When it comes to old-school tools and instruments, it doesn’t get much more old-school than the compass. We’ve been navigating with them since the 10th century AD, when Chinese soldiers learned to suspend a magnetized needle from a single grain of silk to find their way north. By the 13th century, mariners on the English Channel were known to navigate their way home in cloudy conditions by floating a needle in a bowl of water, then touching it with a piece of magnetic lodestone.
By the time David Brunton arrived on the scene in the 1890s, compasses had become pretty complex – especially the bulky geological compasses that Brunton relied on in his work as a mining engineer in the American West. In 1894, he designed a pocket-sized geological compass, and commissioned William Ainsworth, a Denver watchmaker, to build it. The Brunton Compass was born.
Known as the Pocket Transit, Brunton’s geological compass was accurate and state-of-the-art. To this day, it remains the instrument of choice of geologists, archeologists, engineers, surveyors and the United States Army’s artillery units. It retails for around $500.
Happily, however, you can own a US-made Brunton compass for one-fiftieth of that. The model pictured – the Brunton Glow Compass – is made by Brunton in Riverton, WY (Amazon link).
It’s light and robust enough to attach to a daypack or stow in a jacket pocket, and should ensure you’ll never end up walking in circles if you lose your way in the great outdoors. It even glows (faintly) in the dark for nighttime navigational emergencies. In the age of smartphone navigation, it’s a cool link to the past – and it might just get you home when all else fails.
Note: if you’re looking for a map-reading compass, Brunton’s affordable, USA-made TruArc range is the way to go.