Compass recommendations please

11:02 a.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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Looking to possibly get a new baseplate map compass.

NOT looking for a compass with sighting mirror.

I've got a basic Brunton, but it doesn't have any scales on it.

Considering getting one with scales. Is there any REAL advantage to getting a compass with scales? If I do so, I'd like 1:24,000 + 1:25,000 + 1:50,000 but I'm wondering if its worth the money to get one with scales and if I'd really use them.

Do you guys & gals use scales, if so what are the real world uses & advantages of having them?

Between Brunton, Suunto and Silva is there any real difference between the brands?

11:18 a.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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The maps I use have different scales, and they are clearly marked on each one. Personally, I don't see the advantage to having scales on the compass itself. I just refer to the map. 

However, some way of sighting accurately is important if you're trying to triangulate your location, or travel from point to point. 

If you don't want a sighting mirror, you could go with something like this:

http://www.mec.ca/product/5024-595/silva-polaris-compass/

A basic compass with declination, and direction of travel arrows. It's got a scale, but for the price, who cares?

As for quality, I've had problems with REALLY cheap compasses, but that's more in terms of the needle hanging up and not turning smoothly as you change compass bearings. I have more of a problem with any compass getting misled by nearby electronics, like cell phones or GPS units. 

11:24 a.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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This is what I've been using and has served me well but I've been wondering about getting one with scales and if the scales on the compass plate are actually useful for something.

LINK ---> http://www.amazon.com/Brunton-F-9020G-Classic-Compass-9020G/dp/B000093ILT/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1380640970&sr=8-4&keywords=brunton+compass

12:14 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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You are looking at the right companies. When in doubt try a Silva Ranger with the declination adjustment.

12:24 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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In terms of quality at a given price point, the two top manufacturers of compasses are Silva of Sweden and Suunto of Finland. The Silva compasses sold in North America come from Johnson Worldwide Associates and are not made by Silva of Sweden. Back in the 1940s , Johnson acquired the rights to import Silva compasses and Bjorne Kjellstrom (one of the Kjellstrom family that still owns Silva Sweden and author of one of the classic map and compass books) worked closely with JWA . After Bjorne passed away, the home company wanted the rights back. After a series of suits, JWA won out. For a while JWA was getting its compasses from Suunto (I am not sure of the present situation). Silva Sweden bought Brunton, the famous American maker of surveying instruments and the Brunton Pocket Transit. The Silva Sweden compasses sold in the US carry the Nexus and Brunton labels.

You should be aware that compasses are made for 5 or 6 " magnetic zones" in the world. The US is in zone 1, as is Europe. If you are only going to use your compass in one zone, you don't need to worry about this. But if you are going to the Southern Hemisphere, you need to get a compass that is either made for the particular zone or one of the "World Compass" designs by Silva Sweden or Suunto. I spend time occasionally in Antarctica, Australia, Chile, and Peru, so I spent the extra bucks for a Brunton world compass. The problem is something called "dip" if you want to look it up.

There are many compass designs. But the best for 99+% of the uses you will make are the inexpensive "baseplate" compasses from Suunto or Silva Sweden selling these days for $10-15. Adjustable declination is useful, but learning the simple mental adjustment trick is easy. I do a fair amount of critical work needing a specialized compass. But for backpacking, the plain old simple Baseplate is all I use. I do use a thumb compass for orienteering. The main use for mirror compasses is for combing your hair (little of which I have left) on the trail, or if you get lost, signaling the rescue helicopter.

12:34 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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I have two baseplate compasses, one from Silva and the other from Suunto.  only reason i bought the Suunto years ago was that i couldn't find the Silva before a trip.  I haven't noticed any difference in quality, they both work fine - and they are both at least several years old.   I have had the Silva pictured below for a really long time, probably 20 years old.  For what it's worth, just to the right of my thumb, it says "type 17, made in Sweden," so it appears to have been imported.

i think your goal should be light, simple, hard to damage.  you can get a very good baseplate compass for under $20. 

 
compass.jpg

 

this one has scales along each side, 1/62,500 and 1/24,000.  they are useful for roughly estimating distance when laid on top of a map.  not particularly useful if you have good topo maps, but helpful for some of the less detailed maps people often get.  The following link shows how to use the scale.  (it also links to a site for the compass-obsessed, but it actually has good prices too).  I'm not affiliated with the site, but it is a decent resource.

  http://www.thecompassstore.com/howtousemapa.html

3:34 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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OK so is there any reason for me to update my old compass to one that has the scales on it's baseplate?

Almost seems like there is no compelling reason to change from what I have.

3:47 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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melensdad said:

OK so is there any reason for me to update my old compass to one that has the scales on it's baseplate?

Almost seems like there is no compelling reason to change from what I have.

 I was wondering the same thing. If you're compass points north and you can read a map, why buy a new one?

4:06 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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melensdad said:

OK so is there any reason for me to update my old compass to one that has the scales on it's baseplate?

Almost seems like there is no compelling reason to change from what I have.

 I was wondering the same thing. If you're compass points north and you can read a map, why buy a new one?

 

Only becasue I was wondering about the usefulness of the scales. But apparently they are not THAT useful that they provide any real compelling reason to buy a new compass???

4:37 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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in my experience, most people don't use a compass for their daily hiking, and relatively few people know how to actually use a compass with a map.  More likely, hikers who carry a map (i'm guessing no more than half of those who hike bring maps) try to follow the trail with the map there to help them feel prepared.  Most people find their way home; a few get lost.  No one plans to get lost, but it happens.  i think it pays to be prepared for the unexpected, particularly given how little it costs to buy a compass and a map.   

If you get lost, having a compass, a map, and working knowledge of how to use them together becomes a lot more important.  sometimes people end up off-trail, so the mileage on the topo map isn't quite so useful.  In my opinion, you can appreciate a real benefit by easily estimating distance to a known landmark if you unexpectedly end up lost in the woods.  so, for me, spending fifteen or twenty dollars for a compass with a scale along the side might in some ways be the least expensive insurance policy you can buy.   

6:13 p.m. on October 1, 2013 (EDT)
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Well it looks like there really is only very little reason for me to get a new compass, and certainly no overwhelmingly compelling reason.

Looks like I can save my cash. Thanks. Maybe I'll ask for one for Christmas, let someone else spend their money!

12:44 a.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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Andrew, If your Silva is 20+ years old, it is a real Silva, imported by JWA before Silva and JWA parted ways in 1996.

I have my old Boy Scout Silva (has the BSA logo on it) from about 1950-1. That was before liquid-filled compasses were common. So it uses eddy current damping via the aluminum bezel. Liquid damping works much better, but eventually some air leaks in and the bubble interferes with damping the needle motion.

Mellensdad, the only reason to replace your compass is if you get a large bubble, or if you do as my spouse did and crack the capsule by tripping and falling during an orienteering competition. The bubble can appear and grow happen when you go to altitude. But the bubble will shrink when you come back to lower altitudes.

The liquid in the capsule, by the way is either deodorized kerosene or alcohol, depending on the model.

9:26 a.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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G00SE said:

 I was wondering the same thing. If you're compass points north and you can read a map, why buy a new one?

I have to add that there are two other features I think are necessary. The declination in the Rockies is about 15-18 degrees, which is enough to throw you off your course pretty badly, and being able to set a direction of travel and triangulate your position using a sighting arrow is an important tool to have. 

Having an adjustable declination setting is helpful, as is some kind of sighting mechanism, 

11:00 a.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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G00SE said:

 I was wondering the same thing. If you're compass points north and you can read a map, why buy a new one?

I have to add that there are two other features I think are necessary. The declination in the . . .

 

Which brings up a question, how do you adjust the declination on a Silva? Or on a Suunto? Is it "tool-less" or is there a tool of some sort that is needed? I noticed that on some of the compasses lanyards there is a little metal wedge shaped thing, is that a tool for adjusting the declination?

11:24 a.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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Traditionally there is a small pointer made of sheet metal attached to the compass with a lanyard. It can be used to turn the screw on the compass dial to adjust the declination. Alternatively a small slotted screwdriver can be used for the same function.

11:55 a.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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On basic compasses that can't be mechanically adjusted, the declination can be set by turning the outside bezel until the degree of offset of the magnetic bearing agrees with the declination reflected in the true north setting used on the map. In Jasper, I will turn the bezel 17° to the left so that the true north bearing is correct. 

If that sounds confusing, it's easier to show someone in person. I just did some compass training with an apprentice, and we went to a location where we could see the surrounding mountain peaks for triangulation, and lay out a topo map to get compass bearings and to identify geographic references. 

Regarding the use of scales, I would comment that the Gem Trek maps that are the hikers' standard for the Rocky Mountain Parks use scales from 1:20,000 to 1:100,000 and pretty much everything in between, so having a scale on the compass is pretty much worthless. However, every map is overlaid with a grid of from 1 to 20 km, so distance can be calculated using that instead. 

This might be helpful. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPJ4MsflJ8E

12:07 p.m. on October 26, 2013 (EDT)
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The Cammenga model 27 lensatic compass is my choice.  This compass is very accurate; I am able to triangulate my position on 7 1/2 minute maps to within fifty feet. That comes in handy when you are attempting to locate where a snow covered trail enters a dense hillside of aspen, and other such precision navigation tasks.  The needle is dampened using the eddy current technique described by Bill (above), so bubbles in the compass chamber interfering with use are a non issue.  The eddy current dampening method works as well on this model as any liquid filled compass I have used.  The Model 27 does have scales on the chassis, though I do not use them – use maps long enough and such aids are unnecessary.

If you already own a compass and it serves your needs, I wouldn’t bother purchasing a second one.

Ed

10:14 p.m. on October 26, 2013 (EDT)
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I rarely use a compass, haven't since I was in Boy Scouts when I was 14. The sun tells me general direction by shadows as they pass around trees.

3:34 p.m. on November 3, 2013 (EST)
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Bill, or anyone else, is the "Thumb Compass" you talk about a military style compass?  Sorry if that is not very clear.  But it has a loop on the side that faces you that you put your thumb in and a pop up lid that has a thin slot and a wire in it.  They are normally round and green or brass, from my experience.  (added link to Pics - Hope they work

The reason I ask is that I have one of these from my days in the Army but it is rather heavy for a compass.  I also have a Burnton Classic that I always have in my pack, just in case.  It has scales but I have never used them, I seldom use the compass.  

Next summer I am planning a thru hike and there are several sections of "Off Trail" travel, I am wondering it you think the military style compass would be a better option for route finding then the Classic.  Although from what I have read on these bush whacks long views to locate yourself using triangulation is very rare.  Your usually headed down a forested hill side to a creek and then following a creek to a road or trail.  Or the reverse.  Very interested in you and others thoughts.

Wolfman

9:36 p.m. on November 3, 2013 (EST)
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A thumb compass is a specialized design intended for competitive orienteering. In competitive orienteering, the competitor carries his map in hand at all times, keeping it oriented to the terrain. The thumb compass is used to continuously track the position on the map and to aid in choosing the "best" route to each control point. This is, of course, a very different approach from the common practice of most backpackers of only getting the map out to check on current position and to decide which trail branch to take at the forks in the trail, plus occasionally getting the compass out to attempt to determine the backpacker's position, assuming he can actually identify the visible landmarks. To quote someone - "you can't get lost on a trail" (the person was actually lost - night before last, a group of teenagers was hiking up one of my favorite parks, Mission Peak Regional Preserve. when the realized as they reached the peak that it was getting dark - Mission Peak is one of the very few parks around here that allows hiking after dark. They attempted to find their way down by following trails, but ended up in the middle of some fields - Mission has a network of trails, on which it is easy to pick the wrong fork, even in daylight. Eventually, they called 911 and were rescued after a bit of searching by the SAR team)

The following image shows 4 compasses. From the left, the first compass is a Silva (Sweden, not a JWA import with the Silva symbol) orienteering thumb compass. The second is also a Silva Sweden compass for orienteering, as you can tell by the start and control point templates near the single scale at the end. The third is a Suunto-manufactured JWA Silva mirror compass with adjustable declination. Note the tiny brass screwhead at the NE compass point and the "screwdriver" declination adjustment tool on the lanyard. Also note that the mirror compass has a clinometer inside the capsule (something that, frankly, is of no use tor the majority of backpackers). The far right compass is a Cammenga military compass (actually the civilian version).
Compass3.jpg

You will note that the compass needles are pointing is slightly different directions. This is because the magnetism of each compass (particularly the Cammanga which is almost strong enough to pick up a nail through the aluminum housing) interacts with the others.

Note that the two orienteering compasses are pretty bare-bones. They are intended for continuous with a map. Orienteering maps are specially made, highly detailed, with scales typically 1:15000 or larger. They are color coded to show vegetation in detail (shades of green indicate density of the vegetation, with the darkest shades indicating "fight", vegetation so thick you have to fight your way through it, and often in this part of the world, the dark green is a nasty, 3-leaved plant called "poison oak"). Open grassland is colored yellow, the color grasses turn in midsummer. Orienteering maps also show the locations of boulders, cliffs, marshland, individual trees, downed logs, individual manmade objects, etc.

The bottom line here is, unless you are into competitive orienteering, you do NOT want a thumb compass (competitive orienteering is the "thinking person's running sport, with the elite runners running through the woods up and down hills at speeds that a lot of 10k and even most marathoners would get left far behind - you are navigating and route, reading the map while running at tops speed through the woods).

There is an intermediate compass style that is similar to the orienteering baseplate compass, but with the scales and declination adjustment you see on the mirror compass in the photo, and without the mirror. Frankly, this is the type of compass most useful to the backpacker. The Brunton (currently the US branch of Silva Sweden) that Wolfman linked to is that type. It has useful scales and adjustable declination. To adjust the declination, you simply pinch the capsule between thumb and forefinger of one hand and rotate the bezel to the desired offset with the other hand.   

131480.jpg

Note that many of the posts above include a statement to the effect that the poster rarely uses his compass, and often rarely uses his map. As Gary noted, the Sun's position and movement tell you the general direction of the 4 principal (N, E, S, W) and 4 intermediate (NE, SE, SW, and NW) compass points, which with a decent map (doesn't have to be a 1:5000 orienteering map, or even a topographic map - a USFS trail map will do)., if you get a bit of experience. This is not to say that someone only moderately experienced will not get lost - which is why you should have a basic compass and decent map in your pocket at least (even if you carry a GPS receiver - whose batteries will die at the critical decision point, of course). If you stay on trail, observe where you are going and where you came from, being alert enough to spot any forks in the trail, including that barely visible trail with 6 inches deep fallen Autumn leaves covering it, you will do just fine.

There are other kinds of compasses out there. I loved my Brunton Pocket Transit when I had it (makes the Cammanga look like one of those keychain trinket compasses by comparison). And I find my sighting compass/clinometer very useful on the environmental research expeditions I go on as part of the American Climber Science Program. But the vast majority of backpackers do NOT need anything more than a good baseplate compass, like the Brunton Classic shown above or the Suunto or JWA Silva baseplate compasses that you can buy for $10-$15.

The Cammanga is great for the situations it was designed for, make no mistake. But it was designed for locating an enemy emplacement and calling in the artillery fire or the helicopters or jets to wipe out some emplacement that is throwing explosive materials your way (you want them hitting the enemy first time and not having to radio in "that was a bit too close, guys!"). With a good map, you can pinpoint your location just fine with an inexpensive baseplate compass (you do have to recognize which landmark is which on the map - hard to do in dense woods or at the bottom of a deep ravine, as pointed out in an earlier post - a bearing to the nearest tenth of a degree is no good if the farthest object you can see is a bunch of trees 50 feet away).

By the way, the technique of finding your location by sighting on two known (and visible!) points and using the measured bearings to draw lines on the map from the two known points is often called "triangulation". In fact, it is actually the inverse of triangulation, which is what the surveyor does when he goes to the two known points and sights on the unknown point to determine its location. What the hiker is doing (sighting from the unknown location toward the known points) is correctly called "resection". But, among the vast majority of backpackers, the term "triangulation" is thoroughly ingrained and has become the colloquialism in common usage.

A last hint - Just how do you navigate through dense woods, anyway? Assuming you know where you are on the map, use the protractor capability of your baseplate compass (easier to do with a baseplate compass than with a Cammanga), and set the bezel on the bearing to your destination. Now orient yourself with the compass (needle in the box on the bezel's markings) and sight to a prominent object within your sight range. Walk to that object. Step around the object and line yourself up using the compass again. Sight the farthest object on your line of direction (using the compass), and go to that object. Repeat until you are at your destination. If your path goes directly across a lake or river, note the object across the water that is in your direction of travel. Then circumvent the lake (walk around it!) until you get to the object you noted and proceed as before (for a river go up or downstream to a safe crossing, then go downstream or upstream until you get to the target object and resume your sighting and walking routine as before. It is, of course, best to stay on trails and keep track of yourself continuously on that good map you brought along.

5:45 a.m. on November 4, 2013 (EST)
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+1 cammenga, best compass on the face of the planet bands down IMO. and built like a tank.

8:13 a.m. on November 4, 2013 (EST)
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That Brunton Classic is what I own, have owned, and this thread (many posts ago) convinced me is more than good enough.

2:43 p.m. on November 4, 2013 (EST)
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Lessee now - the basic Cammenga (phosphorescent, not the radioactive tritium one) is $62 vs a Suunto A-10 baseplate at $14 or a Brunton OSS 10B at $12, either of which would serve the vast majority of backpackers very well.

Keep in mind that very few people, even with a lot of practice can consistently get bearings to better than 1° or 2° and fewer still can follow a bearing for a couple miles off-trail and hit their intended destination to within 200 or 300 ft.

Here is an exercise to test your skills. Find an open field (the football field at your local high school will do just fine) or a park with a couple hundred feet of clear view. Pick two points at opposite ends that can be seen from each other:

Point A --------------------------------------------------------------------Point B

Stand at A and take a handheld bearing of B with your compass (doesn't matter whether this is a cheap baseplate, a mirror compass (such as the Ranger 515), a Cammenga or other lensatic compass, or a Brunton Pocket Transit). Write down the bearing you measure. Next walk to B and take a handheld back bearing (that is, standing at B, take a bearing of A) and write that down. Be honest with yourself. You aren't going to post the bearings on Trailspace and be scored. There are no prizes to be given, even if you are within 0.01°.

Repeat this several times on different days. You will be surprised at how much your handheld bearings vary. Practice will make your bearings more consistent. If you take the bearings with a Pocket Transit, you will probably get a smaller difference. And if you use a tripod or some support so you can take the readings "hands free", you should also get better consistency (note that I did not say "accuracy").

Another eye-opening exercise is to take the bearing, then cover your head so that you can see the compass, but not the destination, and using only the compass to navigate, walk to B (I recommend you have a companion to keep you from running into some obstacle). Find out how close you come. Again, with practice, you will improve. First couple of attempts are real eye-openers for even experienced hikers.

12:13 p.m. on November 5, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks for all the info Bill, wow there is a lot there!  :)

It sounds like I should just stick with the Classic I have for hiking, and maps of course. 

In my neck of the woods, the Pacific Northwest, I have tried your suggested method of off trail route finding, and it can work in some of the fairly flat forested areas, but in the mountains and other difficult terrain I mostly navigate by the land features.  

For example; I am at location A and need to get to B, with no trail.  B is at the top of a ridge where the trail crosses a saddle.  A is around a like and down a valley.  I will use the valley or possibly a spur as my land feature to follow to the ridge and then follow the ridge to the saddle.  Of course you have to be aware of what your getting into and keep a close eye on your surrounding and the terrain to make sure you stay on course, but I find it easier then dead reckoning.  I also greatly helps if you can see your over all course before you start to give you a general understanding of the route.  "Up the valley to the steep section, left to the spur, up the spur to the top and right on the ridge to the saddle".  Or something like that. 

Of course if you in a deep forest and can't see squat and have to head off trail then dead reckoning is about you only choice.  Just study the map and look for any feature that will give you clues of your location and the direction to go.

Wolf

12:49 p.m. on November 5, 2013 (EST)
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The name Brunton needs to be mentioned in this discussion.

Gary,

I have always liked you style because you are outside all the time.

I used to work with a guy at Black Mesa on the Navajo Res. He grew up in remote AZ and has never owned a TV. We met in Las Vegas for some Grateful Dead shows. The weather was really hot. He chose our seats way up in the nose bleed section. We sat in the first two seats in the stadium that had any shade. There is no substitute for living a life outdoors.

2:08 p.m. on November 5, 2013 (EST)
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I keep my compass at hand to use and it is never crammed away in the pack.

I can get the most accurate bearing off the Cammenga and find it the most user friendly (for me). Scales on a compass are fine if they match the scale of your map. Mine rarely do as the maps I use have scales all over the place most of the time. The custom maps I use do have a scale I can use with a specific UTM tool that I take along in the back of my field notebook. But I do use the straight edge on the Cammenga for map work, works just fine.

My Brunton Eclipse 8099 was about as accurate and not too bad shooting bearings but it would develop huge bubbles that were permanent and would never go away at any altitude or temperature. They just grew bigger affecting the accuracy.

My second favorite compass is the Suunto Dp-65 global. It is small, light, closes up in its own little “matchcase” and is fairly easy to sight with though I can not get as accurate a reading as I can with the Cammenga. It gets bubbles at altitudes that are moderate and they do affect accuracy but those do go away in warm lower places.  

The Silva Ranger is the most basic compass I own and have used and it works okay. Slower to get accurate readings with it but it is a basic sighting compass.

I find baseplate compasses nearly worthless for off trail, canyon country and plateau travel. We mark our campsites and places we find in those “hall of mirrors”. When you do make an interesting find and want to return someday or you just need to navigate precisely…well, I find the Cammenga works best for me, no bubbles and it is very quick and easy shoot and read a precise bearing. It will take me back within a few feet of where I want to go in a rugged, folded, creased landscape. Cons; it is heavy and has no mirror to show me the fool who is lost…

3:49 p.m. on November 5, 2013 (EST)
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I got my cammenga for $26 the regular phosphorescent model that is. the $60 one is the trillium one. A quick google search showed me prices in the 30-40 range for the basic model and 65-100 for the trillium one. as always shop around to find the best price.

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