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Compasses feature index

In a world with electronic navigation the mechanical compass and a printed map is still the most reliable way to navigate.

Mechanical or electronic

Navigating with GPS is the new norm. Yet any electronic device has inherent weaknesses that warrant caution and a backup plan. A dead battery, a software bug, a missing or corrupted digital map – any of these can leave you stranded.

Suunto mechanical compasses are exceptionally fast and easy to use together with your standard map – no need for expensive digital maps. A basic understanding of navigation and a Suunto compass is all you need to leave the trail with confidence. Enjoy your GPS, but never head into the unknown without a trustworthy mechanical compass.

Jewel bearing

Low friction is essential to the speed and accuracy of a compass. Suunto uses a bearing consisting of a jewel against a hard steel pivot in all compasses to ensure performance and long life.

Depending on the sensitivity, speed and reliability requirements, the jewel may be agate, sapphire or ruby.

In a Suunto compass the pivot is made of steel specifically made for this application to maximize performance without interfering with the magnet. Naturally, also the design of the Suunto pivot further enhances performance.

Liquid filled capsule

Without dampening, a mechanical compass is very hard to use. Liquid helps the magnetic indicator settle quickly. Suunto founder Tuomas Vohlonen achieved a major breakthrough when in 1936 he found a way to fill compass capsules with liquid in industrial production.

The compass liquid used by Suunto is specially formulated to provide damping over a large temperature range while preventing the needle from sticking. The liquid filled capsules are hermetically sealed to protect against corrosion and moisture and provide consistent damping even under water.

Scratch resistance

The capsules of the Suunto compasses are made out of scratch resistant acrylic. As all outdoor gear, the capsule can collect scratches over time. Not a problem - the surface can be repaired with a soft cloth and acrylic polish.

Note that a Suunto compass must never be cleaned using alcoholic substances such as insect repellents. Alcohol will cause cracks in the acrylic material. Use only water and mild soap for everyday cleaning.

Special magnets

Suunto mechanical compasses use needles made of steel alloys from Europe specifically produced for magnetic applications. For some compass designs requiring great magnetic force, magnets made from rare earth alloys are used.

The special magnets used by Suunto ensure the magnetic force remains strong over the lifetime of the compass to achieve fast navigation (quick needle movement). The magnetic materials also maximize resistance to loss of force or even changes in polarity.

Luminescent features

Suunto mechanical compasses are specifically designed for outdoor activities, many of which can extend well beyond daylight hours. Luminescent markings on Suunto compasses allow you to continue navigating well into twilight hours.

Most luminescent markings use strontium-alumina based pigments for long glow times. And like many other features, luminescence has additional benefits. Drop your compass in the dark, and the marks will help you find it. Lose your light source, and you can still find your direction with the glowing marks.

Just be sure to expose your compass to light before heading out so the luminescent markings are properly charged.

Balancing zones

The Earth’s magnetic field does not flow evenly between the magnetic poles along the surface of the planet. The local magnetic field lines tilt as you approach a pole, flowing completely vertical at either pole.

To compensate for the natural tilt in the magnetic field, Suunto compasses use one of two balancing systems. One is a two-zone system with needles balanced for either the northern or southern hemisphere.

The second is a unique globally balanced system. A single needle is balanced to work anywhere in the world. This is achieved by a breakthrough construction allowing the needle and magnet to tilt independently.

Read more about balancing zones.

Declination correction

Maps show you direction based on true north, the North Pole. Magnetic north is another place altogether, and the difference (angle) between the two is called declination.

East declination means that locally the magnetic field (and therefore also your compass) points in a direction passes to the east of true north. West declination passes to the west.

Most Suunto mechanical compasses have either fixed or adjustable declination correction. Always check your local declination from a trusted source before you start navigating. The declination angle changes slowly over time due to the fluctuation of Earth’s magnetic field.

Read more about declination correction.


Baseplate features

A well-designed baseplate can make all the difference between a good compass and a great one. Suunto mechanical compasses have baseplates with a range of features to help you navigate easier.

Map scales on the baseplate help you to calculate the distance between two points. Some baselines include holes for adding precise marks to your map through the baseplate. Other models have additions such as a magnifying lens or skid-proof feet to make using your compass even easier.

Read more about baseplates.

Orienteering compasses

The Suunto Arrow compasses are specifically designed for competitive orienteering. They use double bearing folio needles with twin rare earth magnets, making the needle both very fast and stable even when running.

Additionally, these compasses have minimal markings to make map reading easier. They also incorporate no declination correction as orienteering maps have meridians pointing towards magnetic north. Suunto Arrow compasses work best when level.

Mirror compasses

Suunto mechanical compasses equipped with a mirror give you additional ways to navigate while adding extra protection for your compass capsule.

By holding the mirror compass up to eye level, you can adjust the mirror to sight both the target object and compass reading in the same view.

The mirror is also handy for signaling over long distances using sunlight. The closed mirror lid, made of impact resistant material, adds extra protection for your compass. Open the lid all the way, and you have an extra-long straight-line too hand for making longer distances on your map.

Read more about mirror compasses.


Some Suunto compasses are equipped with a clinometer to measure tilt or vertical angle. The clinometer is useful in uneven terrain where you need to determine slope gradient.

Knowing the exact slope above and below you helps you locate your position on a map with contour lines. This is also good to know if you are in an area where you need to determine the risk of avalanche, but note that this requires a whole set of other skills and knowledge.

Clinometers may also be used to measure the height of an object by means of trigonometry.