Compass Tattoo Meaning

Tattoos have been tied to sailors and other explorers for decades now, but that doesn’t mean you need to climb Mt. Everest just to decorate your body with an adventurous design. Choosing a tattoo that shows off your love for exploring the world, like a colorful compass, is a great way to express your personality in a visual way. Before you commit to a permanent compass design that you’ll have for the rest of your life, explore the meanings and symbolism behind this powerful icon.

Compass Tattoo Designs

A compass is a simple magnetic tool that helps you orientate yourself according to the poles by finding true north. Most tattoos stick to basic visual approximations of an actual compass, complete with a faux glass finish to cap off the top of the tool. Of course, you can also use a compass as more of an inspiration for a larger piece that includes the four cardinal directions without the round constraints of a real compass.

What Does the Compass Tattoo Mean?

Compass tattoos are packed with meaning, including:

  • Guidance through difficult times, since a magnetic compass works even during a storm at sea or an emergency on land
  • Finding your way, which is helpful if you’re still searching for a goal or purpose
  • Exploring the world without fear or reservation, making it a popular design among journalists, travelers, and sailors alike
  • Blazing your own path, since you need a compass when you leave the trail and head into uncharted waters
  • Taking guidance from the past or personal heritage, especially since many compass tattoos for men are chosen in honor of a family member.

Symbolism of Compass and Meaning of Tattoo Variations

Of course, the meaning of the tattoo really depends on the specific compass design you choose. For example, a beautifully colored compass and rose tattoo taken from the marks found on old maps can signify a dignified and cultured world traveler who has seen it all. A photo realistic compass, shown from a 3/4ths view to create an almost 3D effect. is usually chosen by a sailor or traveler who physically used a compass and wants to cherish the memory of their travels. There are also plenty of traditional sailor designs that are more simple and abstract, such as the classic compass and anchor, nautical star with cardinal direction markings, or the clock and compass to remind you to explore before it’s too late.

Compass Tattoo

Best Tattoo Placements

From a tiny nautical compass to a huge cardinal rose design, you can fit a compass tattoo just about anywhere. Small sailor-inspired designs work well on the wrist or ankle, while it’s trendy to include these designs among others in a themed sleeve or half arm piece. Back pieces often combine compasses with other travel related tattoos to cover a large area, and you’ll commonly see sparrows, anchors, and knots spread across the shoulders of people who appreciate this style of tattooing.

The Message Compass Tattoos Convey Is…

Seek out the new and unusual instead of just clinging to the comfortable and familiar. Seek guidance for your travels instead of going out blind and ending up in a mess. Follow your heart and use it as your internal compass and you’ll always reach a safe harbor in a storm.

If you Wear a Compass Tattoo, You are Likely to Be…

Compass tattoo wearers tend to be outgoing, adventurous, and ready for anything. By embracing the life of travel, people who sport compass tattoos are usually willing to expand their boundaries, or at least learn about something new. Some people who choose this tattoo may also be sentimental or in search of guidance to help them navigate their own paths.

Reasons to Choose a Compass Tattoo

  • You have a family member that served in the Navy or was a professional sailor on merchant vessels
  • You long to see the rest of the world and want to make a commitment to find adventure
  • You feel like you could use some guidance on where to go next and how to get there
  • You love the sea and old-fashioned maps and want to create a unique piece of nautical artwork
  • You have a personal connection to travel, such as being an expatriate or having relocated across the globe multiple times
  • You have a strong sense of wonder and a wish to embrace life wherever it takes you.

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