Whether you're a seasoned hiker or just getting into the hobby, a compass is an essential piece of gear.
Choosing the right hiking compasses can be difficult with so many options available. Do you need a digital compass or an analog compass? Which features are most important to you?
After researching the best compass for hiking on the market, we've found the Suunto MC-2G Global Compass to be the best overall for most hikers. It has many great features, including global compass functionality, adjustable declination, and an illuminated component.
We've also included some great alternatives to meet different needs, budgets, and features.
So whether you're in the market for your very first compass or are just looking to upgrade, read on for all you need to know!
Best Compass for Hiking Reviews
Now, it’s time to delve into the top 5 compass options and our detailed reviews of each. Let’s dive right in!
Suunto MC-2G Global Compass
- Global compass functionality
- Handy features like a locking lanyard and sighting mirror
- Glow-in-the-dark bezel in small increments to ensure accuracy
- Quality adjustable declination component
- Can be difficult to tighten the declination setting
- Mirror tends to be dull so it could be hard to read all the numbers
- The orientation arrow is small
The first compass on our list is this exceptional product by Suunto. Suunto is renowned for their compass products and other navigation tools manufactured in Finland. If you’re an avid traveler and want to take your compass on the go, this global compass could be just what you’re looking for.
We love the fact that the needle is adjusted to ensure reliability no matter what corner of the globe you’re in.
With features like a wrist locking lanyard, rulers, and a handy sighting mirror, you’ll be able to stay confident of your whereabouts no matter what kind of environment you find yourself in. The rotating bezel comes in small, 2-degree increments for ease of use and accuracy. What’s more, it includes a luminescent function so you can see your navigation tool any time of day or night.
Its adjustable declination component is exceptional, allowing you to stay on track even in regions with magnetic variance. Plus, the Suunto MC-2G’s sighting hole makes for razor sharp precision whether you’re on a familiar path or deep in the forest.
Silva Ranger 515 Compass
- Illuminated bezel
- Inclinometer and mirror for enhanced location accuracy
- Good for hikers of all levels
- Tooled declination adjustment rather than being built-in to the compass itself
- Rotating bezel tends to be pretty stiff
- Declination settings overlap which could make reading more difficult
The next selection on our list is the highly accurate and user-friendly Silva Ranger 515 Compass. We like that it features an easy to read bezel that you can use to guide you whether it’s light or dark, as it sports an illuminating component to light up the map when you need it.
The Silva Ranger 515 also includes a handy mirror, making it much easier to pinpoint your exact location at any given point.
If you do a lot of hiking off the beaten path, this compass could be an excellent selection for you. One area where we feel it falls short is the fact you’ll need a tool for declination adjustment, but the good news is that the tool is part of the lanyard.
Having a tooled declination adjustment also means that after you alter your declination, you won’t have to factor it into your navigation another time because the compass instantly modifies to it. Besides these handy features, the Silva Ranger also sports a variety of navigational scales, a magnifying glass, and an inclinometer, making it an excellent choice for everyone from beginner hikers to expert pros.
Brunton TruArc 3 Base Plate Compass
- Built-in adjustable declination that does not require outside tools to adjust
- Quality bezel in 2-degree increments for improved accuracy
- Global needle so you can use it anywhere in the world
- Needle fluid tends to develop air bubbles
- Baseplate is not as durable as other products on the market
The Brunton TruArc 3 made it to our list for its simple but quality base plate design. If you want a compass that takes you back to the basics but that you can still rely on for a high level of precision, this could be a strong contender on your short list. We really like that it features a global needle, so you can depend on it for accuracy whether you are in the Western Hemisphere or not.
We also like that the Brunton TruArc 3’s outer bezel reads in 2-degree increments, making it easier to pinpoint your exact location down to the smallest detail. It even sports dual inch and centimeter scales for easy measuring.
It also features built-in adjustable declination, which is an important feature when choosing a hiking compass. If you are new to using compasses, the Brunton TruArc is an excellent selection because you can read and alter the declination as desired without using any outside tools.
Suunto A-10 Recreational Field Compass
- Quality, easy to use tool
- Compact and lightweight
- Features declination adjustment
- Lacking in extra features
- Not as accurate as compasses with more bells and whistles
- Better for basic navigation rather than large scale adventures
The next compass for hiking on our list is another winner by Suunto. Again, if you’re looking for a product that has the basic functionalities you need on the road while still offering a high level of accuracy, the A-10 model is a great pick.
It is light to carry and highly compact. It definitely doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as our previous choices, but if you’re looking for a simple but quality navigation tool, you can’t go wrong.
The Suunto A-10 has a clear and easy to read base plate, attractive bezel, and features built-in declination adjustment. Bear in mind, this compass is really designed for small scale navigation if you just need a basic tool to use alongside your map. If you’re going to be on the road for long periods and want navigation precision down to the last minutiae, this might not be for you.
Silva Explorer Pro High Visibility Compass
- Quality 2-degree bezel component
- Easy to read navigation ring
- Good for beginner to intermediate hikers
- No mirror or sighting hole
- Requires manual declination adjustment
- Might not be ideal for advanced hikers taking long off-trail trips
The last selection on our list is this High Visibility Compass by Silva. It’s very similar to the Ranger 515 compass in terms of features, but is lacking a sighting hole or mirror. So, if you don’t care so much about those add-ons and would rather have a more lightweight, compact option, this could be a good one for you.
The lack of a mirror or sighting hole means your navigation will be slightly less accurate, but if you don’t plan to go entirely off-grid, that shouldn’t be so much of an issue. Otherwise, the Silva Explorer Pro High Visibility Compass checks off all our boxes in terms of features, with an exceptional 2-degree bezel for precision and a navigation ring that is easy to read.
You will have to manually adjust the declination of the Silva Explorer with the compasses’ special screwdriver, which could prove a bit tedious over time. That said, if you mainly hike on-trail and don’t plan on taking any extreme off-the-trail adventures, this is a quality tool to add to your backpacking arsenal.
Types of Compasses
There are many factors to consider when buying a compass. Here we'll list out the most important ones.
Also called protractor compasses, base plate compasses are thought to be the ideal choice for plotting. The majority of base plate compasses have a plastic or glass base, with a rotating dial and magnetic needle.
Base plate compasses are a fantastic choice if you like to use maps out on the trail, since you can align the meridian lines on the compass against the map to ensure you’re going in the right direction.
The other primary option available to you when selecting the best hiking compass is a digital compass. You won’t be able to use a digital compass with a map as you would with a base plate compass. Digital compasses are also battery operated, so it’s a good idea to have a backup set on hand in case you’re going to be out on the open road for long periods.
If you are brand new to using a compass, it is usually advisable to start with a base plate compass before trying out a digital one.
Understanding How Compasses Work
Before you purchase a compass, it’s a good idea to have a thorough understanding of how one works and its primary components.
The magnetic needle is the red point typically situated at the end of the compass pivoting needle which faces towards the magnetic pole. Most compass magnetic needles rest in a fluid that regulates their movement. You don’t have to worry about the fluid freezing, but it does gather bubbles at times (which still shouldn’t affect the needle).
The rotating bezel is the ring on the outer section of the needle capsule with 0 to 360-degree markings. The smaller your degree intervals are, the better time you will have navigating with accuracy.
The baseplate of a compass is the flat, see-through base with markings for navigation. A compass baseplate also features a ruler so you can measure map intervals.
Arrows and Lines
For easy navigating, compasses also sport arrows and lines around the needle and on the baseplate.
Features to Look For
There are a number of key features you’ll want to look for when selecting a hiking compass.
The first feature you want to keep an eye out for is a sighting mirror. While not included with all products, this feature is a common add-on to compasses, letting you keep both your bearing and target in viewable range at the same time.
A sighting mirror makes it much easier to get to your final destination without unnecessarily straying off course.
It is important to note, however, that a sighting mirror will be of zero use to you in situations where you have limited to no visibility. If you can see the primary area you’re trying to reach though, a sighting mirror could be your new best friend.
Plus, you could use your sighting mirror to send a help signal out in case you end up in an unexpected emergency. Most compasses equipped with a sighting mirror use it instead of the traditional see-through base.
Compass bearing precision is another key factor to be aware of when choosing your compass, if not the most important element of all. You need to make sure that the compass you purchase offers precise and specific readings.
If you want to ensure your compass will give readings that are on point, you’ll need to choose a compass with a larger face and tiny increments to track degrees.
While not included in all models, some compasses feature a clinometer, allowing you to identify the angle of the particular area of elevation or incline you’re on. A clinometer could be especially helpful if you frequently hike in high elevations.
If you intend to take your hiking adventures beyond the Western Hemisphere, you need to make sure you purchase a compass featuring a global needle. A global needle ensures that your compass will work as normal no matter where in the world you are.
Unfortunately, traditional compasses will not work outside the Western Hemisphere, because of magnetic dips. A magnetic dip occurs when the needle drags while facing magnetic north. You can also use a global needle for regular hiking ventures, because they can still run well even at approximately 20-degree inclines.
If you live in a very cold region or hike frequently in chilly temperatures, you’ll want to select a compass that can withstand a sufficient temperature capacity or range. If not, you could end up with incorrect readings in tough weather conditions.
If you don’t feel like squinting to get a full reading on your compass, you might want to choose a product featuring a magnifying lens. Some compass types have a lens right in the baseplate, so you’ll have a much easier time reading the map.
If you tend to hike early in the morning or after dark, a compass with a light-emitting indicator could be an excellent choice for you. Not only will you have an easier time seeing the map and readings, but you’ll have a little extra light to illuminate your path.
In our ranking of the best hiking compass, what compass came out on top? After reviewing all of the products above, taking into account a range of user needs and features, we’d have to say that the Suunto MC-2G Global Compass takes the award for first place.
The Suunto MC-2G sports all those key features we previously mentioned that some of the other compasses lacked, from its global compass functionality to its sighting mirror to its 2-degree bezel.
It features exceptional adjustable declination to keep you on track at all times, plus an illuminating component so you can see where you’re going no matter what time of day it is. The Suunto MC-2G is a fantastic option for beginners and experts alike, whether you plan to stay on-trail or take your adventures off the beaten path.
Compass for Hiking FAQ
Here are our answers to your most commonly asked questions about hiking compass:
Is a compass needed for hiking?
You should always carry a compass if not a topographical map as well. It's easy to get lost when hiking, especially if you are unfamiliar with the area. A compass helps you orient the map, identify features, take a bearing and pinpoint your position.
What is the most accurate compass?
Theoretically, most compasses have about the same accuracy, usually plus or minus two degrees. Any compass can be used to locate North, but you must decide how to use that knowledge once you find it. Therefore, knowing how to use a compass and map is one of the most important skills to have.
What kind of compass is good for hiking?
In terms of popularity and affordability, the baseplate compass, also known as an "orienting compass," is probably the most used compass among hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. In addition to being lightweight and easy to carry in a backpack, baseplate compasses are great for learning navigation skills.