In the age of GPS, knowing how to use a map and a compass might seem like a dying skill.
But nothing could be further from the truth!
Knowing where you are and the ability to successfully navigate using these analog tools can be life-saving – especially if the digital solutions fail you!
Your phone’s battery can die at the most unfortunate moment but you can rely on the old-fashioned map and compass no matter what.
The most basic function of a compass is to point in the designated direction using a magnetized needle. But modern compasses have a variety of different features that you might find useful.
How to use a compass
A compass normally consists of a baseplate with rulers that will help you better work out distance on a map, a rotating bezel with 360 degree markings, magnetized needle with an end always pointing towards the magnetic pole and orienting lines.
First, you need to find out the magnetic declination in your area and adjust your compass accordingly. Even if the declination is just a few degrees, it can significantly set you off the right direction when walking long distances.
Then orientate your map with your compass. Being able to read a map and use compass bearings is crucial when you are out in the wild on your own.
What features to look for in a compass
All compasses have a basic function – to help you navigate yourself. But other than that, there are many different additional features that a compass can have. Continue reading and learn what functions and features are the most suitable for you.
- Declination correction. Magnetic declination is the angle on the horizontal plane between magnetic north and true north. The difference depends on your location. This function adjusts for the difference between the two. Once it’s calibrated, you can forget about it until you go to a new region.
- Clinometer. A clinometer measures angles of slope or tilt. It can be used to asses the height of geological structures in your way and also predict the likeliness of an avalanche.
- Global Needle. Look for this feature if your travels bring you to different hemispheres and continents. Because the components of Earth’s magnetic field have considerable variations in different regions, compass industry has divided the land in five zones. But the patented Global Needle technology allows you to effectively use one compass in all of the zones. It only works for needle tilts of up to 20 degrees though.
- Magnifying glass. Some compasses have a magnifying glass in their baseplate – this feature comes in handy when you need to read small details on the map.
Best hiking compass reviews
If you are looking for a simple, easy to use compass for recreational use and aren’t ready to dive into all the special features just yet, Suunto’s A-10 is the one for you. This cheap hiking compass is balanced for the northern hemisphere. Its features include a fixed declination correction scale, liquid filled capsule for stable operation and detachable snap-lock lanyard. This is a great beginner compass with all the basic functions and none of the hassle of using more advanced features.
Balanced for southern hemisphere. CM & INCHES direction scales with distance helpers.
Fixed declination correction scale. High grade steel needle with jewel bearing.
Liquid filled capsule for stable operation.
Looking for a simple compass that holds up well in harsh conditions? This military-style sighting compass might be the best option for you. Made of aluminum alloy, it is sturdy, waterproof and shockproof. It is suitable for all kinds of weather conditions and outdoors activities, including mountaineering and backcountry hiking. This high-accuracy compass with fluorescent light feature can be used day and night. It also doubles as a sighting telescope and has inches and centimeters ruler for reading compass bearings on a map. It is very reasonably priced and overall a great deal if you are looking for something more durable.
Made of aluminum alloy, can be capable of working under extreme weather condition. Ueasy compass is waterproof and shakeproof, so suitable for all the outdoor activities, motoring, boating, camping, mountaineering, exploring, hunting, etc.
High damping oil liquid-filled capsule with floating dial. Compass rotates very flexibly and the damping oil enhance pointer stability. Built-in a bubble level, which can improve its accuracy and decrease its errors.
This Suunto compass has all the basic functions you would expect and also one very special feature – the Global Needle. Most compasses are hemisphere-specific but the Global Needle technology allows MC2G to work properly all over the world. It is a big advantage if you travel to different regions of the world and want one compass that works everywhere. Suunto has patented the technology that is used by military special forces.
This compass also has a large mirror, additional sighting hole, luminous bezel ring and baseplate with magnifying lens. It is more expensive than most other compasses but the Global Needle technology is well worth it if you are travelling around the globe.
A professional mirror compass with top-of-the-line features for precise directional measurements globally.
Fast, Globally balanced needle with jewel bearing Sighting tools for accurate direction taking Adjustable Declination correction.
Measurements 65 x 101 x 18 mm Weight 75 g Measurements 2.56 x 3.98 x 0.71 " Weight 2.65 oz.