Mysteries of the Marketplace —
The Huntsman Compass Rechristened
By Tamia Nelson
April 10, 2012
Spring has long been celebrated as the season of rebirth and renewal, a time when the earth shakes off winter's threadbare mantle and cloaks itself afresh in new life. But even the diehard romantics among us probably don't imagine that this annual renaissance extends to the world of consumer products. I certainly don't. Of course, I'm not what you'd call a material girl. I buy things because they work for me, and then I hang on to them till they wear out. My pack canoe, ash paddle, and "getaway" rucksack have all been with me for a quarter of a century, or near enough, and I don't see any reason to replace them.
I feel the same way about my little Silva Huntsman compass, which has been keeping me company for almost as long as my pack canoe and paddle. And that explains why, when I went looking for a second Huntsman, I was bitterly disappointed to learn it was no longer available. The fact that its name had now been bestowed on a zombie product — inferior in every way to the original Huntsman, at least in my eyes — only served to add insult to injury. But I couldn't afford to waste time being sentimental. I needed a small compass that I could slip into the transparent map pocket on my "amphibious" bicycle's handlebar bag whenever I felt like heading down the road, folding boat in tow. That compass had to be …
- Small enough to fit the space,
- Easy to read under way,
- Rugged enough to withstand the assaults of rutted trails and summer hailstorms,
- Accurate enough to keep me headed in the right direction, whether on the road or on the water, and …
- Cheap enough so I wouldn't have to skip meals to buy it.
I was also hoping for a sighting mirror. I don't use it much for shooting bearings, but it's handy for locating any maladroit blackflies who blunder into my eyes on the trail. It might also do duty as a signal mirror in a hard chance someday. It never hurts to be prepared.
In short, what I wanted was another Huntsman. That was not to be, however. Or so I thought. But I'd reckoned without the nous — savvy, if you prefer — of In the Same Boat readers, many of whom have a far wider knowledge of the state of the mart than I do. A note from Tom O'Neal was the first to draw my attention to something I'd missed:
Tamia, did you know that the Silva 27 (one of my favorites) is still out
there as the Brunton 27LU? Just got one a few weeks ago.
And Tom's heads‑up was seconded almost immediately by Dana Harlan:
Tamia, will the Brunton 27LU compass serve, or does it have the same problem of the product photo not matching current product?
Needless to say, I lost no time in following up this lead. And I had no trouble finding several online retailers who stocked the little Brunton compass (it's also known as the Trooper). The price was right, too: less than USD20. So I ordered one. Only then did I pause to consider the cautionary coda implicit in Dana's note. Would the compass I received match the pictures and descriptions online? Or was I destined to do battle with another zombie product? I hoped not.
Happily, my fears were quickly allayed, when …
Opening the Box …
Disclosed what appeared to be a dead ringer for my old Huntsman:
And a subsequent side‑by‑side comparison confirmed that — in this instance, at any rate — first impressions did not deceive:
The makers' marks differ, but little else does. If you look carefully, you'll see a tiny "type 27" above the Silva logo. I'd never noticed this before, and I probably wouldn't have noticed it now if it hadn't been for Tom's letter. Which just goes to show that you can live with something for nearly a quarter‑century and still not learn all there is to know about it. (This presumably explains the "27" in the Brunton model designation, as well.) I also wasn't aware that the Silva and Brunton brands had been more or less interchangeable since 1996. If you have the patience, you can discover a great deal about this corporate shell game in Wikipedia, and unless I've missed something in my quick read‑through, groups of investment bankers now own both marques, trading the brands back and forth with about as much ceremony as my brothers and I used to trade baseball cards. I can't say that I'm surprised.
But I'm getting away from my story. Quickly tiring of perfunctory researches into commercial sleights of hand, I took my comparison of the two compasses to the flip side:
No real difference here, either. Both compasses boast the novelty "sun watch" that was the hallmark of the original aluminum Huntsman. It's not of much practical use, but it's a great conversation starter.
Now it was time to look under the hood:
Which is which? If it weren't for the tiny triangles of colored tape that I added to my Huntsman some years back, in order to facilitate declination corrections, it would be difficult to tell the two compasses apart. But perhaps a closer look will show us more:
It does. Or rather, it doesn't. Except for a few very small cosmetic disparities, there's nothing to distinguish the two compasses. Don't be misled by the divergent needles, by the way. Compasses can't discriminate between the earth's magnetic field and that of another nearby compass needle. Both compasses find north quickly and accurately when external influences are removed. Both also have 5° graduations, sighting mirrors, lanyards — though the Brunton lanyard is very short — and luminescent markings. And each has a safety pin at the hinge, …
… making it easy to clip either compass to clothing or pack strap, for those times when you just need to keep to a rough bearing in cloudy weather. (If the sun is shining, you don't need a compass. You can use your shadow for general orientation — provided you remember that the sun isn't fixed in the firmament, of course.)
Bottom line? I'm happy with my new Huntsman in Trooper's clothing. And while it will be a few more weeks before I can give it a thorough …
Field Trial …
I don't anticipate any problems. The 27LU does everything I want a small compass to do, and that includes slipping neatly into the map case on my bike's 'bar bag. In short, it's just what I need for amphibious bike‑and‑boat treks to nearby destinations. Take a look:
And it's already done itself proud on several day hikes. I don't even find the short lanyard to be a handicap. On the contrary, it's just big enough to slip over my wrist when hand‑holding the compass. At the same time, it's not so long that it snags low‑hanging branches when lashed to a zipper pull on the side pocket of my light rucksack. Perfect.
There is a cloud on the horizon, however. I don't know how much longer the Brunton will be available. To be sure, this probably won't affect me. Unless I lose one of my small compasses, I won't be in the market for another in my lifetime. That said, I'd like to be able to recommend the 27LU to others — and know they'd then be able to buy it. Of course, it's still being offered for sale online. But I can't find it on the Brunton website. Does this mean the Trooper is about to go the way of the Huntsman? Brunton isn't saying. At least they're not replying to my e‑mail enquiries. So I'm left to conclude that the 27LU's days may well be numbered. Which also leaves me wondering how much longer I'll be able to get repairs done on my venerable (and pricey) Brunton Pocket Transit. I don't think investment bankers fix compasses, do you?
Oh, well. Tempora mutantur, as my high‑school Latin teacher never tired of saying. It's a brave new world we live in, with long‑established brands changing hands like so many baseball cards. I'm just glad I have a compass to keep me on course.
As I wrote last month, my search for a small, inexpensive compass like my old Silva Huntsman ended in disappointment. But thanks to some clued‑in In the Same Boat readers, that wasn't the end of the story. The upshot? I've now found exactly what I was looking for. It has a new name, but that's the only difference. And what's in a name, anyway? Very little, especially today. It's the product behind the name that counts. My new compass works. The needle still points north. That's what matters, isn't it?
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