The 9 Best Compasses of 2023

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A compass allows you to determine direction with the aid of a magnetized pointer that moves in relation to the Earth’s magnetic poles. There are many different kinds to choose from, whether you're looking for a baseplate compass with a free-spinning needle or a marine compass with a fixed needle and a floating compass card. Of course, digital compasses are becoming increasingly popular with many people relying on compass apps to help them navigate. Each type of compass is best for certain activities, whether you’re a competitive athlete, a keen hiker, or an urbanite looking for the quickest way to get across town.

Here, our picks for the best compasses on the market now.

Best Overall

Suunto M-3 D Leader Compass

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What We Like
  • Includes detachable locking lanyard

  • Features adjustable declination correction

What We Don't Like
  • Small markings

While Finnish company Suunto may be synonymous with GPS fitness watches, they also make premium analog navigation devices like the M-3 D Leader hiking compass. This no-frills model has everything you need and is popular amongst backpackers and hikers for its reliability and toughness. It has been balanced for use in the Northern Hemisphere and features a high-grade steel needle with a jewel bearing. You'll also find both imperial and metric in 2-degree increments. The luminescent markings help you navigate in low-light conditions.

Price at time of publish: $73

Best Budget

TurnOnSport Orienteering Compass

TurnOnSport Orienteering Compass


What We Like
  • Great value

  • Lightweight and portable

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks some advanced features

Casual hikers or teachers who need to buy compasses in bulk will appreciate the affordability of the TurnOnSport Orienteering Compass. At just under $10, it’s a fraction of the price of other compasses on this list and is a great pick for newcomers to orienteering. A durable acrylic baseplate with an adjustable bearing, compass ruler, and magnifying glass comprise all the basic equipment you need. Its magnetic needle contains a liquid-filled capsule that allows it to swing fast and freely indicating north.

Price at time of publish: $9.95 for orange

Best Baseplate

Silva Expedition 4 Compass

Silva Expedition 4 Compass


What We Like
  • Global needle can be used in all three magnetic zones

  • Includes slope card and distance lanyard

What We Don't Like
  • No liquid capsule to stabilize needle

Brought to you by another big name in the navigation tools industry, the Silva Expedition 4 Compass has been called the standard by which all other baseplate compasses are measured, and for good reason. This high-performance compass is for experienced navigators and professionals delivering precision, accuracy, and durability.

The transparent baseplate features practical navigational markings in both imperial and metric measurements in scales of 1:25k, 1:40k, and 1:50k. These markings and the graduation ring can be "activated" by a flashlight or daylight for up to 4 hours of night use. It also has rubber friction feet for added precision while working with a map.

Price at time of publish: $53.64

Best for Diving

Oceanic Wrist Mount Compass

Oceanic Wrist Compass


What We Like
  • Compensates for motion

  • Reciprocal index point

What We Don't Like
  • Not an incredibly study strap

The Oceanic Wrist Mount Compass is purpose-built for scuba diving. It’s waterproof, saltwater-resistant, and capable of withstanding increased pressures at depth. Instead of a free-spinning needle, the compass features a printed card that floats in liquid and rotates according to your orientation. This design compensates for your movement and the motion caused by surge and current, making it much easier to read. A side window allows you to view bearings while keeping the compass level on your extended wrist.

The bearing indicators are large and easy to read, while direct and reciprocal index points are handy for swimming out and back on the same heading. A bright red lubber line indicates your direction of travel. The compass also has a luminescent display, which glows approximately seven times faster and longer than other materials. On night dives, charge the display with your flashlight for optimum visibility. Other dive-specific features include a glove-compatible ratchet bezel and an extra-long strap that fits over your wetsuit. 

Price at time of publish: $99.95

Best Marine

TurnOnSport Boat Compass Dash Mount Flush

TurnOnSport Boat Compass
What We Like
  • Suitable to rough marine conditions

  • Clearly visible lubber line

What We Don't Like
  • Somewhat bulky

Like dive compasses, marine compasses use a fixed needle and a moving card suspended in liquid rather than a conventional jewel-bearing spindle. The liquid absorbs motion and allows for accurate readings even in rough conditions, making them ideal for use on kayaks, canoes, and boats. The TurnOnSports Dash Mount Boat compass easily installs on any flat surface with EVA foam stickers or screws.

While it is a bit bulky in size, it remains light and rugged thanks to waterproof, corrosive-resistant ABS plastic. We also like its East-West and North-South compensators, which minimize external influences on the compass, leading to a more precise direction. The boat compass has two power cords that can connect to a 12V power supply and an incandescent light to support night navigation.

Price at time of publish: $24.95 for black

Best Thumb

Silva Race 360 Jet Compass

Silva Race 360 Jet Compass


What We Like
  • Provides stable readings

  • Baseplate works well with maps

What We Don't Like
  • Nothing

Thumb compasses are designed with competitive athletes in mind and fix onto your thumb, leaving your other hand free. The Silva Race 360 Jet Compass tips the scales at just 1 ounce, keeping your overall weight to a minimum. It offers impressive stability so that even when you’re cycling or running over rough ground, your reading remains accurate to +/- 1 degree. The 360-degree turnable capsule houses a jet needle that settles in record time—crucial in a race when every second counts. The capsule’s small size means it’s less susceptible to volume changes due to extreme temperatures and, therefore, less prone to bubble formation.

The minimalist, ultra-transparent design increases map visibility, while the thickness of the baseplate makes it capable of withstanding an active lifestyle. It’s also shaped for excellent contact between your thumb and the map. On the bottom of the baseplate, rubber friction feet help to prevent slippage. These compasses are right or left-hand specific.

Price at time of publish: $34.99

Best iPhone App

Commander Compass Go

Commander Compass App


What We Like
  • Can be used with map backgrounds

  • Star chart function

What We Don't Like
  • Difficult to delete past locations

iPhone users who like the idea of a more complex offline app will love the free Commander Compass Go app. In conventional compass mode, it can be used with different map backgrounds to give an idea of what lies ahead. It also acts as a gyrocompass for finding true north and as a GPS receiver. Other handy features include a horizontal and vertical speedometer, an altimeter, and a gyro horizon calculator that tells you your orientation in relation to the Earth’s horizon.

You can also use the app to mark customized waypoints and navigate back to them later. When traveling to a waypoint, the app tells you the distance to your destination, direction, traveling speed, and estimated arrival time. Essentially, it works just like the GPS in your car. Those who like the idea of navigating by the stars can use the app’s star charts, while a sun, moon, and star finder come in handy for romantics searching for specific constellations. 

Price at time of publish: Free

Best Android App

Digital Compass

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What We Like
  • Works offline

  • Suitable for basic navigation

What We Don't Like
  • Some complaints about calibration issues

Compass apps use your device's accelerometer to detect direction and the technology hasn't evolved much in the last ten years. They sometimes need to be calibrated and will work better with the interference of a magnetic case.

Simple and straightforward, the Digital Compass app by Axiomatic Inc. supports longitude, latitude, and direct addresses. Plus, it displays both true and magnetic north and includes a magnetic strength meter, slope level meter, and sensor status. The developer strongly advises against using a magnetic cover as this will decrease its performance.

Price at time of publish: Free

Best Novelty

Vikano Survival Bracelet Watch

Vikano Survival Watch
What We Like
  • Waterproof up to 50 ft

  • Good value

What We Don't Like
  • Some reports of analog watch issues

Versatile, lightweight gear is perfect for outdoor, wilderness activities. This Survival Bracelet Watch combines five useful tools into one, in under five ounces. The small compass provides accurate enough readings to help you get your general bearings. Its paracord strap is adjustable and can be unwoven for about 10 feet of multipurpose rope—think a makeshift washing line or an improvised emergency shelter. You also get a watch equipped with an alarm and calendar, a steel sheet fire starter that doubles as an emergency knife, and a whistle.

Price at time of publish: $53.80

What to Look for in a Compass

Easy to Read

You'll want to ensure that the compass is easy to read. You'll want one with a needle or card that is easy to see against the 0- to 360-degree lines. Other visibility features you should look out for are a transparent baseplate so you can use the compass over a map and luminescent indicators so you can use the compass in the dark.

Extra Features

Other important features to look out for are declination adjustments and a clinometer. The declination adjustment feature will compensate for the difference between true north and magnetic north. A clinometer will allow you to measure the steepness of a slope to help you determine the risk of an avalanche.


Whether hiking up a mountain or kayaking in the sea, you need to ensure the compass you're buying will last through your trips. Look for compasses that are shockproof, waterproof, sand proof, and will be unaffected by extreme temperatures.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is a compass rose?

    A compass rose is the figure on a compass that displays the orientation of north, east, south, and west. They can vary in the number of points they have. An 8-point compass rose includes points for intermediate orientations, such as northeast or southwest. There are also 16-point and 32-point compass roses that provide even more specific direction.

  • How does a compass work?

    A compass works by detecting Earth's magnetic fields. At the center of the Earth is an iron core that is part liquid and part solid. The magnetic field arises from motion in the liquid outer core. This field has north and south poles. A compass has a magnetized needle, and the north end of that needle is attracted to the north pole of Earth's magnetic field.

    If you know what direction north is, you can adequately orient yourself and go about your travels. However, it's important to keep in mind that there's a difference between magnetic north and the geographic North Pole. On top of that, Earth's magnetic north changes and even varies geographically, which can interfere with a compass' accuracy.

Why Trust TripSavvy

Jessica Macdonald lives in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, where she has honed her skills as a freelance writer specializing in travel, scuba diving, and wildlife conservation. Previously, she worked as a PADI scuba instructor, diving with sharks at Aliwal Shoal near Durban. Since 2016, Jessica has been TripSavvy's Africa Expert.

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