I have kept a “last-ditch” survival kit for years. It’s small enough if I needed to dump everything else, I can slip this in my pocket and still have a fighting chance. Despite all the time I spend thinking about such things, I was still missing a compass. There are several methods of rudimentary direction finding, but if I can back up my Suunto with something the size of a dime, that’s a no brainer. The search began.<!– –>
by J. Bridger, contributing writer
Thumb Tac Compass is Small
When looking for a small compass, I came across a company called CountyComm. They carry all kinds of niche items. Lights, tools, storage, survival, even some medical equipment. They offer small compasses in several flavors, but two caught my eye: The SERE compass and the Thumb Tac compass. Both have rave reviews. The SERE compass runs $5.85 and the Thumb Tac runs $8.25 for two. A two pack? Perfect!
The compasses came quickly and were well-packaged. They were each inside a tiny ziplock bag stowed in a neat plastic container. This container would be great for a small survival fishing kit or something along those lines. They included a glow in the dark sticker and 10% off coupon.<!– –>
Not Small – Tiny
These compasses are tiny. When they say Thumb Tac compass, they aren’t kidding. How big is 11mm? Smaller than a dime. My index finger’s nail is exactly 1 cm across (10mm). The weight is listed as 1 gram. That’s about the weight of a small paperclip, almost nothing.
This is the perfect size to sew into clothing or stow in your last-ditch survival kit. They don’t glow in the dark (the SERE compass does) and there is no tether, so don’t drop it. You may never see it again!
Gluing it to something isn’t a bad idea. The north end of the needle is painted red, the south end is white. The compass is housed in a brass case and is not liquid filled. The compass has the four cardinal directions, as well as NE, NW, SE, and SW marked in white. I’m not sure if the window is glass or plastic. The website doesn’t say, and I don’t want to scratch it to find out.<!– –>
Related article: How to Navigate Without a Map and Compass
You won’t be taking bearings with the Thumb Tac compass. There’s no way to adjust declination. If you know “the road/river is east of here,” then it’s just what the doctor ordered.
Iron and Compass Reading
When I was first learning to use my compass, they told me anything with iron will throw off your reading. These are no exception. Even bringing my P38 can opener near the compass moves the needle. Be careful.
Storing the Thumb Tac Compass
These compasses take up no room in my survival kit. I keep this inside a small LokSak I’ve been carting around for years. It’s no longer waterproof (I would like to upgrade to a small metal box). I keep titanium lock picks and torque wrench, padlock shims, polymer handcuff key, fire steel and striker (the striker also has a built in whistle), razor blade, miniature Bic lighter, signal mirror, butterfly closures, water treatment tablets, Thumb Tac compass, duct tape, fishing weights, hooks and leaders, a P38 can opener, and some Kevlar cord.
It measures 2.5” x 5” and weighs 5.3 oz. It was inspired by all the SERE kits I see online but meshed with the bare minimum to get me through a couple days in the woods. This way, I don’t have to worry about having two kits and swapping them out depending on where I’m at.
I put the second Thumb Tac compass in a small compartment I sewed into my hat. I also have a book of matches and some water treatment tablets. It takes up no room and gives me a little extra safety factor. If I lose everything else, I can still navigate, make fire, and treat my water. You never know when you may get turned around and find yourself with only have what you have in your pockets.
Related article: Why I Prefer a Map and Compass Over a GPS
These are so small they’re begging to be hidden somewhere fun. If you just drop these into your pack, you may have to work to find them again. I recommend keeping one with your first aid kit.
Here are some places you can hide these puppies:
- In a Chapstick tube, pill holder, or Carmex jar.
- Sewn into the seams of your clothes, like the butt seam of BDU pants, the hem of your pants, inside your waistband, or behind the leather tag of your jeans.
- They fit perfectly under the sole of my Nike Frees in the little compartment of my right shoe (I have no idea what this is intended for).
- Altoid tin or other compact survival kit.
- Inside a hat band.
- Inside a bra.
- Glued to a hiking stick/pole or rifle stock. It would be easy to drill a small hole in a wooden stock for these.
- In the coin pocket of your jeans.
- Attached to your keys, in a pill holder.
The options are limited by your imagination and needs.
There are all kinds of cheap compasses out there. For some reason, the smaller they get, the lower quality they seem to be. CountyComm breaks that trend. For an affordable price, you get two well-made compasses, and a handy plastic container. I’m confident the larger SERE compass is just as good as these two, with the addition of glow in the dark letters. I’ve taken these on many hikes, and they have held up well so far. They really hit a home run with these items.
Remember, no matter the size of a compass, it won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use it. Read Map Reading and Land Navigation for everything you need to know.