After running many navigation sessions in Scouts, I thought I’d jot down a few features that make a great navigation compass. This will hopefully be useful guidance for those of you who don’t already own good compass. If you’ve already made a purchase, these notes might help on your next purchase. Every outdoors person needs a good compass. Building skill in navigation will really help the Scouts confidence in getting into the outdoors.
You are looking for a baseplate compass, not a sighting, military or keyring style of compass.
BEZEL: The bezel is the round bit that turns. It has tick marks for the degrees. You want one with marks every 2 degrees. Avoid the ones that come in 5 degree increments.
INDEX LINE: The index line is the line where you read the bearing off the bezel dial. The better compasses have this line under the bezel so it can be seen through the transparent bezel plastic. Others are right next to the bezel. I’d avoid the compasses where the index line is non-existent or there is a gap between the bezel and the index line.
BASEPLATE: Try to get a metric one with a ruler and a 1:25,000 scale. Better compasses have multiple scales and circle and triangle cutouts which can be are useful. I prefer the longer baseplates that are easier to use for measuring distances and lining up between map points in more detailed map work.
LIQUID FILLED: Nice to have but when you buy one, make sure there isn’t a bubble already in the liquid. The bubbles don’t help when you’re using them.
BRANDS: Suunto, Silva and Brunton are the mainstays.
LANYARD: Sounds silly but some don’t have a lanyard and if the scouts don’t have a compass around their neck, they don’t use it. This means they aren’t learning/honing nav skills or worse, they aren’t keeping track of their progress on the map
MIRRORS/SIGHTING: Avoid them. Too complicated. Don’t get a military compass either. They are not marked in degrees, rather mils, which are based on radians.
MY CHOICE: has been Suunto. I like the A10 at the basic end and the A30 for the next step up. The M3 is even better but they come at a cost. You have been warned.