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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
- Cm/inch scales
- Declination correction
- Water resistant
- Global needle
- Magnifying glass
The Sunnto MC/2G should definitely be part of your hiking or camping gear. It works equally well in both the northern and southern hemispheres because of its global needle. The MC/2G also has a tiny magnetized disk in place of the more traditional needle. The disk sits on a gimbal that is then attached to the directional needle.
The Suunto MC/2G is high quality and excellent functionality. The compass dampens really fast – this means that you don’t have to conduct bearing checks constantly. The inclinometer makes measuring the heights and angles of approaching cliffs and mountains simple and straightforward. With a luminous bezel for stress-free nighttime travel, ease of use, and solid fabrication, this compass could easily become a beloved family heirloom if hiking and camping run in the family.
Check price of the Suunto MC2G
- Accurate within different tilt degrees
- Useful features
- Long lasting and robust
- Small magnifying glass
A good quality baseplate compass with a classic bezel, mirror, and lid. These features give the Silva Ranger better grip and easier rotation. There’s an etched sighting line on the mirror down its center, this means you will have a precise bearing readout. Silva claim that their luminous markings are 4 x brighter than average and will not degrade or lose brightness over time. The 2 gradations on the bezel allow accurate readings, and if you don’t plan on flying around the world to use it, you won’t miss its lack of hemispheric capabilities.
The Ranger/515 is a solidly sound survival compass that spins easily and works accurately. This compass is the best overall pick because of its accessible price tag for the great design and sturdy construction.
Check price of the Silva Ranger 515
- Excellent quality and fabrication
- Lots of great features
- Lanyard attached
- No global needle
- Mm or inch
- Declination correction
- Water resistant
- Luminous markings
- Global needle
- Magnifying glass
Don’t be surprised to see two Suunto compasses one after the other on any list devoted to the best compass for survival. The M/3 is yet another well-made, hardy baseplate compass from this mega-efficient sports and active life oriented company. Its solid structure is highly durable and features the outstanding Suunto global needle.
The good news is that, because the M/3 lacks a mirror, it offers the same high technology without costing as much as the MC/2G. That’s got to be interesting for anyone on a budget. If you hike or camp in extreme winter conditions, you will be pleased to know the M/3 performs well in temperatures under -22F.
Check price of the Suunto M3 Compass
- High quality and long lasting
- Performs well in extreme conditions and night
- Lanyard strap
- Good price for what you get
- No mirror
The best military-grade compass. It’s lensatic. As you would expect from a chosen official US military compass (here’s a list of some other great military survival gear), this product has been put through rigorous testing and is manufactured to the demanding specifications called MIL-PRF/10436N.
It’s shock, water, and sand proof and can withstand temperatures ranging from -50 F all the way up to +150 F. The Tritium features microlights which allow you to navigate in low light conditions, and they stay functioning for more than 12 years with zero maintenance. Add to that impressive features such as magnifying glass, sight wire, and dial graduations with degree and mil readings for accuracy, and you have one superb survival compass on your hands.
Check price of the CMMG Tritium
- Super tough
- Microlights for navigating in minimal light
- Sand, water, and shock proof
- If you’re into through hiking or need an ultra-light pack, the Tritium might be a bit heavy
Offering global compass functionality, this baseplate compass is packed with some really cool features. It provides high-level precision if you demand accuracy from your compass. The Truarc global needle system works in all the magnetic zones and hemispheres. What it offers for the price is really competitive.
This is a simple, no-frills compass that does what it sets out to do every time. Brunton has created a top quality compass that’s easy to use and highly durable. Budget-friendly and straight-forward, we like the Brunton Truarc’s no-nonsense attitude.
Check price of the Brunton TruArc 3
- Adjustable declination
- Global needle
- Compact and slim
- Great price
- Basic features means no magnifying lens or clinometer
This neat little survival compass has a high-vis color bezel that makes it easy to read in low light and easy to find if you drop it. It also features 2 graduations and built in magnifier for reading maps. The Explorer by Silva is well-constructed and thoughtfully designed so it will come as no surprise that this survival compass is accurate, reliable, and long-lasting.
The Explorer also features gear-driven declination scales and a clinometer so it can measure slope angles. The ergonomic design has produced a baseplate that can fit comfortably into your hand and yet remains lightweight. This is a high quality product for the price, and if you have no plans to learn how to use a lensatic compass, then this might be the perfect alternative survival compass for you.
Check price of the Silva Explorer High-Vis Pro
- Easy to use and functional
- Great price
- Magnetic declination key
- Not lensatic
In our opinion, the Cammenga Clam Pack a great pick if you want a military style survival compass and narrowly missed out on scoring best compass overall. The Cammenga has a very utilitarian appearance to go along with its no-frills functionality. This phosphorescent lensatic compass has a few features that will give you exactly what you need in any outdoors environment.
In keeping with its looks, the Cammenga has been rigorously tested in survival conditions to ascertain its levels of shockproof, waterproof, and sand proof. Needless to say it passed 100% with flying colors. It maintains its functionality from -50F all the way up to +150F as well.
The Cammenga also features a magnifying lens, sight wire, mils for accuracy readings, and dial graduations (in both degrees). The hardy clamshell design ensure that this compass is easy to carry and also maintain. It can withstand some pretty rough handling along with the harshest conditions.
Check price of the Cammenga 27CS Lensatic Compass
- Great military style compass
- Military grade construction and design
- Non-liquid damping mechanism for use in extreme condtions
- Sighting peephole improves accuracy
- Slightly heavier
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.
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