What Are the Different Types of Compass?

Navigation is an adventure in itself, and the right compass can be your trusty sidekick on the journey. Let's explore some fascinating compass types, such as the reliable online compass, each with its unique superpowers for helping you find your way in the world.

What Are the Different Types of Compass

Most Common Compasses for Navigation

Protractor Compass

Have you ever seen a protractor compass? It might remind you of a regular protractor, the tool we use to measure angles. But here's the exciting part: a protractor compass has a unique role in the world of navigation.

Unlike the standard marching compass you'd find in the military, which helps you follow orders and directions from your superiors, the protractor compass gives you the power to figure out your own way. It's like having a trusty sidekick for map-based navigation.

What sets the protractor compass apart is its incredible ability to make measuring angles on a map a breeze. This skill comes in super handy when you're exploring new terrain or planning your routes. Whether you're a nature enthusiast, an orienteering fan, or just an adventurer at heart, a protractor compass is your go-to tool for ensuring that you always know where you're headed.

To sum it up, a protractor compass is your secret weapon for measuring angles on a map, which means you can take charge of your navigation and make smart choices as you explore diverse landscapes. It's a must-have for anyone who values precision and self-reliance on their exciting adventures.

Online Compass

Have you ever heard of a free digital compass? It's like having a trusty digital friend that helps you find your way, no matter where you are. Here's the scoop on how it works:

An online compass is a handy digital tool that uses your device's built-in magnetometer to detect the Earth's magnetic field. It then shows you which way you're facing on a digital compass rose – think of it as your virtual compass buddy.

What Are the Different Types of Compass

The best part? Online compasses are usually free to use, and you can access them from any device with a web browser. They're super convenient when you're out and about, whether you're hiking, orienteering, or hunting for geocaches.

Using one is a breeze. Just open the website or app and let it access your device's magnetometer. Once it's all set up, you'll see your current heading on the compass rose, with the north direction marked by a "N" or a friendly blue arrow.

But here's a little secret: Online compasses can be sensitive to metal objects and electrical devices. To keep your compass accurate, try to keep your device away from them. You can also calibrate your compass periodically to ensure accuracy.

Now, let's talk about the perks and quirks of online compasses:



Sighting Compass

This clever compass comes with a mirrored lid, which does double duty as a protective cover when your compass isn't in action.

Here's the magic part: when you're on the move and need to stay on course, you simply adjust the angle of the lid. Then, when you hold the compass up to your eye level, something amazing happens. You can see both the compass housing in the mirror's reflection and the terrain ahead through a handy sighting point. It's like having eyes in the back of your head! This smart design makes it super easy to keep going in the right direction while keeping a close watch on your surroundings.

In a nutshell, the sighting compass is your go-to gadget for staying on track with precision. It's the perfect companion for exploring the great outdoors, ensuring you never lose your way while keeping a sharp eye on the world around you.

Prismatic Compass

This compass works in a similar way to the protractor compass, but it stands out with its unique compass housing design.

Here's the secret sauce: Inside the rim of the compass, there's a nifty little prism. When you bring the compass up to your eye level, this prism works its magic, allowing you to see a compass scale that's incredibly precise, marked down to single degrees.

What Are the Different Types of Compass

The prismatic compass is your go-to tool when you need to measure direction with the utmost precision. Its finely divided degree scale makes it a must-have for anyone who values accuracy in their outdoor adventures. If you're the type who demands nothing but the best in precision navigation, this compass is your perfect match.

Button Compass:

Let's talk about the button compass – it's the little champion of compasses, designed to be your trusty sidekick in mini survival kits.

Floating Dial Magic: This compass has a cool trick up its sleeve. It uses a floating dial in a liquid-filled capsule, which means the dial can spin freely but stays centered, as long as you hold it level. That's how you get spot-on accuracy in such a small package.

Size Matters (a bit): Typically, these button compasses are around 20mm in diameter, and they often come with a Grade-AA rating. That "Grade-AA" is like a gold star for compasses – it means they're top-notch and won't get all bubbly on you unless it's a chilly 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tiny Options (If You Dare): For those who like to go super compact, there are even smaller 14mm button compasses. Just a heads-up, though – these little guys can be a bit challenging to use, especially if your eyesight isn't what it used to be.

Back-Up, Anyone? Button compasses are like the understudies of the compass world. They're perfect as secondary or back-up compasses, so you've got a Plan B when you're out there navigating.

Get Creative: Some folks get crafty with these floating dial compasses. You can find them tucked into all kinds of things like watch bands, walking sticks, keychain fobs, and even zipper pulls. It's like having a secret navigation weapon wherever you go.

Cool Combos: Companies like Sun Company, Inc. take it up a notch. They've got stuff like the Therm-O-Compass, which is not just a compass but also a thermometer, a luminous 14mm button compass, and a wind chill chart all in one. Talk about multitasking! Then there's the Mini-Comp II, a 20mm liquid-filled button compass mounted on an acrylic case – perfect for mini survival kits or just to keep in your pocket.

One Note of Caution: While button compasses are awesome for backup navigation, they're not the MVPs for serious navigation tasks. So keep that in mind when you're out there exploring with your little buddy.

Wrist Compass:

Imagine having your compass right on your wrist – that's the magic of a wrist compass. It's like having a secret navigation weapon right at your fingertips, well, technically your wrist.

Secondary Compass Superstar: Now, let's get one thing straight – the wrist compass isn't meant to be the main event. It's more like the trusty backup singer who's always there when you need them. So, while it won't steal the show, it's your go-to for quick orientation and backup navigation.

What Are the Different Types of Compass

Suunto to the Rescue: Check out Suunto's Clipper wristwatch band compass – it's a game-changer. This little marvel features a floating dial design and can be clipped onto watch bands, clothing, equipment straps, or even stashed in your survival kit. It's liquid-filled for smooth readings and boasts directional points, a nifty rotating/ratcheting dial, and a comfy wrist strap.

Upgrade to Precision: If you're all about accuracy, Suunto's got your back with the M-9 Wrist Compass. It's like the James Bond of wrist compasses. Its unbreakable black polymer housing comes with a sighting window for pinpoint accuracy and sighting points on top. You'll take compass readings through the side window, and guess what? Zero degrees points to the north. Plus, it's got luminous markings for nighttime adventures and a 2.5-degree ratchet mechanism for dialing in your direction. And it doesn't stop there – it even comes with a hook and loop wrist strap for ultimate convenience.

Always Ready to Roll: Wrist compasses are like your trusty sidekick. They're always ready for action and don't need a lot of fuss. So, when you're out there exploring and need a quick orientation fix, just glance at your wrist – your compass has your back.

Base-Plate Compass

These nifty gadgets are like your personal GPS for the great outdoors.

Models Galore: Base-plate compasses come in all shapes and sizes, from basic to fancy pants. The fancier ones might have bells and whistles like sighting mirrors, adjustable declination (we'll get to that), and clinometers (no, not for checking your teeth). But here's the scoop: before you head out, it's wise to get a little compass training under your belt, especially if you're eyeing those advanced models.

Trust the Pros: When it comes to compasses, you don't want to cut corners. Stick with the trusted names like Suunto, Brunton (now part of Silva), and Nexus (the Silva folks in the U.S.). These brands have earned their stripes, and you want a compass that's got your back when you're out in the wild.

Meet the Stars: Let's introduce you to a few compass celebs:

Shine Bright: If you're planning nighttime escapades, consider a compass with a luminous dial. You can charge it up with a quick flashlight beam, and it'll glow in the dark like a champ.

Declination Demystified: Ever heard of magnetic declination? It's a big deal in certain parts of the world. If you're navigating with a topographical map, a compass with a magnetic declination adjustment feature can be a lifesaver. It takes the mental math out of the equation, especially in stressful situations.

Bonus Features: Some compasses are overachievers. They might come with a tiny magnifying glass in the clear plastic base, perfect for reading tiny map details or even for survival tasks like tick checks or splinter removal.

Quality Always Wins: Remember, when it comes to compasses, quality is king. Brands like Suunto, still made in Finland, are legendary for a reason.

Tip: In some parts of the U.S., magnetic declination can play tricks on your navigation skills, so it's worth accounting for it to avoid wandering off course.

Mirror Compass:

Mirror Compass:

Some base-plate compasses come equipped with a sighting mirror, providing a more accurate means of navigation. Mirror compasses consist of a base-plate compass with a hinged mirror attached at the top.

 A mirrored compass addresses this issue. You can hold it at eye level and adjust the hinged mirror's angle to simultaneously view the orienting arrow and the magnetic needle. Some mirrored compasses have a line down the middle of the mirror, aligning with the center pivot point of the magnetic needle, ensuring a perfect straight line between you, your compass, and the object you're aiming at, reducing lateral drift.

To determine an azimuth, hold the mirrored compass at eye level and use the aiming sights to target a distant object like a tree. Rotate the graduated azimuth ring until the north end of the magnetic needle aligns with the north side of the orienting arrow.

Unlike base-plate compasses that require constant raising and lowering, mirrored compasses provide accuracy without this movement. To follow a dialed-in azimuth, raise the compass to eye level, observe the magnetic needle in the mirror, and adjust your body until the needle aligns with the orienting arrow. This eliminates the need to raise or lower the compass.

 Some well-regarded mirrored compasses include the Suunto MC-2DL and 2DL Global, along with the Silva Ranger 515 CL & CLG. These compasses are known for their accuracy.

 The Suunto MC-2DL Global, in particular, offers a global needle system for worldwide use, an additional sighting hole for superior accuracy, a luminous two-color bezel ring for easy visibility, a jeweled bearing, clinometer, large mirror with a centerline, a clear base-plate with a magnifying lens, and a detachable snap lock lanyard. Its dimensions are 2.5x3.9x0.6 inches, and it weighs 2.65 ounces, making it a favored choice for outdoor adventures.

Note: Mirror compasses are preferred for their enhanced accuracy and ease of use in navigation, especially when aiming at distant objects without the need to constantly raise and lower the compass.

Lensatic Compass:

Alright, let's talk about a compass that's often seen in the hands of the brave folks in the military – the Lensatic compass.

Military Might: The Lensatic compass is like the commando of compasses. It's got a unique floating-dial design, featuring a freely rotating dial mounted on a pivot point when the compass is held level.

Shining Bright: When you're out in the field, you need visibility, even in the darkest corners. That's why the compass dial comes with luminous figures – an arrow, "E" for East, and "W" for West. They'll glow in low-light conditions, so you're never in the dark about your direction.

Double Trouble: Check out the compass disc, and you'll find two scales. There's an outer scale for mils (angular mils) and an inner scale, often in red, for degrees. It's all about giving you options for precision.

Crystal Clear: The floating dial is encased in glass and comes with a black index line. It's like having your navigation information under a protective shield.

What Are the Different Types of Compass

Click and Lock: That bezel ring isn't just for show. It's a ratchet device that clicks when you turn it. Each click means three degrees, and you've got 120 clicks for a full 360-degree rotation. Precision at its finest!

Aim True: When it comes to aiming accurately, the Lensatic compass has your back. It's got forward and rear sights for that perfect alignment.

Zoom In: Need a closer look? There's a hinged lens that contains a rear sighting slot. It magnifies the scales on the floating dial, so you can get a crystal-clear view.

Hold Tight: You'll find a finger loop for holding the compass in the raised position. It's all about giving you a steady grip.

The Accuracy Debate: Now, there's an ongoing debate about Lensatic compass accuracy. Some folks swear by them, calling them very accurate, while others see them as theoretically precise. The choice often boils down to personal preference and what clicks for you.

Less Versatile, More Rugged: Compared to base-plate compasses, Lensatic compasses are seen as less versatile, especially when it comes to map reading. But they make up for it in ruggedness.

Pick Wisely: If you're going for a Lensatic compass, aim for quality. Cammenga, for example, makes the official U.S. military Lensatic compass. It's a tough nut, built to withstand shocks, water, and sand. It doesn't mind extreme temperatures either. Plus, it comes with Tritium Micro Lights for low-light navigation, a magnifying lens, sight wire, dual graduations in degrees and mils for accuracy, and a copper induction damping system to slow the magnet's rotation without using liquids. It's like the Rambo of compasses, with an aluminum frame and a waterproof housing for durability.

So, if you're headed into the wild with a mission in mind, the Lensatic compass could be your trusty sidekick.

Choose Your Compass Wisely

When it comes to picking the perfect compass, you've got to be a bit of a compass detective. Some compasses out there can make your navigation adventure more of a misadventure. Let's dive into the compass conundrum and how to avoid it.

What Are the Different Types of Compass

The Wobbly Wanderer: Picture this: You're trying to keep your compass steady on a bearing, but it's like trying to balance a spinning top on a tightrope. Not fun, right?

The Double Trouble: Then, there are those compasses that seem to speak in riddles with not one but two confusing 360° scales. It's like decoding a secret message just to figure out where you're headed.

Arrow MIA: And let's not forget the compasses that play hide and seek with the direction of travel arrow. You're left wondering if it's there at all, or if your compass is just messing with you.

Needle Nerves: Some compasses give you the jitters, making it seem like the needle is about to jump ship any second. Not the kind of drama you want when you're deep in the wilderness.

So, here's the secret sauce: When you're on the hunt for a compass, stick with the pros. Brands like Silva, Suunto, or Recta have earned their stripes in the world of navigation. They're like the rock stars of the compass world, known for quality and trustworthiness.

When you've got one of these compasses in your hand, you can be confident that your compass won't play tricks on you when you need it most. So, go on and pick a compass that's your adventure buddy, not your navigation nemesis!