A couple of common mistakes that my otherwise outdoor savvy friends make is either forgetting their compass at home, or not even owning one in the first place. The reason for this is simple. They all own smartphones and they think a basic compass app will do the job just fine. Wrong!

These apps are little more than gimmicks that won’t do you a lot of good if you plan on spending hours or even days in the bush. The battery on your smartphone will eventually run out and quite possible at the most inopportune time.

So now that we’ve established how important it is to pack a compass and not just rely on a cell phone app the question is what should you be looking for? As it turns out all compasses are not created equal and if you’re serious about spending a serious amount of time camping, fishing, hiking, or hunting you need a good compass.

There are three main types of compasses to choose from: the cheap kind you might find on the end of a key chain, a dry arrow compass, and compass with a needle that floats in liquid.

The keychain compass is really not very reliable so you should probably avoid them as a rule. In the rest of this article our focus will be on dry needle compasses and compasses with needles that float in fluid.

We’re going to start with a short discussion of some of the features you should be looking for in a compass and then we’ll review our 5 best compasses for survival. A reliable compass should be an essential item in your travel gear. You can spend a lot of money on a good compass, but you don’t necessarily have to. The compasses on this list strike a balance between affordability and reliability.

Contents [hide]

1 Reviews of the Best Compasses

1.1 Best Lensatic Military Compass For Easy Map Navigation

1.2 Professional Multifunction Military Army Metal Sighting Compass

1.3 SUUNTO M-3 G Compass

1.4 Suunto MC-2G In Global Compass

1.5 Brunton World’s Best Compass

2 Time to Head North

3 Key Features for the Best Compasses for Survival:

3.1 Durability

3.2 Self-luminous

3.3 Dry or Floating Needle

3.4 Declination Adjustment


Best Lensatic Military Compass For Easy Map Navigation

We mentioned the importance of durability when it comes to a compass and this military grade compass by Under Control Tactical features a heavy duty construction that makes it tough to break. I wouldn’t drop it on purpose just to test the theory, but if you do happen to let it slip out of your hands you can count on it living to work another day.

A key feature of this compass is its luminous marching line and needle that makes it ideal for use in low light conditions. There’s also a magnifying viewer with a sighting hairline that will also helps to get accurate readings with this compass.

When you’re in the middle of a 6 hour portage trip and you lose your bearings you need a reliable tool like this to get you back on course.

This is a lightweight compass at only 2.9 ounces so it won’t really add any weight to your pack and it’s relatively compact so it won’t take up a lot of room either. It’s also very reliable with a floating needle design for accurate readings.

All of these features come packed in a very affordable package making this a great choice for the budget conscious outdoors enthusiast.

Best Lensatic Military Compass Summary:

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Heavy Duty Construction

Luminous Marching Line and Needle

Equipped with a Magnifying Viewer

Lightweight Compass at 2.9 Ounces

Professional Multifunction Military Army Metal Sighting Compass

This Professional Multifunction Military Compass by Ueasy is a reliable tool that will give you years of use. It’s a great hiking compass because of its compact design and waterproof construction. I remember taking a cheap compass on a long hiking trip that turned into an epic trek through the pouring rain and that compass unfortunately didn’t survive the unrelenting downpour.

It’s a lesson learned well and another good reason that making sure you have a waterproof compass like this in your pack is essential.

There isn’t really anything missing from the design of this compass. It has a slope reference table on the back to help you navigate uneven terrain and there’s a centimeter scale on the side for quick range measurements. When you combine these features with the built-in sighting lens you should have little difficulty navigating you’re way out of any difficulties.

What’s really impressive about this model is the attention given to every little detail and that’s why it made our list as one of the best survival compasses. In addition to the features we’ve already discussed it also has a luminescent outer edge and a luminescent needle that makes it possible to read it in complete darkness.

Professional Multifunction Military Army Metal Sighting Compass by Summary:

In addition, it’s equipped with a cord on the end of a lanyard so that you can carry it around your neck to make it easily available when you need it. The only minor issue with this model is that it is a little heavier than some of its competitors, other than that it’s a great compass.

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Compact Design

Waterproof Construction

Luminescent Needle

Equipped with a Cord

SUUNTO M-3 G Compass

If we had to pick the best hiking compass at an affordable price then the Suunto M-3 G would win hands down. This is a durable compass that’s designed to keep working in extreme conditions.

The compass is encased in a hard plastic that’s resistant to damage if you drop it and it also has a nice lanyard for carrying it around your neck or it can also be used to help you line up measurements on a map.

Since there are no metal parts you don’t have to worry about rust and this model is completely waterproof.

The bezel around the outer circumference of the compass is luminescent for low light use and so is the needle. This needle is placed in a fluid for more accurate and stable measurements.

You can use the bezel to adjust the declination and find true north depending upon your global position as well.

When used in conjunction with a map it’s an even more useful tool. There’s a centimeter scale on the side for measuring distance and there’s also a magnifying viewer just below the compass face to make it easier to read a map while you’re on the go. This compass is ideal no matter how experienced you are with outdoors living.

SUUNTO M-3 G Summary:

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Hard Plastic Case

Waterproof Design

Luminescent Bezel and Needle

Equipped with a Magnifying Viewer

Suunto MC-2G In Global Compass

The Suunto MC-2G is a more sophisticated cousin of the M-3 G. This is arguably the best compass for survival and it has all of the features that you’d hope to find in a compass.

What sets it apart from most other compasses on the market today is that it has a global needle that will work anywhere in the world – that’s not the case for all compasses. It also has a durable hard plastic design that’s difficult to damage and with the floating needle design its measurements are quite reliable.

It’s a great companion for reading a map with the magnifying lens built-in to the baseplate, a straight edge for measurement, and inch markings for increased accuracy. The outer ring is also luminescent enabling you to quickly and clearly read your compass even when the sun refuses to make an appearance.

If you need to adjust the declination that’s not an issue either as this compass is designed to enable minor adjustments to find true north.

You can never be too careful when taking compass readings miles away from civilization and that’s why this compass has a sighting hole for detailed measurements. When you’ve finished taking a reading it has a handy lanyard that can be used to wrap it around your wrist or to place it round your neck out of the way.

It only weighs about 2.6 ounces so you’ll hardly notice it’s there. This is our pick for the best compass for both value and features.

Suunto MC-2G In Global Compass Summary:

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Patented Global Needle

Adjustable Declination Scale

Easy-grip Bezel

Built-In Magnifying Lens

Brunton World’s Best Compass

When a company makes the bold claim that it’s the world’s best product in any category it’s bound to attract a bit of attention. The Brunton World’s Best Compass is a fine compass, but whether or not it really is the best in the world is up for debate.

They’re certainly one of the best known names in the compass marketplace and that has a lot to do with the high degree of accuracy of their products. This compass is accurate to within 0.5 degrees.

The reason it’s so accurate has a lot to do with what’s inside. It comes equipped with a Rare Earth Ever-North magnet and a sapphire jewel bearing for precise measurements that are superior to most other compasses on the market today.

It also has short and long sights for improved accuracy. The silicone sealed waterproof body will also help to ensure it remains as accurate as possible no matter what type of weather you’re dealing with.

The one major flaw of this Brunton model is its weight. At 1.2 pounds it’s much heavier than the other compasses we’ve reviewed in this article. If you prefer to keep your gear as light as possible you may want to consider other options.

There are other great compasses at a fraction of the weight, but if you’re using this compass for commercial purposes it doesn’t have many peers.

Brunton World’s Best Compass Summary:

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Sapphire Jewel Bearing

Silicone Sealed Waterproof Body

Lightweight Composite Body

Precision Aligned Mirrors


For the uninitiated this article was likely a bit of an eye opener. There is quite a bit to consider when you’re trying to decide on the best compass for your needs. Any of the compasses we’ve reviewed in this article will serve you well. They vary greatly in price, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a compass that’s reasonably priced as most of the ones we’ve chosen here are quite affordable.

If you can, you should hold out for one with a floating needle because of their increased stability and of course it should be waterproof. It’s also important to look for one that has some map reading tools such as centimeter or inch measurements and a magnifying viewer. Beyond that you’ll want to make sure it’s durable enough to survive a trek through the back woods. And If you if for some reason you don’t know how to use a compass correctly you can learn more here.


If you’re looking to get a compass built for survival then you need to consider the main features below.


When you’re using a compass there’s a very good chance that it’s going to be in adverse conditions. You’re bound to run into a few challengers on a long hike or a hunting trip and you need equipment that’s up to the challenge.

That’s why it’s a good idea to find a compass that can withstand some rough treatment. Hopefully you won’t ever have the misfortune of dropping your compass, but a quality compass will keep working even if it does get dropped. The best ones are also waterproof.


While it would be nice to complete a hiking or hunting trip with ideal weather conditions the whole time, it’s not likely to happen. There’s a good chance you’re going to face some dreary conditions at some point and those low light conditions may make it difficult to read your compass.

Some of the better compasses these days are now equipped with photo luminescent materials that make it easy to read the compass even in the dark. It’s normally the needle that’s made from this material, but in some cases other parts of the compass may light up as well.

Dry or Floating Needle

Some compasses have what are called dry needles and others have needles that float in a liquid. Typically floating needles are the better choice. The liquid surrounding the needle virtually eliminates vibration which can significantly affect the accuracy of your compass.

With a liquid compass you will typically get a more accurate reading and that’s why they’re generally a little bit more expensive, although you can find compasses with floating needles at a reasonable price.

Declination Adjustment

If you’re not familiar with the term declination adjustment basically it refers to the need to adjust the needle on a compass to find true north. A compass needle actually points to the magnetic north, which is close to truth north, but not quite the same thing.

Where you are in the world will determine how much the difference is between magnetic north and true north. Declination adjustment is the ability to adjust the needle on your compass so it is actually pointing true north. The better compasses allow you to do this.