Hiking - Knowledge

Best Compass for Hiking- How to Select the Right One!

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Setting out for a hiking expedition is exciting. Planning the hike, carrying the right things to wear and eat, deciding on the gear and amount of weight to carry in your backpack is a task. We have to be sure to tick all the boxes in the checklist. Also, short or long hikes to new places bring along the thrill of the unknown as one wrong turn or route and you might end up miles away from your intended destination. So, carrying the best gears and specifically the best compass for hiking is a must.

A map and a compass are must carry, along with your other hiking gear. Many people take along a compass without having the right knowledge for it and even go wrong with the reading of it. So in case, you don’t have one and before you go to buy a compass for your next hike, you need to have a sound knowledge about the compasses, its features, and types and also about choosing the best compass for hiking. Here are some key components that you should know while choosing the best compass for hiking.

Types of Compasses

The main benefit of compasses over GPS is that they do not rely on battery and network availability.

Basic compass

Though, nowadays, two types of compasses are available in the market—Analog, and Digital. A digital compass certainly comes with more features and requires less effort and knowledge. However, it comes with its own implications. It counts on batteries and hence requires a charger after a certain period of time.

But when it comes to hiking, wilderness tags along and so do the isolated areas. With that in mind, an Analog or traditional compass is the best option. For that, you need to have sound knowledge of using a compass and its various attributes and also about how to select the best compass for hiking.

Attributes of Compass

A compass is one of the most important gear for hiking and camping. Here are the main attributes of a compass.

Basic attributes

The most basic feature of a compass is to provide accurate navigation. If you do not have the extra budget, prefer to buy baseplate compasses with following basic features.

choosing the best compass
Baseplate Compasses
  • Baseplate : It is a transparent base plate with navigation markings on it. It also has a ruler for map distance measurement.
  • Magnetic Needle : Magnetic needle is placed inside the compass housing such that its red end points towards the North Pole, it actually points to the magnetic pole. The needle usually floats on a liquid to keep its movement steady.
  • Orienting arrow : A compass housing also contains an orienting arrow, which is aligned to the north.
  • Orienting lines : Orienting lines inside the compass housing are designed in such a way that they are aligned with the vertical grid lines of the map. Half of the lines are colored red, which indicates north.
  • Rotating bezel : It is a circular ring printed with compass points on it. Always prefer to get the compass with the smaller interval of degrees, which makes the navigation easy and accurate.
compass attributes
Basic attributes of a compass Source

Compass with various Advanced Attributes

If you’re looking for more accurate directions without putting manual efforts on the compass and if you’re traveling the western hemisphere or somewhere in extremely cold regions, you can look for compasses with the following additional features.

  • Declination adjustment : Declination is defined as the difference between north and south geographic poles. The angle of declination varies with your location on the Earth. Therefore, you should always buy a compass with adjustable declination features. You can also adjust a compass to its declination manually, but it is a tedious task.
best compass for hiking come with declination adjustment
Declination of a compass. Source
  • Sighting mirror : The sighting mirror helps us to sight the bearing of a distant target accurately. It also helps in providing an emergency signal by flashing sunlight reflected in the mirror.
best compass sighting mirror
Compass with sighting mirror. Source
  • Clinometer : A clinometer/inclinometer determines the steepness or angle of elevation of a slope. It is mainly useful for people working on the geological survey.
  • Global needle : Generally, a compass works perfectly either in North or South America depending upon the variation in horizontal and vertical components of Earth’s magnetic field. If you are traveling in or around the western hemisphere, prefer compasses with a global needle that work worldwide.

Apart from all of these basic and advanced features, there are some additional features in a compass .

  • Magnifying lens : It is a magnifier which helps in detailed map reading.
  • Luminous strip : It acts as an indicator during navigation in dark.

Check out other Must have gear for hiking and camping!

Choosing the Best Compass for Hiking

Brunton’s Model

Consider Brunton’s model if you want to avoid the complexity of calculating declination. It provides an easy way of adjusting declination simply by turning two components without the use of a screwdriver and comes with all the features.

best compass brunton model
Brunton’s Model. Source

Suunto Model

Another model with all features is the Suunto Model which is considered to be a bit expensive, costing around $60 to $75. It comes with a sighting mirror and a global needle.

Livingit Tip: Buy a compass case for better protection.

suunto model compass
Suunto’s Model. Source

Silva Ranger Model

If your budget is a bit low, you can go for Silva Ranger model which would cost you around $55. It comes with a magnifying lens, luminous strip and has a sighting mirror and a global needle just like the Suunto model.

silva ranger best compass
Silva Ranger Model Source

Safety Measures

If you are going for your first expedition, learn to use the compass accurately beforehand. For that, choose a short route expedition with a familiar route. Once you know to use the compass properly, you can go for real expeditions.

Apart from learning the accurate measurement, you should also take following precautions so that you don’t end up damaging your compass.

  1. Use your compass away from metallic objects such as a car, bike, and iron rods. In addition to magnetic fields, electrical fields also affect the accuracy of the compass. Read about the things – that you carry – which create an electric and magnetic field and keep your compass away from them. Otherwise, you’ll end up navigating in the wrong direction.
  2. Do not even think of storing your compass near electrical and magnetic fields. Keeping your compass in the vicinity of these fields for a long time demagnetizes the needle. Many times, keeping your compass with mobile phones or headphones also demagnetizes the needle.
  3. The most appropriate way to keep your compass safe is to place it inside a box and keep it away from other times in your bag while traveling. For long term storage, you can keep your compass in an isolated place—maybe a separate drawer.

Nowadays, compasses come in form of various fancy devices such as key rings, watchbands and much more.But accurate navigation is provided by the needle style baseplate compass only. Now that you know how to choose the best compass for hiking, go ahead and buy one. The only thing you need to do is to learn about it and you are all set for your expedition.

Feel free to comment if you know about the best compass for hiking, we are all ears!

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