Analog Compass Watch vs Digital Compass Watch

If you are an outdoor adventurer, a survivalist, an expeditioner, or military personnel, you require a watch that can do much more than just get to know the time. Getting lost in the wilderness is no fun. Though nothing can replace an actual compass or a GPS device, watches with a compass are extremely useful in some situations.

Currently, there are two types of compass watches- analog and digital. Most people will be confused as to what to choose considering the staggering number of watches with different features in the market. The following section will take a look at both these kinds of watches to help you to choose the best compass watch for your needs.

Analog compass watches

Analog compass watches

Navigating the great outdoors with the perfect compass watch.

There are two types of analog compass watches- ones that come fitted with a bezel and others that incorporate a compass into the watch. Let’s have a brief look at them.

A bezel compass watch

A watch bezel is a rim surrounding the watch crystal which frames the dial. They can be made of metal or different materials like ceramic. Bezels can be replaced if they become damaged or worn out. The compass bezel is marked with the four directions often with degrees in between.

You can determine the direction by using the position of the sun and the hour hand. To find out the direction, lay the watch horizontally and align the watch’s hour hand with the sun. The point midway between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock position approximately indicates South.

All you have to do is rotate the bezel so that its south-direction indicator matches. This will allow you to determine other compass directions easily. You need to repeat this exercise every once in a while to ensure you are going in the right direction. Some watches such as the Seiko Map Meter can also be used to find route distances.  

Watches with a built-in compass

Some watches contain an actual mini magnetic compass built into them. The compass may be on the strap or part of the watch display. Some like the Wenger have a compass sliding out beneath the watch face. Determining the direction with these kinds of watches is easy and the same as that of a standalone compass.

To Know More About Compass Use, Check The Article: How to Use a Compass.

Digital compass watches

Digital compass watches

Elevate your outdoor experience with our digital compass watch that also measures atmospheric pressure.

Digital compass watches employ electronic sensors to measure magnetic fields to display compass readings. They run on batteries and are great for people who don’t carry or rely on a compass. They are easy to use and require no fixed direction (like the sun or any landmark with known coordinates). Some digital electronic watches also display altitude and atmospheric pressure.

The pros and cons

Both these types of watches have their pros and cons. Knowing them will help choose the best type of watch for your needs. The following section will pit digital and analog versions against each other and see how they fare under various attributes.


The analog compass watches are more accurate than digital compass watches. They have a plus or minus 1 to 2-degree error whereas the digital ones have a plus or minus 11-degree error. This is why serious outdoorsmen prefer analog compass watches.

Ease of use

You need the sun to determine the direction with the bezel analog compass watches. Gauging the direction requires some work and you need to do it several times to stay on the right path. You also need to determine the location of landmarks on your way to ensure you are going in the right direction.

It is impossible to determine the direction during the night or on extremely cloudy days unless you have a visible landmark with known coordinates. This is not a problem with digital compass watches and they are also much easier to use. Only those familiar with a traditional compass will be comfortable using an analog compass watch.

Power issues

Power is not an issue with most analog compass watches. Digital compass watches on the other hand cannot run for extended periods as they require power from a cell. This can be offset with solar-powered watches with a chargeable battery. Also, nowadays batteries are extremely efficient and last a long time.

The problem of magnetic interference

This is an issue with all compass watches that use the earth's magnetic field to determine the direction. Even a small magnetic deposit can throw them off the mark. With a bezel or a digital compass watch, it is easy to determine the rest of the directions once you correctly align it to the cardinal North.


Any damage to a compass watch will negatively affect its performance. So, they need to be tough and durable to withstand the rigors and varying conditions of the harsh outdoors. A simple knock can compromise the waterproofing and screw up the electronics and calibration of the compass.

Most analog compass watches are tough. They can take much more beating than digital compass watches as little electronics go into them. However, it is necessary to recalibrate your watch compass now and then.


When it comes to aesthetics, nothing can beat the beauty of a well-designed analog compass watch. However, many digital compass watches made nowadays are great to look at. However, if the digital compass watch has more features, it can look bulky and ungainly.

The bottom line

The above write-up will be of great use to choose the right compass watch for your needs. One might think that the compass watches are obsolete with all the tech available nowadays. Many smartwatches have an accurate compass, your smartphone is extremely efficient to determine location, and you also have numerous GPS devices that are highly accurate and easy to use.

These gizmos are however prone to damage and do not work in certain situations. It makes sense to have a backup device for determining location when in the wilderness. A compass watch fits the bill perfectly. It is small, easy to carry, and tough.

If you are a casual outdoorsman, a digital compass watch will be best for you. They give you a fairly good sense of direction and are easy to use. Many models also come with a host of other features like an altimeter and a basic barometer.

If you are a serious outdoorsman, you will be better off getting an analog watch compass even if they are pricier than the digital ones. They are much more accurate and reliable. They do not require frequent recalibration like digital compass watches. Finally, never scrimp when it comes to buying compass watches. Cheap ones are unreliable and prone to damage.

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