has degrees from 0 to 360. The most precise bezels have markings for every degree or half-degree. The higher the resolution, the better your navigation will be.


Luminescent indicators on the bezel can help you take bearings in the dark or low light.

Declination Adjustment

The difference in degrees between true north and magnetic north is known as declination. It varies depending on where you are, so it’s important to have adjustable declination, which you can set and forget about it until you travel to another region.

It’s a small tool attached to the compass lanyard and can turn a screw on the compass housing, so it changes the direction of the orienting arrow. Then it doesn’t point from true north to south, instead, it’s offset to account for the magnetic declination of the area you are travelling in.


Global Needle

If you are travelling around the world or going on a trip south of the Equator, then getting a mode with a global needle is a very good idea. Most compasses are suited for use in either the northern or southern hemisphere, but bot both. A global needle corrects for the difference and it doesn’t have to be level to take a precise reading as it handles tilts up to 20 degrees.

Sighting Mirror and Notch

If you want to travel off-trail or you need more precise navigation, then choose a model that has both declination adjustment and sighting mirror. The sighting mirror often flips up like a compact and the sighting notch sits at the top. To target a landmark, you look through the notch using the mirror to see the bezel. It helps you aim more precisely when following a bearing on a distant landmark and can double as an emergency signalling device as well.


A compass with a clinometer can help you assess avalanche hazards, therefore, it’s a great choice for backcountry and mountaineering skiing and when travelling in winter, but also it can be used by field scientists and search-and-rescue professionals. It allows you to measure the vertical angle of a slope, which can be quite helpful when you need to find out how steep the current hill or the mountain is, or whether there is a potential danger of avalanche ahead of you.


Additional Features

Reciprocal Scale

It shows the opposite direction in degrees of your direction of travel, so you can use it to draw intersecting lines and pinpoint your current position on the map.


It can be a part of a compass as its high-pitched call can direct other hikers to you, so you can signal them if you need to.

Silicon Feet

They are beneath the baseplate and are useful for keeping the compass from slipping when you are reading a map.

Ian Tompson