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Coleman Lensatic

rated 3.0 of 5 stars

The Lensatic has been discontinued. If you're looking for something new, check out the best handheld compasses for 2024.

photo: Coleman Lensatic handheld compass

The Coleman Lensatic is a Taiwanese-made, modified copy of a WWII U.S. army lensatic field compass. Other than marketing and name on the blister pack, Coleman seems to have little or nothing to do with actual manufacture.

Sometime during the 1960s, various Japanese and Taiwanese manufacturers substituted a liquid-filled capsule and a plastic or zinc outer case for the original brass construction, using plastic for the lensatic sight. Because of this, it is very inexpensive, and similar or identical models can be picked up today at Wal-mart or online for $4 or $5. Like other lensatic compasses, it uses a rotating compass dial, not a needle, and has no baseplate, which makes a protractor necessary for use with a map.

Believe it or not, the basic construction of this compass is good, and accuracy is excellent. With its liquid-filled construction it is quicker to settle than the modern-day issue U.S. army lensatic, and its compass dial is easier to read precisely since (on most examples) the superfluous 'mils' scale has been eliminated for larger to read 360-degree scale, nicely marked down to 1 degree increments (see if your Silva Ranger or Cammenga Army Lensatic will match that!).

The sole problem I have found in this compass results from the the elimination of the original friction spring (a small piece of bent copper or aluminum) that presses against the detents of the compass dial. This prevents the compass from being preset to a given bearing. With the addition of such a spring, I have been able to use this compass effectively in remote wilderness, and could obtain accurate bearings to 1 degree accuracy with the plastic lensatic sighting system. If the manufacturer would invest 5 cents in a friction spring, this compass would be competitive with many other compasses.

Price Paid: $5

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