Last updated: September 11, 2020

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When you are exploring, you need to follow a path. Nowadays, you probably almost always depend on your smartphone or GPS to get to your destination, but what happens when you run out of battery, don’t have any signal, or when you find yourself completely alone. If you are a real adventurer, a compass is one of the best gadgets you can have when exploring new places.

There are basic and advanced compasses, depending on the level of adventure that you are looking for. What type of explorer are you? In this article, we will help you pick out the perfect compass. Going out to see the world is always better than seeing it online or on TV, and, with a compass, you will always be on the right path. Let’s go!

Key Facts

  • Make sure to get a compass that best suits your needs. Arriving safe and sound to your destination is priceless.
  • We recommend that you learn the basics of using compasses before embarking on your next adventure. In this article, we will give you some advice on using these useful gadgets.
  • Throughout the years, compasses continue to evolve technologically. In the section titled “Shopping Criteria,” we will help you understand all of the characteristics that you should consider before making your purchase.

The Best Compasses on the U.S. Market

There are many different types of compasses. Are you going to use it frequently and in a more professional way? Do you like to go hiking every once and while? There are compasses for experienced explorers and compasses for beginners. The following is a list of the best compasses on the U.S. market.

Best Basic Compass

This first compass on our list is an “Amazon’s choice.” It is very popular among other customers. This is a baseplate compass. We will talk more about this type of compass later on in the article. This compass comes with a mirror, which is a very useful feature. It is balanced for the North hemisphere.

Best Military Compass

The second compass on our list is a military compass. It is also an “Amazon’s Choice.” This is one of the most popular types of compasses on the market. This is definitely a more professional type of compass and you will have to learn how to use it. Its ergonomic design will always give you an accurate reading.

Best Compass for Kids

The third item on our list is also an “Amazon’s Choice.” It is very lightweight and, therefore, great for hiking and backpacking. This is an awesome compass for beginners or for children. It is a professional, straightforward compass that is easy to read. This compass is also waterproof!

Best Glow in the Dark Compass

The fourth item on our list is a number one bestseller on Amazon. This classy-looking compass is a beautiful gold color. This compass glows in the dark so that you can find your way at night or during the day. It is very compact, only 48mm x 12mm. You can’t go wrong with this compass!

Best Car Compass

This unique compass is also a number 1 seller of its kind on Amazon. Who said compasses were just for hiking. Stick this compass on your car and you will always know in what direction you are heading. It is made out of high-quality ABS plastic material, which is environmentally friendly and corrosion-resistant.

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know about Compasses

Buying a compass can be an interesting process. If you are passionate about exploring the unknown, this small gadget can help you immerse yourself in this passion. In this section, we will answer a few questions to help you choose the best compass.

compass at beach

The wind rose is a symbol that forms a circle and shows the four cardinal points.
(Source: Denise Jans: hjmW8FDpHo/ Unsplash.com)

How does a compass work?

There are many different aspects that you should keep in mind before buying a compass. There is no point in buying a compass if you do not know how to use it correctly or how to get the best out of this gadget. The following are a few simple steps that can help you get started.

  • Getting to know your compass: The first step is to explore the functions and characteristics of your compass and practice!
  • Placement: You should always put your compass on a flat surface. You will see how the needle moves around and settles pointing north.
  • Mark the direction: use the extra needle to mark the cardinal point (North, East, South, or West).
  • Know the difference between magnetic north and true north: There is a small difference between these two types. The declination varies depending on the date of the year. You can look up online the exact declination depending on where you are located.
  • Make sure to make reference points: It is not a good idea to solely follow the compass’s direction. It is important to memorize certain places that you pass to make sure that you keep yourself oriented.

Should I follow the compass or just use the map?

When you are getting ready for your adventure into the unknown, you should always know how to keep yourself oriented. When you start hiking, you can mark your way on the map. If you pay attention to your surroundings, you can determine your route. If you can not determine where you are based on your surroundings, it is time to use the compass.

You should line up the 360º or 0º mark with the north on the map. Then you turn until the needle marks north. You can then follow the map using the compass or get yourself oriented again with your surroundings and continue the route.

Compass in the forest

The observation mirror allows you to see a distant object while still looking at the compass.
(Source: Jametlene Reskp: 3Dtu6_XfqIk/ Unsplash.com)

What features should my compass have?

As the years go by there are more and more compasses with incredible features on the market. If you do not know how they work, you should be careful when buying one. You want to make sure that you purchase a compass that has all the functions that you need. The following is a list of features that your compass must have:

Compass features What is it exactly?
Magnetic needle This is the part of the compass that always points to the magnetic north. Most needles float in a special liquid that helps stabilize their movement.
Rotating bevel This is the part of the compass that moves. It is a ring around the compass marked from 0º to 360º that surrounds the needle capsule. It is used to lead the way.
Baseplate This is the plastic base that has various navigation marks. It is transparent. This part will help you measure distances on the map.
Orienting lines This will help orient you and measure distance.
Magnifying glass This part of the compass helps us read specific information on the map that might be very small.
Luminescent markers This is a luminescent part of the compass that is useful when it is dark outside.

Should I get an analog compass or a digital compass?

This is a difficult question to answer. Certain situations call for certain types of compasses. To not get too technical, in the following paragraph we are going to tell you the difference between both types so that you can decide which one is better for you.

Unlike digital compasses, analog compasses do not require a source of power. Digital compasses require batteries and can turn off when you most need them. However, digital compasses have more signals that can help us on the way.

compass on a boat

Having a mirror on your compass is perfect if you are planning on venturing off-trail into the mountains.
(Source: Kendall Lane: yEDhhN5zP4o/ Unsplash.com)

What types of compasses are there?

Before making your purchase, you should know that there is a variety of different types of compasses and the type of compass that you choose will depend on how you will use it.

Types of compasses What can I use them for? When can I use them?
Military lensatic compass Made for long distances, considering and adjusted margin of error. More complicated. One of the most common compasses along with the baseplate compass.
Baseplate compass Used as a topographic map. Transparent base. Made to be used on top of a map. Usually made out of transparent plastic. Adjusted margin of error. Used to orient yourself.
Marine compass Mainly used on boats, but they are also made to install into other vehicles. This compass is meant mainly for marine use.
Thumb compass You simply maintain the map in the direction you want to go. Used in races.
GPS Function through satellites that orbit the earth to show you where you are. This type of compass is not as common for most people.

What is the wind rose and why is it sometimes used in compasses?

You have probably heard this term before. You have definitely seen the image. Have you ever thought about what it means? It is a fundamental concept in compasses, and, in fact, all compasses use this symbol.

The wind rose is a symbol that forms a circle and show the four cardinal points, north, east, west, and south. It also shows us the intermediate points, so we can see where we are going with even more precession.

Shopping Criteria

Compasses can look very similar, but they are not all the same. To make the best purchase, it is important to make sure that they meet a certain requirement. The following are the criteria that your compass should have.

Inclinometer

This function will show you different types of information. Usually, inclinometers will help you measure different angles on the map. Nowadays, there are many smartphones that have this function. These apps are very useful but limited.

The inclinometer is similar to a leveler used by masons and carpenters. These levelers use a green liquid with a bubble to make sure a surface is even. This is one of the functions of a compass.

compass

Compasses can look very similar, but they are not all the same.
(Source: Danii Silantev: ioYwosPYC0U/ Unsplash.com)

Mirror

This is a feature that allows you to see an object or direction and the compass at the same time. You open the mirror at a 45-degree angle. This will allow you to see the object lined up in the mirror through a peephole in the compass. You can also use the mirror to send signals at long distances with sunlight.

A mirror is a great feature if you want to venture into mountain routes along unmarked trails. This helps mountaineers and hikers take the correct paths. We recommend that you learn how to use this feature correctly before embarking on your adventure.

Lighting

This is a feature that is very useful for people who want to go hiking before the sun comes out or once it has gone back down. Sometimes, even if you do not plan on hiking at night, it can get unexpectedly dark, especially in the winter.

In these situations, a compass with lighting can really help you out. This compass will help you find your way at night without disturbing the peace with your cellphone light or a lantern.

compass with blue needles

As the years go by, there are more and more types of compasses on the market.
(Source: Absolutvision: uCMKx2H1Y38/ Unsplash.com)

Durability

If you look for a good, strong compass that has many different features, you will want it to last you a long time. In this case, we recommend that you look for a compass that is very durable. It should have a shock-resistant case that will last through extreme activities and conditions.

The most simple compasses are usually made out of plastic. Although this type of compass meets the basic requirements, depending on what activity you are doing while using the compass, it can break. If you lose or break your compass, you can get lost. Before buying a compass, think about what you are using it for.

Global Needle

If you have a compass with a global needle, this means that it will adjust to both north and south hemispheres. This function is especially useful for frequent travelers. This way, you won’t get disoriented when you travel very far away.

This type of compass compensates for variations in the magnetic field, so you can use it in both hemispheres. Other compasses will only show you the north and south of the hemisphere that you are in. Compasses that have a global needle eliminate this problem.

looking for direction with a compass

Inclinometers will help you measure different angles on the maps.
(Source: Jamie Street: _94HLr_QXo8/ Unsplash.com)

Summary

Compasses can be very useful tools when we are venturing into the unknown. They are usually used for hiking. Before making your purchase you should keep in mind how you are going to use your compass. Are you going on a professional hike or using it for your leisure time camping with friends.

Do not forget that venturing into the unknown can be dangerous for you and whoever is with you if you don’t know what you are doing. In addition to buying a compass, make sure you know how it works and to research where you are going beforehand.

If you found this article helpful, leave us a comment and share it with your friends and family on social media. Thank you so much!

(Source of featured image: Hendrik Morkel: eAtOTvnkQI/ Unsplash.com)

Why you can trust me?

Aubrey Smith Travel Expert & Fashion Lover
Aubrey is a flight attendant and a huge fashion lover. She likes to work long shifts because she is usually allowed to stay a little longer on the spot. Her favourite city: New York. Her adventures all over the world have inspired her so much that she now writes articles about traveling. Her favorite fashion spot? New York, for obvious reasons... and Milan!