We've all been there before. You're out in the woods, hiking and sweating and enjoying yourself. You're not worried about getting lost because the best compass in your arsenal is on your iPhone, right?
That's when you realize you have about 10 minutes of battery left and no cell signal. Suddenly, the iPhone compass (or Android) isn't so reliable anymore! What do you do?
Well, if you had the best compass that wasn't attached to a phone and used actual magnets, you wouldn't worry. Thanks to centuries-old technology, a good compass will always point you in the right direction. Like the old saying goes: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
An old-fashioned compass is actually a straightforward piece of technology. For instance, the red arrow points to earth's magnetic north pole, and you walk in whichever direction you want relative to that.
Also, over the past century or so there have been bits and pieces added to the compass, particularly by the military. But at the end of the day, they all do the same thing. They all point to the magnetic north pole.
So, if you don't have a compass, what do you do?
The answer is simple -- Go and get one!
[amazon box= “B07KDYBKQ8, B00QR3LOO0, B00TRB49PK, B01LXOUWVW, B01DY4RYZW, B0063PII32, B000EQ81QK” template =”table”]
The Compass in Detail
Did you play with a compass when you were a kid?
And maybe you even learned to use one properly in Scouts or Guides or some other organization. Either way, chances are good that at some point in your life, you've seen a compass. That's a great place to start.
Granted, you know that a compass is circular and has a housing within which rests an arrow that rotates around the compass whenever you move. Most compasses will have North, East, South, and West marked on the face. At its heart, that's a compass.
Do I Really Need A Compass?
You may ask if you need a compass in the modern world, and we would answer "yes." Here's why:
What if you're somewhere in the wild and your GPS breaks? You could even be driving in the car and suddenly lose data signal. A compass will save you in that situation.
Here's another scenario: you're in a new country and lose your bearings. That's when a local tells you to head west for three blocks and then turn south. Such directions might be out of your wheelhouse.
But if you had a simple compass in your pocket, that would be no problem.
The fact of the matter is that with all the beautiful electronics we have to help us, they're worth nothing when they don't work, run out of power, or have no data signal. That's when you need to have a backup.
And the best compass for this is simple, magnetic, and guaranteed to work.
Who Invented The First Compass?
Historians still debate where the first compass originated. Right now, most experts agree that it originated somewhere in China during the 11th Century. That's when somebody figured out that if you rub an iron needle with a lodestone (a naturally-occurring magnet), the needle will become temporarily magnetized.
When placed on top of a cork in a dish of water, it would point north.
Shortly after, in less than a century, the Europeans figured out the same thing. They took a step further and housed the needle inside a brass case, so now the compass could be carried around. Sometime in the 15th Century, European sailors started using the compass and set out to explore the world.
The point is that the compass has been with us for a very long time, and its basic premise remains unchanged. Cool!
How Do I Use A Compass?
The first explorers realized early on that the needle on a compass points to Earth's magnetic north, not true north. That is, the north pole wobbles around, so the magnetic north can be off-center from what we consider the north pole when we look at a map.
This difference is called variation. The closer to the north pole, the higher the variation. So if you're hiking the woods in Louisiana, it won't matter much. But if you're in Alaska, you're going to need to calculate the variation so as not to get lost.
With that in mind, here's how you can use a simple compass to get around.
First, place the compass flat in the palm of your hand. This is important.
Then, face the travel arrow on the compass in the direction you're heading. The travel arrow is usually painted on to the compass, either on a plastic plate or on the face of the compass itself. Remember that the red floating arrow will always face magnetic north.
Now, you can see which direction you're heading.
How We Reviewed
The next question you're probably asking is "Which is the best compass for me?"
We set out to answer this for you, by scouring the internet for a range of different compasses. We checked out military-grade compasses, simple pocket compasses, and even custom-engraved brass compasses. Then we looked at their prices and read through customer reviews for each compass.
We discarded those that were junk and those that had overwhelmingly horrible customer reviews. What remains is a list of choices. One of them will surely be the best compass for you.
The 7 Best Compass For You
Which compass is best for you?
Well, that all comes down to personal choice. You can figure out what you'll be using it for. If you plan on doing lots of hiking, then you'll want something that you can use alongside a map, with clear pathway arrows and other bells and whistles.
If you're jogging, you'll want something less complicated, that you can whip out and quickly get your bearings. Likewise, if you're kayaking or canoeing, you'll want something waterproof.
It all comes down to the purpose of your chosen compass.
We've got some great options you can pick from. We're sure you'll agree that one of these is the best compass for your needs.
[amazon link=”B07KDYBKQ8″ title=”1. Aurelie & George Personalized Brass Compass” /]
First up in our search for the best compass for you is the Aurelie and George Personalized Brass Compass. Make no mistakes; this is a beautiful piece of gear that you'll want to take care of. That means keep it away from boating.
You can choose from different engravings, and Aurelie and George will engrave your name on it.
It's two inches in diameter and only 3/4 of an inch thick, so it's perfect for slipping into a pocket or armband on your run. Best of all, every compass gets made in America by a small privately-held family business. How cool is that?
Meanwhile, on Amazon, customers gave it a perfect 5 out of 5 stars. Everyone said it is an absolutely beautiful compass, and it's highly functional and easy to use. There wasn't a single complaint.
[amazon link=”B00QR3LOO0″ title=”2. Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Army Aluminum Alloy Compass” /]
If you want something a little less flashy and little more functional, try out the Eyeskey military compass. Eyeskey produces this compass for pros in the field, including emergency services and survivalists, so you know you're getting the real deal.
This compass has everything you need: a full 360-degree housing, pathway markers, map lines, and even a 5-inch ruler. Also, It's rugged and waterproof. Not only that, the adjustable diopter sighting lens makes finding your target direction easy. At 3.5-inches in diameter and 1-inch thick, it feels solid in hand.
Amazon customers gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars. Most people said it was solid and worked very well.
Some military customers said they switched out their official issue compass for the Eyeskey. One person said the lack of glow-in-the-dark options renders it useless at night.
[amazon link=”B00TRB49PK” title=”3. SUUNTO A-10 Recreational Field Compass” /]
Next up is a traditional field compass for those who hike and explore the wilderness. The Suunto A-10 has a circular housing set into a flat clear-plastic plate. You can hold in your palm or use on a map. Also, you'll appreciate the clearly marked pathway arrow and the 360-degree dial.
This compass has a solid steel needle that is balanced for northern hemisphere variation. So if you're up north, it will be easier to locate true north than with many other brands.
On Amazon, customers gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars. Almost everyone praised how well-made this compass is, yet commented that it's effortless to carry.
Several people complained that their compasses were not liquid-filled and did not work, so it seems there are some counterfeits out there that you need to keep an eye out for.
[amazon link=”B01LXOUWVW” title=”4. DETUCK TM Pocket Compass” /]
Are you ready for what may be the most beautiful compass you've ever seen? We're talking about the Detuck TM pocket compass.
This piece of gear has a fantastic vintage look to it. You'll feel Victorian every time you pull it out. It features a full 360-degree dial housed in a brass-colored metal case. The face is colorful, and the shape and design remind you of a pocket watch.
Best of all, it has a glow-in-the-dark face, meaning you can use it at night without issue.
Customers gave it 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Everyone said it does the job of helping them navigate. Also, it's rugged enough to hold up to children playing with it. A few people said that the needle might be off by a few degrees.
[amazon link=”B01DY4RYZW” title=”5. NEOVIVID Neo Nautical Sundial Compass” /]
The best compass for camping may very well be the NeoVivid "Neo Nautical" Sundial Compass, from Australia.
Don't be fooled by the name. It isn't a sundial. But it certainly is one of the coolest, most masculine compasses we've seen. It's housed in a solid brass case with a metal chain. Even the metal needle has a solid burnished steel look.
We loved the leather case it comes in. Harking back to the days of old, an engraved fleur-de-lis marks North, which is where it gets its nautical name from.
On Amazon, customers rated it 4.6 out of 5 stars. Everyone loved the look and feel of it, and many people praised how well-made it is. Most people had no problems with its performance — most complaints revolved around damage during shipping.
[amazon link=”B0063PII32″ title=”6. Silva Ranger 515 Compass” /]
Next, we have a pure field compass. The Silva Ranger 515 is everything an outdoor survivalist will need. Also, this is an excellent compass for boating. We love the mirror with the engraved marking line down the center so you can easily get your bearings from the palm of your hand.
The transparent plastic plate has marking lines for map reading. Glow-in-the-dark illuminates all of the points at night. At 12-inches in length, this is a more significant compass. But it only weighs four ounces, so it's easy to carry.
Furthermore, the Silva Ranger 515 will cost you between $$$ and $$$, so it's not cheap. But it is professional-grade.
Customers on Amazon gave it 4.3 out of 5 stars. What struck most people is how durable and rugged this compass is. One Alaskan noted that their Silva had lasted over 35 years, so you're really getting long-lasting quality when you buy it. Some people noticed that the markings are tiny and hard to see.
[amazon link=”B000EQ81QK” title=” 7. Silva Lensatic 360 – Compass” /]
Finally, we have another compass from Silva. This time it's the Lensatic 360.
It's a classic military-style compass with a sighting-slit in the top cover. Black powder covers the aluminum case to reduce reflectivity. The rotating bezel has glow-in-the-dark points for nighttime use. Basically, it's your standard compass. It's probably like the ones you played with as a kid.
On Amazon, customers gave it 4.2 out of 5 stars. Most reviewers wrote that this is a standard, no-nonsense compass which works reliably. Some complaints included small printing on the face and a few with manufacturing defects.
Which One Is Best?
Which is the best compass? That all comes down to your taste and what you'll be using it for. Some are great for running, while others you'll want to keep away from the water.
Every single compass we have mentioned is the best compass on the market right now, so you won't go wrong with your choice.
What do you think? Do you have a favorite compass we missed? Let us know in the comments!