What Compass?

What are the best mountain navigation compasses? I often get questions as to what would the best compass be for mountain navigation, especially from people approaching various assessments like Summer and Winter ML

There are lots of options out there and any well made compass will do the job, it is very rare that the compass lets us down it is normally user error! However when things get challenging it is worth stacking as many areas as possible in our favour!

Below are some of my thoughts on some of the common compasses on the market.


Silva Type 4

For many years the compass of choice for ML Candidates. It is a good solid compass that retails around £30. It works well for summer but I often find the compass housing harder to move in winter or cold conditions with gloves on. It has all the map scales that you would need and these are well set out and easy to use.

Silva Expedition – Like the type 4 but with a slightly chunkier compass housing so easier to use with gloves on. This model has recently been upgraded and went from costing around £30 to around £50, I have not had a chance to use a new one yet but I hope that the price increase reflects an improvement on the build quality which has been an issue with Silva compasses over the last few years.

Sunto M3 – This is similar to the Silva Type 4 and Expedition however the compass housing has large plastic lugs of it so much easier to use with gloves on. This also comes in a global version which has he needle on a pivot which seems to make it more stable in wild conditions when you are being blown around. It is though more expensive at around £50. This used to be my compass of choice but they have now changed the layout of the scale bars and I find them much harder to read in bad weather.

Silva Race Zoom – A orienteering focused compass but works well for mountaineering as well. It does not have bearing numbers on it so this may be a draw back if you are teaching navigation. The Jet needle is Silva’s most stable compass needle and it works very well in wild conditions as you are being blown around. Like the Type 4 the compass housing can be a little harder to use with gloves on. Like the Jet below it does not have map scales on it but it does have a ruler.

Silva 1S 360 Jet – Another orienteering compass but with a more Mountain Marathon focus. Same needle as the Race above but with a chunkier compass housing so easier to use with gloves on. It does not have any map scale bars on just a ruler so you have to be able to do the maths or have something similar to a timing card made up in your map case.

My compass of choice for navigation is now the Silva 1S 360 Jet, however when teaching I will normally use something like the Silva Expedition as that is what most clients will have access to.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Pete Y

    Great summary! I also love the Silva 1S 360 Jet and use it as my primary compass. The needle is extremely stable and I now much prefer the mm scale to using a romer as Its easier to read, gives more accuracy and I can adapt quickly to any map scale. The only downsides I’ve experienced with it is I find the stencil holes to be awkwardly placed when trying to take a bearing from the map and the grid lines a little hard to see. The other thing which is either annoying or beneficial depending on preference is that because the bar is perfectly flush it can stick to some map cases and be hard to turn without some fiddly work. The expedition compasses have small feet which raise the compass off the surface slightly to avoid this.

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