There are many different sorts of compasses, ranging from tiny button things to great hulking surveyor/military things. In between we have the typical baseplate compasses.

One problem with the tiny compasses is that many of them are prone to sticking if you don't have them precisely level. I've tried quite a few and never been really confident about relying on them, even though they are so ultralight. Another problem with them is that they don't allow you to get a very accurate bearing. In fact, many of them don't have much more than the four (or eight) cardinal points marked on them.

The obvious problem with the big surveyor/military ones is weight. I have an Australian Army prismatic compass which weighs half a ton: it is made from solid brass. It (truthfully) comes from World War II. To be sure, I can read it (and trust it) to half a degree or better, but I don't need that accuracy in the field. I did find it useful for surveying my farm though.

In between we have the broad category of baseplate compasses. These have a disk-shaped liquid-filled module mounted on some sort of flat baseplate and come in a range of weights and sizes. The heavy end is the domain of the mirror and other sighting compasses. I am sure they have a use somewhere, but I find them rather clumsy and impractical. In fact, some of them seem downright awkward or worse. I also find that I can get just as good a bearing from a simpler compass as one of these, so they are just excess weight for me. Perhaps if I was trying to locate myself on a broad flat plain by sighting on distant sharp peaks they might have a slight advantage, but 'flat plains and distant peaks' doesn't describe any of the country I walk in.


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