Staying Found Navigation Tools

Staying Found Navigation Tools

To get the most out of the Staying Found class, please come prepared with the tools as described in "Required Equipment"


We will be teaching you the procedures for the utilization of a full featured compass. You will not be able to practice everything we teach you with anything less. At the bottom of this document you will find a full description for such a compass. To summarize, for $40 - $50 you can get a Silva 515 Ranger CL (Do Not get a CLQ, but the Hi-Vis is OK) or a Suunto MC-2. (Do not get a compass with the word 'Quadrant' in the name or description) The Suuntos have had quality control issues over the past few years, but the very latest production runs have been much better. I highly recommend that you do not buy a used Suunto. Finally avoid the Brunton "Tool-less declination" compasses. We have seen them fall apart when trying to adjust them.

While it will be possible to take the Staying Found course with something less than a full featured compass, nothing else will achieve the accuracy. Further, if you were to choose to go on to the Mountaineer's Wilderness Navigation Course, it will be impossible to meet the minimum standards desired in that class with anything less. Finally, without a rectangular baseplate and meridian lines, it will not be possible to measure and plot a bearing on a map as we will be teaching and discussing in this class.

I know some of these compasses can get a bit pricey, but a good compass should last for years and can be considered an important investment in staying safe (and found!) in the mountains for years to come. I urge you to start shopping for a compass now. REI's selection can be limited and you may need to go online. As of this writing in Jan 2017, REI is selling the Suunto MC-2G. G is for Global and will work in the southern hemisphere. There is no benefit to spending the extra $50 if only used in the northern hemisphere.

If, after considering all of this, you prefer not to spend the money on a full featured compass and you cannot borrow one, you might find a free compass on your smart phone. Currently iPhone comes preloaded with a compass program. While this is useful in the field, it is not as accurate as a magnetic compass and cannot be used to plot or measure bearings on a map. That said, I recommend locating this or other appropriate app on your smart phone. It makes a great, free backup.

Here is a link to a compass page maintained by the Seattle Mountaineers Navigation committee.  The main content is a couple of years old and has been largely replicated here, but there are a series of comments at the end that may get updated from time to time.


One of the most consistent bits of feedback I have received from previous Staying Found students is how useful an altimeter can be in navigation.

Here is a great, in-depth look at currently available altimeters:

To summarize, you do not have to spend a lot of money on an altimeter. In fact, if you have a smart phone, it can be free! I carry both a pressure based altimeter (the $35 Casio watch reviewed in the link above) as well as a smart phone loaded with a free app and Gaia GPS. At a minimum, I recommend you download a free app to your smart phone. Don't worry, you do NOT need to be in cell range for this to work! I will explain the differences between pressure based and smart phone altimeters during the class.

Other equipment

A Watch, Clipboard and Pencil

Navigation Gear--Compasses
Required Compass Features: Seattle Wilderness (Basic) Navigation Course & Foothills Staying Found
Seattle Mountaineers—Revised September 2016

  1. Adjustable declination: If there is one feature that simplifies map and compass work, this is it. Compasses with adjustable declination can often be identified by the presence of an adjustment screw, usually brass or copper-colored, and a small key attached to the lanyard.
    It allows you to move the orienting arrow in relation to the azimuth ring.
    * All students MUST have a compass with adjustable declination. The presence of a declination scale does not guarantee that it can be adjusted. Avoid the ‘tool-less’ declination feature on the Brunton (see below).
    * Even if you already have a compass without adjustable declination, you may not use it in this course. Experience indicates that such compasses detract from the learning experience.
  2. A transparent rectangular base plate with a direction of travel arrow or a sighting mirror.
    * Transparency allows map features to be seen underneath the compass.
    * A rectangular shape provides straight edges and square angles to plot and triangulate on the map.
  3. A 0 to 360 bezel (the rotating housing) marked clockwise from 0 to 360 degrees in increments of two degrees or less. In general, bezels should be large to allow use while wearing gloves - the larger size also improves accuracy. Do not get one marked in 0-90 degree quadrants OR one marked in O-6400 mils!
  4. Meridian lines: Parallel 'meridian lines' on the bottom of the interior of the circular compass housing rotate with the bezel when it is turned. Longer lines are better. Meridian lines run parallel to the north-south axis of the bezel, however turned, for plotting and triangulating on the map.
  5. A ruler and/or gradient scale engraved on one of the straight edges, used for measuring distances. In the U.S. 1:24000 scales (rather than 1:25000) are preferred.
  6. A 3 to 4-inch base plate. A longer straight edge makes map work easier.
Additional recommendations
  • A sighting mirror in the cover: Reduces error introduced when moving compass from eye-level after sighting to waist-level for reading the dial.
  • A liquid-filled housing: Reduces erratic needle movement (common on better compasses). In some cases, steadying the compass needle can be difficult
  • An inclinometer: A gravity driven arrow that allows you to measure slope angle.
Current favorites: Silva, Suunto, Kasper & Richter, and Brunton are the common favorites. Their quality and usability varies, so keep any receipt. We have unfortunately seen many defective compasses in the past. Beware the UST ~$7 knock-off baseplate compass available
via Amazon and other outlets. Our gear tests show it to be unreliable.

--From Silva, with a sighting mirror, is the Silva Ranger 515 CL (not the CLQ). Without a mirror is the Silva Explorer Pro (not the 203 or Polaris). Silvas are available at Cabela’s or online.

--K & R has the Sherpa and Alpin using 1:25,000 vs. 1:24,000 rulers. They are available online.

--Brunton has several compasses that meet our requirements but present issues with “tool-less declination”, lack of clearly visible meridian lines or scales and curvy shapes. Several tool-less declination models have come apart in user hands. Preferred models are TruArc 15 (mirrored), and TruArc 5 (non-mirrored). The TruArc 10 has measurement scales (good) but curvy sides (not good). The TruArc 3 lacks clear meridian lines and is short. Bruntons are available at REI, Cabela’s or online.
--Newly available retooled Suunto MC-2 (mirrored) and M-3 (non-mirrored) 2016 models passed all bench tests with flying colors—a batch of eight was locally tested. Older MC-2s frequently needed to be set 2-3 degrees higher (i.e., 165 degrees East became 18-19 degrees East). Suunto is currently available at REI, Feathered Friends and online.

Some older Suunto M-3 and MC-2 lines exhibited a 2-degree magnetic error and are corrected by adding 2-3 degrees East (i.e., 16 degrees East would need to be 18-19 degrees East). Needles in 2016 and later models are not impacted. Meridian line length has also been sacrificed for Suunto branding on both models. If you are comfortable with foreshortened meridian lines, the M-3 and MC-2 lines are OK. Manufacturers make continuing improvements and corrections in models.