There are a few things in this world that you don’t want to leave the house without.
Your wallet, your keys, mobile phone, maybe a few bucks – all important. If you’re headed out for a hike, however, a compass has to be on that list as well.
Whether you’re off for a day hike in a local park or a two-week excursion through the Alaskan wilderness, a compass is a must-have, and a compass built right into your watch makes it easy.
Compass watches offer general direction at a glance and are an important item for hikers, campers, and expeditions. They’re great for a casual outfit as well. The invention of digital compass watch technology has revolutionized this entire category – analog compass watches also still have their place.
We’ll go over all of this and more in the guide below. We’ll also take a look at the top brands on the market and help you find a quality compass watch that meets your needs.
The Best Compass Watches of 2021 Reviewed
1. Best Compass Watch Overall: Casio Pathfinder (PAG240-1CR) Compass Watch
Casio has been making top-of-the-line electronics since it was founded in 1946. In 1957, it unveiled the first entirely electric compact calculator and it revolutionized digital watches. The Casio Pathfinder packs that nearly 75-year history of excellent products into one well-priced package. The Pathfinder is a solar-powered watch with a digital gauge to let you know where you stand. It also includes a digital compass, altimeter, barometer, thermometer, and is resistant to lower temperatures. It’s crafted from stainless steel and can hold up to 48 different times. Water resistance up to 330 feet means you can take it diving without too much of a problem. It is on the heavier side at 8 oz. and has a relatively large face to fit in all those features. It is also relatively inexpensive for such a feature-rich piece.
Practical through and through, keep this watch on your wrist for hikes and exploring, not for dinner parties.
- Great bang for the buck
- Everything you need in one package
- Altimeter is a nice add-on
- Heavy for a watch
- Reviews note that strap is a bit uncomfortable
What You Need To Know
2. Best Compass Watch Under $200: Suunto Core Compass Watch
If you have a bit more money to invest, consider going digital. The Suunto Core Watch features an altimeter, barometer, and compass that delivers critical data quickly and easily. The digital compass uses the magnetic fields of the earth to measure direction. Any digital compass will be subject to interference but is far more accurate than its analog cousin. The bezel ring also rotates to allow you to follow a bearing. A standout feature of the Suunto Core is the storm alarm, which monitors for rapid drops in air pressure, a solid signal of an impending storm. Tough plastic outer and strap along with accurate depth readings to 30 feet make for a great snorkeler’s watch. All these features come in toward the middle of our price range, a solid investment for those who want to make it.
- Digital compass
- Weather alarm
- Solid construction
- Digital compass subject to interference
- On the larger side
What You Need To Know
If you’re looking for something on the smaller end of the spectrum, the Casio Twin Sensor digital watch keeps several great features without ballooning in size. At the lower end of our price range, it’s a great option for budget-conscious consumers as well. Water resistance to 200 meters means you can get this guy plenty wet, and the thermometer will ensure you stay comfortable. Reviewers note that the temperature gauge does require you to remove the watch to account for body temperature. Note, this isn’t the most stylish watch, so consider something different if you’re looking to wear it anywhere but on the trails.
- Offers several features
- Unattractive design
- Inconvenient temperature gauge
What You Need To Know
Scraping the very bottom of our price range is the Gosasa Men’s Military Sports Watch. It comes in a variety of colors and styles and looks like many of the Timex timepieces. The rubber band is comfortable and easy to clean. Reviewers note that the watch could stand to be brighter, but the number of features packed into the piece makes up for it. The digital compass, once calibrated, works well, and the alarms, chimes, timer, and water resistance mean you can wear it anywhere.
- Very inexpensive
- Packs lots of features in a small package
- Face backlight is too dark
- Water-resistance is prefaced; do not press buttons underwater
What You Need To Know
G-Shock is made by Casio and features some of the toughest materials to keep your watch ticking. The Mudman multi-function sports watch takes this to the next level. The case and buttons are completely sealed to keep out mud and water. It runs on solar power and is entirely shock-resistant. The digital compass measures in 16 different points, giving you a range of directions. It also corrects for nearby magnetism. Four daily alarms and a snooze alarm keep you on time. A water resistance depth of 660 feet means you can take it diving as well. In the middle of our range, this watch is certainly functions over form.
- Featured packed watch for the price
- Digital compass with magnetism correction
- Great water resistance
- Bulky face
- The odd mix of fonts in face
What You Need To Know
The Casio Triple Sensor Digital Watch provides a whole host of features for the explorer on a budget. In the lower-middle tier of our price list, this attractive rubber-banded compass watch allows for easy timing and direction. It’s temperature-resistant and comes packed with a barometer, altimeter, digital compass, and a battery life of three years. It shares its watch face with several Casio models that split the screen into three, easy-to-read areas for time, date, and temperature/direction/altitude. Not the most stylish, but it gets the job done for a reasonable price.
- Long battery life
- The design may turn some off
- Moderately pricey for similar features
What You Need To Know
With a Japanese quartz movement that is packed with functions which include the following – countdown timer, 1/100 second stopwatch, 100 meters water resistance, and many more, it’s an excellent beginner’s compass watch. The watch dial is easy to read and features a digital compass.
The Timex Expedition Shock XL is a rugged and durable compass watch in that it has a mineral glass crystal, a reliable black resin band that won’t degrade over time, a water-resistant body (up to 200 meters), and a shock-resistant body. Great for those men who want a sleek and reliable sports watch to take with them on a deep trek into the woods. Plus it comes with the signature Timex Indiglo backlight.
This Swiss-made watch by Luminox is the perfect compass watch for a long expedition. With a sapphire crystal and a stainless steel case – this watch can withstand a lot of abuse. When you aren’t partaking in outdoor activities, this watch is an excellent timepiece that can be easily dressed up. The movement for this watch is Swiss-made quartz.
This black compass watch by Citizen is a quality timepiece that also doubles as an altimeter. Able to measure elevation between 1,000 and 32,000′ the quality and accuracy of this watch are revered among many. Beyond the compass bezel, the large dial makes for easy reading and provides other functions beyond the altimeter which include the date, hour, and minute timekeeping and a power reserve indicator (it relies on eco-drive / solar movement).
11 Tips on Finding the Best Compass Watch for You
1. Digital vs. Analog Compass
- Digital: Digital compass watches are a cutting-edge technology that works wherever you are, no matter what. They provide accurate information at a glance and are typically packed into rugged pieces.
- Analog: If you don’t have a clear view of the sky or a landmark with which you are familiar, analog compasses fall short. Moreover, they must be set accurately for the first time.
- True Compass: Some watches have true compasses either as a pull-out or directly on the band. These compasses use needles and rely on the magnetic fields of the earth for direction.
2. Display / Complications
If you’re interested in going a little bit stylish, consider a watch that has different characters. Roman numerals, Arabic characters, or minimalist numbers can all keep your watch usable but also add a touch of flair to an otherwise dull piece.
Barometer – Filed under extras, a barometer really should be up there on the list of things you want in a compass watch. An accurate, well-functioning barometer can monitor fluctuations in air pressure, which can give you some advance warning of impending storms.
Altimeter – Extremely helpful when hiking, altimeters measure altitude and can help ensure you stay in your comfort zone.
Dial Backlight – Indiglo backlighting is standard for Timex brand watches. Other watches use tritium, which relies on gas tubes and retains its brightness for years. Backlighting, whether the entire face or simply the dial or digits, helps increase readability at night and in dark settings.
Water Resistance / Water Proofing – There’s a big difference between water resistance and waterproofing. Water resistance generally has depths to 100 meters/330 feet or 200 meters/660 feet. This does not mean, however, that the watch can withstand rapid changes in pressure that come from diving. None of the watches on our list are fully waterproof and shouldn’t be taken out on the reef.
Thermometer – A good thermometer gathers current temperature information in either Fahrenheit or Celsius and is useful for information or key freezing temps. Note that some of the watches will be thrown off by your body heat – they solve this by providing a range.
Alarms – Multiple alarms allow for more options/functionality, and daily alarms are a nice feature that allows for building up proper sleep habits, even out in the backcountry.
Shock Resistance – The shock-resistant design keeps internal instruments from being damaged. Pairing the shock resistance with an overall sturdy construction will increase durability.
Auto Calendar – The calendar is a basic functionality across many different watch categories. These watches can store a set number of years in their memory banks to allow for greater precision and easier use for months with differing days (February, for example). Some calendars will work till 2099 – which let’s face it – it should last just about your whole life and then some.
Countdown Timer – A variety of use cases and different from the alarm in that its quicker and easier to set, a countdown timer will allow you to time important things like cooking and purifying water.
Stopwatch – A 1/100 second stopwatch provides precision accuracy and is helpful if you’re tracking for both long and short durations. A stopwatch provides helpful timing information when hiking on trails or for simple casual use.
GPS – It’s important to note that GPS watches are typically a different watch category with higher price points that rely on satellites as opposed to the earth’s magnetic field for navigation.
Tide Tracker – Tide trackers are fantastic if you’re in and around large bodies of water. They will count down to high or low tide but require regular settings from a data source such as the NOAA Tides & Currents site.
Sunrise and Sunset – Sunrise and sunset timers help to schedule climbs or long hikes accordingly and help you to know when to set up camp or to keep going. These are especially important if you’re moving through heavy cloud cover or rainstorms where you can’t see the sun’s position in the sky.
Time Zones / Cities – Some watches allow for all 31 time zones and 48 cities. This is a nice feature that allows you to keep your watch set appropriately without having to change the time as you move.
Heart Rate Monitor – Heart rate monitors provide more helpful information if you’re taking long hikes or jogging. Some also offer alarms if you’re heart rate goes above or below a certain preset range.
4. Battery Life
Battery life is important in a watch – you don’t want to be stuck in the wilderness with a dead compass watch. More complicated watches limit battery life, which is why many of them come with solar panels to power and recharge the watch.
Sports Watch – Sports watches are made for outdoor activities like hiking, camping, expeditions, and other all-weather conditions. They are often water-resistant and durable.
Formal/Semi-Formal Watch – Designed with fewer buttons or ruggedness, formal or semi-formal watches are meant to be worn to dressier occasions where the compass or other features are more for the show than usefulness.
Timex – A great watch brand that has been making timepieces since 1854, the company is now owned by a Dutch holding company that produces a wide variety of watch brands, like Marc Ecko, Ferragamo, and more. They work closely with Ironman and focus on hiking and running watches. They’re famous for their Indiglo backlit displays
Casio – A Japanese electronics company, Casio produces the famed G-Shock line of watches and makes several musical instruments. It was founded in 1946 and produced inexpensive electronic equipment for an economically stressed post-war Japanese public.
Suunto – Was founded in 1936 to make diving equipment, compasses, and other precision equipment. The name comes from the Finnish Suunta, meaning direction or path. The group also produces GPS running watches.
Seiko – Also a Japanese company and founded in 1881, Seiko produces a whole host of watches, semiconductors, electronic devices, and optical products. The company also owns a specialty glass company, the products of which it uses in many of its watches.
7. Crystal / Dial Window
Sapphire – The most expensive crystal and dial window option, sapphire glass is not glass. Instead, it’s a transparent material made from crystallizing pure aluminum oxide at high temperatures. This produces an incredibly strong substance.
Mineral Glass – Common in the middle of the road watches, mineral glass is made from glass and heat-treated at its surface to provide extra durability. If it is ever scratched or dented, it must be replaced. With that being said, mineral glass is a terrific alternative to acrylic and can be found on affordable watches (even under $20).
Acrylic – The cheapest option, acrylic, or plastic watch faces bring the cost of the watch down but can scratch easily.
Older and pricier watches tend to be hand-wound and can be used in compass watches but require manual winding regularly. It may not be as functional as a quartz watch in that if you forget to wind you may have inaccurate timekeeping
An automatic movement is found in higher-end watches and is self-powered via a gimbal by the movement of your body.
Quartz movement is reliable and will last a long time. Japanese quartz watches are the gold standard.
Solar-powered movement watches have no reliance on battery or movement and are considered safer and more reliable in wilderness situations.
9. Band / Strap Material & Closure
Materials – Band material can dress up or dress down a watch very easily. Resin bands are the most popular and are waterproof and affordable.
Natural cloth fabrics that are vegan are also used in bands but are not durable and are generally not recommended for use in sports or outdoor applications. Leather is also a popular option for in-between wear, both on the trail and in the clubhouse. Metal, specifically titanium, is often used in high-end watches.
Closure – A buckle closure creates a tag that can get caught on things, and the adjustment holes can wear out over time. They are the most popular, however. Velcro is often used as well as magnetics.
10. Country of Origin
Japan and Switzerland still reign supreme in watches. Japan is known for the quartz movement and Switzerland for precise mechanical movement.
Common Questions Men Had About Compass Watches
What is a compass watch?
A Compass watch is an analog or digital watch that is helpful in finding direction on a hike, run, or in casual use. However, a digital compass watch may rely on a GPS signal which allows for greater accuracy – which can be valuable for a long expedition.
What are the pros and cons of owning a compass watch?
Compass watches are great in that they are reliable and are designed for abuse. They are often naturally water-resistant and can be safely used in a variety of activities and weather scenarios (i.e. hiking, skiing, camping, and more). With all these features, compass watches tend to be a bit bulkier, making them not the best timepiece to wear when going to a formal or office setting. However, a compass watch with a nice titanium bracelet (as opposed to a buckle closure) can present well and be a bit more versatile (fashionably speaking of course).
What are essential complications or features that you should have on a compass watch?
The best compass watches can be either very minimal or very functional. Some watch dials are geared for intense performance and many track the temperature, have a barometer, altimeter, calendar, stopwatch, tide, daylight savings, and even all 31 time zones.
The takeaway here is to find a compass watch that compliments your style and intended use. If you find the stopwatch or 31 time zones to be a bit overkill, that’s fine. A simple compass feature on the bezel may be the only thing you are looking for.
Furthermore, if you plan on wearing your watch daily – then simple features on the watch dial like a calendar, stopwatch, or timer can prove to be quite useful.
How much money should I spend on a compass watch?
Set your budget before deciding on a particular compass watch. Given that this is both a functional and style piece, the prices can vary depending on either feature within the watch or the brand name itself. When you do this, you can save yourself quite a bit of money and be satisfied with the purchase.
Is it better to go with a digital or analog compass watch?
An analog watch is more versatile for style reasons and is better for casual use. A digital watch is subject to battery life but is far more accurate and better for rugged outdoor use. It’s also generally easier to read.
What is a watch with a compass on a band?
These watches provide a dedicated compass on your wrist but at the cost of increasing the size of the watch. This separate accessory will locate the earth’s magnetic poles and will allow for more accurate performance.
What water resistance is best for a compass watch?
You will find during your research that compass watches typically have a water resistance rating between 100 meters and 200 meters. For most readers, either of these depths will provide adequate protection (200 meters of course will be a bit better when it comes to water sealants).
Casio G-Shock vs. Timex Expedition – which is better?
Most men are either a Casio or Timex guy – as they are two distinct timepieces. Generally speaking, the Casio G-Shock models offer terrific shock protection and have been designed for rugged use and wear a bit more comfortably (at least this is what most men generally report).
The Timex Expedition products tend to provide clearer readings of time and have a better backlight thanks to their proprietary Indiglo tech and typically come standard with calendar and alarm functions.
If this is a gun-to-head decision, then I would go with Timex as I feel it’s a bit more versatile of a watch that works well outdoors and for semi-formal occasions.
Is it worth paying more for a sapphire crystal?
Sapphire is the third hardest mineral on the Mohs scale by scoring an impressive 9 out of 10 (source). This incredibly strong and durable crystal provides unmatched protection against the elements. With that being said, unless you plan on traveling to such perilous conditions, it might be better to save the money and go with a mineral crystal.
Of course, the reliance on a sapphire crystal does allow the watch to easily become an heirloom piece and present well for generations to come.
What is the best movement to track time?
Whether it’s a dive watch, tactical watch, or any other type of timepiece – how you track actual time is important. Most compass watches keep time via quartz or automatic movement. Able to work for days (automatic) or years (quartz) without having to be recharged – these movements are much more reliable for keeping time, especially if you are on a multi-day expedition. It is worth noting that a digital compass watch may include extra sensors or functions (i.e. calendar, altimeter thermometer, compass readings, etc.) along with a larger display which may run through batteries quicker.
What color compass watch is best?
Black is the most versatile where some men really love a field green compass watch as it is better aligned with the heritage and its intended use (outside). It’s important to remember how you plan on wearing this watch and if it will seem out of place at all.
Shawn Burns is the founder and senior editor of Tools of Men. He started this site with the goal of teaching men proper grooming habits and sensible style. Shawn’s expertise includes in-depth product reviews and how-to articles. Shawn was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal for his expertise.