Let’s talk about one of the most basic tools you will need for outdoor survival: a well functioning compass. Yes, we live in an age of GPS and navigation systems on our phones, but those are dependent on both reception and battery life: a good compass does not need anything except a pair of eyes to read it. Read on to learn about the importance of compasses and some of the best compass models you can buy.
Best Compasses for Survival Comparison Chart
Suunto 9001682 MC-2G USGS Mirror Compass
Cammenga 27CS Lensatic Compass
Eyeskey Waterproof Multifunctional Military Metal Sighting Compass
CMMG Official US Military Tritium Lensatic Compass
Under Control Tactical Military Compass
Are All Compasses the Same?
In concept, all compasses accomplish the same goal: they point north and allow you to orient your own location relative to prior readings. But in practice, compasses can be very different and it is important to determine what your own needs are for a compass before you spend money on one that may not be best suited for you.
Basic compasses accomplish simple navigation and orientation without many other functions, but you can also buy more advanced compasses that encompass (get it?) other aspects of survival, such as those that may contain a signaling mirror or a flint for sparking a fire. Consider what you need from a compass and whether you will be wanting a basic or more advanced model.
Types of Compasses
You may discover when searching for compass information that are a multitude of compass types with an overwhelming amount of information on each one. We have simplified the most common compass types for you:
When a compass is described as “dry,” that means it does not contain liquid. Dry compasses typically take readings much slower than liquid compasses, but you are also able to avoid some inconveniences when using a dry compass. Often, as liquid compasses age, they develop bubbles that can obscure readability. Dry compasses don’t have this problem.
If you want a compass that responds quickly, you need to invest in a liquid compass. Their readings are lightning quick when comparing to dry compass models. However, some of the pitfalls listed above can happen to you when you are using a dry compass. Make sure you buy a compass with antifreeze in its liquid, or you could discover that the liquid itself freezes and causes the compass face to shatter.
Sight Reads vs. Map Reads
Hypothetically, all compasses should be good at both traditional sight readings and at orienting yourself using a map. However, as we will go into further when looking at actual compass models, there are definitely some kinds of compasses that are better at one than the other.
How to Choose a Top of The Line Compass
There are a number of qualities you want to keep in mind when choosing the best compass:
You want something that is hardy and not going to break easily. We have included some military grade compasses on this list that are incapable of being destroyed by anything short of a combat tank.
The whole point of a compass is to make sure you know exactly where you are and exactly where you are going, right? You want a compass that can take as accurate a read as possible, and preferably one that can take an accurate read easily, without any additional calculations on your part.
If you are a serious outdoor explorer, you may want a compass that does more than just tell you where you are. We feature compasses on this list that have magnifying glasses for starting fires and mirrors for signaling, and some that are so hefty they could even be used as weapons in a pinch. Do not compromise on your own survival – get a compass that can do it all.
Quick Take | Best Survival Compasses
Before diving into our review of the best survival compasses, here is a quick take of our top 3 picks:
Review of the Best Survival Compasses
Let’s check some of these awesome survival compasses out!
The Suunto 9001682 MC-2G USGS Mirror Compass is a great compass from the dependable Suunto brand, with tons of fun bells and whistles for you to explore.
It has a built-in clinometer, and comes with a declination adjustment tool – and, in addition, a lot of its features can serve multiple functions, such as the mirror that can also be used as a signaling mirror, and a magnifying glass which you can also use to start fires. It also has rubber anti-slip “feet” which are convenient when placing on a handheld map.
It takes quick, accurate reads, and has the capacity to perform at maximum accuracy even when placed on a severe tilt, which can definitely be a situation you find yourself in when hiking.
The Suunto 9001682 MC-2G USGS Mirror Compass is an awesome compass with all of the latest top of the line features. There are some bugs with it, such as the lid being sticky and the snap lock not being of the highest quality, but these are easily overcome.
The Cammenga 27CS Lensatic Compass is a military grade dry compass that is absolutely guaranteed to get you the peace of mind you need when hiking alone or exploring unfamiliar territory.
Because it is a dry compass, you never have to worry about the inside liquid freezing and obscuring the compass face, or the possibility of the liquid developing bubbles that can also compromise the compass’s readability.
It is phosphorescent, meaning you simply need to shine a flashlight on it for a few seconds and then it will produce its own light for a long time afterward. It is the exact same model the United States Armed Forces uses (with one exception: the USAF uses a model that contains tritium as a lighting mechanism as opposed to the phosphorescence).
Every single aspect of this compass is the most durable you can find, from the compass itself to the waterproof pouch and belt clip that come included. The Cammenga produces a quick, accurate reading that will ensure you return home safely from your outdoor excursions.
The Cammenga 27CS Lensatic Compass is possibly the most reliable model out there when it comes to compasses. This reliability comes with a slight increase in weight, and some users report complications with the locking mechanism and index line. But all in all, you can certainly trust the Cammenga.
The Eyeskey Waterproof Multifunctional Military Metal Sighting Compass is a heavy-duty compass that is easily accessible and usable by anyone, regardless of how familiar they are with compass navigation. It is simple to read, even for those with less knowledge of compass use. It is also beautiful to look at, which, when combined with its high-quality military grade constructions, produces the perfect instrument.
It is especially useful for taking visual bearings and sighting objects (users report it is a little bit more complicated to use for map readings).
The marching line and dial are both luminous for improved readability, and it comes with a thumb hold and magnifying viewer to assist with those who may need some help with or are entirely new to compass reading.
This is a great compass for people who are interested in beginning to explore the wide world of compass navigation.
The Eyeskey Waterproof Multifunctional Military Metal Sighting Compass is an easily used compass that will be accessible to anyone, regardless of their level of compass navigation experience. It does have some trade-offs: it is a lot heavier than many other compass models available, and it can be complicated to use when taking map readings. But if you are looking for a simple, easy compass, the Eyeskey is your top choice.
The CMMG Official US Military Tritium Lensatic Compass is a dry compass with all the benefits of a military level compass. It is technically the civilian issue version of a real compass used by the United States Armed Forces and endorsed for use by veterans of foreign wars.
With its military-grade comes an extremely high level of shock resistance, due to its high-quality construction. Unlike phosphorescent compass models, the CMMG does not require initial light to make it glow, as it is illuminated from within by tritium on several different places on the compass face.
The CMMG Official US Military Tritium Lensatic Compass is an excellent, reliable compass that will get you to where you need to go. It is more complicated to read than some compass models available, so we recommend some experience with compass navigation before trying out the CMMG. All told, it is a great compass that will last you a long time and shine even in complete darkness.
The Under Control Tactical Military Compass is a solid compass with basic navigational capability. Although you may not want to rely on it for situations which could escalate to life and death, it is a great compass for teaching others to use compass navigation, particularly if you have a child that wants to learn more about outdoor exploration and survival.
Another contributing factor to its ease of use by children is it size – this compass and lightweight and compact, and could be easily carried along by anyone.
It is luminous, so it can be read even at night, and it is applicable for both reading maps and taking sight readings, so it is awesome to be used as a training tool if you want to make sure your kids will always be able to find their way home.
The Under Control Tactical Military Compass is one of the lower level compasses on this list, with its lack of quality construction and issues with spot-on accuracy. However, if you are looking for a simple compass for day trip hikes, or a compass model you would feel comfortable training your kids on without worrying about them potentially breaking a high-end compass, the Under Control Compass will suit all of your needs and then some.
Compasses are an essential component of outdoor survival, whether you are using a simple model just to determine your own location, or you choose a fancier option with a lot of additional survival tools. Make sure you find the right compass for you, and you can rest assured that you will never get lost again.