Find your way through the backcountry with help from the easy-to-use Suunto A-30L Compass.
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I'm in the market for a compass and I'm...
I'm in the market for a compass and I'm very confused with the compass market. We've got the Suunto A-30L for 22 clams and the K&R Alpin Pro for 99 bucks. They look very similar and the only difference I can see in the specs is the addition of a marginal sighting hole and slope meter. Is that a $70 additional value? Because even cheaper compasses have sighting holes. *sigh* I don't know what to buy. My safety gut says "spend on quality" and my wallet says "please don't do that anymore". Is it true cheaper translates to less accurate?
Generally speaking the more expensive compasses are going to be much more sensitive for magnetic fields making bearings much more accurate. If you're only planning on using the compass for general direction, the $20 version should do fine. However if you're going to be using it to navigate via bearings and sighting mirrors, spend the money. You can scrimp on a bunch of things (in my opinon) like backpacks, stoves, poles etc. If you're DEPENDING on your compass to give you an accurate direction, you want it as accurate as possible; your life might depend on it. A degree or two off (which is common in many cheap compasses) over the course of a few miles can put you way off course. Hope this helps your decision.
If you want to do a lot of map overlays, get the baseplate compass. If you want to simply sight a target, take the bearing and go, get a direct sighting compass with an optical lens that's more like the K&R. You never need to worry about adjusting for declination (it's already all magnetics to begin with), you sight the target and read off the compass card simultaneously, including back azimuths (reciprocal scale), it's fast and fool proof, even going from tree to tree or boulder to boulder, and no math to do, ever. A few seconds, adjust your course, done. No need to ever see your original target again until you're there. I do a lot of orienteering and was trained in surveying, so accuracy and the ability to turn angles to get to where I need to be are things I take very seriously. Be that as it may, the two compasses that I would recommend the most highly are the Suunto KB-14 or the Suunto KB-20. Neither are particularly good for map overlays, but you won't get lost. Another that you would love is the old Brunton 54-LU, if you can still find one. That's probably the best overall compass I've ever owned, and it's the one that lives in my pack, always.
Generally though, simpler is better for most people. Without taking the time to understand compasses and navigation, you can get yourself into as much or more trouble with too much compass for your ability than without one to begin with. The best compass money can buy is never a substitute for a few hours of reading and going out to a semi-controlled environment and practicing. If you go in a big circle, and the sum of all your angles doesn't come out to 360 degrees, regardless of how many you turn, you did something wrong...go out and do it again. Only then can you make an honest determination as to whether you didn't rise to your compass' capabilities, or your compass didn't rise to yours.
Hope this helps.
Hey again RT,
If you're interested, here's a really useful source for mapping, GPS and navigational tools. He also has the 54-LU compass for about $112, although I don't think that it's actually a Silva, unless they picked it up from Brunton at some point.
If you're serious about learning to navigate, learn how to use UTM coordinates. It's the only way to go. Figuring out where you are using a map or GPS unit will take on a whole new meaning and level of speed and accuracy that lat/long doesn't offer.
...and here's the link:
Does what it is supposed to do and is very light. Think of it as the Toyota Camry of compasses.