Land navigation can be defined as using a map and compass to navigate between two locations. In today’s age most people are familiar with GPS devices. However, from a survival standpoint it could be beneficial to learn how to read a map and navigate with a compass. So if you are interested in this, then we are going to attempt to answer the question; What is the best compass for land navigation?
If you are new to the subject then you can find many resources online, one of the most detailed is probably Field Manual 3-25-26 which is produced by the US Army. This manual was written to train american soldiers and for a long time was restricted to military access only. However, you can now purchase it on Amazon or download a PDF.
The Types of Compasses That are Available
In order to determine what the best compass is first, we must discuss the three types of compasses that you are most likely to encounter. These are the basic compass, the lensatic or sighting compass and the baseplate or orienteering compass. Let’s discuss each of these in detail.
The Basic Compass
The basic compass is just as its name implies. It consists of a compass and that is about it. While these can be used for basic navigation they lack many of the features that make them ideal for finding specific locations.
A compass of this type would be good if you had some knowledge of the area and knew that the eastern border of an area had a river, stream or other landmark you could follow to town. Then you could make sure you headed only east using the compass until you reached the known landmark.
You often find these types of compasses built into knives, watches or attached to paracord bracelets. These have an advantage of often being very cheap to purchase.
Lensatic or Sighting Compass
A lensatic compass is commonly used by a few militaries. One of those being the US Army. As such lensatic compasses are frequently referred to as a military compass. The lensatic compass is made up of several more parts than a baseplate or basic compass. These include a cover, a base and a reading lens.
The cover is used to protect the compass and lens. The cover also contains a small cutout in it with a thin wire used for sighting far off objects and getting a direct reading on them. Using this sighting wire you can select an object way off in the distance that is on the azimuth you want to travel. By heading directly towards that item it will help to keep you on the correct heading and minimize wandering to either side.
The base holds the compass itself, as well as a dial and bezel to fine tune your azimuth. It also incorporates a thumb loop to increase stability.
There is a flip out reading lens as well, this allows you to read the azimuth while aiming at a far away target. By using these features you can be very accurate if you have practiced their use.
Military versions frequently have Tritium inlays that allow them to be read even in the dark, unlike phosphorus versions which require a light source to recharge their glow.
It is important that in most cases you will also need a protractor in order to properly navigate with a lensatic compass.
The Baseplate or Orienteering Compass
The baseplate compass was developed in 1932 by Bjorn Kjellstrom. It has since gone on to become the most popular compass in the world. The baseplate style combines a compass and a protractor into one.
Normally this is done on a clear base plate which allows you to make accurate readings on a map through the compass. For many this makes it easier and faster to read the compass.
The development of the baseplate style has led to the growth of the sport of Orienteering, many choose this compass due to its ease of use.
Which of the Three Compasses are Best?
This obviously goes into a matter of preference as well as what you intend to use the compass for. From my experience a basic compass is only useful if you already have a rough idea of the area you are traveling in and there are large landmarks that can lead you to where you need to go if you find them.
A baseplate compass is quick to read and reasonably accurate. This would allow you to navigate faster if speed was of essence. This is frequently the case in Orienteering Courses and they often cover relatively small distances.
The Lensatic Compass while not being as convenient as the baseplate compass can be more accurate over long distances if employed correctly. By combining proper techniques, a pace count and reading of terrain I have found single posts that are barely knee high at distances of more than two miles from the starting point while participating in military land navigation courses. Due to that accuracy the lensatic compass takes my vote for the best land navigation compass over long distances.
Two of The Best Basic Compasses
These are more a matter of convenience. If choosing a basic compass I would look for one that is lightweight, easy to carry and is potentially incorporated into other items allowing the device to meet multiple purposes. My picks for this category are first this compass, firestarter and LED light survival bracelet clip from CRKT.
CRKT stands for Columbia River Knife and Tool, they were founded in 1994 and have remained in business since then. They are known for their quality knives, axes and other survival related products and this one maintains that reputation. While not the best in each category the firestarter, compass and LED combo provide multiple solutions to problems that could arise during a survival situation.
My second pick is this 7-in-1 Survival Whistle. This whistle is a budget option and includes multiple features that make it worth carrying. These include the following:
- A small storage compartment – for a dose or two of medications.
- A thermometer – monitor temperature drop
- 5x Magnifier – an emergency firestarter perhaps
- Signaling Mirror – attract the attention of planes or helicopters who may be searching for you
- White LED Light – numerous obvious uses, primarily being safety at night
- Emergency Whistle – To attract attention if lost or injured in the woods.
- Compass – hopefully to navigate to safety.
Two of The Best Lensatic Compasses
As we move into the more advanced compasses I would move away from the ones incorporated into other items. For this category I would choose a compass that is proven, durable and accurate. My first pick here is of course none other than the Cammenga 3HCS.
The Cammenga 3HCS is designed on the official US Military Compass. It included Tritium Markings ensuring that the brightness will remain for at least a decade or more. The primary downside to this option though is the price, this is probably one of the more expensive options out there.
Though, I should point out that this one comes with a carrying pouch. The included pouch will allow you to attach it to either molle or alice clip style webbings.
If you are interested in the Cammenga model then you can find it on Amazon.Com.
My second option features nearly the exact same design with a few slight modifications. This one is the Brunton Classic Military Lensatic Compass. This one does not feature the tritium markings, does not come with a case and is slightly lighter than the other option. However, these changes bring it in at a much cheaper price point.
Two of The Best Baseplate Compasses
Baseplate Compasses as discussed before include built in protractors. Some versions also have sighting mirrors similar to a lensatic compass. Choosing the best of both of these my first pick in this category is the Suunto MC2G Navigator.
The Suunto MC2G Navigator is a global design meaning that the patented needle works anywhere in the world. Often you need to specify whether you will be in the southern hemisphere or the northern. This is due to how the different poles will affect the compass. However, with this compass that is not necessary.
While you can find it on Amazon.com this one I recommend you picking up from GoingGear.com. Based on the reviews I read on Amazon it seems that some of the buyers feel they have gotten a knockoff version as it does not meet the quality expected from Suunto.
The other option is this category is a budget friendly option that still packs a punch. It is a base plate design that contains a sighting mirror, adjustable declination dial, as well as the various protractor functions you would expect. Again this is a budget option so keep that in mind. The quality is a bit lower than the first option though all of the required functions do work as expected.
You can check this option out on Amazon.com. Due to its price point, it makes a great gift for boy scouts, hunters and fishers who may find themselves out in the wilds quite often.
Grab a Compass and Give it a Try
Now that we have discussed the best compass for land navigation, download or buy the Field Manual and pick up a compass to get started on learning this vital skill. Let me know below of any adventures you take.
One more resource I forgot to mention. The sport of Orienteering has evolved greatly. They hold races, meets and games on a yearly basis. There is even a world championship the next is being held in Birmingham Alabama in 2022. If you wish to learn more check out Orienteering USA.