Reader Poll: Do you carry a compass?

Using a Compass - Step 3

I’ve written several posts recently about how to use a compass and how even to navigate effectively without a compass. It got me wondering, how many of us carry a compass on a regular basis? I thought I’d conduct a unscientific reader poll to see. Do you always carry a compass with you, only take one for longer trips or multi-day hikes, or do you generally not bother taking one at all – if so why? Please leave a comment below.

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  • I only really take it on a long hike, otherwise i kind of enjoy navigating without it.

  • I use a button compass to backup my iphone.

  • Always. If the mist comes down you need one. In the UK it is often misty on the moors and mountains. Navigation without a compass is something I would seek to avoid.

  • I always take a compass out with me, even if it’s somewhere I’ve walked many times before. You never know when you need it. Relying on electronic gadgetry is folly in my view, though their ease of use makes them so seductive.

  • Joe

    I take one on all backpacking trips and on day trips where there is more than one trail.

  • I’m afraid I don’t carry a compass anymore. I’ve switched to GPS. When I was growing up in New Mexico a compass could be very useful. But with all the trees in the eastern United States it’s hard to get sighting on anything like a hilltop. If it’s more than 100 feet away I can’t see it. So I found my compass mostly useless.

  • Anonymous

    Always carry a compass

  • Yes, I bring along a compass on my dayhikes, especially in some of the woods where I like to hike with the dogs (it’s not called the Big Thicket for nothing!) My main one is my old army model, a Cammenga Lensatic one (definitely not UL), and since I learned how to use it from my Cavalry Scout Sgt, I’m pretty confident with it. As a backup, there’s also a button compass in my AMK pocket survival pak, good for “thataway” emergency navigation.

  • I carry a compass(Silva Polaris) on all trips except short dayhikes close to civilization. I did just receive my Casio Pathfinder wristwatch, which will be used in lieu of compass after it proves itself to me. For the more rugged areas or further afield trips, I will never leave my compass behind.

  • I always carry one. It is small, light and cannot imagine proper navigation without one.

  • On any extended hike, I carry a compass. But I don’t use it that often. Good maps usually keep me out of trouble.

  • I almost always carry one with me even when I’m just following trails on a day hike. I don’t use it much, but it’s nice to have it there. Especially above the tree line when the trail can be spotty and obscured by snow.

  • I have two compasses…one that is on my GPS and another more traditional one much like the one in your picture. I always have them with me because I store them in my hiking bag, but they come in handy!

  • Anonymous

    Yep. Carry a small button style compass embedded on a zipper pull. Use it mostly to ensure that I start off in the correct direction after overnighting along a trail. Stinks to hike downhill only to have to reverse directions and hike back up to where you were.

  • Yes I carry a compass along with a GPS. I know that my GPS does have a compass feature on it but it only works if I’m moving. BTW neither device is good in my pack if I don’t have the knowledge in my head to start with. Generally speaking, I use my compass (with a map) for route finding and my GPS for documenting my route.

  • Great comments and feedback. It seems that most people still prefer to carry a compass, but the smaller the better. So is the smallest usable size the button compass style? Are those still effective, I guess so?

  • Always!

    Occasionally I bring my GPS as well, but it’s heavy. I usually only pack it on longer trips, especially when I’m planning cross-country travel. It’s nice to use it as a quick cheat for establishing my current coordinates! But the Silva Ranger is my primary navigation tool.

    I do always have a Suunto Micro Clipper Compass on my watchband, and another small button compass in my match case, but I think of them as just toys. They’re useful for quickly figuring out which was is north if I’m turned around. I would never consider them replacements for a normal compass.

  • I have two compasses…one that is on my GPS and another more traditional one much like the one in your picture. I always have them with me because I store them in my hiking bag, but they come in handy!

  • On any extended hike, I carry a compass. But I don’t use it that often. Good maps usually keep me out of trouble.

  • Yes, I bring along a compass on my dayhikes, especially in some of the woods where I like to hike with the dogs (it’s not called the Big Thicket for nothing!) My main one is my old army model, a Cammenga Lensatic one (definitely not UL), and since I learned how to use it from my Cavalry Scout Sgt, I’m pretty confident with it. As a backup, there’s also a button compass in my AMK pocket survival pak, good for “thataway” emergency navigation.

  • I always carry my compass — along with the other nine essentials.

  • I always carry my compass — along with the other nine essentials.

  • Good points on trees and visibililiy. I’m for personally for carrying a compass (especially since my GPS is on my Smartphone, and who wants to lug that around.)

  • Good points on trees and visibililiy. I’m for personally for carrying a compass (especially since my GPS is on my Smartphone, and who wants to lug that around.)

  • Always gotta bring a compass, but the only time I ever use it is if i want to find out where I am on the map (triangulate), which is usually only once or twice.  Bringing a button compass, in my opinion, is pointless.  In my experience, they don`t work well, they break easy, and are tiny and easy to lose.  Get a legit one with a mirror and degree markings and learn to  use it.  It could save your life if you ever decide to get lost.

    • Sean, I definitely agree about always having a compass with you AND knowing how to use it. I wrote a series of posts about exactly that topic (How to use a compass). I’m also an advocate for a baseplate compass rather than a button style one, but in a pinch a button compass will help.

      I like your last comment “if you ever decide to get lost” – I don’t think anyone really makes a decision to get lost, it just happens. I mean that tongue-in-cheek of course, your English is far better than my Norwegian :-) Thanks for leaving your comments.

  • Always gotta bring a compass, but the only time I ever use it is if i want to find out where I am on the map (triangulate), which is usually only once or twice.  Bringing a button compass, in my opinion, is pointless.  In my experience, they don`t work well, they break easy, and are tiny and easy to lose.  Get a legit one with a mirror and degree markings and learn to  use it.  It could save your life if you ever decide to get lost.

  • Sean, I definitely agree about always having a compass with you AND knowing how to use it. I wrote a series of posts about exactly that topic (How to use a compass). I’m also an advocate for a baseplate compass rather than a button style one, but in a pinch a button compass will help.

    I like your last comment “if you ever decide to get lost” – I don’t think anyone really makes a decision to get lost, it just happens. I mean that tongue-in-cheek of course, your English is far better than my Norwegian :-) Thanks for leaving your comments.

  • Rob B

    New to the blog, but I’m digging it.  I always carry a compass, with a GPS in backup.  A GPS will tell you where you are, but the compass will tell you how to get there.

    • Rob, welcome to my humble little backpacking blog. Glad you found it and hope you decide to stay and participate in the discussions and comments.

      “A GPS will tell you where you are, but the compass will tell you how to get there.”

      Hmm… well a compass combined with a map (that you should always have with you) will most definitely tell you where you are, where you’ve been, AND how to get to where you are going. A GPS can do some of that too, at least while the batteries last :-)

      Thanks for your comments. I look forward to hearing more from you. – Brian

      • Rob B

        Thanks Brian!  My comment came from one of my old Scoutmasters, and I hold to it.  I just can never trust batteries.  :D

        • Funny, me neither. To the point where I insist on a solar powered watch (G-Shock) if I’m going digital or automatic winding if I’m going analog. Unfortunately, with electronics creeping into every aspect of our day-to-day lives, it’s hard to completely avoid the battery problem.

  • Rob B

    Thanks Brian!  My comment came from one of my old Scoutmasters, and I hold to it.  I just can never trust batteries.  :D

  • Funny, me neither. To the point where I insist on a solar powered watch (G-Shock) if I’m going digital or automatic winding if I’m going analog. Unfortunately, with electronics creeping into every aspect of our day-to-day lives, it’s hard to completely avoid the battery problem.

  • NoahM

    I only use a compass while backpacking. I have a small “pin on” style (sphere) compass tied to my backpack strap and a backup button style one inside the first aid kit. The “pin on” compass always is ready, all I have to do is look down. I use it to get a heading because my eTrex only works while I am moving. After getting a group lost on some horse trails I prefer the Map+Compass+Gps mix.

    • As long as you know how to use the compass that’s great. I hear from lots of people that carry one as a backup to their GPS. Then when the batteries run out on their GPS they have no clue because they’ve never really taken the time to learn how to use their “backup” compass. How do you like the eTrex?

  • NoahM

    I only use a compass while backpacking. I have a small “pin on” style (sphere) compass tied to my backpack strap and a backup button style one inside the first aid kit. The “pin on” compass always is ready, all I have to do is look down. I use it to get a heading because my eTrex only works while I am moving. After getting a group lost on some horse trails I prefer the Map+Compass+Gps mix.

  • As long as you know how to use the compass that’s great. I hear from lots of people that carry one as a backup to their GPS. Then when the batteries run out on their GPS they have no clue because they’ve never really taken the time to learn how to use their “backup” compass. How do you like the eTrex?

  • Swatdoc12498

    I ALWAYS carry a compass.  I usually carry 1 good compass and a back-up button compass.  I also carry a knife.  I know that with UL where weight is a bone of contention, but like they say, “2 is one and one is none”.  I might skimp on comfort gear but never on survival gear.

    Paul 

    • Paul, I agree with you actually. For me UL is about cutting the weight where I can and where it makes sense. Fortunately there are often bigger weight savings to be had on the non-survival items which allows for some flexibility.

      I am constantly at odds with the “be prepared” and the “UL” mentalities, tot he point where I have to find a happy compromise I like to call my “comfort weight”.

      Thanks for the feedback, appreciate you chiming in with you point of view :)

  • Swatdoc12498

    I ALWAYS carry a compass.  I usually carry 1 good compass and a back-up button compass.  I also carry a knife.  I know that with UL where weight is a bone of contention, but like they say, “2 is one and one is none”.  I might skimp on comfort gear but never on survival gear.

    Paul 

  • Paul, I agree with you actually. For me UL is about cutting the weight where I can and where it makes sense. Fortunately there are often bigger weight savings to be had on the non-survival items which allows for some flexibility.

    I am constantly at odds with the “be prepared” and the “UL” mentalities, tot he point where I have to find a happy compromise I like to call my “comfort weight”.

    Thanks for the feedback, appreciate you chiming in with you point of view :)

  • Stevewhittingham

    I always carry a compass. Wandering around in the Spanish Sierra Nevada, there are no trails to follow, and the place is big. Unless you have spent a lot of time up there, and know which mountain is which, you would be a brave/foolish not to.

    • Well I’m glad to hear that you do carry a compass with you, sounds as though the lack of terrain and features could be potentially disastrous. What type of compass do you like to carry?

  • Stevewhittingham

    I always carry a compass. Wandering around in the Spanish Sierra Nevada, there are no trails to follow, and the place is big. Unless you have spent a lot of time up there, and know which mountain is which, you would be a brave/foolish not to.

  • Well I’m glad to hear that you do carry a compass with you, sounds as though the lack of terrain and features could be potentially disastrous. What type of compass do you like to carry?

  • Jason

    I always carry a compass. It makes it much easier to get back to the trail when I go bushwacking and especially when I stow my pack just off the trail. Reverse azimuths rock!

  • Jason

    I always carry a compass. It makes it much easier to get back to the trail when I go bushwacking and especially when I stow my pack just off the trail. Reverse azimuths rock!

  • Bill Y

    I always carry a compass, and like others here wear a watch with a compass built in, great as an emergency backup but I wouldn’t want to rely on it full time

  • Bill Y

    I always carry a compass, and like others here wear a watch with a compass built in, great as an emergency backup but I wouldn’t want to rely on it full time

  • Bacpkn

    Always…usually 2.  A good baseplate stays in my pack lid for ‘serious’ navigating and my Suunto M-9 for convenience and staying on course.

  • Bacpkn

    Always…usually 2.  A good baseplate stays in my pack lid for ‘serious’ navigating and my Suunto M-9 for convenience and staying on course.

  • ConnieD

    I have a Suunto Micro Clipper Compass on a packstrap and I have my Suunto M-9 wrist compass for off-trail.I have TOPO! Montana and some TOPO! National Parks. I print my own maps with tracks, I plan.I also xerox, color or B&W, purchased maps, taking only what I expect to use, including alternate exits if needed.I think an altimeter can be useful for routefinding. However, I needed it only one time, in “whiteout”. I am not really sold on GPS for waypoints and returning to your car. I know how to use it. I just don’t want to have to rely on batteries.I think the GPS track your hike, run, or ride on a Google map can be reassuring to family members or friends. Have the SPOT feature and they shouldn’t worry. I don’t carry all that. But it is all there, if you want it.

  • ConnieD

    I have a Suunto Micro Clipper Compass on a packstrap and I have my Suunto M-9 wrist compass for off-trail.I have TOPO! Montana and some TOPO! National Parks. I print my own maps with tracks, I plan.I also xerox, color or B&W, purchased maps, taking only what I expect to use, including alternate exits if needed.I think an altimeter can be useful for routefinding. However, I needed it only one time, in “whiteout”. I am not really sold on GPS for waypoints and returning to your car. I know how to use it. I just don’t want to have to rely on batteries.I think the GPS track your hike, run, or ride on a Google map can be reassuring to family members or friends. Have the SPOT feature and they shouldn’t worry. I don’t carry all that. But it is all there, if you want it.

  • Psyop soldier

    Always…A Milspec Tritium Lensatic….never failed me back in the day, trust it totally…

  • Psyop soldier

    Always…A Milspec Tritium Lensatic….never failed me back in the day, trust it totally…

  • You know, it may seem strange but I have one in my bag, always with me)) Dunno why I carry it everywhere,  but the fact is that I found that out not so long ago and I can’t remember where I got it and what for)))

  • chris Martin

    I carry a compass and a back-up compass every time I go hiking. No matter the length of the trip or my familiarity of the area. I also print extra maps that are intentionally larger than the area I plan on passing through in case I have to change my route mid trip. I also carry a GPS, but don’t rely on it for navigation. A compass is usually more accurate depending on weather, tree cover, terrain, and battery life.

  • chris

    I carry a compass and a back-up compass every time I go hiking. No matter the length of the trip or my familiarity of the area. I also print extra maps that are intentionally larger than the area I plan on passing through in case I have to change my route mid trip. I also carry a GPS, but don’t rely on it for navigation. A compass is usually more accurate depending on weather, tree cover, terrain, and battery life.

  • at the minimum, i always carry 2 compasses [Army Tritium, Silva]: ALWAYS. GPS x1; 4 flashlights – 2 are LED Dynamo capacitance, Water purification x 3 systems [personal staw to the Sawyer 4 Litre Filter System], 3 knoives: 1 folder, one in my Gerber/Leatherman, one straight blade AND DMT knife sharpeners w/ rat tail dmt sharpener; 4 fire starters [Mg, Storm Matches, Flint, and Refillable Butane lighter(s). All this on my personal at all times unless “naky” in the shower!!

  • at the minimum, i always carry 2 compasses [Army Tritium, Silva]: ALWAYS. GPS x1; 4 flashlights – 2 are LED Dynamo capacitance, Water purification x 3 systems [personal staw to the Sawyer 4 Litre Filter System], 3 knoives: 1 folder, one in my Gerber/Leatherman, one straight blade AND DMT knife sharpeners w/ rat tail dmt sharpener; 4 fire starters [Mg, Storm Matches, Flint, and Refillable Butane lighter(s). All this on my personal at all times unless “naky” in the shower!!

  • I take one, just for the protractor, or wind rose, to get accurate bearings when needed, but have several non-instrumental ways of finding N/S on the move.

  • hctrails

    I always carry a compass and have a “safety direction”. Even on trails that I know extremely well. This worked out really well for me once as there was a trail detour & somehow I ended up going 1.5h in the wrong direction… I eventually was able to figure out where I was when I took out my compass and looked at some landmarks. A Compass + saffey direction ensure’s I’ll always be able to find my way out, even if it takes longer then planned and may require going off trail, but I’ll make it out!