Points north
August 26, 2018 6:22 PM   Subscribe

What kind of compass should I get for hiking navigation and light orienteering? I know how to use military style lensatics, but don't want to spend that much money.

And how do I evaluate compasses in the store? What brands are reliable?
I know I want adjustable declination and a scale on the compass.
posted by the man of twists and turns to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just a basic flat, clear plastic one with an adjustable dial is all you need for most things.
posted by bondcliff at 6:26 PM on August 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Silva and Suunto are both companies that make good flat plastic orienteering compasses specifically designed for competition and hiking, I've got a Ranger that cost me about $50 AUD a few years ago. The thing is indestructible.

A mirror or cover on the compass is a 'nice to have' rather than a 'need to have', and you should look for one with a scale appropriate to the maps you're likely to use (for me, that's 1:25,000).

If you end up buying from the internet make sure you get one appropriate to the hemisphere you're going to use it in, southern and northern hemisphere compasses are weighted differently.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:44 PM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have the Suunto M-2 (which is long discontinued) that has served faithfully for years, the replacement seems to be the M-3D.
posted by Dr. Twist at 8:35 PM on August 26, 2018

I've used a Suunto M-3 compass for many years for both on-trail and off-trail wilderness hiking. REI has a good overview of compass features. The M-3 has a declination adjustment, but no sighting mirror (which I've never needed). It comes in several varieties, if you're in the U.S. get one that is balanced for the northern hemisphere and includes a 1:24,000 scale (the scale used on the most common USGS topo maps).
posted by RichardP at 9:58 PM on August 26, 2018

Eponysterical! And I, too, have a basic Suunto and have been satisfied.
posted by hollyholly at 1:29 AM on August 27, 2018

Suuntos and Silvas are both good and will do you right. A basic one is fine but there are a few convenience features you might consider upgrading to get. A sighting mirror will help you be more accurate over longer distances. A declination adjustment (if properly adjusted for your area) will eliminate a significant source of possible error. And a global needle will allow your compass to work at a larger variety of latitudes, as well as just making it a bit less fussy about being held flat. But really, a basic one will do everything you need it to do. The M-3 would be a fine choice.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:14 AM on August 27, 2018

Yea, I mean unless you're doing some serious bushwacking for miles in flat terrain and shooting back azimuths just get the flat plastic clear map compass of whatever quality you're willing to pay out for. Great Topos are worth the extra money all day long though. Consider a pedometer if you want the extra few ounces of weight and gadget factor, ditto an altimeter.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:16 AM on August 27, 2018

Another vote for the Suunto M3! I have one, it works great and as someone else noted above, I've never really felt the need for a sighting mirror.

Here is a video discussing compasses generally and the features of the M3 specifically. It is also the first video in an awesome--and free!--wilderness navigation course.
posted by janerica at 5:33 PM on August 27, 2018

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