I have a smartphone, who cares?! That is the understatement of the century. Whether you’re hiking, biking, and especially kayaking on the open water a compass is your most powerful tool. Now, I’m not saying that a phone isn’t helpful. But a dead phone isn’t going to tell you which way to the shore or camp, but with a map, a compass can lead you in any direction you need to go.
Together we will be going over the logistics of a kayaking compass, why you need one and how to pick the best one. We will also be going over the five best kayaking compasses to help you narrow your search while buying.
Quick Top 5 Kayak Compasses
*Keep reading for the full reviews below
What is a Kayak Compass?
Yes, we all know what a compass is, or if you do not, it is a navigation tool that shows you your direction relative to the cardinal directions of north, south, east, and west. But what exactly makes a kayak compass different from other compasses?
All marine compasses are comprised of a magnetized disk which is marked with 360 degrees and always points north. This disk is inside an unmarked case that rotates around the disk telling you which direction you are headed in.
A deck-mounted compass can, as the name suggests, be attached to the kayak’s deck. This way, the case is permanently aligned with the kayak’s keel line. This is especially useful for kayaking because you can read it while you are paddling. With a hiking compass, you would need to stop paddling to read it.
A permanently mounted compass is ideal for forgetful folks who might otherwise leave it at home. It also won’t fall off should you ever capsize. On the contrary, a removable one may be good if you are worried about security. That way you can keep it in a safe place when it is not in use.
Why You Need a Kayak Compass
It would be foolish to head to an unknown area without any sort of navigation tool. Even though there have been many technological advances in the way of GPS and satellite tracking, compass navigation skills are still a must. It does not matter how much you spend on a device; no technology is foolproof.
When headed to a remote area, whether it is woods or water, GPS alone just won’t cut it. Anything electronic will stop working eventually. Don’t get me wrong, GPS is an excellent tool, but when your tech fails, a backup is necessary.
Basic compass skills are a necessity for every outdoor traveler, especially when on the water. Just having this knowledge could be the difference between getting lost or staying found, between life or death.
Additionally, having a dedicated kayak compass will ensure that you always stay on course. Mounted compasses line up with the nose of your kayak and remain attached to your boat, making reading the compass and navigating simple tasks.
Plus, these compasses are built to withstand a lot of wear and tear, including rushing water and extreme temperatures. Kayak compasses are easy to use and are ultra durable, making them an absolute necessity for any kayaker.
Tips for Navigation
Map Your Course Before You Leave
You can pick up the most up-to-date charts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If no waterproof versions are available, purchase a waterproof sleeve. Your map will be useless if it is smudged and ruined by water damage.
Study Your New Charts
In order to be fully prepared for your trip, you will need to completely understand your charts. Learn how to read your maps. Take note of your course and the landmarks along your route.
These maps will often note things like large rocks, buoys, and islands, as well as low tide depths. When you arrive on location, compare the marking on your charts to the actual, real life markings.
Keep Track of Your Progress as You Go
It can be difficult to gauge just how far you have paddled. On your charts, mark the time and distance it takes to travel between landmarks. Once you get more used to doing this, it will get easier and easier.
Consider Buying Two Compasses
Buy one to mount on your kayak and a less expensive one to keep near your chart. The mounted compass will provide you with constant readings of your direction whereas the handheld compass can be helpful for navigation.
What to Look for When Buying a Kayak Compass
You’re more than just “buying” a compass, you’re buying an important tool that can be used for life or death circumstances. So now you realize the importance of this device you may be asking yourself, what am I looking for in a compass? The answer to that is five variables: readability, mounting, switchability, versatility, and value.
The last thing you want to do is buy a compass you can’t read. Make sure all the headings are big and visible. Can’t figure it out from buying it online? Order a few and size them on your kayak and return the ones that you can’t read. Remember, the bigger the visibility, the better.
You want to make sure your compass can mount to your kayak. The last thing you want is your tool to loosely swing to and fro in tougher conditions, especially since that’s how it can break. You want to make sure it has clearly labeled mounting straps, and be sure to check the dimensions and make sure they are long or short enough to fit your kayak.
If you plan on using a compass for other uses for your kayak you want to make sure you can take it on or off at any given time. Most compasses have an easy to useswitch, instead of the traditional glue to hold it in place. However, with most compasses sporting straps to hold onto your kayak, it depends on your style.
Who loves multitools? I know I do! Getting a compass that can perform a variety of tasks is so much more important that a compass that is just simply a compass. Trying looking for a compass that has a mini LED light, perfect for night map reading. Unless you’re on a tight budget, spending the extra $5 for other features is well worth it.
Finally, it’s all about value. What are you getting for the money you are investing in this device? Never settle for less. Get more for your buck and don’t settle on a more expensive compass that offers less.
The Best Kayak Compass
The Brunton Dash Mount is not only a great tool for kayaking but for everyday camping as well. It has a reciprocal reading disk and has 5 degree graduations. This standard tool is a small 4” x 3” x 3” and is super easy to install. Plus, with Brunton you get a well recognized brand that makes car compasses as well, among their many other products.
- Simple Design
- Only weighs 8.3 ounces
- Small and easy to attach to kayak
- Does not have N, E, S W Symbols
This Seattle Sports compass is the perfect tool for kayakers on a budget. It’s extremely to use and offers quick release buckles for kayakers who use have multiple uses for this compass. The compass offers a large and easy to read design for beginner compass users. Weighing only 2 pounds and only being 7” long and 4” wide, it is easily portable for on the go campers.
- Easily read markings
- Quick release buckles to attach and detach from kayak
- Relatively cheap in cost
- Plastic dome could be a little bit thicker
This Brunton Compass is great for every day kayaking and camping with and incredibly easy to read display. For easy portability, it also has straps to connect and disconnect from your kayak or backpack. If you go camping and kayaking, you will love the lightweight feel of this compass, as well as its small shape of 3.4” x 3.4” x 2.” Brunton does a fantastic job making compasses, and this one comes in at an affordable price for low spenders.
- Straps to mount on kayak
- 10 degree graduations
- East to read
- Hooks that connect to straps on compass can detach or break easily
This Ritchie compass is a great buy with easy portability options and a 5 year warranty in case anything breaks. It is extremely easy to install on any kayak with a convenient twist button to take off/on. Barely weighing .9 pounds and a small design of 5.2” x 6.5” x 7.4.” It also has a low mounted display for easy reading and heading memory indicators. For tougher conditions, the compass has steel pivots to prevent it from breaking.
- Easy to install
- Easy twist off design to take on/off your kayak
- Plastic come is more delicate than most kayaking compasses
This Suunto Compass is a great buy for night kayakers. It’s unique glow in the dark feature is perfect for those with poor headlamps and is made of a strong built. It easily mounts and detaches from kayaks and comes with a mesh pouch for easy storage when not in use. It comes with thermo plastic clips that make it easier to attach to any kayak and is a light .15 pounds. It’s small shape of 0.2” x 4.3” x 4.9” is a great feature to those using this compass for other activities such as camping or hiking.
- Easily mountable
- Comes with a mesh pouch for portability
- Glow in the dark color for night kayaking
- Fluid tends to leak
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