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Handheld Compasses

Top Picks

How we choose: The best handheld compasses highlighted here were selected based on 141 reviews of 66 products. Our top picks are those that are readily-available in the United States and have received the highest overall ratings from reviewers.

How we test: Trailspace is powered entirely by our community of readers. The reviews posted here reflect the real-world experiences of outdoor enthusiasts just like you.

If you've used a handheld compass that you think should be listed here, please share your experience.

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Brunton TruArc 5

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (4 reviews)

This is a nice well made compass with the basic set of features you should have if you intend to use it for navigation. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this compass to anyone looking for a compass to use while backpacking, hunting, etc.

Reasons to Buy

  • Quality construction
  • Rare earth magnet on needle
  • Cool Topo Buddy Scale Cards

Reasons to Avoid

  • Declination adjustment is a challenge

First off, I want to say that I received this compass as a gift for being a past Reviewer of the Month here at Trailspace. I think it might be helpful to give you an overview of my background with respect to navigation skills so that you can put my review in perspective with how you might intend to use this compass. For the last 30 years or so I have always carried a map and compass for any areas where I go hiking and consider it one of the ten essentials that I always carry in my pack. While I don't consider myself an expert by any means on navigation, I do feel I have solid skills with respect to being able to use a map, compass, and altimeter to figure out my way home.

Read more: Brunton TruArc 5 reviews (4)

Suunto M-3D Leader

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (3 reviews)

The Suunto M-3D Leader Compass simply meets my detailed traditional requirements for use with my USGS Quad topo maps and my Garmin eTrex Venture HC hand held GPS (that is still available for about $100.00) for hiking on trail, off trail, scrambling and for bagging peaks in summer and sketchy winter weather. It is great for snowshoers, skiers, snowmobile riders, hunters and horsemen!

Reasons to Buy

  • Works best with traditional USGS topo map and handheld Garmin GPS, about $100

Reasons to Avoid

  • Will only work in North America for about $25. The global needle model works around the world for about $80!

The Suunto M-3D Leader Compass simply meets my detailed traditional requirements! Here is why: 1. A reasonably long, transparent plastic base-plate for pointing the compass at objects in the field and for joining points on the map and it has a prominent index mark indicating the direction of travel. (The three little rubber feet help you use the edge of the compass to find and draw your bearing on the paper map.) 2. A big rotating compass needle housing marked in two degree increments. The housing has a transparent base which is marked with true north-south meridian lines which, together with the long compass edge, form a protractor for use on the map.

Read more: Suunto M-3D Leader reviews (3)

Silva Explorer Pro HV

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

A high quality baseplate compass with many functions at a low price point! Declination adjustment, clinometer, and magnifier all for under $35.

Reasons to Buy

  • High quality
  • Lots of useful functions
  • Inexpensive
  • Lifetime warranty

Reasons to Avoid

  • Direction of travel arrow not super obvious

Silva carries a lifetime warranty on this compass, and it is a super product. This compass is great to work with for planning, and when out in the field! The measurements of the compass: 2.125" x 4.1875", weighing in at 1oz. The high visibility bezel really helps!  The dial is easy to turn, and has 2˚graduations. The compass has a gear driven adjustment for magnetic declination on the bottom of the compass. It has 1/10 mile scales for USGS 1:24,000 and 1:62,500 maps, and an inch ruler on the three square sides.

Read more: Silva Explorer Pro HV review (1)

Suunto M-3 G Global

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

Now this is a compass. I think the Suunto M-3 G with the Global Needle is perhaps the best orienteering or baseplate compass on the market. Most people who've used magnetic compasses long enough in a wide variety of environments realized that a standard baseplate compass is more than adequate for map-and-compass navigation. A $20 compass will work just fine for most people and most recreational navigation, no question about it. But then you may be like me, who wanted something a bit better.

Read more: Suunto M-3 G Global review (1)

Cammenga Tritium Lensatic Compass 3H

user rating: 4 of 5 (12 reviews)

An accurate and tough compass that will give a lifetime of service. The Tritium won't, but this can be replaced by Cammenga every 13 years or so.

Reasons to Buy

  • Dry capsule will not develop bubbles.
  • Accurate and dependable
  • Can take rough use.
  • Replaceable parts

Reasons to Avoid

  • Tritium lifespan is 12-14 years, so the glowing dims about then
  • Not a beginners compass, but not hard to master either.

I have used this compass for the past year but have tried out a phosphorescent version for some time. I use the 3H mainly for navigating at darker times as we move to lookout areas for early morning calling. I do take it out on hikes and walks to keep skills up and really like the lensatic compasses for navigation. When they are quality built they are accurate and dependable. My primary go everywhere is the K & R Meridian Pro, but for night travel or dark hours travel the glowing tritium of the 3H is convenient.

Read more: Cammenga Tritium Lensatic Compass 3H reviews (12)

Suunto MC-2G Global

user rating: 4 of 5 (6 reviews)

The needle on this thing is incredible. It's amazing the angles you can hold it at and still get accurate readings. It should work at just about any latitude, regardless of the magnetic dip. Sometimes this needle will block your view of the clinometer, though.The luminous dial is pretty useless. You can only read the points for a few seconds before it dims. The cardinal points are not illuminated which would be much more useful. The lanyard is too short. The slide catches, and is very hard to work.

Read more: Suunto MC-2G Global reviews (6)

Brunton TruArc 3

user rating: 3.5 of 5 (1 review)

Inexpensive, accurate, precise, and compact compass with a global needle and adjustable declination. A compass you’ll likely pack everywhere. Not loaded with features, but all the features you must have to navigate any terrain with your map. You can trust this item to do what you need it to do.

Reasons to Buy

  • Global needle
  • Tool-less adjustable declination
  • Price!

Reasons to Avoid

  • Lack of grid reference alignments on bottom of needle housing

 I've heard the TruArc 3 referred to as a training compass, a starter compass, and a beginner's compass. I take exception to that because there really is no such thing. Yes, there are basic base plate compasses and more advanced base plate compasses, but that does not relegate a compass to use by either beginners or experienced land navigators. Land navigation is first and foremost a mind game little improved with gadgetry beyond the basics needed — a good topo sheet in a useable scale, an accurate compass, and knowing the magnetic declination for the area you are in.

Read more: Brunton TruArc 3 review (1)

Silva NOR Thumb Compass

user rating: 3.5 of 5 (1 review)

A completely clear thumb compass that's great for orienteering and adventure racing. Good for someone just getting into orienteering, an experienced orienteer may prefer a more stable needle.

Reasons to Buy

  • Transparent
  • Great visibility of the map under the compass
  • Comfortable to wear on the thumb
  • Wide, visible needle

Reasons to Avoid

  • Wobbly needle
  • Forms bubble in 50s and below
  • Doesn't have any scale on the direction of travel arrow.

Ease of Use: Thumb compasses in general simplify and speed up navigation. Place it on your thumb, the direction of travel arrow is already set for you. Place the compass on the map with the direction of travel going from where you are to where you want to go. Turn around until the needle lines up with north on the map.  Note that I'm facing  the wrong way, North on the compass is facing towards South on the map. Features: Clear compass that can be worn on the thumb. It has a comfortable, adjustable, elastic strap to hold it in place.

Read more: Silva NOR Thumb Compass review (1)

More Reviews of Handheld Compasses

Trailspace reviewers have shared 141 reviews of 66 different handheld compasses.

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