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Compass recommendation?
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Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Compass recommendation? on 07/06/2007 01:55:51 MDT Print View

I have been reading up on navigation with map and compass, and I have been practicing on all of my recent trips (although I need to get off trail more to see if I'm learning anything). However, my compass is a very basic Silva, and I'm wondering if it is worth upgrading.

What do others carry? Is there a big advantage to a sighting compass with a mirror? A slope inclinometer? Other handy features?

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Compass recommendation? on 07/06/2007 08:52:37 MDT Print View

When I did orienteering courses I found that extra accuracy of a signing mirror very helpful. When I am traveling in avalanche country I find a inclinometer useful because I find that I regularly misjudge the slope. Most of the time I find a small compass is adaquate for my needs. Once I am oriented, the maps makes it pretty easy to id where I am.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
A few compass suggestions.. [pics] on 07/06/2007 09:45:32 MDT Print View

I've used several compasses since starting out with land navigation. My advice is to get the following features at a minimum:

Adjustable Declination

Liquid damped; faster bearing determination

Sighting mirror; more accurate bearing determination

Example: 1.6 ounce, $34 Brunton 8040G

Add the following optional features as necessary:
Clinometer; judging slopes vs. the angle of repose.

USGS mapscales on baseplate; convenient for measuring map distances

Global needle; more accurate readings in other magnetic regions.

Example: 2.7 ounce, $60 Suunto MC-2G
Suunto MC-2G

Get tritium illumination if you plan on doing a lot of night navigation (24 hour races, alpine starts, etc..)
My choice: Cammenga 3H Tritium

If you want a starter compass with tool-free adjustable declination and liquid damping; this is the lightest, cheapest I've ever seen; I give these out to my hiking club members who've never seen a compass, and they are up and running in no time..
1.1 ounce, $14($10 on sale) Brunton 9020G
Bruton 9020G

Edited by Brett1234 on 07/06/2007 09:48:15 MDT.

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: Compass recommendation? on 07/06/2007 11:38:48 MDT Print View

Jason, Brett is correct. At a minimum you need adjustable declination and a sighting mirror. I've been teaching map and compass navigation for more than twenty years and this is the rig that I insist upon. If you Google "Magnetic Declination" you can go to an NOAA site to get the latest declination for the area in which you'll be hiking. Then it's just "set and forget". The mirror will give you the accuracy you need for triangulation. If you'll be hiking in avalanche country the clinometer will be a valuable tool for slope estimation.

David Laurie
(bushwalker) - F

Locale: NSW Australia
Re: Re: Compass recommendation? on 07/13/2007 09:29:37 MDT Print View

I think Silva has the best quality among the popular brands, especially with their more top-end models;
but at the same time Brunton and Suunto seem to give better value-for-money for their similar models to the Silva's.

Then again, if any one brand was superior, we wouldn't see so many shops selling a range of these different brands, would we ?
I have both Silva and Brunton models, plus a couple of small el-cheapo models as well, among my kit here - I will simply select the simplest one that's suitable for the conditions I might encounter, plus carry a small backup amongst my "essentials'...

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Compass recommendation? on 07/13/2007 10:51:10 MDT Print View

Thanks for the responses. I did a little more shopping yesterday. The Suunto and Silva models of sighting compasses look to be very similar construction, right down to the hinges. Almost like the same manufacturer makes both.

Think I'll end up with either a Silva Ranger CL, or a Suunto MC-2G Navigator. I did get to try these out a bit, and I can definitely see the advantages.

The 2.6 to 3 ounces isn't exactly SUL, but since I carry it in a pants pocket, I don't consider it part of my base weight!

Edited by jbrinkmanboi on 07/13/2007 10:52:34 MDT.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Compass tidbits. on 07/13/2007 11:18:05 MDT Print View

Jason, I have the Ranger CL. I used to use it giving orienteering classes. I think it is overkill for most backpacking situations and a bit big to be comfortable in a pants pocket. i never bring it along, anymore. I personally use the digital compas on my Suunto watch with a tiny Suunto baseplate compass brought as back up when I'm on a trip in less familiar terrain. Presupposing having adequate maps along, of course. Many of my trips are predominantly off-trail in nature. I don't use any GPS devices.

Granted, the longer baseplate and the mirror of a Ranger style compass makes it easier to read an accurate bearing, but with practice, it is possible to get a useable bearing with a short baseplated compass. I also don't worry if a compass has adjustable declination compensation. I just tape an arrow for the appropriate declination of the area I'll be in. I must admit that the mirrors of the 2 compasses you're interested in are very useful for personal grooming. :-)>

Navigation by compass is fun and I wish the Euro sport of Orienteering were more popular in this country.

Edited by kdesign on 07/13/2007 13:50:50 MDT.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Compass tidbits. on 07/13/2007 13:33:34 MDT Print View

Good points Kevin. Most of the terrain that I'm traveling is pretty easy to navigate due to high relief, unique features, trails, clear weather, etc. And I also carry 24K USGS maps custom printed for my trip.

I've been using a simple short baseplated compass fairly successfully, but I have trouble getting a reliable or repeatable bearing to with 5 degrees. Not a problem given aforementioned conditions, but occasionally in fog, snow storms, or dense forest with limited visibility, I can see the need to be more accurate. And those 5 degree errors really compound if you are sighting tree to tree following a heading.

I also always wear a Suunto Vector that I consider backup. It has similar accuracy issues as there's no good way to sight with it. The altimeter has its limitations too, but I'm sure you're familiar. Suunto is showing a couple new watches on their website. The Suunto Core looks promising.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Digital compasses on 07/13/2007 13:46:48 MDT Print View

The Suunto X6 digital compass is much more reliable than the Vector's. St. Moritz has a very interesting alti-compass watch out in a metal case and a sapphire crystal!

With a digital compass you have to have a steady wrist---both for calibration and for reading. Of course, any bearings taken will be somewhat general.

Edited by kdesign on 07/13/2007 13:49:35 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Compass recommendation? on 07/14/2007 06:22:08 MDT Print View

I carry a Silva 426 as my main compass ( ) and a Silva Companion ( ) as my survivial kit backup. Another good backup compass is the BCB Explorer -- 0.14oz! ( )

Bestglide is a great source for small, ultralight survival gear. They aim towards the small aircraft market, which is every bit as weight conscious as the UL hiking world.

Steve Martell
(Steve) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Washington
Re: Compass recommendation? on 07/15/2007 16:09:52 MDT Print View

Check out the Silva Trekker, basically a smaller size Ranger--Weighs in at 1.5oz. The mirror does triple duty--(1)more accurate bearings, (2)works as signal mirror and (3)handy for first aid should you get something in your eye.

Edited by Steve on 07/15/2007 16:10:39 MDT.

(ofelas) - F

Locale: On the Edge
re. compass on 09/14/2007 17:32:10 MDT Print View

I would go with a basic Suunto/Silva/Brunton or a Cammenga.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Compass recommendation? on 09/14/2007 21:59:55 MDT Print View

I use a very cheap oil-filled compass. No base plate, so no declination adjustment. I know what the declination is and correct as I go. This compass is enough for us to navigate through trackless wilderness in alpine and rainforest regions without problems.

Sighting mirrors and all the rest of the frills are mainly to push the price up. Great marketing, but it's your wallet.

OK, why? Because what we do is to roughly align the map with the compass, to within about 5 degrees, and then we compare the map with the surroundings. It has the advantage of working even when you are out of position: when the surroundings do not match where you think you are. (Er, yes, this does happen sometimes...) Then you have to THINK - and THAT is the most important part of navigation - not mirrors etc.

Does this mean we sometimes navigate using the sun and a watch? Yep, all the time. 11 am, sun is there ... north is there, OK, keep going.

john flanagan
(jackfl) - F

Locale: New England
Compass thoughts on 09/14/2007 23:12:36 MDT Print View

For the most part I've found sighting compasses to be overkill. For the conditions that you describe (fog/limited visabilty)you are basing your travel on a bearing taken from the map - no use for the sighting feature there. The shorter baseplate of simpler models just means that you need to use them with care. For declination, premark your map with a set of lines parallel to MN and use those to align the compass dial rather than using the TN line of longitude at the map's edge. The Silva Starter and Ranger (sighting) both have 2 degree increments - one is not more accurate than the other. In good weather with long lines of sight you can often take a bearing, identify a landmark and then "just go there" by eyeball. In limited visabilty (fog or vegetation) I use the same basic technique with much shorter travel legs - put a party member at the edge of sight and have them move right or left until in line with direction of travel. This can be fairly fast if you "leapfrog" At least in my experience the inaccuracy that you refer to in tree to tree navigation stems (bad pun?) from 1) the tendancy to drift downhill when traversing slopes 2) "cheating" a bit in brush - going to a close enough tree thats easier to get to 3) following a tendency to take the next bearing from the same side of every tree which leads to a slow but steady drift right or left.

The easier way out of that dilemma is to avoid "spot targets" when bushwacking - opting instead for "catchlines" that lead to a destination. For example rather than taking a bearing on a small pond, offset the route to intersect the inlet or outlet stream. The deliberate error provides certainty of which way to turn when you get to that line. Using topograpgy well is at least as important as the compass. I've use both styles professionally and truely don't see much real gain using a sighting compass. They do look cool and the mirror is great for grooming...

ON THE OTHER HAND - an inclinometer is great fun if you're skiing or have an interest in measuring geographic trivia.

Steve Martell probably makes the best argument for one by noting that the mirror can be useful as a SAR signal... but a pricy and weightly one.

Edited by jackfl on 09/14/2007 23:45:41 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Compass thoughts on 09/15/2007 04:00:38 MDT Print View

Hi Jack

> In limited visabilty (fog or vegetation) I use the same basic technique with much shorter travel legs - put a party member at the edge of sight and have them move right or left until in line with direction of travel.
>opting instead for "catchlines" that lead to a destination. For example rather than taking a bearing on a small pond, offset the route to intersect the inlet or outlet stream. The deliberate error
Yep, smart navigation. We use both.

Never carried an inclinometer, but in the European Alps I carry a watch/altimeter. There are times when it is MORE use than a compass, if you have a topo map.

SAR mirror? Try a dead CD. Or a stove wind or radiation shield. Or a camera flash.

Jeff Boone
(jnboone) - MLife
light sighting compass? on 09/15/2007 05:07:20 MDT Print View

I too have a Silva Ranger, and am looking for something lighter. When I look up the Brunton at the top of this thread, it has a posted weight of 2.5 oz (not 1.5 oz), so I am leaning towards the Silva Trekker recommendation. Any other ideas?

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Compass thoughts on 09/15/2007 06:00:45 MDT Print View

SAR mirror? Try a dead CD. Or a stove wind or radiation shield. Or a camera flash.

I've forked off a separate thread about that.

Edited by jcolten on 09/15/2007 06:01:22 MDT.

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Compass thoughts on 09/15/2007 06:54:36 MDT Print View


Orienteers call your deliberate error "aiming off". That way you know which way to travel to your destination when you reach the catching feature.

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re : "Compass recommendation?" on 09/15/2007 09:34:29 MDT Print View

I have a Brunton oil filled with declination ring, inclinometer and sighting mirror all for 1.2 oz. and I think I paid only about $40.

My thinking is that if you can get it all for about an ounce, why not?

I find the mirror to be handy (for instance, when I cut my face on a low hanging branch ... oops) and I have used the inclinometer when cross country skiing.

Jeff Boone
(jnboone) - MLife
Which model Brunton? on 09/16/2007 06:18:00 MDT Print View

Which model is it? I haven't seen that one.