5 Best Compasses for Orienteering: Top Picks for Precision and Durability

July 03, 2024 7 min read

Whether you're a seasoned orienteer or a newcomer to the sport, having the right compass can make all the difference in your navigation adventures. Orienteering requires a dependable and accurate tool to help you find your way through unfamiliar terrain.

A table with 5 different compasses laid out, each with a unique design and features. The compasses are surrounded by maps, a ruler, and other orienteering tools

Choosing the best compass involves considering factors like durability, ease of use, and precision. Navigating the multitude of options on the market can be challenging, so this guide highlights the top five compasses to help you make an informed decision.

1) Suunto MC-2

The Suunto MC-2 is a premium compass designed for orienteering and professional use. It features a mirror sighting mechanism that allows for precise bearings. This is especially useful in dense forests or mountainous terrains.

The compass includes adjustable declination correction, making it adaptable for various geographic locations. You can trust the Suunto MC-2 for accurate and reliable navigation.

It also has a clinometer to measure slopes, which adds versatility. The luminescent markings ensure visibility in low-light conditions. You're equipped for both day and night navigation.

The Suunto MC-2 is built with durability in mind. Its robust construction can withstand rugged environments. The compact and lightweight design makes it easy to carry on your adventures.

With a global needle, this compass functions well in both northern and southern hemispheres. You won’t need separate compasses for different regions.

This model also includes a magnifying lens for map reading. It’s convenient for examining small map details closely. You can be sure not to miss any critical information.

The Suunto MC-2 is an excellent choice for serious orienteers. Its combination of features meets the demands of challenging navigations.

2) Silva Ranger 2.0

The Silva Ranger 2.0 is a reliable and sturdy compass popular among orienteering enthusiasts. One notable feature is its easy-to-read dial, making navigation straightforward even in challenging conditions. The luminous markings on the dial ensure you can read it in low-light situations.

The compass includes a clinometer, which is useful for measuring slope angles. This feature is particularly valuable for those navigating mountainous terrain. Additionally, the compass has a magnifying lens that enhances the precision of your map reading.

The baseplate of the Silva Ranger 2.0 is clear and features multiple scales for different map types. This adds versatility, allowing you to use it with various maps without any hassle. The adjustable declination correction is another practical feature, ensuring your readings are always accurate.

The Silva Ranger 2.0 is crafted from durable materials, designed to withstand harsh environmental conditions. Its ergonomic design makes it comfortable to hold, reducing hand fatigue during prolonged use. The compass also comes with a detachable safety-release lanyard, adding an extra layer of security.

Waterproof and shock-resistant, this compass is built for rugged adventures. The functionality combined with robust construction makes it an excellent choice for serious navigators. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced orienteer, the Silva Ranger 2.0 provides the reliability and accuracy you need.

3) Brunton TruArc 3

The Brunton TruArc 3 is known for its simplicity and reliability. It features a global needle that works anywhere in the world, making it an excellent choice for international trips.

This compass has a robust, clear baseplate that makes map reading easy. Its tool-free declination adjustment is a standout feature, allowing you to correct for magnetic variation effortlessly.

Lightweight and compact, it fits easily into your pocket or pack. The luminous features ensure you can still navigate even in low-light conditions. Ideal for both beginners and experienced adventurers, the TruArc 3 is a versatile and dependable tool.

4) Cammenga 27CS Lensatic Compass

A Cammenga 27CS Lensatic Compass sits on a map, surrounded by orienteering gear. The needle points north, with a clear, easy-to-read dial

The Cammenga 27CS Lensatic Compass is a military-grade tool designed for precision and reliability. Featuring a durable aluminum frame, this compass can withstand tough conditions. The compass is equipped with a phosphorescent dial that ensures visibility in low-light situations.

This compass uses a tritium-based self-illumination system, guaranteeing readability in complete darkness. You won't need any external light sources. It is waterproof and shockproof, making it ideal for challenging outdoor environments.

The compass includes a sighting wire and lens for accurate navigation and target acquisition. It has an adjustable dial with a precision bezel, allowing for exact directional readings. This makes it suitable for both casual hiking and serious orienteering.

A carrying case with a belt clip is provided for easy transport. The Cammenga 27CS is widely trusted by military personnel, reflective of its reliability and robustness. You will appreciate the engineering that has gone into its three-pronged liquid damping system, which stabilizes the needle quickly.

A copper induction dampening system ensures that the needle settles faster, leading to more efficient navigation. You can rely on the rugged construction and accuracy it offers. This compass is all about performance under any conditions, ensuring that you are always on course.

5) Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Lensatic Compass

The Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Lensatic Compass is designed for accurate navigation in various environments. Its robust construction ensures durability, making it suitable for harsh conditions.

This compass offers a sighting lens and a clear dial for precise readings. The luminous markings allow for easy use in low-light situations.

You’ll appreciate the compass's adjustable diopter for improved accuracy. A clinometer is integrated, useful for measuring slope angles.

The Eyeskey compass is water-resistant, providing reliability in wet conditions. Its portable size makes it easy to carry on long treks.

Additionally, it includes a belt loop attachment for convenient access. The compass is known for its high precision and reliability, aiding in accurate navigation.

Understanding Orienteering Compasses

A compass resting on a map, surrounded by trees and a clear trail, with the sun casting shadows in the late afternoon

Orienteering compasses are essential tools for navigation. They help you find your way using maps and natural landmarks efficiently.

How Do Orienteering Compasses Work?

Orienteering compasses have a magnetized needle that aligns with the Earth's magnetic field, pointing towards Magnetic North. You use the compass in conjunction with a map to determine direction and orient yourself in your surroundings.

The baseplate compass, commonly used in orienteering, features a transparent rectangular base that allows you to see the map beneath it. Markings on the baseplate and rotating bezel help you align the compass with map features. By aligning the needle with the orienting arrow and map grid lines, you can accurately determine your path.

Key Features to Look for in a Compass

When choosing a compass for orienteering, several features are crucial. Accuracy is paramount, so look for a high-quality magnetic needle and clear markings. A rotating bezel with degree markings helps you set and follow bearings accurately.

A transparent baseplate allows you to read your map through the compass. Some baseplates have rulers and scales for precise map measurements. Ensure the compass includes a declination adjustment feature to compensate for the difference between true north and magnetic north, especially in diverse geographic locations.

Additionally, consider a compass with luminescent markings for low-light conditions and a sturdy, weather-resistant build to withstand outdoor elements. A reliable sighting mechanism, such as a mirror or sighting notch, can enhance pinpoint precision.

How to Choose the Right Compass

Choosing the right compass depends on the terrain you'll be navigating and your experience level. Key considerations include terrain type and your familiarity with using compasses.

Considerations Based on Terrain

Different terrains require different features in a compass. If you are navigating dense forests, you may benefit from a sighting compass for accurate direction finding through obstructed views. In open terrains, a baseplate compass with a clear, large dial can be more useful due to easier readability.

For mountainous regions, a compass with a clinometer can help in measuring slopes. In areas with high magnetic interference, a global needle compass can maintain accuracy by compensating for inclinational variations. Compasses that are liquid-filled reduce needle jitter, which is crucial for rough terrains.

Durability is another factor to consider if you traverse rugged landscapes. Look for a compass with a sturdy construction and a protective cover to handle environmental stress. Waterproof and shockproof features can also add to the durability of the compass.

User Experience and Skill Level

Your experience and skill level greatly influence the type of compass you should choose. Beginners might prefer a simpler, easy-to-read model with basic features such as a rotating bezel and a direction-of-travel arrow. Ensure the compass has clear markings and is straightforward to use.

Intermediate users may look for additional features like adjustable declination, which allows for more accurate readings when accounting for magnetic variation. A compass with a built-in magnifier can assist in precise map reading.

Experienced navigators might opt for advanced compasses. Features like a sighting mirror, clinometer, and global needle can offer detailed and flexible navigation aids. These advanced tools require more skill but provide enhanced accuracy and functionality in diverse conditions.

Maintaining and Calibrating Your Compass

A compass resting on a flat surface, surrounded by a map, pencil, and ruler. The needle points north, while the dial is being adjusted with a small screwdriver

Taking good care of your compass ensures its longevity and accuracy. Cleaning it properly and calibrating it regularly are key steps to reliable performance.

Proper Cleaning Techniques

To keep your compass in top condition, start by gently wiping the exterior with a soft cloth. Avoid using abrasive materials that can scratch the surface. For tougher dirt, use a mixture of mild soap and water.

Never immerse your compass fully in water, as this could damage sensitive components. Be cautious around the needle; avoid applying pressure as it can affect the instrument's accuracy.

Check the housing for any grit or debris. Use a can of compressed air to remove particles from tight spots. When cleaning, always ensure the compass is dry before storing it to prevent moisture build-up. Regular cleaning keeps your readings accurate and extends the compass's life.

Common Calibration Methods

Calibrating your compass is critical for ensuring accurate readings. One common method is the figure-eight motion. Hold the compass horizontally and move it in a figure-eight pattern several times. This helps align the magnetic needle.

Another method involves rotating the compass slowly on a flat surface. Observe the needle to ensure it moves freely and points to magnetic north.

If your compass includes a built-in declination adjustment, set it according to your location’s magnetic declination.

Check the user manual for model-specific calibration instructions. Regular calibration is essential, especially after exposure to strong magnetic fields or impacts.