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First compass
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Sean Passanisi
(passanis) - MLife
First compass on 05/09/2013 17:33:59 MDT Print View

Hello. I'm looking to purchase my first compass. My recent trips have been in familiar places where I haven't even taken a map. As I begin to backpack in new places, I'm planning to carry a topo map and also buy a compass. After searching old posts, I'm unsure as to whether I should stick to a "button" compass or get something that is more capable. While I have no training, I have a desire to learn how to use a proper compass. Would love to hear recommendations. Thank you.

Pete Staehling
(staehpj1) - F
Silva Starter or similar on 05/09/2013 17:43:10 MDT Print View

A basic "real" compass like the Silva Starter is a good way to go. Inexpensive at about $10-12 and it really is all the compass you will ever really need.

declination on 05/09/2013 17:49:10 MDT Print View

get one with adjustable declination, like the suunto M2

Unless you hike somewhere where mag north is fairly close to true north.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Re: First compass on 05/09/2013 18:23:44 MDT Print View

I suggest you snag a Silva Guide/Huntsman (color is the only difference between these models). It's a very lightweight sighting compass with adjustable declination. It floats if you drop it in a lake, the mirror is large enough for "mirror uses" while backpacking (multiple use gear, eh!) and the graduations are easy to read. When closed, the edges are rounded and don't snag or poke pockets/legs, but it's low profile. It's got a ruler on one edge for map work and they are MSRP $23 bucks.

I carry and use a smaller version of these, but it's the Guide/Huntsman I suggest to my Scouts when they ask.

steven franchuk
Re: First compass on 05/09/2013 18:47:58 MDT Print View

A button compass basically just tells you which way is north and nothing else. With a proper compass you taking readings from known mountains in the distance and then transfer that to your mape and triangulate to find out exactly where you are.

Then from the known possition you can plot a line on the map to your destination and then set the compase to guide you in that direction (which is often not directly north or sout). A good compass has a lot of uses while a button compass has basically only one use.

Edited by Surf on 05/09/2013 18:55:27 MDT.

Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
and learn to use it ! on 05/09/2013 19:30:29 MDT Print View

A compass does you no good unless you know how to use it... when it counts.

You might find a compass class at REI.... or, I'm sure you could buy a compass book at REI or on line... it's not hard to learn the basics..


(JRinGeorgia) - F
learn on YouTube on 05/09/2013 20:02:52 MDT Print View

Plenty of tutes on YouTube to teach how to use one.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
declination on 05/10/2013 13:45:49 MDT Print View

+1 on the adjustable declination.

If the compass does not have a declination adjustment screw on the bezel ring don't buy it no matter how cool it looks.

P.S. a small bezel ring is less accurate tham a larger one, which usually has more degree markings.

Edited by Danepacker on 05/10/2013 13:47:11 MDT.

Sean Passanisi
(passanis) - MLife
Re: declination on 05/10/2013 17:02:59 MDT Print View

Thanks everyone.

After doing some additional searching, I found that most of the newer Silvas sold here are made in China. If I decide to go with Suunto, REI carries the Suunto MC-2. Is this too much compass for me? I figure the Suunto MC-2G is overkill.

Brian Johns

Locale: NorCal
eBay is Your Friend on 05/10/2013 17:13:56 MDT Print View

I have a few of the older made-in-finland Silva compasses, and they are superior to the newer ones - and the US-made Bruntons - in every way. Even better, a starter model new-old-stock with package and not a scratch will only cost $5. Check it out. I really think if you hike near where you live, declination is not that big a deal. It's easy math add or subtract 10-15 degrees and the exact declination is marked on most maps. Get in the habit of it and you won't ruin your eyes trying to move, set and read that little wheel. Just my $0.02.

Rodney Mruk

Locale: Northeast Oregon
What will you use the compass for? on 05/10/2013 17:42:24 MDT Print View


You have been given a lot of good advice from those who have responded. One thing to think about is just what will you use the compass for. I have found that a compass is not all that important when hiking on the trails. Sure it helps to orient the map. But if you are not going off trail, then I have found a compass is not all that crucial. What helps me more is an altimeter. When I know my elevation and follow the trail on the map, I am able to pin point my location. So my thought is to not spend a whole lot on a compass. Just my thoughts of course and each person must hike their own hike.

I use a device from Highgear. It is no longer made but they have something similar available. Here is the link

Mine has an altimeter, compass, clock, thermometer, flashlight and barometer which gives a weather forecast. It weighs 2.5 ounces including the battery which is two years old and still going.

Good hiking,