Experienced outdoorsmen can navigate by the position of the sun in the sky, or using the stars. Professional survivalists can tell where they’re going by the way moss grows on tree trunks or seasonal winds, and pinpoint true north from there… But for most of us, the easiest and most sensible way to navigate is to use a survival compass. Learning the skills to navigate and find true north without a compass is always recommended, but at the end of the day, in a genuine survival situation you want to spend as little time as possible on navigation, and that means having a compass for survival.
On the other end of the spectrum, you might be thinking that you have GPS (either on your phone or on a specialized device), and so a compass is unnecessary. If you think this, you’re wrong. Electronics are ultimately unreliable. Situations where you don’t know where you are in the wilderness are exactly the kinds of situations where something like GPS is likely to fail (either due to lack of electricity, reliable signal, or both). Even if it’s just as your navigational backup, you’ll want to keep a compass on you for survival situations.
A compact, old school compass is still the best way to discover magnetic north. The more high tech ones allow for true north readings, along with measurements, global needles, and luminescence. While we tend to favor old school solutions on this site, many of these newer features are extremely useful and have survival applications, so it’s up to you to determine which features you think are worth having. If you’re still not sure after looking through our recommendations, we have a handy buyer’s guide at the bottom of this article so you can understand what factors you should be considering when picking a compass.
We’ll stop rambling – here are our choices for the best compasses for survival on the market.
The 7 Best Compasses for Survival Navigation in 2020
Survival Compass Buying Guide
Here are a few pointers on how to pick the best survival compass for your needs.
Weight/Size: if you’re carrying your compass in a pack or pocket, it’s best to buy one that’s lightweight and compact.
Durable Construction: Who knows what kind of conditions you’ll encounter in a survival situation. You need a compass that can stand up to some punishing environments.
Water Resistant/Waterproof: If it starts to pour down with heavy rains, you don’t want your compass to cease functioning. Check the survival compass you choose is water resistant at the very least. This is important as you never know when a river bank might collapse or your pack accidentally gets left out during a sudden thunderstorm.
Should I Get a Dry or Liquid Survival Compass? Both dry and liquid style compasses have their pros and cons. If you are shopping for a survival compass, make sure the liquid compasses are filled with non-freeze fluid. The military-grade compasses on this list contain non-freeze fluids.
What’s the Difference Between a Fixed Arrow and an Adjustable Arrow on a Survival Compass? An orienting arrow in a compass that is fixed aligned to north with the compass’s housing. Fixed declination or fixed arrow correction is an extra scale underneath the needle. You must take the direction first using the protractor, and then turn until the needle points at the correct declination scale according to your locality. This has to be done every time you take a reading. An adjustable arrow is set when you start to navigate. By turning to the North arrow at the bottom of the capsule, the angle will correspond to your locality. You can adjust the arrow with a small screwdriver and then you can use the compass with having to take the declination into account every time.
Bezel: A rotating bezel (also called a azimuth ring) is marked with 0 to 360. It encircles the compass capsule’s outer rim edge. The smaller the intervals between the degrees, the easier it will be for you to navigate.
Baseplate: A good baseplate will have measurements to help you calculate distances accurately. It’s a transparent, flat base with a number of markings on it for navigation. It resembles a chunky ruler underneath the compass and you can use it to measure any map distances. Survival compasses offer both mm and inch baseplate measurements.
Meridian Lines: These markings are found on the baseplate and also inside the compass needle housing. The help you perform navigational tasks.
Orienting Arrows: Make sure your survival compass has orienting arrows. Without these, it’s significantly more difficult to orient your compass.
Declination Scale: This feature takes orienting arrows to the next level. It helps you to adjust your compass readings to reflect magnetic declinations within your locality, and displays the difference between true north and magnetic north.
Clinometer: Helps you to assess how steep the hills and mountains are in front of you.
Sighting Mirror: Used for more precise navigation. It helps you to sight an object and direction at the same time.
Global Needle: This useful feature compensates for any variances within the earth’s magnetic field.
Magnifying Glass: When a magnifying glass is set in the baseplate, it helps you to read the smaller text on maps.
Luminosity: Being able to read a compass at night is essential. The luminescence should be on the orienting arrow, four cardinal compass points, and on the magnetized needle too.
Now that you know a little bit more about survival compasses and how they work, you can take your new compass out on your next hike and see how easy it is to find your way back to the car. Remember to never deliberately put yourself into a survival situation if you have no training, and find yourself an expert teacher if you have trouble working out how to read your compass. Better safe than sorry is a good motto for any outdoors adventure.