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Which compass is best for me?

Silva • Gear guides • Jun 14, 2023 • 5 mins

Compass buying guide from Silva

In some sense, all compasses do the same job but not everyone uses them for the same purpose. There are many different models with variations in features, accuracy and functionality. We take a look at some of the best on the market to help you decide which compass is right for you.

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A compass is a compass, right? Points to north, allows you to find a bearing, helps get you from A to B etc. Surely they're all the same?

Well... yes and no. For sure, in a basic sense, all compasses do the same job but people need them for different activities whether that’s walking, orienteering, biking, trail running, or major expeditions. That’s why you’ll find different models with variations in features, accuracy and functionality.

We've compiled a list of your favourite outdoor activities and the best compass for the job to help you save time and money when choosing your next compass.

Best compass for walking in the British countryside

Silva Starter 1-2-3 Compass

Silva Starter 1-2-3 Compass

Silva Starter 1-2-3 Compass

This easy to use, waterproof compass gives you all the basic functions you need to get around. In a traditional base plate design this reliable, entry level compass will give you a good grounding in navigation. The lanyard is detachable, and a declination scale is inside the capsule. The measuring scales are compatible with most maps measuring in mm and inches. This makes a Scout compass or one for leisure routes and map reading at school. 

Another great compass for casual walking in the British countryside in the Silva Classic compass. 

Best compass for hill walking in our National Parks

Silva Ranger compass

Silva Ranger compass

Silva Ranger compass

A top quality, no-nonsense model from Silva, the Ranger is perfect for general UK outdoor use as it features 1:25k and 1:50k map scales, as per OS maps. The rotating bezel has a rubber grip for easy handling, and the baseplate is curved at the back-end for a perfect fit in the hand. Red and black north-south lines in the capsule bottom ensure easy and safe map-setting. There’s a magnifying lens to help with map detail, and a declination scale inside the capsule, allowing adjustment for local magnetic variation. The distinct arrow, clear scales and markings combine to make navigating easier, with luminous markings to help navigation in low-light conditions. The Ranger comes with a detachable lanyard with 1:25 and 1:50 marked scales, so you can use it to measure distances on a map.

Another great compass for a day out on the hills is the Silva Expedition 4 (see below).

Best compass for the Duke of Edinburgh Award

Looking for a compass suitable for the Duke of Edinburgh Award? The Silva Ranger compass and the Silva Expedition 4 compass have both been recommended by DofE.

Best compass for a navigation course or qualification

Silva Expedition 4 compass

Silva Expedition 4 compass

Silva Expedition 4 compass

A more advanced-level baseplate model, the Expedition 4 is designed to work with international mapping. There’s map-measuring in both millimetres and inches, plus scales of 1:25k, 1:40k and 1:50k, allowing use with maps from most regions. Like the Ranger there’s a magnifying lens, a rotating bezel indented for easy handling, a declination scale inside the capsule, and red and black north-south lines in the capsule bottom. The Expedition 4 also has luminous markings, and comes with a detachable lanyard.

Another great compass if you're doing a navigational course or qualification is the Silva Expedition S.

Best compass for a European-based trip

Terra Expedition S Compass

Terra Expedition S Compass

Terra Expedition S Compass

Designed for experienced users and professionals, Silva’s Terra Expedition S Compass a the sustainable choice and has been specifically made to reduce environmental impact. 

Regardless of the weather the Terra Expedition S is built to last and easy to handle giving you the accuracy you need even when the weather turns severe. The flexible lanyard is detachable and has 1:25 and 1:50 scale markings so you can measure distance on your map out in the field or at home.

There are easy-to-read markings for the day and luminous marking for night or low light levels that are light activated. The map-measuring scales are in mm or inches plus GPS scales 1:24,000, 1:25,000 and 1:50,000. Also included is a magnifying lens for precision, as well as a magnetic declination adjuster and a clinometer to measure slope angles. 

Viewing the compass dial and the background at the same time is easy to achieve using the folding mirror,  helping you to measure bearings more accurately. 

Another great compass for big trips is the Silva Expedition S compass

Best compass for a global expedition

Silva Expedition Global 360 compass

Silva Expedition Global 360 compass

Silva Expedition Global 360 compass

If you plan to use your compass in different parts of the world, it’s important to know that there are three different zones for compasses (Magnetic Equator, Magnetic North and Magnetic South) and most compasses work in only one. If you use your compass in the wrong zone, it will show the wrong north. 

However, Silva’s Expedition Global 360 compass has a global needle which works in all three zones, meaning you can use it anywhere in the world. Like the Expedition S it also features map measuring in mm and inches, scales 1:24k, 1:25k, 1:40k and 1:50k scales, a magnifying lens, DryFlex™ rubber grip, an adjuster for magnetic declination, luminous markings, a slope card plus a 1:25, and 1:50 marked distance lanyard.

These are just five of the compasses we have available, giving you a flavour of how specialist features and design play a part in determining which compass will be right for you and your favourite activities.  Don't forget to pick up your trusty waterproof map case for hassle-free navigation in all weathers! 

Learn how to use a compass in our free guide to using a compass plus find out more about the different types of features in our beginner's guide to the compass.

Silva are a Swedish outdoor brand founded in 1933. Since then, they've been developing compasses, headlamps and other outdoor equipment that help you enjoy the outdoors even more.

Published: Jun 14, 2023 Edited: Jul 27, 2023

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