Best Compass For Hiking And Backpacking

A hiking compass is a very important and often overlooked navigation tool. You should have a compass stashed in your hiking daypack at all times in addition to a paper map. A compass and map are two key items that are part of the ten essentials to hiking that could save your life. Of course GPS devices, GPS hiking watches, and mobile phones are great tools to use in the backcountry for navigation, but you may run out of battery life. A compass and map won’t fail you once you know how to use them. Read on to learn more about basic and advanced compass features and how to choose the best compass for hiking or backpacking.

Compass features

Understanding the different features will help you choose the best compass for your needs.

Let’s start with the basic features found on all compasses, and then talk about the more advanced features.

Magnetized needle

This is the red end of the pivoting compass needle and it points towards the magnetic pole. The needle is contained and floats in a capsule that has a damping fluid in it.

Rotating bezel

The rotating bezel aka azimuth ring is used to take your bearing. The ring is marked from 0 to 360 degrees and circles the outer edge of the needle capsule. The smaller the interval of degrees, will allow you to navigate more easily and get a more accurate bearing.

Baseplate

This is the flat part of the compass that you will place on your maps. The baseplate has a variety of navigational markings and rulers to help you navigate. It may have a magnifying glass to help read your map more easily.

Orienting arrows and lines

Not much to this, put simply, these are the markings on the compass you will use in order to navigate your way.

Okay, now let’s get into some extra features that you can get with a compass.

Magnifying lens

It is what it is. Essentially, a magnifying glass to help you read your maps.

Luminescent indicators

This is an underrated feature. Most hikers start early, or can finish late hiking in the day. I recommend getting a compass with luminescent indicators so that you can see what you are doing when the sun is not present.

Finally, let’s take a look at the more advanced features of a compass

Declination adjustment

If you want to navigate most accurately, then get a compass with declination adjustment. Declination is the difference between magnetic north and true north. The amount of declination is different in one location compared to another. If you are travelling great distances on a hike (like a thru hike), or are planning to hike in very different locations (states/provinces, or countries) you will want this feature to maintain an accurate bearing. Simply set it in one location and reset it if you travel to another location. Easy.

Clinometer

A clinometer allows you to measure the angle and steepness of a slope. This is a great feature to have if you plan on hiking in the winter or snowy conditions so that you can determine avalanche risk in your immediate area. It can also help you understand how difficult the journey ahead will be (flat vs. steep).

Slope card

A slope card is a different solution to assessing the angle and steepness of the slope you are hiking on.

Distance lanyard

A distance lanyard helps you estimate the distance of a destination and is used in conjunction with a map. A distance lanyard typically has two scales on it; 1:25, and 1:50. You can use it to compare a line (your route) on a map to the mileage scale that you will find on topographic maps.

Global needle

A global needle allows you to use the same compass in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Another handy feature if you travel worldwide. Otherwise, you would need two different compasses.

Sighting mirror

A sighting mirror allows you to aim most precisely at landmarks that are very far away in the distance. If you plan to hike or go backpacking at high elevations above the tree line this may be the better choice for you. If you are hiking in the trees most often than it is less important since your landmarks will not be as far away from you.

If you want to get an accurate reading, these are the top three compasses for hiking and backpacking. All of these compasses are good for Metric and Imperial UTM scales. The two primary manufacturers of high quality and accurate compasses are Suunto (Finland) and Silva (Sweden).

Suunto M-3 D Leader Compass

For most hikers this is the best choice. The Suunto M-3 D Leader compass is perfect for day hiking. Get this one if you intend to only hike near your home, or in your country. This is the best compass for beginners on this list.

  • High-grade steel needle with jewel bearing
  • Balanced for the northern hemisphere
  • Adjustable declination correction
  • Magnifying lens for easy map reading
  • Luminescent indicators
  • Detachable snap-lock lanyard
  • 2 degrees increments
  • Baseplate rulers
  • 1.62 ounces in weight

Suunto M-3G Global Pro Compass

If you plan on travelling worldwide, the Suunto M-3G Global Pro compass is a better choice because it has a global needle. It also has a clinometer which makes it a great compass for mountaineering. So, if you are planning to do some winter hiking this is a feature that will come in handy since it can help you measure slopes and determine avalanche risk.

  • Fast globally balanced needle
  • 20° tilt margin for easy readings
  • Clinometer to measure slope angles
  • Adjustable declination correction
  • Magnifying lens
  • Luminescent indicators
  • Detachable snap-lock lanyard
  • 2 degrees increments
  • Baseplate rulers
  • 1.69 ounces in weight

Silva Expedition 360 Global

This is a highly recommended compass for hikers that travel around the world and has many of the same features as the Suunto M-3G Global Pro.

  • Global needle
  • Steel needle and sapphire jewel bearing
  • Luminous markings for for dawn, dusk and night readings
  • Slope card to evaluate avalanche risk or trail slope
  • Distance lanyard (1:25, and 1:50 scales)
  • Magnifying lens
  • Declination adjustment
  • Clinometer
  • Baseplate rulers
  • Detachable safety-release lanyard
  • 1.83 ounces

Suunto MC-2G Navigator Compass

If you want to get the most accurate readings possible, than get a compass with a mirror like the Suunto MC-2G Navigator compass. All in all this is the best Suunto compass for hiking that is available at REI. A side benefit of the mirror is that it can be used as a signalling device. On this list, the Suunto MC-2G Navigator is the best backpacking compass and one of the best mirror compasses you can get.

  • Globally balanced needle
  • Sighting notch and mirror
  • Declination adjustment key is included on lanyard
  • Clinometer
  • Adjustable declination correction
  • Magnifying lens
  • Luminescent indicators
  • Detachable snap-lock lanyard
  • 2 degrees increments
  • Baseplate rulers
  • 2.6 ounces in weight

Silva Expedition S Compass

The Silva Expedition S is a versatile, accurate, precise, and durable compass with a mirror sighting. Another good option for those that hike in the high alpine above the tree line.

  • Global needle
  • Sighting mirror and notch
  • Steel needle and sapphire jewel bearing
  • Luminous markings for for dawn, dusk and night readings
  • Slope card to evaluate avalanche risk or trail slope
  • Distance lanyard (1:25, and 1:50 scales)
  • Magnifying lens for easy map reading
  • Declination adjustment
  • Clinometer
  • Baseplate rulers
  • Detachable safety-release lanyard
  • Silicon rubber feet to prevent compass from sliding on map
  • 3 ounces in weight
Best compass for hiking

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