How to Buy a Compass

How to Buy a Compass
Compasses vary considerably in size, quality and features. Selecting the correct model depends on how you will use it and the conditions under which it will be used. These are important factors considering the importance of accurately navigating through remote areas, sometimes in marginal weather conditions, where mistakes can be costly or even dangerous.

Instructions

Difficulty: Easy

Step 1
Shop online to get a sense of the wide range of models available, then visit an outdoor equipment retailer to get firsthand knowledge and advice. Seek advice from compass-using friends about features that they find important. Options range from compact digital compasses that can hang around your neck or tuck into a pocket to large, ornate antique models that might decorate a desktop.
Step 2
Look for these basic features of simple compasses: a rotating bezel with a 360 degree dial divided into at least two-degree graduations; a clear base plate, preferably with dual scales for measuring distances, both standard and metric; a direction-of-travel arrow engraved into the base plate so it won't wear off with use; a rotating magnetic needle mounted in a clear capsule, preferably filled with liquid to act as a damper on needle swing; orienting lines printed onto the bottom of the rotating capsule, again preferably engraved.
Step 3
Check for these advanced features: an orienteering arrow and lines; a sighting mirror for improved accuracy in referencing topographical features; a magnifying glass; glow-in-the dark markings to permit use after dark; map templates for use when orienteering; an adjustable declination correction scale; an inclinometer for measuring the angle of slopes.
Step 4
Consider how you will use the compass in deciding which features it should include.
Highly portable models should include a base plate and mirror for basic hikes and fishing outings. A declination scale and mirror for sighting are important for off-trail mountaineering. A map template is useful for competitive orienteering. Winter outings involving snowy or icy conditions will need a model with an inclinometer.
Fixed compasses may incorporate one or more suction cups, some form of adhesive backing or a mounting bracket to allow them to be attached to a vehicle dashboard or window.

Tips & Warnings

 
A compass is only helpful if the person using it is knowledgeable about its use, preferably in conjunction with map reading. Clear plastic or glass compasses should have a carrying case if a protective housing is not incorporated into its design. A lanyard allows the compass to be hung around the neck. All compasses should have printed instructions concerning their usage.
 
A compass is only helpful if the person using it is knowledgeable about its use, preferably in conjunction with map reading.
 
Clear plastic or glass compasses should have a carrying case if a protective housing is not incorporated into its design. A lanyard allows the compass to be hung around the neck. All compasses should have printed instructions concerning their usage.

Article Written By Gary Olson

Gary Olson is a freelance writer, editor, photographer and designer with 34 years of experience. His work has appeared in such publications as Sailing, Northwest Living, 5280, The Arizona Republic, The Denver Post and many other newspapers and magazines. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

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