SURVIVAL

Best Compass Watch: Finding your Way

Best compass watches
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

There are two things which are essential when going on an adventure, be it a hike, a mountain climb or even out to sea, and those are finding your way and knowing what time it is. The best compass watch will do both and much more.

No longer must you carry two, or even more, tools around to measure time, altitude, to find your bearings or predict the weather. If you buy the right watch, all of those things will be at a push of a button, and you will never have to worry about being hopelessly lost or too late for dinner.

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.

Compass watch Components

What you need to take care 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.

The window can be made of one of the following three materials, which from left to right 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.

Features

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.

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.

Compass watch features

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.

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, of course, a compass.

Best Compass Watch Reviews

Casio Men’s PRW-3500T

Casio Men's PRW-3500T

Case dimensions: 56 mm x 53 mm / 2.2” x 2”

Case thickness: 15 mm / 0.59”

Weight: 4.5 oz

Best use: Rafting/Canoeing/Clipper Racing

Price: 262.99$

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 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 activity 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 atmosphere pressure.

The rotating bezel will 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.

Casio G-Shock Mudmaster

Casio G-Shock Mudmaster

Case dimensions: 59 mm x 56 mm / 2.3” x 2.2”

Case thickness: 18 mm / 0.7”

Weight: 4.20 oz

Best use: Climbing/Spelunking/Archaeology

Price: 679.00$

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 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 has also 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, though 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.

Casio Men’s G-Shock Rangeman

Casio Men's G-Shock Rangeman

Dimensions: 55 mm x 53 mm / 2.1” x 2”

Case thickness: 18 mm / 0.7”

Weight: 3.2 oz

Best use: General

Price: 187.95$

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, Casio Men’s 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 though 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 black color scheme with gray and red touches. Thus the design is much more sporty and playful than the other Casio watches discussed here. It also is a fairly lighter affair, which can be a benefit for people who are not comfortable with a heavy piece on their wrist.

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.

Garmin Tactix GPS

Garmin Tactix GPS

Case dimensions: 49 mm x 49 mm / 1.9” x 1.9”

Case thickness: 17 mm / 0.7”

Weight: 3.19 oz

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

Price: 273.99$

Description: Unlike the Casio watches, which are rugged outdoor watches with some additional navigational functions, the Garmin Tactix 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, you can follow navigational breadcrumbs or you can 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.

The major disadvantage is that it runs on a rechargeable battery, which will run about 50 hours on GPS mode but up to 5 weeks on just watch mode.

Suunto Traverse

Suunto Traverse

Case dimensions: 50 mm x 50 mm / 1.97” x 1.97”

Case thickness: 16.5 mm / 0.65”

Weight: 2.82 oz

Best use: Trekking/Travel/Sport

Price: Between 290$ and 350$, depending on the color

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 on the travel/sport 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.

Suunto Core

Suunto Core

Case dimensions: 49 mm x 49 mm / 1.9” x 1.9”

Case thickness: 14.5 mm / 0.57”

Weight: 2.79 oz

Best use: Trekking/Snorkelling/Freediving

Price: 185$

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.

Suunto Vector

Suunto Vector

Case dimensions: 51.4 mm x 45.6 mm / 2.02” x 1.8”

Case thickness: 15.3 mm / 0.6”

Weight: 1.9 oz

Best use: Mountain hiking/climbing

Price: 299$ or 325$

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.

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?

Compass watch in the hand

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.

Have a good think about your plans, have a good look at all the watches we presented and maybe others, and make the choice which will give your adventures a proper sense of direction.

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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