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Published Jan. 19, 2021

Arguably one of the most essential inventions to change the world is the magnetic compass. However, thanks to modern advances in technology and supremely accurate satellite GPS capability, you might think we no longer need the simple practicality of a compass for survival, but nothing could be further from the truth. In many cases, our reliance on technology has made us less able to fend for ourselves in an emergency when all access to those technologies is cut off. 

In that respect, a proper survival compass that is both rugged and durable should always be part of your emergency kit, hunting gear, and a staple in your supplies. But what makes up a good compass for survival that you will be able to count on and won’t malfunction when you need it most? The following review and buying guide will lay it all out for you.

The Best Compasses For Survival

This is a durable, multifunctional compass that features a 360-degree scale with an adjustable prism lens, folding metal lid, clinometer for slope measurements, and more. It utilizes a true sighting optic and a thermoelastic liquid-filled capsule for precise accuracy and quick readings. It’s constructed from rugged and rust-resistant aluminum alloy and is fully waterproof and shake-proof, allowing it to withstand harsh temperatures and environmental conditions. It’s compact and portable enough to fit in any kit. Take bearings directly from the magnifying eyepiece and use the handy side ruler to make precise distance measurements. It also features a glow-in-the-dark luminous display for nighttime use.

There are some complaints that this compass is slightly bulkier than the standard military issue. It may also be off in measurement by a degree or two on some models, so check for accuracy upon purchase.

Key Features
  • Aluminum alloy 360-degree closed compass
  • Magnified eyepiece
  • Clinometer for slope measurement
  • Side ruler measures inches and centimeters
  • Brand Eyeskey
  • Model EK-76
  • Weight 11 ounces

Compact and easy to use


Limited lifetime warranty


Slightly bulky

Some concern over true precision of the compass reading

Sharp edges of compass snag on materials

This exceptionally priced compass features a traditional military-style design with a thermo-elastic liquid-filled capsule with a floating dial for accuracy and durability in extreme temperatures. It’s equipped with a fluorescent night illumination around its rotating bezel for nighttime navigation. As a bonus, this survival compass can be attached to a tripod, as well as an adjustable diopter sighting lens, sightlines on the window cover, and a paracord lanyard. It features a waterproof and rugged die-cast body and a heavy-duty digital camouflage print. It also comes with a conversion chart on the backing plate for angle, gradient, and distance.

One complaint about this compass is that the nighttime lighting is not bright enough to see properly and that it lacks certain specifications that true military compasses have. However, it is a great beginner’s compass.

Key Features
  • Die-cast metal construction
  • Rotating bezel
  • Fluorescent nighttime lighting
  • Tripod mounting capable
  • Brand SE
  • Model CC4580
  • Weight 3.68 ounces

Lightweight and simple to use

Super affordable

Compact enough to go anywhere


Nighttime illumination is insufficient

Needle can tend to stick and requires “tapping” to loosen

Lacks certain components that a higher-end military compass has

This is the official compass of the United States military, so you know it must be really good. As a Tritium-powered compass, it never needs recharging and will provide a high-contrast illumination in even the darkest conditions. We love that this compass is made in the United States and also has a solid history of being used by scouts across America. It’s fully waterproof and shockproof and is designed to perform flawlessly in temperatures ranging from negative 50 to 150-degrees Fahrenheit. It’s equipped with a magnifying lens, sight wire, and dial graduations in both mils and degrees to ensure accurate readings.

One drawback to this compass is that Tritium is only viable for 10-12 years, so this compass will not provide accurate lifetime use.

Key Features
  • Made in the USA
  • Tritium-powered compass never needs recharging
  • Magnified sight wire
  • Shockproof and waterproof construction
  • Brand Cammenga

Brightly lit for accurate nighttime use

A tried and true compass with an excellent reputation

Lightweight and compact


No clinometer for slope measurement


Tritium will dim over time

For a different approach and design, we like the Suunto MC-2 Compass. This is an excellent option for hiking, backpacking, orienteering, and survival. Available with northern hemisphere calibration or global calibration, this professional mirror compass features top-of-the-line components for precise and accurate directional measurements. It is equipped with a magnetic compass with Azimuth bearing and a 360-degree rotating bezel. It also features adjustable declination correction, a clinometer for slope measurement, and luminescent markings for working in low light. The baseplate also has a handy magnifying glass for accurate reading of small numbers and map coordinates.

Two issues with this compass are that it’s not well lit for nighttime use and that the size of the logo on the faceplate makes seeing the directional arrow in specific orientations difficult.

Key Features
  • Multifunctional magnetic compass
  • Waterproof
  • Available in either northern hemisphere or global calibrations
  • Available in USGS, metric, or imperial measurements
  • Brand Suunto
  • Model MC-2

Super compact and lightweight

Can calculate declination and slope measurements

Includes a convenient signal mirror


Not as durable as some metal models

Some question over true bezel accuracy

Concern over the long-term durability of the markings on the compass

If you want a decently designed compass at a reasonable price suitable for occasional use, the TurnOnSport Lensatic Military Compass is a good option. It’s constructed from a rugged, rust-resistant, waterproof zinc die-cast housing and features a floating Azimuth compass dial with a 360-degree adjustable bezel. A fluorescent dial and directional arrow aid with low light readings. This survival compass’s outer base features an inch ruler on one side and centimeter measurements on the other. A glass reference window with sightlines and an adjustable lens diopter allow you to obtain accurate readings. It also comes with a handy waterproof pouch, lanyard, and belt loop for added convenience.

Keep in mind that this compass does not come with declination adjustment or a clinometer for slope measurements. Also, the fluorescent dial is not sufficient enough to enable nighttime navigation.

Key Features
  • Zinc die-cast metal compass
  • 360-degree rotating bezel
  • Fluorescent dial and directional arrow
  • Imperial and metric measuring units on sides
  • Brand TurnOnSport
  • Weight 0.71 pounds



Straightforward to use


No clinometer or declination calculator

Heavier than some models

Not easy to see at night

Constructed from rust-resistant and waterproof aluminum alloy, this survival compass weighs only 5.60 ounces. It features a glow-in-the-dark dial for an accurate reading in low light levels and promises accurate readings up to 0.5 degrees thanks to the clear telescopic sight. The built-in clinometer is one of the better ones we’ve seen on the market and is excellent for mountain climbing, backcountry skiing, or hiking steep slopes. It also features scales in centimeters and inches on either side for measuring distances on maps. A magnified adjustable diopter allows for quick readings. This survival compass comes with a quick detachable lanyard and a waterproof case for safe storage and transportation.

However, the compass is not the most lightweight option on the market. Also, there have been some complaints that the product arrived slightly damaged, so be sure to check your compass upon arrival.

Key Features
  • Aluminum alloy housing
  • Built-in clinometer for slope measurement
  • Waterproof and rust-resistant
  • Magnified adjustable diopter
  • Brand Sportneer
  • Weight 5.60 ounces

Durable and accurate to 0.5 degrees

Easy to use

Can withstand harsh temperatures and severe weather conditions


Not super lightweight

Can fit metric threaded tripod only

Some complaints that product arrived slightly damaged

The Northies Combo Pack Military Lensatic Sighting Compass comes equipped with a paracord fire starter emergency bracelet and an emergency whistle, making it a versatile accessory to add to your survival kit. The survival compass is a lensatic sighting compass constructed from tough and rugged aluminum alloy with IP65 waterproof-rated components. It features a fold-out clinometer, a magnified sight lens for quick readings that are accurate to within one degree, and a floating level indicator. The case of the compass folds completely flat to provide a straight edge for marking on maps, and it has metric and imperial measurements on either side for judging distances.

While this compass is a great choice, it is fairly heavier than other models, making it not as great for extended periods of travel. Also, users have reported that it can be overly sensitive to magnetic interference.

Key Features
  • Survival combo kit includes compass, paracord, fire starter, and emergency whistle
  • Lensatic compass includes clinometer
  • Compass housing is composed of waterproof and rust-resistant aluminum alloy
  • Fluorescent bezel
  • Brand Northies
  • Weight 0.6 pounds

Comprehensive survival kit

Can handle multiple survival scenarios



Heavy, not great for long amounts of travel

Some concern over quality control during manufacturing 

Possibly too sensitive to magnetic interference

Best Compasses For Survival Buying Guide & FAQ

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When choosing a durable, accurate, and reliable, high-quality compass for survival, the options can seem confusing. What makes one compass superior to another? What exact features should you look for in a compass for survival? The following buying guide will lay out exactly what you need to know to select the ideal compass to suit your needs. 

The Advantages of Owning a Compass For Survival

One of the main advantages of owning a compass for survival is that you eliminate your need for and dependence on technology and satellite GPS locators. This is key in true emergencies where you are without power or connectivity to satellite links or way out in the wilderness where cell phone reception and internet connectivity are unavailable. Compasses for survival are waterproof and rugged and will withstand all kinds of harsh temperatures and environments, so you will be able to count on them to navigate with or without technology access.

The Best Compasses For Survival (Review & Buying Guide) of 2021
A mirror on a compass is useful for sighting a direction or an object while keeping the compass capsule visible at the same time.

Another advantage of owning a survival compass is that it will improve your navigating skills, whether in an emergency, a planned survival scenario, or hunting, hiking, camping, or mountain climbing. Knowing how to find your way out of the wilderness using your own skill and intelligence is a valuable skill to have—not only can it save your own life, but the lives of others as well.

  • Compasses for survival work regardless of weather conditions and temperatures.
  • They don’t rely on technology or connectivity, which may not be available in an emergency.
  • Survival compasses can help you gauge distances and times to specific points and access to help, thus allowing you to make more informed decisions in a real emergency.

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The Most Common Types of Compasses For Survival

There are a couple of different types of compasses that are suitable for survival situations. Which one you choose will primarily be based on preference, but other factors, such as intended frequency of use, geographical location, and accessory options, may also influence which type you are most drawn to.

Type Button Compass

A button compass is one of the most basic types of compasses. It’s usually a robust but simple, oil-filled, pressurized capsule that does not include a north pointing arrow. Some are not filled with oil, but the “floating” ones seem to be more accurate. It acts on a pivot point that the dial sits on, allowing it to freely rotate so that you can get a somewhat accurate gauge of which direction you are heading in. 

This type of compass is super compact and lightweight but lacks all the things you need to obtain any accurate readings of where you are or directional information. It is a basic compass that will give you basic information, which is better than no information at all. 

Orienteering/Base-Plate Compass

As the name implies, this type of compass is excellent for use with a map. It has a transparent plastic base with various measurement methods around the perimeter and a compass capsule that is designed to be used to make traveling in specific directions easier. 

This type of compass is available in basic to advanced models with different components based on your skills as an orienteering specialist. Some have mirrors and adjustable clinometers, and declination calculations. One thing all base-plate compasses have in common is an arrow that points to magnetic north, which is a definite improvement over the button compass.

Lensatic Compass

A lensatic compass is used primarily by the military. It is composed of a floating dial mounted to a pivot point that allows the dial to rotate freely when the compass is held level. There is a bezel ring attached to the compass face that turns with a click, with each click being equal to three degrees. It has rear and forward sights for aiming, as well as a hinged cover with a lens with a diopter for obtaining measurements.

This type of compass is the preferable compass for survival, as it is the most accurate for gauging positioning and distances to chosen points. Some lensatic compasses also come with clinometers for measuring slope degrees and declinators. They’re also super durable and ruggedly constructed from rust-resistant and waterproof aluminum or zinc alloy metal housings. They’re able to function accurately in temperatures ranging from negative 50 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit and are shockproof and sandproof. 

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What to Consider When Buying a Compass For Survival

When buying a compass for survival, regardless of which type you choose to go with, there are some key features you can add or include to make your life easier. Pay attention to what kind of needle your compass has, if your compass comes with declination adjustment or not, if it has a clinometer, and if it comes with other nice-to-have features that will help you in a survival situation.

Another important factor to consider when purchasing your compass for survival is the manufacturer’s reputation and how long the company has been in business. It’s always a good idea to spend a little more to go with a well-respected company that offers a solid warranty and has a good track record of producing high-quality, accurate instruments.

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The Most Important Features of a Compass for Survival 

Some people find certain features of a compass imperative, while others consider them to be more “fluff” designed to drive up the prices. Knowing what these features are will help you decide if you need them or not.


You want to make sure that your compass comes with an easy-to-read and accurate needle. Some compasses come with a needle designed for use in either the northern or southern hemisphere, but not both. 

Some come with a global needle that corrects the difference and can be used anywhere in the world. A global needle also doesn’t have to be perfectly level to take an accurate reading since it can handle tilting up to 20 degrees. This might not be important if you plan to only use your compass near the area you live in.

Declination Adjustment

Another thing you may want to take into consideration when choosing your compass is whether it comes with a declination adjustment or not. Since there is a difference between true North (the North Pole) and magnetic north, some survivalists like to have the ability to offset the reading on their compass to adjust for this so they can be truly accurate and exact in their measurements. Manually adjusting for declination is relatively simple, but it’s up to you if you want the option or not.


Another cool feature on some higher-end survival compasses is the clinometer. This is a printed-on or fold-out degree scale that you can use to judge slope angles. This is an excellent option for frequent mountaineers, ice climbers, backcountry skiers, and people that hike in varied elevations. This feature does take some practice to be able to use it accurately.

Two hands searching location on the map using a compass
A proper survival compass that is both rugged and durable should always be part of your emergency kit, hunting gear, and a staple in your supplies

Best Compasses For Survival FAQ:

Still have some questions swirling around about which survival compass might be right for you? We’ve snagged some of the most commonly asked questions on the internet and come up with our most comprehensive answers to provide you with some more clarity.

Q: How do you know if a compass is accurate?

There are several ways to test your compass for accuracy. One way is to use Google Earth to obtain an accurate GPS location of a visible landmark at least one kilometer away from where you are taking the sighting. Then use Google Earth to get the GPS location of where you are taking the sighting from.  Next, you’re going to calculate the bearing from your sighting location to your target location. Here is a handy calculator that provides a true North bearing if you need help: http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/distance-and-azimuths-between-two-sets-coordinates Once you have calculated your magnetic North bearing from above, compare it to the reading you get when you use your compass to measure the bearing between your location and your sight target. There should be little to no difference between your measurements and your calculations.

Q: Why do you need a mirror on a compass?

A mirror on a compass is useful for sighting a direction or an object while keeping the compass capsule visible at the same time. You can also use a mirror to signal over long distances by flashing reflected sunlight, which can help an emergency.

Q: How much does a good compass cost?

A good quality compass can vary significantly in price, but we have seen many high-quality compasses under $100.

Our Top Pick

Now that you’re well-versed in the world of survival compasses, you can probably see why we chose the Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Metal Sighting Navigation Compass as our top pick. This is a durable, multifunctional compass that features a 360-degree scale with an adjustable prism lens, folding metal lid, clinometer for slope measurements, and more. It’s constructed from rugged and rust-resistant aluminum alloy and is fully waterproof and shake-proof, allowing it to withstand harsh temperatures and environmental conditions. 

Final Thoughts

If you’re considering purchasing a compass for survival, whether it’s the Eyeskey Multifunctional Military Metal Sighting Navigation Compass, the SE Military Lensatic and Prismatic Sighting Survival Emergency Compass, or something in between, one thing is sure: having a good, reliable compass in your survival kit or traveling pack can be a game-changer in an emergency or a situation.