I’ve never been great at land navigation. Not in Boy Scouts or in the Army. I just never seemed to really master shooting an azimuth and counting my paces. I know the theory but in practice if I had a map I was always a lot faster just orienting it with a compass and working off of terrain features. I know that isn’t always possible depending where you are and what you’re looking for but for most of the hiking and camping that I do it works pretty well so I usually just carry a basic compass rather than a fancier land navigation oriented model. So when I saw the Suunto M-9 Explorer Wrist Compass I realized that this may just be the perfect thing for me.
The Suunto M-9 is about as handy as you could ask a compass to be. The compass in its mount measures in at 1.61 x 1.85 x 0.55 inches and it weighs just 0.56 ounces. Strapped to your wrist it’s pretty much unnoticeable. The strap itself is a little over 12 inches long and is covered in Velcro to allow a wide range of adjustment. Simply slip the strap through the plastic buckle, tighten the strap and affix the Velcro where it’s comfortable for you. The strap is plenty long enough to adjust for even large wrists or for wear over top of a jacket during cold weather. Just a note on the buckle, Suunto’s website lists it as brass but mine is definitely plastic so that may be a recent change although not one that affects practical use or durability in my opinion.
The compass itself is made in Finland and is built for use in the Northern Hemisphere only. It has a serrated bezel ring and ratchet mechanism so that you can feel and hear as you make adjustments to the dial. The luminous dial rotates smoothly on a jewel bearing and has a side window and basic sighting notch that allows you to take bearings. Despite its feathery weight it feels solidly built and based upon my past experience with Suunto I don’t have any doubts that it will hold up to rugged outdoor use.
For me the wrist mounting works great. The compass is right at hand when needed without having to dig it out of a pack, pocket, or out from under my jacket or shirt on a neck lanyard. I don’t really wear a watch these days so that isn’t an issue for me. If you do, you could always throw the M-9 on your other wrist or even wear it above your watch. It might look a little weird but its light enough that it isn’t likely to bother you. Another option would be to attach it to your pack strap if you’re wearing one so that you can reference it quickly. I used to do similar in the Army by attaching my old Timex to the strap of my LBE (Load Bearing Equipment) suspender. It kept it from catching on things on my wrist when I was taking may pack or armor on and off. I pretty much stuck to the conventional wrist wear while I was using the M-9 and it worked fine with a light jacket and my day pack through the late summer and early Fall.
Whenever I hike or backpack I like having a trail map whenever possible. Generally if I can orient my map I can keep a pretty good idea of where I’m at based upon the turns of the trail and terrain features that way. I’ll pull the map out occasionally to verify my location, especially at cross trails. The Suunto worked really well for this type of use. I could get a quick orientation by glancing at my wrist, just like checking the time on a watch, and check my map against it. Fast and easy. It was a lot less fuss than any other method I’ve used carrying a compass and with it strapped to your wrist your chance of dropping and losing your compass or setting it down and forgetting about it are about zero.
While a pretty simple compass as I mentioned when going over the specs there is still a sighting window and basic notch sight on the M-9. I did give this a whirl and found that it actually worked really well even if you are working with a set of directions that requires you to following a compass bearing. I didn’t have a chance to really work with this feature of the M-9 but my plan is to try and use the M-9 with my son’s Scout troop whenever we start doing land navigation. Who knows, maybe I’ll finally get a better knack for it when I do it with the boys than I have in the past.
I really like the luminous dial on the M-9. I had forgotten about the feature until I was out in the sun with the compass. Even after a very brief exposure to the sun the compass face was glowing brightly when I stepped back inside. If you’re M-9 didn’t have enough sun exposure prior to needing it at night a very quick exposure to a flashlight charges it right up as well. Having been on the trail on more than one occasion later than I planned I like the idea of being able to easily see the compass in the dusk or dark without pulling a flashlight out every time.
Suunto lists the M-9 as being suitable for town or country and I agree. It’s handy enough for day to day wear and would work as well with a walking map in the city as a topographical map in the field. It’s also handy if you work a job where directions can be important such as my day job as a police officer. With GPS being built into everything we own these days it’s easy to take the technology for granted but being able to take a quick bearing while you’re driving and calling in which direction on a road you’re heading can sometimes be critical. I can see the M-9 being a great addition to a patrol officer’s kit as well.
If you’re looking for a compass that’s lightweight, handy and easy to carry you couldn’t ask for much better than the Suunto M-9 Explorer. It does everything that you could ask for in a basic compass and with street prices running under $30 most places its easy on the wallet too.
As seen in the Woods Monkey Gear Review column in Issue #18 of Self Reliance Illustrated!