There are a few things in this world that you don’t want to leave the house without.
Your wallet, your keys, mobile phone, maybe a few bucks – all important. If you’re headed out for a hike, however, a compass has to be on that list as well.
Whether you’re off for a day hike in a local park or a two-week excursion through the Alaskan wilderness, a compass is a must-have, and a compass built right into your watch makes it easy.
Compass watches offer general direction at a glance and are an important item for hikers, campers, and expeditions. They’re great for a casual outfit as well. The invention of digital compass watch technology has revolutionized this entire category – analog compass watches also still have their place.
We’ll go over all of this and more in the guide below. We’ll also take a look at the top brands on the market and help you find a quality compass watch that meets your needs.
The Best Compass Watches Reviewed
1. Best Overall: Casio Pathfinder (PAG240-1CR) Compass Watch
Casio has been making top-of-the-line electronics since it was founded in 1946. In 1957, it unveiled the first entirely electric compact calculator and it revolutionized digital watches. The Casio Pathfinder packs that nearly 75-year history of excellent products into one well-priced package. The Pathfinder is a solar-powered watch with a digital gauge to let you know where you stand. It also includes a digital compass, altimeter, barometer, thermometer, and is resistant to lower temperatures. It’s crafted from stainless steel and can hold up to 48 different times. Water resistance up to 330 feet means you can take it diving without too much of a problem. It is on the heavier side at 8 oz. and has a relatively large face to fit in all those features. It is also relatively inexpensive for such a feature-rich piece.
Practical through and through, keep this watch on your wrist for hikes and exploring, not for dinner parties.
- Great bang for the buck
- Everything you need in one package
- Altimeter is a nice add-on
- Heavy for a watch
- Reviews note that strap is a bit uncomfortable
What You Need To Know
2. Best Under $200: Suunto Core Compass Watch
If you have a bit more money to invest, consider going digital. The Suunto Core Watch features an altimeter, barometer, and compass that delivers critical data quickly and easily. The digital compass uses the magnetic fields of the earth to measure direction. Any digital compass will be subject to interference but is far more accurate than its analog cousin. The bezel ring also rotates to allow you to follow a bearing. A standout feature of the Suunto Core is the storm alarm, which monitors for rapid drops in air pressure, a solid signal of an impending storm. Tough plastic outer and strap along with accurate depth readings to 30 feet make for a great snorkeler’s watch. All these features come in toward the middle of our price range, a solid investment for those who want to make it.
- Digital compass
- Weather alarm
- Solid construction
- Digital compass subject to interference
- On the larger side
What You Need To Know
If you’re looking for something on the smaller end of the spectrum, the Casio Twin Sensor digital watch keeps several great features without ballooning in size. At the lower end of our price range, it’s a great option for budget-conscious consumers as well. Water resistance to 200 meters means you can get this guy plenty wet, and the thermometer will ensure you stay comfortable. Reviewers note that the temperature gauge does require you to remove the watch to account for body temperature. Note, this isn’t the most stylish watch, so consider something different if you’re looking to wear it anywhere but on the trails.
- Offers several features
- Unattractive design
- Inconvenient temperature gauge
What You Need To Know
Scraping the very bottom of our price range is the Gosasa Men’s Military Sports Watch. It comes in a variety of colors and styles and looks like many of the Timex timepieces. The rubber band is comfortable and easy to clean. Reviewers note that the watch could stand to be brighter, but the number of features packed into the piece makes up for it. The digital compass, once calibrated, works well, and the alarms, chimes, timer, and water resistance mean you can wear it anywhere.
- Very inexpensive
- Packs lots of features in a small package
- Face backlight is too dark
- Water-resistance is prefaced; do not press buttons underwater
What You Need To Know
G-Shock is made by Casio and features some of the toughest materials to keep your watch ticking. The Mudman multi-function sports watch takes this to the next level. The case and buttons are completely sealed to keep out mud and water. It runs on solar power and is entirely shock-resistant. The digital compass measures in 16 different points, giving you a range of directions. It also corrects for nearby magnetism. Four daily alarms and a snooze alarm keep you on time. A water resistance depth of 660 feet means you can take it diving as well. In the middle of our range, this watch is certainly functions over form.
- Featured packed watch for the price
- Digital compass with magnetism correction
- Great water resistance
- Bulky face
- The odd mix of fonts in face
What You Need To Know
The Casio Triple Sensor Digital Watch provides a whole host of features for the explorer on a budget. In the lower-middle tier of our price list, this attractive rubber-banded compass watch allows for easy timing and direction. It’s temperature-resistant and comes packed with a barometer, altimeter, digital compass, and a battery life of three years. It shares its watch face with several Casio models that split the screen into three, easy-to-read areas for time, date, and temperature/direction/altitude. Not the most stylish, but it gets the job done for a reasonable price.
- Long battery life
- The design may turn some off
- Moderately pricey for similar features
What You Need To Know
With a Japanese quartz movement that is packed with functions which include the following – countdown timer, 1/100 second stopwatch, 100 meters water resistance, and many more, it’s an excellent beginner’s compass watch. The watch dial is easy to read and features a digital compass.
The Timex Expedition Shock XL is a rugged and durable compass watch in that it has a mineral glass crystal, a reliable black resin band that won’t degrade over time, a water-resistant body (up to 200 meters), and a shock-resistant body. Great for those men who want a sleek and reliable sports watch to take with them on a deep trek into the woods. Plus it comes with the signature Timex Indiglo backlight.
This Swiss-made watch by Luminox is the perfect compass watch for a long expedition. With a sapphire crystal and a stainless steel case – this watch can withstand a lot of abuse. When you aren’t partaking in outdoor activities, this watch is an excellent timepiece that can be easily dressed up. The movement for this watch is Swiss-made quartz.
This black compass watch by Citizen is a quality timepiece that also doubles as an altimeter. Able to measure elevation between 1,000 and 32,000′ the quality and accuracy of this watch are revered among many. Beyond the compass bezel, the large dial makes for easy reading and provides other functions beyond the altimeter which include the date, hour, and minute timekeeping and a power reserve indicator (it relies on eco-drive / solar movement).
5 Quick Tips on Finding the Perfect Compass Watch
1. Compass Type
Compass watches can work a few different ways, here are your options:
- Digital: Digital compass watches are a cutting-edge technology that works wherever you are, no matter what. They provide accurate information at a glance and are typically packed into rugged pieces.
- Analog: If you don’t have a clear view of the sky or a landmark with which you are familiar, analog compasses fall short. Moreover, they must be set accurately the first time.
- True Compass: Some watches have true compasses either as a pull-out or directly on the band. These compasses use needles and rely on the magnetic fields of the earth for direction.
2. Watch Face
If you’re interested in going a little bit stylish, consider a watch that has different characters. Roman numerals, Arabic characters, or minimalist numbers can all keep your watch usable but also add a touch of style.
Compass watches have a plethora of features available; here are a few of the more popular options to be aware of:
- Barometer: An accurate, well-functioning barometer can monitor fluctuations in air pressure, which can give you some warning of impending storms.
- Altimeter: Extremely helpful when hiking; altimeters measure altitude to help give you an idea of the elevation gain when hiking.
- Thermometer: This can give you a better idea of the current conditions and freezing temperatures.
- Alarms: Multiple alarms allow for more options/functionality, and daily alarms are a nice feature that allows for building up proper sleep habits, even out in the backcountry.
- Shock Resistance: A shock-resistant design keeps internal instruments from being damaged. Pairing the shock resistance with an overall sturdy construction will increase durability.
- Auto Calendar: Good to have on hand if you are on a multi-day expedition.
- Countdown Timer: Helpful for a variety of use cases, including cooking and purifying water.
- Stopwatch: A stopwatch provides helpful timing information when hiking on trails or for casual use.
- Tide Tracker: Tide trackers are fantastic if you’re in and around large bodies of water. They will count down to high or low tide but require regular settings from a data source such as the NOAA Tides & Currents site.
- Sunrise and Sunset: This feature is critical if you’re moving through heavy cloud cover or rainstorms where you can’t see the sun’s position in the sky.
- Heart Rate Monitor: Heart rate monitors provide more helpful information if you’re taking long hikes or jogging. Some also offer alarms if you’re heart rate goes above or below a specific preset range.
A good dial window allows you to see your watch face and won’t scratch easily. Here are the common materials watch companies use:
- Sapphire: One of the hardest minerals, sapphire won’t easily scratch and is reserved for high-end watches. Get this crystal if you want your watch to look good for several years.
- Mineral Glass: Made from glass and heat-treated at its surface to provide extra durability, mineral glass is inexpensive and looks great.
- Acrylic: The cheapest option, acrylic or plastic watch faces, brings the cost of the watch down but can scratch easily. Avoid at all costs.
Watch band materials vary and include rubber, cloth, leather, metal, and more. Rubber and natural fabrics will be much more casual, making them suitable for a compass watch. However, if this is a fashion piece, consider a leather or metal band.