The lensatic compass has been used by military forces the world over for accurate bearings and navigation in just about every single kind of terrain. It's more complex to use than a simple compass, but if you're willing to spend the $70 or so, you'll find it one of the most useful bits of kit in your bug out gear, especially when the dust has settled and you want to explore new routes from your base camp.
Why Choose Lensatic
You'll need some sort of compass as part of your permanent survival kit, but if you can afford it, you should choose a lensatic compass for these reasons:
- Retractable lens - the key feature of lensatic compasses is the retractable lens. This means that you can shoot a target off in the distance and get a reading of the direction you need to head in at the same time. With a regular compass, you have to spend time looking between the target and the dial meaning that your measurements aren't accurate. The retractable lens also locks the dial jewel when you close it meaning that there is less wear and tear on the integral parts.
- Survivable construction - the reason why the US army always chooses lensatic
compasses is that they are built to last through any war zone and will
operate at any temperature between 50 F below and 150 F above. The
cover is made from toughened plastic that will survive being dropped,
stood on and being left out in the rain. The dial is also painted in a luminous finish meaning that you'll always be able to read the dial day or night,
which will help if you have to make your maneuvers during the hours of
darkness for safety.
- One handed operation - the lensatic
version is designed to be used one handed meaning that you can do a
quick check of your bearing and heading without having to set down your
equipment. The lid flips up with a thumb catch and the sighting wire is
adjustable with your index finger as you hold the compass on the palm of
How to Use a Lensatic Compass
Many people steer clear of buying a lensatic compass because the name is unfamiliar and the fact that it's army grade issue makes it sound too technical for every day usage. However, the device is very easy to use:
- Calibrate - to calibrate, use your compass as you would do normally to find magnetic north. You can then gain your bearings and headings accurately as well as pin point your position on a map.
- Sight - you then use the sight wire in the top half of the compass to sight a tall or significant landmark. This could be a tree, rock formation or hill, and you'll use this as a guide to take your bearings from as you travel through the terrain.
- Follow - you can then use the guide on the compass to work out roughly how far you are from the item in question which should give you an accurate location on your map. You can then follow a planned route through to your base camp or set up a new trail.
Using a lensatic compass isn't difficult to do, but the best way to learn is to build up 'dirt time', that is, get out into your local terrain and practice using one. You will find plenty of online guides to print off and read, but you could also ask for advice from local geology companies and army units. It will help initially to go to areas where you're familiar with your surroundings so that you know roughly where you are and where you're going before moving onto unknown territory.
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