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Navigational gear worldwide

I'm not that well travelled (never been outside of Europe!) but at some point I'd love to head elsewhere to perhaps hike somewhere a bit more exotic.

I've heard (quite a bit) that most compasses only come calibrated for one hemisphere - how much "out" is a compass in the wrong part of the world? Is it generally no more than a few degrees, or potentially completely wildly out?

Following on from this, can I get a compass that does work pretty much worldwide to save the hassle of swapping back and forth between them, or is it just a case of always the right compass for the right place?

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marked as duplicate by LBell, Mr.Wizard, Russell Steen Sep 11 '12 at 18:59

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

A compass is "accurate" in both hemispheres in that it should still point to magnetic north.

But the problem is that when you're in the southern hemisphere, the magnetic north pole is sort of 'under your feet' so the compass needs to be one that's specially 'balanced' for the Southern hemisphere to ensure the needle moves smoothly and responds fast.

You can get compasses that are 'globally balanced' to work everywhere - the Suunto M3 global is one.

The thing to remember in terms of 'outness' is magnetic declination. That varies hugely according to where you are in the world, and getting that wrong can send you way off course.

Similar question here, by the way.

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