Top 5 Best Survival Compass Reviews: Guide and Questions

A good compass is not only essential equipment for every outdoors man and woman but it is also the one piece of kit that will enable you to actually walk a straight line while out in the bush. There are a lot of compasses out there on the market and it can be tough to figure out which one is the best choice for you and your needs.

Compiled here are five compasses that I would not hesitate to put in my kit and trust my life to.

COMPASS DETAILS
  • Global needle
  • Magnifying lens
  • Sighting mirror
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  • Luminous markings
  • Clinometer
  • Sighting Mirror
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  • Luminous liquid filled bezel
  • Clinometer
  • Made in Finland
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Best Survival Compasses – My Picks

Best Sighting Survival Compass – Suunto MC-2G

SUUNTO 9001682 Mc-2G Usgs Mirror Compass, Black

The fact that this compass has a global needle is not the only reason that it landed at overall best sighting compass and the top of my list, it is that this compass is made in Finland not in China. Not being manufactured in China means that Suunto is delivering a higher quality product than their competition. Suunto has always been known for their quality and the MC-2G is no exception.

Even if you do not need a compass with a global needle it is still a good option to have since the needle is designed to compensate for a high degree of tilt. This compass includes all the features you would expect to find on a high quality sighting compass such as adjustable declination, clinometer, UTM grid scales, magnifying lens, and luminescent markings. This compass is a little bit on the pricey side but you get what you pay for. There are also three versions of this compass the MC-2G which is metric with 1:50,000 and 1:25,000 grid scales, the MC-2/G/6400 which is a military version graduated in Mils, and the MC-2/G/USGS which is a USGS version that has imperial measurements and a 1:24,000 USGS grid scale

Features

  • Global needle
  • Adjustable declination
  • Liquid filled bezel
  • Clinometer
  • Magnifying lens
  • UTM grid scales
  • Sighting mirror
  • Luminescent markings

Pros

  • Has a global needle
  • Clinometer
  • Adjustable Declination
  • Made in Finland

Cons

  • Expensive

Customers Say

Customers reviews seem to be very positive with some people pointing out some minor issues related to quality control. The most negative of the reviews revolve around quality control issues like missing or damaged components or being shipped the wrong model of the MC-2G compass. Generally speaking the majority of customers seem very pleased with their purchase.

Verdict

I used the military version of this compass while serving and as such I have a bit of a soft spot for it. That being said it is a fantastic compass and there is good reason why it was the go to compass for the Canadian Armed Forces while I was serving. The only real drawback I see is that it is an expensive compass which is the only reason why I did not buy one of these. The global needle is a great option even if you will never leave the Northern hemisphere and all the other features that are packed into this unit are top notch. Be sure to get the right version for the maps you are using.

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SUUNTO 9001682 Mc-2G Usgs Mirror Compass, Black
  • Fast globally balanced needle with jewel bearing
  • 20 degrees tilt margin for easier readings

Last update on 2020-09-24 at 23:02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Silva Ranger 2.0

Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass - Orange

The Silva Ranger is a very popular compass that only suffers from two negatives. First is that it is not a global compass and the second is that, unlike the Suunto, Sliva manufactures their compasses in China and not Sweden. This is still a good sighting compass though and all the Silva compasses I’ve had experience with have been accurate. The Ranger 2.0 has a lot of the same features as the MC-2G including the adjustable declination, clinometer, magnifying lens, UTM grid scales and luminescent markings. An added feature is a set of measurement markings on the lanyard which is quite handy for measuring distance on a map.

Features

  • Adjustable declination
  • Luminous markings
  • UTM grid scales
  • Clinometer
  • Sighting Mirror
  • Made in China

Pros

  • Adjustable declination
  • Clinometer
  • Measurements on lanyard

Cons

  • No global needle
  • Made in China

Customers Say

Customers reviews are mostly positive with the negative reviews centring around either quality control issues such as broken or missing parts or being shipped the wrong version of this compass.

Personal Experience

I own 2 of the previous version of this compass and have found them to be accurate and dependable. After a lot of use I’ve not had any issues with them aside from the clinometer being inconvenient to use without a second person helping, but that is the same for every compass I’ve used with a clinometer.

Verdict

These are good compasses but the fact that Silva no longer chooses to manufacture them in Sweden is why it is doomed to be a runner up and not a best overall pick. I like the addition of measurement markings on the lanyard and if my compasses had come with that feature I would not have thrown the lanyards away.

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Silva Ranger 2.0 Compass - Orange
  • See main description
  • Item Brand: Silva

Last update on 2020-09-24 at 23:02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Best Base Plate Compass – Suunto M-3G

Suunto M-3 G Compass For Globetrotters, One Size, Global Metric

Sometimes you just don’t need a sighting compass or maybe you want a backup for your possibles kit. If that is the case the Suunto M-3G is a good option. While this compass is not going to be as precise when shooting bearings like a sighting compass it is still a high quality compass from a reputable company. The M-3G has a global needle, clinometer, adjustable declination, magnifying lens and UTM grid scales. For a base plate compass this has a lot of features which make it a great option.

Features

  • Adjustable declination
  • Luminous liquid filled bezel
  • Clinometer
  • Magnifying lens
  • UTM grid scales
  • Global needle
  • Made in Finland

Pros

  • Global needle
  • Adjustable declination
  • Clinometer
  • UTM grid scales

Cons

  • Not as precise in shooting bearings as a sighting compass

Customers Say

Customers seem to be very happy with their Suunto compasses. The only negative reviews that I saw were due to not receiving the model that was ordered and some complaints of missing or broken components.

Verdict

The Suunto M-3G is a great compass for primary navigation as well as a backup compass. The lack of a sighting mirror make this compass less precise than a sighting compass but still very functional especially if you are proficient in land navigation.

Suunto M-3 G Compass For Globetrotters, One Size, Global Metric
  • Fast globally balanced needle with jewel bearing
  • 20 degrees tilt margin for easier readings

Last update on 2020-09-24 at 23:02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Brunton Tru-Arc 3

Brunton - TruArc 3 - Base Plate Compass

This is a decent base plate compass that although perfectly functional for basic land navigation is probably best suited for use as a backup or emergency compass. While it does have a global needle and adjustable declination it lacks the UTM grid scales that the other compasses on this list have.

Features

  • Adjustable declination
  • Global needle
  • Measurement markings in mm and inches
  • Made in the USA

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight
  • Global needle
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • No UTM grid scale
  • No clinometer

Customers Say

From reading the reviews it seems that the majority of customers understood the limitations of this compass before purchase and are quite happy with their compasses. The negative reviews are the usual mix of quality control issues and some units forming bubbles in the bezel.

Verdict

This is a good backup compass or for very basic land navigation. Don’t expect to be doing any resections with it, but for very general orienteering it fits the bill.

We did a detailed review of the Brunton Tru-Arc 3 in this article.

Brunton - TruArc 3 - Base Plate Compass
  • RELIABLE - Entry-level compass for your basic orienteering and mapping that can travel anywhere.
  • ADVANCED NAVIGATION - Resists magnetic interference better than any competitor, and will not lose...

Last update on 2020-09-25 at 02:12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Best Backup Survival Compass – Suunto M-9

Suunto M-9 Wrist Compass

I like to have some form of a compass on my wrist which is usually a button compass. The Suunto M-9 on the other hand is a much better option. Designed to give a basic cardinal direction and a very general heading with a point of note that the degree markings are reversed from what they normally are on a regular compass. For example South is at 0 degrees while North is at 180 degrees. This compass uses a card rather than a needle and this card is luminescent.

Features

  • Velcro wrist strap
  • Balanced for the Northern Hemisphere
  • Luminescent card

Pros

  • Lightweight and simple
  • Luminescent card

Cons

  • No declination adjustment
  • No clinometer
  • Degree readings are opposite from standard

Customers Say

Reviews are mixed with most customers being happy with it while others claim that it is difficult to use and read or that the quality is poor. Many reviews mention that the degrees are reversed from what is normally found on a compass which some people found to be confusing.

Verdict

This is a wrist compass and no more should be expected from it. As with any button compass or wrist compass like these, it must be held dead level in order to get an accurate reading. This is a good buy as long as you are not expecting more from it than what it is designed to give.

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Suunto M-9 Wrist Compass
  • Handy and reliable wrist compass for navigating around town or the country
  • Employs Suunto's two-zone system for reliable readings in northern hemisphere

Last update on 2020-09-25 at 05:02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


What to Look For in a Survival Compass

When selecting a survival compass there are several options in terms of style. The main options would be either a base plate or sighting compass with button or other wrist worn compasses having their place as well. Personally I like to have two compasses and a backup button compass as a bare minimum and I generally go out with sighting compasses as my primary and backup.

Base plate or Sighting?

This should be your first question to yourself and the answer depends on what your planned activity is going to entail and also how competent you are at map and compass navigation.

A base plate compass has a clear base plate that should have engraved markings for measurement, UTM grid scales, orientating arrow/lines and a declination scale. These compasses are not very large and are usually designed to be comfortably hung around the neck. The clear base plate makes getting bearings and grid coordinates off of maps quick and easy.  Normally, these compasses will have a rotating bezel for acquiring and dialing in bearings.

Sighting compasses are the same as the base plate version with the addition of a sighting mirror. These compasses are designed to use the mirror to see the bezel while shooting a bearing making them more accurate than their base plate cousins.

Global Use

If you plan on travelling to the Southern Hemisphere then you are going to want to invest in a global compass. The reason why you need a global compass has to do with how the Earth’s magnetic field pulls on a compass needle depending on where you are on the globe. A compass that is balanced in North America will find that the magnetic field in South America is causing the needle to tilt into the compass housing making it unusable. This tilting is what a global compass needle is designed to eliminate, Suunto global compasses are designed to handle up to a 20 degree tilt which is more than you would expect to find in any of the Earths five magnetic zones.

Rotating Bezel

In order to accurately navigate it is necessary to not only acquire a bearing from the map but to dial that bearing into your compass and be able to walk along it. This is accomplished by using a rotating bezel which has the degrees of a circle and cardinal directions engraved on it. This lets you quickly and accurately determine and input bearings from a map into your compass so you can travel to your destination.

Adjustable Declination

The Earth’s magnetic North pole is not a static point on the planet, instead it moves a certain amount every year. This means that the North on your map (True North or Grid North) is different than Magnetic North. The difference between the two of these is referred to as magnetic declination. If you are going to navigate in the woods it is imperative that you understand and are able to determine the current magnetic declination for the area you will be in.

Any base plate or sighting compass will have a declination scale so you can determine how much is the correct amount of offset to use for navigating using a map. A compass with an adjustable declination will have a small screw that you can use to rotate this declination scale to the correct amount of offset. What you will see is that the orientating arrow will move according to the declination that you enter into it, and when your compass needle is within the bounds of the orientating arrow your compass will be orientated to True North or Grid North. This feature is an important one to have as it makes navigation using a map much easier and less prone to error.

Luminous Markings

Having markings that glow in the dark is incredibly helpful not only during those very early morning hunting outings but for SHTF or tactical situations where night time navigation is commonplace. These luminous markings usually have to be ‘charged’ by either sunlight or artificial light and then glow for several hours after.

Clinometer

This is one of those nice to have features that although useful is probably not one most of you will actually pull out and use. A clinometer is often used to measure the angle of a slope but can also be used (along with a little math) to measure the height of objects like trees. Even if you never intend on using a clinometer it is a nice tool to have.

Accuracy

Your compass has to be accurate and the only way to be sure that of its accuracy is to check it against other compasses. You can also use your smartphone or GPS compass to determine where Magnetic North is and then check that all of your compasses point to the same spot. I like to check my compasses every time I leave for a trip no matter what.


Questions I Get Asked About Survival Compasses

What factors should I consider when using a compass?

The biggest factor to consider is to avoid any metal being anywhere near the compass. When shooting a bearing it is good practice to place any firearms on the ground and to stand away from any metal objects. The magnetized needle in the compass can be attracted to metal objects in its vicinity making any bearing you get from it inaccurate.

Always keep your compass away from any strong magnetic fields like speakers and radios because the needle can be negatively affected by them.

Why do some compasses have MILS instead of degrees?

Some compasses have a unit of measure for angle known as MILS. This is generally only used by the military and instead of dividing a circle into 360 degrees the circle is divided into 6400 mils. The offset of 1 mil at 1000 meters is 1 meter so this is used by the military for directing fire because it is easy to figure out how far to adjust by using simple math. For the civilian there is no practical reason to buy a compass graduated in Mils as degrees are more than accurate enough.

What other advantages would a global compass have if I am not going outside North America?

Since global compasses can handle a good amount of tilting they are good for people who want to take very rapid bearings on the go, since these compasses will be able to provide an accurate reading even if not held perfectly level.


Verdict

It’s hard to beat the Suunto MC-2G, with it’s global needle, adjustable declination, and sighting mirror you can navigate anywhere on the globe with this compass which is why it topped my list.

However, I never leave the hard pack without at least three compasses and if I was to have a ‘dream team’ of compasses it would be the Suunto MC-2G with the Suunto M-3G as a secondary or backup, and the Suunto M9 as my quick navigation check and last ditch backup.



Michael Major
Written by Michael Major

Michael is a survivalist, traditional bowhunter, student of traditional and primitive skills, as well as a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. He is also a husband and father and makes his home in British Columbia, Canada. Read his full interview here. Read more of Michael's articles.

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