Types of Compass: What Are The Different Options?

By Jason & Denise McDonald. Updated: September 2023.


What is a compass?

A compass is an instrument that is used to find directions. It is a tool that has been used for centuries by sailors, hikers, and campers. A compass consists of a magnetized needle that points north and south. The needle is mounted on a pivot so that it can rotate. The compass also has a rotating bezel or ring that is marked with directional bearings.

There are many different types of compasses on the market today. How do you know which one is the best for you?

Considering a Compass.

The first thing you need to consider is what you will be using your compass for. If you plan on hiking or camping in the wilderness, then you will need a compass that is durable and can withstand outdoor conditions. If you are a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, then you may want a compass that has a sighting mirror and clinometer so you can take accurate measurements.

If you are just starting out in orienteering, then I would recommend purchasing an orienteering compass. These compasses have a clear baseplate with a rotating dial that helps you to find north more easily. They also have smaller needles so they are easier to use in tight spaces.

When considering a compass, each has its own set of features and benefits. Here is a look at some of the most popular options:

Magnetic Compass.

A magnetic compass is a navigational instrument that uses Earth’s magnetic field to determine a ship or aircraft’s location. The compass consists of a magnetized needle that points in the direction of the Earth’s magnetic north pole. The compass is mounted on a rotating card, which allows it to be rotated so that the needle can point in any direction. A magnetic compass is used to determine a vessel’s heading, or the direction in which it is pointing.

Liquid Damped Compass.

A liquid damped compass is a type of compass that uses a fluid to reduce the effects of movement on the needle. This makes the compass more accurate and less susceptible to movement caused by wind or other environmental factors. The fluid inside the compass is usually either oil or mercury.

Baseplate Compass.

The baseplate compass, also called a surveyor’s compass, is an instrument that has been used since the 16th century for land surveying and mapmaking. It consists of a magnetic needle mounted on a rotating circular plate, with gradations in degrees around the edge. The compass is oriented so that the north end of the needle points to magnetic north, and is then used to take bearings on objects or landmarks. The baseplate compass is still used today by surveyors, land planners, and architects.

Thumb Compass.

A thumb compass is a handy tool to have in your navigation kit. It’s a small, flat disk with a magnetized needle in the center that points north. To use it, hold the disk between your thumb and first finger with the north end pointing up. The disk will rotate until the needle is aligned with the earth’s magnetic field, which runs north to south.

Thumb compasses are available at most camping and outdoor stores and are a great addition to any navigation system. They’re especially useful when you’re traveling in areas where magnetic compasses may not work well, such as near large metal objects or power lines.

Prismatic Compass.

A prismatic compass is a navigational instrument that uses a rotating bezel with graduated markings to indicate the cardinal points of the compass. The prismatic compass also has a sighting device, typically a telescope or microscope, that is used to line up the object being sighted with the graduation markings on the bezel. This allows for more accurate readings when taking bearings.


The gyrocompass, also known as the heading indicator, is an instrument used to determine the orientation of a vehicle or vessel. It works by using a spinning rotor to sense changes in the orientation of the vehicle or vessel. This information is then used to calculate and display the heading on a compass-like dial. The gyrocompass is often used as a backup navigation system for boats and ships, as well as aircraft.

GPS Compass.

The GPS Compass is a great tool for hikers, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts. It provides accurate directional readings, which can be helpful when navigating in unfamiliar territory. The Compass also has a built-in GPS receiver, which can be used to track your location and record your journey. The Compass is small and lightweight, making it easy to carry with you on your next adventure.

Solar Compass.

As a navigator on the high seas, you’re always looking for an edge over your competition. You know that the sun can be used to help determine your location, and that a solar compass can make using the sun even easier. By taking into account the time of day, your latitude, and the season, you can use a solar compass to get an accurate reading of where you are in relation to the sun.

There are many different types of solar compasses available on the market, so it’s important to do your research before purchasing one. Some compasses are designed for use indoors, while others are meant for outdoor use. Make sure you select a compass that is suited for your specific needs.

The best way to use a solar compass is to first find out where north is.


The astrocompass is a new technology that allows for navigation without the use of GPS or traditional compasses. The astrocompass uses the stars and the sun to calculate latitude and longitude, allowing for precise navigation in even the most remote areas. The astrocompass has already been used by hikers and explorers in some of the most inaccessible corners of the world, and is quickly becoming a must-have tool for anyone who loves outdoor adventure.

Card Compass.

A card compass, also known as a marine compass, is a type of compass that uses a pivoting needle to indicate the cardinal directions. Marine compasses are typically mounted on a pivot so that they can be rotated, and they have an attached scale or sighting mirror for measuring distances. They are used by navigators on boats and ships to help them navigate around obstacles and stay on course. The needle is mounted on a pivot point inside a rotating capsule that is filled with liquid. The card compass was the most common type of compass before the development of the magnetic compass in the 12th century.

Surveyor Compass

The surveyor compass is a specialized compass that is used by surveyors. It has a needle that is suspended in a liquid, which helps it to stay level. This allows the compass to be used to take accurate measurements.

Used by surveyors to measure the horizontal and vertical angles of objects in the landscape. It consists of two rings, one graduated in degrees and minutes, and the other in degrees and seconds. The surveyor compass can be used to measure distances between objects using triangulation. It can also be used to establish control points for surveying projects.

Solid State Compass.

A new solid state compass has been developed that is less susceptible to interference from metal and magnetic objects. The compass, which has a diameter of 2.5 cm, does not require any moving parts and is therefore very reliable. It consists of a disk made from two layers of semiconductor material with a thin layer of ferromagnetic material in the center. When the compass is placed near a metal object, the magnetic field from the object alters the polarization of the semiconductor material, which can be detected by electrodes on the surface of the disk. This change in polarization can then be used to calculate the direction and magnitude of the magnetic field.

Directional Compass.

A directional compass is a navigational tool that helps orient a person or object in the right direction. Directional compasses come in different forms, but all work by indicating the cardinal directions: north, south, east, and west. They can be used to navigate both indoors and outdoors by finding bearings or azimuths.

Directional compasses are often used in conjunction with maps to help find one’s way around an area. Outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers and climbers use directional compasses to stay on track when traversing unfamiliar landscapes. Pilots and mariners also rely on directional compasses for safe navigation.

There are a variety of different types of directional compasses available on the market. The most basic type is the magnetic compass, which uses Earth’s magnetic field to determine cardinal directions.

Compass with Maps.

A map can be used in conjunction with a compass to help navigate to specific locations. Maps can show a variety of information, including topography, landmarks, and street names. By using both a compass and a map, individuals can find their way around unfamiliar areas with relative ease.

However there are new digital compasses that incoporate the map on a screen. These compasses come with detailed maps of specific areas so you can navigate without having to reference paper maps.

How to use a compass?

From the descriptions above you know that a compass is an instrument that is used to determine directions. It is made up of a magnetic needle that points north, and a rotating housing that holds the needle. The housing also has markings that indicate degrees of direction. There are two ways to use a compass: by using the directional markings or by following the needle.

To use the directional markings, find the location on the housing where the north arrow lines up with the magnetic needle. This is your northerly direction. Then, follow the directional markings around the housing until you reach your desired direction. To use the needle, hold the compass flat in your hand and move it until the red end of the needle points in the direction you want to go.

One of the most important items to have in your survival kit is a compass. A compass will help you find your way in any situation, whether you’re lost in the wilderness or just trying to get back home from a long walk. There are a few things to keep in mind when using a compass: always carry it with you, make sure the needle is pointing north, and take into account magnetic declination. With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to rely on your compass for survival no matter what!

How long does a compass last?

The answer depends on the type of compass and how it is used.

Compasses come in two varieties: magnetic and orienteering. Magnetic compasses use the earth’s magnetic field to point north. Orienteering compasses have a rotating dial that allows you to align the map with your surroundings. Magnetic compasses are more common and tend to last longer than orienteering compasses.

How long a compass lasts also depends on how it is used. If it is kept in a dry place and not dropped, it will usually last for several years. However, if it is exposed to moisture or dropped, the metal needle can become magnetized and stuck pointing in one direction.

Can the weather upset a compass?

The answer to this question is yes, the weather can upset a compass. This is because the weather can cause disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field. For example, if there is a thunderstorm, the lightning can create electric fields that can distort the compass readings. Similarly, if there is a lot of metal nearby (such as in a large city), this can also interfere with the compass readings.

Which compass is the cheapest?

Compasses can be a handy tool when hiking or camping, but they can also be expensive. So, which compass is the cheapest?

There are a few different factors to consider when looking for a cheap compass. The most important factor is what type of compass it is.

There are three main types of compasses: the orienteering compass, the military compass, and the trekking compass.

The orienteering compass is the cheapest type of compass and is perfect for everyday use. It has a simple design and is easy to use. The downside to this type of compass is that it doesn’t work well in low light conditions or when there is no marker to orientate oneself with.

The military compass is more expensive than the orienteering compass, but it is more reliable in difficult terrain, it is the best type of compass for those looking to buy a compass for their adventure.

When you’re trekking through the wilderness, a trusty compass is a must-have item. A trekking compass is specially designed for outdoor navigation, and it’s smaller and lighter than a regular compass.

It has a sighting mirror and protractor to help you accurately map your route, and a declination adjustment to compensate for magnetic deviation.

Before you head out on your next trekking adventure, be sure to pack a trekking compass! This essential piece of gear will help keep you on track and ensure that you reach your destination safely.

Other than that, there are no other major differences between the three types.


In conclusion, there are many types of compasses available on the market. Some compasses are designed for specific purposes, while others are more versatile. It is important to choose the right compass for your needs in order to ensure accuracy and safety. Whether you are a hiker, camper, or backpacker, there is a compass perfect for you. Always remember to read the directions carefully and practice using your compass before embarking on your next adventure.