The Ideal Compass

A Brief History of  Compasses.

In order to select the ideal compass, it’s relevent to know a little about the history of compasses.

According to research, the first compasses were devoloped by the Chinese somewhere around the second century BC, but other observations have Selecting the ideal compasses them originating back around 1000 BC and were used by the Olmecs.

While there is no clarifation of either origin,  further research indicates  that they were in use during the time of the Qin Dynasty which existed between 221 and 206 BC with all compasses of the time being made from the magnetic rock we know as lodestone which in fact is a mineral called iron oxide.

This mineral acts in exactly the same way as modern compasses in that it swings on an axis to point north and south.

Far from being used as a navigational device at the time, these devices were more of use in fortune telling and predicting the future and it wasn’t until as late as the 12th century that any mention was made of compasses being used as navigational devices and was referred to in Zhu Yu’s then discovered book “Pingzhou Table Talks”. However, the Chinese did make many references to the use of magnetism and magnetic needles from the 8oo’s to the 1400’s but were probably and  primarily used in construction.

Somewhere during the 7th or 8th century, the lodestones were replaced by magnetic needles for navigational purposes and which became the ancestor of our modern day compasses.

What to Look for in the Ideal Compasses.

The ideal compasses for you will depend on your needs and level of expertise but I’ve written a list of some primary features to look for when shopping for a compass.

  • Robust construction
  • Sealed Liquid needle enclosure.
  • Latching lid for protection.
  • Adjustable bezel ring
  • Declination Adjustable ( Allowing for offset of Magnetic North from True North which can vary considerably)
  • Integrated Sighting Notches in the case.
  • Waterproof
  • Easily portable. (You may want to put it in a pocket)
  • Light weight
  • Illuminated dial
  • Have a lanyard
  • Cost to suit your budget.

Warning: If you are buying any kind of  battery operated navigational device/compasses, make sure it has a “Low Battery Indicator”.

Additional but unnecessary features include:

  1. Extra long lanyard to tie to a belt and which can be used to make knots for mapping distances on the map.
  2. Sticky base or feet to grip a map.
  3. Bubble level. (this handy when not sure of the ground level beneath your feet).
  4. Base integrated signal mirror.

Best Compasses Options

The best compasses in our opinion are those which provide ease of use for the individual and while the above points are extremely relevant, when it comes to buying  compasses, you must look for the features which are relevant to your particular needs, requirements and preferences.

You can see reviews for our selections of the best compasses by selecting the links below.

Our Top Picks:


Brunton Classic Vintage style Gentleman’s Compass

Suunto MC-2G Global Compass

Suunto M-3DL Compass

La Crosse Technology XG-55 Digital Altimeter/Compass Watch  (Not Recommended)

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