If you’re in a rush and want to find out what the best compass for hiking is, we recommend the Sun Company ProSight compass.
If you’ve been in the hiking world for any significant amount of time, you know that there are plenty of well-marked trails in the world. They’re easy to find, often have plenty of signs or blazes to keep you on the right track, and make it hard to get lost, unless you intentionally deviate from the path.
But what if you decide to break away from the well-trod trail? With no path to guide your way, you’re left with old school techniques to help you find your destination. In that kind of situation, you’re going to need the best compass for hiking and a decent map to give you the information you need to navigate.
In this article, we’ll be reviewing the following best compasses for hiking:
- Suunto A-10 Compass – Editor’s Choice
- Suunto MC-2G Navigator Compass – Best Compass with Global Needle
- Brunton TruArc 3 Compass – Best Affordable Compass
- Suunto Clipper L-B NH Compass – Smallest Compass
- Sun Company ProSight Compass – Best Overall
- AOFAR Military Compass – Most Durable Compass
- Silva Ranger S Compass – Best Bang for Your Buck
Best Compass for Hiking – Reviewed
Lightweight and affordable, the Suunto A-10 is what I carry on most easy to moderate hikes for simple navigation purposes.
My go-to compass for hiking, the Suunto A-10 is affordable, effective, and lightweight. Coming in at an ounce, backpackers don’t have any excuse for getting lost, if they decide not to bring the A-10. Well, as long as they’re in the northern hemisphere, since that’s what this compass is balanced for.
The clear baseplate is perfect for map reading, and the various measurements are useful for a variety of orienteering tasks. It doesn’t have any of the fancy features that you’ll find in higher end compasses, like a sighting mirror, but most of you probably won’t need that anyway. Suffice it to say, this is a great entry level compass for beginners or for folks who don’t need much navigational help. And someday, if it doesn’t live up to your requirements, you can always upgrade to a compass with more bells and whistles.
Despite being cheap, it doesn’t lack any of the accuracy that you’d expect to find in the best compass for hiking. The needle does a great job of pointing north, and it’s easy enough to adjust for declination with the tools provided. Durability could be better, but the average hiker won’t have any trouble, as long as they take good care of it. I’ve had mine for three years and taken it on dozens of trips, and aside from a few scuff marks, it’s still as good as new.
– Easy to use
– Perfect for all levels of orienteers
– A little lacking in durability
– Doesn’t have some of the fancier features
The Suunto MC-2G is one of the most expensive compasses in our review, but it’s definitely a case of “you get what you pay for.” The biggest reason for the expense has to do with the global needle, which is a feature that allows the compass to work anywhere in the world. Normal compasses are limited to a certain hemisphere, but not the MC-2G. Regardless of where your adventures take you, this compass will have your back.
The precision of the declination adjustment is also something to be admired. You’ll be able to get it more accurate than you’d be able to with any other compass, and the included tool for adjusting is easy to use. Durability is also suitable for most orienteers, and it comes with standard measurements along the baseplate to help with map reading.
Unfortunately, the needle does like to get stuck on occasion. It seems to be a problem with the “global” model of this particular compass, as the regular MC-2 doesn’t struggle with sticky needle syndrome at all. If that piques your interest, and you don’t have plans to use the compass in multiple hemispheres, you can check it out here.
Still, the overall features of this compass are phenomenal. Despite the flaw, this is still the best compass for globetrotting, making it well worth the somewhat hefty price.
– Global needle
– Easy declination adjustment
– Good durability
– Baseplate with measurements
– Glow in the dark
– Sticky needle
Best Affordable Compass
One of the more affordable options, the Brunton TruArc comes with a surprising number of features, especially when you consider the price range that it falls in.
Another compass with a global needle, the Brunton TruArc 3 is incredibly versatile for how affordable it is. The Brunton is a tiny guy that works in a pinch, though it’s apparent that it’s meant to be a budget friendly option. Serious orienteers will want to choose a different compass (probably something from Suunto), but most hikers will find that it’s suitable for their needs.
While there are some measurements along the baseplate, it’s lacking quite a few that you would find on a Suunto. The declination is also a little touchy and hard to properly adjust, though you can get it accurate enough to navigate safely in most cases. However, if you plan on going pretty far off the beaten trail, I’m not sure how confident I would feel trusting the TruArc with your safety. It’s great for minor tasks, but not for hardcore orienteering.
Durability is somewhat hit or miss. Most of them can be handled roughly without causing much (if any) harm, but there are a couple bad eggs in the mix that will fail you unexpectedly. Overall, I would say that purchasing the TruArc 3 is a little like playing roulette. You have an 80% chance of getting a great product, but there’s always that risk of getting something subpar.
– Small and light
– Effective, for the price range
– Global needle
– Hard to adjust declination
– Durability can be questionable
A tiny guy that can be clipped onto almost anything, the Suunto Clipper is the smallest and lightest product in this review, making it a great fallback option for navigating.
A little guy without any frills, the Suunto Clipper compass is perfect as a backup, in case your primary compass gets lost or doesn’t work properly. I like it for hiking because of how small it is, and the fact that you can attach it to a variety of different objects. Your watch strap, your backpack strap, your sleeve, and a variety of other locations are viable places for you to attach the Clipper.
It’s also one of the cheapest compasses in this review, which makes sense, since you aren’t really getting much out of it. There isn’t a way to adjust for declination, and there isn’t a baseplate with measurements on it. You can’t use it with a map (very well), and since it only shows you the way to magnetic north, it’s inherently unreliable. However, if all you need is a general idea of what direction you’re going and you don’t need that pinpoint accuracy, I really do like the Clipper for what you get.
The compass will pop out of the bezel from time to time, so keep a close eye on it, otherwise you might lose it in the woods. However, if something like this does happen to you, the Clipper has a lifetime warranty, so Suunto will replace it for free. Which means… Keep your receipt!
– Very small
– Good for basic navigation
– Clips onto a variety of objects
– Lifetime warranty
– No declination adjustment
– Likes to pop out of the bezel
Sporting a feature rich design that will never leave you wanting, the Sun Company ProSight is the best overall compass due to the value you get for the price.
Sun Company really went above and beyond when they designed the ProSight compass. It has pretty much everything you could ever want in a hiking compass, like adjustable declination, a sighting mirror, and a glow in the dark, rotating bezel. It even comes with a clinometer, which is a tool you can use to measure the height of a distant object.
As if that wasn’t enough, you also get a lanyard, a magnifying glass, a protective cover, and anti-slip footpads. I really wasn’t joking when I say that the ProSight comes with everything you could ever need, aside from a global needle. Still, for those of you who plan to stay in one hemisphere, it doesn’t get much better than this.
With all that being said, you’d think the ProSight would break the bank, considering how feature rich it is. However, it’s actually one of the more affordable options in this review, not even double the price of the Suunto Clipper mentioned above (and that one is about as bare bones as it gets). My only complaint has to do with the clinometer, and how it tends to interfere with the needle if you aren’t holding the compass properly. But really, as long as you’re using the compass the way it was meant to be used, this won’t be a problem at all.
– Great value for the price
– Comes with a clinometer
– Clear baseplate makes it easy to use with a map
– Declination is easy to adjust
– Glow in the dark bezel
– Magnifying glass
– Clinometer will occasionally mess with the needle
Most Durable Compass
A tough compass with a solid, metal housing, the AOFAR military compass is designed to last you a lifetime, though all that durability does increase the overall weight of the item.
In terms of durability, nothing beats the AOFAR military compass. The metal housing protects the compass from drops, shakes, and water, making it a suitable option for even the harshest environments. Of course, all that extra metal does contribute to the weight of the product, but half a pound still isn’t too bad for your average hiker.
Like the ProSight, this compass comes with a clinometer to help you measure the height of distant objects. There’s even an optical eyepiece that you can look through while taking a bearing (or reverse bearing), to give you accurate measurements. For the price, it’s a shockingly robust piece of equipment that will prepare you for a variety of circumstances.
I do wish that there were better instructions on how to use all the pieces that come with the AOFAR compass. Plenty of you probably don’t know how to use a clinometer or many of the other features that come with the compass, so there is a relatively steep learning curve. However, if you’re willing to invest the time to learn the ins and outs of this tool, you won’t be disappointed in its performance. And considering it’s one of the cheapest products in this review, it’s a bargain that’s hard to pass up.
– Comes with a clinometer
– Very durable
– Optical eyepiece for taking a bearing
– Steep learning curve
Best Bang for Your Buck
Reasonably priced with a decent number of features, the Silva Ranger S compass wouldn’t be my first choice, but it’s a great option for folks who can’t afford to spend much.
And finally, we have the Silva Ranger S compass. It’s a solid product that comes with all of the features you’ve come to expect in a compass…except for one. We’ll talk about that in a second. But with an accurate needle, and highly durable case, you can take the Ranger anywhere in the world and rely on it to provide precise navigation.
Certain elements are glow in the dark, so you can continue to navigate after the sun has gone down. It’s also a decent size, being big enough to use comfortably without having too much bulk or weight. The clear baseplate and measurements also allow you to use the Ranger with a map, though there is quite a learning curve for this type of navigation.
All that being said, the Ranger is an ideal option for a hiking compass, aside from one key pain point. There’s really no way to adjust the declination… There’s a scale that can be used for declination compensation that’s located inside the capsule, but that’s not the same as what you’d find on a Suunto (or pretty much any other compass in our review). All that to say, you still have the ability to adjust for declination, but it’s not going to be as easy as twisting a knob on the back of the compass. Aside from that, though, there’s very little to complain about with the Silva Ranger S.
– Good size
– Can easily be used with a map
– Not very heavy
– Comes with a protective cover
– Hard to adjust for declination
Best Compass for Hiking – Buyer’s Guide
Not all compasses are created equal, so when you’re on the hunt for a compass to use while hiking, there are some key components to look out for. Here are a few of the big ones:
The bezel, also known as the “azimuth ring,” comprises the outer circle of the compass. It has markings all around its circumference, ranging from 0 to 360 degrees. These are used when adjusting for declination, which we’ll talk about in the next section.
Not all compasses have a rotating bezel, but if you’re looking for the best compass for hiking, you’ll definitely need one. Not only does it make navigating easier, but it also makes your compass readings far more accurate.
Declination is the angular distance between true north and magnetic north. Depending on where you are in the world, this could be rather significant or non-existent (assuming magnetic north lines up perfectly with true north).
Whatever the case, you need a compass that can adjust for declination, otherwise you’ll be following a false north that will take you well off course. Most compasses come with a tiny screw on the back that you can twist, allowing you to change the direction of the orienting arrow.
Read More: Using a Compass: How to Find your Way in Nature
I say this about all camping gear, but you really have to keep durability in mind whenever you purchase an item meant for outdoor use. Nature isn’t kind to fragile objects, and compasses have a lot of delicate components that need to stay in good working condition for proper navigation.
That being said, there’s only so much you can expect when it comes to compass durability. Some come inside a metal housing, but the majority of hiking compasses are made up of hard plastic. While plastic isn’t a terrible option, it’s still not going to survive any significant falls. Make sure you handle your compass with care, if you want to get a lot more use out of it in the future.
Even with all my traveling, I’ve never had the opportunity to check out the southern hemisphere. While I’m disappointed about this fact (and plan to change it soon), it certainly has made navigation easy. You see, if you’ve never left a certain hemisphere like me, you might not even be aware that global needles exist. Compasses with global needles can be used anywhere in the world – a crucial feature if you’re an orienteering enthusiast with lofty goals.
Otherwise, your average compass can only be used in a specific hemisphere. You’ll be able to learn where a certain compass can be used by looking closely at the product description. Northern hemisphere compasses will have an “NH,” southern hemisphere compasses will have an “SH,” and global compasses will have a “G” in the description.
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What Features Should I Look for in a Hiking Compass?
When looking for a hiking compass, try to find one that has a clear base plate, a sighting mirror, and a declination adjustment feature. The sighting mirror will help you take more accurate bearings, and a declination adjustment feature will allow you to adjust for the difference between magnetic north and true north.
How Do I Use a Compass for Hiking?
To use a compass for hiking, you’ll need to start by making sure you have the proper declination. Then, hold the compass level and point the “direction of travel arrow” in the direction you want to go. Rotate the housing until the orienting arrow lines up with the magnetic needle, and then follow the direction of the arrow. For a more thorough explanation, you can check out our guide HERE.
What is the Difference Between Magnetic North and True North?
Magnetic north is the direction that a compass needle points towards, which is influenced by the Earth’s magnetic field. True north, on the other hand, is the direction towards the North Pole. Because the magnetic and true norths are not the same, it’s important to adjust for the declination when using a compass for hiking.
Whether you’re directionally challenged or not, carrying a compass and map (and knowing how to use them) can provide peace of mind when you’re on the trail. However, not all of the best compasses for hiking are created equal, and there are a couple of flops that definitely aren’t worth the price.
At the end of the day, we believe that the Sun Company ProSight is the best product overall. For a very reasonable price, you get a reliable compass with adjustable declination, a clinometer, and a number of other handy features.