This is a review of the best compass for survival.
My experiences in the backcountry of various different regions in both North America and Europe have made a compass an absolutely essential item to carry with me any time I leave my back door.
There are too many times to recall that I have found myself just a little bit lost and resorting to my map and compass to get myself out of something that could have been hairy.
Compasses aren’t just for when you’re lost though. They help guide you and ensure that you don’t get lost.
I have made my way through the thick forests of Alaska with just a compass and no trail. I have been forced to use compasses to signal as well as start fires. They have proven to be an incredible tool for me, personally, in the backcountry.
I found the SuuntoMC-2 Compass to be the absolute best compass for survival. It’s exactly what I carry with me every time I go out.
The Suunto MC-2 Compass has all of the features that I deem necessary for myself when using a compass either for survival or simple navigation.
It has a sighting mirror that I have found to be incredibly helpful when needing to adjust the compass one-handed.
The clinometer on this particular Suunto has made crossing steep terrain significantly safer. I put it on the list for necessities when in steep angled terrain, especially with snow in the equation.
This survival compass isn’t too big and it comes with a string to keep it on your person, around your neck, simply to make it accessible at all times. It’s held together well for me over years of abuse in a saltwater environment. This is the one for me.
There’s the perfect survival compass for me, but there’s also the perfect compass for you. Your survival scenario may look a lot different than mine.
You may be traveling a lot, and want the best survival compass for traveling. You might want an incredibly simplistic and minimal compass that just points you north.
There’s a more heavy-duty military-style compass that’s great if you want something that is insanely durable.
I want to help you find the best survival compass. That’s why I have gone through all of the compasses that have a chance of making it to the best and sifted through them each carefully.
Hopefully, you can find something that will suit your needs perfectly.
Just keep reading on to get into the depths of each survival compass.
6 Best Survival Compasses: Our Picks
Suunto MC-2 Compass – Best Overall
- Sighting Mirror
- Adjustable declination with the included tool
- Luminescent markings for low light
- Have every tool you may need quickly on hand
- Use the sighting mirror for multiple purposes
- Get years of great use from one compass
Like I mentioned earlier, the Suunto MC-2 is the survival compass that I bring with me on every expedition and have it ready in every grab bag.
This compass has each and every feature that I deem necessary in a good survival compass.
The ability to adjust declination for where you are in the world ensures that you are headed in the right way, no matter the continent you’re on.
A sighting mirror makes taking bearings accurately and with one hand simple to do. This increases your visibility as well as the luminescent markings that help you see in low light.
With a clinometer, you can assess the angle of slopes to see if you are at risk of avalanches or other dangerous landslides.
This compass has lasted me years on end of constant and heavy use. It works perfectly in various regions of the world and has stayed in prime condition even after months at sea.
Suunto A-30 NH USGS Compass – Best on a Budget
- Two-zone system
- Luminescent markings
- Fixed declination scale
- Save some money without getting a low-quality compass
- Use the magnifying glass for fire starting
If you’re looking for a survival compass that is budget-friendly you’ll want to check out the Suunto A-30 NH USGS Compass.
It has all of the basics that you need and will help you easily maneuver in the northern or southern hemisphere with its two-zone system.
If you find yourself hiking into the night, the A-30 is suited for low light environments with luminescent markings. It fits easily in your hand and is easily carried around with you.
This compass does include a fixed declination correction scale system on it, which means you will need to do a little bit of math depending on where you are. This can lead to some mistakes at first, but once you have a grip on it you’ll do well.
The included magnifying glass on this compass is another feature that makes it great for survival. This is an easy tool to help you start fires if you have the sunlight for it.
Any tool that has multiple uses is a great option when talking about survival.
Suunto Clipper L/B NH Compass – Best for the Minimalist
- Minimalistic size of 1” x 1”
- Clip built on to fit on any edge
- Basic directional abilities
- .18 ounces
- Have a good backup compass clipped on to your pack, hat, or watch
- Save space in your bags
- Have quick accessibility to a simple directional read
At just .18 ounces, the Suunto Clipper is a great option for those in the lightweight business or want an easily accessible survival compass that clips on the side of their pack.
This will easily clip onto your watchband, the side of a map, or a backpack strap for quick and easy reading.
It’s so lightweight and small that you can forget about it until you need it.
While the Clipper has the basic directional capabilities of a compass it lacks a lot of features that you may find yourself needing in an emergency.
Without any declination abilities, you’ll need to know your math and adjustments by heart. I think that this compass is best as a backup to a bigger and more feature-rich compass.
It’s great to have on hand and barely costs anything.
Suunto MB-6 – Best for Travelling
- Matchbox housing with a sighting mirror
- Global needle
- Fixed declination scale
- Bring this anywhere in the world for an accurate reading
- Protect the compass with the matchbox housing
If you know you’ll be moving about the globe, you want a compass that can go with you.
The Suunto MB-6 Global Compass is the perfect companion to travel with inside of its matchbox style case and with plenty of space for a global needle to accommodate tilt all around the world.
The matchbox design also features a sighting mirror to take accurate bearings with the background in sight.
This compass has a fixed declination scale as well as a clinometer for taking slope angles. The weather-resistant casing helps to protect the survival compass as you move around in any environment.
I do wish that this would allow you to adjust the declination as you move around because the math can be tricky and throw you off.
However, the rest of the features on the Suunto MB-6 are perfect for traveling around with.
Cammenga US Military Tritium Lensatic Compass – Best Durability
- Tritium Lights
- Withstands high and low temperatures due to its liquid-free needle housing
- Shockproof, sandproof, waterproof
- Aluminum housing for durability and protection
- You know this compass will withstand anything
- Read it at night for years on end with the tritium lights
- Bring it anywhere in any environment
Yes, I’m fully aware of my bias for Suunto compasses, but they are just so incredible.
They aren’t the only brand out there though. Cammenga brings us a high-grade US Military Tritium Lensatic Compass that is made for rugged adventuring.
This survival compass is shockproof, sandproof, and waterproof to impressive depths. Due to its liquid-free needle housing, you can take it into temperatures down to -50°F and up to 150°F.
The frame is built from powder-coated aluminum which only adds to the durability and lifespan of this compass.
7 different tritium micro-lights will give you 12 years of illumination inside the compass, making this a great choice for nighttime use.
The only drawback of this compass is its price and bulk. It’s a lot to pay and a lot to carry around, but can be seen as being worth it for several reasons.
No matter where your adventures take you, the Cammenga compass will be right there with you.
Suunto M-3 Compass – Best to Buy for Every Bag
- Fixed declination scale
- Deeper casing for global needle
- Simplistic design
- High quality for a low price
- Be able to purchase multiple for different grab bags
If you’re willing to spend just a little bit more on a high-quality compass to put into every grab bag you have, the Suunto M-3 is worth every penny.
It has all of the basics that you need but also features a global needle so no matter where your survival scenario takes you, your compass will be effective.
It has declination adjustment available and a clinometer to keep you safe on steep slopes.
What I feel is really missing from this compass is a sighting mirror. These really help you get an accurate read while taking bearings and will send you in the right direction.
Other than this minor flaw, the M-3 is a great survival compass to have with you at all times.
Buying Guide: How to Choose Best Survival Compass
A high-quality survival compass is going to have everything you need to get you out of tricky situations, as well as help you signal for help, or even start a fire.
Survival compasses can be slightly different than typical orienteering compasses. I find the best survival compass to have most, if not all, of the following features.
A global needle is an absolute must for when you’re moving around the world a lot. Depending on where you live, it may be necessary just for at-home use.
A global needle has the capability of tilting inside its housing to a much steeper angle than most other compasses.
The reason this is so important is the pull of the magnetic field on your survival compass needle. If you are close to a magnetic pole, the draw may be downwards as much as on a north/south grid.
When you don’t have a global needle, the draw will push the needle into the housing and stop it from giving an accurate reading.
The magnetic poles are much different than what we typically consider to be the north or south poles.
Because of this and the way our maps are laid out, declination is a necessary step to get a true reading onto a map.
The declination angle refers to the difference between the magnetic north pole and the true north pole (or south).
To use a survival compass on a map, you must change the reading slightly to adjust for this difference by adding or subtracting the exact angle. This all depends on where you are located in the world and can have a huge impact on your orienteering.
Compasses with an adjustable declination capability are great because you can set it and forget about it. With others, you’ll need to do constant math every time you go from a map to the real world or vice versa.
A clinometer is a handy little tool that helps you read the exact degree of a slope.
This is mostly helpful when you are in a snowy and mountainous environment. It will help you read the slope and know if it’s a huge avalanche risk or not.
I have used these to keep myself safe while mountaineering as well as backcountry skiing.
A sighting mirror is simple, it reflects the survival compass face to where you can read it when you are sighting your compass.
This helps you get a good line of sight on where you are headed without having to guess a little bit in order to read the bearing.
A sighting mirror is also a great tool for helping signal aircraft or even starting a fire.
While all of these compasses are incredibly high quality, I just can’t find any reason to not pick the Suunto MC-2 as your go-to survival compass.
It has everything you could possibly want in a compass and will be the perfect companion to get you out of a hairy survival situation.
No matter which survival compass you go with, you’re going to be grateful that you have one with you.
These tools are going to save your life when the time comes because your iPhone will be nothing but an expensive paperweight.