Backpacking Thermometer: 6 Cheap Options for Your Next Outdoor Trip

frozen thermometer
Written by Dennis Owens

When traveling outdoors it’s always a good idea to stay on top of important information that concerns general safety. Today we have predictive analyses by experts that are all available at your fingertips via the internet.

However, nothing will replace actual, on the ground information while you’re out in the field. This is why it’s a good idea to have a backpacking thermometer on you during your next outdoor trip.

Having a lightweight thermometer on you is especially ideal if you are backpacking in colder environs. Aside from going with gut feel, having precise readings on temperature can help with your decision making on the field, especially in those near zero to sub-zero, mid to high-altitude climbs. Aside from that, you could just want a better idea of a particular location’s temperature.

There are a lot of options on the market to give grant you this information a lot of them can be pricey. So today, we’re going to go through some characteristics that you will want in a thermometer for your outdoor work and have a look at some great cost-effective options that will give you great value for your money.

grey thermometer with compass

What makes a good hiking thermometer?

  • Weight – Thermometers aren’t usually big and bulky, except when they’re an add-on to a larger item. Regardless, however, if you’re in the market for a thermometer for your hikes you will want to consider weight. This is a factor that is more of a concern for some folks than others, primarily for those scrimping on weight. For some backpackers, every bit of weight counts, and that being said, you will want to shed the ounces. Lighter is often better.
  • Accuracy – The point of entrusting your decisions to a thermometer requires that it offer a sufficient level of accuracy. Otherwise, all you have is a paperweight. Prior to purchase you might want to read a review or two about the item you’re about to buy (especially if it’s pricey). Note however that we are covering cheaper items on this list. As such you shouldn’t rely on these items for a precise temperature reading down to the last degree. Though these will and should be useful in confirming your inferences on temperature or at the very least give you a rough estimate on the actual.
    Regardless, you will want to test your thermometer for accuracy especially when it comes out the box and periodically after exposure to extreme temperatures. There are two ways to do this. One, put a bag of crushed ice into a glass, add water and allow it to settle for two to three minutes. Then, submerge the sensor of the thermometer. It should read 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0 degrees Celsius. Alternatively, implement a hot water test by doing the same method as what was previously mentioned, except this time around, use boiling water. The reading should be 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius.
  • Size – This will factor in to where the thermometer is going to be placed for the duration of your trip. If you want a thermometer to be clipped onto a zipper on your pack or a key chain for you to carry around. Smaller tends to be better. However, if you’re eyesight isn’t that good, you might want to consider one that has a larger display.
  • Ruggedness – There will be several factors to this, but if you’re going to go on outdoor trips with that thermometer strapped onto your pack, or ready for use at a moment’s notice while in adverse conditions, you will want the thermometer to be a bit rugged. That being said, it’s important to look for a thermometer built with high-quality materials. If it is accidentally dropped, it shouldn’t break immediately. It’s easy to drop a thermometer onto a rock if you’re fumbling around wearing thick gloves. Even if you clip it onto your pack, there’s a large chance of it snagging on something, especially if you move through thick vegetation. You definitely don’t want something that succumbs to quickly to wear.
    Also, it wouldn’t hurt if your thermometer was waterproof or at the very least, water resistant.  You don’t want it fail on you while you’re in the middle of a backpacking trip, even if it isn’t a pricey piece of tech.
  • Additional Features – To get the most of your money’s worth, additional features or functions to a thermometer can be handy and shouldn’t be overlooked. Some thermometers have compasses and/or safety whistles as part of the whole package. All of these items are pretty useful should you go out into the wilderness or if you wind up in a SHTF Definitely something worth considering as well.

blue rei thermometer on a backpack

Those are only some of the things you will want to look at. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are a few budget picks if you’re looking to get yourself a hiking thermometer.


Coghlan’s Six-Function WhistleCoghlan's Six-Function Whistle

Weight: 1 oz

Material: Plastic

Best Use: Backpacking, Urban Travel

Description: Coughlan’s Six-Function Whistle is a good multi-function tool in its truest sense. It provides great utility, however, like most multi-tools, the individual parts don’t stack up against separate tools.  That being said, however, everything comes together pretty well and is nice and solid.

We will go through Coghlan’s six functions individually. First, we begin with the whistle. The whistle is nice and loud. Definitely handy in the event of an emergency, or for outdoor activities. The compass also works well. Even if dropped the compass reading will generally hold true. The magnifying glass is a bit small, it might not be large enough for those needing the use of a good magnifier, though it is more than enough to start a mid-day fire. The signal mirror works as well as you’d figure.

But given its size, you might be better off using the reflective surface of a mobile phone. The thermometer seems accurate enough. Though reading it properly will be challenging as its markings are in five-degree increments. The LED light also leaves a bit to be desired, it lacks brightness and its switch has an apparent tendency to easily break.

Overall, Coughlan’s six-function whistle is nearly as good as it gets for its size. Definitely worth the cheap price tag.

Check the price on Amazon

Brunton 9045 Key-Ring CompassBrunton 9045 Key-Ring Compass

Weight: 0.7oz

Dimensions: 2.5 x 1.8 x .44 in

Material: Plastic

Best Use: Hiking/Backpacking

Description: Brunton’s 9045 Key-Ring Compass is a pretty decent multi-use product that is nice to have for various situations. It features a compass with an integrated thermometer that is mounted onto a nice black plastic plate which comes with a key ring. At first glance, it is a compact and nice looking tool, but it doesn’t stand up very well to abuse.

The compass is fairly accurate and will point towards magnetic north. The integrated thermometer is accurate, however, it is quite small. Readings are in five-degree increments, making precise readings a bit of a challenge, especially for the more visually challenged among us. The key ring makes it easy to clip the whole thing onto a set of keys, keychain, or to a backpack. Its size is small and unobtrusive.

While it is a pretty decent piece of gear for its price, it isn’t as sturdy as we’d like. The thermometer can come off quite easily with rugged use, and this is a relatively common problem reported by users. Use it around a heavily wooded area and it can easily snag if exposed. The compass doesn’t need as much care but it shouldn’t be a primary navigation tool regardless. It’s an okay product. Just be certain not to snag it or bang it up too much and it will be fine.

It comes with a limited lifetime warranty. So that just might help placate some potential concerns.

Check the price on Amazon

Ezyoutdoor 7 in 1 ThermometerEzyoutdoor 7 in 1 Thermometer

Weight: 1.5 oz

Dimensions: 1.13 x  1.25 x  4.5 in

Best Use: Backpacking, Survival Kits

Material: Plastic

With Lanyard: Yes

Description: The Ezyoutdoor 7 in 1 Thermometer is a nice, cheap, and compact all around outdoor utility tool. It comes with numerous features that can make it pretty handy if you’re out in the wilderness, or if you ever find yourself in an emergency situation.

Firstly, it’s an emergency whistle, and it handles that function quite well. It is pretty loud. Short bursts or long blows aren’t a concern, making it great for various uses. The LED Flashlight is bright enough, though, we would not recommend it as a replacement for a standalone flashlight or headlamp as a lighting option while outdoors. But it does serve its purpose. If all you need is a quick light to find something you dropped.

The magnifying glass is small, and it does leave quite a bit to be desired if your intent is to use it for reading. You can, however, use the lens to amplify solar light to start a fire. As with other similar items, its signal mirror is pretty small, making a mirror in a makeup kit or a cellphone/tablet a better signaling option.

The thermometer only comes in Celsius, if you are particular to Fahrenheit, then you might have to convert the reading that you get. The ratings are in 2.5 increments so it’s not that difficult to get a good reading.

It ships with a lanyard, so it’s easy to tie onto your gear or to have around your neck, tucked under your shirt. It’ll snag less that way too.The construction is held together via an O-ring that makes the assembly much more durable than it would be otherwise.

It also comes with a warranty from the manufacturer which is nice given that it is a pretty cheap product.

Check the price on Amazon

Silva Specialty Compass / Thermometer CombinationSilva Specialty Compass

Dimensions: 7 x 4.5 x 1 in

Weight: .8 oz

Material: Plastic

With Lanyard; Yes

Description: The Silva Specialty Compass and Thermometer combo is a great safety whistle and provides a great backup option for a variety of other tools that you may have on you. It comes with a glow in the dark compass, thermometer, magnifying glass, safety whistle, and lanyard to hang from. And it handles all of those functions well enough.

The compass is glow in the dark and quite accurate. This makes it ideal for trips where low lighting is a reality. The accuracy of the reading is not 100% spot on, so we would advise using it as a point of reference and not as a primary navigation too.  The thermometer is great if you are accustomed to the metric system. The Fahrenheit reading is smaller and is quite challenging to read properly.

The magnifying glass is small, but can be useful for a variety of tasks such as threading needles, and reading minuscule text. Though, it won’t be that comfortable for use. Silva’s Specialty Compass really works well as a whistle. It can be used to signal for help during emergencies or to pre-empt wildlife of your oncoming presence, so as to avoid unnecessary altercations.

Overall, it’s a solid bit of equipment to have around. Though it is still safer to put your faith on specialized items, this tool from Silva is a great bit of gear to have around as a backup item. The product is an indication of why Silva’s following has been growing in recent years.

Check the price on Amazon

Coghlan’s Four Function WhistleCoghlan's Four Function Whistle

Dimensions: .3 x .3 x 8.3 in

Weight: 1.6 oz

Description: Coghlan’s Four Function Whistle is a step down from its more multi-faceted sibling the Six-Function Whistle. However, that doesn’t put it far behind in terms of its performance. It comes with a whistle, thermometer, magnifying lens, and compass.

The spring loaded clip makes for easy attachment to backpacks, belts, keychains, or pockets. At 1.6 ounces it is very, very light. For anyone looking for a lot of functionality and at the same time shave ounces off a pack, this is definitely worth a look.

The whistle is loud and clear, it can easily hurt your ears if you use it in an enclosed area. Of course that also means it is audible for quite a distance when used outdoors. It’s great for announcing your presence or calling for attention/assistance in an unsavory predicament. The thermometer is protected by a plastic cover, unlike other options on the market, meaning it is not likely for it to fall off. The magnifying lens offers a 2.5x magnification, which is more than enough for the uses of a magnifier of that size. The compass is accurate and isn’t flimsy at all.

The entire package is pretty solid and holds up well to abuse. You won’t worry about bringing this along for your next trip. That plus the fact that it’s really cheap. It’s practically a giveaway.  It’s a good addition to practically any survival/outdoor pack as well as a thoughtful, cheap gift option if you’re thinking about giving someone a practical gift.

Check the price on Amazon

REI Zip-O-Gauge ThermometerREI Zip-O-Gauge Thermometer

Dimensions: 1.3 x 2 inches

Best Use: Casual, Backpacking

Description: The REI Zip-O Gauge Thermometer is a pretty great standalone thermometer option for outdoorsy types. It is very lightweight and can easily be used as a zipper pull or a keychain. It is very small and can fit practically anywhere. The great thing about it is that it’s housed in a clear acrylic case protecting it from the elements and from bumps and bruises that could potentially damage other similar devices.

Its size and single function allow it to have larger and clearer readings. This makes it the most readable thermometer on the list. (Definitely a factor worth considering.) It features both Celsius and Fahrenheit temperature readings and has a wind chill chart at the back to calculate for a more precise temperature assessment.

Though like other items on this list, it will give you a ballpark figure and you shouldn’t fully rely on this to give you a reading that is accurate to the last degree.

Overall, it’s a great option to have, especially if what you really want is a secondary thermometer and not some multi-purpose survival tool. It does what it’s supposed to do and that is to give its user a good idea of the temperature.

To sum up

Those are only a few of the many potential options available to you for your next outdoor trip. If you’re looking for a more accurate and thorough source of weather information, however, you’re better off setting aside a bigger budget for more time-tested items like an ABC watch or pricier thermometers. The latter might not be ideal for outdoor trips.


Remember, that you don’t have to spend top dollar if you simply want a secondary option for checking the temperature of your immediate surroundings. It takes a very small investment and a bit of care on your part to keep a small thermometer handy.


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.