Take a step in the right direction

Although compasses have evolved considerably since the first versions developed during the Chinese Qin Dynasty (circa 200 B.C.), the basic concept remains the same: The compass uses the earth's magnetic field to point north. Today's compasses come with built-in features such as clocks, stopwatches, mirrors, thermometers, barometers, magnifying glasses, altimeters and even clinometers. Available in sizes, styles and designs targeted specifically to various users, there's a compass for everyone. While sailors might want a highly accurate - but cumbersome - gyroscope, most outdoor life enthusiasts want a compass that's portable, lightweight and easy to read.

Regardless of which style you choose, your compass must be accurate. The free compass offered in cereal boxes won't do. When it comes to a compass, dependable and durable beats cheap and convenient every time. And while we're harping, take time to learn how to use your compass properly before heading out.

Whether you're on a two-week backcountry adventure, a day hike through well-trodden national trails or climbing a mountain, one of these compasses will suit your needs:

  • Professional compasses: These compasses are favored by outdoor professionals and adventurers who cover terrain effectively and efficiently. Providing fast, reliable and accurate navigational information, these versions come with features not normally available on standard compasses. Depending on your outdoor adventure, look for declination adjustment, full-size sighting mirrors, a clinometer to determine slope, and one-degree increments for greater accuracy. Are they worth the money? Brunton makes a version that comes with a lifetime warranty.
  • Digital compasses: Increasingly popular, these digital versions calculate the precise direction to point your compass. Special backcountry features include compass bearings, direction readings, adjustable declination, altitude and barometric information, temperature readings, time and date display, and a daily alarm function. Easy to read and surprisingly compact, the only drawback to digital compasses is that they rely on batteries. Silva makes a version named Nomad. How perfect is that?
  • Mirrored compasses: These highly precise compasses are designed to meet the navigational requirements of expedition teams, outdoor life and wilderness instructors, professional surveyors and climbers. They are particularly good for uneven and mountainous terrain where you need to take bearings of points that are at higher or lower elevations than your actual location. Suunto makes a version with a whistle.
  • Baseplate Compasses: These are ideal for orienteering with a map. Although these compasses may appear to be more basic than other models, their simplicity is deceiving. They provide all the features a professional navigator needs.

Not sure which compass is right for you? Let Nomadik Outdoor Outfitters point you in the right direction.

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