Review - Suunto KB14

Suunto KB-14 with declination adjusment

by Erin Lynch

Suunto KB-14

Last year I bought a Suunto KB-14/360D with a focusable bezel and declination adjustment. It was not a well thought out purchase, but rather the only thing my local vendor had in stock. 12 months and 60km of surveying later, I definitely regret my haste. The compass had a few serious design flaws as far as the caving consumer is concerned.

My focusable bezel leaked. No matter how briefly I dunked the eyepiece underwater, water inevitably got into the body of the compass. Once that happened it was not merely a matter of unscrewing the bezel and dumping the water out. The eyepiece came with a piece of plastic a third of the way along it's interior that made it difficult to clean out whatever condensation or water-borne grit accumulated on the lens.

In compasses with the declination adjustment feature there's a strip of clear plastic between the eyepiece and the capsule. This strip has a black line on it and it's position can be adjusted by the user. For most cavers this just adds extra confusion as you have to remember which line to use for the reading. Luckily after a few wet trips the declination line on my compass went smeary and then disappeared completely.

However the strip of plastic remained a problem. After the compass got wet I often got a thin film of water between the capsule and the declination strip that completely obscured the numbers. Getting the water out of there usually took heat or time in a dessicator. But there was no easy way to remove the associated grit which gradually became more of a problem. Eventually I resorted to a pair of tweezers and removed the plastic strip from the compass. This dramatically improved the situation.

Silva Sightmaster

It's also worth noting that the capsules on all Suunto KB-14 compasses are fairly delicate. I have seen several capsules crack and start leaking oil after being taken through awkward crawls. Unfortunately the impact cases from Suunto do not protect the capsule from this sort of abuse. It may be worth cementing a piece of perspex over the capsule window.

The one thing I can recommend about the Suunto KB-14 is its performance at altitudes between 1800 to 2000m. At these elevations all of the Silva Sightmasters/Clinomasters I've used have quickly developed large bubbles which render them unusable. In contrast, Suunto KB-14 and Suunto PM5 instruments consistently develop only small bubbles, or none at all. This should be a prime consideration if you're surveying at moderately high altitude.

The Suunto KB-14/360 Compass (87 USD)and Suunto PM5 Clinometer (106 USD) are available from Ben Meadows