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Compass Selection

A compass is a recommended piece of gear for all hikers who venture out beyond the confines of a city park. Trails come and go and get rerouted. What shows on your map may not be up to date. It is easy to get lost in unfamiliar country. A compass combined with a map can help you determine where you are and the location of your destination even in country you aren't familiar with. Even without a map a compass can help by keeping you headed in the right direction.

With a good contour map and well marked trails you may not need to use your compass very often, but it is highly recommended that you carry one whenever you hike anyway. They don't need to be big or heavy or expensive. The times that you do need to verify what direction you are headed or in which direction a distant landmark lies to establish where you are you'll be glad that you both have a compass with you and know how to use it.

Hiking & Backpacking Compasses

Hiking Compass Features to Look For

  • Jeweled bearings - better quality compasses will have this feature.
  • Liquid filled - dampens the movement of the needle making it easier to use while holding it in your hand.
  • Light weight and not too big - there is no need to for a big, heavy compass that is more likely to get left behind.
  • Clear base - can be placed directly on top of a map to help you get your bearings.

Brunton Star Compass 7DNL

Brunton Expedition Compass

Suunto GPS Global Plotter Compass

Brunton GPS Compass 8096

Brunton Eclipse Compass 8097

Brunton 8040G Compass

Additional Features for More Frequent or Advanced Use

  • Adjustable declination - makes compensating for the difference between magnetic and true north easier.
  • Sights and mirror - makes it easier to sight to a distant landmark for more precise directional travel.

Most outdoor clubs offer courses on how to use a compass and map. Many of these orienteering books also offer detailed instructions on how to use a compass.

An important tip to remember when using a compass is that its needle points to magnetic north which is not necessarily the same as true north. Most contour maps used for hiking will show the deviation or magnetic declination for the area they represent.

Magnetic Compass Alternatives

Electronic compasses - can be easier to read and often include supplemental functions such as time and temperature. Most of them can be adjusted for declination. Disadvantage is they are battery dependent.

GPS - units sometimes incorporate an electronic compass. They can do a lot more than a compass. They can tell you exactly where you are with latitude and longitude coordinates. Some will allow you to down load maps and show your position on the maps. Disadvantages are dependency on batteries, more complicated to use, heavier, can be difficult to see well in bright sunlight.

Compass Sources

Bent Gear


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