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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear Review: Silva Guide Series 426 Compass

A basic sighting compass that is lightweight, durable, and unsinkable.

by: Joe Flowers

Silva Guide Series 426 (Courtesy Photo)
Silva Guide Series 426 (Courtesy Photo)
Two view of the Vee notch
Two view of the Vee notch

The Specs:
Price: $20.99
Weight: 1 oz.
Sharp corners on pocket gear can be as annoying as a Twinkie-fed deer in a national park. Enter the Silva Guide compass, which folds neatly into a small square with smooth edges and is a little bit more than 2.5 inches across in both directions. Plus, it’s sturdy and reliable.

While in the foothills of VA, I used this compass to find a specific fishing bend along the New River. Taking the bearing from a topo map, I followed the line using the compass until I came to the bend, and rejoiced when I caught a small-mouth bass. I double-checked the bearing with another compass, GPS, and an app on my smart phone, for fun, and it was right on.

The included sighting mirror works well thanks to a Vee notch* at the top of the mirror’s sighting line. The compass needle is made out of tungsten steel with a friction free sapphire bearing (i.e., not just a needle with a hole down the middle) and is filled with clear antistatic liquid, with no bubbles inside the dial. The cover folds back behind the compass if it needs to be out of the way, like on a map. I was skeptical about the cheap-looking plastic hinge but after folding the cover back well over 200 times, nothing happened. I was expecting the plastic hinge to whiten and crack, loosing strength over time but, it didn’t.

This compass is light, but rugged. I dropped it from 10 feet onto the ground without any problem (similar cheap plastic compasses haven’t fared as well). I did miss little features found on more expensive compasses, like a glow-in-the-dark dial and the 1:24 scale marker, but ultimately found these easy to live without.

Backpackers will appreciate the price point and the non-obtrusive compact design, (now in your coat pocket, not the bottom of the pack) to check bearing before going off trail. I had a personal preference for the orange version (though there is a black graphite Guide and a forest green version called the “Huntsman”) because it floats and can be easily seen if it takes a dive off the canoe. The Guide series is a basic compass with two degree graduations, so orienteering oracles may favor much more expensive models out there (the Silva Ranger 515 CL Compass $54.99 comes to mind).

BONUS: The mirror comes in handy as a signal mirror or as a compact if you want to look good for Mother Nature (or need to make sure the charcoal smudge is off your face for a backpacker photo like somebody I know). And, when worn around the neck (there’s a lanyard hole in the middle and a supplied cord), it isn’t obtrusive like an ‘80s giant clock necklace.

BOTTOM LINE: A lightweight, compact compass that is accurate and goes un-noticed in the pocket.

*In sighting compasses, there is a window with a wire line through it to site, or follow a bearing, through. Since this is a solid backed mirror compass, there is no window. The Vee notch at the top of the mirror is how you aim the bearing. If you wanted to go to a certain tree, you would line it up in the notch, in reference to the bearing, and follow it until you get to the tree, and take another bearing. It's like an aiming device. See the second photo above for a visual.

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Reader Rating: -


Bill M
Aug 28, 2012

Had one of these for about 5 years. I bought it because I wanted a light weight sighting compass that would fit in my pocket yet still be accurate.
I have the 426 graphite with yellow lettering and find the combination is very easy to read even in dim light. Accuracy is as good as my pocket transit and the Guide is much easier to use with a map. This compass is just right for those wanting a good pocket compass that can be used as a sighting compass, hand-held or map reading and course plotting. I find it fine for all kind of weather and since it floats would be good for canoeing or rafting although one may want the orange one for better visibility should the compass end up overboard.

dudley ward II
Dec 17, 2010

i purchased a 426 a few years ago. it's small and lightweight and it was my first mirrored compass . i don't know much about the mirror but i have used it to take short sights and with a map . I know it floats and i was also surprised to see the hinge last well.I also have a lensatic compass . i now prefer the 426 because it includes linear reference (length) guides that can accomodate the map distance system if you're like me and can do basic math in your head.i would seriously consider telling a friend about this compass.other compasses are more expensive but there aren't too many off trail night hikers that i know of and sights ten miles or less make the 426 perfect for travel .


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