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Suunto KB-14/360RD

rated 4.5 of 5 stars

The KB-14/360RD has been discontinued. If you're looking for something new, check out the best handheld compasses for 2023.

photo: Suunto KB-14/360RD handheld compass

The KB-14 is a specialized optical sighting compass, primarily made for use by sailing enthusiasts, land or cave surveyors, and others who require a compass capable of taking extremely precise bearings (to fractions of a degree) to various targets.

As a personal sailing or hand-bearing compass the Suunto works well, with a stable dial that can take accurate bearings to shore targets even in a rocking kayak or canoe. It is also available with built-in illumination for cave or night-work, though the illumination button introduces an entry point for dirt and dust and can sometimes jam. The KB-14 is mounted in a solid block of aluminum and is quite sturdy for such a sensitive instrument.

However, as a general land navigation compass the KB-14 comes off as a little too specialized. Most would be better off with a standard baseplate protractor-style compass - these work much better with a map to plot courses than the KB-14 and will provide all the accuracy required for most wilderness navigation purposes (any experienced compass user can take bearings with 1.0-2.0 degree accuracy with ordinary waist-level sightings using only a baseplate compass). Also, the KB-14's optical thru-sight does not lend itself to taking bearings of the tops of mountains or other elevated targets without tilting the compass and introducing errors. If you still want a precise sighting compass for land nav, Suunto's KB-77 comes with a prismatic sight better suited for such work.

This is the best and most convenient compass I have ever used. It is incredibly easy to get precise measurments even in poor lighting. It mounts on a standard camera tripod or monopod if you want more stability.

The only thing you need to be aware of when ordering one is that the internal mechanism must be "balanced" for different latitude (magnetic inclination) zones. So if you buy one for zone 1 (most of N. Hemisphere), it will not work properly in another zone (zone 4, for instance is S. South America and S. Africa and zone 5 is Australia). I do not know if it possible to rebalance the compass rose. So make sure you buy one for where you are going to use it.

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