SURVIVAL

Best Compass Watch: Finding your Way

Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

When going on a hike or any type of adventure you absolutely need to have a way to tell time and directions. You never want to find yourself lost somewhere in the woods and that means having the best compass watch is crucial to keep yourself safe.

Here we’ve found a number of good quality compass watches, to make sure you always know in what direction to go. No longer must you carry two, or even more tools around, to measure time and altitude, to find your bearings or predict the weather.

If you buy the right watch, all of those things will be at the push of a button, and you will never have to worry about being hopelessly lost or too late for dinner.

Product NameWeightUnderwater DepthBatteryPrice
Casio Prw-3500T4.5 oz.600 ft.Solar powerCheck price on Amazon
Casio G-Shock Mudmaster4.2 oz.600 ft.Solar powerCheck price on Amazon
Casio G-Shock Rangeman3.2 oz.600 ft.Solar powerCheck price on Amazon
Garmin Tactix Gps3.19 oz.164 ft.Battery powerCheck price on Amazon
Suunto Traverse2.82 oz.328 ft.Battery powerCheck price on Amazon
Suunto Core2.79 oz.100 ft.Battery powerCheck price on Amazon
Suunto Vector1.9 oz.100 ft.Battery powerCheck price on Amazon

What To Watch Out For

There are a variety of aspects you need to look out for when choosing the right compass watch for yourself, as features and physical attributes can vary quite a lot depending on what the watch was designed for. A watch which can save your life up on a mountain might be very well useless out on the sea.

Components

There are four major components to a wristwatch: the case, which is the actual body of the watch; the bezel, which is a ring on the case which can be present or not; the window, which covers the display; and the band. What you need to take care about when choosing these is the material from which they are made.

The case and the bezel are often made from the same materials, which range from aluminum through stainless steel to resin. Each of these will present you with a trade-off between weight and durability. These materials will also play an aesthetic part.

Compass-watch-Components

The window can be made of one of the following three materials, which from top to bottom increase in quality and resistance to scratches: acrylic, mineral crystal, sapphire crystal. The band will offer a wide variety of options of materials, with some being more elastic and others being more resistant to abuse.

The Style

When it comes to a watch for outdoor use it’s likely not as important what it looks like. Still, it’s something that you’re going to want to consider because it’s going to play a role in how much you wear the watch and how much you actually like it as well.

If the watch works fine but doesn’t look that great you’ll probably only wear it when you need it, but a stylish watch can be great for everyday wear rather than only under extreme situations. Take into consideration the style of your watch before you choose just one.

What Runs Your Watch?

There are several systems a watch’s time measurement can be based on, but for your needs, you should make sure the watch you choose uses a quartz crystal, as other systems might be more fragile.

quartz compass watch in hand

Quartz is also very accurate so you shouldn’t have a problem always knowing what time it is and keeping your watch running for as long as you want it to. It’s all about the quality when it comes to any watch and quartz helps to maintain that quality.

The Display

The display of your watch is another point you will need to consider. This can be either analog, meaning the classic two or three hands going around and pointing at numbers, or digital, meaning it will display the numbers.

The choice will often be an aesthetic one, but each of the two types comes with its own benefits; e.g. a digital display is easier to read, while the analog one can have other functions, such as an improvised compass or tachymeter.

Additional Features

As mentioned above, these watches can come with an array of features, from GPS connection to tidal schedules, but a compass watch worth looking at should have the magical tree known as BAC: barometer, which measures the atmospheric pressure, allowing you to gauge the weather; altimeter, which tells you at what altitude you are; and a compass.

Compass-watch-features

All of these three things together will help you understand where you are and what you need to do in order to protect yourself from what might be coming. You’ll be able to better plan your trip from beginning to end if you always have this information.

Best Compass Watch Reviews

When you’re looking for the absolute best compass watch you definitely need to take a look at these ones, which will help you choose just what you need. Take a little bit of time to go through them and you’ll easily find a good choice, for any purpose you may have.

Casio Prw-3500TCasio Men's Pro Trek Tough Solar Digital Sport Watch

Price: Approximately $250

Case dimensions: 56 mm x 53 mm

Case thickness: 15 mm

Weight: 4.5 oz.

Best use: Rafting/Canoeing/Clipper Racing

Description: Casio has been one of the biggest brand names in the watch business for several decades now, so it should come as no surprise that almost half of our list is composed of their products.

You will find the Casio Prw-3500T described as a “tough solar” watch, and the name could not be more accurate. The casing is made of resin and has a stainless steel, rotating bezel and the whole thing is held to your wrist by a titanium band, meaning this watch will take a good amount of abuse, whatever your outdoor activity may be.

It will also work underwater to a depth of 660 feet, making it ideal if you are into water related activities or going out to sea with it. Add to it that it will work fine at low temperatures, down to 14 degrees F, and you know that the term “tough” is well earned.

The watch is solar powered, so you can rely on it over long periods of time. But if you were to go exploring caves for days on end, don’t worry, the solar panels are so sensitive, they will charge the battery even when exposed to fluorescent lamps and other light sources.

It has Triple Sensor technology which is used to turn the watch into an accurate compass, altimeter and barometer/thermometer, preventing you from getting lost or getting caught up in a storm, as the watch has an alarm for sudden changes in atmospheric pressure.

The rotating bezel will also help you keep track of your bearings. It has a digital display with LED backlight and while the design is far from inelegant, it has a rough and tough quality to it, which is completely fitting.

PROS:

  • Extremely durable and wear resistant
  • 2 color options
  • Tracks BAC and time
  • Extremely sensitive solar powered mechanism
  • Quartz movement
  • Water resistant to 660 ft.

CONS:

  • Not as easy to sync on the East Coast
  • No factory reset
  • Very thick around the wrist

Related: If you’re not going to have a lot of light on your trip you may want the Casio Solar Watch Charger. This small tool will make sure your watch is always running, no matter how dark it’s going to be where you are.

Check the price on Amazon

Casio G-Shock Mudmastercasio gshock watch

Price: Approximately $270

Case dimensions: 59 mm x 56 mm

Case thickness: 18 mm

Weight: 4.20 oz.

Best use: Climbing/Spelunking/Archaeology

Description: If you thought the previous entry was all that but you have some extra money put aside for a survival watch, then the Casio G-Shock Mudmaster is definitely something you should look at. It has everything the 3500T brags about plus a good few things more.

No need to mention that it has the triple sensor system for compass, altimeter, and barometer/thermometer, that you can dive with it to up to 600 feet or that it can withstand low temperatures, that’s a given. But it also has increased resistance to shock and vibration.

As for its name, this watch was specially designed to withstand dust, dirt, and mud, making it an ideal choice if your trip or your work places you in the desert or at a digging site or if you want to finish a MOB run. The display is analog for hours, with Arabic numerals for 12, 3, 6 and 9 and digital for all other information, including the date.

Both have their own LED light guaranteeing outstanding visibility under any conditions. A guarantee only strengthened by the sapphire crystal window and its non-reflective coating. The whole thing is, of course, solar powered.

Both the case and the bidirectional rotating bezel are made out of a combination of resin and stainless steel. The band is also made out of resin and made to resemble cloth texture. This, combined with the analog hour display, add a classical touch to the rugged design, which has a slight Darth Vader quality to it and looks just as bad-ass.

PROS:

  • Runs on solar power
  • Very comfortable for long term
  • Solid and durable
  • Information displayed in digital and analog
  • Moderate weight for backpacking

CONS:

  • Lighting on watch is not ideal for reading information
  • English instructions not included

Related: When you’re not wearing your watch you’ll need somewhere to store it and this Ohuhu Leather Watch Case is a great place to do just that without sacrificing style.

Check the price on Amazon

Casio G-Shock Rangemancasio rangeman

Price: Approximately $180

Case dimensions: 55 mm x 53 mm

Case thickness: 18 mm

Weight: 3.2 oz.

Best use: General

Description: Even though much cheaper than the previous entry, the Rangeman is still a proud member of the G-Shock family, whose inception began with the idea of creating a watch which is indestructible under natural conditions.

As such, the Casio G-Shock Rangeman will be unfazed by being dropped from a height of 33 feet or by being submerged to a depth of 660 feet. Like its brothers, it is solar powered with the battery having a 10-year lifespan.

The case, the stationary bezel, and the band are made out of resin, while the window is mineral. While the whole setup is shock resistant, it will not fare as well as the previous two under heavy vibrations or very low temperatures.

The clock has a digital display and a green color scheme. As for functionality, the Rangeman comes equipped with the standard Casio Triple Sensor, allowing you to use it as a compass, altimeter or barometer.

All functions are available at the touch of an easily accessible button, and they all have their own sound, so you can go through them without keeping your eyes on it constantly.

While not as advanced as other watches on the list, the Rangeman comes at a very good price and will cover all necessary basics.

PROS:

  • Low price
  • Works underwater to 660 ft.
  • Drop resistant to 33 ft.
  • Triple sensor BAC readings
  • Each function is recognizable with auditory signals
  • Includes 31 different time zones

CONS:

  • Not as many high-tech features
  • Not ideal in extreme temperatures
  • Not ideal for shock resistance

Related: If you’re out in the wilderness a good pair of sunglasses can definitely protect your eyes and the Wiley X Saint Sunglasses are definitely high quality enough for anything you want to do.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Tactix Gpsgarmin tactix gps

Price: Approximately $280

Case dimensions: 49 mm x 49 mm

Case thickness: 17 mm

Weight: 3.19 oz.

Best use: Military/Long trips or hikes/Hunting or Fishing

Description: Unlike the Casio watches, which are rugged outdoor watches with some additional navigational functions, the Garmin Tactix Gps is built for navigational purposes mainly. It is the master of getting you around.

From the simple black design with its broad, slightly curved mineral window and huge digital display, it is clear that the Tactix will not withstand as harsh conditions as the Casios, but what it lacks in physical strength it more than makes up for in wits.

This watch has a positioning system for near any type of activity, from hiking and tracking, through cycling and running to parachuting. Other than the standard altimeter and barometer, it also has a magnetic compass combined with a GPS connection.

This will allow you to navigate using small maps which can be loaded onto the watch via a USB cable. You can set waypoints, follow navigational breadcrumbs or set it to take you back to your starting point.

If you need a tool to keep track of pacing, cadence, speed and distance while running or cycling the Tactix has special programs for both activities. And if you find yourself jumping out of planes often, then the Jumpmaster program will be especially useful as it will show you the speed of your descent.

These are only a few of the functions as the watch tracks sun and moon cycles and the flux of the tides.

PROS:

  • Downloads maps for easier navigation
  • Helps navigate back to starting place
  • Tracks speed, distance and more for exercise
  • Tracks cycles of the sun, moon, and tide
  • Monitors all BAC functions

CONS:

  • Requires a battery
  • Not as durable as other watches

Related: If you need a little better ability to track where you are and what’s going on around you the Garmin GPSMAP 696 will definitely help you with that.

Check the price on Amazon

Suunto Traversesuunto traverse

Price: Approximately $300

Case dimensions: 50 mm x 50 mm

Case thickness: 16.5 mm

Weight: 2.82 oz.

Best use: Trekking/Travel/Sport

Description: While it hasn’t been on the market as long as Casio, indeed Suunto Traverse has only been making watches for about a decade, they have nonetheless made themselves a resounding name in the travel/sports watch market.

The Suunto Traverse picks up the theme of navigational oriented watches from the Garmin Tactix and brings all sorts of digital tools to the table. It relies on a combination of GPS connection and compass to locate you and help you get where you need to go.

You can plan routes and view them on the 128 x 128 resolution display and enjoy the real time breadcrumb view of the recorded track. Suunto also has an online community called Movescount which will help you plan your route on a topographical map or even discover completely new routes.

The design of the Traverse veers towards the minimalist side and is quite elegant without losing a sporty touch. The wide digital display is well balanced by the thin, metallic bezel.

The basic color scheme is a classic looking black with silver bezel, but you have also the option of going for an all black or all silver one, or, if you feel a bit more daring, a black case/bezel combined with an amber band.

The Traverse runs on a lithium rechargeable battery which will run for up to 100 hours, depending on how much you use its functions.

PROS:

  • Several color and style options
  • Online community for more advice and support
  • Includes all BAC functions
  • Shows topographical map
  • Shows uploaded routes and progress

CONS:

  • Uses a rechargeable battery
  • Can be difficult to connect to other devices
  • Very large

Related: You’re definitely going to want the Suunto Traverse Screen Protector to make sure you have less trouble with glare and no trouble with scratches over time.

Check the price on Amazon

Suunto Coresuunto core

Price: Approximately $170

Case dimensions: 49 mm x 49 mm

Case thickness: 14.5 mm

Weight: 2.79 oz.

Best use: Trekking/Snorkeling/Freediving

Description: The Suunto Core keeps to the minimalist design, looking rather similar to the Traverse, but is still a bit more on the sporty side. Its color scheme is black on black on black, with a case and a bezel made out of aluminum and the standard Suunto silicone band.

The Core is a much more basic version of the Suunto navigation watch, having fewer features than the Traverse, but still, it offers the main points which make such a watch useful.

It features the holy trinity of the BAC (barometer, altimeter, compass), but also has a thermometer, a storm alarm to let you know when it would be wise to seek shelter and information about the times of the sunset and sunrise.

If you are a snorkeling enthusiast, then this watch is definitely one you should look out for. While it can only withstand depths of up to 100 feet, which is far less than what the Casios had to offer, it does provide you with a depth meter for up to 33 feet underwater.

The Core runs on a CR2032 battery, which can last up to 12 months on time mode. The digital display has an electro-luminescent backlight making it visible under more or less any conditions. The display is protected by a mineral crystal.

PROS:

  • Storm alarm to alert when shelter is needed
  • Includes BAC features
  • Tracks weather and sun
  • Extremely durable
  • Backlight for easy visibility at night

CONS:

  • Battery operated
  • Simplistic design and features

Related: Batteries are always going to be important and the Energizer CR2032 is going to be a great option (and the right size) for this watch to continue working whenever you need it.

Check the price on Amazon

Suunto Vectorsuunto vector

Price: Approximately $300

Case dimensions: 51.4 mm x 45.6 mm

Case thickness: 15.3 mm

Weight: 1.9 oz.

Best use: Mountain hiking/climbing

Description: A somewhat more rugged design, reminiscent of the Casio, is what the Suunto Vector has to offer. That, however, is not a coincidence, since the Suunto Vector was created for tougher conditions than its brothers, mainly climbing.

Suunto themselves named “the original mountain watch.” The color scheme is either black on black or black with an orange ring on the case around the bezel.

The watch is composed of a composite case and bezel, with an acrylic glass and elastomer band. This composition makes it very lightweight, the lightest actually on our list, which is an important feature when you move your arm up and down for long periods when climbing.

Although it is water resistant to a depth of up to 100 feet, its features are specialized for going up not down. Its altimeter has a range of up to 29,500 feet and will record your ascend/descend progress by marking your altitude every hour over a period of 24 hours.

It will also record barometric data over four day periods, allowing you to make educated decisions about how the weather can evolve when you plan an ascent, something that might very well save your life.

It has a digital display with several elements shown simultaneously unlike the other Suunto watches on this list. The display has an electro-luminescent backlight and is powered by a CR2430 replaceable battery with a life of up to 12 months on time mode.

PROS:

  • Altimeter up to 29,500 ft.
  • Marks altitude each hour for 24 hours
  • Records 4 days of barometric
  • Digital display & backlight
  • Ultra lightweight

CONS:

  • Battery operated
  • Water resistant to only 100 ft.

Related: For some, a longer strap can definitely be a benefit when you’re using any kind of watch outdoors so the Suunto Over-The-Sleeve Watch Strap is something you may want to consider.

Check the price on Amazon

Conclusion

More than with other survival tools, there are quite a lot of aspects to take into consideration when selecting the best compass watch. Does it need to be more physically durable or rather have more functions?

gps compass watch

The most important thing you need to do is to give a very good consideration to what you will need the watch for, because even though you can find some good general purpose ones, the difference between such a general one and one which is perfectly suited for your needs can be huge.

So what watch did you like best? Is there a different one that you like better? Is there an important feature that any watch needs to have for you? We definitely want to know all about it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

  • Harry Wyatt

    I have had a Suunto Core for over 5 years and it hasn’t left my wrist.

    As a newly retired military serviceman and firefighter, it’s fair to say I’ve subjected this watch to a fair amount of abuse. It has been inside burning buildings, submerged in rivers and lakes, through jungles and forests and even survived the destructive hands of my grandchildren.

    Its compass points true, though it does need regular re-calibration, its menus are easy to navigate and it’s comfortable to wear.

    The battery life is also impressive, however, I’d recommend turning off certain features to get the most out of it. For instance, unless absolutely need to know when a storm is coming in or need to be alerted to changes in pressure, turn these features off.

    Overall, I have been delighted with my Suunto Core from day one, and continue to be half a decade on. Definitely the best in this list.

    • Dennis Owens

      Another great brand under this category, Suunto Core is made to sustain whatever element you expose it into. Durable, stylish, and tough enough for any duty or challenge you’re in.

  • Tom Grainger

    I have worn G-Shock watches almost exclusively since I was a teenager and continue to be surprised by their durability, reliability, and functionality. My latest G-Shock, the Rangeman is another great example from the guys at Casio and I would be inclined to say that it out-performs other G-Shock shock models and any rival manufacturers. This watch is perfect for backpackers, hikers, soldiers frankly any outdoor enthusiast. It’s tough and durable, jam packed with features and it looks pretty darn good too, though due to its size, it’s possibly not the best choice for those with smaller wrists.

    • Dennis Owens

      G-Shock will always be one of the quintessential compass watches that are durable, useful, and easy on the pocket. It also looks call, and everyone knows the brand. Really a perfect camping companion.

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