The Practical Compass


The practical compass is not the best, most expensive, most accurate or fanciest compass. It is the most useful in an emergency as part of the Ten Essentials kit.

I assume you know what a compass consists of and how to use it.

To review, a compass indicates the direction or bearing of magnetic north. It does NOT point home unless you’re Santa Claus.

A bezel on a compass is a movable ring surrounding the compass capsule, usually marked in degrees (0-359) or compass points (ex: N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW).

The compass is usually mounted on a base so that the compass and bezel can be rotated past some index mark.

Here are examples of compasses on a base with a movable bezel manufactured by Suunto:




The first one is the well-known Ranger model with a large base, sighting mirror and declination adjustment. An excellent compass, but a bit large for the Ten Essentials kit. If I take a compass on a trip, this is the type I carry. Totally reliable.

The next three compasses, the Gem zipper-pull, the Comet zipper-pull with thermometer and wrist-band Clipper, have all the characteristic of a good compass and is small enough to carry in the Ten Essentials kit.


Practical Use


Before going from Point A (ex: trailhead) to Point B (ex: destination), point the index mark to Point B, take a bearing and rotate the bezel so that the compass needle is aligned with the “N” mark. You have just recorded the desired bearing without resorting to pencil and paper or memory.

During the trek, periodically consult the compass to see if you’re staying on course. Align the needle with the “N” mark and see if the index mark is still pointing in the direction you’re traveling. Correct your travel as needed. Do NOT move the bezel.

On the return trip, consult the compass as before, but align the OTHER (“S”) end of the needle to the “N” mark, thus effectively reversing your bearing by 180 degrees. Again do NOT move the bezel.

Obviously, if you are well-versed in compass use, navigation and orienteering, you may eschew such simplistic techniques, but it WILL provide you basic navigation in the simplest and most practical way in an emergency.




Any compass with a movable bezel (to set and memorize the bearing) is fine. A compass without a movable bezel is much less useful.

I happen to like Suunto products and carry either the Clipper or the Thermometer model in my Ten Essentials kit. I carry the Ranger model for normal use.

Manufacturers : Brunton, Nexus, Silva, Suunto

Survival Resources has a good article on compass types. Click HERE