compass map for wilderness survival

Why do you need a Compass in your Every Day Carry?

One of the most important things that you can know in terms of Wilderness Survival is your Orientation, where you are exactly on the Earth. This information can be used to help you safely navigate towards helpful resources, meet with friends, plan a safe escape route, and to quickly find your way back to your base camp when you’re beginning to run out of sunlight. Depending on your surroundings you can also get confused as to where you made a turn or if you went off course when walking around a patch of thorns or impassable trees. A good compass will help you stay on course! I hope to help you in choosing a compass for wilderness survival and land navigation.

Can a Compass be helpful without a Map?

Honestly, it’s best to have both a Compass & Map together as you’ll be able to plan your navigation more effectively and a map will help you find your orientation. However, you can absolutely use a Compass by itself. With only a compass you can use 2 important skills for Wilderness Survival and Navigation. The first skill you can do is Take a Bearing, this means to look at a target point in the real world and then as you walk forward you make sure that you are staying on course to reach your destination, this skill is very useful if your original destination/target may go out of view when entering a wood-line or the weather changes (e.g.: rain, fog) and impedes how far you can see. The second thing that you can do is to Follow a Bearing, this means to travel to a location with a known reference bearing and distance. If you have marked a hilltop to be 27° and 500 meters away from your basecamp then you can quickly find your way back from an easy to identify landmark.

What should I look for in a compass?

The type of compass you should get should be limited by 5 things:

  1. Price, depending on your available income you’ll have to choose how much to invest on this potentially life saving tool
  2. Adjustable Magnetic Declination, pleeeease don’t waste your time getting a compass without it. It will save you time and prevent a simple mental math error from getting you lost
  3. A Mirror, this will increase your accuracy in using a compass and has a myriad of other Wilderness Survival uses!
  4. Clear Baseplate, this will help you be able to use your compass with a map
  5. Various Scales and Measurements, depending on what maps are at your disposal, having a few options for different measurements and scales will prove useful to be able to adapt quickly

My Budget Choice for just getting started in using a Compass

The Pathfinder Camping and Hiking Compass ($16.99 at time of posting) is a great low budget option that checks all of the boxes on what you should have on a compass, and is pretty accurate when compared to the digital compass on my watch using satellite as well. Note that it comes with a few additional items as well. You receive a small LED light so that you can charge the glow-in-the-dark readings to help with your navigation in low light environments, it comes with a tool to adjust the gear controlled adjustable magnetic declination, and it also comes with a nice whistle to aide in calling for help or signaling your location to fellow members of your party.

My High-end Choice for a Compass

The SUUNTO MC-2 Compass ($95) is a high-end top of the line compass that is designed for traveling overseas. An Adjustable Magnetic Declination will allow you to adjust for where you are located on the Earth where the value will differ based on your location around the world, but when you start to approach higher/lower latitudes your needle will begin to dip which will affect your readings. The needle in this type of compass has had the weight calibrated to prevent that effect.

We hope this brief post can help you choose a worthy compass to begin building your skills!

To see more of our Every Day Carry suggestions check out our page here.

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