We will explore different types of compass and assess which are ideal for outdoor pursuits, including trail running, day hikes, and longer excursions.
For centuries, individuals have used compasses for orienteering and navigation.
They are necessary for anyone who wants to get around in the wilderness or even a strange city.
An essential tool for outdoor navigation is a compass. You might need guidance on which kind of compass to buy for your hiking expeditions because there are many different types of compass.
A decent compass can help you take a bearing and navigate in low light with an accurate topographical map. The needle of a good compass typically points north.
Additionally, it can help you decide which way you are traveling. A hiking backpack should have magnetic and non-magnetic compasses, essentially divided into two groups.
This article will examine every type of compass currently used, from traditional to modern. Here are the different types of compass:
1. Magnetic Compass
A magnetic component, such as a needle or card, is used in magnetic compasses to point north by aligning with the Earth’s magnetic field.
True north, grid north, and magnetic north are three different types of north. The imaginary line directly over the North Pole from your location is true north.
The vertical lines comprising the squares on a topographical map give rise to the north grid.
Magnetic compasses employ magnetic north, whose precise location progressively shifts due to the Earth’s magnetic field. To navigate accurately, it is helpful to understand how to account for magnetic declination.
Even though we now take them for granted, compasses were a crucial invention that, starting in ancient times, made it possible for mariners to navigate around oceans and coasts securely.
Shen Kuo used a lodestone compass for the first time between 1040 and 1044 AD in China’s Song Dynasty.
2. Baseplate Compass
The Baseplate compass is one of the most popular and reasonably priced compass forms. The liquid-filled compass is mounted on a clear plastic, rectangular base.
The baseplate typically has different sizes for international use—a magnifying lens for reading maps in small spaces and bright features.
The baseplate compass is useful for charting, but it is challenging to sight a far-off object because it needs more sophisticated sighting functions.
3. Liquid Damped Compass
This is next on the different types of compass on our list. A liquid is used in a liquid-damped compass to slow the movement of the magnetized needle.
It is more precise than conventional compasses because the needle is less likely to be influenced by outside forces like vibration or movement.
The usage of liquid-damped compasses is common in surveying and navigation.
Typically, one of the following is the liquid itself:
- Purified kerosene
- Lamp oil
- Mineral oil
- Mineral spirits
- Ethyl alcohol
4. Thumb Compass
The Thumb Compass is next on our list of the different types of compasses.
A thumb compass is a baseplate compass you can use without holding it in your hand because it is attached to your thumb.
It is perfect for orienteering and map reading because you can keep your hands free yet see the compass needle.
Since they don’t have to fit all of your hand’s fingers, thumb compasses often have a smaller body than baseplate compasses.
Additionally, the dial is typically smaller, which makes it simpler to read while moving. Some designs even have a strap that you can adjust to fit snugly around your thumb.
Taking bearings from nearby objects, such as landmarks or geographical features, is one benefit of utilizing a thumb compass over a standard baseplate compass.
A baseplate compass requires you to stop and hold it in both hands to do this accurately; in contrast, a thumb compass only requires you to point at the target and read the bearing from the dial without stopping or impeding your forward motion.
5. GPS Compass
Most hikers today carry a GPS compass, either on their smartphone or another GPS device (see our list of the best navigation apps).
The advantages are obvious—reliability and the fact that human mistake is eliminated.
Numerous apps additionally show details like precise positions and heights. The primary drawback is that battery life could always be compromised.
It’s important to note that when your phone’s location services are disabled, its compass stops using GPS and switches to a solid-state model that points to magnetic north instead of true north.
6. Lensatic Compass
Lensatic Compass is one of the different types of compass we have. There are three primary components to the lensatic compass.
The base holds the needle, dial, and rotating scales, also serving as the compass’s body.
When closed, the cover protects the compass and houses the sighting wire. The rear glass pulls out to reveal the dial when the compass opens.
The lensatic compasses that the American military commonly employs are made to last.
A gyrocompass is a compass that determines true north using the Earth’s rotation. A spinning disc or wheel generates continuous pulses for the gadget.
These pulses are sent to a computer, which uses them to calculate the rotational speed and pointing direction of the gyrocompass.
Gyroscopes were once used for navigation before the creation of electronic sensors.
They function by detecting changes in angular velocity, which enables them to monitor the speed and direction of an object’s rotation.
Because they can maintain their accuracy in the presence of outside influences like wind and waves, they are perfect for use in compasses.
Even though traditional magnetic compasses are still widely used today, gyrocompasses have several benefits over them.
Since magnetic fields do not affect them, they can be utilized near metal objects or areas with high magnetism levels without losing accuracy.
On extremely large ocean-going ships, they are used for steering. Gyrocompasses are unsuitable for smaller seagoing vessels due to their enormous proportions.
8. Electronic Compass
This is next on our list of the different types of compasses. Electronic compasses provide indicators on a numerical readout.
They offer additional features, such as the option to save bearings in memory and the capacity to alert the user if he veers off course, and they provide quite accurate readings.
There are better choices than electronic compasses for map work, though. Furthermore, they need a power source, which compromises their dependability.
9. Solar Compass
A solar compass determines direction using the sun. You may determine which way is north, south, east, or west by looking at where the sun is about you because it always rises in the east and sets in the west.
Solar compasses are easy to use and don’t need batteries or electricity.
To use a solar compass, locate a level area outside without trees or structures that would obscure your view of the sky.
Then, position yourself (this may require some trial and error) so that your body’s shadow falls directly on the compass needle.
When properly positioned, look at the direction that the tip of your shadow points; this will be true north. Afterward, you can position the map appropriately and begin devising your path.
Since they are portable and simple, solar compasses are a great tool for wilderness hikers.
However, it’s crucial to remember that they only function in daylight when there is direct sunlight. So you will use them if you’re trying to navigate at night.
Additionally, clouds or fog that can block sun views can influence solar compasses. In these situations, a different kind of compass would be more accurate.
10. Card Compass
Last on our list of the different types of compass is Card Compass. The ship’s captain uses a card, marine, or steering compass to lead the ship in the right direction.
It functions by displaying the ship’s course or direction about the north.
Although the card bearing the degree markings on such a compass has a fixed needle, it moves because it is wet with a liquid.
The ship’s skipper can use this knowledge to stay on track and avoid straying into hazardous waters.
Card compasses are typically installed on a pedestal in the wheelhouse so the skipper can see them clearly while steering the ship.
It is best to avoid having any metal objects close by so that no other magnetic fields can interfere with the compass’s operation.
A transparent hemisphere at the top of the compass occasionally amplifies the markings for easy reading. To be viewed at night, the card compass may also have lights.
Some steering compasses even offer advanced functions, such as GPS integration and alarms that sound if the ship deviates too much from its intended path.
There are many different types of compass, each with advantages and disadvantages.
Before deciding which one is right for you, consider what type of activities you plan on using it for and the features that will most benefit your needs.