What is a Lensatic Compass?

I get this question more often than you would think. The term "lensatic compass" is is used most frequently in the military, and only in reference to one specific model of compass. Most people assume that lensatic compass is the "proper" term for all hand-held compasses, but that it not the case.

There are several different types of hand held compasses that are designed for specific uses, and a lensatic compass is only one of them. An orienteering compass, for example, is designed for ease of use when taking a bearing from a map and heading off at full speed to the next point on a course. While speed is important in many tactical situations, a lensatic compass is not necessarily designed for speed. Rather, it is designed for accuracy and ruggedness.

Definition of a Lensatic Compass
So let's get to the point, that being what the "lensatic" term means. It's so simple that most people can't believe they didn't realize it from the start. It simply means that there's a lens on the rear sight used ofr magnifying the card dial and taking a more accurate reading. That's it. A lensatic compass is one with a magnifying lens on the sight.

Going back full circle to the specific purposes that compasses are built for, we realize that a military compass would be used fairly frequently to take sightings. Whether laying in artillery, taking a sighting to a target, or performing a resection to figure out how far you're off course, the lensatic compass excels at sightings and accuracy. An orienteer (a good one, anyway) doens't need to do this very often. Then look at their map, slap the compass down, twist the house to find the bearing to their next point, and take off running. No sighting necessary.

So from now on, when you hear the term lensatic compass, think lens, think accuracy, think ruggedness, and think sighting. It's that simple.

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