There are hundreds and hundreds of compasses to choose from with price ranges from 25 cents to 250 dollars from interesting names like Silva Suunto Brunton and Bushnell. Fortunately, it is easy to narrow down the list quickly by deciding on a few mandatory features. Adding some optional features that you really like and you have a choice of a handful or so.
Quality Compass Features
Using your compass for wilderness expeditions, backpacking, and hiking, I consider these features to be important and here's why:
- Adjustable Declination - this is a movable orienting arrow. It allows you to put Red in the Shed and still have North on the compass match North on the map. It removes all the number crunching needed to calculate true north.
- Red/White Needle - make sure Red is North and White is South. Check it first. It will save you headaches.
- Clear - allows you to see the map under the compass to be more precise with positioning.
- Rectangular - straight edges to align better and mark straight lines.
- 4 Inch Edge - less than that makes aligning points more difficult.
- Scales - at least one edge has a scale engraved. 1:24000 is good for 7.5 minute maps (but my Nat'l Geographic map has a scale of 1:43,636)
- Compass Dial
- Degree Markings - clockwise from 0 to 360 in 2 degree ticks.
- Size - at least 2 inches across. This is a pretty standard size, but smaller is too tiny.
- Ridges - easy to grip edge for turning ease.
- Orienting Lines - they need to be on the clear plastic housing and rotate when the dial is turned. Use these to align with map meridians because they are always parallel with the compass's North-South markings.
- Direction-of-Travel Arrow - make sure its butt is right up at the dial and doesn't stop at the magnifying glass or company logo or you will have difficulty getting precise readings.
- Luminous Markings - At least the orienting arrow 'Shed' and the tip of the needle should glow. Makes late evening work much easier.
- Lanyard - tie it to you or you will lose it.
Here are a few links to Compass Manufacturers: