The Best Survival Compass for Land Navigation

Compasses are almost always included in survival kits, but do you have a compass that you would trust your life with? That button compass on the hilt of a ‘survival knife’ isn’t going to help much, and navigating with it could set you off of your target by miles. A little pre-planning and investment are well worth it when it comes to land navigation and a good survival compass should be an early upgrade.

There are plenty of options to consider when it comes to compasses: value, durability, profile, accuracy, etc. This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best survival compasses, and now the results are in: the overall best, a military option, and an upgrade option. If you need a compass that can navigate whatever you throw at it, one of our suggestions will keep you on track.


Contents (Jump to a Section)


Brunton TruArc Compass

The Best Survival Compass

Brunton TruArc

Small, Reliable, and Easy to Use

Get where you need to go with accuracy in the most compact solution you can trust.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Reading maps and navigating by hand doesn’t have to be bulky. If you are looking for a straightforward solution for your kits, Brunton makes it easy with their entry-level compass. It is easy to use and compact enough for EDC or your mobile survival kit. Slap it on a map or hold it in your hand to get where you need to go. Here are the specs:

  • Global needle
  • Adjustable declination scale
  • 2.5” x 3.5” x 0.5″ (63 x 89 x 13 mm)
  • 1.1 ounces (31 grams)
  • Made in the US

Small, reliable, and accurate- the Brunton TruArc Compass takes our top spot.


AF-4580 Lensatic Compass

Lensatic Compass

Military AF-4580

Military Issue, Die Cast, and Tough

A closing metal case and water-tight construction make this a bulletproof compass-to-cheek option.

With a substantial feel and all of the bells and whistles of a military sighting compass, this one gets the job done on a budget. It is a great multi-purpose compass that will handle whatever you dish out on it. Here is how it measures up:

  • Global needle
  • Adjustable declination scale
  • 3.15” x 4.25” x 1.7″ (80 x 108 x 43 mm)
  • 8 ounces

The AF-4580 Compass is the lensatic compass choice that you need to check out if you are looking for a durable military option.


Suunto MC-2 Compass

Upgrade Compass

Suunto MC-2

Professional, Accurate, and Proven

Finnish precision gives us the most reliable way to navigate the great outdoors.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Suunto has been making elite compasses out of Finland for close to a decade. They are the hands-down professional choice, and the precision and quality back that up. Here are the full specs:

  • Global or Northern Hemisphere needle options (be sure to check before you order!)
  • Optical sighting hole
  • Adjustable declination correction
  • 2.5” x 3.9” x 0.7″ (65 x 101 x 18 mm)
  • 2.6 ounces
  • Made in Finland

Suunto MC-2 is the choice of professionals and readily slots into any kit as a navigational upgrade.


Everything We Recommend

Brunton TruArc Compass

Brunton TruArc

Get where you need to go with accuracy in the most compact solution you can trust.

Where to Buy

$17* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Military AF-4580 Lensatic Compass

Military AF-4580

A closing metal case and water-tight construction make this a bulletproof compass-to-cheek option.

Where to Buy

$18* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Suunto MC-2 Compass

Suunto MC-2

Finnish precision gives us the most reliable way to navigate the great outdoors.

Where to Buy

$70* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing


The Compasses We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to the several compasses that we reviewed: Suunto, Brunton, Sportneer, Silva, TurnOnSport, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the what to look for section, with an explanation for each.

We focused on handheld compasses with a history of trust and reliability. We excluded electronic compasses, handheld GPS, and

We’re always looking for new and better gear, so if you have a survival compass that you swear by let us know in the comments. We review most of our roundups annually, so we can always try to pick one up for the next roundup round and see if it makes the cut and beats out our top picks.


What to Look For

The best survival compasses have several important features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Accuracy
  3. Durability
  4. Size & Weight
  5. Versatility

When you get the right blend of these, you can find a reliable compass that will keep you on track when it matters most. Below, we break down what each of these features means for the various compasses that set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like a compass shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. A compass is important, but there is a wide range of price points so there is something for every budget.

On the flip side, you don’t want to go too cheap or just plain get the wrong thing. There is no reason to use a button compass that came free in your kid’s happy meal. A compass is a precision instrument that can save your life.

You never want to spend too much money on one resource, especially something like a compass. Unless you are orienteering as a hobby, you don’t need to spends hundreds of dollars and have multiple compasses on hand. Be smart and sensible with your preps and survival kits. There is a sweet spot where you get high value with not-to-high of a price, which is where our top pick sits.

Accuracy

Accuracy is the main factor when selecting a compass. If a compass is broken, inaccurate- or even worse: only sometimes accurate you’re going to have a tough time navigating.

Cheap compasses do not have the ability to account for declination, can often get stuck, and are more easily interfered with by non-polar magnetic sources.

Durability

A cracked compass can leave you with a mess. If its needle is liquid-suspended like most then it’s both a literal and figurative mess. You don’t want the housing to break, the bezel to fall off, and the base plate to snap off.

Most compasses are made to be lightweight, so durability may not be the manufacturer’s concern unless you are looking at a military model. Depending on how well you think you can protect your compass, you will want to weigh the pros and cons of weight vs durability.

Size & Weight

Most compasses are small and lightweight, but when you are hiking, backpacking, or bugging out- ounces matter!

Our picks range from the bulky 8-ounce lensatic compass to the 1-ounce top pick. You also don’t want to take up a lot of pack space and will want your compass easily accessible when you need to navigate quickly on the go.

Versatility

A compass can provide a lot of versatility with added features. Some compasses have fluorescent bezels or tritium to let you use them at night. Others include carrying cases to protect them.

Bubble levels, tripod attachments, lanyards, and mirrors can all add to the various ways you can use your compass and add out-of-the-box functionality too.


How to Use a Survival Compass

Using a compass doesn’t take a degree in rocket science, but it is also something you can’t just pick up and automatically know. Anyone can pick up a compass and find ‘north’ with it, but that doesn’t mean you’re factoring in magnetic declination and many other parameters for accurate navigation.

Understanding a compass can make it much more effective, especially when fractions of a degree can set you miles off on long legs of your journey.

David Pearson makes it easy to understand and I highly recommend his explanation video:


Who Needs a Compass?

Compasses can be used by anyone, but are especially needed in survival kits. They are one of our most suggested and often overlooked items.

We consider a compass essential for:

Compasses should be considered for:

Having a reliable compass on hand is a minimal cost for a tried-and-true navigational aid that can save your life.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. You can support us through our independently chosen links, which can earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best survival compass is useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical military and prepping experience:

Geary, D. (1995). Using a Map and Compass. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, PA. (Source)

McMillan, R., et al. (1971). Test and Evaluation of Lensatic Compasses Modified with Tritium-Sealed Sources. Army Mobility Equipment Research and Development Command. Fort Belvoir, VA. (Source)

Reber, P., et al. (2021). Learning the Cognitive Skill of Topographic Map Reading Through Adaptive, High-Repetition Training. Adaptive Instructional Systems. Design and Evaluation. Pages 88-104. (Source)


The Final Word

Over 2,000 people go missing every year in the woods. Thousands have gone missing in US National Parks and never were recovered. And this is during the digital age, where we have GPS and other space-age navigational technology. Knowing that this would get even worse is one of the easiest reasons to keep a map and compass in your survival kits.

Here are a few related articles our readers have also found helpful:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found the Brunton TruArc Compass to be the best option given its value, accuracy, durability, profile, and versatility.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.


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The Best Survival Compass for Land Navigation

Rusty Collins

I am an engineer by day, but a prepper 24/7. I am an Air Force veteran that developed emergency and disaster plans as an emergency manager and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters worldwide. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

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