Gear Review: Compass Tray

A compass tray is a lightweight harness that holds the compass in front of you in poor visibility, so you don’t have to stop every five steps to take a new bearing. It is one of those little finesses that you may use once or twice an expedition, or — on the foggy Arctic Ocean, in whiteout-prone Antarctica or on the ice caps here in the Rockies — often.

A couple of specialty manufacturers of polar gear, such as Aiguille Alpine Equipment, make these obscure trays, which only work with a particular model of compass. However, my tray was custom-made by a friend and fellow northern traveler, Alfred Duller of Austria. Duller used lightweight aluminum, after first testing to make sure that the metal did not affect the compass. Without the compass and straps, it weighs an incredible 140gm! That’s barely over 1/4 lb. An adjustable loop goes around the waist, and mating pieces of Fastex clip together, keeping the arms of the tray in place. A strap threads through the loop at the tip and attaches over the back of the neck, holding the assembly at waist level. A thin bungie cord fixes the compass securely in place.

I added strips of Velcro on the inner arms to hold a map case, when it’s not too windy.

While working on the project, Duller decided to test a variety of objects that might affect a compass. His results appear in the table below. The firearms may seem strange, but if you’ve been pulled from your tent twice by polar bears, as Duller has, you recognize that carrying a firearm in the Arctic is necessary.