Fans of off-roading will know that nothing is completely predictable. Weather can get bad, equipment, and even parts of their own vehicles can fail. That is why it is necessary to always have at least a compass with you to help you know where exactly you’re heading. Or maybe you’re just someone who, even in good times, prefers to navigate the old fashioned way. Either way, having a good, reliable compass will help you enjoy your adventures with a calm mind. We have reviewed and made a list of some popular compasses to help you choose the best one for your car. Even though some of the compasses we are considering are handheld, we review them only for use in cars.

The compass is handheld, so, unfortunately, you will need to sacrifice a cup holder or some other spot in your car to put it in. On the other hand, that means you can use it beyond your car as well.

The warranty is only one year, which is one of the few drawbacks. Some customers have also mentioned that making the compass ‘glow in the dark’ would make it a much better buy.

Top Rated Compasses for cars

1
Suunto Tandem-360PC/360R Professional Series Compass - SS001380011 — Expensive, but good

     Coming at below $800, this compass is by far the most expensive in our review. However, if you do not mind spending that much money, then you will be buying an amazing product. The fact that Brunton has been manufacturing and improving the compass since the 1800s, in the USA, helps make one confident in the product. Many geologists have given positive reviews, which speaks volumes.

The Brunton Pocket Transit Geo Compass is one of the most reliable compasses on the market. Unlike many competitors, this compass has an aluminum case and is waterproof. Its readings are quick and are much more resistant to influence by the electronics of cars than other compasses.
The compass is handheld, so, unfortunately, you will need to sacrifice a cup holder or some other spot in your car to put it in. On the other hand, that means you can use it beyond your car as well.
The warranty is only one year, which is one of the few drawbacks. Some customers have also mentioned that making the compass ‘glow in the dark’ would make it a much better buy.
Pros
  • The level of detail and innovation in the compass ensures very accurate readings
  • Being waterproof and having an aluminum body make the compass pretty durable
  • Many geologists enjoy owning this compass, which says a lot about its’ quality
Cons
  • Several customers have mentioned that the product that they are delivered is not entirely identical to the one that is pictured, however after 2016 these complaints seem to have stopped might require a third set of hands.

2
SUNROAD Multifunctional Digital Barometric Altimeter Compass Weather Forecast Thermometer Hygrometer Barometer — Entry-level price and entry-level quality

The SUNROAD Multifunctional Digital Barometric Altimeter Compass Weather Forecast Thermometer Hygrometer Barometer is unlike any other compass on this rating. It is manufactured by Sunroad, a company that is based in China and, by industry standards, is young. The price tag of less than $50 makes it a viable option even for someone who isn’t sure that they even want a compass since it won’t break the bank.

Apart from having a built-in compass, this tool also includes a thermometer, an altimeter, a barometer, a hygrometer, a clock, a flashlight, and a backlight. It also claims to be able to predict weather in the next 12-24 hours based on these indicators. The body is made of plastic and it is IPX4 waterproof.
Unfortunately, while the amount of functions is very impressive, their performance is not. The readings are often unreliable. The screen is small and the tool overall is difficult to navigate. The altimeter and the compass especially are problematic, with the first randomly jumping up and down by 30 feet and the compass being disturbed by the smallest amount of metal nearby. The tool is powered by a battery, the performance of which in a particular device basically comes down to luck. Some customers claim it lasts them a month, others say that only a few days.
There is no warranty and you would need to find a cup holder or something like that for it in a car.
Pros
  • Apart from the compass, the tool has an additional 7 instruments, which greatly expands the potential of what it can do
  • Is small, so won’t take up much space
  • Even if one of the instruments doesn’t work, you still have 7 others that do
Cons
  • Unreliable readings and performance
  • Difficult to understand display and interface

3
Ritchie Tr-31 Trek Compass - Bracket Mount — Best budget buy

     The Ritchie Tr-31 Trek Compass – Bracket Mount is manufactured by Ritchie, a US company that dates back to the 1850s. At around $50, the price for the compass is very fair.

The compass is just that, a compass. It doesn’t have any other tools and functions. You can, however, plug it into your car’s outlet to make it visible in the dark.
Many compasses claim to be suitable for cars, but, unlike many other car compasses, you can actually mount The Ritchie Tr-31 Trek Compass – Bracket Mount onto your car’s A/C vents instead of taking up unnecessary space in your car. This should be taken with a grain of salt because some customers have said that these brackets didn’t fit their cars.
In terms of performance, the compass performs well, but not brilliantly. It takes around 5 seconds to make a 90-degree turn, which some like for the smoothness, but some dislike for the relatively slow reaction time. Setting it up in your car can be a mission. Many customers have pointed out that during installation the metal in their cars, especially larger trucks, can disturb the readings. Even though users are able to adjust the compass to compensate for these disturbances, many customers still claim that there was interference. It is entirely possible, however, that they weren’t doing it properly. However, when you do manage to adjust the compass correctly, the readings that it gives are very accurate.
The Ritchie Tr-31 Trek Compass – Bracket Mount comes with a 5-year warranty.
Pros
  • Can mount it onto your car's vents, saving you space
  • Has a backlight, making navigation easier at night
  • Reliable once you get it working
Cons
  • Set up is difficult, with some customers not being to get it right at all

4
Ritchie S-53 Explorer — Best bang for your buck

     The Ritchie S-53 Explorer is another compass that is manufactured by Ritchie, an American company with a rich history. The compass costs below $100, which is a good price for the quality of the product.

The only instrument that the Ritchie S-53 Explorer has is a compass. However, Ritchie also made sure that you are able to use this company as easily as possible and for as long as possible. The compass is 100% repairable and has a quick push button that allows you to detach the actual compass component from the shell for safe storage. Furthermore, they even added a sun shield.
The Ritchie S-53 Explorer performs really well. The readings are very reliable and the compass is quick to respond when you change directions. Setting the compass up is a relatively simple task. Some customers have noted, however, that in smaller cars it is sometimes difficult to find a spot for the compass on their dashboards since the size of the Ritchie S-53 Explorer is about the same as a softball. If you have a larger car or a truck then that won’t be a problem. You will need to calibrate the compass at first, but the instructions clearly say how to do that and it doesn’t take a lot of time. You can plug the Ritchie S-53 Explorer into a power outlet in your car to turn on the backlight that is inside the compass.
The Ritchie S-53 Explorer comes with a 5-year warranty. You can choose the color of the compass: blue, white or black.
Pros
  • Able to mount onto your dashboard
  • Can detach actual compass component from shell to keep it safe when you are not using it
  • Since it is 100% repairable, even in the unlikely event that something breaks you won’t need to buy a new one
Cons
  • Issues with installation in small cars
  • Set up takes some time

5
Brunton Pocket Transit Geo Compass — Costs a fortune but you can see why

     Coming at below $800, this compass is by far the most expensive in our review. However, if you do not mind spending that much money, then you will be buying an amazing product. The fact that Brunton has been manufacturing and improving the compass since the 1800s, in the USA, helps make one confident in the product. Many geologists have given positive reviews, which speaks volumes.

The Brunton Pocket Transit Geo Compass is one of the most reliable compasses on the market. Unlike many competitors, this compass has an aluminum case and is waterproof. Its readings are quick and are much more resistant to influence by the electronics of cars than other compasses.
The compass is handheld, so, unfortunately, you will need to sacrifice a cup holder or some other spot in your car to put it in. On the other hand, that means you can use it beyond your car as well.
The warranty is only one year, which is one of the few drawbacks. Some customers have also mentioned that making the compass ‘glow in the dark’ would make it a much better buy.
Play Video
Pros
  • The level of detail and innovation in the compass ensures very accurate readings
  • Being waterproof and having an aluminum body make the compass pretty durable
  • Many geologists enjoy owning this compass, which says a lot about its’ quality
Cons
  • Several customers have mentioned that the product that they are delivered is not entirely identical to the one that is pictured, however after 2016 these complaints seem to have stopped

Buyer’s Guide

Intended place of use

When purchasing a compass for your car, the designed place of use of a compass is a very important thing to keep in the back of your mind. Many low- and mid-end compasses that were designed for hiking and rock climbing will get so much interference from the metal in your car(even small ones) that the readings will be completely off. Some compasses claim that they are designed for both boats and cars, which should also be taken with a grain of salt. The compass might work brilliantly on a boat, but when it comes to performing in a car it will get interference.

Mounting

Even if a compass is designed for a car, you still need to make sure that you are able to mount it onto your air vent or dashboard or wherever you wanted it to go. Since not all cars have the same designs and components, something that sits perfectly in a Ford might not be as brilliant in a Chevy.

Lighting

If you want to work with your compass when it’s dark then it would be a good idea to check whether it has a backlight, and if it does then how it is powered. Some compasses would need to be plugged into the plug in your car, which may be a major drawback for some customers. You could also just connect the wires to the appropriate wires in your car’s electrical systems or pay someone to do that, but that’s a grey area in terms of car warranty.

Manufacturer and price

Manufacturing a good, reliable compass isn’t as simple as manufacturing a thermometer, for example. Many manufacturers have hundreds of years of experience that a new player can’t learn in 5 or 10 years. Nowadays there a lot of new manufacturers popping up in China that offer very cheap compasses or multifunctional tools that include compasses. While these seem like a good deal at first, many consumers complain that many tools from new Chinese companies still have a long way to go in terms of reliability of their readings. There is a big difference between the design and manufacturing costs of a mediocre compass and a good compass. We are not telling you to ignore Chinese compasses, but if you have extra cash then rather buy a compass from a well-established brand. Even if you do buy a cheap compass, regardless of the company, make sure to have a backup option. Whether or not a compass has a warranty is also a relatively good predictor of its quality.

General Summary of Car Compasses

When buying a compass for your car there are many things you have to consider: the manufacturer, what the compass was designed to do and how the compass will fit into your particular vehicle, amongst other things.
We think that all things considered, the Ritchie S-53 Explorer would be the best option for most people. It is a reliable instrument, has lighting, won’t take up space that will otherwise be used in your car like a cup holder, is from an established manufacturer, has additional functionality to protect the compass itself such as the sun protector and the ability to store the compass component away when you are not using it, is covered by a warranty and isn’t very expensive. At the end of the day, there is are decent options that will do just fine starting from around 45$.

Questions and Answers

If your compass has liquid in it then it would be best to remove it from your car when you turn the car off. While they won’t freeze and break overnight if the temperatures are still just below freezing if it gets much colder a lot of compasses with liquids will break

Depends on the compass that you buy. Some don’t need anything, but then they most likely don’t have lighting. Some will need the 12V in your car. Some run on AA/AAA batteries, some have rechargeable batteries. There are lots of different options

In one way or another, yes. Any decent compass that is designed for use in a car will be adjustable, so once you select a spot for it in your car you will need to adjust it. Otherwise, it really is a matter of luck. Some compasses get influenced by some cars and not by others, some don’t.

Most car compasses are mounted by one of three methods: by suction cup to your windshield, by clips to your air vents or by drilling holes and mounting it onto your dashboard, but you do need to consider the allowed tilt angles as well.

Most compasses need to be mounted horizontally, with deviations of up to +- 20 degrees usually allowed.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *