Compasses – they’re really important.

By beststuff  

Sextants were once incredibly important. They enabled sailors to explore the world for centuries. Now they are rarely used.

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Compasses are a pilot’s best friend because they don’t use any electronics, for one thing.      If you do much hiking, boating, flying, driving, or biking, it’s a good idea to have a quality compass in your gear.

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 Compasses come in a wide variety, depending on the use.  

 See our reviews and discussion about navigation on YouTube.    Above is a good selection of samples, and below is some information about each of them.

A.  Airguide liquid fill auto or boat compass.   These may be affected by metals in the vehicle, so will show some deviation, especially while in motion.

B.   Airguide, large, for a boat.    The bigger the better, more accurate, doesn’t spin as much.   Liquid filled.    Great paperweight, but also useful.

C.   This is a fascinating hand bearing compass, with a radio receiver for what’s known as Non-Directional-Beacons, or ADF, long used by pilots but fading out now because of GPS.  many of these beacons are near shore, so boats can get a bearing on a beacon, move, get another bearing, and determine speed and direction.   It works, uses a small headphone, earbuds.     I would take it in a plane or boat.

Lensatic, vintage marching

D.  Lensatic sighting compass.    Many styles have been made, better ones are liquid filled and have pointers that glow in dark with a bit of flashlight for a few seconds.   You sight along a wire, line up a slot, look down and take a reading.   Great for hiking, rescue work, and going out into the boonies.

E.  A military sighting compass, unique design, declination adjustable, measured in degrees.   Kind of a marching compass.  very durable, this one’s at least 50 years old.

Brunton Eclipse, Vintage artillery/surveying,   clone, surveying

F.   Brunton Eclipse.  the prize of Brunton orienteering and sighting type compass.  very light, durable, has an inclinometer feature, nice instruction pack that’s attached.  Declination adjustable.   Long lasting.  increments of 1 degree.

G.  German artillery and surveying compass, measures in mills.  declination adjustable, tripod mount with level for doing angle and distance readings, calculations.    Aluminum     This will last another few decades I’m sure.

H.   Chinese clone of a very good surveying compass by Brunton and a military version, the M-2.   It’s not as good quality as the genuine, but the needle is accurate and fast to settle.  It works fine.   If you know what you’re doing, you could do some serious work with one of these or the M-2, like build a bridge or road.   This and a telescopic transit, and some measuring rods.   The Brunton surveying compass is very costly, but you can find them used sometimes for great prices.

walking compass, hand bearing for kayak

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I.   Old walking compass.   back in the day….. really, people actually carried a compass, because if you didn’t, you could wander off somewhere, like the countryside of England.   This one is sealed, water bathed needle, very durable, probably at least 40 years old.

J.  Marine hand bearing compass.   You hold it up to your eye, and read off the bearing to  the point in the background.    very sturdy, for boats and canoes mainly.

Silva sightmaster, Brunton racing, simple baseplate

K.   Silva’s jewel, the  Sight Master surveying compass and inclinometer.   fine construction, site in one end to read precise degree increments, and inbetween.   Other end you sight for angle tilt.   Easy to read, for the pros.

L.  Brunton racing compass, also a good baseplate for orienteering.    very easy to read quickly.   declination adjustable, liquid filled.  has several scales with detail triangles for precisely locating oneself on a map, such as a marine offshore chart or in a forest in difficult terrain.   Take a few sightings, triangulate, place the bearings on the map, and use the small scales to precisely locate.

M.  another simple baseplate compass.  ANY compass is better than none.   but get one that is easy to read, liquid filled, declination adjustable, durable.


The Brunton brand is well known and they make good stuff.

If you buy a compass, get one that’s well made and keep it away from magnets, and electromagnets, and electric motors.

Also good..

Suunto, Silva, military compasses, and those used by surveyors.   There are many good  digital compasses including those on watches, but beware… what if the batteries go out ?

Watch video, review of types of compasses.



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