Saturday, 26 November 2016

Choosing a compass to get the best out of your Peak Navigation Course

At Peak Navigation Courses, we pride ourselves in our compass navigation, getting a real thrill out of sharing map and compass navigation techniques with others

Whether you are a complete beginner or joining one of our advanced navigation courses where we use the compass to cross Kinder Scout, choosing the best compass for you can be a real minefield. Go to one of the outdoor or online shops and you will find a sometimes bewildering array of different compasses, so which is best, and how do you choose?

If you are a new hill walker, or never used a compass before, a cheaper model is often appealing.  You can pick a compass up from an online shop for a couple of pounds, but is it worth it?

Highlander Summit



As a starter compass, this may seem appealing, it is light, easy to carry and will point north. However the plastic base is very short, and lacks an arrow to show which direction you should walk - not one we would recommend.
Vango DLX0
The Vango DLX is a reasonable quality compass, with a good sized plastic base, scale for measuring distances and lines on the base to help set the compass on the map.  However again there is no arrow to show which direction you are planning to walk, reading a bearing on this compass is difficult, making planning a route much harder and there are few lines in the middle of the dial. It would not be high on our list.

Karrimor Q6L


We have had a few clients arrive at courses with the Karrimor Q6L, and I have been quite impressed. It has a good long plastic base, clear measuring scale, lots of lines to line up the grid, clear arrow to show direction, and a luminous dial for night time navigation. My only real criticism is the 1:63360 measure - designed for 1 inch to the mile maps, which have not been available in the UK for many years.


Gelert COM001
 We recently invested the princely sum of £2.99 in one of these Gelert compasses. We can't vouch for its robustness (the quality isn't that great), but for an easy to use compass, it seems pretty good for the price; a reasonable size base, clear dial, clear & luminous direction of travel arrow, 1:25000 and 1:50000 measuring scales.

We would be quite happy to recommend either this Gelert, Karrimor or a similar model produced by Trekmates, as starter compasses.

Silva has always been our compass of choice, but there are other quality compasses on the market, in particular those from Recta and Sunto.

Recta TD200


My first compass was a Recta, and we still have it to lend clients on our courses. They are really well made devices and the appeal of this one is the ease of holding the rounded end and clear luminous dial. However it has no magnifyer, vital to see features if your eyesight is not so good.



Sunto A-30


Sunto, better known for its watches, produce some high quality technical compasses and have now taken on the Recta range. The A-30 is a mid range device, which has lots of features. My real criticism is that the base is slightly shorter than we would like, and lacks extra parallel lines.




Silva Expedition 4
 The Silva Expedition 4 is the compass we use, and the one we recommend to our Peak Navigation Courses participants. It has a long baseplate, with romer scales to measure distance on both Ordnance Survey and BMC/Harveys maps, easy to use dial, with clear orienting lines, good magnification and lots of lines both on the baseplate and the compass housing to line up grid lines. At around £30 the Expedition 4 is a bit more expensive, but we still think a worthwhile investment if you are serious about your map and compass navigation.


If you have got to the end of this post, you should by now have a good idea of what you need to look for in a compass for navigating in the moors and mountains?
  • A long base will help you line the compass up between 2 points - the longer it is, the easier this will be.
  • Having lots of lines in the middle of the dial, which houses the compass needle (known as orienting lines), will mean you have more chance of finding a grid line with which to line the compass up with north on the map.
  • We use the measuring scale a lot and having this for the 1:25000 map is vital, but alternatives for other scale maps is also really useful.
  • If your eyesight is less than the best, a magnifyer is also really useful to see those more detailed features on the 1:25000 map.
All the features listed above can be found on cheaper models, but these do lack the precision and durability of more expensive makes. So if you are unsure how you will get on using a compass either wait until you have been on one of our courses (we have a range of models you can try) or buy either the Trekmates or Gelert. If you are serious about walking in the moors and mountains, then choose a more expensive make which will become a trusted friend!

Knowing how to use a map and compass for navigation can give you the 'keys to the kingdom'
Join one of our Map and Compass navigation courses, and you too can gain the 'keys to the kingdom'!

You can buy any of the compasses listed above from Amazon.