Are you looking for the best compass for hiking, camping, or survival?
Here's the thing:
In today's world of high tech, we typically overlook needing something like a compass. GPS has made it all too easy for us to forget (or never even learn) about things like maps and compasses.
And usually, that is perfectly fine for most of us.
But there's a catch:
For some of us that find ourselves in a bad situation, having a good compass can mean life or death.
Proper land navigation can become a life saver.
In this article, we are going to cover the top compasses for a multiple of situations like casual, backpacking, hiking, and even survival.
That way you can pick the right one for you and be fully prepared for any situation where you need to know where you are at and where you are going.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Let's first take a look at a summary table for our top picks.
Best Compasses Comparison Table
Degrees & Mils
Degrees & Mils
A key factor is whether to go digital or not. Digital compasses are very cool, but rely on batteries. In this review, they will not be covered because I believe that store and forget gear is the most reliable over a lifetime.
Forgetting to keep fresh batteries or your gear charged renders the gear completely worthless, and it happens often. We don't want to end up in the danger zone in an emergency situation because we forgot our batteries, now do we?
In combination with basic features, durability is one of the other biggest factors in choosing the right compass. You want something that will last you a long time, and under harsh conditions if need be.
Another factor when determining which compass to get is how do you plan on using it? Are you going for casual backpacking, serious hiking, or critical survival? We're going to talk about which compass is ideal for these situations.
The 3H Tritium by Cammenga is by far the best on the market.
It has 7 micro-lights made out of Tritium, which means that it will glow in the dark for up to 12 years without the need for batteries or charging in the sunlight.
The 3H has all of the standard features you need in a compass including a magnifying mirror.
The dial graduations are in both mils and degrees. The sight wire will help you shoot azimuths more accurately. It's powder coated cast aluminum frame makes it very durable.
This is the gold standard for compasses, and therefore it is the most expensive. It is tested to military standards and is water proof. It is not liquid filled because the balanced design does not require it. Therefore, no annoying bubbles developing in your compass over time.
When folded, the needle is locked into place to keep it from bouncing around and accumulating damage over time.
The 3H is the compass I carry in my bug out bag, because it is the only one I trust for true critical situations. I trust it because it is the best of the best.
For those that want all of the benefits of the 3H Tritium, but are under a stricter budget, the Phosphorescent version offers all of the same great features, minus the Tritium lighting.
Instead, it uses material that needs to be charged by sunlight, and will glow in the dark for a small amount of time afterwards. Alternatively, you can hit the dial with a few seconds of flashlight for a few minute glow.
However, if you read on, in survival situations I would not recommend this method. Therefore, this is the compass to get for hiking, where using your flashlight is perfectly fine.
3. Suunto A-10
If you are looking for an all around basic compass at a great price, then the Suunto A-10 is the right choice. It has all of the essentials you need for basic land navigation.
The A-10 dial is in degrees, and it's clear base helps for quick map measurements with its Metric and English unit rulers. It is liquid filled to help balance the needle.
It only weighs 1 ounce, which makes it very portable. However, many users complain that even a very small drop from your pocket to the ground might be enough to damage the compass.
Given the price, the A-10 excels at the basic functionality for a compass. Because the 3H is expensive, this is my secondary compass that I keep in my vehicle emergency bag in case the need ever arises when I travel. That is why this is a good compass for backpacking.
4. Suunto A-30L
If you want all of the great features of the A-10, but also need a little more for the money, then the A-30L is the way to go.
The A-30L goes above and beyond with a handy magnifying glass in the base, and marking holes for better map drawing.
Its luminous markings also will help you navigate in the dark.
Of course, they are phosphorescent based, which means you will have to charge the markings with light to get the glow working.
If you like these extra features over the A-10, then the few extra bucks are worth it.
A Tale Of Two Compasses
To drive home some urgent points about compass use, let me tell you a quick story.
One time, at a survival training school, we were going through the night land navigation part of the course and several groups of us were out in the middle of nowhere with only basic gear and our compasses.
Luckily, I had done my research and selected the Cammenga 3H Tritium for its superior features needed in survival situations. Other people in the training program down selected, based only on price, and went with the Cammenga Phosphorescent.
Now, in daylight, both compasses are excellent and equal. However, at night time in a survival scenario it's a different story.
Imagine being in almost complete darkness, and still able to take a reading on your compass without a flashlight.
By using my 3H, I was able to successfully complete all of the land navigation waypoints while being unseen and undetected by any of the other groups.
While I was out there, I noticed something startling. The other people that had the Phosphorescent would take their flashlights out every few minutes to charge their compass's glow capability in order to take a reading.
I could see them from a very long distance, and could easily stalk and follow their movements.
Luckily, my training guide was an Army Ranger, and he hauntingly told me how in a real survival situation, night time land navigation is one of the only ways to not get attacked by any potentially hostile people out there.
If you are turning on your flashlight every few minutes, you are letting everyone in the line of sight area know exactly where you are, that you have valuables like a flashlight, batteries, compass, and possibly a map.
You are also indicating that you probably aren't trained or aware of stealth tactics. So you look like an easy mark for those that might want to steal your gear or hurt you. It also makes it easy for someone to follow you and wait for the right moment to attack you, when you least expect it.
That is why I only carry the 3H in my bug out bag. And this story only harps the importance of a survival situation, which is very rare indeed, as compared to less dangerous situations like hiking or backpacking, when you don't really expect stranger danger in your environment.
In summary, there are many great compasses out there to choose from.
By far the best survival compass is the Cammenga 3H Tritium. The price is higher, but the reliability, durability, and see in the dark features are undeniable.
For survival, night time land navigation is a very real thing, and this compass will get you through that situation safely.
Next in line is the Cammenga Phosphorescent, which is the best hiking compass.
It has all of the great features of the 3H, but instead has a glow in the dark capability that is dependent on light charging. In hiking situations, this is perfectly fine.
Finally, the best backpacking compass comes down to a tie between the Suunto A-10 or A-30L. If you have a few extra bucks and want a magnifying glass and glow in the dark capability, then go for the A-30L. Otherwise, the A-10 will meet all of your needs just as well.
Once you have your compass, you should start thinking about other tools you will need for survival.
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