8 Best Compasses for Hiking

Last Updated November 1, 2023
Top 3 Best Compasses for Hiking
Suunto MC-2G Global Compass
Suunto MC-2G Global
  • Finnish craftsmanship provides a durable and reliable build.
  • Fold-up sighting mirror for effective landmark sighting.
  • Metric and imperial markings on the baseplate for easy navigation
Silva Ranger 515 Compass
Silva Ranger 515 Good Compass
  • Sturdy polymer construction designed to resist damage from drops.
  • Rotating azimuth bezel with magnetic declination adjustment.
  • Luminous indicators for night time navigation​.
Eyeskey Multifunction Military Navigation Compass
Eyeskey Multifunction Military Navigation Compass
  • Rugged steel body with flip-up sighting mirror.
  • Liquid-filled magnetic card style compass.
  • Built-in bubble level and clinometer for elevation assessment.
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Compasses are one of the most important tools in the history of the world. They allowed early navigators to sail unknown seas and explore hidden realms of discovery. Nowadays they’re an essential part of any serious hiker or bushcrafters kit. We spent some time using different compasses to work out what’s the best compass for hiking and put together a list to help you pick out one that suits your needs.

Best Compass for Hiking Reviews

A common question we hear in relation to compasses is are they really still necessary. Everybody has a GPS unit in their phone, and you can buy a purpose-built hiking GPS for a very reasonable price.

Should you really buy one?


A high-quality hiking compass lets you get just about anywhere with just it and a map. As long as you know what you’re doing you can find out exactly where you are and get where you need to go. Not only that, using a proper orienteering compass is a lot like solving a navigational puzzle. Picking up orienteering is a lot easier than most people think. Just by taking a simple lesson you can figure it out with just a bit of practice.

To that end we picked out 8 of the best compasses on the market today to review.

Suunto MC-2G Global Best Compass for Hiking

Suunto MC-2G Global
The Suunto MC-2G Global compass product picture

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Venturing into the wilderness with my new Suunto MC-2G Global Compass has undoubtedly been a transformative experience for a devoted outdoorsman like me. You see, the Finnish craftsmanship that this tool exemplifies is something that’s not only observed but deeply felt when you navigate through the diverse terrains that I so often find myself enveloped in during my hiking and camping escapades.

At first glance, the MC-2G, being a baseplate style orienteering compass, struck me as durable and reliable with its polymer body and fold-up sighting mirror. The fold-up mirror isn’t just a tool; it’s a gateway to easy and effective landmark sighting which was particularly useful when I found myself in dense forests with minimal visibility. Contrary to my initial assumption of a subpar mirror, once I discovered and removed the protective layer, it reflected not only my surroundings but the top-notch quality of Suunto’s production.

Navigating through both metric and imperial markings on the baseplate seemed like a breeze, especially with an included clinometer which only enriched my orienteering experiences. However, adapting to the mil graduation instead of degrees brought an additional layer of complexity, yet also precision, to my adventures. The necessity to sometimes engage in a tad of conversion work (given that 1 degree is approximately 17.78 mils) didn’t impair my experience, but rather enhanced my navigational skills and ultimately allowed me a deeper understanding and interaction with my surroundings.

I noticed, the manner in which to take an accurate reading of distant objects with the MC-2G is meticulously detailed, necessitating the alignment of the magnetic needle to the red outline on the bezel, while simultaneously sighting the object. Although it’s different from the military style lensatic compasses I’ve used in the past, it provided a direct, and notably accurate, radial reading. Despite it demanding a bit more patience and finesse, it awarded me with a rich accuracy that keenly supported my outdoor endeavors.

The detachable lanyard, while ostensibly straightforward, did present a minor puzzle. I, too, found myself bewildered by the little black thing and ended up seeking answers from an online video, as instructions were conspicuously absent. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a deal-breaker, rather a small adventure within an adventure, that led me to fully assemble this exquisite piece of navigational art.

With a global needle that floats effortlessly anywhere in the world and a highly versatile nature, the MC-2G has proven itself to be more than just a compass; it’s a reliable partner for an avid explorer like me. Despite the few hiccups and learning curves, switching from my military style compass to this useful tool has indeed opened up a new world of navigational possibilities, ensuring smooth and precise operation wherever my hiking boots carry me.

Embarking on a two-week solo backpacking trip across a rugged terrain, the Suunto MC-2G Global Compass became my silent companion through the undulating landscapes of the wild. One day, I found myself engulfed by a sudden mist, reducing visibility to a mere few meters. With the traditional landmarks shrouded, I unfolded the sighting mirror of the MC-2G, carefully aligning the magnetic needle with the red outline on the bezel, as I had practiced many times before. The luminous coating on the azimuth bezel illuminated my path in the dim light of the obscured sun, guiding my way through the fog.

As I meticulously adjusted and readjusted the bezel, ensuring absolute accuracy, the MC-2G lent me a confidence that was unshakeable, even amidst the enigmatic blanket of the mist. After several hours, the fog relented, revealing a vista that was precisely where the compass had guided me. In that moment, amidst the untamed beauty unfolded before my eyes, I silently thanked the meticulous Finnish engineering of the Suunto MC-2G, which had steered me unerringly through the unseen. This tool, with its precise readings and sturdy design, did not just point north, but led me through an unforgettable journey, ensuring that each step was taken with assurance and reliability, crafting an experience that was seamlessly intertwined with the art of precise navigation.

This compass is not just a tool; it’s an embodiment of precision and quality that Suunto encapsulates, proving itself to be an indispensable companion on my numerous escapades across the globe. Even when the journey gets tough, the MC-2G, with its durable construction and meticulously designed features, has always pointed me in the right direction.


  • Global Needle: Ensures effective and smooth navigation in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
  • Build Quality: The durable polymer construction and a mirror with a protective layer emphasize a commitment to longevity.
  • Precision: With readings in mils, it offers enhanced accuracy for users familiar with or willing to convert from degrees.
  • Versatility: Full metric and imperial markings, clinometer, and a robust baseplate make it adaptable to various navigational uses.
  • Luminous Coating: The bezel’s glow facilitates navigation even in low-light conditions.


  • Learning Curve: Adjusting to mils and mastering the accurate reading of distant objects can be complex for beginners.
  • Lanyard Attachment: Absence of clear instructions can make the initial setup slightly puzzling.
  • Protective Mirror Layer: Some users might mistake the mirror as being of low quality before realizing there is a protective film to remove.
  • Price: High-quality construction and precision might come at a higher cost compared to other compasses.
  • Availability of Instructions: The lack of a detailed manual may require users to seek additional resources for optimal utilization.

Silva Ranger 515 Good Compass for Hiking

Silva Ranger 515 Good Compass
The Silva Ranger 515 compass product picture

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The Silva Ranger 515 is an orienteering style baseplate compass with all the bells and whistles. It’s made from sturdy polymer and is designed to resist damage from drops.

The Ranger 515 has a rotating azimuth bezel and the ability to adjust for magnetic declination. It has a full 360 degree rotation in 2 degree increments for the taking of highly precise bearings. It has a flip up sighting mirror with an orienting arrow contained within. All the indicators are coated with a 4x brighter luminous material to aid in night time navigation.

The baseplate itself has metric and imperial markings as well as a map magnifier to aid in finding your location. There are also silicone feet built into the bottom to prevent it from slipping on a map.

The Silva Ranger 515 is a fully functional orienteering compass that can help you find and follow a bearing quickly and efficiently.

Eyeskey Multifunction Military Navigation Compass

Eyeskey Multifunction Military Navigation Compass
The Eyeskey compass product picture

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The Eyeskey Military style compass is a rugged navigation tool that allows for the full range of navigational tasks. It has an all steel body with a flip up sighting mirror and additional sighting eyepiece.

The compass itself is a liquid filled magnetic card style compass contained within a luminous fluorescent dial. It doesn’t allow for declination adjustment but the design allows you to account for it manually.

The metal body is etched with rulers and useful tables to aid in navigation. The Eyeskey compass also includes a bubble level and a clinometer to help you figure out the elevation of various slopes.

If you’re looking for a compass that’s a bit beefier and more durable than the traditional orienteering style the Eyeskey Military Navigation Compass deserves serious consideration.

Brunton TruArc 3 Baseplate Hiking Compass

Brunton TruArc 3 Baseplate Hiking Compass
The Brunton TruArc 3 compass product picture

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The Brunton TruArc 3 is a baseplate style compass designed for folks just getting started with orienteering and navigation. It lacks many of the high-end features of other compasses but lets you work on the fundamentals of navigation without distractions.

The TruArc 3 uses a global needle design with a tool free declination adjustment system. The bezel rotates fully and is set on a baseplate with metric and imperial rulers for map scaling. At just over 1 ounce this is one of the lightest functional orienteering compasses available.

Whether you’re looking for a learner’s compass or a compact EDC tool the Brunton TruArc 3 gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

Suunto A-10 Recreational Field Compass

Suunto A-10 Recreational Field Compass
The Suunto A-10 compass product picture

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The Suunto A-10 is a Finnish made introductory orienteering compass. It’s designed to fulfill the basic needs of navigation at a value price.

It’s a baseplate style compass with a northern hemisphere balanced needle. It doesn’t allow declination adjustment but does include an easy to use fixed declination correction chart. The clear baseplate has both metric and imperial rulers and the bezel rotates a full 360 degrees.

The A-10 isn’t the best compass on the market, far from it honestly. What it is though is a really good value priced compass that gives you the basics you need to figure out where you are and how to get where you’re going.

Silva Explorer Pro Compass

Silva Explorer Pro Compass
The Silva Explorer Pro compass product picture

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The Silva Explorer Pro is a baseplate style compass with a bright orange bezel design. It comes with a detachable lanyard strap for secure carry out in the wild.

It allows 2 degree dial graduations and has a fully adjustable declination. The baseplate is made from clear plastic and has several useful rulers and scales to aid with navigation. There’s also a built in map magnifier to make very small scale maps easier to use.

The body is made from robust plastics and is designed to be very impact resistant. The markings are all coated with a luminous material that charges up in the sun for easy night time navigation.

The Silva Explorer Pro lacks some of the top of the line features of other compasses but is a great middle range hiking compass that’s easy to use.

Suunto Clipper Compass

Suunto Clipper Compass
The Suunto Clipper compass product picture

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The Suunto Clipper is a backup compass that’s designed to be clipped to your watch band, lanyard strap, or onto a map itself. It has very limited navigational features but does provide reasonable value for its size.

The Clipper isn’t capable enough to be relied on as your primary navigation source for serious backcountry orienteering. It lacks declination adjustment, a sighting tool, or even a rotating azimuth bezel.

What it does have is an accurate magnetic card that lets you take a basic bearing and follow it. It’s great as an EDC piece as it will clip right onto your watchband or other strap for all day carry. You can easily use it to get an idea of where you’re going and find a general landmark to get there.

The Suunto Clipper isn’t going to be the only compass you need. In an emergency situation though it is probably going to be the only compass you have with you.

Brunton Pocket Transit

Brunton Pocket Transit
The Brunton Pocket Transit compass product picture

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The Brunton Pocket Transit is a professional grade compass for tasks that require pinpoint precision. It’s made from die-cast aluminum for maximum durability.

The Pocket Transit allows highly precise measurements. The rotating bezel takes azimuth measurements of up to .5 degrees accuracy. It also has see through sighting of its precision aligned mirror. The design incorporates a bubble level as well as a 90-degree clinometer for vertical angle measurements.

We’ll be honest, most people don’t need the degree of accuracy and durability the Brunton Pocket Transit provides. If you’re looking for a very high-end compass that won’t let you down though, this is an excellent contender.

Best Hiking Compass Comparison Table

Best Compass for Hiking Apps

Nowadays most people would rather lose a finger than leave home without their smartphone. This allows for interesting possibilities where navigation and compasses are. Several companies have released compass apps for both Android and IOS devices.

Compass Galaxy (Android)

Compass Galaxy is an Android app available for download on the Play Store. It’s a basic compass that lets you find magnetic north. The design works well with a map as you can lay your phone right on top of it.

To sight a landmark just line up the top of your phone with the direction you want to go then look down the length of it. The startup process involved a little bit of calibration to get the right reading but was easy to complete.

Play Store

Commander Compass Go (IOS)

For IOS users Commander Compass Go is a full featured navigation app that includes a compass. It’s designed to simulate both an orienteering compass and a topographical map. You can superimpose the compass image above downloaded maps and line them up with the direction you wish to travel.

It allows you to adjust the setting just to your liking, including units, display format, day/night mode, and much more. You can even program in waypoints and drop markers on your map for later use.

The best part about Commander Compass Go though?

Totally free.


Compass 360 Pro (Android)

Compass 360 Pro gives you a basic compass with the ability to adjust its appearance and functionality. You can choose from a range of compass dials and measurement types as well as movement actions.

One really cool feature is the ability to switch between magnetic and true north with just the flip of a switch. It works online or offline and is available for download free of charge.

Play Store

Compasses Vs Compass Apps – Pros and Cons

The biggest differences between compasses and compass apps relate to ease of use and longevity. Compass apps are designed to be totally idiot proof. All you need to do is turn them on and move them around to figure out where different directions are.

That being said they’re usually a bit less accurate overall than a physical compass. The actual electronic compass is highly accurate but the display doesn’t always convey this. Most compass apps also lack the added tools like sighting mirrors or clinometers needed for true orienteering compasses.

Another point to consider is that if you have your compass app on your phone you also probably have a fully functional GPS app.

The last point, longevity, has to do with the nature of any app. They’re on a phone. If your battery is dead you can’t navigate. A physical compass doesn’t suffer from that.

Best Compass for Hikers Buyers Guide

When looking at compasses you have to consider where you’ll be using them and what features you need. Basic compasses may work fine for certain tasks but you wouldn’t want to bet your life on one.

We’ve gathered all the factors that go into a great compass to help you figure out what to look for in the best hiking compasses.

Price of the Best Compass for Hiking

A quality compass is a piece of precision navigational equipment. You can get a dinky little toy compass for under a dollar. If you want a real hiking or orienteering compass you’re going to need to spend some money.

Entry level models will run you around $20-$50 while high-end versions can cost several hundred. For that though you get a durable and highly accurate tool that can save your life in a survival situation.

Types of Compass

There are lots of different types of compasses available, but only a few that are useful to the average hiker. Most compass types are highly specialized tools used for professional tasks like marine navigation. These are too large and complex for the average user.

Button Compasses – For smaller compasses you can find the standard small button style compass. This will usually have just a moving needle without any adjustable or orienteering tools attached. Most are pretty inaccurate.

Lensatic Compasses – The next level up is a military style lensatic or prismatic compass. Many of these use a magnetic card design that moves a round metal disc around a fixed needle. This can make them faster and easier to use while on the move.

They have a sighting tool and usually have tritium or other luminous dials. They don’t have an adjustable azimuth ring but are designed to allow you to quickly get your bearing just using the sighting tool.

Orienteering Compasses – The modern orienteering compass was designed for recreational and light professional use. It allows you to take very precise bearings using a topographical map and landmarks. Most models will include a sighting mirror, declination adjustment, clinometer, and azimuth ring as well as numerous other high-end features.

Electronic Compasses – If you’ve ever downloaded a compass app or used a GPS navigation system you’ve used an electronic compass. Officially these are called solid state compasses and they rely on minute magnetic readings that are then processed by a computer.

They’re in all kinds of different systems but are almost never found on their own.

Navigational Features and Ease of Use

Not all compasses are created equal. Simpler varieties are basically just a round watch-like tool with a magnetized needle and basic bearing points. As you get up to higher quality models you have all kinds of advanced navigational tools that assist you in finding and following a bearing.

Too much complexity can be very intimidating to new or even intermediate navigators. Find a compass that has the features you need and know how to use.

Baseplate – The baseplate of a compass is the metal or plastic base that sits under the compass ring. It makes it easier to place on a map to help get your bearings and usually has a things like rulers, map scaling tools, and a direction of travel arrow.

Azimuth Ring – Any true orienteering compass will have a rotating bezel, also know as an azimuth ring. It’s an essential part of taking a bearing or traveling along a known bearing.

It allows you to quickly orient your map towards your desired destination and make sure you’re moving in the right direction without having to pull everything out again.

Orienting Lines and Arrow – Orienting lines and arrows are often found on better quality compasses. They serve a variety of navigational tasks and assist you in locating and following a bearing.

Declination Adjustment

Many first time navigators don’t realize that true north and magnetic north aren’t the same. Adjusting the declination of your compass allows you to compensate for this. Any good topographical map of an area will give you the current declination adjustment you need to input for your region.

As an aside, make sure you always have maps that are as up to date as possible. The difference between true and magnetic north changes over time.

First things first, if your compass doesn’t accept declination adjustments it’s probably not good to take as your primary compass. It can work as an emergency backup but it’ll take longer to get your bearings every time you stop.

Compasses that accept declination adjustment do so in different ways. Make sure to check out how a manufacturer designs their adjustment system and if you need any special tools to do so.

Sighting Mirror

A sighting mirror is a multi purpose addition that will be present on any really high-end compass. It lets you exactly match your desired course to a landmark by looking over the map and sighting it through the mirror. In an emergency it doubles as an effective signalling device.


If you’re planning to do any mountaineering or winter hiking you should definitely get a compass with a clinometer. It allows you to measure the vertical angle of a slope and is very helpful in predicting avalanche risk. You can also figure out the height of distant hills or other landmarks for planning your route.

Luminosity and Backlighting

Compasses with luminous indicators or dials can be extremely helpful in low light or nighttime conditions. They allow you quickly find your bearings without needing to break out a flashlight.

Global Needle

One of the most important parts of a working compass is the balance of the magnetized needle. Most compasses are balanced for North America and will drag if you try to use them places like Africa or South America.

Compasses with a global needle are balanced in such a way that they’ll function anywhere in the world. Unless you’re a frequent world traveler this may not be an important consideration but it definitely bears mentioning.

Durability and Build Quality of the Best Compass for Hiking

Good compasses are expensive. You don’t want your compass to fall apart with a single drop or jar in your hiking pack. Look for ones made from sturdy plastics or metal.

One thing to keep in mind is that compass needles can be delicate. Try not to drop your compass too often or against hard ground. A really bad jar could dislodge the needle and render your compass useless.

Top Hiking Compasses Video

FAQs – Best Compass for Hiking

As you embark on your hiking adventures, having the right tools and equipment is crucial to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. One indispensable tool for every hiker is a reliable compass. However, choosing the best compass for your needs can be a daunting task, given the multitude of options available in the market.

To help you make an informed decision and address common queries, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the best compasses for hiking. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, this section aims to provide you with valuable insights and guidance on selecting the right compass for your outdoor explorations.

From understanding the importance of a compass in hiking to learning about different compass types, features to consider, and tips for using a compass effectively, we’ve covered a range of topics to equip you with the knowledge needed to make an informed choice. So, before you embark on your next hiking adventure, take a moment to explore these FAQs and arm yourself with the necessary information to navigate the trails with confidence.

Remember, a reliable compass can be your trusted companion, ensuring you stay on course and helping you unlock the wonders of nature with every step you take. Let’s dive into the frequently asked questions and discover the best compass for your hiking needs!

Why do I need a compass for hiking?

A compass is an essential tool for hikers as it helps you navigate and find your way in unfamiliar terrain. It can provide accurate directions, guide you along a planned route, and help you orient yourself even when landmarks are not visible.

How does a compass work?

A compass works based on the Earth’s magnetic field. The needle inside the compass is magnetized and aligns itself with the magnetic north pole. By using the compass needle and the directional markings on the compass, you can determine the cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) and navigate accordingly.

What are the different types of compasses available for hiking?

There are various types of compasses suitable for hiking, including baseplate compasses, lensatic compasses, thumb compasses, and sighting compasses. Each type has its own features and benefits, so it’s important to choose one that fits your specific needs and preferences.

What features should I look for in a hiking compass?

When choosing a compass for hiking, consider factors such as durability, accuracy, ease of use, weight, size, and additional features like a declination adjustment, luminous markings for low-light conditions, and a magnifying lens for map reading.

Can I rely solely on a smartphone compass app for hiking?

While smartphone compass apps can be useful in some situations, they should not be relied upon as the sole navigation tool during hiking. Smartphone compasses can be affected by interference, battery drain, and lack of signal in remote areas. It’s always recommended to carry a dedicated compass as a backup.

How should I use a compass while hiking?

To use a compass effectively while hiking, start by aligning the compass with the map, taking into account declination if necessary. Hold the compass flat, ensuring the needle is pointing at the north. Rotate yourself until the needle aligns with the orienting arrow or the magnetic north on the compass housing. This will give you the correct bearing to follow.

How accurate are hiking compasses?

Hiking compasses are generally quite accurate if used correctly. However, it’s important to remember that external factors such as magnetic interference from nearby objects can affect the accuracy of a compass. Regularly calibrating your compass and cross-checking with other navigational tools can help ensure accuracy.

Can I use a compass for night navigation?

Some compasses come with luminous markings or a built-in light source that makes them suitable for night navigation. These features allow you to read the compass in low-light conditions. However, it’s still recommended to carry a reliable flashlight or headlamp for better visibility during night hikes.

Are expensive compasses always better?

The price of a compass is not always an indicator of its quality or suitability for hiking. While some expensive compasses may offer advanced features and superior build quality, there are also reliable and affordable options available. Consider your specific needs and choose a compass that meets your requirements and budget.

How do I care for and maintain a hiking compass?

To keep your compass in good working condition, avoid exposing it to extreme temperatures, excessive moisture, or strong magnetic fields. Clean the compass regularly with a soft cloth, and store it in a dry and safe place. Periodically check for any signs of damage or wear, and if necessary, replace the compass to ensure accurate navigation.

Remember, a compass is an invaluable tool for hikers, providing reliable navigation even when modern technology fails. Choose the right compass for your hiking adventures and learn to use it effectively to enhance your outdoor experiences.

Best Compass for Hiking Recap

Final Thoughts on the Best Compass for Hiking

Buying a good compass takes knowledge and experience. You need to know enough about navigation to pick out the features you need.

We suggest you only buy as much compass as your skills require. You can definitely buy more if you’re working on expanding your knowledge but you don’t want to wind up out in the wild with a compass you can’t figure out how to operate.

Keep these factors in mind and you’re sure to pick out the best compass for hiking.

2 thoughts on “8 Best Compasses for Hiking”

  1. I recently bought the Brunton TruArc 3 and it’s perfect for beginners like me. It’s light, easy to use, and the global needle feature is quite handy. The lack of advanced features actually makes it less intimidating for someone just learning navigation. Highly recommended for anyone new to hiking and navigation!


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