Aug 31, 2012 at 4:06 pm #1293569
I'll need to go off trail a bit for my next trip. So I thought it's about time I learn to use a compass as my primary means of navigation. (gps will be my backup)
I'm looking for the lightest functional compass. I've read through previous posts, and I'm having a hard time deciding given all the options.
Any input would be great. Thanks!Aug 31, 2012 at 4:16 pm #1908046
You need to decide how much of a compass you need based on your past experience with them. For example, there are big folding baseplate models that cost an arm and a leg. There are digital fluxgate compasses that need battery power. Do you need a sighting mirror? There are simpler models that fit more easily in a pocket. Then there are button compasses that aren't that great, but they are the size of a fingernail.
Some people know that they need one with magnetic declination adjustment built-in, and some people prefer to do the math in their head. Some people wouldn't know magnetic declination to save their neck.
–B.G.–Aug 31, 2012 at 4:16 pm #1908047
Maybe it's just me. I would look for the best light compass rather than the outright lightest. There are quite a few basic compasses at about 1 oz.
The lightest is probably a magnatized needle floating in a puddle.
JimAug 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm #1908050
If you're learning to use a compass, I'd spurge and spend $8.95 on the simplest, lightest Boy Scout / Silva / Brunton that has a clear base and rotating bezel. Then all the books on maps & compass use will be totally applicable. And you'll control one source of error – the difficulty of reading a tiny button compass accuractely. That's important as you are learning, so you make fewer avoidable mistakes.
It's akin to waiting to learn to shoot a .44 handgun from scratch. Start with a .22 rifle for ease of use, accuracy, and to develop good habits. Then go on to the more difficult-to-use equipment.
Once you get good with a standard compass, then, sure, try a tiny button compass or zipper pull compass for $1-$2 (75 cents last time I ordered a dozen). Using a compass isn't just pointing towards 140 degrees true. It is recognizing terrain from the map, tracking time and distance, and making adjustments as you go. With those other skills honed, you don't need a medium-sized, easy-to-read compass.
In between would be some of the wrist-watch style compasses designed for orienteering. You can skip the wristband to save weight and/or mount it on a watch band you'd wear anyway.Aug 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm #1908052
I've always relied on gps. I've researched how to use it, and I understand declination and such. But since I've never used a compass in the field so I don't know what I need and what is just a luxury.
Something to get me from Evolution lake over Lamarck Col and back to North lake if that helps ;)Aug 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm #1908055
As always, there is good news and there is bad news.
The good news is that your local REI store has a land nav class on Sunday, so they would likely teach what is needed in a compass. Oddly enough, that will be some model that they sell in the store.
The bad news is that the class costs $. I've never heard of anybody paying such an outrageous price for a short class.
–B.G.–Aug 31, 2012 at 4:48 pm #1908057
+1 on a basic compass from a namebrand company like silva, suunto etc.
Heres the one I have: Silva starter 1.2.3 its less than $10.
Edit: the weight is .9oz with the addition of some spectra guyline I used to make a necklace.
Aug 31, 2012 at 4:53 pm #1908062
Get something that a boy scout would use … The basic models will be light and cheap enough … Yr using it as a learning tool
Dont worry about every save gram in this caseAug 31, 2012 at 4:53 pm #1908063
Get a basic Suunto baseplate compass. The Silvas, Bruntons are inferior.Aug 31, 2012 at 5:15 pm #1908067
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
I dunno about others but the "lightest" FUNCTIONAL compass to me is one with a declination setting screw. My choice is the cheapest Brunton with declination setting.
That way I don't have to do mental math (or forget to do it).
Also I don't want a compass with greater than 2 degree increment markings on the dial. i.e. 5 degrees or higher is too coarse for me.Aug 31, 2012 at 5:24 pm #1908068
@bleanLocale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
And now for a different point of view …
First of all — on the type of compass — whatever else you do, get one that settles quickly — that usually means liquid-filled. IMO there is no need for any compass features beyond a basic simple liquid filled compass for back country land navigation.
Next — the original request was about navigating off-trail in the mountains. For that sort of thing, I would strongly suggest good map skills are FAR more important than compass skills. There is no reason that you should need a compass for much other than (perhaps) orienting a map (although you should normally be able to do that visually, without the compass). I would go so far as to say that if the OP has any doubts about his map reading skills, then that is the first thing he needs to fix and he has no business doing much off-trail travel until he does so.
Yes, I can buy the occasional need for a compass, such as whiteout conditions, so I do carry one even though I rarely need it. I can also see one for off-trail navigating through terrain where it is hard to see enough to stay located on your map, but that is rare in the mountains.
All you really need to do is keep track of where you are. Following your progress on a map enough to always know where you are it not that tough — and it's far easier than locating yourself once you have become disoriented (regardless of the type of compass you may have). It's also less time and fuss.
I have always wondered why everyone emphasizes precision with a compass, even though my initial compass work was with a lensatic compass. (We just blew away the other Boy Scouts at compass events at Camporees!)
Over the years I have found well-developed map skills far more valuable. Yes, I understand the neat things you can do with a base plate and with a sighting kind of compass. But in all my years, ranging from Boy Scouts to artillery forward observer out on patrol to extensive backpacking I have found the ability to read a map FAR more important than any compass skills.Aug 31, 2012 at 5:52 pm #1908074
Robert: +1 on map reading skills. I debated that getting into that whole issue. If you don't have a compass there are many ways to fake it (use a watch, watch the sun, stars, plant growth patterns, etc). If you don't have a map or can't use it – you at risk of getting lost and have no hope of locating yourself if lost with only a compass.
I rarely bring a compass.
I always bring a map to a new-to-me area.Aug 31, 2012 at 5:53 pm #1908075
@bleanLocale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Thinking about compasses brought back a memory of one of my favorites. As you know from my previous posting I favor a simple liquid-filled compass — I do not need precision, just general direction.
I had a small round (perhaps 1" or 1.5" diameter) liquid-filled plastic compass that I eventually broke :( I was out in winter, above treeline, and in whiteout conditions. I put the compass inside the mitten I was wearing, so that it would be as accessible as possible. That worked well, but I did eventually break it — I think it got in the middle one time when I pressed on my ice axe head.
Another compass that worked well for me in winter conditions was a liquid-filled ball compass that I hung from a zipper pull on my parka. It was always accessible and, since it was a ball compass, I did not have to worry about holding it level.
As you see, I do believe in compass use. But for the OP's interest — routine cross-country navigation — I stand by my assertion that solid map skills are far and away more important than compass work. Also, I personally do not care for a base plate, because I cannot do things like the two I cite above — I recognize that is just my personal preference, though.Aug 31, 2012 at 6:33 pm #1908085
"I rarely bring a compass."
I nearly always have a compass in there somewhere, although I rarely pull it out.
Even when the batteries in my GPS receiver went dead, all I used was the map. Then I lost my map somewhere on the last day, but I had it memorized by then.
–B.G.–Aug 31, 2012 at 6:41 pm #1908087
"If you don't have a compass there are many ways to fake it"
Ah, David, thank you, that explains it. My first wife didn't have a compass……Aug 31, 2012 at 6:58 pm #1908090
LOLAug 31, 2012 at 7:03 pm #1908093
@tjaardLocale: Minnesota, USA
I would suggest a liquid filled (all serious compasses are) and declination adjustment. I know you can do the math in your head, but when you really need to use it in a stressful situation, you are very likely to screw up the math. Declination adjustment weighs very little. Better safe than sorry, not to mention easy.
Sighting is nice, but rarely needed and makes it heavier, so a baseplate only compass seems like decent compromise.
Indeed, a compass is not often needed in the mountains, an altimeter comes in handier and is quicker to use.Aug 31, 2012 at 7:16 pm #1908099
I use my compass all the time, it helps me confirm that I am on the right trail heading in the right direction in unfamiliar terrian especially solo.Aug 31, 2012 at 7:27 pm #1908100
Tjaard: +1 on an altimeter. You can gauge your progress much more accurately and if you know you are on an ascending trail, a river or a ridge AND you know your elevation you know exactly where you are day or night, rain or sunshine. You can also track the weather.
However, a good mechanical one (e.g. Thommen) was $200 decades ago, probably much more now. I love mine.
Alas, unlike most digital electronics, altimeter watches haven't reduced in price much. $200-500 20 years ago. $140 to $500 today. It ought to be free in a box of cereal by now.
Of course it's got a full-sized Swarmy kinfe attached to it, but the Victornox knives with altimeter are on ebay for $50-90.Aug 31, 2012 at 11:24 pm #1908135
@edhyattLocale: The North
After 30 years I navigate mainly with my eyes (still good)…the squishy grey stuff that sits behind them (variable function); next comes a GPS often in conjunction with a map (which I always carry).
I do carry a Silva compass (just the pointer unit popped out of the baseplate – 12g) – I might have used that perhaps twice in the last few years.Sep 1, 2012 at 12:19 am #1908137
@davidmilesLocale: Eastern Sierra
Christopher, Many good points have been mentioned here already.
Compass-Simple clear base liquid filled from the companies mentioned.
Map-More important than the compass
Skill-Required to make the first two work properly :)
I would also suggest getting a copy of the book "Freedom of the Hills". This is an amazing mountaineering resource.
Get some beta on the route you plan to take. We conducted a search a few years ago for a women that ended up taking a wrong turn at the top of Lamark Col. Knowing how to read a detailed map of the area and checking it often against the terrain around you is the most important skill. A simple compass (like a zipper pull) can keep your directions straight. To actually take bearings, you'll want to have the clear base plate compass. I usually just take a map and "stay found".
+1 for my Casio Altimeter watch.Sep 1, 2012 at 1:03 am #1908143
Yipes! I hope that missing woman was found safe?Sep 1, 2012 at 8:57 am #1908186
Well rather than tell you how much you don't need a compass, I'll tell you about some compasses that are light and functional. The "two" I'll give you here are useful in the hand, on a map and as "multiuse gear".
1. The Silva Ranger LE/Ranger 27/Brunton Trooper. This 23-gram sighting compass is small, includes phosphorsecent dots that make it easy to use in low light, includes the totally bitchen lapel pin feature and is currently on sale on the intarwebz if you look (as the Brunton). This is an excellent small compass and I have used it in both orienteering courses and to demonstrate orienteering in the High Sierra. This one fits in tiny pockets and is about as small as one can go while still being "functional" for more than "which way's north?". It looks like this: http://silva.se/fr/node/44
2. The Silva Guide 426/Huntsman423/Brunton Pioneer. These are color and style variations on a 25.5-gram sighting compass that floats and is very easy to use for navigation and plotting. This is a great compass to teach and follow orienteering courses with, because its dial is larger/more precise than that of a mini compass. It's very light for its size and the rounded edges are fine in pockets. The frame size gives a lot of reach across maps, for plotting, too. There are variations in color and the Brunton version is a tad heavier, due to a rubber ring on the capsule. The Silvas look like this: http://store.silvacompass.com/category/345153/Sighting
The Suunto MCB is also a great compass, and currently stocked at REI, but it's 11 grams heavier than the Silva (and no better, other than the justifiably chi-chi brand name). You'll see that one around.Sep 1, 2012 at 9:10 am #1908195
the thing about a compass is that you may not need it most of the time … but when you need it you REALLY need it …Sep 1, 2012 at 10:29 am #1908206
23 grammes on my scale – comes very handy. No problem either with mittens or gloves. You buy "harness" and "capsule" just as you want (I use "stable" capsule, others can be for example "fast").
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